The Forging of Elsydeon
A long time ago, on a world now dead, it was said that the sword is the soul of the warrior.
And perhaps it is true.
Laconia ore was once only found at Dezoris' equator, in summer, when the mineral laden rivers would deposit the results of the glaciers' constant grinding on their beds and banks. It was mixed with iron, copper, gold, and anything else gouged out from the planet's crust, deep beneath the ice.
And there is the mined ore, produced in later years by the Palmans. Veins are difficult to find and don't last long, but the Palmans seem to think it's the best way. The Dezorans still dredge the rivers, shaking their heads at the Palman foolishness.
The Dezorans would then excavate huge pits and line them with clay to make a furnace. Again, this is something that can only be done at the equator and in summer, when the ice and snow is thin enough to be able to dig down to the Dezoran earth.
The pit has a deep depression in the center, where a fire is laid. Around it lies the mixed ore on a sloping floor that tilts towards a long channel. The fire is lit, and the pit is covered over, leaving a chimney for the smoke and to add more fuel, as well as a number of smaller vents through which the Dezorans pump air with great bellows. The process takes just over a Dezoran month. The metals, each with a different melting temperature, run down the channel and solidify at different places. Not much care is taken over them, though, and often they are still mixed if the channel is the wrong angle. It doesn't matter. The other metals are mostly a bonus.
The Laconia is the only metal that will not melt in the furnace, and is left behind. Once the furnace has cooled, which can take a week, even on Dezoris, the Laconia ore is then taken to a metalsmith.
Laconia has so many desirable qualities for a blade that it is impossible to find a weapon that is perfect. Certain smiths are adept at bringing out certain properties of the metal, but none can do them all. Elsydeon was a special case.
Laconia cannot be melted with ordinary fire, but it can be softened in a forge sufficiently for it to be molded. Two Dezorans use heavy, long handled hammers to pound the metal into shape, alternating their blows as the smith holds the piece on the anvil with heavy tongs. Once the metal is flattened, it is folded upon itself, and hammered flat once more. This is done many times, depending on the quality of the Laconia ore. The more times the blade is folded, the stronger and harder the metal, and the more it is hammered, the more impurities are driven out.
Here, depending on the desired blade, care must be taken. Laconia is unique in its magical properties. Iron is receptive to magnetism, and can easily be turned into a magnet. Laconia has a similar relationship with magic. It is not, in itself, magical, but it is very receptive to it. The best magical items are all made from Laconia.
But, where mistreatment of iron will destroy its magnetism, mistreatment of Laconia will destroy its receptiveness. It is like as if iron, once demagnetised, could never again become a magnet unless the object is re-forged. As such, an Esper is often on hand to guide the craftsman. A magical weapon takes far more time, but is well worth it. An Esper oversaw the forging of Elsydeon's blade, and the work was done well – so well that the metalsmith sent the naked blade to another smith who was more adept at the sharpening than he. The sword was the best he had made, and he wanted it to be the best ever.
Again, the sword is softened with heat. Laconia must be, even to be sharpened. But then, it will not blunt either. Elsydeon is as sharp today as the day it was first used.
A progression of grinding stones are used to hone its edge, each finer than the last, and then polishing stones which give the metal its chrome finish, and also completes the sharpening. A sword of literal razor sharpness is possible, with care. The smith who honed Elsydeon had made such, but Elsydeon was not his best work. His skill, however, helped ensure that Elsydeon would be unmatched. There would be sharper swords, but none with all the other attributes that make Elsydeon a legend.
A rough Laconia crosspiece is then added to the sword, which forms the basis of the guard and hilt. An artisan later creates the true guard and hilt from steel, sometimes inlaid with gold and silver. The decoration does not have to be strong, and Laconia is too hard to work with in this way.
Elsydeon was sold to a weapons store, where it remained for seventy years. Laconia is so rare and expensive that few can afford it. For the owner of the store, the weapon was an investment for his children. The man who eventually bought the weapon sought it to kill a dragon. He failed, and the sword became a rich hoard for any who would challenge the beast.
Years later, a woman came to buy a Laconia sword from the same store, and almost did. She had an Esper with her, however, who was dissatisfied with the swords and their lack of magical promise, and they left to seek the dragon's sword. They challenged the beast, and slew it, and the woman took the sword for her own.
Her name was Alis. The Esper's was Noah.
