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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Twenty-Two

The rest of the journey to the spaceport near Tyler was rather uneventful, much to everyone's pleasure. Without saying a single word, they disembarked and boarded the Landale, leaving the Icedigger beneath the spaceport where it would be safe until their return. Tyler's residents knew its purpose and did not allow anyone to get near it. Once everyone was secure and ready, Wren fired up their ship's engines and soon they were soaring far above Dezoris' surface.

The most difficult part of leaving a planet was breaking through its atmosphere. They were all aware of this, having flown on the Landale before, but Wren offered words of caution anyway. Rarely during space flight did any of them ever remove his or her restraints unless it was absolutely necessary. Everybody had what he needed right within his reach so there really was no reason to do otherwise.

The Landale rocked and shuddered as it fought to break free from Dezoris' gravitational pull. While all of them had flown before, there were a few that were not as seasoned as others. Gryz, Raja, and Hahn sat in back holding their stomachs, threatening to wretch on their feet. They began to feel the pull of zero gravity and it did not do wonders for their state of mind. Hahn and Gryz suffered the same thing on their previous trip to Dezoris so they thought they would be better this time around, but what they found was that Raja only added to their paranoia. "Uhhh," he groaned, "my stomach feels like its churning round and round and round. I feel like I'm going to heave up the meal I had three days ago."

"Raja!" Hahn grabbed the Archbishop and began shaking him violently, "shut up!"

The flight smoothed out and soon so did Gryz, Raja, and Hahn's nerves. It was a long flight to Motavia, over four hours, so they would have a lot of extra time on their hands. They would have to use that time to plan out what needed to be done, if anything, in fact, needed to be done. They had little doubt that the Darkness would not follow them to Motavia or that it was already there. Chaz shuddered to think of what kind of havoc it could be wreaking on his home planet. He would be returning without his wife, but he would still be glad to be home.

"You know," the Hunter said, "there's really is not point in us making plans for what we will do when we get to Motavia. How can we know what's going on there. It would be like planning a picnic a year in advance just hoping that there will be good weather. What we're dealing with cannot be predicted -- it cannot be rationalized. By planning ahead, we'll be trying to rationalize the Darkness, which is almost a contradiction in terms."

"I agree with Chaz," Wren commented. "Where the Darkness is concerned, there is no logic. Although I concede that there may be a method to its madness, I believe that it acts entirely on impulse, taking advantage of situations leaning in its favor, or used to act that way. Now, after seeing how it purposely lead four of our numbers away as a diversionary tactic and how it purposely sought out Lian as a liaison, I believe that, perhaps, it has finally began to plot out its course of action, which makes it that much more dangerous.. If we could figure out its logic, figure out what it is after, then maybe we could keep the upper hand. I suspect that this is just a game of strategy for the Darkness, and it has planned its moves well in advance of ours."

"I think, maybe," Rune observed, "that it has what it wanted." The Reverent Fifth looked over to Chaz who suddenly bowed his head and averted his gaze.

Rune's words were extremely sobering and thrust everyone present into an uneasy silence. The Hunter looked over his left shoulder to where Nei sat. She was silent like the others, but also impassive, like his loss did not affect her at all. He stared until he became aware that he was staring, admiring her beauty. Or was it, he was shocked into realizing, her resemblance to his deceased wife?

Chaz saw Nei's head turn and meet his gaze if only for an instant. His faced burned in embarrassment and quickly turned around. Gryz saw his friend in distress and came to his rescue. "Well," he began, "then what should we do when we get back? What do you think, Chaz?"

"Well, um," the Hunter stuttered, "I think we could rest up a little before we do anything. We've all been walking on eggshells lately and a full day's rest might be in order."

"You do have a point, Chaz. I have no problem with it if no one else does." Nods were exchanged. "Great!"

"Where will we stay?" Kyra asked.

"We have plenty of space for all of you at our --" the Hunter caught himself in mid-sentence, "I mean, my house." He fought back an urge to mourn again, to lament for his loss.

Kyra had to fight an urge, too. She wanted so desperately to hold her adopted little brother and let him cry on her shoulder. But what he needed now was strength and sympathy in the right amounts, not just sympathy. To indulge him would break his spirit and they needed it to be as strong as it could be.

Nei unbuckled her restraint and stood up behind Chaz. He felt the touch of her hands on his shoulders, felt the gentle, yet firm, grasp. In that moment he knew that she was being stolid for a reason and that reason was to keep his mind on the right track. She lent him the strength he needed and he felt the pain weighing down his heart lessen. The Hunter placed one of his hands over hers and smiled back at her fondly.

