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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chaz awoke feeling refreshed, a condition he did not have the pleasure of experiencing in a long time. He did not get up immediately, choosing instead just to lay and rest some more. He remembered feeling the Black Energy Wave inside of him, eating at his organs, eating at his soul. For the first time in his life, he could not defend himself no matter how hard he tried. The Hunter was helpless and could do nothing but lay down and die. Someone else made sure that he would be able to watch his friends die before that time. Luckily, it never happened.

The night was dark but comforting and Chaz did not feel the need to rise and disturb his friends who were surely asleep. Some times were more precious than others, this being one such time. Strange, he thought, how the Light was supposed to be with him and yet the Black Energy Wave was still able to overtake him easily. The more he thought about it, the more it seemed that their 'all powerful' deity was abandoning them. Sure, it made it possible for Nei to return to them, but so far she had not proved herself terribly valuable. Still, the Hunter was glad that she was there because she possessed a comforting charm that was similar to one Rika had. Even if she did not offer much support in battle, her emotional support would be invaluable.

Since he had the opportunity to dwell on his thoughts, Chaz decided to continue to do so. There were so many questions that were unanswered and would remain that way until all this madness ended. For instance: Who was the Child? The Hunter knew the answer but did not want to admit it. No one else saw what he saw so how could they know? Unless another person could see her, could identify only what he could identify and them tell him that his eyes did not deceive him would he accept it. It was entirely possible that the Darkness was disguising its ultimate weapon to catch him off guard and weaken his spirit.

As much as he was loathe to admit it, the strategy used by his enemy was working. It was wearing him down more and more with each confrontation. An icy hand still caressed the Hunter's soul and would probably remain there for the rest of his life. No matter what he did, he could not purge the thought that the Child was indeed his daughter. Oh, Rika, he thought, if only you could see her. She is so beautiful.

Chaz started to become uneasy and restless. He never thought that he would have a difficult choice in making the right decision, but now everything looked hazy. How could he, with a clear conscious, be expected to kill his own flesh and blood, to destroy what was created by love.

But it was not, the Hunter kept reminding himself. What was taken from Rika's body was not theirs' in any way. It was a product of evil and was brought into existence to do one thing -- to spread Darkness far and wide and make everyone in its wake bow to its power. As Protectors of Light, it was up to him and his friends to make sure that would not happen. Just like before when he was faced with making a decision for the greater good on Rykros, he had to make a decision again. He could delude himself by thinking that he could still join his friends in fighting this new threat without the thought of failing them and not life up to his title. On the other hand, he could admit to them his doubts and they, being the great friends that they were, would support and understand him.

Even though they were special people, Chaz still felt uncomfortable admitting his weaknesses to them. Every one of them was a strong, capable person. Lately, all he could seem to do is cry and fall flat on his face. The Hunter's pride was wounded; he needed both the time and the opportunity to redeem himself to his friends. They carried his burden as well as their own for longer then he would have expected them to. Every one of them would have told him that he would have done the same for them and they were right. If anything good could possibly come out of all this madness, it was that their bonds would be forever tightly bound.

Whether or not he was going to tell his friends about his doubts was a decision that the Hunter would put off until the next time they confronted the Child. He realized that doing so would place them in grave danger. It was not fair that all the world's evils seemed to be directed at him and none of them could escape it. They had so much faith in him that he could not disappoint them. Disappointing them was just another worry to tack onto his repertoire of already growing worries.

Moving behind his back drew Chaz's attention. Turning over, he saw Gryz's silhouette standing in the doorway. Not knowing that the Hunter was awake, he came in and sat in a chair opposite from him. He did not seem to be there to talk. Chaz thought that maybe he was just concerned about him. Perhaps Raja's snoring or the sounds of Wren and Demi's mechanical bodies as they regenerated drove him away. He watched the big Motavian for a little while until he appeared to have nodded off to sleep. Closing his own eyelids, the Hunter did the same.