Of course, this is only half the story. For all its properties, the sword was just a piece of metal, as magical as a stone.
And it did not yet have a name.
It was a fine, hot autumn morning in the city of Paseo, capital of the desert planet Motavia.
The day previously, a woman, two men and -
Actually, there was some debate about this, but those who saw them swore it was...
- a cat, all heavily armed, landed a private ship at the spaceport and strode through the city towards the Governor's mansion.
Perhaps it was their demeanour, or the hardness in their eyes, or just the weapons, carried brazenly through the streets in spite of Lassic's ban, but people stood aside for them.
Their entry into the mansion was the last anyone had seen of them.
On this day, people had been complaining of headaches. Some claimed to have heard a voice in their heads, but its words were distant and sibilant. Some of the elderly in the city had died in their sleep, but people dismissed this as a coincidence. Most, however, still felt uneasy. Something was coming, or happening. The more recent immigrants from Palma said it felt like a storm was brewing, but that was absurd. Motavia never had storms.
At midmorning, the ground began to thrum.
It confused people at first. Earthquakes shook the ground, and on Motavia's shifting sands, there was a danger of being buried alive by them. But this was different. It was like some deep mining operation under the city.
And it got louder. The dust on the roads shook itself into herringbone patterns. People came out of their homes into the open where it would be safer from an earthquake. Mothers hugged their children to themselves, looking fearfully at the sand sleeting off the roofs. The fathers, trying to act calm, some helping shield their children from the possibility of falling rubble. And all the other citizens, each alone in a growing crowd, holding down their panic, wondering what to do, and looking around them for support and reassurance.
Very few people noticed the light dim, as if some shadow passed in front of the sun.
And none of them noticed the dance of light, which swirled into being on the outskirts of the city and left two people in the warm air of its passing.
Alis staggered as she came out of the teleport, her eyes alive with violet fireworks from the brightness of her passage. She staggered, her hand finding a wall, and she leant against it to recover her breath, wiping the sweat and blood from her eyes with her other hand.
"Noah?" She blinked, looking around her, but her eyes wouldn't focus. She felt nauseous and weak, and her head throbbed from the blow on her temple.
Warm hands found her.
"Where is it?"
"It's coming. We beat it here. Rest for a minute. I'll see if I can find a doctor."
The hands left her, and, bereft of their support, she slid down the wall. She heard the metal scrape of Odin's axe being leant beside her. Oh, yes. Brave Odin, left beneath the city crumpled and bleeding. Odin, and Myau.
A sob came from nowhere, and Alis had not the strength to stop it.
The tremors grew greater.
The Governor's mansion shook in a way that belied its stone structure. Then, with a sharp report that echoed even through the screaming terror, the mansion shattered in one great explosion of dust and stone shards.
As the pieces of rough masonry curved towards the tops of their arcs, a great, red-eyed blackness surged through the mansion's remains, brushing aside the huge columns which had held its roof. Amidst the dust and ruin of the once grand palace of Motavia, the dark form rose until it shadowed all of Paseo.
It was so palpable, that even Noah felt it.
Paseo descended into terror. And the beast was feeding.
The voice of the beast cut through Alis' fogged mind. It hissed like a whip, cracking hard on each word.
Your time is over! Paseo will fall, and Motavia will follow!
Alis fumbled for her sword, and grabbed it, turning it upside down so that the point pressed into the earth beside her.
Your end begins here!
Alis pushed, levering herself upwards. She still couldn't see clearly, but she didn't need to. A great blackness rose over the capital, lit with two points of actinic fire. Even if she were completely blind, she would be able to feel the blackness, would feel those eyes burn into her soul.
She staggered towards them, sword held in a clenched fist. She had to kill it. For Odin, and Myau, and Nero. She had to kill the beast.
Someone ran past her, pushing her away in his hurry. Alis overbalanced and fell, the wind in her lungs escaping as she hit the ground. Other people ran around her, kicked her, stumbled over her, and she cried out weakly, releasing her sword so her arms could protect her face. She heard the noble weapon clatter as it was knocked away from her in the heedless rush.
She tried to call Noah. Her voice, if it came, must have been weak, but he was suddenly there just the same. Two pairs of hands – Odin? Was he here? – lifted her up and dragged her through the throng. She was leant against a wall, and Noah said something and left. The remaining man rested a cool hand on Alis' forehead and started speaking. Alis tried to brush him away. Didn't he understand? She had to get to the beast.
