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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Nineteen

Hours became like days to Chaz and his friends since his beloved Rika passed over into the Light. Life seemed to lose all meaning to him and his sorrow was so poignant, he thought it might kill him. Taking his sword and driving it through his heart would have been too easy at that point, if not for his friends who were beginning to be a nuisance. They would not let him have a moment alone; one of them was always at his side. He could have happily struck any one of them, but that would have accomplished nothing. Every single one of them was too devoted a friend to let his anger turn them away.

No one wanted to put Rika's body back on the altar, so Kyra removed her cape and lay it on the ground for her. Raja was always so fond of her, and the fact that she actually laughed at his jokes was like a blessing to him. He remembered the first time he saw her, calling the Numan a strange creature with horns. "They're ears!" she proclaimed. The Dezorian Archbishop could have laughed out loud just then, remembering those times. When their spacecraft crash landed on his temple, he was giving a sermon for some of his people. Remembering that, Raja decided to give a lengthy sermon in his own language to bless her soul, praying to his Tak'khan to watch over and protect her from Darkness. The Dezorian language was beautiful to listen to at times, and this was one of those special moments. Twice during the ceremony, Raja began singing, his voice high-pitched and flute-like. It was as if the Hunter could understand the words, and they moved him to tears. Right then, just about anything would have.

No one was successful in moving Chaz from his deceased wife's side and they were beginning to wonder if he ever would. Her body had long since grown cold, but he held to her hand in his own living death grip. Kyra told Demi that she wondered if he had yet to accept that she was dead, even though she, herself, was still shocked into disbelief.

Wren still did not speak, not since his moving speech about family, his pride keeping him from doing so. Never before was he ever so moved into talking like that, and the fact that his emotions got the better of him was disconcerting. It did not matter that he was with his closest friends, even though their opinion of him did not, and would not, change. Even though he had known them for almost four years, he spent nearly a thousand alone, not having friends, not believing that he needed them. "Try to think of having a friend like having a favorite weapon or a favorite computer terminal. It becomes something that you're comfortable with, something you can trust. You learn to depend on it, to let down your defenses when its around." In time, he would become accustomed to letting down his defenses around them. After all, a friend is a person whom which one can close one eye around. With a true friend, one can close both eyes. Wren kept company with the truest friends of all.

Gryz followed the big android around like a lost puppy, tracing his footsteps as he walked around without purpose. Truth was, he secretly envied Chaz and the love he shared with Rika, but was never daring to admit it. He carried that secret around inside of him until it ate him up from within, and then still kept it sealed tightly away. Rika was kinder to him than anyone he ever knew outside of his family. "The shape of one's face or the color of his hair matters little to me," she told him fondly. "What matters in the end is the goodness in his heart and his own self- value." He romanticized everything about Chaz and Rika's marriage, even the bad things, though they were few and far between. It was not that he was in love with Rika, but more that he was in love with the idea of being in love. He saw how his friends' love for each other united them, but now he saw how much grief love caused when the pair was separated untimely. The Motavian was beginning to wonder if it was all that it was cracked up to be.

When Demi first met Rika during their rescue of the android, she was surprised to see this odd life-form which was never introduced into her memory banks. Demi decided then that she would get to know Rika, study her like some kind of laboratory animal. That choice proved hard to live with, because that life-form was proving to be a better friend than specimen. After the first few days, she felt guilty for having even thought of her that way. Demi, herself, strived to be more and more Palman-like, and here she was treating Rika like something lower than she was. She decided that she would never again judge a life-form that way. Rika had opened her optical circuits to the truth about life, that it was more than just the sum of how one looked or functioned. Life was, the Numan had once told her, just the time in-between birth and death. It was stopping and smelling the flowers in the meantime which made it enjoyable. "Never take anything for granted," she told her, "and don't forget those who help you achieve what you strive to achieve." It was an important lesson for Demi to learn, and one she would never forget.

