Right before the five reached the train, Odine caught up with them. He gave a device to Gehenna, a small stone which allowed remote communication with his Haven. In this fashion, they would be able to contact Odine for information and aid. With this stone safely stowed in the folds of Gehenna’s robes, they boarded the train and began their journey.
This time, the train was not made for civilians but rather transported a military division, and so the cabins were somewhat cramped and the food of military grade. Still, it was comfortable enough compared to having to walk through the snow and cold. It would take them two days to reach the village of Drantak, during which they could rest aboard the train – which was good, as Gwendolen was still severely injured.
On the morning of the second day, however, the train came to a halt. Gehenna and Gwendolen sprang to their feet, worried that the train was once more about to be ambushed – but the problem turned out to be that a massive barrier of force had formed around the train itself. They discovered that it was Leesa’s power, having gone rogue after she had suffered nightmares: The Barrier of Alexander, that normally served as a shield around her body, had somehow expanded to encompass the entire train. Gehenna tried to force her to control it, but scared her and caused the barrier to shrink – risking to damage the train.
As Gwendolen held back the shrinking barrier, Gehenna talked to her. She was afraid of the laboratory, but more dangerously, she was also afraid of her own power. This is what had caused the barrier to expand. Her two caretakers, though, explained that with power as great as hers, being afraid was only natural. With great power comes great responsibility, and great responsibility is scary.
Eventually, as Gehenna explained this to her, the barrier faded. They got back inside the train, and it could once more start up, heading for Drantak.
As everyone familiar with the geography of Trakonia knows, Drantak is a small village in its norther parts, shielded by magitech against all the snow and located in a deep forest. The architecture of the town is fairly old-fashioned, and its sturdily built to protect against the Trakonian weather. Though there is little rain in Trakonia, the northern parts see frequent snow-fall.
Here, the travelers were greeted by Captain Steinar. He explained the situation: The enemy had fortified themselves in the laboratory, surrounding it with strong defenses. They had been sent orders by the King to investigate it with scouts, but found that it was too well-defended to enter via the normal passageways. Besides the extra fortification, strange mythological creatures called Wraiths had taken to dwelling in the surrounding forests – they were thought extinct, but the species had perhaps been revived by some strange magitech-procedure. So, approaching through the woods would likely be too dangerous. Fortunately, there existed a secret tunnel, which hitherto only Steinar himself had known of.
Alongside Steinar, the heroes were also introduced to the local Duke, and to the previous chief of the laboratory, professor Ogawa Beatrice. She told them to be careful with the equipment, because it should be possible to retake the laboratory and use it for good, rather than destroy it. They were also instructed that many of the scientists there were kept against their will, and that it would be best to avoid harming them.
Having been briefed on the condition of the laboratory, the heroes went to sleep in some nearby barracks. They were awoken in the morning and told to hurry: It seemed the laboratory wasn’t just being fortified, it was also being equipped with long-range siege artillery, pointed at Drantak!
Thus alarmed, the five people plunged into the tunnel underneath Steinar’s office. It was a long, and rather narrow tunnel, winding and meandering to avoid unstable areas in the ground, but quite empty. After having gone about half the distance, Gwendolen heard sounds – they were not alone. She scouted forwards to investigate, and found strange creatures stationed in a small break-room: Pale, naked men with sharp teeth and wicked claws, numbering four total. They were led by a similar creature, but clothed, seemingly more intelligent.
Seeing that sneaking past them would be impossible, Gwendolen killed the closest one to the door and positioned herself there, ensuring that none could get past her. Holding off their attacks, she let Leesa and Gehenna’s magic deal with the naked creatures, while she and Jessica killed the leader – Jessica cleaving his skull and Gwendolen kicking him so hard, that his brains flew out.
The fight was over very quickly, the foul creatures destroyed and cremated by Gehenna’s fire. The leader had a serial number on the back of his neck, similar to Gwendolen’s but starting with a W instead of an R. They could only be wraiths, produced in a laboratory for some foul purpose.
It puzzled the heroes, how the wraiths could be in a corridor that was supposedly secret. Nonetheless, while they monsters had fought fiercely, nobody had been hurt. They could continue their trek unhindered, eventually emerging into the laboratory itself via a trap-door.
Unfortunately, they soon discovered that there were more to the laboratory’s defenses than just guards and monsters. A strange aura of anti-Magi surrounded it, similar to that contained within the restraining collars. Ryana guessed it must be some manner of generators creating a field, probably more than one: For this reason, the group split up to hunt down and disable these machines, so that they would be able to fight at full power. Gehenna, Leesa, and Ryana went towards the laboratory heart, while Gwendolen and Jessica explored a side-chamber.
