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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Twenty

Everyone, Rune included, looked at each other in astonishment. This person who stood before them claimed to be Nei, someone who existed a thousand years ago, whose name was passed on through the generations as one of those who helped battle Darkness, but whose life was lost tragically. The word 'Nei' also became synonymous with 'power,' a fact Alys taught Chaz when he was growing up. He could not get over her remarkable resemblance to his deceased wife, but then again, he remembered Seed saying that Rika's creation was based on a failed attempt to splice a Palman and another creature's genes. Could it be that Nei was that failed attempt? Obviously so, the Hunter thought.

Everyone knew who Nei was, had heard that she was a genetic outcast in Palman society, figuring her to be hideously misshapen or something to that effect. Now, there she was, but she was every bit as beautiful as Rika was down to her pointed ears. There was a slight difference in the color of her hair and she was a little taller. Also, she seemed more mature and grave than Rika ever was. Still, Chaz could not believe how much they looked alike; he had to rub his eyes to make sure he was not hallucinating.

Nei stepped down and approached Rune, standing before him as if to measure his strength. "So," she said, "you are the Fifth Generation. You certainly have not brought shame to your name." Rune was still in shock and forgot his manners, causing Chaz and the others to chuckle. Never before had they seen the Reverent Fifth so dumbfounded, enthralled like a five year-old child seeing stars for his first time.

"T -- thank you, my Lady," he finally managed and then scorned at his companions for not being of any help to him. Rune knew that Elsydeon's power was great, but he had no idea it could summon spirits from the past and give them back their corporeal forms. He looked to Alis Landale's statue and noticed that the sword was missing. "What of Elsydeon?" he asked. "Has it been sent away while you remain here? I always wondered about the limits of its power and I must admit, I never would have expected that it could do this. How is it that you are here, Nei?"

"The power of Elsydeon is the power of the Great Light itself," Nei explained. "The Great light beckoned me to aid you in your quest and I did not deny it. As for where Elsydeon is now, well, it's in here," the Numan clenched a fist and held it to her chest, "as much a part of me as you all are of each other."

"You are Elsydeon?"

"No, I am Nei. It is Elsydeon which binds me to your mortal world. I am, however, not protected by it because its power has been temporarily sealed away. During this time I spend in your world, I will be vulnerable, just like any of you. I may be the product of the Great Light, but I'm still only mortal."

"Then why," Chaz spoke up, "did the Great Light not just save Rika's soul and return her to us?" Nei walked over to the Hunter and tried to hold his gaze, but he could not bear the resemblance she and his wife shared. "Not that I'm saying I'm unhappy that you're here," he added sheepishly, "I just want to know."

"I see the same fire in your eyes I saw in my Rolf's, Chaz Ashley," the Numan said, taking a few moments to revel in her past. "Please understand, Chaz, that it was beyond even its great power to save your wife's soul." Nei spoke to him with such kindness and compassion, Chaz felt like Rika, herself, was speaking. The sound of her voice drove daggers of sorrow deeply into his heart and he felt like he might break away from her and run crying from the room. "You know the laws of physics, that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Such is the case with Light and Darkness. It was Rika's death which essentially allowed me to be here now, because the physical laws are working to correct themselves. Now that I am here, I fear that the balance has become unstable, and somewhere, somehow, Darkness will work to even the odds, and shadows from my past will be revisited on all of you." Nei just got over reveling in her past, but now seemed to shudder at the thought of it. There were unseen demons that even Rune did not know about, but was going to find out whether he wanted to or not. "Chaz, the Light could not save Rika's soul because Darkness holds it in thrall."

"You mean she's its prisoner?" he asked anxiously, almost angrily.

"I'm afraid so, and until we or someone else banishes it, she can never cross over into the Light. Until that time, she shall remain forever in its grasp."

Chaz thought that the worst news he could have ever received was that his wife passed away, but now, after hearing Nei's words about how Darkness held her soul prisoner, he felt like he was going to pass out. It did not take a genius to figure out that he was distressed by the news. Nei saw the anger and confusion in his eyes and lifted his chin so she could look into his eyes.

From that point, the Hunter saw in her eyes that what she said was sincere. He felt the warmth of her hands and it sent chills up his spine. Even after all that, he still could not believe that she was there and that his wife was gone. Nei was every bit as concerned for him as Rika was. He could not even believe that she was dubbed a "failed attempt," not after this. Chaz had to keep himself from running to her, hold her in his embrace like he would have done with Rika. He was even afraid that after letting his defenses down around Nei, he might look upon her like his wife. He would not do that, though, because he could not bring himself to desecrate her memory.