Hahn stayed close to his Hunter friend, concerned for his thoughts and his well-being. Back when they first met, it was Chaz and Alys who helped save his teacher and mentor, Professor Holt, from his fate. With Gryz's assistance, they revived the professor and his students who had been transformed into stone by Zio's dark sorcery. Immediately after that, they discovered Seed, and his creation, a Numan by the name of Rika. Hahn was touched by her innocence, her naivete, how she looked upon things so commonplace to him with fascination and awe. She opened his eyes to the beauty of life, even though he had spent most of his adult life studying it. Because of her, he began to appreciate his biology studies even more, and excelled at it. He even went as far as learning enough about how an organism's nervous system works, uncovering the hidden knowledge of the Vol Technique and its more powerful version, Savol. Rika had a profound influence on his life and he was not ashamed to admit that. "Don't ever settle for less than what's best for you," she told him.

He never did.

Kyra, however, got more than she bargained for. She never strived to lead her people, never once even desired to. She was comfortable with her position in society and nothing could have made her happier. The Esper Leader looked over at her other deceased friend, Balor. Gryz covered his body with his cape, but one hand still showed from underneath it. She wondered what happened between him and the Motavian. She saw the surprised look on his face when Balor passed on. She also saw the look on Chaz's face when his wife did the same, and it was a picture that would forever be etched in her mind. Kyra thought of Chaz like a little brother and came to think of Rika as a little sister. The Numan was more than just a sister to her, she was a friend and a protector all rolled up into one. Not many people crossed her path that was as fiercely devoted to her friends as Rika was. Seeing how much she loved her friends made the Esper Leader want to do more for herself, more for her Esper comrades. "It's all just a part of being alive," she once told Kyra. "I've been alive for a little over a year now, but I know that life isn't worth living without devotion or ambition. It keeps you looking forward to another day." Of course, Kyra just thought of her words as the ramblings of a terribly naive person, but now they held more weight in her life than any others. Rika was one of her favorites although she would never admit that to any of her other friends. Now, she would carry the fact that she could to nothing to save one of her favorites to her grave.

Enough time had passed that a few Espers dared to venture down Esper Mansion's halls to see what became of Lian. Free from his magical hold, they regained their facilities and could think on their own. No light shone out of the Council chambers and they did not want to disturb whoever was inside, so they just moved on. Chaz and his friends grew accustomed to the dark and felt safe within it. Funny, Hahn thought, that for once they were comforted by darkness rather than the Light.

Footsteps echoing down the hall drew everybody's attention to the broken doors. They were not the cautious footsteps of one sneaking up on them. Instead, they sounded purposeful, like the person who made them knew exactly where he was going and why he was going there. Torches lit outside the chamber cast eerie shadows all around, creating an impression that there were several people lurking about. All of the sudden, the footsteps stopped, almost as if they took a moment to check something. Then, they started up again, but this time in rapid procession as they ran forward, approaching them. Hahn, Wren, Gryz, Demi, and Raja drew their weapons and stood protectively before Chaz and his wife. A dark, foreboding silhouette appeared in the doorway, its very presence humbling to all of them. There was also something familiar about it, too, something that made them feel safe. For one reason or another, they knew they could trust this dark shadow in their presence, and curiosity finally got the best of them.

The dark stranger lifted his arms and every torch in the Council chamber flared to life, providing much needed light. It took a few seconds for their eyes to adjust to its intrusion, but soon they could see exactly who they were facing.

"Rune!" Kyra exclaimed.

The Reverent Fifth One smiled, but he knew that there was something afoot and his eyes drifted beyond those who stood between him and two others. He began to move forward and as he did, Kyra and Wren parted, standing aside to let him approach Chaz. The Hunter looked up at him, his eyes still glazed over with tears, bloodshot from having wept for so long. "No!" Rune exclaimed in a silenced hush. "I knew I felt that something had gone terribly wrong, but I could not have imagined that this was the result!" He placed a trembling hand on Rika's forehead, trembling not from fear, but from sorrow.