The man's other hand pressed on her chest, holding her down, and the man continued mumbling. Alis felt a great warmth and then a feeling like falling asleep, or perhaps waking up...
Alis closed her eyes, breathed deeply, and opened them again. They focused on command, and found the kind but worried face of a priest.
"Are you well?"
Alis got up, a little shakily, with the priest supporting her hand.
"Where's my sword?"
"Your friend has gone to find it, as well as an axe, I understand. Come, we must wash the blood from your eyes."
They did feel a little gummy. Alis put her hand to her temple and felt her head wound. It was reduced to a bump, but quite a painful one as bumps go.
"Thank you, Father."
The priest just inclined his head.
The beast roared in the distance, and Alis heard it echoed in her mind. She looked up, as if she could see through the buildings, and the priest glanced around as well.
Her eyes were unfocused, and her voice distant.
"I have to go."
The priest bowed and backed away, both sadness and respect in his elderly eyes.
The city guard of Paseo had been spread all over the city. When the quake had begun, they had expected to assist in clean-up, first-aid, and rescue. This...
This was beyond their scope.
Their heat guns discharged harmlessly into the chitin shell of the beast as it roared and whirled, striking at each in turn, cruelly, relentlessly, and with a speed which belied its size and bulk. It didn't kill, but maimed each guard, letting them live in fear and pain as their lives bled away from them and their comrades, their only hope, were knocked down to lie beside them and die and moan and scream.
Noah came up beside Alis where she watched and handed her her sword. She didn't look as she took it, but kept watching the slaughter. There were tears in her eyes, Noah noticed. Such a paradox, so innocent, so empathic, and yet so hardened by the years of fighting and death, which had started with her beloved brother.
She swallowed back her emotions, blinked her eyes, and managed to speak in an unwavering voice.
"Yes. And we have been halved."
"But there's no-one else, is there?"
"There's never anyone else," said Noah, "Teiroj le flaeli du meira." Into the fire once more.
They attacked the beast, and fought it in the ruins of the mansion.
The stories would have a battle which lasted a day and a night, but no man or woman can move that fast and strike that hard for so long. The beast, empowered by the fear of a city, could, but Alis and Noah had only finite reserves.
Alis ducked and weaved, staying close to the giant beast where it could not easily strike at her. The wounds she cut into its hide healed just as rapidly. Perhaps it lost some power with each healing, but Alis could not help feeling the fight was futile and that the end was an unalterable defeat.
Noah stayed further out, marking for Alis the place where they had left Odin's axe, should she need it. He cast fire and power into the fray with brief effect, the smoking holes in the beast's hide closing over before his next spell could take advantage of the wounds.
One of the city guard, one who had stayed back to open the gate, letting the people flee, came up beside Noah as he wrought his magic. Noah motioned that he should stay and, in a short lull as he got back his breath, gave him Odin's more powerful gun. The guard watched Alis dance beneath the beast, her movements slowly becoming more laboured.
And then Alis stabbed at a claw as it missed her, and her blade caught on something, perhaps a thicker piece of chitin, carrying her sword away from her. The beast seized it with his other hand and flung it away into the rubble.
Noah grabbed the axe and ran. The guard followed, the gun clasped in a two handed grip.
Alis felt her sword catch on something, and suddenly she was being yanked off her feet. She let go of her weapon automatically, and cursed the instinctive response as she landed flat on the stone paving. She rolled to her side immediately, expecting a counter attack, but it didn't come. Alis kept rolling and twisted herself up into a crouching position just in time to see the beast flick her sword away over the rubble.
She watched it fall, imprinting its final position in her memory as best she could.
The beast bellowed, and Alis heard the undertone of boiling fire surging up its gullet. She ran, jumped, and landed behind a piece of fallen masonry as the fire exploded around her.
Lords, this thing had so much power! Where was it getting it all? Why was it so much bigger up here in Paseo?
Then she felt some of Noah's magic reach her in a protective embrace. He was around somewhere close, and with the axe no doubt. It wasn't her weapon of choice, but it was probably closer than her sword.
She jumped up and ran even as the fire was petering out. Noah's barrier absorbed the remnants, leaving only the uncomfortably hot air blowing in Alis' face. She saw a shadow overtake her on the ground, swamping over her. The beast loomed behind it, air shifting around it as it moved.
Too close. And no sword.
