Child Of Darkness
Chaz Ashley blacked out momentarily as something large hit him from the
side. Seconds later, Gi-Le-Farg unleashed a spell that surely would have
killed the Hunter instantly. Chaz rolled over and over again on Aiedo's
streets with the large object that saved his life, eventually coming to a
stop. His eyes fluttered open to see Karl Nance on top of him. Chaz and
his friends had saved his children's lives before and now he saved his.
Karl was a capable man, strong and confident, and only a knee injury kept
him from being a brother Hunter in his profession.
An eerie blue light filled the area with a strobe effect. Karl lifted
himself off of Chaz and the Hunter saw Legeon's supernatural explosions
fight to keep Gi-Le-Farg at bay, but even that powerful spell had little
effect on them. Raja quickly put himself between his friends and the
three sorcerers, casting Blessing as a defense. A jagged bolt of energy
shot through the mystical shield and the Archbishop was propelled backward
at a high rate of speed. Rune and Hahn tried to stop him safely, but were
bowled over in the process.
Chaz jumped into action, raising his Guard sword high above his head.
With one swift motion he managed to encompass Gi-Le-Farg with Airslash.
What normally would have been a lethal strike became nothing more than a
minor annoyance to the sorcerers. Their bodies split in half, then like
gelatin, fused together, making them whole. "Chaz!" Hahn shouted. "Get
ready to receive!"
"I'm ready, Hahn!"
Like a match lighting up a pitch-black room, Astral ignited all of
Hahn's surroundings in a brilliant orange haze. Chaz's sword became a
torch, collecting all of it's power, concentrating into the single,
powerful assault known as Paradin Blow. Under normal circumstances, one
of the sorcerers would have died right there on the spot. Granted some
unnatural power, Gi-Le-Farg placed three bony hands together and caught
the energy collected from Paradin Blow and turned it on their foes.
All of Aiedo shook under Gi-Le-Farg's might. As a single entity, they
possessed the ability to become an energy collector of sorts, drawing in
offensive power and using it against their enemies. Buildings trembled
and the sky suddenly darkened over in ominous waves of grayish-black
clouds. "What's going on?" Hahn shouted over the roar of a wind which
appeared out of nowhere.
"Armageddon!" Rune shouted back.
"I don't get it! Gi-Le-Farg was never this powerful in 'The Edge!' Why
has their power grown so much?"
"I might surmise it's because in 'The Edge,' its power was limited!
That place belonged to the Profound Darkness and its strength was absolute
there!" A bolt of lightning streamed down from the clouds and forced Rune
and Hahn to dive for cover. "I do admit that this seems to be a little
over exaggerated, though!"
Karl Nance grabbed Chaz's arm and jerked him around. "Are you all
right, Chaz?" he asked gruffly.
"I'm fine, Karl," the Hunter replied, "thanks to you. Where did you
"My kids snuck out again and I came out looking for them. I happened
to catch you and your friends in the heat of battle here and knew I could
do something if the chance arose."
The Hunter's head snapped around as Tandle exploded from the sky, its
unbridled power strengthened by Nawat. Conductive Thunder's jagged,
razor-edged sound effects was like the howling of a dozen wolves closing
in on its prey. Hahn and Rune used their abilities to hold the sorcerers
at bay, not having much effect on them at all. Suddenly, celestial flames
appeared out of nowhere and Gi-Le-Farg reeled back from the holy attack.
Raja cast Saint Fire again and for the first time since their appearance,
the sorcerers retreated.
Rune's cape flew while his hands wove the strands of the Esper Skill
Efess while Raja's prepared to speak the words of his native tongue that
could kill instantly. Their minds in sync, Esper and Archbishop were
barely able to cast Purify Light just before a gust of wind caught them.
Fortunately for Gi-Le-Farg, the suddenness of it was able to disrupt what
possibly could have been a fatal blow to them.
Sand began to blow in from all around Aiedo with the unnatural winds
created by Gi-Le-Farg's display of power. They seemed to be able to
control everything in their surroundings, even to control their
surroundings, much like a powerful Telemental can manipulate the forces of
nature. "I must go to the aid of my friends," Chaz told Karl. "I won't
keep you from joining us, but the decision is up to you."
"I've done my part here, Chaz," the eldest Nance said. "You and your
friends are our only hope now and I'd only get in the way. Now, go out
there and get to work."
The two men clasped hands, Karl seeming to want to lend all his
strength to the Hunter. The eldest Nance felt, however, in their joining,
a noticeable weakness in Chaz, one that should not have been there. The
Hunter was too caught up in his actions to take notice and Karl almost
held him back which would have not taken much effort. It was his hope
that despite any loss of strength he was experiencing, he could still make
the difference in their struggle.
