The décor of the room didn't fool the man into believing it was a hospitable environment. Sterile white tiles lined the floors, matching the pristine walls and ceiling. An artificial plant sat in a nondescript pot beside the row of chairs. Even the nurses all looked alike, dressed in their identical uniforms.
His daughter spoke to one of them at the desk. Though they spoke in hushed voices, their words were audible as the murmurs echoed off the spotless surfaces. "I just don't know what to do anymore," Brenna said. "Do you think the doctor will be able to help?"
The nurse patted her hand. "I hope so, dear."
He wanted to rush over and offer comfort to his distraught child, now grown, but quick movements had become a physical impossibility. In addition to the loss of strength in his legs, the capacity to soothe anxieties had also disappeared as he grew older. With little else to do, he sat and listened.
"I can't even have a lucid conversation with him most days," Brenna continued. "He speaks in nonsense, and then claims he's predicting the future. I've even found him babbling to some sort of strange talisman he carries with him."
"Did he acquire it recently?"
"No. He's had it for years." She frowned. "I remember asking him about it several times when I was younger. He said something about waiting until the time was right to use it, and I eventually forgot all about it," she said. The corners of her mouth turned down further. "He only started pulling it out again recently. I hadn't seen it in quite some time."
The nurse offered a friendly smile. "Maybe it's some sort of sentimental trinket from his own childhood. If he's confused, as you say he often is, perhaps it brings him some kind of solace."
"But he talks to it! And nothing he says makes any sense to me!"
"I wouldn't worry too much about it. It probably helps him more than it harms him."
Brenna sighed. "You're probably right. There are other behaviors of his that give me more cause for concern. I try to keep the doors locked, but he's gotten out a few times..."
Damor stopped listening to the women's conversation for a moment as he reached into the pocket of his robe. His fingers closed around the crystal, shielded from view. He had forgotten more than he remembered, failed at simple tasks more often than succeeding; regardless of what happened, he knew it was significant. He had to protect it at all costs.
Loud sobs tore his attention away from the mystical object. "I...I just don't know how much longer I can do this!" Her hair tumbled across her face as she bowed her head and covered her eyes with her hand. "I have my own family to take care of, my own children to watch out for. I'm grateful for all the time I have left with him, but...but...I didn't expect it to be like this."
Part of Damor wanted to stand up and embrace his daughter, to give her the consolation she needed from him. It was superseded by the part of his mind that didn't know what they were doing in this place, or why she was so upset. He opened his mouth to speak, yet he couldn't think of the right words to say.
"I just want to make sure he's healthy and safe. Or as healthy as he can be at this stage," Brenna said, having regained some composure. "That's why I brought him in here for an examination."
The nurse nodded. "The doctors here are the best you'll find anywhere in Algol. You did the right thing."
As if on cue, a door opened behind her. A tall man dressed in a white coat entered the waiting area. "I've finished consulting with my colleagues," he said.
Brenna wiped her eyes. "And?"
"Miss, your father is an elderly man. Nothing we can do will improve his condition."
A second door opened. Damor saw a patch of blue sky beyond the entrance to the hospital, and a whiff of blooming wildflowers penetrated the stark atmosphere of the room. He thought about leaving his seat to go outside in the sunshine, but the path was blocked. Two robotcops stood in the doorway.
Brenna's eyes widened when she turned around. "What are they doing here?"
"I'm sorry, miss." The doctor's facial expression did not change. "You could not assure me your father was not a danger to himself or others. It is my responsibility to keep the residents of Camineet safe from him."
Her cheeks darkened with rage. "You're crazy! He wouldn't hurt anyone!"
"Did you not just tell us about his delusions? And that you could no longer keep him contained in your home?"
"He's never laid a hand on anyone in his life! How could you do this?"
The nurse stepped out from behind the desk. "You came here for help," she said gently.
"I didn't expect you to have him locked up!" Brenna's eyes darted between the two medical professionals and the pair of mechanical guards. "This is barbaric! It's inhumane!" She moved towards where her father was seated. "I'm not letting you do this. We're leaving."
The doctor's voice was as cold and empty as the room in which he practiced. "You don't have a choice."