Alis turned, drawing her scabbard from her belt and holding it like a blade. It might serve to deflect the beast's attack, but Alis didn't think so. She had to delay it somehow, give herself time, but she couldn't think of a way.
Alis held the scabbard crossbody, ready to move, as the beast lunged at her.
Blue light flashed over her head, punching through the beast's claw twice, and then lashing once against its sunken eyes. It hissed like a geyser, rearing back, its arm instinctively protecting its head. More laser light followed, and Alis turned and ran, trusting it to cover her. Then a bolt of lightning crackled over her head and she heard it buzz and snap at the creature and smelt its flesh burning. Her eyes followed its path back, and she found Noah, using a block of stone as cover, and another man in the armour of Lassic's army using Odin's gun. Oh, the irony.
Something hissed behind her. The beast sounded angry, but not very close.
Alis pushed herself, sprinting, tired though she was. Noah lifted the axe's handle, and heaved it towards her. It landed flat on the ground, and spun a few times across the paving. Alis dived for it, grabbed it, and rolled to her feet facing the beast.
It passed over her without a pause, its shadow briefly dark around her.
Alis heard a crunch of bone, and turned to see the guardsman spinning brokenly through the air away from the beast. Lightning then blazed around the creature, but it didn't flinch or roar with pain.
Apart from the voice in her mind, it was the first human sound the beast had made. It came from deep within its chest, echoing and mocking, and as it came, Alis saw the muscles shift across its back and saw its shoulder move. Even as she ran, the beast completed its attack and Alis heard Noah cry out.
She did not see Noah knocked through the air as the guard was, or his fall. Her world was red and focused, her attention laser sharp on her target, her axe back across her shoulders, and she screamed, pain filled, cursing, challenging, and the beast turned to receive her swing, still laughing.
Noah hit the wall with the side of his head. He heard something crack, and the feeling left him.
Dimly, Noah realised his neck had been snapped by the impact. He had always expected a darkness when he was dying, but instead there was light. Brightly white and surrounding him, blurring the scene before him.
Alis was fighting awkwardly with Odin's great axe, her agility lost to the clumsy weight of her weapon.Where was her sword? Where was the cresat nu elsy deon?
His hand was resting on something cool. He daren't move his head, but he felt its magic.
Her sword was here, in his grasp. If only he could move, take the sword, and throw it to her with what must be his final act. But he couldn't move, and her sword was not enough anyway. The beast was armoured in the fear of the world. Four of them and her sword had not been enough.
The light was brighter, or perhaps his eyes were weaker. He couldn't see, not any more. His senses were failing him. He couldn't feel the sword any longer. The last sensation of his life had faded into the white.
I'm sorry, dear Alis, brave Alis, strong...
There are three types of magic users.
Those who use Techniques have largely involuntary powers, suited to their nature and temperament. They are skills about which they have little understanding or control, performed more by the sub-conscious than the conscious mind.
Espers have the talent of understanding. They know how to work the magic consciously and can manipulate their power to any purpose. They must practice, however, and do not always master the skill they desire. Their spells are like complicated recipes or formulae, the steps of which must be followed exactly.
Telementals are the most powerful of the magic users. It is not known exactly how they do what they do, but the best theory suggests that they have some mental sense of the patterns and forces of the magic around them. As they and others around them cast their spells, the sub-conscious learns the rules and physics behind them in the same way as children learn the rules of language by listening. Whatever the truth of the art, Telementals can turn magic to any purpose at a whim, fabricating spells without the study and mnemonics used by the Espers.
In his moment of death, Noah became not only a Telemental, but the most powerful of them all. No one has ever duplicated his feat, and even his memories hold no clues to it. It is thought that perhaps he considered the power his last magic represented was too much for the use of mortals, but it is also thought that perhaps it was an involuntary thing, wrought by his sub-conscious as his self died and his heart slowed itself to stillness.
There are other theories as well. It is quite irrelevant.
It was done.
And Noah saved the three worlds, not just once, but thrice.
Alone, now, little woman. Lost without your companions, dead without their support. I feel it within you. You have been beaten, and you know it.
Alis screamed and swung wildly. The beast moved back, avoiding it easily, but she pressed forward, swinging her axe back and forth, her actions governed not by training, or instinct, but anger, blind and hateful.
No hope, Alis, but me, and that is no hope at all.
Alis swung too hard and whirled herself around. She had to let the axe fall and dig into the ground to stop herself, and she ended up facing away from the beast. She pulled at the axe, and it came free, spinning her back.