Raja's Nares Staff lit up like a torch while he swung it at one of the
sorcerers. As big and bulky as it was, towering at nearly eleven feet, it
was incredibly agile. The air hummed with Raja's mystical prowess, his
distinction as both an Archbishop and a warrior of reputable skill
evident. By his side was an unlikely, yet equally skilled person who
disguised himself under the role of a Scholar. Hahn's competence with his
Mahlay Dagger was unparalleled despite how easily Gi-Le-Farg avoided his
attacks. Any other person would not have gotten close, yet each of Hahn's
blows fell nearer his mark.
Rune was determined not to be left out. Even though he clearly made
his presence known through purely Esper methods, the Reverent Fifth was
not without a certain amount of dexterity with a staff. Although rarely
used, the Guard Staff was always somewhere on his body, hidden from sight,
should he should ever have to abandon his Esper skills for a more crude
method of warfare.
Now was one of those times.
Forged from the same strange metal as Chaz's sword and Nei's claws,
Rune's Guard Staff was imbued with a strange power only known to exist on
the planet of Rykros. The metal protected its wielder from
extraordinarily powerful attacks, actually redirecting the physical
exertion back onto itself. Often times what should have been a lethal
blow ended up nothing more that a stiff breeze. Plus, as an added
feature, anyone who was fortunate to be standing near one who used the
metal fell under its graces as well.
Gi-Le-Farg continued its onslaught, apparently not phased by their
enemies retaliation. Deadly, merciless, they were content with toying
with them, letting them believe that their actions were wearing them down
when in fact they were not even straining. Chaz ran toward them as fast
as his feet could carry him, but each step he took was becoming more
labored, more difficult. It was as if his life drained from his body and
could not be replenished. It suddenly struck the Hunter that when the
Child fired on him, like when it attacked the Icedigger, it had a hidden
effect. Whatever sorcery it used was gradually draining his strength,
making him more and more helpless. Chaz realized that she did not want to
kill him; watching his friends die first would be tremendously more
Rune suddenly felt faint during the heat of battle for no apparent
reason. No reason, as far as anyone could see, because what caused the
Reverent Fifth to collapse was on a psychic level. A long, bony arm
struck him across the head and sent him reeling. Rune's world tumbled
head over heels and he occasionally saw a figure pass across his line of
sight. When he was done rolling and the spinning stopped, he realized
that while Raja and Hahn still battled Gi-Le-Farg to his left, to his
right Chaz struggled to come to his friends' aid despite some debilitating
injury he must have sustained.
Oh, no! Rune thought. I forgot that we still share a telepathic
bridge! If something happens to Chaz it will happen to me, too!
"Rune?" a friendly but insistent voice asked. "Are you all right?"
The Reverent Fifth felt Raja's hands touch his shoulders in an attempt to
get him on his feet. The Archbishop's gaze turned toward Chaz and he
instinctively knew that they were connected.
"Chaz was --" Rune managed, "in need . . . ."
"Why did you do it, Rune? You're always trying to help; I know that,
but you should have realized that Chaz needed to get over this on his own,
without your help. You of all people should have known that."
Raja glanced over his shoulder to check on how Hahn was doing. The
Scholar was masterfully leading Gi-Le-Farg farther away from his friends,
using Nawat to occasionally bring their attention back to him. He felt
guilty for not being at his side at this particular moment, but Hahn knew
the importance of having all of them in battle and urged him to go. The
Archbishop could heal many conditions, but where Esper magic was involved
he did not have any domain.
Seeing Rune's Guard Staff near him, Raja picked it up and shouted to
his friend. "Hahn!" he threw the staff to him, knowing that it would
protect him from any major blow Gi-Le-Farg might deal, "use this!" The
Guard Staff whirled through the air and landed just before Hahn's feet who
eagerly seized it and held it aloft. Magic within the metal flared to
life as his foes attacked him with blazing bolts of Tandle. Unscathed,
Hahn managed to gasp with surprise, then re-engaged his opponents.
"Rune," the Archbishop turned his attention to the dilemma before him,
"you must sever this cord you have drawn around Chaz."
"I will not!"
"You fool! It won't do you or anyone else good if both of you die!
I'm worried about him, too, but there are other lives at stake here, not
Raja was, of course, right, and it pained Rune to come to admit that.
The Reverent Fifth was so adamant about keeping Chaz mentally fit that he
lost sight of his true intention which was merely to ease his pain, not to
completely repress it like he had been attempting to do. He was, after
all, Rune Walsh, Esper extra ordinaire, scion of the Reverent Lutz,
Protector of Algo, and Possessor of the Telepathy Ball. There was nothing
that he was not capable of doing for himself or others.