Kyra watched everything develop from a few seats down and was overcome by a wave of jealousy. That should have been her comforting her little brother, not Nei. What kind of sister was she? She should have realized that she could have lent him support without the risk of indulging his emotions. Then again, Nei did seem to possess an uncanny knack of knowing exactly what everyone around her was thinking. She could hardly blame the Numan for wanting to help and knowing exactly how to. Kyra wondered, however, if she realized the effect she was having on his state of mind. The Esper Leader sense a change in how he looked at her and was worried that he might begin to look upon her as Rika and not Nei. She would have to have a few words with her when she had time to do so.

* * * * *

A period of silence settled in and rest was inevitable. For the first time in almost two weeks they were able to close their eyes and not worry about what was lurking about around the next corner. Living day to day on ones impulses and instincts tended to fray the nerves.

Gryz rested quietly while Raja leaned up against him and snored quietly. Chaz's sleep was restless, the first time he actually got to sleep since Rika's death, and he was obviously disturbed by his dreams. Rune sat next to him and appeared to be drifting between a state of consciousness and unconsciousness. Wren put the Landale in autopilot and he and Demi went to the rear of the ship to perform some much need maintenance on their bodies.

Kyra was having trouble sleeping as well, which was entirely by choice. She watched Nei with a suspicious eye even though she had seen her save Raja and Gryz's life during their battle with the Archdragons. The Numan sat silently, either not needing or not wanting sleep. For almost an hour she did not move, did not appear to be looking at anything. The only indication that she was alive was the movement of her chest as she inhaled and exhaled.

Finally, without apparent reason, she stood up and walked toward the back of the ship. The sudden movement caught Kyra off guard and would have fallen off of her seat if it were not for her restraint. The Esper Leader was still looking for a chance to have a few words with Nei alone and now was her chance. Quickly throwing off her restraint, she silently followed her.

Moving as silently as she could, Kyra was careful to keep her distance. Nei turned left and disappeared from sight. Kyra was surprised that she could move so quickly and be so light on her feet that she did not make a sound besides that of air rushing by her as she moved. The Esper tried her best to keep up but ended up losing her target a few times. If she remembered her Algolian history correctly, Nei was the product of a combination of Palman genes with that of a Biomonster. Because of her genetic background she was able to travel noiselessly just like a predator stalking its prey. A comforting thought for those who were on her side.

Voices came from a room just down the corridor from Kyra. First she heard Wren's voice, then Demi's. They were evidently engaged in conversation when both of them stopped. She heard metal grind against metal, then heard Nei's voice offer assistance to them. The Esper Leader peered around the corner and saw the Numan holding Wren's arm in place while Demi reattached it. Apparently he had removed his arm to perform some maintenance on his shoulder-mounted cannons. Demi was unable to hold his arm in place steadily and at the same time make the make the precise attachments to give him a full range of motion by herself. It was fortunate that Nei happened by to help them out or did she know. Could she have heard their dilemma all the way from the ships bow? Kyra guessed that those large ears of hers were not just adornments. She also found herself wondering if Rika would have heard the same or if Nei's senses were more finely honed. Of course they were, she thought. It was the Great Light itself who brought her back and probably gave her a few extra abilities.

Once Wren's arm was reattached, he thanked Nei for her assistance and she went on her merry way. Kyra ducked around a corner because she was concerned with keeping her spying a secret even though she realized that Nei was probably aware of her the entire time. She watched as the Numan continued down the corridor toward the ship's rear. Nei paused for a second, then entered a room.

The Esper Leader wondered if Nei actually knew what was on her mind which would have not surprised her at all. It would be refreshing for Nei to tell her what it was because even she did not know. The Esper Leader spent so much time doubting herself that she did not have time to doubt others, but now she was doing just that. She wondered if her doubts were just a result of having a new member in their close-knit family of friends so soon after one of their members perished. That would at least explain her hostility toward Nei.

Kyra faced an entirely different enemy now, one that she never had to deal with before. She had to overcome her feelings of betrayal left by Lian, feelings she was projecting onto Nei. The Esper Leader really had no reason to distrust her and all the reason to trust her like every single one of her friends did. Nei made it clear that she was in it for the long run. She was incapable of betrayal and yet there was still that uneasiness of travelling with someone who has been dead for over a thousand years.