The robotcops marched forward in unison. One grabbed Damor by the arm and yanked him out of the chair. Brenna elbowed the second one out of the way and took her father's hand. "Dad, I...I'm sorry."
He turned his head to face her. Unfallen tears glistened in her bright blue eyes. He wanted to tell her how everything was going to be okay, and that she shouldn't worry about him. His fingers gripped the crystal again as his lips moved to form the words. "You will be rewarded for your beliefs!" was all that came out of his mouth.
She smiled sadly. Ignoring the impatient robotcop at her side, she wrapped her arms around Damor's thin shoulders and kissed his cheek. "I'll try to fix this," she whispered. "Until then, be safe. I love you."
The guards flanked him and led him outside. Anyone who happened to be traveling the streets of Camineet averted his eyes, steering clear of the robotcops and their most recent captive. Damor offered no resistance as he was guided towards the city's gates.
Near the opening in the protective barrier surrounding the metropolitan area sat a metallic vehicle. Damor's eyes grew wide at the sight of it. No! he thought. They won't take me. Fight back!
His body wouldn't respond to his mind's terror. The robotcops hauled him into the landrover and fastened him to one of the seats. Beneath the passenger compartment, the wheels rumbled to life. The driver turned the car around and set off towards the northeast.
Palma's plains stretched before the transport, the emerald grasses dancing in the breeze. Damor let himself be lost to the magnificent landscape, transfixed by the scenery moving past his window. The hum of the landrover lulled him into drowsiness, and the distant trees disappeared behind drooping eyelids.
He didn't know how much time had passed before the landrover grinded to a halt. Opening his eyes, he found his view of the cobalt skies blocked by a large, square structure. Panic settled over him again, sending a shiver rippling throughout his weary muscles. Don't touch me! he tried to scream when a robotcop reached for the restraints. Not a single sound emerged from his mouth.
They pulled him from the vehicle. His shoes scraped along the rocky ground, and he stumbled. The guards didn't care. They dragged him towards the entrance, a foreboding black rectangle from which no light escaped. As they forced him towards the darkness, he tried to resist. Damor struggled to flee their clutches, but it was to no avail. Their sharp fingertips dug into his flesh, bruising his tender skin. "Do not fight us," one robotcop said in a tinny monotone.
Once inside, his eyes adjusted to the dismal conditions. The dank stones formed a narrow passageway with indentations on each side. Proceeding through the corridor, he could see the pitiful forms of prisoners slumped against the doors to their cells. Some reached out for him, calling to him in strained voices as their bony fingers stretched and shuddered.
He could not decipher their words, yet he knew the dangers of which they warned. Death was imminent in this place. If the guards succeeded in trapping him in a cell, it would all be over. He would have failed.
With every ounce of strength he could muster, he made one last effort to free himself. "Be still!" a guard demanded, drawing its hand back.
The robotcop did not have the opportunity to make contact. A powerful gravitational force sent both guards flying backwards into the immovable wall. Before they could recover, an incandescent ball of orange fire struck their tangled forms, incapacitating them. When the smoke cleared, all that was left was a pile of deformed metal and twisted wires.
Damor looked at his hands, trying to make sense of what he had done. The details of the lessons he'd been taught decades ago had long vanished, yet the knowledge had been hidden deep within the recesses of his brain all along. He stepped closer to the remains of the robotcops and glared down at the smoldering heap with disdain. "No one contradicts the Great Damor," he muttered under his breath.
He turned his head from side to side, evaluating the present circumstances. Returning to Camineet would only result in being apprehended by more robotcops, assuming he even completed the lengthy trek. He needed to find another safe place. His hand slipped inside his pocket, a practiced habit ingrained in his subconscious, and checked the security of his crystal before moving on.
The prisoners' shouts had ceased after his destructive display. Pairs of glittering eyes followed his movements as he traversed the narrow passage. One more guard tried to block the path to the exit. A crackle of lightning summoned from Damor's palm eliminated the threat.
Out in the sunlight, jagged mountains rose from the rolling hills. Behind them, a single tower speared the wispy clouds. Damor gazed up at the soaring structure, transfixed by its colossal form. "A castle..." he whispered into the wind.