"My Rika," said Chaz, "my beautiful Rika."

"Chaz, I'm so sorry." Rune bowed his head and said a silent prayer. The Hunter stared at him in reticence, a spark of anger growing inside him until he could not keep it inside any longer. He felt only love for his friend, a man who had lived through many generations already and was supposed to live through many more. Rune was a person Chaz respected because of the onus he carried in his title as Lutz. Lately, though, his respect for Rune wore thin, as did his patience.

"And just where have you been for three years, all mighty Lutz?" an irate Chaz questioned, standing up to look down on his friend. For the first time in many hours, he let go of his wife if only to face the person who was not heard from in years as an equal. "Where were you when we needed you most, when my wife needed you!" Rune's eyes opened wide, Chaz's words carrying an unseen weight the Hunter was not aware of. The Reverent Fifth was far removed from any knowledge of his friends for three years and he was not aware that Chaz and Rika were husband and wife. He was suddenly aware of why Chaz was so angry, but did not blame him for it.

"I'm sorry, Chaz. I know how you must feel right now --"

"How could you know?" the Hunter fumed. "Do you know how it feels to lose you're wife, to see her die before your eyes and not be able to do anything about it? In one cruel second, I lost my wife . . . and my best friend. You are supposed to be the all-powerful Lutz, and yet, for three years -- three long years -- you abandoned us, not returning to the Espers, not returning to assume the role as Protector of Algo. Why? Why, Rune? You could have made a difference . . . you could have saved Rika!"

"Yes, Rune," Kyra said, coming to stand by Chaz's side, "exactly where have you been for the past three years? What prompted your abandonment of us, your people? Do you know of what has happened within these halls during that time? Well, let me tell you a little about what's been going on here. For one, I now lead our people in this troubling time." Rune was silent, an air of stoicism surrounding him, but all knew he was different than that. "Your shoes are very hard to fill, Rune, and if I had a real choice, I would have chosen not to do it. But, you see, I had little choice in the matter. It was either lead or be led, and I chose the former. You can see the results of those fool Council members' leadership. Why did you leave us, Rune? What kind of mysterious force drives you, Rune Walsh, to make the decisions that you do?"

"I am just one person," the Reverent Fifth said solemnly, though it seemed he was telling himself that. "My magical abilities and powers are limited to the strength of those around me. I, alone, could not have made much of a difference. I did not defeat the Profound Darkness by myself -- we did. As a team, we were a force to be reckoned with, and that is the secret to our power."

"Yes, but, Rune --"

"No!" he roared, obviously peeved at this attack he was sustaining, "I've heard you out, now you hear me. I do not cater to the whims of children. You may think of yourself as adults, but the truth is you are still children who has taken on the responsibility of adults, for which I commend you, but as soon as something happens to you that you cannot deal with, you search for someone else to blame. You've accepted the fact that you could do nothing to save Rika, but you haven't accepted that nothing could have been done for her." He took a breath, reminded himself not to lose his temper. No one spoke of exactly how Rika died, but he could only imagine that it had something to do with Darkness. "Not one person by himself is to blame for whatever happened, that much I am certain. Not you," he said, pointing at Kyra, "and definitely not you," Rune pointed at Chaz. "Either we are all to blame, or none of us is to blame. This time, neither you or I could have prevented this so you must accept what happened. Who we are and what we fight for determines that. As for where I've been for the past three years, well, I was with a friend of the Espers, seeking refuge from the outside world because I was ordered to do so by LaRoof and the Great Light."

Chaz's anger dwindled because he was not able to sustain it under Rune's scrutiny. He proved it time and time again, that the wisdom of the ages helped him not only defend all of Algo, but also to help in life in its multi-faceted web of possibilities. The Hunter became melancholy again, lowering his head. He fell to his knees next to his dead wife and was silent. "Now," Rune spoke, "tell me what happened." Kyra stepped forward to tell her Leader of the events which led up to Rika's death.

