Convoluted

Characters:

Paladin: powerful Ethermancer of unknown Focus, middle-aged man. feared by Nethermancers as an avid hunter of their kind. friend of headmaster Arcon. guardian of Elena.

Elena: main character. young Ethermancer of the extremely rare purity Focus, with a naive personality that fits her focus perfectly. her parents were killed by Darksoul when she was small. she was rescued and taken in by Paladin.

Headmaster Arcon: widely considered to be the most powerful Ethermancer. age undetermined. Focus is moderation. headmaster of Arcon School of Emancy.

Darksoul: feared as the most powerful Emancer in history. Nethermancer type, Focus unknown. he came into infamy with the killing of two powerful Ethermancer types, Elena's parents, 16 years ago. has since established an extensive cabal of dark types. age undetermined.

Dement: powerful Nethermancer of deception Focus. attends Arcon School of Emoting. has displayed an unhealthy interest in Elena

Simon: Elena's first friend at Arcon. Ethermancer of enthusiasm focus.

Cosmos: Elena's father. Legendary class Ethermancer of purity focus, renowned throughout the Emancing world for his goodness and dependability

Sprite: Elena's mother. Legendary class Ethermancer of purity focus, renowned throughout the Emancing world for her empathy and kindness.

Nightmonger: Darksoul's Father. Focus unknown. Head of the Margov family, known for prejudice against humans. Was well respected among Emancers, dispite rumors of corruption. Killed by Paladin.

Dark Temptress: Darksoul's Mother. Focus unknown. Killed by Paladin.

Prelude

The mansion looked normal from the outside. Normal for a mansion reaching forty feet high over a square acre. Every little nuance spoke of money, from the well-kept, extravagent hedges surrounding it to the huge, beautifully designed glass doors at the entrance. Nothing of what could be seen from the outside so much as hinted at the desperate struggle taking place in the gigantic basement beneath.

A figure, indistinguishable beneath an oppressive shoud of darkness, hurled deadly black energy at two figures similarly obsured in smaller auras of light. One of the two held up shields of light to protect them from the onslaught, absorbing the force of the attacks raining down on them, while the other returned fire with laser beams emmitting from somewhere within the radient aura. But the shielder's light aura was shrinking at an alarming rate, and the dark aura only seemed to be growing, apparently unaffected by the counter-attacks.

Finally, the light around the shielder winked out completely, revealing a beautiful blond woman of about thirty-five, who collapsed to the ground like a puppet whose strings were cut. Her partner let out an agonized cry and ceased attacking, running to her side and gathering her in his arms. His own aura disappeared as he poured it into her, revealing the chiseled freatures of an almost impossibly handsome blond man in his forties.

The darkness-enshrouded figure had halted his own attack at the collapse of the woman, and now began moving slowly toward the couple. As he did, the aura condensed around him, just as strong as ever, but now form-fitted to the outline of a human body. The only things visible through the darkness were two purple irises, filled with anger and hate. A deep, gravelly voice could be heard, coming from where the mouth should be. "Hate. Hate. Kill you. Kill. I'll kill you. I'm going to kill you. You're dead. I hate you. Hate. Kill."

"I'm sorry, dear. He's just too strong," The woman gasped for breath, trembling in exhaustion. "I fear that it's all been for nothing."

"It's not over yet," The man whispered. "I've given you enough strength that we can use Incandescence."

"But-" The woman started fearfully.

"I know. I'm sorry." Said the man, a pained look on his face. "But it's as you said. He's too strong. We're both dead anyway at this rate, and this way, I will have time to reach our daughter."

The woman nodded, her eyes hardening. The dark figure was mere feet away, just beginning to reach for them, when they clasped their hands together, and a blinding white light surged from around them and formed a barrier in the shape of a dome around the dark figure. The woman took a sharp breath and exploded into pure light, her essence fusing with and strengthening the barrier.

The dark figure screamed in rage and recoiled from the barrier. His aura was smoking and disintegrating where it had made contact with the white light. He took a moment to rebuild his aura with dark purple energy that coalaced into black, and began firing black bolts streaked with purple at the blond man, but the barrier held. The man rose up, tears streaming down his face, and ran up to a pedestal, on which sat a glowing, pulsing ball of light and dark energy with strange markings and patterns appearing and disappearing across its surface, encased in glass. He lifted off the glass case and grabbed the erie artifact, running with it in hand to the nearest elevator.

