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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Fifteen

Tyler was one of two Palman settlements on Dezoris, if the Esper settlement was discounted, Meese being the other. After Skure fell into the annals of history, it was the first original settlement, named after the space pilot, Tyler, who rescued Rolf and company from their fate just before the space station, Gailan, destroyed Palma and then self-destructed. Tyler returned Rolf and his friends to Paseo, then went on his merry way.

Tyler left the solar system, then returned a year later. He had discovered that Mother Brain was no longer in control of Motavia, and was about to return to Motavia to settle down for awhile, but as fate would have it, his ship, the Landale, suffered a fatal system error and drifted toward Dezoris, instead. It drifted close enough to the planet to be caught in its gravity and crashed.

The space pirate awoke to frigid temperatures, but Algo shone brightly, even at that farthest corner of the solar system. Although his navigation and propulsion systems were non-functional, the replicator and life support systems were still working. He lacked the equipment and tools to repair his ship and return to space. So, with much determination and resolve, he began the monumental task of building the town which would bear his name.

For five years, Tyler worked adamantly at tunneling beneath the area where his town would stand. When it was done, he had to somehow move the Landale into the newly-formed cavern (it was rumored that the third-generation Lutz had a hand in helping him do this), and when it was beneath ground, he used its plasma cannons to collapse the entrance. Another two years, and Tyler constructed a complete spaceport, one which could resurface on its own should the need arise.

Tired, weary of loneliness, the space pilot finally began construction on his town, a task which took him an additional five years. Working only when the weather permitted, he was sometimes forced to take refuge inside his ship for sometimes several days at a time. During one of Dezoris' winters, he spent over a hundred days before he could work again. He began by journeying into Dezoris' wilds and collecting wood. Using the Landale's replicator, he was able to make enough timber to complete everything. He began by erecting an outside wall which would serve to keep unwanted creatures from wandering in. Then, using blocks of stones obtained from blasting out the cavern, he lay the foundation of several buildings. Tyler used his knowledge to create mortar from ground stones and various other elements to make his buildings strong. Wood and stone walls sprouted upward, held together by mortar and primitive stone spikes. When every structure stood completed, the space pirate began to feel his wariness, and began work on his final project.

Using a hand-held weapon, Tyler carved into a large chunk of rock, a true-to-life replica of himself, perfect to every last detail. Nearly thirteen years had passed since he crashed on Dezoris, and they were the most grueling thirteen years of his entire existence. There was a wariness in his bones he could not shake off, and an unmistakable rattle in his breath. With his last ounce of strength, Tyler dragged his statue up into the Landale, and stood it up next to the co-pilot's seat. Seating himself in his pilot's seat, the space pirate shut down every system, looked fixedly out into the cavern, and drew his last breath.

Hundreds of years passed, and Tyler's town went undiscovered. It was repeatedly covered and uncovered by Dezoris, but his buildings stood still. Then, one year, during one of the few brief times when the ground was not covered by snow, a young Dezorian ventured too far from his hometown of Zosa and stumbled upon a place overgrown with snow vines and surrounded by thick groves of evergreens. He found the entrance to the underground cavern and, courage coursing through his veins, entered it. What he saw scarred him for the rest of his life, and he never once forgot what he saw there . . . .

A spaceship . . . with two pilots.

They looked identical, though one was a little more pale than the other. At first, he thought they were merely mannequins placed there to scare off any stragglers who might have wandered in, but as he got closer, he saw, or thought he saw, a set of eyes move and focus on him. Like the painting whose eyes follow a person's every move, the pilot's eyes followed the young Dezorian, seeming to penetrate his soul. The Dezorian ran screaming from the cavern, mad with fear, and never again returned to that accursed place. He spoke nothing of it, not for a very, very long time, not until Palman settlers moved in nearly a hundred years later.

