Chapter 20

Zalbard stepped from the portal and looked around. This secluded isle was certainly a change from the dwellings of the other two -Heirs-.

Of course, very soon that would cease to matter, to the -Heir-, or to anyone else.

He turned to his companions.

There were several dozen esper soldiers in the force, but they would serve only to restrain the -Heir- when she was apprehended, and to deal with any mortal interference in the town.

If any of the Destined Ones decided to interfere, those soldiers wouldn’t stand a chance.

Standing in front of them, though, were two of Zalbard’s fellows. Greater Devils. Such power had not been brought together in all Zalbard's long life... if ever. Now, they would turn that power against any of the Cetra’s champions who dared to stand in their way.

Zalbard smiled.

Although he was loath to admit it, among this exalted number his power was not so very great. True, he was a match for any dozen normal esper soldiers, but it was only by his wits that he remained a Greater Devil.

“We will advance upon the village and secure any opposition within,” he said. “Once that is done, we will proceed with the interrogation of prisoners until the location of the -Heir-, Althena, is revealed to us.”

The assembled espers all nodded.

Cameela, one of Zalbard’s long-time colleagues in the Greater Devils, stepped forward. She held up a small kerchief. “The Master instructed me to dispense these, Zalbard,” she said.

He stroked his mustache. “What are they?”

She silently unfolded the kerchief. The glittering red crystals inside drew Zalbard’s eye.

Magicite?” he hissed.

She nodded.

It was forbidden, above all, for any esper to use magicite. It was the greatest taboo of their people. Life amongst the espers was all too often short, hard and brutal. Those who had found rest, even in death, were honored and respected. To disturb their rest...

“He was most insistent,” Cameela said.

Zalbard frowned.

The other Greater Devil, a newcomer to the unit, walked up. “Most insistent,” he said. His deep, rumbling voice matched his leonine appearance. Hashmalum, Cameela had called him.

Zalbard looked down at the crystals.

It was the Master’s command.

To disobey was death.

He reached out and took one.

The power within was great. It would make him stronger still, stronger even than the others had been.

Why not use it?

The Master was right. Why should the dead be permitted their rest, while the living struggled simply to cling to life?

His cloak swirling behind him, Zalbard stalked toward the village of Burg. He paused at the outskirts. His magical senses detected only one of the Destined Ones.

True, one would be easier to overcome than three. It would be wisest to strike now, eliminate this one, then pursue the others.

But if he did that, if he gave them a warning of that sort, the other two might escape.

None would be allowed to escape.

“Halt,” he said, his voice carrying magically to the others.

“Should we not attack?” Cameela asked in the same manner.

“No. We wait here.” He pointed down in the village, where the Bearer stood. He was speaking with two others. A Cetra girl, who had accompanied the Seeker, and the -Coward-, Nall. “He is alone. We wait until we can strike all three of them at once. They will weaken each other, and then fall into our trap.”

Zalbard extended his magical senses until he could hear what was being said.

“I don’t know where he’s gone,” the Cetra girl was saying. “Nall, Mr. Atriedes, I fear for what he intends to do. But if he’s just gone somewhere without telling me, then he might-”

The Bearer shook his head. “I must go to Althena, anyway. If he’s there, then I’ll find him.”

“Do you want me to come with you?” the Cetra girl asked.

“That’s all right. Nall has told be the way.” The Bearer turned to go.

Zalbard watched him leave, then brought his senses back to his own location. “We will take the town now,” he said. “And when they return, we will be waiting.”

He didn’t wait for an acknowledgment from the others - the Greater Devils would be disciplined enough to know what was expected of them. And he could not believe that they too were not eager to unleash their anger upon those before them.

One was even a Cetra, a Banisher.

He hoped she would not put up too much of a fight. If she survived the initial battle, and the springing of Zalbard’s trap, then there would be time to deal with her. Properly.

He smiled, and teleported into the village square.