Gehenna, Leesa and Ryana sneaked into a large warehouse, and found it guarded by a few soldiers, and a man that they both distinctly recognized: Fredrik, who had once served the Baron von Savage. Ryana distracted him by speaking to him, while Gehenna and Leesa sneaked past – they found the generator in a room behind the warehouse. Alas, with all the generators still running, Gehenna did not have the power to destroy it.
Fortunately, at the same time Jessica and Gwendolen stumbled upon the other machine. It was guarded by the two men who had continuously harassed them: Biggs and Wedge. Gwendolen, too weak to fight without the Magi flow she needed to live, could not confront them, but it seemed impossible to sneak past them, so they must chance it. She stepped out to face them, drawing their attention while Jessica moved past.
She kept them distracted by talking to them, insulting them and turning them against each other while Jessica disabled the generator. Soon, a large explosion was heard, and in separate locations, Gwendolen and Gehenna both sprang into action. Gehenna used his powers of fire and darkness to soundlessly destroy the other generator; Gwendolen used her fierce strength to throw heavy crates full of metal pipes at Biggs, while Jessica dueled with Wedge.
Soon, Biggs and Wedge were defeated – Wedge, in panic, cast an ice-spell which froze his companion in a block of ice, and while he managed to capture Jessica as well, she broke free. Together, the two women defeated the ice-mage, and hurried to the aid of Gehenna and Ryana.
They did not need it. Ryana had stabbed Fredrik in the back so that he was almost bleeding to death: Gehenna captured the explosion from the generator and threw it at him, and he was shortly defeated. Now only one generator remained, but it was too weak to impair anyone in the group – they left it alone for now, heading down into the depths of the laboratory in an elevator.
As soon as they stepped out of it, they came face to face with the third bandit, Elena. She had left Biggs and Wedge behind, for now she was capable enough to face them on her own: She had stolen the powers of the Esper Siren, possessing her wings, her harp, and her alluring song. She wove a powerful illusion which only Jessica could resist, rendering the heroes blind to reality. They saw only a white, sandy beach with a great behemoth upon it.
Gwendolen, though, was overcome with anger, and taunted the bandit into attacking her. She was struck with a bolt of lightning, which gave away Elena’s position – blindly, she barreled into her and broke free of the illusion. Gehenna, Ryana and Leesa still labored under it, and were now in trouble: Siren’s power of illusion were so great, that even though it was mere fantasy, the massive monster could still hurt them. Gehenna burned away its eyes to enrage it, and sent flame after flame to injure the great beast.
Jessica and Gwendolen, meanwhile, struggled with Elena. Just as Gehenna destroyed the great behemoth, Gwendolen punched the singing woman in the solar plexus, disrupting her song and making her a plainly-visible target for Gehenna. Tendrils of flame and darkness caught her, disrupting her ability to fly away from attacks: As all three of the warrior-women fell upon her, she was shortly defeated when Gehenna reached into her and pulled out Siren’s power, knocking her unconscious. The crystal holding the power dissipated, trailing back towards its source – which Gehenna hurried to follow.
They came into a great laboratory-chamber. A great glass cylinder held Siren captive, but this time Gwendolen could not simply smash it – for the room was protected by a nigh-impenetrable barrier, caused by Alexander’s power. Behind it stood… Ogawa Beatrice! She had betrayed King Raknor to join forces with Professor Siegg, and had secretly been running the laboratory all along. She had sent the wraiths into the tunnel, she had equipped Elena, and now she planned to absorb Siren’s power for herself.
Gehenna turned to Leesa, and told her to use her fear. As the daughter of Alexander, she could absorb his power – touching the barrier, she forced it to dissipate. Gwendolen threw the child towards Professor Beatrice, who was slammed into the control panel, accidentally releasing Siren’s powers. Gehenna was poised to punish her, catching her in chains of darkness and lifting her up before the escaping Esper – but something very unexpected happened. The darkness turned against him, and around Professor Beatrice manifested the dark form of the Esper Diablos. Alive and well, Diablos smiled a grim smile and teleported away, snatching Ogawa Beatrice from the jaws of certain death.
Before Siren was on her feet, they were already gone.
Gehenna could first not believe what had happened – but the truth was unavoidable. An Esper had betrayed his kind, and was willingly helping Professor Siegg. This realization caused him to reel and stagger in shock, and it was only because of Leesa that he could compose himself. The five heroes quickly destroyed the final generator, smashed up most of the lab, and briefly questioned Elena, concluding that she had been mind-controlled by Siegg and might have more information. It was decided to bring her – but now Odine contacted Gehenna, and heard of what had happened.
