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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Twelve


"Then we must go!" Gryz exclaimed.

Rika, Hahn, Gryz, and Pana had listened intently as Demi relayed to them Dezoris' present state. A few minutes into her story, Chaz stumbled into their presence, withdrawn, but happy to be home. His wife updated him on what Demi said, sensing some kind of emotional distress, but he assure her that everything was fine. She wanted to press him about it for she knew when something was wrong. He would just clam up, she thought, so I guess I better just let it be.

Gryz's outburst came after Demi finished. He knew as well as everyone else that their friends Raja and Kyra were probably in danger, too. A typical response from him, the Motavian took pride in his devotion to his friends. That devotion, however, led him into many a situation in which the circumstances were dire. Fortunately, he was able to get out of them, but that was his luck-of-the-draw and his closest friends worried that it would run out before he realized it.

Chaz wondered how Kyra and Raja were doing. He had not thought about their well-being in quite a while now and felt guilty about it. Raja was annoying to him sometimes, but his heart was in the right place and that's what really mattered. Kyra, on the other hand, developed a big-sister complex that endeared him to her. The Esper was a little overbearing at times which was nothing more than a minor inconvenience at most. Gryz's statement mirrored everyone else's opinion, that much was evident. The Hunter looked forward to seeing their friends again.

At about the same time, Wren walked in. He took everyone by surprise; they lost track of him in their discussion. Already they could see a change in him, a change that spoke of hope reborn, of vigor renewed. He walked with confidence, taking a seat next to Demi. "Did you find what you were looking for?" asked Chaz.

"Yes, I did. Thank you, Chaz."

Chaz and his companions could not just get up and leave on a moment's notice. There were things, people, that need to be taken care of. Pana already decided she was going to remain. She was not the fighter her brother was. In fact, she had never even held a hunting knife. Even though she worried about Gryz, she promised that she would not keep him this time like she did the last. Her brother was so worried about her he decided not to go with Chaz and Rika to Zelan to retrieve Wren the first time. She was happy that he did not go, but she understood the importance of this trip and assured everyone that they had her blessing.

Rika, on the other hand, was more ambivalent, ambiguous. At one point she seemed eager to go, to see Raja and Kyra again. Then a few moments later she would dispute going at all. While her friends did not understand, Chaz was fully aware of her quandary. She came into this world an adult, infantile in experience, but possessing knowledge which surpassed those thirty times her age. She was thrust into a world of endless battles, of saving life and all of Algo. For all intents and purposes, Rika never had a "normal" life from which she could form fond memories. Of course she would feel reluctant to leave a peaceful life, as marred with bad luck as it was, and return to her former self where she was never at peace. Perhaps, Chaz thought, Rika was the only sane one among them.

Hahn was no stranger to reluctance. When Alys was on her death bed, the scholar chose to remain with her. When she passed away, he was torn between staying in Krup with Saya or continuing on with his friends in search of vengeance for Alys' murder. In the end, he stayed with his fiancee, but he was never happy with that decision. Knowing that Chaz and company would return eventually, Hahn began to train in secrecy, honing his prowess with the dagger, increasing his arsenal of Techniques and Skills. Eventually, after many hours of training, soul-searching, and meditation, Hahn mastered the incredibly powerful Skill, Astral, which drew in power from the Astral realm and projected it into a lethal energy beam. Also, once Hahn mended his relationship with his father, they were able to forge special armaments from a metal his father had cached somewhere beneath his home. These armaments, which his father dubbed Mahlay, a word taken from Hahn's distant past, were extremely durable and contained within them a hint of magical power. Needless to say, despite the ever-present reluctance in his life, the scholar became a valuable asset in their fight against Darkness.