"I must have at least a few minutes with Chaz . . ." Rune struggled to
speak, "to break our psychic link."
"I don't know if we have a few minutes, Rune! Those sorcerers are
dogging our every move!"
"Go assist Hahn and leave us here. I will join you shortly."
Raja turned to leave but felt hesitant given the circumstances. He
could go and help his Scholar friend who was beginning to drown and throw
him a life jacket, but then Rune and Chaz would be left vulnerable until
the Esper could break his spell. Not going to Hahn's aid would almost
certainly spell his doom. The Archbishop vacillated between scenarios,
then finally decided to place his trust in Rune's powers which had never
failed him before. "Hey!" he shouted, bringing Gi-Le-Farg's attention to
him, "you sorry wastes of perfectly good cloak! Why don't you come over
here and say 'hi' to my Nares Staff."
* * * * *
With the last ounce of his waning strength, Rune managed to pull Chaz
close to him. The Hunter was mildly delusional and did not quite know
what was going on. The Reverent Fifth agonized over having to sever their
connection. He did not want him to ever feel that he abandoned him in any
way even if it was for the best. If one good thing could possibly come
out of this it was that he never knew of what Rune did. "Rune?" the
Hunter asked. "What are you doing?"
"I must cast a spell, Chaz," he spoke softly, "and you might die
because of it. But if I don't cast it, then we'll both die."
"I understand." A solid Laconian dagger drove deeply into the Reverent
Fifth's heart. Although he never admitted as much, he thought of Chaz as
a friend, a brother, and a son. Despite his youthful visage, he was, in
fact, over a century old. Rune never fathered any children in all that
time, so when he and Chaz first met (which was not under the best
circumstances), he found someone to attach himself to.
The Esper Council had begged him for an heir, even going as far as to
offer a lottery of eligible women. The Reverent Fifth would not have it,
though, saying that such a blatant display of chauvinism was disgusting
and disrespectful. The truth was that Rune had never been in love with
another Esper enough to even consider giving her the responsibility of
raising their future leader, the Reverent Sixth. She would have to raise
the child in his absence since he would most likely return to the
Hibernation Chamber, returning once every ten years to check on him. Upon
returning on the child's twentieth birthday, he would relinquish his
responsibility as Protector of Algo to his son or daughter and live out
the rest of his existence which would be a matter of months to a couple of
years. Outside of the effects of the Hibernation Chamber, he would age
rapidly, hence the quick, often merciful, death.
Rune was not, and had never been, one who followed the masses, much to
his people's dislike. He had a way of doing things on his own which was
unorthodox for a Lutz to do, but he managed to get things accomplished
nonetheless. He hated feeling obligated to have a child when he had never
experienced love in its truest sense. The Reverent Fifth saw how young
people in love acted, wanted to feel what they felt. It was not as if
Rune had never been with a female, that happened in his days as a youth,
before his twentieth birthday. In his advanced age, he began to wonder if
it would ever happen and decided to give the Council what they desired --
That was when he met Chaz on his fateful quest to Tonoe with Alys and
Hahn. Sure, they quarreled plenty of times at first, but after Alys died
and he saw just how devoted the Hunter was to her and her quest, his
opinion of him changed. By the time their journey was completed and the
Profound Darkness was seemingly vanquished, he had bonded with Chaz like
he had with no one else. They went their separate ways, but Rune never
forgot about his young friend, about the bond they shared.
For almost a year he watched Chaz blossom into an adult and for him
that year was nearly a lifetime. He imagined that it was, in fact, just
that, and found himself prided by the young Hunter's accomplishments.
Seeing all that was satisfaction enough to fill the void of missing his
own child grow into an adult. As far as he was concerned, Chaz was his
son, and no one, not even the Darkness itself, could ever take that from
him. The problem was that Chaz was not of pure Esper blood and would
never be accepted as one of Lutz's generation. No father would ever wish
that kind of responsibility onto his child with a clear conscience,
Now Rune was faced with the possibility that his 'son' would die at his
hands. Better, he thought, by his hands then by the hand of Darkness.
Still, he could not bring himself to do it. Chaz risked everything, lost
almost everything important to him in life, and someone owed him a favor.
That was why Rune so desperately wanted to extend his hand in support
of his friend. Fate took so much from Chaz that the Reverent Fifth's
primary concern was to give, give, give. To give back at least a portion
of what the Hunter had given would only satiate his need to be his father
figure. Was it not the goal of every father to give his child more than
he had in life at the same age? He tried to think of some way to improve
the situation, but time was short and he did not have more than maybe a
minute. Rune gave all he had to offer to the Hunter. Now, he was forced
to take it away.