In the mansion proper, up three flights of stairs, was a room with pink wallpaper, covered in pictures of princesses and ponies. On a big, frilly bed slept a little girl who could easily have passed for the younger sister of one of those princesses, blond and beautiful. As the blond man entered the room she started to stir, but he put out a hand and a gentle light covered her, and she settled back into sleep. He walked up to her bedside and tenderly stroked her face. Then, in a violent movement, he pressed the strange artifact into her belly. She began convulsing, her face showing signs of pain, but he kept pressing until it disappeared completely inside her. He took a step back, just beginning to sigh in relief, when a thick miasma of darkness snaked around his waist and slammed him into the wall, holding him three feet off the ground.

"How could you possibly...the strongest barrier..." He gasped. The dark figure in the doorway did not reply, nor even turn his way. The purple eyes looked only at the sleeping girl, approaching her slowly.

"You're too late," The man laughed. "Strong as you are, you're too late. It's finished, and you can't touch her. I've won in the end."

"You underestimate me greatly."

"No. I admit I've never seen anything like you before. You can do things I thought impossible. But this...I know for certain this much. She is safe from you."

Those hate-filled purple eyes continued examining the sleeping princess for a long while before finally turning his way. "You're right," Came the gravelly voice. "I can't touch her." Then, though the mouth couldn't be seen, the figure seemed to smile sadistically. "But I haven't lost. Do you think I'm so limited that killing her is my only option?"

The blond man's eyes widened. "What do you-gack!" His voice was cut off as a black tendril encircled his neck. The figure didn't bother to watch as he was strangled to death, looking instead at the little girl again. "The next ten years are going to be...interesting."

A white-haired man of about sixty sat reading at a desk in his study. He stood suddenly as a huge man burst through the door, carrying a sleeping four-year-old girl.

"What's happened?" The old man asked sharply, taking in the blood covering the right arm and back of the larger man, who, trembling with effort, slowly lowered the girl into an armchair.

"Everything." The large man replied, sinking to his knees beside the armchair. "They tried to initiate their plan tonight. It all happened so fast, I didn't even have time to contact you."

"You tried to take them on alone?" The old man said in disbelief. "Here, hold on now, let me heal you before we do anything else."

"I didn't have a choice, Archon! No, I'll heal on my own, save your energy. We'll need it in a moment I think, and I need to tell you the whole story before anything else. They would have succeeded for sure if I hadn't interfered when I did! As it is..." He finally turned to face Archon, tears in his eyes. "Sybil and James are dead. I couldn't save them."

"No," Archon breathed. "How? They were both so strong! Certainly the next two strongest after you and I. Was it the Margov's? It must have been, they're the only ones who could possibly have overwhelmed both of them together. And it must have been them that wounded you as well."

"Yes...and no," The big man sighed. "Robert and Lanara are dead as well. I...I attacked as soon as I discovered that they were to initiate their plan tonight. I killed them."

Archon stood in shock for a moment, taking that in. "You defeated the two most powerful nethermancers by yourself? In their own home?"

"Of course not," He snorted. "Just how strong do you think I am? Robert and Lanara Margov, Nightmonger and Dark Temptress, in their Vertex of Power? Not a chance, i would have been destroyed in an instant. I intercepted them on the way to the Vestra's mansion. I won. Somehow. It took everything I had." His eyes closed for a moment in pain.

"But none of their allies are strong enough to defeat James or Sybil, either one. If you killed Robert and Lanara, than who- wait, don't tell me-"

"Yes. The scion of House Margov. It doesn't seem possible, I know, for many reasons, but he killed Sybil and James in their Vertex of Power. And I believe he intends to carry out the plan his parents set into motion."

"So, he killed the parents, but it seems you've rescued the child. Little Elena Vestra, orphaned this night." The old man approached the armchair and looked down at the sleeping beauty.

"I caught him by surprise, or I surely would have died. He seemed to have no intention of killing her, but he was twisting emagic inside her in a way I have never seen before. I fear he intends to use her somehow. He was so consumed with what he was doing that he never saw me coming. He had no active defenses up, only his passives. I hit him directly with Ether Eraser and it didn't kill him! I admit I was far from full strength after the fight with his parents, but still, it is beyond belief that he could have survived such an attack! It hurt him, i think. Slowed him down, or his counterattack would have finished me. When it took all my strength to deflect his offhand blow, I knew I had no chance of winning that fight. I hit him again with everything I had to keep him off balance and defending for a moment, grabbed the girl, and jumped out the third-story window. His parting shot went right through my defenses, blowing a hole in my right shoulder. I probably should've died from that, but I had a Port set on the lawn below that brought me to my Vertex of Power. I've spent the last two hours healing there. I'm no longer at death's door, anyway."