For Demi and Wren, their paths were predetermined even before they left Zelan to come to Motavia. There was much to be said about them, primarily about their strength of conviction. Once they were set on a specific goal, nothing short of death could prevent them from reaching it. From that characteristic they were able to form strong bonds with their friends, bonds they would defend to the very end. When Demi and Wren first discovered that Darkness was rearing its ugly head again, they knew what must happen. Somehow, someway, the Defenders of Light had to reunite to rise and meet its challenge. If that did not happen, then the consequences could be dire. Everything was so straight-forward to them, and they did not understand this reluctance that Palmans, Motavians, and Dezorians sometimes displayed.

Never in his wildest dreams did Gryz ever believe that he would actually be leaving his native planet in an attempt to save it. He felt bad about leaving Pana alone, being that he and Grandfather Dorin were her only living relatives. He did not want to go off to another planet, die there, and leave Pana to fend for herself, even though she was more than capable of doing it. Ever since their parents' death, they had became closer, strengthening the bond between brother and sister. Motavians hold family in reverent regard due to the fact that their life-span only numbers between forty and forty-five years. Gryz entered his reproductive age at about thirteen, but he was at mid-life now and had not started a family. Pana, therefore, was everything he had in life and was a little overbearing at times, not wanting her to take unnecessary risks. Her brother rarely went out for recreation or anything else and that worried her. Besides, she often thought, I'd like to go out and meet some people, too!

Using his Ryuka Technique which allowed instantaneous transportation between any of Motavia's cities, Chaz returned Pana to Tonoe where she would stay with grandfather Dorin and took Hahn to Krup so he could inform everyone of his intentions. While the Hunter was gone, Demi took an opportunity to pull Rika aside and converse with her. In their previous travels, the android discovered that she enjoyed "female" talk as it was sometimes called. Being in space for the past few years, she was not able to do anything of that sort and missed it sorely. Wren was good company, but he was never able to fully appreciate the emotion involved. Rika was different, though, because she was wise beyond her years and was just plain fun to talk to.

It was evening again and Aiedo bustled with activity. Rika and Demi walked together under the night's coolness, children dashing between them in playful frolic. While the Numan was strangely withdrawn, her companion seemed to enjoy their walk, not having an opportunity to actually derive pleasure in her walks within Zelan. A light breeze blew in from the surrounding desert, wafting dry smells through their nostrils. "Rika," Demi spoke, "have you and Chaz had any thoughts about starting a family?"

Rika remained wordless.

"I was just wondering because I see all these children running around and I can't help but feeling that you would make a wonderful mother! I suppose if I ever had a chance to procreate, I would. There is a possibility that I may someday follow in Wren's footsteps and build an AI, but I don't foresee myself doing so in the near future. Wren never told me what he was feeling when he came up with the concept of my assembly," Demi continued, not aware that she was rambling, "but I'm sure he intended me to be just a loyal AI and not the spitfire android I am today. You know what I'm saying?" Although her companion made no conscious movements, she thought she saw her nod. "I knew you would! It seems like you're my only friend I can talk to in this manner. Talking to Wren is like talking to a sandworm sometimes -- never pays attention. I'm sure Chaz isn't like that, but hey -- he's only Palman!" Demi laughed loudly, her voice filled with mirth, but her humor escaped Rika's notice.

"Seriously, though, I'd be lost if I didn't have him and I think he feels the same about me. It's hard for me to get him to express himself. He does it in his own way, subtle albeit, but in his own way all the same." Three children ran into the two friends accidently and pushed them aside. They apologized profusely, then headed on their way. "Kids."

Demi and Rika approached the Trans-communication center where numerous citizens scampered in and out like ants raiding an adjacent nest. Across from it was one of Aiedo's taverns, also bustling with activity. Laughter poured outward, telling stories of health and prosperity. Demi, starved for activity, beckoned her friend to follow. A seemingly mindless automaton, Rika let herself be led into an establishment notorious for housing ruffians and antisocial activities.