He closed his eyes. Visions of the throne room appeared to him, blurred by the years of neglected memories. The king surveyed his subjects, his demeanor both authoritative and cordial. Curiosity flashed in his soulful eyes as he asked intelligent questions about what he hoped to learn and understand. The ancient words, their history and meaning, the focus necessary to use them...
Damor rubbed his temples. There were so many to remember, and it had been so long since he'd had a need for his magical training. Instead of sifting through his mind like fine sands, the forgotten spells and techniques were a thick syrup clogging his thoughts. His hand found the crystal again and caressed the smooth, hard surface.
The familiar sensations triggered more of the king's directives. Alex Ossale had been a benevolent leader, yet naivety was not among his flaws. He'd known of the threats to his beloved home, and peace for Algol's people had always been a top priority. His most valuable possessions, those crucial to the planets' safety, had been spread throughout the system, entrusted to his closest advisors.
Trembling fingers clenched around the priceless artifact. The darkness could not be allowed to prevail. Spurned by the magnitude of the task that had weighed heavy on his mind for so many years, Damor steeled himself against any outside distractions and searched for the single word he needed. "Ryuka..."
When he opened his eyes, he found himself standing on the opposite side of the mountains, atop the hill of Baya Malay. The entrance to the tower stood several yards away. He looked around at the apex of the mossy knoll, unsure if he had been to this place before. His doubts intensified as he cautiously nudged the twin doors. He couldn't help but feel drawn to the ominous building, though its significance remained unclear. Was he supposed to be here? Why had he come?
The inner walls of the tower gave off a soothing golden glow. They beckoned to him, enticing him further in. He navigated the labyrinthine corridors, letting his feet guide him into the unknown depths. Vicious creatures sprung out from behind corners and side passages. He called upon his magic to dispose of them as he had the robotcops.
His knees creaked as he ascended a stone staircase. Damor steadied himself with one hand on the cool bricks and stopped to rest. The illogical nature of his voyage plagued him, and he pondered whether his surroundings were nothing more than another delusion designed to torment an old man's mind. In the blink of an eye, he could be back at Brenna's kitchen table, fumbling with his soggy breakfast as the grandchildren whose names he could never remember tumbled past him with ear-piercing shrieks. The solid wall beneath his fingertips helped convince him of the truth in what he saw. He continued his journey.
Time was irrelevant as he traveled the tower's maze. He didn't know how many hours had passed when he reached a dead end on one of the upper levels. A single, unmarked door lay at the end of the hallway. He put his hand on the knob and hesitated, unsure of what he would find inside.
The room was empty. He closed the door behind him and stepped in a slow circle. Images of the former king of Algol reappeared. A secret meeting had been held in a chamber similar to this one; not in the majestic vestibule where he frequently conducted official business, but in a hidden alcove far below the palace. His ruler had pressed the crystal into his palm, imploring him to keep it safe.
Damor's first glimpse at the precious relic had rendered him awestruck. Its facets reflected brilliant light and radiated an aura that could bring solace to the most tortured soul. He promised to take it with him, and was rewarded with a sincere smile and the belief that he could be among Algol's defenders. Though he didn't keep its existence a secret from his family, he never revealed the crystal's history and purpose out of concerns for their own wellbeing.
A knock at the door shattered his visions of the past. He turned around to find himself staring into a pair of ethereal blue eyes. At first, he thought they belonged to his daughter, but closer examination revealed the girl to be much too young. As she addressed him in a soft voice, he studied her fine brown hair, her delicate features, her gentle expression...
A flash of clarity pierced through the dense fog that had shrouded his aging brain for years. Alex Ossale's greatest treasure stood before him, seeking any assistance he had to offer. The time had come. In his excitement, Damor engaged in his common battle to find the proper words. The thoughts and sentiments were so clear in his mind, yet he could only vocalize a disjointed string of sentences. His statements were unimportant. What mattered was allowing the unknowing princess to reclaim what was rightfully hers.
Having received the magic crystal, the girl and her companions thanked him and left. Damor stayed in the solitude of the shadows, unsure of what to do now that his mission was complete. He considered returning home to his loved ones, or perhaps finding a tranquil spot in the woods to quietly live out the rest of his days. Regardless of his own fate, he knew in his heart that he had done his part in securing the future of Algol.