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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Fourteen


It had nearly been five days since Raja and Kyra left the protective walls of Gumbian and ventured out into the storm to try and make contact with Wren and Demi on Zelan. The ferocity of the storm was such that it actually forced Kyra to burrow underneath the ground with the ice digger to seek shelter from it. At least there they would be protected from the constant swirling of ice and wind, although they would have to venture out a couple of times a day to replenish their oxygen supply. Raja guessed that Gumbian was probably in a state of panic now that the Archbishop was gone.

He would sooner die outside than have to explain his actions to his bishops.

The first day and a half, Kyra was in an utter state of panic, desperately trying to reach their friends on Zelan. Both of them had seen Darkness begin to weave its evil web around their planet and they needed help to confront it. It was the thought of having to do it alone which frightened her the most, not the darkness itself, but the thought of doing it again without those whose strength she relied on, and those who relied on hers.

There was a week's food and water rations in the ice digger enough for four people and between the two of them, they had exhausted nearly half of it. Something would have to happen soon or else they would either starve to death or drive each other crazy.

Static roared from the ice digger's com link unabated. Kyra insisted on leaving the volume up just in case someone tried to contact them, even though they had not heard anything besides static for days on end. The noise was like a thousand little daggers being driven into his skull. If the Archbishop had something less reverent than his Nares Staff with him, he would have used it to smash the device into sparking remnants. The damnable noise sounded as monotonous as static should, but his companion insisted that she heard changes in it. At one point, the Dezorian Archbishop got in an argument about it and he felt like tossing her out into the storm had they not been underground at that time.

And yet, he found comfort in her hope because it lent strength to his which was faltering rapidly. He lived all his life refusing to give up hope on anything. Had this scourge came at a time before he met his friends, then he would refuse to submit to it. As it was, though, he felt somewhat dependant on them and was beginning to feel a little betrayed (he assumed that some of what Kyra was feeling was rubbing off on him), only adding to his despair.

"Kyra," Raja spoke loudly, nearly shouting to be heard over the rumbling, "can't you turn down that communication device even just a bit? That incessant noise me a royal headache!"

The Esper merely shrugged him off like she may have swatted at a fly. "I can't," she replied. "I have to be listening to it at all times just in case there is a change in how the static sounds. We could pick up something on a stray frequency."

"Yes, but it's becoming a royal pain in my a--"

"Don't you have something better to do?" Kyra abruptly interrupted. "Something better than sitting there and complaining about nothing?"

"And what, may I ask, is there to do!" Frustrated, the Dezorian Archbishop stood from his seat and moved as far away from Kyra as possible. He found a seat far enough away from her to put his anger at ease, but not his mind. He crossed his arms and inwardly fumed.

"You're not going to accomplish anything sitting over there pouting," Kyra joked sardonically. Raja glared at her through narrowed eyelids and could have happily strangled his companion with her dry humor.

"If you must know -- the roar of that contraption is lessened over here, though not as much. I might actually get to hear my own thoughts!"

The Esper Leader pretended not to hear, but his words stung like the bite of a monster fly. She was beginning to doubt her own actions and realize the ramifications of them. Her decisions could inadvertently leave her people without a competent leader, and Raja's people without their beloved Archbishop.

No, she could not start second-guessing herself now, for she needed her confidence, especially now. She made the right decision to leave Esper Mansion and seek him out. If she had not, she would now be imprisoned or maybe even dead, as would Raja. They never would have known what danger they faced now, and maybe they would have been better off not knowing. Darkness . . . revisited -- the same Darkness which made her very soul scream out in terror, made her want to cower underneath her bed like some frightened child. Together, they were more secure, more powerful. United, they stood . . . .

Divided, they would fall.

It was the old adage passed on from generation to generation -- strength in numbers, safety within large groups. Their age-old foe knew very well that it could defeat each of them while they were apart, but together they were a force to be reckoned with, one whose power was equal to its own. But until that time when they were reunited, each of them was vulnerable, and no amount of praying or magic could help them.