"Lian seemed to have chosen her from the moment we entered, saying --"

"Lian?" Rune mused. "Why am I not surprised? That fool never did know when to quit."

"Anyway, we believe that he was possessed by Darkness, either by force or by choice. You and I, knowing him for who he was, can probably guess that it was by choice. He attacked us without mercy and when Rika charged into the fray, he seized her and created some kind of barrier, the likes I have never seen before in my life. We tried everything, Rune. Whatever power he possessed was stronger than all of us combined."

"He began performing some sort of ceremony," Demi continued, "and we were powerless to stop him. Chaz, Raja, Hahn, and I arrived at that time out of Chaz's urging. He insisted that something was wrong. He was so convincing that we could not argue. When we arrived, Lian had already began the ceremony."

"I watched," Chaz began, regaining enough composure to speak, "as that bastard raped Rika, my wife, with his dark sorcery. I watched, I tried, but despite all the promises I made to her, all the strength I thought I had, I --" he caught an angry glance from Rune, "I mean -- we, could not save her. That's not all, though. Lian took something from her, took something from us . . . ." The Hunter broke into tears again and could not finish. Raja stepped up, placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Lian took her soul, a condition none of us could heal. I guess I could have tried, but you know as well as I do that if a creature's soul is gone, the body cannot function. Such was Rika's case, and I knew that my attempts to revive her would have been futile. But, there was something else taken from her, something that was much more precious to Chaz although he had no knowledge of its existence. A child, Rune, was stolen from Rika's body. Chaz and Rika's daughter."

Rune nearly fell backward in grief for now he understood how deeply rooted the Hunter's sorrow was. It was one thing to lose his wife, but to lose his wife and his child in one foul swoop was too much for him, for anyone, to bear. Now, Rune feared for the Hunter's grief, feared that it would eat him up from the inside despite all of his friends' concerns. He had seen it happen before, when an individual was so grief-stricken, he abandons all hope in life. On the outside, he may seem just fine, but slowly the grief progressives and devours, leaving nothing behind. Right before he destroys himself to be rid of it, he becomes euphoric, knowing that his pain and suffering will be over soon enough. Luckily, Chaz was not at that point, but Rune felt he might progress quickly.

Walking over to Chaz, Rune placed his hands upon his stooped shoulders and called upon the magic to assist him. Their minds melded together and Chaz was instantly transported into an outer plane of existence where nothing existed outside of a vast void of whiteness. Rune's power encompassed both of them, wrapping the Hunter inside its comforting protection. All Kyra and the others saw was their two friends engulfed in a magical blue flame, but in his mind, Chaz was in a completely different world.

* * * * *

Images swirled around the Hunter, images of grieving individuals, both male and female, from all species in Algo, who lost loved ones in terrible accidents or from natural causes. In one image, a Palman female cried out as her entire family perishes when her home catches on fire. In another, a Dezorian laments after finding his wife and infant frozen to death because they could not find shelter during a storm. "Stop it!" Chaz cried out. "Why do you torture me like this?"

"Throughout history," a stentorian voice boomed out, "people of all races and creeds have lost loved ones." Another image appeared, one that nearly ripped his heart from his body. A Motavian child, barely five years of age, huddled over the bodies of his parents, murdered by a mob of Palman lynchers who were intolerant of anyone outside their species.

"Why? Why are so many meant to suffer?"

"Suffering is a part of life," the voice explained. Chaz could not put his finger on it, but it sounded like Rune, except it was more divine, like it was the Great Light itself that spoke to him. "Light and Darkness are the paradoxical sides of each other and without one, the other cannot exist. Such is the case with suffering -- without suffering there cannot be joy, no revelry. Everything in nature is balanced by something else. Life, nature, keeps itself in check. For every day, there must be night; for every death, there is a birth, a renewal of life. Watch as life balances itself."

