Child Of Darkness
Chaz and his remaining companions sat restless and alert. It had been
nearly an hour since Wren took Jan and the others on a journey to
investigate the Vahal fort and no one was worried about them except
Fenlye. He paced back and forth in thought and was beginning to make Chaz
nervous. Bjorn and Raja entertained each other in the extra bedroom --
one easy to amuse because he was young, the other because he was old.
Rune took over the job of cooling Chaz's home, so Hahn curled up and went
Chaz's home felt so cold to him, but it was not because of magic. It
felt empty to him even though his friends filled almost every room. It
was then that he realized that despite the fact that he had lived in this
house for over six years, it would never feel the same again. Time
eventually heals all wounds, but this one would take an inordinate amount
of time to recover from. He hated dwelling on the subject so much but it
occupied a good portion of his thoughts. As long as no one was invading
his thoughts, he was free to think what he wanted to.
But his thoughts were not his alone, and as much as he would have liked
to have thought that he was dealing with it well on his own, there was
another who begged to differ. Through a discrete spell cast on him during
an earlier circumstance, Rune was able to keep the Hunter's emotions at a
livable level. When he started dwelling on them again, the rush of
emotions hit him like a ton of lead bricks. The Reverent Fifth's power
was strong, but against such an onslaught of emotions it paled in
comparison. He felt guilty for not warning the Hunter about it, but he
might have resented being under another's power. If Chaz wished to have
the spell removed, they might not have survived their previous battle.
Be that as it may, Rune would have to either remove his spell or tell
Chaz exactly what was going on. It may have been small and discrete, but
he thought that his power would be sufficient enough to mellow the
emotions of one man. It was not, however, and that was becoming painfully
obvious. He should have learned his lesson the last time when he tried to
help a friend deal with her grief. Her emotions were too much for him to
bear, but he was weaker then, less experienced. The Reverent Fifth was
finally starting to realize that no amount of power could match the
strength of one man's grief.
Fenlye finally gave up pacing and sat down on a chair across from Chaz.
He noticed how the Hunter just sat there, apparently daydreaming or
catatonic. If his eyes were not open and his chest not rising and falling
he would have thought the Hunter dead. The oldest Nance waved his hand
before Chaz's face but he was non-responsive. He considered waking Hahn,
but then thought differently. Rune was in some kind of trance while at
the same time keeping their environment cool. There was absolutely no way
the was going to disturb the Reverent Fifth.
So, Fenlye decided to sit next to his hero and wait for him to come out
of his state of catatonia. He was beginning to worry, not about Chaz, but
about his sister. He loved her so much that sometimes he did outrageous
things to try and impress her. He could not recall the last time he told
her that he loved her. It was hard to do when she was constantly being a
pest. Fenlye did not care -- when she got back, he was going to tell her
that he was glad she was his sister.
The oldest Nance began to wonder how much Chaz told those he was close
to that he loved them. The Hunter explained to him once that friends and
family are what keeps a warrior strong and that showing emotions was in no
way a sign of weakness. Although he was too macho to admit it openly,
Chaz was not ashamed to tell his friends exactly how much they meant to
him. Fenlye began to think and it became painfully obvious that he had
not expressed his emotions to anyone lately, not even his parents, not
even after his ordeal with the sandworms. How callous everyone must have
seen him. His hero was a person with an unmistakable reputation as a
mighty warrior, but his little known reputation as a compassionate man
stood out to those who knew him. Fenlye would have to strive harder to
Chaz eventually started to come out of his trance, very slowly at
first, then steadily. Fenlye could not figure out why he went into this
state without warning. He also noted that Rune was coming around at
exactly the same time. The oldest Nance was curious as to why Chaz's
Esper friend came out of his trance in an identical manner when the whole
time he appeared to be at least half conscious. Could Rune be having an
unseen influence on Chaz? Fenlye mused. If he was, could Chaz be aware
of it? The oldest Nance searched his soul, trying to decide to let the
Hunter know of his observations or to mind his own business. For now he
would do the latter. Whatever Rune was doing had to be in his best
Raja came out from the back bedroom looking haggard and worn like a
shirt someone lost in a sandstorm. Bjorn bounded out behind him, eyes
bright, full of excitement. Chaz took one look at his friend and leapt to
his feet, ready to fight off whatever attacked him. "Raja!" he shouted in
concern. "Are you okay? How big was it?" The Archbishop sighed.
