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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Thirteen

Chaz, Gryz, and Hahn, having returned quickly from Krup, were busy packing up items for the trip to Dezoris when Rika, Wren, and Demi walked in. Chaz immediately notice his wife's torn shirt and became concerned. "Rika!" he exclaimed. "What happened? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," she replied nonchalantly, "I just got my shirt caught on the edge of a building."

"Are you sure you're okay?"

"Chaz, stop fussing over me. I'm fine, really." The Hunter knew in his gut that she was not telling him everything, but to pursue the subject further would suggest to her that he did not believe her, and he did not want to have that distrust present in their marriage. It was already enough that he was leaving her to once again venture on a quest to discover the truth. Dezoris was not a pleasant place to visit during bad storms, which Wren indicated were not occurring. Rika had the unfortunate task of having to worry about him every waking moment of the day, not to mention her nightmares.

Wren and Demi immediately joined their comrades in an effort to expedite their progress. After her minor confrontation with Chaz, Rika walked into the kitchen apparently deep in thought. Chaz knew that she desperately wanted to join them, but she was torn between her loyalty to her friends and her loyalty to her beliefs. No on e would ever pressure her into going; the choice was her's and her's alone to make.

The Hunter, of course, would prefer that his wife accompany them, not only for emotional support, but also because her skills as a fighter and a healer were invaluable. After an extended period of them, she was able to look back upon here actions and view them from a different perspective, and she did not like what she saw. She did not believe that Seed created her for the sole purpose of conflict. Rika knew in her heart that she was a peaceful creature, one filled with knowledge that she could use for the betterment of her society.

But then there is the nagging fact that she should use all of her talents for the purpose of betterment and not just a single talent. Not only was she and not just a single talent. Not only was she an extremely intelligent creature, but she was also an extremely apt fighter. Should she not use those skills to their fullest extent as well? She fought this inward battle over and over again, only to end up at a standstill every time. Her quandary was whether to abandon her husband who she loved with all her hart and soul, or to abandon her beliefs and risk feeling guilt for being a hypocrite. It was not an easy decision, nor would it be for anyone. As far as her battles went, this one was the hardest she had ever fought.

Chaz left his home later that evening to catch a breath of fresh air and clear his mind. He was distressed that Rika did not share what happened to her. Had he been such a terrible husband lately that she was forced to resort to lying to him? He would never hurt her in any way, shape, or form, but as for anyone who hurt her . . . may the Great Light have mercy on their souls.

A cool breeze was blowing that night, but it could not blow away his worries or despair. The Hunter walked in a daze, not aware of who or what was going on around him. The Hunter was a zombie in both stature and demeanor. He might have been one of the living dead walking the morgues of Guaron!

Chaz was almost completely oblivious to everything going on around him. The laughter of numerous children filled his very soul with joy, but he still could not shake his feeling of emptiness. Perhaps it was because of his knowledge that they would never have an easy life while growing up. That may have been why, but the emptiness he felt was not from without, but from within. Chaz remembered telling Gryz that he did not want to have children, but that was not nearly close to the truth. He longed to have children, but felt selfish for wanting them. For one, he had never discussed it with Rika, but what really bothered him was that their children would grow up just as the children playing around him were . . . impoverished, never to know even a simple life. They would struggle to survive from the day they were born till the day they died. The Hunter could not bring himself to place such an onus upon them.

He would not.

As the Hunter continued to walk, he began to regain his senses. He suddenly became aware of footsteps rapidly approaching him from behind. "Chaz!" a man's voice called out, "Chaz, wait up!"

Slowly, almost lifelessly, Chaz turned to see who was calling to him. Just as he did, Hahn came running up, out of breath. "Chaz!" the Scholar panted, "I -- I've been looking all over for you! Rika was getting worried and asked if I could go and find you."

"Well, you did," came the Hunter's banal response. Turning away from his friend, he continued on his lonely trek.

Instantly, Hahn bounded to his side like a lost puppy, much to his friend's grim consternation. Hahn was great to be around with and was an excellent person to have as a friend, but he had the annoying knack of sensing a person's problem and forcing him to talk about it. "So," Hahn began, "what's up?"