At precisely the same moment Rika and Demi entered the tavern, all conversation ceased, seemingly drowned out of existence. The android led her defunct companion to an obscure table furthest away from the bar where countless numbers of eyes were watching. An obese woman, one that Demi would have acknowledged that she was not pleasant to look upon, approached them. She wore a single apron that was soiled and had probably gone unwashed for many weeks. This woman, though masculine in appearance, was their waitress. "What'll you have?" she asked in a gruff voice. Demi was taken aback by her demeanor.

"I'll have nothing," she replied, "but my friend here would like some water, if you please."

"What? You think we're a rich establishment? We have wine, ale, and hops, but nothing else."

"Okay, then I guess she'll have a small glass of wine." The waitress nodded, muttering some snide remark about damned AI's beneath her breath, and went to fetch their drinks. After a few moments, conversation returned to normal.

"For some reason I think I could have chosen a better place to stop and rest," Demi commented. Her enhanced hearing was able to pick up and pinpoint many references to them by some of the tavern's occupants, some mentioning Chaz which indicated that they knew who Rika was. "Rika, what's bothering you? You've been quiet the entire evening. I thought we were supposed to be able to tell each other everything."

"I'm sorry, Demi," Rika apologized, the first time she had spoken since they left her home. "My thoughts are kinda wandering." The Numan's android friend nodded, still not understanding her inner debate, but not wanting to pressure her into talking about it. From her studies of Palman emotions, she knew that there was a difference between being supportive and being nosy. If Rika wanted to express herself to her, she would do it on her own accord. Their burly waitress returned, slamming a small glass on the table, spilling some of its contents. She snorted, then retreated without another word. "I hope you drink wine. I didn't know what you would like."

"Demi," said Rika without emotion, "I might not be going to Dezoris with you."

The android was flabbergasted and for the first time in a long time she did not know what to say.

"Rika!" she exclaimed after a few seconds of thought. "Why?" Rika realized that her proclamation would cause distress in her friend, and everyone for that matter, but she need to let at least one person know if only as a test. She had not even told Chaz which filled her with guilt, but in the end she knew that Demi was a good choice. "If you don't come --"

"I haven't made my decision yet."

"But why?" the android pursued her inquiry.

"Demi, I've discovered that after three years of marriage, I enjoy our quiet life here in Aiedo. I know it's hard for you to understand when your determination is so stolidly set, but just as you can set your own programming, so can I easily change my mind. From the exact moment I emerged from Seed's protective wing, I was submerged into a world of battle, a place where death and dying was almost as commonplace as births. During that time, I discovered what love truly was and when all of our fighting was over, I decided to let it supersede battle as my life's controlling factor."

Here, Rika paused, unsure of how to continue.

"You see, Demi, I will be the first to admit that I am undoubtedly one of Motavia's most intelligent creatures. When Seed finally sent me on my way, it was sure that it had prepared me sufficiently to meet all of life's challenges. But like many AI's, you and Wren excluded, Seed was unaware or unable to process part the part of existence called emotions. Being an organic life form capable of such things but sheltered from them all of my short life, I didn't know what to expect once I left. I was plunged into a world of emotion, one that stupefied and mystified me. It was then that I quickly found out that all of my knowledge was paltry without experience, without feelings. Talk about the blind leading the blind!" Demi smiled as did her friend who had not since before their walk began. "Knowledge and emotion are integrally linked, as you know well enough. To have one without the other is like fighting with dull claws . . . you don't get much accomplished. Do you know what I'm trying to say?"

Demi shook her head negatively.

"What I'm trying to tell you is that even though I know Motavia will eventually return to its natural state, I'd be content with living life to its fullest rather than fighting a hopeless battle that will do nothing but cause all of us heartache." A few of the tavern's patrons began to move toward the exit, but Rika paid little notice. "There is nothing we can do to alleviate what is happening to the planet's climate. Battling Darkness again is not going to alter Motavia's orbit around Algo, which is the only way the necessary changes to it's climate will take place.