"Well," Raja explained, "it stood about this high," he placed his hand
on Bjorn's head, "weighed about fifty pounds and fought with the strength
of ten Palmans ." Rune laughed out loud.
"Looks like you managed to fight him off yourself, old friend," the
Reverent Fifth joked.
Hahn rolled over and glared at everyone with laser eyes. He was
exhausted and fell asleep only about twenty minutes before and being
rudely awakened did nothing for his demeanor. He sat up and appeared to
doze off again, then stood up and stretched. The Scholar gave everyone a
dirty look and walked into Chaz's bedroom to try and get some sleep.
"Geez," Rune commented, "I guess we know better than to wake him
Still, Fenlye was happy that most of them were up and running. Ever
since the others left, things began to feel lifeless. Minutes were like
hours and an hour like a day. The oldest Nance guessed that he was
feeling a bit jealous that his sister got to go on an exciting trip and he
did not. There was really nothing for him to do there but sit around and
talk. He could never figure out why adults enjoyed spending time together
like that. In his opinion, time spent with his friends should be going
out and doing fun things like hide and go hunt or Hunters in the woods (a
game popular with children in which they used buildings for trees since
none of them had probably ever seen a tree).
Fenlye had never seen this side of his hero and did not know it he was
impressed by it. It seemed like the more time they spent together, the
less he saw him as an idol and more as an ordinary adult. Chaz warned him
once about placing people on high pedestals, how high expectations only
meant disappointment in the end unless the person truly deserved them.
Well, Fenlye thought that of all the people in his life, Chaz was the one
to place high expectations on. If the Hunter knew of it, he would have
told him to take him off that pedestal. How ironic it was, Fenlye
thought, that seeing his idol show emotion and cry like a little girl
would did not shatter his reverence of Chaz. Seeing him just as an
ordinary person did not, but it sure made him take a second look.
Raja watched how Fenlye doted on Chaz like just being near him was a
dream come true. Dezorian children did not idolize, at least, he did not
think they did. They were brought up under strict religious rules, taught
that the only people that should be admired is their parents or relatives.
Idolizing anything but Tak'khan was punishable by law and the
accused were cleansed of their thoughts. Needless to say, most Dezorians
adhered to their laws.
Rune did not recall a time when he idolized anyone even though he was
admired by hundreds of his people. He knew that an idol's task was truly
a great one. Constantly scrutinized, anyone placed in a position higher
than everyone else in society could eventually fall victim to those who
placed them there. Any ordinary person making the same mistakes would not
be exposed to judgement by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people. The
Reverent Fifth was in that position before and it pained him to see Chaz
going through it. There was no way he could help him cope, but he could
offer advice if he wanted it.
Bjorn did not know what it was like, did not really care who was
idolizing who. He was blissfully ignorant and damn proud of it. No one
expected anything from him so he lived up to their expectations, but Bjorn
secretly knew more about what was happening around him than he led
everyone to believe. He was five, almost six, and his desire to tag along
with his older siblings was not without reason. The youngest Nance was
extremely curious about everything and loved to learn. The more, the
better, he thought. He knew that Fenlye and Jan looked at him like he was
a nuisance because he made the mistake of tattling on them once when they
did not take him with them. Bjorn knew that the only reason they took him
places now was because they thought he would tell on them. Little did
they know that he had covered for them a few times when they did leave
him. That would all change soon, he hoped.
Chaz and company fell into another frustrating silence that was too
obvious to escape their notice. Fenlye was the reflection of all their
feelings. He paced, kept looking outside to track the path of Algo across
the sky. Dusk would be upon them in a couple of hours and if Jan was not
back, they would be in big trouble with their parents. The Hunter
regretted ever sending his companions off without them. When they left,
he did not feel up to the journey. Now, he longed for some excitement and
needed to blow off some steam.