"It's all right," Nei told him, "I know she looked almost exactly like me." Chaz jumped back, startled that she seemed to read his thoughts. "No one, not even me, could ever replace your wife, and I was not sent here to do that. My purpose has been predetermined and my time here is finite." Nei turned and faced the others. "Now, prepare yourselves. From now on, the road will be treacherous and we must depend on each other for protection and for our survival. I will do what I can to aid you; the Great Light has been generous enough to provide me with additional Skills and Techniques that will make up for Rika's loss."

Without another word, Nei turned and headed for the stairs leading upward. Chaz looked to his friends, but they were still confused just as confused as he was. The Hunter, not accustomed to not knowing what to do, merely shrugged his shoulders and followed after her. Rune, Gryz, and the others took his example and did the same. It was truly fortunate that Nei came into their lives when she did because they were going to need all the help they could get. Now that she was there, it only added questions to their ever-growing agenda of unanswered questions like how long was she going to be around and how much use to them she was going to be.

Rune, in all his wisdom, could not even begin to explain how everything came about, and he was not going to play it off like he did. He seemed even more bewildered than the rest of them, although the intensity of their bewilderment did not make it obvious. None of them ever walked with a deceased person before, especially not one who had been dead for over a thousand years.

Their fascination with her did not bother Nei, though. When she was alive on Motavia, she became desensitized to the stares and the whispers. She was younger than Rika when Rolf took her in and died younger than her. Her life was filled with pain and torment, whereas Rika's became warm and vibrant. Nei was not ignorant of what happened in the world outside of Elsydeon and the Light. She watched, fondly at times, jealously at others, how Chaz and Rika's love grew and blossomed like a flower in Spring. Their love was one she always dreamed of having with her Rolf, but never had. Rolf had expressed to her that he loved her like a sister, but she knew it was deeper than that. She heard him cry out her name when she was dying, just like Chaz called out Rika's. Her heart went out to him.

Moving swiftly, the party of nine eventually reached their destination and gathered together. Nei indicated that they should not waste any time and was true to her words. She only allowed them a few moments of rest before she requested that they follow hastily. Being dead for over a thousand years certainly did not affect her physical strength or determination. She was as fit as any of them was, perhaps even more so.

Before they knew it, their newest companion was leading them down Esper Mansion's halls. She traversed them like she had walked down them all of her life. Nei knew every corner, every turn, and Kyra realized that they were heading back toward the Icedigger. She was astounded at her knowledge of things, how she could possess such a plethora of information. It was not that she distrusted Nei, it was just that she seemed so artificial, more so than even Wren and Demi who did not seem artificial to her at all anymore.

Nei found her was to the Icedigger with no trouble at all. After reaching it, she merely waited for Kyra or whoever else would open its door and let her inside. Oh, how Kyra would have given anything to peer inside her thoughts just to see what she was thinking. As an Esper, she possessed a certain amount of telepathic skills and could sometimes sense thoughts, but mostly emotions, from other people. With Nei, she could not even sense vague impressions and that disturbed her. Part of what made people more tangible to her were their thoughts. Without them they seemed like lifeless shells, specters with no real substance.

The Esper Leader opened the Icedigger and everyone stepped inside after Nei. "Where to?" Kyra questioned. "You're undoubtedly who you say you are, but just like the Great Light itself you are shrouded in mystery. We don't know what it is you expect from us. Do you have a plan of some sort that we must partake in?"

"Not really, Kyra," Nei stated plainly. "You and your friends are perfectly capable of making your own decisions. When I came, I was meant to be a supporting factor in what you are striving to do. I may be able to replace Rika's abilities and fighting prowess, but I can never replace her presence. I will stay with you for as long as I can and assist in any way."

"But Nei," Rune spoke up, "we don't know what to do. When I left Myst Vale I was under the impression that I would be coming back to remedy things that have occurred here at Esper Mansion. Never in my wildest imagination did I ever expect that I was going to be thrown back into this ceaseless struggle between Light and Darkness. To tell you the truth, I was relieved that it was over before because I know through Lutz's history I would only have to face it once. Now, here I am again, among my best friends, of course, preparing myself for a second confrontation."

"Believe me, Rune, if I had the answers I would give them to you. I do not have them, however, and you must accept that. I have no great power or omniscience; I am just as mortal as you are."