The Esper Leader was not without sense, however. She knew that all of her concern with the communication device was just about as useless as all of Raja's complaining. Perhaps, she thought, Raja's ramblings were worth more to their lives than anything she had said in the previous days. Kyra just did not understand why Wren and Demi would have abandoned Zelan, especially since they knew that they were the only connection between Motavia and Dezoris, and between them and their friends. Kyra had convinced herself a long time ago that if any of her friends on Motavia should need her, she would be there for them without a second thought. She had thought that her friends would do the same, but now that they were cut off from the rest of them, their pleas would go unanswered.

And no one would hear their screams.

* * * * *

Nightfall.

Or at least the time of day when night should have been. Ever since the raging storms began, however, nightfall merely meant a change in temperature from extremely cold to unlivably frigid.

Esper and Archbishop forgot their quarrels and huddled close together, not for warmth, but for support. The heat inside Kyra's Icedigger was more than sufficient to keep them from freezing. It was their minds that needed to lock out the cold.

Time passed slowly like the creeping of some slimy, legless vermin and after long hours of no sound at all, Raja and Kyra fell soundly asleep. Reluctantly, somewhat despairingly, Kyra lowered the volume on the com link to a barely audible level so they could rest. The Esper's mood had darkened considerably in the past few hours and Raja took care not to aggravate her further. At times, he thought she would break down and cry, but somehow retained her composure. At times, he thought he would cry for her. She placed so much faith into her friends and what she was doing, it made him feel ashamed of his doubts. The Archbishop even considered questioning Tak'khan's intentions toward him and why it would let its loyal follower perish even as Darkness itself was encroaching.

Despite the weight of the questions on their minds, both fell asleep relatively easily. It may have been the questions themselves which allowed that ease. In most cases, time heals hounds, but in this case, it only scarred the companions further. Every minute, every hour, they came closer to having to give up on their vigil and return to Gumbian to face the consequences of their actions, something neither was looking forward to.

Late that night, Raja awoke with a start. He sat up straight and corrected his posture. Sleeping upright on the Icedigger's seats did not exactly do wonders for his back. Kyra still slept next to him, her head lay against the hull. Her neck was twisted oddly and he wondered how it would feel once she woke and realized that she could have taken more care in choosing what position she slept in.

All was quiet, the most silence Raja had heard in days, but there was a peculiarity to this silence. Kyra turned down the comm link so they could sleep in peace, but he was still able to hear it somewhat. Now -- now, he could not hear it at all. Thinking this strange, he slowly stood up so as not to disturb his sleeping friend, and tiredly wandered over to the comm.

Voices.

The Archbishop heard faint voices spoken from somewhere within the Icedigger, voices that seemed real, but spiritual at the same time. Panic struck him like a ton of bricks for he thought Tak'khan might be trying to speak to him, but the more he listened, the more he thought that the source of the voices was from without and not from within. He knew this because he was able to block out the sounds, something he would not be able to do had they been within his mind.

Raja began to listen intently and began to discern different voices, at least four different ones. Two of the voices were higher pitched, maybe female or small children, and the other two were definitely male voices. Timidly, he approached the comm and listened.

"Where do you think she could be?" a female asked. A long silence followed, broken up by intermittent static surges.

"I do not know," one male voice answered. "I do know that we have to keep this channel open at all time just in case she tries to contact us." There was something artificial about that voice, Raja thought, and yet, something not artificial.

"It could just be that Kyra just stuck it in Esper Mansion's basement and has since forgotten about it," a second male voice said.

They know Kyra and about Esper Mansion! Raja was ecstatic!

"That may be the case," the female spoke again.

"Then again, it wouldn't be like Kyra to forget anything like that, Rika."

The Dezorian Archbishop tripped over himself in his attempt to reach the comm link. He immediately righted himself and opened a channel. "RIKA!!" Raja screamed, his voice almost shrill in its excitement. Kyra sat bolt-upright, her heart having leapt almost completely into her throat.

"What?" the Esper gasped.

"Raja?" the female voice came through, "Raja, is that you?" Kyra was on her feet instantly and hurried over to her Dezorian friend.