Stupid. She hadn't made such a mistake since she'd met Odin. Stupid, foolish girl.
Oh, yes. Foolish to challenge me, stupid to fight on.
Alis tried an upswing, and it bit into the beast's armour. It growled in pain, and struck out. The blow hit Alis squarely in the chest and she flew backwards, losing the axe and her breath.
Weaponless, hopeless, dead little mortal.
Alis stood, holding her bruised chest, and saw Noah, his neck broken against the rock at his back, and her sword by his hand. Her breath caught at the sight of the Esper, but she banished her emotions. Forget him. Get the sword.
She looked beyond the beast, let recognition come to her eyes, and smiled with disguised relief.
The beast whirled, ready to defend itself, and Alis darted towards her sword, part of her not believing that it had fallen for a variant on the 'Look out! Behind you!' trick.
It didn't last long. The beast growled deep in its throat as it turned back, but by then it was too late.
Alis grabbed her sword and swung it around before her barely noticing its strange warmth. The beast roared and charged towards her. Alis chose her stance, steadied her sword, and...
Endless snow, white and bright even under the distant sun. A boy, with blue/white hair showing around the fringes of the thick furs he wears. He is running, laughing, in a timeless moment of childhood.
She turns, and behind there are sculptures made of snow. Crude, childish things, but imbued with the maker's happiness and innocence. She smiles.
Stone halls, ancient and of marble colours she has never seen. The boy comes to her, only now he is older, solemn, restrained. His hair, now darker, is held from his face with a simple leather circlet, and his bare feet make no sound on the cold floor.
He walks past her, without noticing. He is deep in thought, thinking of his craft. She reaches for him, wanting some reaction or acknowledgment, but the boy, the man, walks on.
A dying Mother, frail and lost in the silken bed. The man's head is bowed over the hand he holds to his forehead. The hand is cooling quickly, but the man holds on, his tears marking the silk sheets indelibly.
She feels tears as well, but can offer no comfort. He is far away, as if she looks at him through a telescope. She knows she can only watch.
Harsh winds howl outside the cave, but the man waits, unperturbed. Beneath him lies a dragon. They are both content to leave each other in peace.
It is not a comfortable cave, but Lassic knows of the man, so the city is no longer safe for him, and the Governor cannot be threatened by the implications of his presence.
He waits. He knows not what for.
She jumps. The voice is familiar, but startling in its suddenness. It is directed at her. The man in the cave has not heard.
No, Alis! Not here, not now!
Alis fell, her legs suddenly nerveless with the sudden return to reality. Something dark swept past her, dragging warm air. She flinched away automatically, but the sharp edged shadow caught her shoulder, spinning her as she fell. With a sensation like chilled air being dragged from the length of her arm, her sword was lost to her by the blow's force.
The chime of its landing sounded sorrowfully distant
The darkness around her formed shapes as her eyes adjusted, and memory came back to her as the beast swept past.
Noah was dead, she knew. She was alone now, between the beast and a world.
Alis kicked off from the ground, running for cover. She didn't know where her sword was, and was trying desperately to remember where she had lost the axe. She vaulted a large stone, hitting the ground awkwardly, but running on.
Left, near the corner stone.
Alis seized the axe, whirling to face the beast. It was ten meters away, claws full of fire, and charging. Alis ran at it, holding the axe horizontal in both hands, blade pointed at the beast, but off to her right.
The beast flung one handful of fire in her path. Alis had left her shield in the cave, but she refused to deviate. The fire seared her as she passed through, blasting her eyes. She screamed, not in pain, but in defiance, and passed the beast exactly where she had planned.
The axe thudded in its soot-coloured flesh, and she let it go as she passed. The beast roared with its volcanic voice, and Alis staggered and fell, clutching at her ears and with her eyes still tightly closed from the fire.
Delay, that's all it was. With the axe left in the wound, the handle pressed flat against its body so it would not be levered out by gravity, the beast could not heal itself. Delay, but unless she could move herself, eyes or no, it would be a waste.
She blinked her stinging eyes. The ruined mansion was blurred, but she could see enough. She rose with deceptive steadiness, and ran roughly towards where the sword had landed, navigating the rubble rather than leaping or vaulting over it. She just didn't have the energy.