"I don't know, Hahn," Chaz lied, but figured that giving him one answer was just as good as giving him another, "I think I may just be getting cold feel about doing all this again. We all know the history of Darkness in Algo, so I never expected to be battling it twice in my lifetime. You know?"

"Yeah, I feel that way about all of this, too. But the one thing you have to understand, Chaz, is that you and I -- none of us can evade our destiny. It's just like with Saya and I -- we're not married yet, but if our destiny is to get married, I'm not going to deny it. How can I not? It's the same situation with children --" at that, Chaz's head perked up, "I may not want to have children with Saya, but if it's meant to be, then I'll let it happen. Trying to deny your destiny only leads to heartbreak and misunderstanding. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"

Chaz stopped walking for a moment, became lost in his thoughts. "I think so," he said. "But what if we do decide to have children then decide it was the wrong thing to do, not only for them, but for us as well? I mean, once a child is brought into this world, there's no turning back. How can I let them grow up in a world where there's little chance of knowing an easy life?"

"Gee, Chaz, you really do have a one-track mind. Why worry about it? Your children won't miss something they've never known. To them, they might be living an easy life. I'm sure you and Rika would do everything within your power to make their lives livable."

"But I know what an easy --"

"Yes, yes, yes. I know you think you do, and I'm sure your father knew an easier one than you, and his father before him. A part of life is being able to cope and adapt to constantly changing situations. Chaz, you think you know how things will be, but you don't. I've never known you to dwell so deeply on anything, but I do understand your quandary this time." Hahn sighed, indicating his weariness. "Remember, Chaz, don't fight your destiny, whatever it may be. You didn't fight it when you made the decision to become a Protector of Light when LaRoof asked you to be so. I know you told me that you did almost turn your back, but deep within you knew it to be true. Such is the case with all things. Such is the case now." The Hunter was forced to consider the weight of his friend's words. Time and again he struggled with what he knew to be a neverending battle within his mind, one that he would have to win or lose soon. But the choice was not only his to make and Rika's word would have precedence over his.

"Are you heading back now that you've found me?" asked Chaz.

"I suppose," Hahn replied. "Won't you be coming with me?" Hahn asked the question, even though he already knew what his answer would be.

"I'll be along in awhile. Just tell Rika not to worry and that I'll be home shortly."

Hahn sighed, but went along with what his friend told him. He was not prone to argument and decided that this was neither the time nor the place to get Chaz upset over something he obviously cared a great deal about. The Scholar was no fool -- he knew very well what his friend's thoughts were because lately he had been thinking exactly the same. The only difference was that he probably had Rika's concerns while Saya had Chaz's. He, in fact, was probably taking Rika's position in what should have been a conversation between Husband and Wife. Had he and Saya been married, they would be having the same conversation, just as Hahn suspected that many young Palman couples have.

Needless to say, Hahn left without another word.

* * * * *

Rika Ashley sat alone among her friends surrounded by a flurry of activity and courteous conversation, but alone, nonetheless. As if it was not enough that she was not helping them prepare for their long and dangerous journey, she could not even bring herself to leave the house out of guilt. It almost seemed that she was content to let them leave without saying anything, that she was content with her decision. She was not content with it -- it ate at her insides like a maggot-infested carcass. She was convinced that exposing herself to the guilt was her punishment for not having enough courage to join them.

But she did have the courage, the courage to fight a thousand opponents and then some.

She kept telling herself just that, though the truth of the matter was that she lacked to courage to change again. Rika had adapted wonderfully to her life with Chaz and she was not too comfortable with the idea of abandoning it, no matter the cause. It was as if a powerful hand gripped her heart and squeezed it until it threatened to rupture it altogether.

It was then that Hahn entered Rika's home looking a little bit lost, a far-away look in his eyes. He immediately found her sitting alone and went to tell her what Chaz told him to. Not satisfied with what the Scholar told her, Rika just sat dejectedly, impassive, but not being able to do much more. She and her husband never really had a fight in their years together and she did not know whether or not to classify what they were having now as a fight or not. She realized that what she was feeling was a combination of both disappointment and guilt -- disappointment in Chaz for just assuming that she would go along with his plans and guilt for not making the choice to do just that. That was what all this was about, really, because Rika was exercising her freedom of choice, even though this was not necessarily the right time to be doing so. Chaz had every reason to assume that she would go, she decided, because it was only natural for the husband to think that his wife whom he loved would stand beside him in his endeavors. Rika would expect nothing less from him.

