Chapter 13

Although it was daylight outside, the office was cloaked in total darkness. Only within a tiny circle of light in the center of the room could anything be seen.

“Where are the three now?”

Zalbard bowed his head even lower than it already was. The points of his horns nearly scraped the floor of the office. “The Bearer is at present on his way to Althena’s Temple. The Player yet remains in the wreckage of the Jormungaund battlestation - what the natives of this Fragment call the Fortress of Althena. He appears to be reading of the Prophecy there.”

“I see.”

Zalbard dared not raise his head before his Master. To do so would be madness, a condemnation to death. Particularly when he had displeasing news.

“What of the Seeker? It is with him that I am most concerned.”

“We have... lost contact with the Seeker,” Zalbard said.

“I... see.”

“The -Coward-, the one called Nall, seems to have taken them somewhere. As you know, my Master, his strong barrier has prevented all our attempts to observe him directly.” Zalbard gulped. Had he said too much?

“Yet the Player has been able to observe him. How?”

“I believe, my Master, that it is due to the similarity between the -Coward-’s magic and our own. As he is, after all, a sort of esper, his power is more attuned to ours.” Zalbard also suspected it was because, the Master himself and a few others aside, none of his people were as powerful as the Player.

That, he suspected, would be an extremely impolitic thing to say.

“If that is the case, how will you find the -Heir-, Zalbard?”

The other heirs had not been difficult to root out. The one Zalbard had collected had set herself up as a Goddess, just as this one had. But she was still in power until the day her morning services were interrupted. Her guardians had never even had a chance to react.

This one had been trickier to root out. Zalbard smiled. “It will be simple, my Master. The Player also seeks to find the -Heir-. When he does so, we will be watching him. As we are able to scry through his defenses, it should prove no difficulty.” It was an efficient plan.

“And when you have found her?”

“Once the Player has identified the location of the -Heir-, we will simply extract her. We are well entrenched on this world. Even if all three of them stand against us, which I think unlikely, we should be able to overcome.”

“This is too important to leave to ‘should’s, Zalbard.”

Zalbard had to fight the urge to look up. “My Master?” he asked.

“I am sending two more Greater Devils there to aid you.”

Zalbard stiffened. If other members of his own elite unit were sent to this Fragment, he might not be in command. The glory he so desired would go to another, or be spread among many.

“Fear not, Zalbard. As you are most familiar with the situation, you will remain in overall command.”

“You are gracious, my Master,” Zalbard said. Could the Master read his thoughts, too? He knew there were some with that power - he himself possessed it to a limited degree. But that functioned only against non-espers...

He hoped.

“May you find rest, Zalbard.”

“May you find rest, my Master,” Zalbard intoned.

The shadows receded from the room. When Zalbard looked up, the Master was gone. Nothing remained of his presence - it was almost as though he had never been there at all.

And if he could read his servant’s thoughts, he had found nothing lacking.

Zalbard breathed a sigh of relief. Not only had he escaped alive from a conversation he had thought might mark his end, he would remain in overall command of a force which had just become much stronger.

He smiled.

True, these three champions of the Cetra were powerful. But there was powerful, and then there was powerful.

And Zalbard had never encountered anything which could stand against the combined power of three of the esper race’s finest elites. Even the other -Heirs- had been unable to oppose even a single Greater Devil. What could these foes, not even Cetra or -Coward- espers, possibly do?

As each day was a struggle for survival, the espers did not believe in battle that served no purpose. A resource wasted might have saved lives at some time in the future - and needless combat was a terrible waste.

For all that, Zalbard almost hoped the Cetra’s destined champions would try to fight back.