"Why did you do it, Rune?" Chaz asked, the words seeming to come of
their own volition. The Reverent Fifth was shocked into speechlessness.
"Why couldn't you let me deal with this myself?" Rune spoke the words of
the spell which would magically link their minds again, then sever the
connection they shared. A blue aura surrounded Esper and Hunter in a
protective blanket. For a brief moment, they were facing each other on a
separate, but parallel, plane of existence.
"I only wanted to help, Chaz," Rune explained, "please believe me. Of
all the people that I have cared about in my long life, you would be the
first I would help, and the last I'd hurt."
"I'm not angry with you, my friend," Chaz's voice was filled with
benevolence and nearly brought the Reverent Fifth to tears. "I admit that
I needed help pulling through this, but you could have lent me that help
by being my friend. You have so much power that you've lost touch with
the real person inside of you, the real Rune Walsh, the one who can heal
with friendship and love, not with Techniques or Skills."
"I couldn't bear to see you suffer, Chaz. I knew it was within my
power to help you."
"For which I am grateful, but the consequences of your actions are as
plain as day now. What will you do, Rune Walsh? Will you stay here and
perish with me or will you rejoin the world of the living and give Raja
and Hahn a fighting chance at survival, not to mention all of the people
Rune was quiet and suddenly felt awkward. Even though he had his head
bowed, he could still feel the Hunter's eyes burning into him, searching
out his soul. I have all these powers, he thought, and I couldn't save
Rika. I failed her by not even being there. Now, Chaz is dying and I am
helpless. Some Lutz I turned out to be. I can't even save the lives of
those closest to me. This is the turning point of my life as I'm
concerned. If I strengthen the connection between our minds perhaps both
of us will pull through. If I sever our link, Chaz will most likely die,
but Hahn, Raja, and the people of Aiedo will live. After everything I
have done wrong for Chaz, maybe letting him wait for his wife's return in
the Light is the most merciful act I can bestow on him.
"What will you do, Rune Walsh." The Reverent Fifth's eyes filled with
"I will let you die."
* * * * *
Raja and Hahn fought valiantly against impossible odds. They held
their ground for as long as they could, but found themselves giving up
more than gaining. Gi-Le-Farg did not have to do much because the Scholar
and his Archbishop companion's strength was waning with each failed
attack. Like the feline who chooses to play with its prey, waiting until
it dies to feast on it, the sorcerers would wait until their charges no
longer amused them, then finish them off.
Winds continued to blow sand through Aiedo unabated. While Raja's
scaly, thicker skin protected him from the continuous sand blasting, Hahn
was not so fortunate. His face burned with an unnatural fire, his hands
felt raw and were beginning to bleed, and the moisture seemed to be sucked
from his mouth. His body ached so much that he could no longer
concentrate enough to use Techniques or Skills. Raja tried to cast
Blessing to take away the sting, but his opponents negated the shield the
moment it was cast.
A gust of wind caught Gi-Le-Farg off guard and all three tumbled
head-first. Hahn peered through half-closed eyelids and saw Rune reborn,
whatever condition that struck him earlier purged. The Scholar had seen
him display his Esper prowess before, but he was really going all out this
time. Winds created by Gi-Le-Farg swirled under the Reverent Fifth's
command and his body glowed in an aura of blue light. Lightning burst
from dark clouds, striking him yet having no visible effect. Then, like
the magnifying glass that intensifies light, Rune's body discharged all of
the collected energy at the sorcerers. Hahn and Raja were barely able to
dive for cover before it struck, scattering Gi-Le-Farg in three
Targeting one of his red-cloaked enemies, Rune used Hewn to put some
distance between it and its other two companions. The Reverent Fifth's
hand snapped forward, releasing a spheroid of black death. Diem impacted
its target and like a moon eclipsing a sun, a shadow enveloped the
sorcerer. It fought and struggled against the powerful Esper spell, but
could do nothing to fight it. When it finally dropped lifeless, part of
the magic that wove itself around all of Aiedo faded and the winds
lessened ever so slightly. The other two sorcerers' magic worked to
correct for their loss, but could not replenish it fully.
Gi-Le-Farg raised their bony, corpse-like arms and their blood-red
cloaks flared to life. A sound like the screaming of a thousand dying
children reverberated through the city. Rays of light burst forth from
the sorcerer's clothing and Rune was barely able to wrap his cape
protectively around his body before the strange light passed over him.