The images returned, swirling around him like specters. In one image, the Palman who lost her family turned her life around. She remarried, finding love when she believed she could never love again. She beared two children with her husband, and they grew up to be successful individuals. The Dezorian whose wife and child perished in a snow storm did not succumb to despair and although he never remarried (to do so would have been uncharacteristic of a Dezorian because they normally have one mate through their entire lives), he succeeded in his other endeavors, eventually becoming mayor of his community. As for the Motavian child -- he was raised by relatives and grew up to be a fine adult, becoming a leading ambassador for Palman/Motavian relations.

"There are even more examples of triumph," the voice boomed, "examples from your own life." Chaz looked around through the light but could not find its source. An image of Alys appeared, strong, vibrant. "When your parents died, you did not give up. Alys came into your life and took you under her wing. Then, you lost her," another image appeared; Chaz thought he was looking through his own eyes when he saw Zio's Black Energy Wave pass through Alys again. Chaz tried to close his eyes from the horror, but he saw them in his mind, not through his eyes. "Alys was ripped from your life, and you did not know if you could go on, but another person came into your life then, did she not?" An image of Rika appeared. She had her arm around his body, comforting him, talking to him after he buried Alys. "You see, Chaz Ashley, every time you were met with opposition in life, you have rebounded without difficulty. You never forget those who have helped you become who you are today, and when those people pass on, you become stronger. Chaz, even after this, your greatest loss, you have the ability to rebound, stronger, more focused. Rika would not want you to give up everything. You vowed to continue on if one of you should die untimely, did you not?" Chaz was weeping because he knew that the voice was right. In the face of adversity, he would always prevail. The Hunter lived to face overwhelming odds because deep inside, he enjoyed the challenge. "You know what I speak of and you know that you cannot let your friends down, or the memory of Rika. Once again, you are required to stare into the face of adversity and prevail. Remember that, Chaz Ashley."

* * * * *

Chaz awoke in Rune's embrace. Like a father and son who had not seen each other for decades, they held each other tight. The Hunter released his hold and looked to him with tearful eyes. "H -- how did you do that," he inquired.

"Chaz," Rune answered, "you should know me better than that by now. Am I not the Reverent Fifth? There are many aspects of that title that you cannot begin to understand." Chaz tried to smile, but it was a pathetic attempt. "I hope you know, all of you," he added, encompassing everyone present, "that we have to get to work immediately. Even as we speak, Darkness' hold on Algo grows. With Rykros far away, LaRoof will not be able to assist us as it did before, so we are on our own." Rune pointed to Rika's body and told her husband to lift her from the floor. "We do not have the time or facilities to give Rika a proper burial right now, so we will place her body in my stasis chamber. There, she will not age until we remove her and I promise to you, Chaz, that I will not rest or return to my duties as Lutz until the Darkness is purged from this land once and for all!"

Rune's words instilled confidence and hope into his friends, giving them a renewed strength of will. Chaz was inspired by everything the Reverent Fifth did for him, but he could not shake away all of his sadness. A thousand times over, he relived that fateful moment when Lian killed her, and took away their child. He felt anger surge through him like a wild beast, felt the incredible power of Megid erupt from within. The Hunter reveled in it, but felt guilty in having done so. He heard Kyra cry out just before Megid exploded, something about not using it in anger. He also remembered when he first acquired the Technique on Rykros, the knowledge of it given to him by a spirit in the Anger Tower, along with a warning. It told him that when anger was focused correctly and with caution, it could become a valuable weapon. Misdirected anger is a danger not only to the ones around the person, but the person himself. Chaz did not care if he did abandon all of his training, tore down the walls that prevented him from using the Technique without caution. Lian had it coming to him, and it felt good for the Hunter to let go. Never in his life had he ever felt so free.

Rune led them to a door which led set of wildly spiraling stairs leading downward. Chaz, Rika, Kyra, and Wren were here before, the first time he brought them here, when the truth of his lineage was revealed. The Reverent Fifth placed his hand on the door and spoke a few words, gently persuading it to open. Once it was, he said a few more words and torches on every wall along the way down flared to life, providing them much needed light. With a smile and a wink, Rune beckoned his friends to follow.