These Palman settlers found Tyler's mummified body, gave him a proper funeral, and erected a platform over the cavern's entrance and stood his statue atop it, saying that it was a head marker for Tyler's grave. Many generations of Palman lives passed since then, and the true purpose of the statue was lost into obscurity. Only one being, one that was not even Palman, remembered, and it was something he wanted desperately to forget.

It was nearly a thousand years later when Chaz and his friends unearthed Tyler's spaceport and took control of the Landale. It was that young Dezorian, now old and withered, who revealed its existence to them.

* * * * *

Now, three years later, Raja, who helped find it, was back. He and Kyra arrived a few hours early, much to the dismay of Tyler's citizens. They disapproved of anyone hanging around their town like xenophobes, especially those who desecrated their founder's grave, even though it was discovered later that Tyler's remains were cremated and sealed in small mausoleum in a mountainside near town.

Nevertheless, Raja and Kyra stood within the spaceport's one lone hanger, eagerly awaiting their friend's arrival. Kyra's Icedigger was parked outside, just far away enough to not attract attention from Tyler's citizens. Neither of them talked on the lengthy journey, and still they did not, even though both were brimming over with excitement. They could not wait to see how their friends changed, and to share with them their experiences over the past three years as well. One fact that still bothered them, however -- Rune. They would deal with that when it was proper to do so.

A faint roaring signaled the Landale's approach, and it was a sound Kyra longed to hear for a long, long time. At first approach, it was just a speck in up above them. But, as seconds turned into minutes, it got closer, larger, louder. In only a few minutes, they saw their friends descend into Dezoris' atmosphere, their speed dropping to what seemed like a crawl, but in reality was still moving very fast. Soon, the Landale swooped down low over Kyra and Raja, making an initial pass to evaluate how safely its passengers could land in the planet's storm. On its second time around, it stopped directly above them, hovering like a monster fly might hover over its prey. Esper and Archbishop took cover as the massive ship set down softly and moved inside the spaceport's hangar. Air hissed from its exhaust vents as its interior repressurized to equal that of the outside air pressure.

Kyra rubbed her hands together in nervous anticipation while Raja moved to close the spaceport's outer doors, locking all traces of snow and ice outside. With a flip of a switch, the massive doors began to shut, and he rejoined his friend just as the ship's door opened up and a platform emerged, providing a safe walkway to solid ground. Light shone brightly and both Kyra and Raja lifted a hand to shade their eyes. Within moments, a lone figure appeared, stopped, and evaluated everything around it. "Why, hello there!" it shouted. Kyra recognized the voice immediately.

"Rika!" she shouted back gleefully. Rika crouched low, then nimbly leapt into the air, landing right before her friends. Harshly, almost savagely, she grabbed her Esper friend and embraced her tightly. Kyra was all to happy to return her affections.

"Look!" Raja gasped, "the Palman female with horns returns!"

"Oh, you!" Rika laughed, then moved over to her Dezorian friend and embraced him not-too-gently.

Hahn led everyone else out of Wren's ship, nearly tumbling head-over-heals in his excitement. "Hey!" he yelled. "You better save some of those hugs for the rest of us!"

In no time, everyone had disembarked and exchanged a reasonable amount of emotion, welcoming two more individuals back into their close family of friends. Even Wren, stern and unemotional, was caught smiling from ear to ear. Gryz, having never been to Dezoris before, immediately rushed over to Raja began bombarding him with questions. Motavian and Dezorian were seen conversing for what felt like hours to their friends. In fact, it was almost two hours before they decided to move further into the spaceport and get down to business.

The group entered a conference room adjacent to the hangar and seated themselves around a circular table designed to seat at least ten individuals. Kyra was still caught up in her emotions and smiled fondly at each and every one of her companions, making sure they saw her. "Have I told you how good it is to see all of you again?" she asked.

"Only about a dozen times," Demi laughed.

"So . . . ." Chaz began, but did not say a word beyond that. They were about to move onto more unpleasant topics, and none wanted to initiate that conversation. "So, like, Kyra -- how are things at Esper Mansion?"