"Chaz," Gryz spoke in a low voice, "if only you knew what was happening to me." At first, Chaz was going to answer him, but then he realized that Gryz came to divulge his feelings to one that was not awake, to a sleeping Hunter. "These strange powers I've developed over the past month are nothing short of frightening." The big Motavian became silent for awhile and he had to fight an urge to tell him to continue. Chaz came to understand that his friend was not good at expressing his feelings. In fact, most Motavians were not good at it. Someone once said that the key to longevity was knowing how to properly express emotions. Perhaps that was why Motavians had such a short life-span by Palman standards. "Kyra told me that she sensed the aura of an Esper from me and now Rune has confirmed it. I don't know if I want to be an Esper, Chaz. It's all so frightening.

"I don't know what I'm going to do now. I can't leave Pana; she'd be all alone. I also can't ignore that this 'Lan' Technique and any other Techniques or Skills that eventually surface are dangerous and only the Espers can teach me to use it correctly." Chaz still did not have a clue of what he was talking about, but he guessed it must have been important to him or else Gryz would not be talking to him while he was presumably sleeping. "This thing inside me, this condition -- well, Kyra told me that it had to be there all along or else it would never have come to pass. She said that she wouldn't be surprised in the least bit if I was a descendant of Zarah, the last known Motavian Esper."

Motavian Esper! Chaz was flabbergasted!

The Hunter began to stir a bit and decided to make it look like he was just switching positions. Gryz gasped for a moment, then settled down.

"Anyway, I'm here to ask you a favor. Now, I'm not saying that I've made any decisions as of yet, but if I do choose to return to Dezoris to explore my new abilities under the tutelage of the Espers, I want to make sure that Pana's taken care of. I know it's a lot to ask, but could you make sure that she lives a long and healthy life? I know we don't live as long as Palman's do, but at least I know that if you're watching out for her, she'll never be far from help.

"So, I guess that's all I came to say. Maybe when you wake up you'll remember a part of what I talked to you about. It's not every day I get to talk to you like this. Sometimes I wish I was more open with my emotions like you and Rika were. I guess it just goes to show that, like you said, emotions make a warrior strong."

The big Motavian got up and walked toward the door. Chaz had previously turned his back in that direction and he would give anything to turn back around. He knew Gryz was standing there watching him, perhaps pondering more questions to ask of his slumbering friend. The Hunter had questions of his own but did not feel like blowing his cover. He heard Gryz move again, then turn to face him. "Try not to stay awake too long, my friend," he said, silently exiting.

Chaz felt stupid for not acknowledging that he was awake, and even more so now that he knew that Gryz knew all along. The Hunter wanted so desperately to tell him that he would do as he asked, but he thought that Gryz wanted to talk to a sleeping friend, not one that was lying awake. If Chaz would have known, he would have sprung up and questioned him about his blossoming Esper powers which he knew nothing about. Perhaps that was why the Motavian did not want him to know that he knew he was awake. Perhaps he did not want to answer more difficult questions that he did not have the answers to. The Hunter suddenly realized that Gryz was probably feeling rather lonely, that he had no one to talk to. Chaz was probably his best friend, so who else to divulge such feelings to? He would have to talk to his friend later.

Just as Chaz was about to drift off again, Nei walked into the room and sat on the bed next to him. She did not say anything at first, instead choosing to sit in silence. The Hunter was beginning to get annoyed at all these intrusions, but was not going to be the one to end it. Everyone seemed to be restless and wanted to talk to him. Nei, on the other hand, was more reserved about her intrusion, almost like she had something of great importance to say to him. He felt the Numan lay a hand on his back and shake him slightly. "Chaz, get up," she said. "There's something I need to discuss with you." Reluctantly, the Hunter rolled over and yawned.

"Can't this wait till later?" he asked. "I'm still trying to rest."

"Get up, Chaz, I know you've been awake for awhile. Gryz told me."

"Big mouth."

"Seriously now, there is something I must discuss with you." Chaz sat up and looked at Nei. She reached over and carefully lit a lantern, then turned and closed the door. Returning to the bed, she sat back down and sighed profoundly.

"What is it, Nei?" The Numan shook her head.

"It's you, Chaz. It's you."