Chaz forgot how long the walk actually was, and carrying about one hundred thirty pounds of dead weight did not make it any easier. At one point, the Hunter seemed to almost pass out, but Wren caught him. He offered to carry her, assuring him that she would be handled gently, but Chaz refused, saying that it was his responsibility to see her down. Wren did not argue; to do so would have been pointless. Instead, he let his friend continue on, but he would be there to catch him again if the need arose.

Almost ten minutes later, they reached the bottom of the staircase. Everything was strangely luminescent there -- the walls, the floor, the ceiling, even the sarcophagus in which many generations of Lutz slept. A mystery to all who saw it, the Hibernation Chamber was a combination of both science and magic, using their collective knowledge to slow the aging process and replenish magical power as well. Rune knew that even though Rika was dead, the Hibernation Chamber would keep her body from decaying or otherwise deteriorating in some other way. He was not sure what Lian did to her, but surmised that he someway used her life force to accelerate the development of the child in her womb. To perform such a task would have taken several Esper wizards, and yet, Lian did it alone. The Reverent Fifth was certain that the ancient enemy of Light had something to do with it.

To Hahn, Demi, Gryz, and Raja, this place which held the Hibernation Chamber was a spectacle to behold. For Raja, it was an entirely different experience. He never believed that in his long lifetime, he would ever have been permitted to walk so deeply within the Espers' society, right into the heart of their greatest power. It was sort of how Kyra felt when she walked through Gumbious the first time. The beautiful structures, the craftsmanship, were all such a sight for her, and she could not take it in all at once.

Demi was awestruck, which did not happen too often. Her energy sensors were reading off the scale, but she could not pinpoint exactly where it was coming from. The android decided that the energy source was the room itself, a place where physical and mental powers came together. She could think of no other explanation.

Hahn could, though, because his mental training allowed him to detect things of this nature. He could feel that it was the room, in fact, that was the source of the power that surrounded them. Within it was an unseen vortex which gathered in all of Dezoris; and all of Algo's natural powers and channeled it into this room. Inside of it, Hahn concluded, the right person or group of people could perform unthinkable feats of magic, which made him wonder -- had it ever been used for such a purpose?

Gryz's feeling was an entirely different one from his companions. Although he had never stepped foot inside of an Esper establishment, it felt like home to him. The Motavian could not explain his feelings and felt uncomfortable talking to anyone about it. They were his friends, but they would probably just laugh at him and pat him on the back like they usually did. He was the only one among them that did not command a great power, whether it was a Technique, a Skill, or a magical power. His most powerful attack was Sweeping, but it did little to help when a magical confrontation was imminent. The longer he stood within the chamber, however, the more he felt that it would only be a matter of time before he would possess the ability to help them even more.

Rune went to the Hibernation Chamber and pressed several buttons in sequence on a keypad. A sound like latches being released from inside of the sarcophagus reverberated through the room. Next, Rune waved his hands over it and its top slid forward and silently, a platform slid out from underneath. "Place her on the platform," Rune ordered. Chaz nodded, then gloomily walked over to do as he said. He gently lay her on the platform, being careful not to let her head hit it. Folding her arms across her chest, he took on last look at his beautiful wife, then turned his face. Chaz heard the platform slide gently inside, heard it latch from within, felt his heart sink into his stomach. Rune put a comforting hand on his shoulder, but he could not turn to face him, could not bring himself to look at that which now contained his beloved Rika. "Not to fear, Chaz," the Reverent Fifth said, his voice soothing, "the magic will protect her, just as it protected me and every Lutz who preceded me." The Hunter nodded to tell him that he understood, but it still did not make it easier to deal with. "Come on, let's go."

Rune turned and was about to head back up when something drew his attention. Chaz thought he heard it as well, like a voice was calling out to him. He quickly turned toward his wife's place of rest and determined that it was not the source. "There!" Gryz pointed to a wall behind them. "It's coming from there!" Rune walked to the wall and placed a hand on it.