"It's funny you should ask that, Chaz," the Esper Leader replied gravely. Puzzled glances were exchanged between those who had just arrived from Motavia. "We've been having troubles ever since the Final Battle was fought and I returned to my people, but the real problem started just about six months ago . . . ."

Kyra launched into a lengthy explanation of what has been happening with her people since last they spoke to each other. She started from the very moment she and Raja returned to their planet, returned -- without Rune. "Rika and I saw Rune walk off after you had left," Chaz explained, "but you know Rune. We assumed that he returned to Dezoris somehow and went into stasis again."

That was not the case, Kyra told him. She relayed to him all of the Espers' fears, especially that of being leaderless. They feared that even more than losing him in battle, for they could at least feel a sense of closure in his passing. As it was, though, they did not know what became of him, and speculations ran rampant through their numbers. "The council finally decided that Rune left Algo completely," she continued. "I am not so certain." Kyra paused for a moment, silent, thoughtful. "I thought he remained on Motavia, perhaps with you to complete some project of his. Now, I'm not so sure." She shook her head in disbelief, her friends sympathetic. "But, there's more . . . ."

Kyra moved her story ahead in time about two and a half years, to when the Esper Council made a decision that would forever change their society. "I now lead my people." The Esper Leader glanced in Raja's direction and found him looking on her compassionately. Sadly, she returned his glance. "Or I used to, at least." Puzzled glances again. "I suppose I'm partly to blame, since I have little faith in my ability to lead."

"I'll hear nothing of that, Kyra," Raja jumped in. "You were a victim of circumstance, nothing more." At that point, Raja took over Kyra's tale, telling the others what she had told him previously, occasionally looking in her direction for silent confirmation that he was telling it right. He told them of Lian's treachery and her subsequent flee from Esper Mansion. Then, having finished her portion, Raja began telling his life's story over the past three years.

"Archbishop Dereth passed on shortly after I returned to Dezoris," Raja told them. "Then, in all their wisdom," he winked, "my people named me his successor."

"The Great Light have mercy on your people!" Hahn laughed. Raja laughed at this as well. "I can tell you it hasn't been an easy ride." The Archbishop tried to explain to them all of his duties and the burden placed upon him, but it was a difficult task. He realized that they could not fully understand his position unless they were in his shoes. All of his responsibilities, all of his boredom. They could certainly sympathize with him, but they could never truly feel empathy toward him.

Finally, Raja came to the point when his and Kyra's paths crossed, when she arrived at Gumbian seeking asylum from her people. He discussed how both he and the Esper sensed a change, a dark change, within Dezoris, and how they came to discover that Garuberk Tower may once again be the source of the planet's troubles. "Do you know for sure?" Wren inquired. "Have you been to investigate?"

"Unfortunately, no," said Raja. "Neither of us dare venture near that damnable place alone. Not that you could blame us . . . ." Everyone in the room nodded in silent agreement. Their first journey to Garuberk was nearly their last. When it was destroyed, they believed that they would never again have to see it, but it was beginning to look like they were going to.

Then, with an unusual tightness in his throat, Raja told his friends about their battle with the mysterious dark-haired Palman with black eyes. When he told them of the Palman's demon, a strange felling of deja vu hit Hahn like a ton of bricks. The Scholar nearly upset his seat as he stood up from the table. "Chaz?" he said inquisitively, a quiver in his voice. Chaz said nothing, but nodded, instead.

"Zio," the Hunter spoke in a grave tone, fists clenched. Rika lay a comforting hand on his arm and his anger soothed.

"Zio?" Kyra tapped her finger in thought. "No! Not the same Zio who murdered your friend, Alys?"

"The same. Undoubtedly a reincarnation, though."

"Well, he'll have to be re-reincarnated if he ever walks among the living again." Chaz smiled weakly at Kyra. He told her of Alys' demise and she knew how much it pained him to talk about it. Alys' death left an enormous hole in his life that has never fully healed, and never would completely. The days he felt most alone, especially when he argued with Rika, he still looked to the heavens and thought of her, and everything seemed to work out after that. It was as if she was still there, with him, and she watched over his every move. Even after her death, it seemed he still owed Alys a lot.