The sword had hit stone, or so it had sounded, but it had not seemed to bounce. It had only rung once. That pretty much meant it must have landed either by the hole torn open by the beast, where the earth had been laid bare, or it had bounced into the hole...
The beast was doing something behind her. She could hear the creaking of its chitin armour, its rough breathing. She could hope that its impractical talons were clumsy, but could not count on it. The axe would be out in moments, and the beast healed.
Damn the crazed rubble. Where..?
Alis turned her head, and a rectangle of bright orange flashed at her.
Her sword! Reflecting...
Alis twisted to the side as the beast's other fireball surged past her in a wake of searing air. A strange prescience had her continue spinning, taking her further from her position, just as Odin's axe, the wooden handle now splintered to a useless length, cracked through the paving where she had been.
She arrested her spin, arms wide for balance, and then ran for her sword. It was jammed, point first in a pile of rubble, standing as straight as it would if it was mounted for display. She could hear the beast come for her. It was quite a way away, but it was fast. She daren't look, but it would be close.
The air pressure changed slightly, and Alis cursed a further delay. She veered, and the fireball crashed into sparks to her left. Another followed, this one audible with its seething power. Alis vaulted a large stone, landing flat and heavily on its far side. There was an explosion, and flame washed around her.
She rose again, and ran. She couldn't veer, not now. She had to have momentum to get up the rubble quickly. If the beast saw this...
The beast did not.
Alis pushed all that her tired muscles had left into her sprint. She clambered up the pile, her feet losing traction and force on the smaller rocks as they shifted. A final staggering leap brought her sword to her, and she seized the handle not only to claim it back, but also to halt her stumble.
The sword slid from its placement too easily, and Alis tumbled over and down the rubble. The beast loomed over the stones, one claw resting on the pile, the other following her down, reaching for her...
Marble halls, with the sound of soft music. Outside, a freezing storm rages...
No, thinks Alis. Leave me.
And it is gone.
Alis, bruised and battered, rolled to her feet and turned, swinging her sword. The beast's claw flinched back out of range, closing slightly. Alis lunged then, putting her weight behind the point. The sword passed into the palm of the beast with ease, and Alis flicked it upwards, cutting between the talons, and then pulled it back, preparing a stronger sweep which might sever the wrist. The beast reared back out of her reach, clutching at its claw.
And, with a sound like sheet metal being torn, the beast screamed.
Alis fell back, deafened, fearful, confused, amazed, staggered.
What had she done? What was it doing?
Elsy caret nuir. A soul in the blackness. Free, powerful, righteous.
He was a point of light, to cast away the shadows that lay webbed in the beast where most things have a soul. No laws, but what he makes. Free of gravity and reaction. Free of everything but power and life. Personless energy, the stuff of sentience, without self.
But, caught in the web of shadows, guttered a dim and orange light. Another soul, of another man. This was no beast, but a corruption, a perversion. A free-willed person, crushed and dominated.
The shadows reached outward, twisting and knotting around themselves. This was a harsh and alien place for the lightform, and the dark forces that reached for him thought it home.
The soul flared with power, the darkness speared forward, and the other light, the dim and dying soul, found strength in hope even as the beast felt the same as poison, and strained against the webbing, seeking a return to life.
The battle was joined.
The beast roared and roared behind her, its neck stretched and corded, its head twisting like a snake. Screaming and writhing, clawing at itself and pulling great pieces of its own flesh free in desperate attempts to get at something deep within it. Its wounds were smoking, charring into deeper, longer trenches in its shell. And, all the time, it screamed, raking, piercing, grating, terrible screams, until there could be no breath in its body.
And Alis ran.
The beast gave one last barking shout, sounding surprised more than anything else, and toppled into the rubble, smoking from its self-inflicted wounds.
And then, suddenly, it was smoke. So dense that it had shape, so dark that it looked solid. Detailed beyond what smoke could ever be.
But it frayed at the edges as the wind took it. The smoke spread, as smoke is wont, blurring the image of the beast, until it was just a heavy cloud, as shapeless as any.
As the sun came back from the false dimness, the hot wind picked up and the oil-black cloud dispersed into the empty sky.
It was a fine, hot day.
Alis felt the strange warmth return to the sword, and wondered at it.
Had the sword...?
She shook her head. She had her friends to find, and at least one to bury.
Alis didn't check on Noah. She knew he was dead, but somehow, if she did not confirm it for herself, then there was some hope, and no grief. Just a deep, sickening worry, like souring tears.
