Lutz smiled, sadly, proudly.
"A good job," he said, and there was emotion in his voice. "You are truly a descendant of Alis. I acknowledge that you are qualified to succeed the power of light and the memory of darkness." It sounded like a mantra, a ritual phrase, and Lutz' eyes were closed as he said it.
He opened them slowly and looked at them.
Rolf and the others shifted on their feet. Lutz was a strange man to talk to, somehow unsettling. He never moved his hands, even slightly, and rarely changed expression. His eyes were the only window to his soul, and his soul was old and sad.
Lutz took a breath.
"One thousand years ago," he started, "after the battles of Alis, Algo obtained peace for a short while. People were satisfied with what was given to them by those they loved, and did not ask for more. And it was their pleasure to give to their loved ones more than they wanted."
And he was there, they realised. He was speaking from experience. This man had seen all his friends age and die.
"However, when Mother Brain arrived, Algo changed.
"We got confused because Mother Brain created so many things, we didn't really know what we needed. People started to fight for what Mother Brain created. They no longer thought that kindly about Alis. People even thought that they could not live without Mother Brain."
"I think that a devil's trap is behind Mother Brain. This caused the peoples' minds to weaken. The trap also leads Algo to destruction. I don't know who made the trap, or why." Lutz looked as if he would say more, but he shook his head.
His hand then moved, and gestured towards a long black wood box that had been laid on the floor by his throne.
"There is a Neisword in the box. When you pick it up, it will rescue you from..." he paused, finding words, or perhaps substituting them.
"From the evil side," he said eventually. His hand moved back into his lap. It was strange, though. It moved somehow like it was being carried by someone else.
Rolf paused, and then stepped forward, hesitantly. He knelt before the box and lifted the lid. His hands reached in, and came out holding a cloth swathed shape.
He took one end of it, letting the black silk fall away. It landed unheeded at his feet as Rolf brought the sword up before his eyes. The Neisword.
It shone, as if in a sunbeam. It was Laconia, the rarest and most valued metals, but it was alive with static power. The Espers had worked on it, imbuing it with the most powerful magic they had available. Rolf could feel it. It flowed through the sword like a warm current.
He looked up into Lutz' unfathomable eyes.
"Are you brave enough to do battle with the powers of evil?"
Rolf looked to his companions, and then nodded, once.
And just for a moment, an expression flickered over Lutz' face, almost as if he had been hoping for them to say 'no', but he nodded.
"Then I will leave the future of Algo up to you." And Rolf saw it then. To surrender the fate of millions to another did not sit easily with this man, even to the descendant of his friend who was also perhaps the world's mightiest warrior.
In a world that had left him alone with a burden, he couldn't trust anyone but himself. For a thousand years, he had prepared, and it would not be he who saw it through.
I will not fail, avowed Rolf silently.
"I pray for your safety," continued Lutz, "Use the Neisword if you run out of power. It will bring you back here right away. Now go to those who watch us from outside Algo."
The world became as light, and then faded.
Long moments passed in the Esper hall as Lutz stared at the spot where Rolf had stood. His eyes were glistening, and the Espers stood around him as if at a funeral, unwilling to interrupt his private emotions.
"We cannot rely on them," said Lutz suddenly, without looking around. He blinked a few times, and then started speaking again, briskly. As he did so he looked from one Esper to another, but his eyes would rest for longer on each woman than each man, and his eyes were asking for understanding.
"I trust in the bloodline, but blood will not always out. However, what I am more concerned about is the weapons. They are not tested against Dark Force, and should he be there, they may fall to him."
He looked down.
"We did," he whispered, and then he cleared his throat before continuing.
"Only my training saved us from its corruptive influence as now the Neisword should for Rolf, but my concern is more than that. We should have lost. An involuntary feat of my own magic that I still do not understand is all that saved us. That and the speed and agility of Alis Landale, who brought the magic to bear.
"There is something more behind all this. Something waits between worlds. Perhaps a whole race of these 'Dark Forces'. I do not know, but it is something we must be ready for. The weapon my magic created becomes more powerful every thousand years that passes. I had suspected this, but now I know it. Rolf had... a sister of sorts, who died. She has... added to its power."
He cleared his throat again.
"It must remain our trump card, if at all possible. I do not want whatever greater powers are behind these incursions to be able to prepare against the weapon, but if Rolf falls to Dark Force, then the choice is removed from us. Too much is at stake, here and now, for us to risk failure. We must have a second option, or we risk losing more than we already have.
"Which of you is the Vaultkeeper?"
An elderly Esper stepped forward, smiling in understanding.
"I, my lord. You seek the soul of her arm?"
"I do. Retrieve it for me, but also the box as well."
The old man bowed. "Lord."
Time passed as they awaited his return. Lutz did not say anything more, and the Espers shifted uneasily in impatience.
When the Vaultkeeper did return, backing through the double doors to protect his cargo, he was carrying a longsword in a plain, metal-bound scabbard, and a wooden box, perhaps a foot square and five inches deep.
The Espers started muttering. They recognised the sword, but it had been thought long lost.
Lutz took the Vaultkeeper's burden from him when he was halfway across the floor. Among his own kind, he found no need to perpetuate the sham of his mobility. He was paralysed, but the power of his mind served him instead.
The sword and the box floated gently over to Lutz and came to rest in his lap.
"The soul of her arm," he said reverently, eyes unfocused and darting, a rare smile on his lips. It was clear he was looking at something not in the hall. Or many things, perhaps.
"My friends," he said, almost soundlessly, "and Nei. Welcome to us, child." And then he said something no one could hear, and his smile grew.
Then he blinked, and the smile vanished into his careworn features. His mind focused with his eyes on the sword and it floated from his lap, drawing itself from its scabbard as it did so. It hung in the air and began to spin, catching light where there was none. It was a beautiful weapon, but worn, as much as Laconia can be.
"This will kill Dark Force, if nothing else," said Lutz, breaking the silence. "It has worked before with dramatic results, and then it was but a fraction of its present power.
"All we need is someone to wield it. Someone with skill."
The Espers looked to one another. They were magicians. None of them could wield a sword, not like the fabled heroine could. Not even like an apprentice Hunter. The only man who might have handled the sword had been sent to the stars with an untested weapon.
Lutz glanced at the wooden box and it opened at his bidding. Inside were four crystal spheres and he took one up with his mind, hanging it in the air beside the sword.
It gleamed like golden oil.
Lutz again looked from woman to woman around the room, getting the attention of each.
"Which of you wishes to be a legend?" he asked.