Lost in her thoughts, the Numan failed to notice that Hahn had sat next to her, reading the expressions on her face and responding to them with his own expression of compassion. Startled, she was distressed to find out that her facial expressions were so easily readable. "Rika," Hahn spoke, his voice soft and compassionate, "would you please reconsider your decision about accompanying us to Dezoris?"

Rika became suddenly angry and glared at her friend with suspicion. "What?" she demanded fiercely. "Did Chaz put you up to this?" Hahn recoiled in fear, for he had rarely seen her so angry. "Well?"

Regaining his composure, Hahn almost had to force the words out. "N -- no, actually."

"You're lying." Now, it was time for the Scholar to become angry.

"Rika," he snapped, "you know me better than that! Frankly, I'm offended that you'd even suggest such a thing!" Rika's fire smoldered, feeling ashamed of her words. "Excuse me for being concerned, but you and Chaz are my friends and this play the two of you are putting on is becoming little more than a farce. You really think that Wren, Gryz, Demi, and I are oblivious to what's going on right under our noses? If you do, then you're sadly mistaken. Hell, you'd have to be blind, deaf, and dumb to not see that your decision has not only distressed your husband, but it's tearing you up on the inside as well. What's eating you up now? Is it guilt? Or how about because you feel like a coward?" Rika stared at Hahn is fascination, shocked by his knowledge of her feelings. "Come on, Rika, wake up and smell the Trimate. If he hasn't told you before, then I'll tell you now -- Chaz needs you! We need you!"

Satisfied that he got his point across, Hahn left Rika's presence and moved on to the adjacent rooms where there was a hustle and bustle of activity. The Numan was forced to sit and ponder Hahn's words, no matter that they were spoken in anger. Despite that, she knew that he spoke the truth about what was going on between her and Chaz, a truth that she wanted to deny, but could not. He could have not hit the mark more accurately.

Now, Rika brought herself to realize, now is the time for me to make my choice. I can either choose to go or to stay, but it is my choice and that's what's important. If I go, then I will be walking right into the mouth of madness, so to speak. I risk my very life for the salvation of an entire solar system, of lives both young and old. I cannot ignore the fact that, if it should happen, then I may bear witness to one or more of my friends' deaths, something I am not prepared to face. Also, if I should happen to die, then I would leave Chaz broken, like a blade snapped in half, never to be mended. I may not even get a chance to say goodbye. If I stay, then I would be safe, never to face another battle in my lifetime, perhaps. But I am deluding myself, because the battles I fight not are from within, not from without. If my friends fail, then I would have to live with the knowledge that I could have gone with them and made a difference, then suffer the guilt while everything in creation falls under darkness. I would get to say goodbye to all of my friends, but it would lack the meaning it would have if I was there with them while they're dying. Chaz might die alone, and I don't want that to happen.

It won't happen, not if I have anything to say about it.

Not long after all the needed supplies were packed up and everyone was settled in for some rest before the trip to Dezoris, Chaz silently walked into his home. He expected everyone to be asleep by that time, noticing that the light level within his abode was minimal. The Hunter deliberately waited long enough to return so he would not have to face his wife, but he would not have such luck.

Rika sat silently and alone in the living room, obviously waiting for his arrival. Chaz detected the strong aroma of an herbal tea, one which his wife usually drank if her nerves were frayed and she needed to calm down. The Hunter suspected that he was the cause of her stress and anxiety and he did not look forward to this encounter.

If it was anyone else, Chaz would have just walked on by, but he could not do so with his wife. Approaching her carefully, he seated himself next to the woman he loved. Rika reached down to the center table and sipped her tea. "Rika," he said softly, "I --"

"No, wait," Rika ordered, "me first." Chaz was startled by her suddenness, but let her speak. "Chaz, I've been doing some thinking. My whole reasoning behind wanting to stay is because I'm afraid that I'd be abandoning everything that I've worked to be, all the goals and morals I've set."