Lost in her musings, Kyra absentmindedly began walking down the same hall Nei had just minutes before. She walked for what felt like hours, her feet dragging, her soul not far behind. Mumbling nonsense, trying to figure out where she turned wrong, the Esper ran right into a wall and fell backward.

Instantly, Nei was there. The Numan appeared out of thin air and caught Kyra just before she fell and hit her head on the Landale's hard metal floor. Kyra struggled and fought to catch her breath. Nei lifted and steadied her with beast-like strength that the Esper found unnerving. "Where --" Kyra gasped, "where did you come from?"

"It was taking you awhile to follow me," Nei replied, "so I doubled back to see if you were okay."

"You knew I was following you?"

"Ever since I left my seat earlier."

"Nei, you never cease to amaze me."

"Come on and walk with me. I'd enjoy the company." Kyra agreed, but wondered why Nei would expose herself to the relentless questioning that was sure to follow.

For five minutes neither of them talked, surrounding themselves with silence as they walked with no apparent destination. Kyra was somewhat interested in seeing what was back in the farthest reaches of the ship. She never realized that the Landale was so large because all of her time was spent strapped in the front. Some places were darker than others, but her eyes adjusted adequately. Nei was not bothered by the changing light. Kyra figured out that, like an animal, she could see better in the dark than the normal Palman.

"So," Nei spoke abruptly, "what's on your mind?" Kyra was startled by her suddenness and jumped. "Sorry," the Numan apologized, " I didn't mean to do that."

"Not a problem," Kyra returned.

"I know you have a lot of questions you'd like to ask me, but I'd like to ask one of you first." Kyra stopped in her tracks. She had gone over this scene over and over again in her mind, what she would ask, how she would react to Nei's responses. Never in her plans did she ever imagine that the tables would be turned on her and the one who was supposed to be questioning would be questioned herself. Her hands suddenly became sweaty and clammy. "Why is it that you distrust me so much?"

Kyra's mouth felt like it was full of cotton and she could not swallow. It was such an innocent question but made her feel small like the green ooze that hides in crevices waiting to pounce on a victim. "Is it --" she began, "is it that obvious?"

"Maybe not to the others, but it sure has been to me. Kyra, I can't pretend to try and replace the hole in your soul left by Rika's death, but you have to let go of this distrust you feel toward me."

"I'm trying, Nei!" the Esper almost cried. "But after what Lian did to us, I --"

"I am not Lian. You should know that by now."

"I have no excuse, Nei. I have always tried to tell myself that I would never project negative feelings on anyone else based on past experiences. But the betrayal, the hurt -- Nei, Lian was one of my own people. He was an Esper and we are supposed to be immune to the plagues of Palman society."

"Nobody's perfect." Kyra half-laughed and nodded in agreement. "Honestly, Kyra, I do know what you're feeling."

"How can you?" The Esper was genuinely puzzled.

"I always considered the Palmans my people." Nei paused, her own words cutting deeply. "They were the closest species of creature that I could communicate with and live among. When I first emerged from the Biosystems Lab, I immediately sought them out. I walked to Zema and was met by adversity, ridicule, and cruelty. Children threw rocks and their parents brought out weapons. I thought that they would welcome me because, after all, I genuinely thought that I was one of them."

"I had no idea."

"That's not the worst of it. For weeks I wandered about Motavia, hiding, scrounging for food. I had nowhere to go, no one to turn to. I barely spoke the language and trusted no one. One day I built up some courage and approached Paseo. Rolf found me hiding in some shrubs. He extended his hand in friendship and although I still felt that I could not trust, I trusted him. He was the only one until we started our quest and our friends joined us. Until then, I had to hide and take refuge in Rolf's home, never risking to go out." Nei paused, took a breath, then continued. "I felt betrayed by my people and I didn't quite understand the differences between us.

"But I knew that Rolf looked at me with indiscriminate eyes and no matter how much I felt betrayed by those I believed were my people, I sought refuge in him. He was the only solid and seemingly permanent thing going for me then. No matter how tough it got, no matter how much I wanted to just give up, he was there to pick me up."

"Just as my friends will be here for me. I'm beginning to see your point."

"You see, Kyra, even though others may be cruel and not take you or your feelings into consideration, you have the advantage of knowing that you have friends that will never do that to you. I doubt that you've ever felt so betrayed before and I can imagine how you feel. It's all a part of growing, a part of learning, even though it's a hard lesson to learn. But a part of that lesson is learning to trust again, learning to look at others with indiscriminate eyes just like Rolf did with me."