The Reverent Fifth was instantly overwhelmed by incessant, bone-chilling
sound of the screams and could not block it out of his mind. Like a
balloon he felt pressure build up within his head and knew that it would
surely explode if he did not react quickly. Concentrating the best he
could, Rune called upon the spell which would summon the power of
otherworldly creatures to come to his aid. In an awesome explosion, Efess
erupted, but its target was not the ones who assaulted the Reverent Fifth.
Instead, Rune used its power to counteract whatever sorcery Gi-Le-Farg was
using against him. The screaming stopped, replaced by the soothing,
hushed words of creatures who lent Rune their strength.
Falling to his knees, Rune was pleasantly surprised to find that his
enemies terminated their assault. He felt strong arms lift and aid him
away from the remaining two sorcerers. Looking to his left, he saw Raja,
steady, firm, his mind set on where they were going. To his right he saw
Hahn, trembling, injured by the blowing sand, almost ready to collapse.
He and his friends were in a poor state of health. He had thought that he
could make all the difference in the world, that he alone would prevail
and carry his friends to safety. Now, there he was being carried by his
friends. It seemed that he brought himself back from the brink of death
only to perish anyway.
Raja and Hahn aided Rune's faltering footsteps until they reached Chaz
who lay face down on the street. After a stern protestation, they finally
let him walk under his own power. Tired, withdrawn, Hahn placed his hands
under Chaz's arms and began dragging what was all but dead weight away
from their pursuers. Raja somehow remained the healthiest of the four and
put himself between them and danger. Gi-Le-Farg pursued at a slow pace,
feeding off their fear, forcing them back into a virtual wall where they
would fight pitiably for their lives.
"Ahhhhhhhh!" came a shout.
From out of nowhere, Fenlye appeared like a madness-stricken berserker.
He thrust his short sword at Gi-Le-Farg who was caught off guard by the
oldest Nance. The two sorcerers reeled back for a moment, startled by his
gall and unsure if this young one possessed some unknown power. "Fenlye!"
Raja yelled, "get away from there!" The oldest Nance was either ignoring
the Archbishop or could not hear him over the roar of the storm.
Surprisingly enough, he showed his dexterity with a sword by managing to
rip into one of the sorcerer's cloaks. A long, bony finger knocked his
weapon away, then struck him across his chest. Fenlye found himself
flying backward and did not land softly. Raja grabbed his arm and pulled
him back. "What are you doing here?" the Archbishop demanded.
"I --" he began, but the desert air acted as a desiccant and he had to
swallow to moisten his mouth, "I saw what was happening. You four are
Aiedo's last hope and if you fail then we're all dead anyway, so I wanted
to help." Fenlye averted his gaze. "I'm not afraid to die."
"It's not whether or not you die that matters," Raja said gravely,
"it's how you die."
Hahn continued to pull Chaz's defunct body backward followed by a
limping Rune, then Fenlye and Raja. They managed to put a considerable
amount of distance between themselves and Gi-Le-Farg who did not seem
concerned at all. Why waste time and energy chasing after prey who have
already been bitten and are waiting for the poison to take effect?
Hahn felt a weak struggle from Chaz and stopped briefly. Everyone
turned around to see what was happening. The Hunter's eyes fluttered open
briefly and his lips parted in a single, silent word: "Fenlye." The
oldest Nance hurried to his hero's side and knelt next to him, putting his
ears as close to Chaz's mouth as possible to hear his failing words.
"Take my sword . . ." he told him, "help my friends . . . ."
"How can I help?" Fenlye pleaded. "I -- I don't know how to do
anything right! All I ever seem to do is get myself and my sister and
brother in trouble!"
"Be brave, Fenlye, and remember the lessons I taught you . . . ."
Fenlye reached down and took the Guard sword from Chaz's hand. Despite
its large size, it felt amazingly light to him, like it adjusted its
weight to match the strength of whoever wielded it. He swung it deftly,
then turned to face the enemy. "What can you do with it?" Raja queried.
"I don't know yet," came his honest response. "I think I know what Chaz
is talking about, but I've never actually done it before. He's only given
me a few lessons."
"What lesson is that?"
"He was trying to teach me how to execute Crosscut."
"Well," Rune spoke up, "if Chaz has that much faith in you, then we
must, too." The Reverent Fifth straightened himself. "Fenlye, you and I
have the only chance of ending this positively."
"Oh, yea, that's right," Hahn commented, "just put the weight of the
world on his shoulders, Rune." The Reverent Fifth hated hearing Hahn's
remark but realized, as the Scholar suggested in so many words, that
placing such an onus on one so young was not the correct path to take.
"Clear your mind;" Rune chose his words carefully, "when you feel our
thoughts synchronize, you will know when to perform the Crosscut Skill."