A crisis such as this went above the head of mortal authorities. The prisoner must be brought straight before the Espers, as must those who had witnessed Diablos’ betrayal. Odine told Gehenna to make for Shiva’s sanctum, the nearest place where the Espers might congregate.
Carrying Elena back to Steinar’s office, they instructed him that all was clear inside the laboratory and that the army could move in to reclaim it. They also told him of Professor Beatrices’ betrayal – and then, the five of them made for the sanctum, hidden far away in the northern wilderness. Fortunately, Gwen’s instincts and knowledge of the wilderness helped guide them, and they faced little trouble save that Ryana went tired, and had to be carried.
Soon they arrived at a strange, icy cave with impenetrable darkness inside. The Esper Shiva waited outside, inviting them into her sanctum until they came before an assembled council of Espers. For the first time, Gehenna’s companions saw his father, the leonine Ifrith, in all his glory. They also laid eyes on Odin, Odine, Shiva, Siren, Titan and many other Espers, but two people in particular stood out: Keith, who had arrived here to hold counsel, and Alexander, greatly weakened so that Titan must carry him.
It was a powerful reunion. As Leesa embraced her father, some of his power returned, and wings once more manifested on his back. Jessica, too, met her father, but she did not embrace him – for he told her strange news, which shook her to the core. Jessica, like Gehenna and Leesa, was a half-Esper, but her powers had been stolen by Professor Siegg, and her strange ability to cancel out Magi seemed to be a result of the process – or at least, so Gwendolen and Odine guessed.
These were minor news, however, compared to the information that Diablos had betrayed the Espers. As soon as Gehenna mentioned this before the assembled Espers, a great confusion broke out between them – such betrayal was unheard of. They bickered loudly amongst each other, until Ifrith silenced them with a shout. Whether he had betrayed them or not, Diablos must be found, and none of the Espers – not even Odin or Siren – could sense him. It was decided, that they would search the World for the Esper of Darkness, until he was found. In the meantime, Gehenna, Gwendolen and their companions would have to search for Professor Siegg, who was a lesser threat compared to a rogue Esper. They gladly accepted this mission.
Keith would also search for the Professor, but he would do so on his own. For his own hidden reasons, he bade Jessica go with Gwendolen and Gehenna, rather than come along with him as it had been when she was growing up. Perhaps he feared for her; whatever his reasoning, he left without another word. The five lingered for some time in Shiva’s sanctum, Gehenna and Leesa feeling settled and calm in the serene cave of the Esper of Ice. Gwendolen took a chance to take a bath in Shiva’s cold-springs, while Gehenna tried to see if his powers had grown enough to counter Shiva’s cold. They had not.
On the way back, they spoke among each other. It was not until now, that they discovered from where Ryana’s speed and skill stemmed: She, like Gwendolen, was a weapon, although of a much earlier model. She had been rescued by King Raknor from a laboratory, and had once lost her mind to the brainwashing of Professor Siegg’s minions. They talked also of Gehenna’s father, and he told them that his mother had been the only mortal who hadn’t feared Ifriths’ power and fierce demeanor. They had fallen in love, but she had died in childbirth; thus it was that Ifrith only had one child.
If Espers can love, perhaps they can hate. Perhaps it was hatred that drove Diablos’ actions: In ages past, he had been imprisoned for a hundred years by the other Espers, after he killed two of their children. Now, he had somehow learned to capture and imprison Espers, something that Odine informed them of once they arrived at the King’s castle. He had researched the means by which Siren had been caught, and concluded the machinery was fueled by Diablos’ powers.
Now, the Espers had questioned Elena, and Odine relayed what she had said: She came from a village in the west, north of the lands of the wolf-men. It had been taken over by Siegg, and he had enslaved the populace – as far as she knew, they were still under his thrall. It seemed like this village in the west would be the likely place to search for Siegg, as he had seemingly vanished from Trakonia – whether he had ever been in the country, or if it was just Beatrice who had done his bidding, was impossible to tell.
Gwendolen gave King Raknor heartfelt thanks for having rescued Ryana from the Professor, and it was decided they would stay some time as the King’s guests before they began the long journey to the west. Gehenna, Gwendolen and Leesa would bring with them Jessica – and, to their surprise, Ryana volunteered to follow them. It was her mission to aid them in finding Professor Siegg, and they still hadn’t found him. So it was that their group now numbered five, and shortly, they would head westwards.