Instead, he was forced into inactivity which was sometimes good for
him. It was not too often that he got to sit down and contemplate the
directions his life was taking him without interruption. Often times he
could only takes brief periods to reflect on such things and even then it
was not nearly enough time. Only during times like these could he do
that. Frankly, he was a man of action and not of thought. He never
thought of himself as an intellectual like Hahn or even Rika. Although he
was no idiot, he usually left the thinking up to them. When faced with a
situation alone, however, he was more than capable of making his own
Now that he thought about it, he realized that he was a fighter and a
thinker. How else would he have survived for so long if he was not
intelligent enough to survive. Alys could not stress enough how important
a good education was to a Hunter's longevity. She schooled him herself,
but he often wondered how she came to be so intelligent. It mattered
little because he was thankful for everything she did for him. Chaz would
have nothing if not for her.
So it was up to him to try and figure out why the Darkness took Rika
from him and why it wanted his daughter. He gave the subject more thought
than anything else concerning him at the moment and sometimes, he felt, a
bit too much. His mind ached with web of endless possibilities, none of
them making much sense. Chaz wanted to discuss it with his friends, but
he knew they had other things on their minds and did not want to bother
them with his problems. Hahn, for example, longed to see Saya again, but
felt that if he returned to Krup to see her, she would forbid him from
leaving again. He would, of course, feel bound to his commitment to his
friends and return and risk losing his future wife. No, in this case,
what she did not know would not hurt her.
Chaz found himself dwelling on subjects he should not have been
dwelling on. His daughter, known only as the Ashley girl -- what was her
name? He had given thought to it some time back, when he and Rika were
married, but not since then. Alys was a nice name -- he often wondered if
Rika would object to naming their child after the person who was
responsible for bringing them together. He would have like to think not,
but she might have had a different name in mind. If they had a son, Todd
would be a nice name, or perhaps Taylor. Both were suitable names unless,
of course, Rika had ideas for other names.
But they did not have a son, nor did they have a daughter. Whatever it
was that Lian took from Rika's womb did not belong to them. It was a
product of dark sorcery and nothing more. According to Demi, their child
was damaged in its mother's womb and would not have been brought to term.
Had either of them known of Rika's pregnancy, she would have not
accompanied them to Dezoris and met her creator there. Chaz cursed
himself for being so ignorant to her condition. Granted, she probably was
only a few weeks pregnant, but her changing hormones could have been a
reason they were quarreling so much. If only he knew, things would have
turned out differently.
Why would Darkness, in all of its malevolence, seek out the child of a
former Protector? Chaz realized that he would never become a 'former'
Protector, not until the day of his death, but he sort of understood the
Darkness' desire for revenge on him and his friends, in a wicked sort of
way. If he has spent countless eons in a prison and managed to break out
three times only to be thwarted by three groups of special mortals, he
would be pretty pissed off , too. The Hunter thought of the child they
encountered on Dezoris -- it was about three or four years of age. His
daughter would only be hours old at that time. Then the answer came to
him, clear and unadulterated.
Of course! he thought. My daughter was not the first. The Darkness
must have been collecting children for awhile now, perhaps even before we
banished it. It must be planning to build an army of children to send
into battle. Their unassuming guise will take everyone by surprise and
they will take over quickly. I wonder how many more children it has
collected. It must be an innumerable amount. Perhaps it aged them to a
certain age and place them in a parallel dimension where they would not
age. I've got to tell the others of my revelation, but not now. Maybe
later when Wren gets back.
Everything made perfect sense to Chaz now. He was confident that he
figured out the Darkness' evil plot. His thoughts went back to his
daughter. If she was aged by it, how many years would she have aged?
Would he be able to recognize her if they crossed paths in the
battlefield? And, as much as was loathe to consider it, would he have the
strength to kill her? Was the death of a single child worth more than the
fate of an entire galaxy?