"I -- I understand," a nervous Fenlye stuttered.
"There must not be any trace of doubt in your mind or this will not
Fenlye nodded and gulped. Like he mentioned before, the oldest Nance
never actually executed a perfect Crosscut although he had thought he came
close. There was too much pressure on him. Never in his life did he ever
imagine that he would take the place of his hero in a life and death
struggle. Fenlye envied everything about the Hunter. Now, he realized
that being a hero and an idol was not all it was cut out to be.
Fenlye swung his sword, his first attempt at Crosscut a pathetic
failure. "Concentrate," Rune advised, "it's all right if you don't
succeed at first, but determination is only the first step to executing a
Skill." The youngest Nance nodded, his forehead moist with nervous
perspiration. He swung again -- another failed attempt. "You must also
have the courage to face your enemy, and faith in that you can defeat it."
Fenlye heeded Rune's words and fought an urge to make another attempt,
choosing to concentrate on the Reverent Fifth's advice. "Finally, you
must have the wisdom to believe in yourself, to purge all trace of failure
from your mind. When these three elements come together, the Skill will
Fenlye swept the Guard sword from left to right, then lifted it high
and thrust downward quickly, but still nothing happened. The oldest Nance
was getting frustrated and did not know how much longer he could stand the
pressure. His entire body was wet with sweat and his heart felt like it
pumped the entire volume of blood in his veins every ten seconds. He felt
Raja's reassuring touch on his shoulder, but it was more of a way of
letting him know it was all right that he tried than a supportive touch.
At that moment, Fenlye could have curled up in a ball and cried.
Movement caught the oldest Nance's eye and his head snapped to his
right. There, protected from the wind by a house, stood his younger
brother, Bjorn. Despite the distance between them, he could see Bjorn's
bright eyes looking upon him fondly. In reality, the youngest Nance
looked to him just as he looked to Chaz. He saw the innocence in his
brother's eyes, saw the admiration and pride that was always there, yet
not noticed until now. But most of all, Fenlye saw the love, felt the
love, and knew that there was much more to fight for.
A larger figure moved toward Bjorn and Fenlye saw his father put a hand
on his shoulder. Bjorn looked up and they joined hands. Karl looked at
his son, angry that he had once again snuck out of his room, but proud
that his son was doing his best to defend what he loved most in his life.
Raja's hand slipped from his shoulder, his faith failing him. "Be brave,
Fenlye . . ." he heard Chaz's words again. ". . . have the wisdom to
believe in yourself . . ." Rune's words echoed.
Then it happened.
Fenlye felt the presence of another mind as they met on a psychic
plane. It was like his body reacted instinctively and his arms moved
under their own volition. He swept from left to right, then, in a
split-second, raised the Guard sword high and thrust downward. At that
moment, Rune cast Efess, and Grandcross ignited Aiedo's darkened streets.
Efess' otherworldly power actively sought out the impression left by
Crosscut and inserted itself into it. The aftereffect was an explosion of
immense proportions, the small cross-shaped insignia becoming an immense
cross of blue light whose strength was three times that of its
predecessor. Gi-Le-Farg fell back from the attack, their concentration and
spells disrupted. The sand storm fell apart and clouds began to part,
revealing blue sky. The fading light of day shined down on Aiedo.
Fenlye executed Crosscut again, the Skill's ability to leave a visible
impression of a cross in thin air, intensified by Efess' supernatural
power. The second Grandcross was enough to finally bring Gi-Le-Farg down
and the remaining two sorcerers' bodies dropped lifelessly.
Fenlye dropped the sword due to a temporary lightheadedness. Adrenalin
pumped through his veins at a high volume. He had never in his ten years
experienced such power, never killed anything more than common vermin, and
the gravity of what just happened was beginning to sink in. The oldest
Nance stumbled but luckily Rune was there to catch him. "Well done,
Fenlye!" the Reverent Fifth told him. "I believe you're on your way to
becoming a fine Hunter!"
"I --" Fenlye began but did not get much farther then that. Out of
nowhere a small figure ran out and latched itself onto his waist.
"Fenlye!" Bjorn exclaimed, excitement in his voice. "That was so
cool!" Karl Nance walked out of the shadows and approached his son. Rune
steadied the young, aspiring Hunter, then stepped away. Karl dropped to
his knees and held out his arms into which his oldest son ran into their
"Fenlye," the elder Nance breathed, "my son. I am so proud of you.