"And as for all your queries about us starting a family, I don't think it's going to happen. Yes, I've often wondered what it would be like to have children and also whether or not we'd make good parents. The need to procreate is strong within both of us, but like we were discussing before you arrived, Palman birthrates have been rapidly declining because of Motavia's climate change. There simply is not enough food or water to sustain my people."

"It doesn't have to be that way," Demi stated, shaking her head in despair. "Why deny yourselves the happiness a family can bring when it very well could be a couple of centuries before Motavia's reversion is complete?"

"Think of how selfish that would be!" Rika snapped as she stood up from their table, attracting casual interest. "Motavia is deteriorating! It's not getting better . . . it's steadily getting worse!" The Numan seated herself calmly, reaching over to pat her friend's hand in a friendly apology for lashing out. "What I mean to say is that we -- I can't bring myself to want children when I know I will leave them to a world which will eventually kill them and if not them, their children or their children's children."

"Rika, let them worry about that when the time comes. Who knows, perhaps technology will have advanced to the point were the planet's weather patterns can once again be altered. You can't know what the future has in stake. I guess I'm a bit selfish, but knowing that I'll undoubtedly outlive you, I'd like to have a reminder of you through your children. I promise you this, Rika -- if you do decide to have a child or children, I will personally guarantee their safety into adulthood and beyond."

"That's a flattering offer, Demi, but I still haven't discussed my concerns with Chaz. I suspect that he'll be angry, but I will deal with it just as I've dealt with everything else."

From across the tavern, two men stood up and approached Demi and Rika whose conversation had come to a standstill. The two friends failed to take notice and remained motionless. Obviously inebriated, they lumbered over, slamming their drinks down. Many patrons casually got up and left; they knew what was about to occur. "Excuse you," Demi commented. One man, perhaps seeing two Demis, responded in kind.

"Shut up, you stupid androids," he said. "Step aside . . . we'd like to have a few choice words with Mrs. Ashley."

"Yeah, as if," said Rika. "And you will refer to my friend as Demi." The second man grabbed hold of Demi's arm and attempted to lift her.

"Yeah, well, we don't need her," he said, "so lets just get rid of her." Not expecting the sheer power of Demi's android strength, the second man was caught completely by surprise when she lifted him over her head and tossed him away from them. His companion veered completely around and struck Demi squarely across the face. The android merely flinched, showing no other signs that his attack had any effect on her. Following her previous motion, she threw him on top of his predecessor, smashing tables and glasses. Instantly, every man still within the tavern was on his feet, preparing to come to their friends' aid. Fearing for Rika's safety, Demi lifted a table and tore its legs off. The moment one man made a slight move, she flung the table at them, injuring a few, knocking others out-cold. The remaining Palmans, about thirteen or so, rushed in on Demi, piling themselves on top of her. Rika, seeing her friend in danger, retrieved two legs from the broken table and held them menacingly.

"Get away from her!" the Numan ordered. Five of Demi's attackers ceased their struggle and turned to face her.

"What can you do? We're five and you're but one."

"Not for long!" Rika closed her eyes and concentrated intensely. After a few moments, she felt a spark inside her body and suddenly four spectral images of herself appeared. Rika attacked viciously, the images following her every move like marionettes attached to every muscle in her body. Then, they disappeared as quickly as they appeared, and her Disrupt Skill was completed. All five men lay unconscious, unmoving and barely breathing.

Having seen their friends' demise, the remaining men quickly turned to face their new threat. Rika took a few steps backward, but was determined to hold her ground. They approached, cautiously, not fully confident that she did not have any more tricks up her sleeve. She swung her weapons, keeping them at bay, but they would eventually wear her down. Again, she closed her eyes, hoping that another display of her Disrupt Skill would convince them that they should find an easier target. One of her attackers, however, recognized that she was about to attempt something and launched himself on top of her. Instantly, his friends rushed in to get a piece of the action.