The Hunter would have like to think that it was not. He could look
upon everything logically, but where affairs of the heart was concerned,
logic had no place. If a confrontation with her was imminent, Chaz knew
he would have to rely on his friends for support. He prayed that he would
not have to face such a thing, but knew that the Darkness was without pity
and would pit brother against brother, sister against sister -- and father
against daughter. Oh, Rika, Chaz thought, I wish you were here to guide
* * * * *
It was nearly two and a half hours since Wren's departure and Chaz
still had not heard any word from them. They had a mere hour and a half
to return, but an uneasy anticipation was growing. Rune and Raja felt it,
and so did Chaz. Hahn might have had he been awake. A sort of sixth
sense told them that something was afoot, not only with their friends, but
with their city. A disturbance of immense proportions was sensed by all
who were sensitive to such changes. For those who were not, it was
manifested by a cold chill which, in the Motavian heat, would be
A muffled scream in the distance caught everyone by surprise. It
lasted a few moments, the was drowned out of existence. Hahn, woken from
his slumber, rushed out of the bedroom and looked like he had seen a
ghost. "Did --" he stuttered , "did you hear that or was I dreaming?"
"I'm afraid you weren't dreaming," Rune told him solemnly.
"Do you guys feel that? What's going on?"
"I don't know quite what it is, but it feels like a dimensional portal
opened up somewhere near here. I think we should go and investigate."
"Rune, my friend," said Chaz, "that's the best idea I've heard all
"Great!" Fenlye exclaimed, grabbing his short sword, "let's go!"
"Hold on there, buckaroo," Chaz grabbed hold of the oldest Nance's
collar, "you're staying here. You have to watch your little brother."
"Aw, come on, Chaz, you can't possibly be serious."
"Don't start this with me, Fenlye. You know I told you that I couldn't
make any promises about taking you with me. Besides, we don't know what
we're getting into here. I don't want to take responsibility if you get
hurt, so I want you to stay here where you'll be safe. Aw, don't make
that face. You'll be a better help if you stay here and protect Bjorn.
That way I know he'll be safe."
Fenlye's spirit perked up instantly once he heard that he was needed.
"We'll be fine," he announced and swung his sword. "Come on, Bjorn." The
oldest Nance grabbed his brother's arm and pulled him into the back
bedroom. Chaz exchanged glances with his companions, then hurried out the
door before Fenlye changed his mind about things.
Chaz, Raja, Hahn and Rune walked side-by-side down Aiedo's streets,
aware of everything before, behind, and beside them. The light of day was
starting to fade, but it was still hot. The streets were devoid of life
as was the case at this hour. Besides the ever-blowing Motavian winds,
they could only hear their footsteps. Almost every square foot of Aiedo
had either a building or some type of pavement on it and alleys were
narrow. Most streets were wide enough for foot traffic, but not much
more. There were only a few corridors wide enough to move large carts
down and vehicles were absolutely not permitted within the city limits.
So finding whatever entered Aiedo would be like finding a needle in a
haystack. That was unless, of course, it was searching for them, which
was entirely possible considering their current circumstance. Rune began
to wonder if their search was even necessary. Evil always seemed to hunt
them out like a heat-seeking missile. They were constant targets and
anyone near them was a risk of losing his life. Everyone in Aiedo was in
danger now; thousands of people's lives were on the line and only four
individuals were capable of saving them.
No sounds escaped the four Protectors and they pounced on anything that
sounded out of the ordinary. Once a dog ran across their path and Chaz
nearly incinerated it. They laughed at him, but the truth was that all of
them felt like doing the same. None of them knew what was lurking about
in the streets, but they needed to find out quickly. The longer it
remained, the more chance of it causing more destruction. Nothing
happened as of yet -- that was not saying much in the grand scheme of
Then it happened -- a figment of their imagination appeared briefly and
then disappeared. An image of a sorcerer cloaked in black robes faded in
and out of existence several times, its countenance hidden by shadows even
in the bright daylight. The images faded in and out more quickly until it
appeared to be on all sides of the Protectors. Then, for a brief instant,
it was. Rune tried to use his Esper magic to protect them, but the
sorcerer and its bodily images launched a series of magical spheres which
exploded with discharges of light and concussive blasts. Bodies went
flying in four directions and did not land softly. Five images of the
sorcerer surrounded them, each an exact facsimile of the original.