Archon's eyes grew wider as each new piece of information came out. "So. I take it from this that Elena's body now holds within it what's left of the Margov's disasterous scheme?" He examined her closely now. "Yes, I see. A strange twisting of Nether and Ethermancy. Centered here." He placed his hand over her stomach.

"Can you disable it? Nullify it? At least remove it? Something?" The large man pleaded.

Achon took his time answering. "I have no confidence in my ability to deal with something like this. Ethermancy and Nethermancy should never be able to coexist in such a way. It goes against everything I know about emagic." He turned hesitantly to the larger man. "Anything I might try has the possibilty of triggering the spell, something we absolutely cannot allow to happen. For a spell locked in a living vessel, there is only one completely safe way of deactivating it."

"NO! I did NOT bring her her for that!" The big man rose to his feet, towering over the older man.

"I understand your sentiment, but we are talking about the good of the many here. I fear it's unavoidable."

"I WON'T ALLOW IT!" He roared.

The white-haired man sighed. "Paladin, I know the Vestra's were your best friends, and this is their only daughter. That and a hundred other reasons, not the least of which is simple morality, make me hesitate in this as well. But what exactly is it that you suggest we do? We absolutely cannot allow the spell to be triggered, under any circumstances."

Paladin glared down at the smaller man. "I brought her here for YOU to discover what we might do. Not for you to suggest a solution that I already know of, that is not a solution at all, as far as I am concerned. If you have no ideas, I will find a way myself. We're leaving." He lifted the girl and started toward the door. As tried to walk through it, a barrier of light stopped him. He turned angerly back to Archon.

"Paladin. Consider my position. We only met seven months ago, when you approached me with wild tales of dark conspiracies surrounding the Margov family. I'll freely admit that since then every bit of information you've provided has proven accurate, and your assistance in battles against the conspiring Nethermancers has been invaluable to say the least. Nevertheless, you conceal far more than you reveal. How did you learn of these things? What is your motivation? Who are you, really? Where did you come from, and since you are so strong, how is it that I've never come across you before, in my constant dealings with the Ethermancer community? All I know about you is the name you've given me, Paladin. Nothing. I know nothing of you. And now you suggest that I let this person that I know nothing about walk out the door with what amounts to a nuclear-class ticking time bomb, on his promise that he'll 'find a way' himself?"

"Are you going to fight me over this?" Paladin whispered.

"I'd rather not, really," Archon replied. "Weakened as you are, I believe I would win, but I don't want to kill you. I don't want to kill this girl either. I will if I must. What I'm asking, is that you give me a reason to trust you."

"Be more clear! What do you want?"

"Show me your Focus." said Archon calmly. Paladin began to protest, but Archon rode him down. "This much is the very least I can ask. What I've seen of your Emancy up until now has revealed next to nothing. You could even be a Nethermancer, for all I know. Reveal your Focus, and I'll let you go."

Paladin stared a hole in the old man, but Archon remained unmoving. Finally, the huge man settled his bundle once again on the armchair, and sat on the ground before Archon, closing his eyes. As Archon watched intently, a pinkish-white glow began to suffuse the room, slowly at first, then appearing fully in a sudden flash and disappearing completely back within the giant. Archon sucked in his breath at the sight. Paladin opened his eyes and stood up.

"Satisfied?" He asked sarcastically.

"That Focus was supposed to have died out centuries ago," said Archon wonderingly. "I won't ask how. In fact, I won't ask anything else. Yes, I'm satisfied. Go, take her, and I'll help you with anything you ask from now on."

Paladin gathered up his precious bundle. "We're going to disappear for a while. Don't know how long. That Margov scion is sure to be looking for her. Calls himself Darksoul, by the way. I wouldn't advise trying to take him on yourself."

"Which brings up a point we hadn't discussed until now. If neither you nor I can defeat this...Darksoul...what are we to do? Leave him to run amok?"

"I think he'll be too occupied with trying to find this one to stir up any other trouble, considering all the Margov plans for the last hundred years or so are tied up in her now, so we can leave him alone for now." He looked down. "As for later...I've got a plan for that."

"Care to enlighten me?"

Paladin's voice was almost inaudible as he replied, "I'm holding it."