"Rika!" Raja shouted excitedly, "yes, it's me! Kyra's here, too!"

Raja and Kyra heard muffled sounds at the other side of the conversation, sounds that were indicative of many bodies moving about. "Chaz? Chaz? Are you there?" Kyra demanded.

"Hi, Kyra!" Chaz's excited voice came back, "how's my big sister? Getting up there in the years, aren't you?" The Esper Leader burst into tears, tears of joy that could not be held back though she muffled the sobs that followed. For many long days she longed to hear a voice, the voice that would signal an end to the emptiness she felt inside.

She felt that emptiness once before, just prior to when she met Chaz and the others and joined them on their quest. The Esper had left on her quest to discover the truth behind Dezoris' last great storm and maybe find a cure for the pestilence which plagued the planet's towns. It was when Kyra stumbled across the town of Meese when she learned of Garuberk's existence. The townsfolk described it's appearance to her, this strange woman who appeared from nowhere and offered no explanation about where she had been or where she came from. Goodness and power shined forth from her like a star in the blackness of space, and that is what they put their trust in.

The Meesians sent a search party to investigate Garuberk, a party of about fifteen men . . . none returned. When Kyra caught wind of this, she felt a bit of fear, but her Esperic powers were strong and she possessed confidence in them. There was, however, a sense of anticipation present, the same as when anyone faced the unknown. She was truly alone in this endeavor -- no one would could help her, and no one would come to her aid if she cried for help. Kyra was alone, and the weight of a world rested upon her shoulders. Worse than having to face it alone, she was forced to accept that she may die alone, something she feared gravely. She was not afraid to die, for dying for a greater good was a noble act. What she did fear was that she would not have an opportunity to hold someone's hand as she passed on, or to say goodbye to everyone, or to be surrounded by love and warm thoughts.

Despite all her fears and the Meesians protestations, Kyra left the town and headed northwest toward Garuberk, to stare into the gaping maw of her fear. Approaching the tower, she felt her skin tingle, felt evil emanating from it. Before she knew it, she was looking upward at the massive beast, its walls seemingly crawling with life, or a sickening mockery of life. She saw the dark wall of forbidding forest ahead of her, sensed a dark intention from it, but ignored everything.

Kyra thought her imagination was running wild when the first trees reached out for her, but before she realized it, she was being drawn deeper into the dark forest by strong, clinging vines which bit deeply into her skin. She screamed, but it was useless. Her worst fear was about to become reality and she could do nothing about it. Her Esper magic failed against these creatures that restrained her, and panic overwhelmed her. Every part of her body was wrapped twice over with the vines -- she would either be ripped limb from limb or have her very life squeezed away.

Then the emptiness settled in.

The Esper was going to die and no one would know, not for a long time. Her Esper companions would merely assume that she got caught up in her quest and would not be aware of her demise. The dark, powerful magic of Garuberk would see to that. She felt the darkness encroaching on her soul and with it, it seeped away her consciousness. Kyra barely heard a loud rumbling approaching from a distance, becoming louder and louder, barely felt something immensely large collide with the forest. She had to strain to hear a voice call out in fear, but also in assistance. She felt large, metallic and flesh hands reach out to her, ripping through the vines, granting her deliverance. An engine roared, and Kyra was pulled to freedom.

Kyra's new-found friends immediately filled the emptiness she felt back then. Now, those new friends were old friends, but they filled the emptiness once again.

"Kyra?" Chaz called out. "Kyra, are you still there?"

The Esper woke from her revelation, displeased that she zoned out for a few moments. Raja stared at his friend intently, concern evident in his eyes. She blinked, wiped away her tears, and composed herself. "Haha," she laughed weakly, "you're going to pay for that age remark when you get down here, Chaz." Gleeful laughter poured from the other side. "Chaz, who's with you?"

"Well, let's see -- there's Rika, Gryz, Wren, Hahn, and Demi. Yup, we're all here." Dezorian and Esper looked up and saw the same question reflected in each other's eyes. "Rune isn't with you?" A deathly silence followed, one which could have been interrupted by a mere pin drop.