"Gryz is right," he said. "But the only thing behind this wall is --"

"Elsydeon!" Chaz exclaimed.


"Why does the ancient sword call to us?"

"Not to us, my friend. It calls out to you. Can't you hear it?"

Chaz listened intently, let his every sense reach out and listen to the melodious sound. True enough, it did seem to call out his name like it did once before, but this time it was more urgent, like its own existence was on the line. "We should go see what it wants," Chaz suggested.

Rune agreed and dissolved a hidden wall leading to a secret cavern behind it. He took the lead and everyone followed, returning to a place that was so sanctified, only a few before them were allowed within. They walked in the cavern for a long time, feeling the chill of being so far underground. As they approached, though, they began to feel a warmth spread, taking the chill with it. Chaz wondered what Elsydeon could possibly want with him. He previously thought that the sword's power was only activated when held by a hero who was destined to battle Darkness. Even Rune seemed surprised that it would summon him by name, but the Reverent Fifth knew better than to question anything Elsydeon, or the Great Light, commanded.

Light shone brightly, drawing their attention to whatever lurked within. Rune and his companions took to running, light on their feet. Something desperately wanted them to enter, and quickly. An urgency like no other filled their souls with desperation and it seemed that they could not run fast enough.

Rounding a corner, Chaz found himself enveloped in a blanket of brilliant light. He shielded his eyes from it, not wanting to be blinded for the rest of his life. There was a strange hum along with it, though, and the Hunter felt that it originated from the place where Elsydeon lay. A statue of Alis Landale, who was first to wield it, stood at the cavern's end. In outstretched arms, Elsydeon lay protected by spirits of the past. It was those same spirits from which the sword drew in its true power.

Every sound around them disappeared and was replaced by a single heartbeat. It beat strong, like a drum in a ritualistic dance. Light still shone brightly and no one, not even the androids, could look at it. Then, it dimmed, leaving vague impressions of colorful dancing lights inside their eyelids.

Rune was first to regain his senses and opened his eyes slowly, uncertain whether or not it could still damage them. He saw light, much dimmer, and something else -- a dark silhouette standing in front of its radiance. The Reverent Fifth took a moment to study it, but could only make out its feminine features and what appeared to be pointed ears. Chaz saw it, too, and his mouth just about dropped to his feet. "It -- it can't be!" he gasped. A murmur of uneasiness passed through his friends, not knowing how to deal with this situation. Could it be that Elsydeon itself saved Rika's soul and brought her back to help save all of Algo? The light dimmed even further and they could distinguish more of her features. Chaz could see her face almost clearly now and even though she looked like Rika, her features were more solid, her face containing deep lines of concern which told of many millennia of suffering. "R -- Rika? Is that you?" The Hunter's heart dropped when he heard his own words echoed back like it was mocking him. He recoiled for a second, then recovered his composure.

The figure stepped down from Alis Landale's statue and the light dissipated. Chaz and everyone else could not see everything about her, down to the color of her reddish-lavender hair. She stood at Chaz's height. She wore a lavender body suit and a relatively tough-looking vest of some sort. Long, steel-tipped boots adorned her legs and feet and probably added to her attack strength. Leather gloves covered her hands arms up to her elbows, and claws just like Rika's protruded from them. "Who are you?" the Hunter questioned again. "Rika?"

"No," the figure said, her voice sounding almost exactly like Rika's although it was more mature, possessing a sense of urgency and purpose. She took a deep breath, studying the worth and determination of those around her, deciding whether or not she should reveal her true identity to them. "Darkness has once again spread its cloak over all of Algo and I have been summoned to aid you."

"Who are you?" A long silence followed, one that kept eight of the nine people standing together in suspense. Whoever this person was, she obviously was the product of magic, for no one could have infiltrated this chamber without some kind of assistance. Finally, their answer came, and the stranger took another deep breath, then spoke.

"My name is Nei."

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