"I think I'm beginning to see why everyone likes you."

"Well, now that we got all that out in the open, what would you like to ask me?"

"I don't know if I'd feel comfortable questioning you after what we just talked about. It would feel a little callous."

"Really, Kyra, I don't mind. It's been a long time since I've been involved in a little girl talk. I used to do it with Amy and Shir and once with Anna. We still talk, but it's not as interesting as when we were alive."

"And now here you are alive again."

"Yes, it appears that way."

"What was it like? Being dead?"

"I never really died, Kyra, not in the literal sense. I just moved on to a different plane of existence. The moment Neifirst struck me down and Rolf held me in his arms, I felt an intense pain, then a feeling of euphoria. There was this pulling of sorts as part of me wanted to continue to be materially bound to my friends and another part was beckoned to continue forward." While they walked, Kyra took a long hard look at her, trying to read her, looking for a sign that this person who was supposed to be dead was actually dead. The more she stared, though, the more she came to realize that she was not a zombie, but a living, breathing person whose feelings were just as real as hers. The story she told about the Palmans not accepting her as a part of society was almost too hard to believe. Here was a person who cared so much for the people who scorned her that she sacrificed her own life so that they would survive. It was only after the last hero had passed on that her significance in Algo's history would be acknowledged but she would never receive the thanks she should have gotten.

"A voice called out to me," Nei continued, bringing Kyra back from her musings, "told me to continue on and not turn back. That is when I saw the Great Light and understood my destiny. Like a magnet it drew me in and I was powerless to refuse. I was more frightened than I had ever been in my life. But the Light -- oh, the Light, Kyra, if only you could see it. It wrapped around me like a blanket and suddenly my fear was gone. Friendly hands reached out to me and a voice told me that Rolf and the rest of my friends would be okay."

Kyra and Nei continued walking aimlessly through the ship, not aware of how much time had passed, not really caring. For the first time since she met her in Esper Mansion, Kyra was feeling comfortable around her. The longer they were together, the more she realized that they could become good friends just like she and Rika were. That's what Rika would want, the Esper Leader thought. She would never expect any of them to fear having close friendships with anyone. Sure, any friendship takes the risk of ending in heartbreak, but the world would be a lonely place if it was not for friends. Kyra smiled inwardly. Rika, my friend, she thought, you taught me more than you will ever know.

Kyra's mind wandered to places she never thought they would and maybe should not have. It suddenly occurred to her that Nei and Rika's paths might have crossed on her way back and Rika's journey to where she once was. Her curiosity was so intense that she just blurted out words before she had time to think about them. "Did you get to see Rika on your way back?" Nei stopped in her tracks. For once, it seemed that she was at a loss for words. Kyra cursed herself for having been so careless.

"No," the Numan replied after almost a minute, "I did not have that fortune."

"I am so sorry, Nei," Kyra apologized profoundly. "I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable. I -- I'm usually not so careless with my words."

"I understand completely," Nei said while placing a hand on the Esper's shoulder. She spoke with such kindness and compassion it almost brought tears to her eyes. "You, Chaz, and everyone else loved her so much. I must admit, and it's not something I'm proud to admit, that I am somewhat envious of what Rika had in her life. I never had the long-lasting friendships that she had, although my friendships were no less binding for the short time I did have them. But to answer your question -- no, I did not see her because the Darkness holds her soul in thrall, so there would have been no way that our paths could have crossed."

"I, too, have something to admit that I am not proud of," Kyra admitted. Nei tilted her head, puzzled. "My reason for following you was originally to tell you to back off." The Numan was really confused and waited for Kyra to continue. "It's just that I'm concerned about Chaz. I see the way he looks at you and I'm afraid that he's going to start seeing you as Rika and not Nei. When Chaz and I first met, I made the mistake of joking about how endearing he was, like a little brother. Now, I can help but to look at him like a little brother and when I'm around him I try to be a good sister. When I saw how you comforted him earlier, I couldn't help but feel that I should've been the person doing that."

"You really think that Chaz is going to start seeing me differently?"

"He's very fragile right now, Nei. If I possessed the empathy that you have, I would have done exactly what you did. My concern was indulging him with emotion and not giving him the support he needs. I know now that you only have the purest of intentions at heart, but Chaz needs reality right now, not an illusion. I think it would be best to not pull away from him altogether, but to just reinforce your identity as Nei and not Rika."