"Me?" Chaz was genuinely confused. She was obviously making some sort of accusation, but of what he did not know. If he learned anything about Nei in the past few weeks it was that she rarely said or did anything without a reason. Because of that fact, he was willing to hear her out before making any accusations of his own.

"Yes, you. I know what happened here when we were gone and I know what you are thinking." The Hunter felt a lump in his throat. He was aware that Espers were capable of invading a person's thoughts, but he did know that Nei could do it as well. "I sense only feelings from you, strong emotions. Some of those emotions are strong enough to reach out over great distances and I am able to receive them." Nei stopped for a moment and took his hands into hers.

"Chaz, I don't know why some people are made to suffer or why those who usually suffer are the kind ones and not the ones who truly deserve it. I didn't want to say anything before, but what I sensed from that Child was not good. It wasn't until I felt the wave of emotions from you that I could be certain. The Darkness twists any kind of good in despicable ways, turning people or things who belonged to the Light to the other side -- even those created with the purest of intentions."

Chaz's heart dropped. Even though he had not a clue of what Nei was talking about, he understood her message just the same. She had an annoying knack for always knowing what was going on inside a person's head. It was no small coincidence that he was thinking about the Child only minutes before. "What are you trying to say?" he asked innocently, but it was tainted by a sneer.

"I don't know how you're going to take this so I'll say it just as plainly as I can. Chaz, your child, yours and Rika's child, is the Child of Darkness."

Nei might as well have reached into the Hunter's chest and pulled out his heart as far as he was concerned. Chaz admitted to himself earlier that the only way that he would believe that the Child and his child was one and the same is if someone else confirmed his worst fear. Now, faced with confession that they were, he was going to deny it.

But that is when logic kicked in, much as it did at the most inopportune times. Everything made sense to him, why he and Rika were separated on Dezoris; why, out of millions of people, she was chosen as a vessel. Most importantly, he understood why the Child kept targeting him instead of his friends. The Darkness knew that it was he who was destined to destroy its greatest weapon and that he would not be able to do it. It knew that the death of his wife would inevitably destroy his spirit. Now that Chaz knew the true identity of the Child, there was no way he could destroy the last living reminder of his beloved Rika. As far as he was concerned, its victory over him was complete.

The Hunter sat for a long time in a state of catatonia, staring blankly into the night. Nei was still next to him although she did not offer him any words of comfort or a reassuring touch. Chaz could have told her to leave, that he wanted to be left alone, but he just as well may have been telling her to leave so that he could drive his sword through his heart. The Numan was not about to leave him alone after what she told him, that much was for sure. She could sense his feelings without him even speaking a word about them.

Chaz felt tears welling up in his eyes and wiped them away before they had a chance to fall. He was glad it was nighttime; he did not want her to see his tears. The Hunter caught a glance at her out of the corner of his eye. She was not even looking his way, preferring to sit and pick at some old battle wounds she must have suffered during her last battle. In the dim light of the lantern she looked even more like his deceased wife. The more he observed her quiet, kind demeanor, the more he realized that he could grow to love her. Ever since her appearance, Nei had been so kind to him, always knowing what to say, always knowing what not to say. She could not only heal his physical wounds -- she could mend his broken heart as well.

"I heard that I have you to thank for saving my life," Chaz said, breaking the silence. Nei slowly lifted his head and for the first time since her resurrection, their eyes met. The Hunter tried to look away as did she, but two magnets drawn to each other, they could not break away. In her eyes he saw compassion, devotion, faith, and love. In his eyes she saw character, strength of will, pain, emotion, and a love rekindled. Their hands touched, bringing their bodies closer together.

Suddenly, a wall sprouted up between them, but not a physical wall one could touch or break down. They were two different sides of a single wall, one made up of guilt, the other of conscience. He could not desecrate her memory by falling in love again so soon. By doing so he would inflict on himself a lifetime of contrition. She could not destroy the trust she earned from him and her new friends, especially Kyra. Just about everyone distrusted her in the beginning, but now was accepting her as one of their own. These were two sides of an impenetrable wall neither of them could tear down alone.