Raja concluded his story by explaining exactly how Zio was defeated. Caught up in all his camaraderie, the Archbishop threw up his arms to illustrate their actions. Raja was known for his storytelling prowess, sometimes adding certain elements to a story to make it more interesting. Kyra, however, agreed with everything he said, adding an atmosphere of truth. When he was finished, he sat next to Kyra and held her hand, a testament to how grueling their ordeal was, and to how strongly their friendship had grown. "We were afraid you and Demi had abandoned us, Wren," said Kyra.

"That was not the case, Kyra," Wren replied.

Now, it was time for the big android to tell Raja and Kyra of the circumstances that forced them to abandon Zelan and leave it and empty husk. He began with Zelan's systems' failure, then told them of his and Demi's battle with the Metamorph and how they defeated it. "Our only chance was to blow it out into space," Demi told them. "There simply was no way we could have defeated it in one-to-one combat." Wren almost chuckled. "What?"

"I was just about to tell them why I decided to leave Zelan," Wren told her. "I would not have left had it not been for Demi. You see, she took the Landale and left me. I guess my fear of being alone again was the deciding factor."

"So, that's what happened," Kyra said thoughtfully. "Frankly, I was feeling guilty for doubting you."

"As you should." Laughter reverberated throughout the room.

"I'm glad that our closeness hasn't lessened," Kyra laughed, wiping tears from her eyes, "that it's still strong even after three years. I've longed for that kind of closeness for all of my young life, and I know now that I have it with all of you. No one could ever take your place, nor would I ever look for anyone to do so." The group exchanged warm smiles and friendly head nods.

"We love you to, Kyra," Gryz reflected everybody's thoughts.

* * * * *

Once everyone was finished reminiscing, Chaz decided it was time to start making a plan of advance. It was agreed that half of them should go to check out Garuberk, and the other half back to Esper Mansion. It was the most logical course of action, according to Wren.

Kyra was naturally the most qualified to lead a team of her friends back to Esper Mansion, especially since she knew all of its hidden passages and entries. That team would consist of Gryz, Rika, and Wren. Also, should they encounter sympathizers toward her cause, she would need to be present. They would not dare take her Icedigger too close to their destination, for a person would have to be blind, deaf, and dumb to not hear it approach. They would definitely have to trek in the snow and weather for a while. Otherwise, Kyra believed they would not have much difficulty getting in and finding what they needed to know, which was whether or not Lian's lies had spread completely through Esper society. They might need the Espers' help should worse come to worse.

And while Kyra led her team back to Esper Mansion, Chaz, Raja, Demi, and Hahn planned to visit Garuberk Tower and solve the mystery of its reappearance. That was, of course, considering that it reappeared where it was before, just northeast of Meese. Since they only had one Icedigger in between all of them, however, Kyra would have to drop them off and then go on to her destination. With some luck, they would be able to make their way to Garuberk's apex and find an explanation of what made Dezoris' climate change. They were just assuming that the tower was responsible for the changes since it was the last time. If their suspicions proved wrong, they would have to consider searching the entire planet for a source, which could take months, even years, and they did not have that kind of time.

They had among them only weapons made from titanium. Only Kyra, Hahn, Wren, and Demi maintained their most powerful armaments. While Raja possessed his Nares Staff, Gryz, Rika, and Chaz had only what they came with -- their wits and their titanium weapons. Not that it mattered any because in the end it was their use of Skills and Techniques which mattered the most.

Anxiously, at times, fearfully, Chaz, Kyra and the others boarded the Icedigger and prepared to embark on their journeys. They divided up the Icedigger's remaining rations and medical supplies evenly between them and stowed them in their packs. Luckily, Trimates and antidotes were small enough to be stored easily and in large quantities. Having done that, Kyra put her vehicle into gear and they were off.

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