Already you have achieved what I strived many years to achieve but never
did." Karl let go of his son and roughly grabbed his arms. "Still, I
cannot begin to tell you how foolish that was!" Fenlye's father suddenly
became angry and his grip tightened. "How could you sneak out after all
you put your brother and sister before?" The oldest Nance began to squirm
under his father's scrutiny who realized that he was inadvertently hurting
him. "Fortunately, you weren't hurt this time, but one day your luck may
run out on you. Fenlye, you must learn to carefully weigh the pros and
cons of your decisions and take responsibility for them. You are
grounded, young man, until I say you're not."
"But dad --" Karl's son began to protest, but then heard his father's
"Young man," he said. Never before had he referred to his son as a
'man' and not just a 'boy' as he was fond of calling him. When a boy
becomes a man in his father's eyes, it is a time in his eyes when the
world opens up to new possibilities. It would be a long time before Karl
truly saw his son as an equal, but Fenlye knew he took one giant step
"Yes, father," he said meekly, the first time he could remember taking
responsibility for his actions. "Dad! We have to help Chaz!"
"It may already be too late for that," Raja said gravely. The
Archbishop held Chaz's limp body in his arms, the Hunter's seemingly last
breaths coming with great difficulty. "I've tried over and over again to
heal him, but it is the Darkness which has brought on his condition and I
cannot overcome it."
"Do not fear," Chaz spoked in a hush, "soon I will be one with the
"But it's not your time," a voice spoke out. "I, of all people, should
know that." All eyes turned in the direction of the voice which came from
somewhere behind them.
Out of the shadows stepped six figures and the smallest of them
immediately ran toward Karl and Fenlye. Jan ran into the embrace of her
father and brother, any traces that she had a brush with death erased.
She, too, played an important role in the lives of those she was with.
Almost like instinct, she sensed that her brother changed in some way,
knew that it was not merely a coincidence that he was with Chaz and his
friends. Looking around, she saw the bodies of Gi-Le-Farg. "Fenlye," she
began, "did you --" Fenlye did not have to answer because she could read
it in his eyes.
Jan turned and embraced her brother. It was the first time she could
remember actually wanting to. Fenlye, in return, sensed a change in his
sister, felt the emotion pour from her. It was as if she experienced
something so profound that only now did she realize the importance of
those closest to her. Only after Jan told him of her harrowing
experiences would he know how close he was to the truth at that time. "I
love you, Fenlye," she said. The oldest Nance did not have to answer for
their cheeks pressed against each other and she felt their tears
intermingle. He was planning to tell her the very same thing, made a
promise to himself that he would. Leave it to a girl to spoil his plans.
Fenlye tightened his embrace and did not want to let go.
Nei and her companions approached Raja who was on his knees holding
Chaz. "Nei," he said, a desperate plea in his voice, "help him. We can't
lose Chaz, too, not him. I cannot heal him." The Archbishop's friends
gathered around him. "I couldn't help Rika, either." The Numan crouched
and took Chaz's hand into hers.
"The Darkness," she said. Raja nodded. "There is nothing that I can
"What?" Hahn questioned.
"But, Nei," Kyra spoke while realizing the enormity of the situation
and began to weep, "you said that it was not his time!"
"Yes," Wren added, "if it is within your power to help Chaz, then
please do it."
"It is not within my power," Nei returned coolly. Kyra was livid.
"Nei, how can you just let him --"
"Wait," Nei interrupted, "I said it was not within my power.
I did not say that it could not be done."
"When Alys was struck by the Black Energy Wave," said Hahn, "no
medicine, Technique, or Skill could heal her." The Numan put a hand on
Chaz's forehead and closed her eyes. Concentrating intensely, she
explored his being, determining the extent of his injuries.
"His soul is strong," she announced, "as is his will. The Darkness has
a firm grasp of him, however, and will not let go. Although it may pain
you to hear this now, I have to tell you that Chaz must die."
"NO!" Kyra roared, her voice strengthened by all of her friends.
"He must die. Only when life has left his body will the Darkness' grip
on him lessen. Then, if all goes well, we can bring him back and purge
"I will bring him back from death," Rune announced. "It's because of
me that he is in this predicament, anyway."
"You were only doing what you thought was right," Nei told him like she
knew of his actions all along. "Mortal folly is important in the aspect
that we can learn from it." A choking gasp drew their attention back to
Chaz. His eyelids fluttered wildly as his body began to convulse. Nei
and Gryz moved to restrain his arms to keep him from striking Raja. The
convulsions stopped almost immediately, but his body continued to tremble
like a leaf on a tree. Everyone heard him gasp, a long, tortuous,
inhalation. They waited for him to exhale, but it never happened.
Chaz was dead.
Kyra screamed, her sorrow like a ten-inch spike hammered into her
heart. She ran toward her 'little brother', but was halted by Demi.