If circumstances were different, both Chaz and Nei would have jumped into this relationship which already showed promising signs. As fate would have it, though, he was born two thousand years too late and she was one hundred and five times his age. The Hunter sat there and held her gaze, genuinely surprised that he was developing feeling toward another person so soon after his wife's death. And why not? Rika would not want him to mourn over her for the rest of his life when the possibility of happiness lurked so close. She would encourage him to pursue it if his heart led the way. There was not a single reason for him not to follow through with a relationship with Nei.

"It's too soon," the Numan plainly stated. Chaz backed away from her, spooked. Her uncanny knack of knowing what he was thinking once again proved unnerving. "We can't do this, Chaz, at least not until Rika's soul is resting safely in the light. It just wouldn't feel right. Perhaps when that task is completed and in a few years if I'm still around we can start a relationship then. I have to admit that my feelings for you are strong --"

"As are mine for you," the Hunter returned in a whisper that was meant for only one person's ears. Nei broke his gaze and pulled her hands away. "What do you mean 'if I'm still around?' Where are you planning to go?"

"Chaz, I told you that my time here is finite. If we complete our mission, the Light may choose to bring me back to the place I've known as my home for over a thousand years. Not many people get a second chance at life like I did. To allow me to stay could have serious repercussions on the space/time continuum. But then again, I don't know that. I could not have an effect at all." Chaz managed a weak smile. "The point I'm trying to make is that we shouldn't get our hopes up about something that may never be. We'd be setting ourselves up for a heartbreak -- me, torn away from the life that I love; you, losing someone so close to you again -- there's just too many possibilities.

"And what about your daughter? What are you going to do about her?" This time it was Chaz who turned away, his face chagrined. Nei's words were like a white-hot steel poker jabbing at his sides. He once again faced that dire situation which loomed ominously over his head. "We can't just ignore that she is your flesh and blood, that it'll probably be difficult for you to kill her."

"Difficult? Difficult is fighting a sandworm or having to push a Landrover into the next town for fuel. Facing the possibility of having to kill your own child is a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching kind of feeling that you cannot fathom. I've gone through the situation over and over in my mind and I've come to this conclusion: I don't think I can do it. I'd kill myself before I'd kill her."

"But rest assured, you will." Chaz glared at her angrily. "It may pain you to hear this now, but I know that if we are faced with defeat, that if you are the only one of us left standing, you will do it. I can't begin to know what you're feeling, but I can place myself in your position and ask myself what would I do. I know that I would kill my child if it would stop any other senseless killings of innocent people. I'd like to think that you would do the same."

The Numan was right, of course. If worse came to worse and his daughter defeated every one of them, there would be no way he would sacrifice his friends' lives and the lives of countless millions of other so that he, one man, could retain a small part of his conscience. He would have to sacrifice everything for his world no matter what the personal cost. Fate was once again cheating him, offering promises of happiness, hanging it in front of his face just out of reach. Darkness was determined that he would not have a glimmer of hope in his life and if he did it would stamp it out like a dying flame.

Chaz wanted to reside himself to believing that he would never find happiness. Only a few times in his life was he actually able to enjoy some small part of happiness. Even after he and Rika were married, their joyful bliss not long lived. Nothing he did could guarantee a safe and happy future where he would never have to worry about shadows from his past.

Now he had something else to worry about.

Chaz never would have believed that he could fall in love again so soon. It did not help matters that Nei looked almost exactly like his deceased wife. It did not feel to him like he was falling in love all over again with a different person, it only seemed like his feelings for Rika were being transferred to Nei. If it was not for her conscience, he would have given his heart and soul to her. He did not even care what his closest friends thought of him. None of them suffered like he did -- they had happiness in their lives. Like a homeless waif, the Hunter had to scramble and seize every bit of happiness he saw. He had done it as a child and he was doing it as an adult. Nothing was ever handed to him on a silver platter. Watching how Fenlye, Jan, and Bjorn were being raised made him realize just how hard he had it at their ages.

Now, Nei was a part of his life he did not want to sacrifice. She was not of his world, had not been a part of anybody's world for over an entire millennium. She managed to keep all of them working as a team even after the greatest blow they had suffered in the years that they knew each other. She even managed to sway the opinions of those who distrusted her in her favor. Anyone who could overcome such obstacles definitely deserved a great amount of respect.