"Sweetheart, it's not like that at all. It's --"

"Please," Rika cut him off again, "just hear me out." Chaz nodded. "I'm also afraid of changing again. I've been so comfortable with our new life that I don't want to go back to our old. I know you've heard this several times already, but when I hung up my claws, I thought it was for good. I was sick of the fighting, sick of the killing. I was barely a year old when Seed sent me out into the world, a world forced me to fight and kill to survive. It was either kill or be killed." The Hunter sat silent for long moments listening to her talk. Everything she said made sense to him, but he had not realized it before then. Rika, like most creatures, was peaceful by nature. When Seed created her, she was naive, shy. She could fight like no one else, but she did not know why she was able to when there was no threat. Rika was content with staying with her Creator for the rest of her existence, but that would not be. The Numan was sent off with a ragtag team of fighters into a world she knew only from genetic engineering as well as words and pictures from monitors. In her was this terrible longing, an innate ability.

The ability to fight . . . the ability to kill.

From that point on, she fought so long and so hard that her longing was quelled. After seeing so much death, her peaceful side emerged once again and she remembered something that she had forgotten almost entirely -- life. The knowledge spoiled her, and she never wanted to return to that other life, the one when she knew only death. Chaz was just as guilty of spoiling her as she was of spoiling herself. He realized that now.

"I don't want to kill again," Rika said, almost beneath her breath, "but I know if I go with you and the others, I'd be forced to. I would not just sit by and watch you do all the fighting when I know I could help. I can kill so easily; I could kill you right now if I wanted to --" Chaz shuttered at the thought -- "but I don't. That's the thing . . . I don't want to kill, at all. Yet, I am faced with this knowledge that I could help save lives, countless, innumerable lives, by taking others."

"You're missing what's important, though," Chaz stated. "That we'll --"

"Yes, I know. We'll be together. Through thick and thin, we'll be together, just like we always have been. Just like we should be. That is why, Chaz, I've decided that it's best that I go with you and our friends. My place is with you and with them. I don't know what I'd do without you."

"You don't know what that means to me," Chaz sighed, a touch of relief in his voice. "I was thinking that if something should happen to me, I wouldn't get a chance to say goodbye to you." Rika smiled quietly, though inside she had those very same thoughts. They really were on the same wavelength. The Hunter secretly wanted his wife to change her mind, but he would have not declared it openly.

"Rika," Chaz spoke solemnly, "now that you've laid your cards on the table, I think it's time for me to lay mine down." Puzzled, Rika raised an eyebrow in interest, unable to determine whether or not her husband's cards would be good or bad. "Dear, what do you think of starting a family?" The question was up-front and direct, and yet it still caught Rika off guard. She and Chaz had always been happy with each other's company that she never really gave it much thought. There had been, however, a nagging sort of maternal instinct developing within her. She found herself wanting to be around children more, to take care of them. Rika honestly believed it was some sort of phase she was going through, but after hearing her husband's question, she began to think that maybe it was just nature.

"I wouldn't object to it," Rika smiled, staring deeply into Chaz's eyes. At that moment, the Hunter was instantly reminded of why he fell in love with her in the first place. In those eyes, he saw compassion, devotion . . . love. He sat down and took her hands into his and joined their circle of being. She was part of him, and him a part of her. It was sort of a symbiosis in which one would not be able to live without the other; when one faltered the other would be there to lift him up. They had the understanding, however, that if either of them should perish, the other would continue on, no matter what. It was their agreement that should one of them dies, it was tragic, but two deaths was unacceptable.

Husband and Wife drew each other close in the waning hours of the night, seeking strength and comfort in their embrace. Daylight would be approaching very soon, and Algo would be shining its merciless brilliance onto Motavia's barren landscape once again. By the time dusk came, Chaz, Rika, and their friends would be on the Landale making their way to Dezoris. With luck, they would be able to find Kyra and Raja without much difficulty and enlist their help once again. At that thought, Chaz felt fatigue close its grasp around him and he yawned. His wife had already fallen asleep in his arms. He lay his head gently on hers and closed his eyes. Breathing deeply, he took in all of her essence and it comforted her. The Hunter would not let anything happen to her, not in this lifetime or the next. Sleep finally settled in, and Chaz welcomed it.

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