Rika felt strong hands grasp her arms, her legs. She felt her hair being ripped out by the roots as she was lifted into the air. Then, to her horror, she heard a strange ripping sound as a piece of her clothing was ripped off. Rika screamed at the top of her lungs, fighting, resisting with every fibre of her being, but someone cupped a hand over her mouth and she was silenced.

Suddenly, loud, heavy footsteps became audible, and Rika tried to turn to see who had walked into the tavern, but her attackers would not permit such a movement. One man was seized from behind and thrown violently against a wall. Another man was kicked so hard he went through the wall in front of him. Rika was dropped harshly onto the floor while the remaining five men turned to face their attacker. Three of them were thrown around like refuse and the remaining ones turned and fled.

Silence.

Rika heard the heavy footsteps approach her and stop. "Lie still," Wren said, "you are injured, but first I must attend to Demi so she can assist me." The Numan lay still, taking a brief moment to examine herself. She looked to her right shoulder and saw her clothing torn, relieved that no other parts of her clothing were in that condition.

Within seconds, Wren returned to his fallen friend with Demi close behind him. "Rika!" she exclaimed in concern. "Rika, are you all right."

"I . . . I . . . ." was all she could manage.

"Don't try to talk, just stay still and I will use my Medic Power to return some of your strength so you can use your own restorative Techniques to heal yourself."

Rika nodded and did as she was told. She watched her android friend place her hands about an inch above her body, discharging a powerful electric jolt downward. Excruciating pain shot up and down the Numan's body like millions of tiny daggers were racing through her veins and arteries. The pain lasted only a few seconds, followed by an unmistakable numbness which caused muscular relaxation, allowing her body to begin to heal itself. Finally, when the numbness faded, most of the pain was gone.

Almost fully healed, Rika sat up from where she lay, stretching her weary muscles. Without hesitation, she then used her Nares Technique, engulfing her body in a shiny aura of energy resembling shimmering falls of water pouring out of thin air. She felt all of her strength return, enabling her to stand under her own power. "Thank you, Wren, Demi." Rika straightened her clothes, making herself more presentable. "Now, I have to ask you two for another favor." The androids exchanged puzzled glances, but nodded in compliance. "Please, do not mention any of this to Chaz. He's extremely protective of me and I'm afraid he might go berserk if he finds out what happened."

"Rika --" Wren began.

"Please, Wren. Promise me." Reluctantly, Wren decided to acknowledge her request and vowed to not tell Chaz, as did Demi. They knew that Chaz was and even-minded person and would never do anything to intentionally hurt another living being unless it was in self defense, but obviously Rika had her reservations about telling everything to her husband. She smiled warmly, then exited the tavern, Wren and Demi following behind.

"Wait," Demi stopped her master, laying a hand across his shoulder plate. The big android turned to face his counterpart, curiosity in his expression. "Wren, when I used my Medic Power on Rika, I inadvertently compiled a medical scan and I was alerted to something that I don't believe she or anyone else is aware of." Wren's attention became suddenly focused completely on what she was saying, but she did not elaborate on it any further.

"What is it Demi? Is she in danger?"

"She, herself, is not, but I do believe there is another that may be. We don't have time to discuss this right now, she'll be expecting us to follow her. I'll tell you all about it later."

Wren and Demi hurried along, catching up with Rika only within a few moments. Demi walked a full stride behind her friend, watching her as a mother bird might watch her young in concern. She wanted so much to tell Rika what she had discovered, but was not sure how it would come across, especially after their heated conversation in the tavern.

Wren did not have a clue of what his counterpart was thinking, but rest assured, he did know that she would eventually divulge everything she knew to him. That was her way. He only needed to wait and be patient about it. The few, brief words Demi shared with him gave cause for a sufficient amount of concern. If Rika was in immediate danger, she would let him know without reserve. He would just have trust in her judgement.

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