"Imagiomage!" Rune shouted while holding a wounded arm.
A being of pure evil, Imagiomage used the dark sorcery which created it
as an instrument of destruction. A master of illusion, it could create
any number of images at a single time, but usually preferred not to make
such a vulgar display of power. In addition to its images, the sorcerer
could generate powerful concussive explosions and possessed the Force
Flash spell which could kill in little more than a few seconds.
Chaz leapt into action, bringing his Guard sword high above his head in
what was supposed to be a fatal strike. Imagiomage coiled its robe
tightly around itself and appeared to prepare for him. Thinking that it
was solid, the Hunter nearly snapped his arms when he struck the pavement.
Another explosion of light and he was sliding on his stomach away from his
companions. Even Rune was tricked, feeling foolish when he used Nafoi and
nearly set an entire block of buildings ablaze.
Raja closed his eyes and concentrated. Raising his Nares Staff, he
twirled it like a baton and when he reopened his eyes, he struck at an
image, but it hit something solid and Imagiomage fell back from his
attack. "How did you do that?" Hahn questioned.
"I see only one enemy," the Archbishop told him, readying his staff for
another strike. "Tak'khanhas opened my eyes to this dark magic
and now I can see right through it."
As if their enemy heard his boast, Archbishop and Scholar felt the full
force of its attack burn into their backs like phosphorus on fire. Had
they been facing the sorcerer, their eyes would have been burned out of
their sockets. Force Flash did not do much on a physical level, but it
generated a burst of light so intense it could burn any creature's retina
out in a fraction of a second. If exposed to it too long, death normally
occurred. Fortunately, Raja and Hahn were not facing Imagiomage at the
time and escaped serious injury, but they would have burn scars left on
Hahn recovered quickly and used Nawat, his body erupting in a brilliant
blue haze. Cold winds swirled around and soon ten-inch ice spikes rained
down over the area where Imagiomage and its illusions stood. Several of
them missed their mark, but a few did manage to find the correct enemy.
The sorcerer's body flamed up and cleared all obstructions from its path.
Suddenly, Imagiomage disappeared and the street was left empty save the
four Protectors who watched over it. Voices came from all around them as
people in their homes became aware of the battle raging outside. Chaz
wiped the sweat from his brow. Nightfall would come soon and would take
the heat of day with it, but that time could not come fast enough for him.
The Hunter turned to have a few words with Rune who was standing beside
him, but found himself looking into the eyes of another Chaz Ashley!
"What the --" he started to say, but was thrown backward by a concussive
blast. He returned to his feet swiftly and struck at the imposter. It
was gone, however, and with it any trace that it had been there.
"Over there!" Rune called his friends' attention. An imposter Hahn
stood next to the real Hahn, but both looked identical and at first
glance, no one could tell the difference.
"Destroy him!" one Hahn said. "He's the imposter!" The Reverent Fifth
took aim and was about to incinerate the fake, but Raja stepped in.
"Wait!" the Archbishop warned. "Would you attack and kill our friend?"
Rune looked at him quizzically. "That one is the imposter," he pointed at
the other Hahn. "That one is our enemy." The fake Hahn hissed and spat
and disappeared just before Rune cast Tandle.
"Damn!" Rune swore.
The Reverent Fifth cracked his knuckles and wiped some of the sweat off
of his head with his cape. It was too hot to be doing anything right now
much less engaging in a struggle between life and death. All of the
sudden, he was attacked from behind, never given the chance to see his
attacker. They rolled over and over again, kicking up a lot of dust in
the process. His opponent held on tightly with unnatural strength, but
Rune was not going to be detained. Using Esper magic, the Reverent Fifth
generated an electrical spark which would have knocked anyone unconscious.
His opponent was strong, though, and it only forced it off of him.
Rune faced what he thought was going to be Imagiomage, but found that
it had changed itself into an exact replica of him. The imposter was
about to launch another attack when it was struck from behind. Raja stood
above it holding his Nares Staff threateningly, prepared to strike it
again if it so much as flinched. Imagiomage changed back into its true
form, then into Raja. It leapt at the Archbishop and tumbled like it did
with Rune. His friends, not possessing the insight the he did, became
immediately confused to which one was their real friend.