"Kyra!" she pleaded. "Trust in Nei! You must have faith in that she
knows what she is doing!"
"Can I do it now?" Rune asked, anxiety and despair present. "I will
use the Rever Technique to revive him."
"Not yet," the Numan told him. "We must let as much time as possible
to pass to weaken the Darkness' hold on him, but not too much time or else
we'll never be able to revive him." Rune nodded although he was not
comfortable about all of this. He overheard Demi telling Kyra to have
faith in Nei and began questioning his own faith in her. Doubt was like
an infected wound that poisoned the body it inhabited. Asking all of them
to stay calm after one of their closest friends died was a lot to ask.
"Do it now," she ordered.
The Reverent Fifth laid a hand on Chaz chest and used Rever. The
Technique acted as a defibrillator of sorts, electrical shocks stimulating
not only the heart into an active state, but also many of the body's other
anatomical functions as well. Fortunately, much to everyone's relief,
Chaz began to breathe again. Rune was able to resurrect him.
"You learn much in the Light," Nei spoke, her eyes closed. "While I
was there, knowledge was abundant, and there was nothing that was not
available to me. Souls talked about unrealized theories that were never
proven, unfinished business with people or other things. I saw loved ones
reunited, others who were torn from those they loved. Chaz, the person
you loved most in life was taken from you, but you shall not suffer the
same fate. There are still people here who love you and need you, but
Darkness still holds you." Nei opened her eyes and her gaze went to three
of her companions. "One of the theories that I overheard in the Light
spoke of a way of combining Technique and Skill in such a way that it can
purge Darkness from an individual. It involved using four different
healing methods to revive the body, the mind, the heart, and the soul. In
the presence of these four healing elements, Darkness cannot survive.
Demi, Kyra, and Raja -- you and I possess the elements necessary to
achieve what we desire. Join me."
Android, Esper, and Archbishop knelt down next to Chaz, forming a
circle around him. They joined hands and waited in anticipation for Nei
to tell them what to do. "We must do this in order of body, mind, heart,
and soul. I will go first, then Demi, then Kyra, and finally Raja.
Concentrate on the task before you. I'm not sure, but we may feel the
Darkness enter our bodies temporarily as it is being purged, but hopefully
it will be driven out completely. Hear us, Chaz, and come back to us."
Nei closed her eyes again and her friends did the same. The Numan used
Nares, but it did not have an immediate effect, instead manifesting itself
as a sphere of light which hovered above the Hunter's body. Demi used her
Medic Power, the Skill lending its restorative power to that of Nares,
causing the sphere to enlarge and become brighter. When Kyra cast Medice,
the sphere began to pulsate with unused power. Raja was the last to
contribute to their effort, casting the mystic spell, Miracle, and like an
overfilled balloon, the sphere exploded, and Panacea immediately went to
The combination spell, Panacea, was only spoken about in furtive
whispers, no one ever willing to become a test subject and exposing
himself to Darkness. It was a theory passed down for over two thousand
years, but never in that time were there ever four different restorative
methods available. The amount of time that passed allowed for the
development of new Techniques and Skills. Only after Nei's miraculous
return with the knowledge that evaded her friends was the theory being put
to the test.
Light as bright as Algo illuminated all of Aiedo, yet those fortunate
enough to be observers did not shy away from it. It was an Elysian light
working to drive all traces of Darkness from Chaz. Like Nei said, they
felt the Darkness enter their bodies briefly as it was being removed from
Chaz's. The feeling was unmistakable and inexplicable. Raja, Demi, and
Kyra felt their bodies become cold and a pain like a giant hand grabbed
and lifted them by their insides. Chill hands like those belonging to
dead caressed them, tried to make them break free of each other. Their
common love for Chaz bound them strongly together, though, and feeling
what he was feeling strengthened their determination.
The light faded and Aiedo was plunged into night's shroud, but it was a
comforting darkness. Nei, Demi, Raja, and Kyra separated and observed that
Chaz still lay flat on the ground, but his breathing was noticeably at
ease. The Numan placed a hand on his chest like she did before and
another on his forehead. She concentrated and listened to make sure
nothing was askew, then, after a few tense moments, spoke. "We did it.
The Darkness is gone. Chaz will make a full recovery." The Hunter's
friends breathed a collective sigh of relief. "Come on, let's get back to
the house. We will all rest better there."
Wren gently lifted Chaz and they headed back to his home. Karl and his
children accompanied them most of the way up until their paths parted.
Bidding a fond farewell, the Nance's took the road that would lead them
home. Nei led her companions to Chaz's house and went inside, leaving the
terrors of the day's events behind.