That was not what Chaz wanted to hear, especially after how Nei made her appearance. If anything could have pulled him out of his despair it would have been that their path was set for them and that they would only have to follow it under Nei's guidance. His mind turned to mush and any thoughts he had about the whole subject would be nothing but utter nonsense. If it was not for his friends, he would have become nothing but an invalid who would have been useless to the team. When Nei arrived, he thought he could once again be a part of it even though Rika was not there, but he was incapable of leading them like he did before. Now he was not so sure he could even lead himself.

"Chaz," Kyra turned to him, "you never did tell us what you found at Garuberk."

"I -- uh," the Hunter stuttered, "I mean we --"

"There was nothing there, Kyra," Demi came to his rescue. "Oh, we ran into a couple of major obstacles, but Chaz thought that we were just being decoyed away from here and from all of you. Isn't that right, Chaz?"

"Yeah, what she said."

A chuckle passed through his friends' ranks. Chaz was pleased that they still felt they could act the same around him now as they did when Rika was around. He did not feel the same, however, even though they were his friends. After she died, a part of him died, too. That part contained part of his confidence, his charisma, and his strength. For three years he learned to depend on her like he might depend on a mother figure. Everything had changed and he knew it was not for the better.

* * * * *

For nearly an hour, nine souls sat silent inside the Icedigger, uncertain of how to proceed. As promised, Nei was of little help in trying to figure out what to do even though she appeared to be mulling over some possibilities. Chaz watched her during that time and felt like reaching out and taking her into his arms. The Hunter caught himself thinking that she was really Rika a couple of times and had to restrain himself before something happened that he would regret later.

Gryz was more withdrawn than usual, sitting apart from the rest. Ever since Balor's death, he felt weird inside, like something was growing within him. Like a disease it spread through his body and felt like it would eventually consume him wholly. The Motavian's head throbbed in pain, filled with a myriad of endless possibilities. At times, he felt like he could reach out to another planet and crush it within his grasp. An overwhelming sensation to say the least, but he did not take pleasure in it. Gryz was frightened by his revelation and did not know how to approach it with a clear mind.

Rune sensed the internal struggle from Gryz and was puzzled by it. He only travelled with the Motavian for a short time, but he knew him as an individual who possessed a great amount of certainty for who he was and what he needed to do. This mental vacillation was uncharacteristic of him and the Reverent Fifth was worried about it.

"Is everything all right, Gryz?" Rune asked as he approached. The Motavian nearly jumped out of his skin. He was lost in his thoughts and did not hear Rune's approach. "You do not have a clear conscience. Anything you want to talk about?"

"Thanks, Rune," he replied, "but I really don't know what to talk about. I'm not even sure I know what's bothering me."

"Kyra told me that you were with Balor when he died." Gryz nodded. "Could it be that his death has affected you in some way that you're not aware of?"

"Come on, Rune, I've seen death before. We've all been witnesses to it."

"Just because we've seen death does not mean we are immune to its effects. Just because we've had to take lives to preserve others does not make us desensitized to it. You see, Gryz, death's effects are horrible and we never know how it is going to affect us until we've experienced it on a personal level."

"It's not that Balor died that is making me delve so deeply into my thoughts, it's what he said to me just before he died." Rune kept silent and fought an urge to ask what Balor said to him, but he knew that the Motavian had to come out an tell him on his own volition. "I've never heard anything so cryptic. It was like one of those old stories the elders tell about a spirit delivering a word of warning or advice. I really didn't know what to think because he caught me off guard." Rune was becoming impatient. He was being kept in suspense and wondered if the Motavian was actually doing it on purpose. "I wondered what possible reason he could have had to tell me what he did and I've decided that I really don't have a clue." Oh, how the Reverent Fifth would have given anything to wring the words right out of his friend's throat. He was on the edge of his seat and curiosity ate at his insides like an all-consuming disease. Rune knew that if he did not say something, he might be told at all. He felt bad about seeming forward about it, but it appeared that the Motavian was still too caught up in his thoughts to notice that he kept him in suspense.

"What did he say?" Rune asked nonchalantly.

Gryz was taken aback. He never expected to that Rune, of all people, would be forward enough to pursue the subject when he knew it was bothering him. Rune saw the expression of surprise in his face and instantly felt that he made the wrong move. Gryz shook his head and from the looks of it was about to get up and leave, but he suddenly softened and took a deep breath.

"He told me something to the effect of, 'you shall be the first in a long time,' or something like that, anyway."