"I had no idea. In all my wisdom in seeing and feeling his emotions, I was blind to the change you are seeing in him."

"Well, I have an advantage -- I've known him longer." Nei smiled and was met by Kyra's own. "Nei, I've been meaning to ask you something else, something you may not have an answer to but it's really been bugging me lately." The Esper Leader began walking again and her companion fell into stride with her. Nei was so understanding and disarming that anyone would have felt comfortable revealing his or her deepest and darkest secrets to her. "Why," she asked solemnly, almost as if she was asking the question to a higher power, "if the Great Light is so powerful and so benevolent, does it not aid us directly like the Darkness aids its minions?"

"Many a great person who has fought the Darkness has asked the same question, Kyra, and there is no straight answer for that. From what I understand, the people of Algo are better off and have benefitted from the Light's non-involvement. To wage such a war against its nemesis would destroy the galaxy. Luckily for us, the Darkness has never fully been able to return to our mortal realm. If that should ever happen it may very well have to confront the Profound Darkness again, but at a great cost. You see, Kyra, the Great Light does not control our destinies, we do. If it did, then the balance of nature would be upset and we could not learn to control our lives ourselves. As mortals, we must be the masters of our own destinies. If it steps in on our behalf, then we lose that ability. We become dependant and although we are protected by the Light, it cannot be everywhere at once. That is a great burden to bear. That is why the Great Light chooses to let us shape every aspect of our lives. It grants us mortals the ability to defend ourselves, and to drive the Darkness back into the dimension from whence it came.

"Many, many millennia ago, near the time of the creation of the universe as we know it, the Great Light and the Profound Darkness battled. The battle raged for hundreds of years and finally the Light was able to banish its ancient enemy into a dimension parallel, but separate from our own. It knew that its enemy would not be banished forever, so it prepared to face the day when it would return. As the inhabitants of Algo developed, it made sure that the seal was not broken, not yet believing that the people of Algo were mature enough to defend themselves against it. The did not yet understand the concepts of a higher power or destiny. So, it created a weapon that would be wielded by only a select few and imbued it with some of its own power."

"Elsydeon," Kyra interjected.

"Yes, Elsydeon. After two thousand years, the weapon is finally known by its true title. A weapon of magic, it changed its form to match the time period in which it was used. When Alis wielded it, it was a simple Laconian sword. When Rolf wielded it, it became a sword which beared my name. And now, as Chaz wields it, it is Elsydeon. The fact that it is known by its true name says to me that we mortals are closer now to understanding ourselves and destiny than we ever have in the history of our existence."

"And what of my people, the Espers?"

"Kyra, it pains me to tell you this, but there will eventually come a time when the Espers will no longer be needed to keep the knowledge of the ages. When mortals obtain the absolute power to know and control their destinies, the Espers' function in society will become minimal."

Kyra suddenly turned melancholic and looked away.

"Oh, don't worry, Kyra! I didn't mean to make you panic like that! The Esper's will survive just as they have over the millennia, they just won't be required to help defend Algo. That, however, is still a long time in coming."

"Whew! You had me worried there for a second! I must admit that I would love to live to see the day that the Espers will not have such a great onus to bear."

Nei and Kyra continued to talk and walk, passing the time, getting to know each other better. Once all of the formalities were dispensed and questions were put out of their minds, they actually began to enjoy each other's company. They laughed and joked about their lives, lives which spanned two entirely different eras. Nei told the Esper Leader of her friend, Shir, who used to mention "breezes" and "the wind" all the time. She did not know what she meant until after her death. Kyra told the Numan how a childhood friend of her once accidently set his mother's pants on fire with a Flaeli spell.

While Kyra spoke with her newfound friend, her thoughts wandered. She was beginning to feel guilty for having so much fun with someone else while her dead friend's soul was lost somewhere in limbo. There was not much she could do while on the ship, though. She would do as much as she could once they had a firm plan set for what they were going to do.

That was another thing that bothered her so much, that they were basically without a plan. They were literally walking blind. With the Darkness being so unpredictable, they would be engaged in a waiting game of sorts and no matter what they did, it would always be one step ahead of them. Until they could get the upper hand, it would remain that way. Once they got to Motavia, the first item on their to-do list was to enjoy an entire day of relaxation. That, Kyra thought, was something very long in coming.

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