"Isn't he with you?" asked Rika. "We assumed he must have returned to Esper Mansion and to the Stasis Chamber."

"Well, actually . . . ."

"Oh, here comes that sinking feeling," Raja and Kyra heard Gryz comment in the background. All this time, Kyra and the Espers assumed, as did her friends, that Rune was on the other planet. The assumption was made upon the fact that if he was still on Dezoris, his presence would have been sensed. They did not believe he was dead because anyone as powerful as he would not meet an untimely demise.

"Where exactly are you and Raja?" questioned Chaz. "Are you at Esper Mansion?"

"No, we're not, but that's a long story I'll have to tell you about when you get here. We're beneath ground near Gumbian Temple."

"Gumbian? Ahhh, Gumbious' successor. So, you're near Jut, then?" Kyra answered affirmatively. "Any chance you can meet us at the spaceport near Tyler?"

"That shouldn't be a problem. That is, if you can land the ship in this storm."

"Don't worry," Chaz said with a chuckle, "we have Wren as our pilot. He's the best one around." Kyra imagined the look on Wren's face. She knew he did not like praise, saying that words should be better spent. "We're still half a day away, so that'll give you plenty of time to get there."

"Sounds like a plan."

"All right, Kyra and Raja, we'll meet you there in half a day's time. Over and out."

The Esper felt relief and fear rush in at her at the same moment. Relief from her friends' arrival, fear because one friend was absent and nobody knew where he was. Rune was an integral part of their strength, for without him, they were unable to perform the incredibly powerful attacks, Grand Cross, Destruction, and Nova. Beyond that, the wisdom passed on to him by his ancestors was invaluable, as was his value as a friend. Besides Wren, whose knowledge and wisdom was gained from a millennia of existence, Rune was the wisest of them all. As the Fifth Generation Lutz, he possessed all of the experiences and amalgamated knowledge from four other lifetimes, as well as his own. Calm, collected, Rune acted as the groups fulcrum, keeping thoughts and tempers balanced.

But after the Final Battle, Rune departed, choosing a path completely separate than those of his friends. Chaz asked if he would ever see him again to which Rune responded negatively. Under normal circumstances, he would have returned to his Stasis Chamber for another long slumber until he was needed again. He might have woken within another decade for some administrative duties, but he definitely would not have woken any sooner than five years. Kyra knew how it worked, for the Reverent Fifth One did grace them with his presence once when she was growing up, although she did not get to see him because he only stayed for a short period. It was also rumored that he made a brief trip to Motavia, though how he made such a trip was unknown since no living being had travelled between the two planets in a very long time.

So, after Rune departed, Chaz assumed that he was either residing on some isolated part of Motavia, which he quickly discounted, or hitched a ride with Wren and returned to Dezoris. Kyra, knowing that Rune was not on the Landale, truly believed that he remained on Motavia to oversee some project of his, though his presence would be sorely missed at Esper Mansion. Her people thought otherwise.

Several months passed, and Rune did not return. The Espers did not want to believe that they had been abandoned and remained Leaderless for almost two and a half years. During that time, the Esper Council oversaw matters, but opinions differed and tempers flared. They were in dire need of a single governing body, one that would demand order.

That was when they decided that Kyra should be that governing body in Rune's absence. She protested at first, but eventually gave in to their pleas. It worked well at first, but then some of the Council members began to doubt her ability to lead, though no one person would not go back on their decision without backup. As it turned out, Lian turned out to be that one person, and three of the other Council members was his backup.

Now, they were once again faced with the question of what to do in Rune's absence. This was not a matter of psychology -- his physical presence was required for certain elements to work. To put it simply, without him, they were vulnerable. He was, as any of them were, a vital link to a strong chain of will and power. Should any of them not be present or if one of them passed-on untimely, unless someone moved up to succeed him, the scheme of things would be utterly interrupted. Rune was absolutely needed, but he was nowhere to be found. Now, they had to make a difficult choice -- either they could investigate what was going on and take a chance at tackling this little problem without Rune, or they could try and find their missing friend. It was a difficult decision they faced, but they had to make it soon.

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