"Chaz," Nei spoke, "I just wanted to let you know that if it is within my power, I will make sure that you won't have to deliver the final blow. If it is within my power, I will strike her down. I can only imagine how difficult all of this is. Besides, I won't hesitate." The Hunter was again stunned by her bluntness. During his musings, he almost forgot about his daughter and about his dilemma. She wanted to make sure that his sight was not diverted from the true task at hand and his responsibility. "I think you can help yourself if you just try not to think of her as your daughter. Instead, you should think of her as what she is -- the Child of Darkness. Once you set your mind in that frame, you shouldn't feel so overwhelmed."

"You know," said Chaz, "you and Wren are exactly the same. Both of you see logic as the prevailing method of thinking without putting emotion into that equation. It doesn't matter whether I think of her as my child or as an evil thing. She is, and always will be, a part of me that is tangible. As long as she is physically present in this world, I will never stop thinking of her that way. She is the last piece of Rika that I have left."

"Then tell me that I'm wrong," Nei fumed. "Tell me that you will not choose her life over the lives of your friends and those of the people of Algo. I know you're not that selfish. You think you're sure of how you'll react, but let me tell you -- you won't truly know until you're face to face with it. If you think that your emotions will betray you, then think again. When logic and emotions come together they are a formidable force. When I faced Neifirst in Climatrol, I was torn between living out the rest of my existence with Rolf or dying at her hand. I loved my friends so much but at the same time I knew that I could not allow her to continue to wreak havoc. When I died, I knew that I had done my part to better the world, and I know you'll do the same."

"I don't know how you can have so much faith in me."

"Because you remind me of Rolf. He never failed or disappointed me. I know you won't, either."

The Numan got up and, reaching over, blew out the lantern. She stood with her back towards Chaz for a few minutes and he could have sworn he heard a muffled sob. Was she crying? Did he hurt her feelings in some way? No, that was not possible. The Hunter figured that she got caught up in the emotions of her previous life and, like him, was discovering that she possessed feelings for him in a way she never thought possible. Of course, he would not know if that was the truth until she told him otherwise, but he liked the thought of deluding himself into believing it for awhile.

"Try and get some rest," she told him. The day will be hot and we won't be going anywhere soon. By the way, Hahn and Rune left for Krup so that Hahn could take care of some family business." Poor Hahn, Chaz thought. He saw how he and his dad were at each other's throats the last time they dropped in and did not envy what the Scholar had to do. "They should return by nightfall." Nei exited and left him alone. He heard discussion briefly outside his room and then the sound of the front door opening and closing. Chaz knew that Nei left and that he was powerless to prevent her from doing so.

The Hunter lay back in his bed, once again left alone with his thoughts. He dreaded to think about all his responsibilities, all the ones that his friends could not assume for him. There were some things in a man's life that only he could take responsibility for. This was one of them. It was nice of Nei to offer him an alternative, but there was no way he was about to let her do what he needed to do. If she had to die, then it would be by his hand. After all, he was partially responsible for bringing her into existence.

Still, he could not default on what was truly a task only he could complete. It was not only for his friends, but for himself as well. His daughter was his responsibility and like a good parent he would take responsibility for her actions. Chaz was bothered by how he could only refer to her as "the Child" or "my daughter." He shied away from giving her a name to identify her because then he would become like a laboratory scientist who names his rat just before he has to kill it. To give a name to a object of experimentation, or in this case an object of evil, is to attach feelings to it. He was determined not to be caught up in that web.

Chaz closed his eyes and tried to drift off to sleep but it did not work. He thought of what would happen to him and his friends in the course of the next few weeks. Wherever their roads led them and however long it took, at least they would be together. He was thankful for that. No matter what the Darkness did to him, at least he knew that he had something that it could never take away -- the love for his friends and their love for him. It was the one thing that he could truly be happy about. The Hunter turned over and stared out of an open window, thought he saw a falling star and made a wish. Satisfied, he drifted off, his haunting dreams finally beginning to slip away.

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