"Enough!" Rune roared. The Reverent Fifth brought his arms together
then threw them apart and the two Rajas flew apart from each other.
"Hurry, Rune!" one Archbishop shouted, "destroy him! He's the
"Don't listen to him!" the other protested, "I'm the one and only
"There's only one way to be sure," Rune announced. "The real Raja will
combine his power with mine to vanquish the imposter."
"And that Raja is me!" one of them insisted. "Come on, Rune! Let's
Great Light, Rune thought, guide my thoughts!
The Reverent Fifth's cape flew about his body as he summoned lightning
down from a crystal-clear sky. "Wait!" the insistent Raja hollered. "I'm
not ready!" The Archbishop across him raised his arms and spoke the words
that would summon power from the Eclipse Torch to come to his aid. The
fake Raja shed his guise and tried to escape its encroaching demise, but
it was too late.
Celestial flames combined with the raw power of lightning and Holy
Thunder rained down upon its target, engulfing it wholly. It screamed
wildly until the attack ended, but it did not destroy it like the casters
wanted it to. Imagiomage fell to one knee and appeared to be breathing
heavily. Chaz, Rune, and the others watched patiently to see if it would
make another move.
Suddenly, it was gone, leaving absolutely no trace that it was ever
there. "Where did it go?" Hahn questioned. As if it heard him,
Imagiomage returned, once again strong. From nowhere, a laugh filled the
area with an evil ambiance. Chaz reeled around to look behind him and saw
a child, cloaked in black and about eight years of age, standing about
thirty feet away from them. The Hunter raised his sword and was about to
run after it when he took a good look at what was before him.
The child was obviously female; her blonde hair was smooth and fell
past her shoulders. Stunning, electric-blue eyes, glinting red in the
diminishing daylight, stared directly into his soul and beyond. This
child could have been any child except that Chaz noticed something that
might have escaped his companions -- the ears. This little girl had
pointed ears not unlike Nei's but that was not the first thought that
entered the Hunter's mind. The girl had Rika's ears!
"NO!!" Chaz wailed and his companions heads' snapped back in his
direction. The Hunter dropped his sword and fell to his knees, burying
his face in his hands. The Child fired some kind of energy beam at Chaz
which passed through him harmlessly, then it vanished. Raja, Hahn, and
Rune felt themselves being propelled forward toward their friend as
Imagiomage attacked them from behind. The sorcerer used its powers to
create illusions of various familiar enemies which surrounded the
Protectors. Chaz snapped out of his sorrow and lifted his sword to come
to his friends' aid. The illusions threatened their charges who had their
backs to each other. "They're only illusions!" Hahn assured his comrades.
"Only one of them is real!"
But that was when the Scholar discovered that he was wrong, dead wrong,
and felt the effects of Tandle as it was unleashed upon him and his
friends. They fell, nearly thrown back ten feet. The illusions
disappeared and Imagiomage reappeared before them. Enraged, Rune threw
his hand forward in an attempt to cast a spell which would instantly
destroy his enemy, but another bolt of Tandle appeared out of nowhere and
struck down the Reverent Fifth.
Raja lifted his head and looked ahead. The air before him appeared to
waiver, become solid, then turn blood-red. It was then that the
Archbishop discovered that he was looking directly into a cloak of some
kind. He took a closer look and saw a bony, almost corpse-like arm.
Scanning right, Raja saw two more cloaks then, looking upward, saw the
true identity of what they were now facing. Gi-Le-Farg, the unholy
trinity of sorcerers which operated as a single identity, towered over its
counterpart. Standing nearly eleven feet tall, the sorcerers intimidated
anything they faced with their height, but even more with their magical
prowess. Chaz unexpectedly leapt to his feet and charged. Gi-Le-Farg
raised their arms. Hahn roared, Raja roared, and Rune hollered at the top
of his lungs. The sorcerers cast their spell and Chaz felt something hit
Everything went black.