People needed her sane.
She banged on doors until people responded, and she ordered them to find ropes and tackle. Being so close when the beast had screamed, Alis had lost her hearing to a sourceless ringing, and the people's protests were distant, fog blurred things that she could not understand, nor cared to.
Her sword, drawn for effect, and to direct, helped.
Later, Alis lay half against a stone near the hole, eyes closed, listening to the ringing in her ears fade slowly and the voices of those who were rigging ropes to rescue Odin and Myau. She still couldn't understand them but her hearing was returning, and she was happy with that.
She lay there for a long while, eventually recognising the addition of the Governor's strong voice directing the rescue. He, too, had been Noah's friend. Did he know his fate?
She really should go and get the body, but she had no energy left.
A memory stirred as Alis' mind wandered in her exhaustion. It may be that she was almost asleep when it happened.
It was the memory of a blue haired boy, playing in the snow.
Her eyes opened suddenly. They still had dark shadows beneath them, but the eyes themselves were alight and focused.
Son of a...
She found his body, and lifted it. He was slight, but she was weak and tired. His head lolled unnaturally as she carried him.
The Governor found her as she bore the Esper's body through the ruins. He was nursing a deep cut on his hand, but Alis had no time to wonder about it. She walked past, and he followed her.
"Alis! There is something I must tell you!"
Alis turned, and looked at him over the corpse of her friend and his.
"Oh. I'm sorry. I... I'm... I'm sorry, Alis."
"Don't be. Not yet." And she walked on.
She found the priest outside his church, ministering the wounded, and presented him with the body. He examined it with his arts, and shook his head, slowly, sadly.
"My dear child, he is gone. His soul cannot be retrieved. I'm sorry."
Alis closed her eyes for a moment, swallowing. She had not dared hope, and could not yet grieve. That would end, one way or another, now, and she would find out if she was right.
Alis drew her sword. The priest took a step back.
She reversed it and handed it to him. He took it, puzzled, and glanced at her. Seeing nothing in her expression, he looked again at the sword, and then his eyes widened with wonderment. He glanced at the body, expression unchanged.
Alis grabbed his shoulders.
"Tell me! Please, I have to know!"
Alis waited, tears of hope and tears of grief both threatening.
"His soul is in the sword."
"Can it... can you..?"
The priest smiled at her, and hope surged within Alis.
"Yes. Oh, yes."
All of those known erroneously as the First Protectors survived, but all except Myau carried injuries from that final battle for the rest of their lives.
Mighty Odin had been cut deeply in his right shoulder and never regained full use of that arm. It did not worry him overmuch though, being ambidextrous. He captained Alis' guard during her short reign and then vanished into retirement on Palma. If he married and had children, then it was not recorded.
Alis, who had been closer than anyone to the beast at its death, had lost some of her hearing. For a warrior reliant on all of her senses to form a picture of what was happening around her, it was a crippling blow, but her skill with the sword remained formidable.
She reluctantly took the throne of Algol and ruled for ten years. She married for political reasons, and it was from this marriage that Rolf's line came. Alis' final act, and her one reason for taking the throne, was to fragment the dictatorial power base of Algol's ruler, so that another Lassic could not arise. She vanished, then, never to be seen on any of the three planets again. It is not known whether she ever found love.
Noah was paralysed for life, but used his telekinetic powers to move his body around in a strangely smooth, but natural looking manner. All of the feeling below his neck had also left him, and he could often be found brushing simple, ordinary things, like flowers, paper or cloth, across his still sensitive lips, sampling the sensations otherwise lost to him.
Despite his wishes, and his plan to outlive a millennium, Noah could never again fight for Algol, but he guided others, even beyond his death.
Myau stayed with Alis during her reign, and disappeared when she did. He, too, has not been seen since. It is thought possible that they both took to the stars, for reasons unknown. If so, relativity being what it is, they may still be alive today.
And the name 'Elsydeon'?
A fragment of the Esper language, badly mispronounced. It came from an awed comment made by Noah when Alis was first seen to wield her Laconian weapon. It was life in her hands, as mobile and precise as any part of her own body. If her forearm had been a blade, it could be no more responsive or natural.
Cresat nu elsy deon was how he referred to it from then on. Literally, 'the soul of her arm'. Others contracted his words, keeping it a legitimate phrase in the Esper's tongue more by fortune than by understanding.
Elsy deon. Arm's soul.