"Hmm," the Reverent Fifth pondered out-loud, "I'm beginning to see your confusion about it. That is a pretty cryptic message, as you put it. It isn't out of character, however, for an Esper to speak of prophecies on his or her death bed. Balor may have just said it without thinking when he knew he was going to die."

"No, you don't understand, Rune. Balor knew it was me and seemed happy that I was the one to come to him. There is that unmistakable look of desperation in a dying man's eyes, when he knows that his breaths are numbered and that every last word has to count. No, Balor's words were meant for me and me alone. There was something extremely important that he needed to tell me but he didn't get to finish. Now, I'm forced to sit here and wonder what."

"The words of a desperate individual, perhaps?"

"That's what I thought at first, but now I'm not certain. You see, ever since it happened, I've felt this strange sensation within my body. Its like a smoldering fire which is continually being fanned by an unknown source and will eventually spark to life. I'm kinda afraid to say it, but I think I'm actually afraid of what's happening, of what's happening to me."

"Don't shun your fear, my friend, use it. It's not degrading to admit you're afraid. Fear is what keeps us alive."

"Yeah, I learned that a long time ago from Alys and Chaz, but it's not like that, Rune. Imagine that you've gone through your entire life thinking that you're one thing, then, inexplicably, you're somebody else. It's not a fear of the known that I fear, it is a fear of the unknown."

"Believe it or not, I think I do know what you're going through. When I was growing up, I was never sheltered from the fact that I was to be the next Lutz, that I was his descendant. Even though I knew it and knew I couldn't avoid the responsibility, there was a part of me that feared myself because I did not know who Lutz was, not that part of me, anyway. It was a stigma I had to live with every day of my life until I assumed full responsibility as Lutz and even then it was still scary to me. But there I was taking it before I understood exactly what I was getting into, and I didn't know what was expected of me. I was supposed to be this person that I didn't even know."

"Yeah, that's kinda how I'm feeling, except no one is expecting anything from me, not yet, anyway." The big Motavian became silent, thoughtful. Rune tried to read the expressions on his face, but he was never really good at reading Motavians. He did not notice it before, but now that Gryz called attention to it, he did sense a change in him, not in the physical level, but in a higher plane. He detected a weak energy signature radiating from him like a weak beacon calling to its sailors at sea. "What's happening to me, Rune?"

The Reverent Fifth smiled warmly and placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I don't know, but try not to think of it as a bad omen. Perhaps what is happening could change your life for the better but you just don't know it yet. We must learn to always have a positive outlook because that's what keeps us living day to day, no matter how hard it gets. That is what I told Chaz; that is what I am telling you now. Chaz has suffered a great loss and he felt that he could not go on, but I tried to show him otherwise. The same is true for you, Gryz. Despite whatever is happening to you now, try not to dwell on it. What will happen will happen, and we have no control over it."

"I guess you're right."

"I'll tell you what -- if you keep having these strange feelings and sensations later, come and talk to me again. Honestly, I can't sense anything happening that would give me cause to be concerned about you, but that might change. Just stay on your toes, which I'm sure you will, and let me know if anything changes."

"Thanks, Rune."

The Reverent Fifth patted him roughly on the back and left him to be alone for a little while longer. No one was going anywhere since they had not decided how to continue and Gryz was beginning to long for some action. At least fighting would keep his mind off of his ever-present personal problems. Still, Rune gave him plenty to think about in the meantime, especially about what he said about not thinking of everything as a bad omen. What could be happening might be some kind of evolution brought upon by Balor's passing, as absurd as it might have sounded. Another possibility was that Balor himself was responsible for what was happening to the Motavian, but that seemed even more far-fetched than any other thoughts he was having. All he knew was that he did not even feel like himself.. Feeling the way he did, he began to wonder if he'd be any use to his friends in battle. The Motavian was for the first time unsure of his abilities and he realized how Chaz must have felt when he was going through his crisis. There was a difference, however, because Gryz still had possession of all his facilities, he just felt that there was something else, something extra that he had yet to discover.

That was how Gryz went through his life thinking, that there was a part of himself beyond even his comprehension. He had always wanted to be more than just a simple Motavian and that he was, especially after meeting Chaz and the others. He was a part of a group of individuals who fought to preserve live in all of Algo and that was no small accomplishment. Gryz was wanted; moreover, he was needed, and it felt good to be needed. Now, faced with the fact that he could be more of a danger to his friends in battle than an asset, he was unsure. The only thing he could do was take Rune's advice and not dwell on it. Perhaps everything would eventually balance itself out.

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