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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Thirty

Nightfall came and Hahn and Rune prepared to make the journey back to Aiedo. Janel was kind enough to send them with enough supplies for the trip to be an easy one. Hahn wanted to avoid a lengthy, emotional farewell, but his mother seemed to get caught up in her emotions. It might, after all, be the last time she saw her son. Even Thom was a bit more emotional than expected. He mended his relationship with his son and now was sending him off again to face the unknown. The Scholar was content, however. He accomplished what he came to do -- tie up the loose ends in his life before it was too late.

Only an hour after Algo set, Hahn and Rune set off. They bade a fond farewell to Thom and Janel, then quickly made their way though Krup's streets and left the city. The Scholar could not help but have a heavy heart. He felt that he should have gone back to say good-bye to Saya again, but doing so may have upset her further. He could not shake a suspicion that she was not telling him everything that was going on in her life. There was nothing between them that they did not share with one another and yet he still felt that he was being deceived in some way. Part of what made their relationship so strong was that truth played an important factor in it. Hahn admitted to himself that there were things about his life, especially the life that he shared with Chaz and the others, that he would probably never tell her. Some of the horrors in his life were better off if they were left unspoken.

The night was clear and crisp. "Did you notice that the day was cooler than normal?" the Reverent Fifth asked his companion. Hahn acknowledged with a mere nod. Rune wrapped his cape tightly around him to prevent any unnecessary loss of body heat. Similarly, Hahn zipped up the overcoat his mother provided him to wear on the trip. It was difficult walking in sand for so long for it made calf muscles sore. Plus, keeping the sand out of their boots was a chore in itself. Years ago, nighttime travellers had to worry about attacks from stray sandworms or biomonsters. Nowadays, travellers had to worry about bandits who were mostly people who have fallen on bad luck and are struggling to feed their families.

An hour passed and the two travellers walked past Molcum, the village quiet and peaceful much like Palman cities used to be in their prosperous times. Hahn remembered a time when he was young before daytime heat became so unbearable. They, too, centered their activities around the day and slept when the night was cool. But all of that had changed and they probably would never go back to the way they were.

Neither Scholar nor Esper spoke while walking, each consumed in his own thoughts. Rune was beginning to long for the company of his own people at Esper Mansion. He saw everything develop between his companion and his fiancee first, then with his parents. It was a bit upsetting to the Reverent Fifth that he did not have anyone to care for him, to show concern that he could be walking to his death. Chaz, Kyra, and the rest of his friends were all the family that he needed or wanted, but he began to miss how his people pined over him. There was no one to tell him that he was loved like Thom and Janel did, however. Most of the concern generated by his fellow Espers was out of commitment and not out of concern.

Rune found himself becoming a jealous person, one who coveted what his friends had and he did not. He longed for a regular life, not the one that was predetermined for him. He regretted that he did not really get to know his parents, did not ever feel the love that every child was entitled to. That was a hundred years in the past now. There was no way he could have been by his mother's side as she breathed her last breath or watched his father die with dignity as he would, too, someday. The Reverent Fifth often found himself dwelling on his father, if he thought about the same things that he did. While Rune's life had definitely not been uneventful, there was a certain amount of disappointment that he did not truly do what he wanted to do with his life -- enjoy it. There were times that he would have traded his title in an instant just to have the normal life of someone who did not have the weight of the world on his shoulders.

The Reverent Fifth wondered about what possible fate Darkness had in store for them. They still did not know what its intentions or its plans were. If anything was certain, it was out to get them and Chaz in particular. Sure, they last time they confronted it, it was because it wanted purely to wreak havoc on all the solar system. This time, though, it seemed like this was more of a vendetta than a takeover attempt. True, there would probably be a time when it would revert back to its original intentions, but it definitely had some other ones in mind.

While Rune was preoccupied with his thoughts and was not paying attention to his companion's, Hahn was preoccupied with his own. The Scholar was still reflecting on his conversation with his father and the roots of his family. He never would have guessed that the Larssons were directly connected to Queen Alis. What disturbed him more was that his family was directly connected to King Lassic who was possibly the greatest villan who ever existed. He thought about the weapon and armor that he carried, how they had saved his life and the lives of his friends, but now they made his stomach turn. He would continue to use them for they were arms of high quality, but he was sure that he would never feel the same way about them again. The arms that he once was proud that he forged were now a curse and an embarassment.

* * * * *

After sleeping through the night and most of the following day, Chaz awoke a refreshed man. By the time he got out of bed, Algo was on its way to setting and everyone was awake. The Hunter took a few minutes to freshen up, then joined his friends in the front room. "It's great to see you up and around again," Demi said.

"Thanks, Demi," Chaz returned. "It's always helpful to have all my friends around to help me recover."

"Wouldn't have it any other way."

"Rune and Hahn should be on their way back by now, shouldn't they."

"That was their plan," Gryz answered, "but where Hahn's parents are concerned, there's no telling." Everyone in the room mumbled words in agreement. They all knew of the Scholar's problems with his parents and felt bad that he had to face such adversity. At least Rune was there for support should he need it.

Chaz was curious as to how the Scholar would handle the situation. Hahn was capable of handling anything to overzealous first-year students to sandworms on the open desert, but he always seemed to be lacking when it came to family relations. That was not his fault, though, and he understood that. Hahn's father made it difficult for him to communicate when he shut him out of his life. The Hunter's parents would have probably taught him the virtues of communication had they lived to raise him. Luckily, Alys did more than a sufficient amount of teaching to get him through life.

"So, what do we do now?" queried Raja. "We should think of something to do before they get back or else we'll just be nine people with no ideas instead of seven."

"I'd like to go to Vahal," the Hunter said, stunning his comrades into speachlessness. "Come on, people, I'm serious. I heard all of you discussing Siren and Miun and I have to see them for myself."

"I'll go," Gryz offered.

"No, I don't think that's necessary. I do, however, want Nei to come with me."

"Me?" Nei stood up and felt herself being scrutinized by those around her. "Chaz, I think we'd all feel better if you went with someone else."

"Don't be silly, Nei," Kyra disagreed. "I think you're probably the only one among us who would have the nerve to go back there. I know I had enough of it when we left."

Nei shook her head. A few weeks back when they were returning from Dezoris, the Esper Leader practically bit her head off out of worry for her friend. Now, for some reason that only manifested itself as a quiet smile, she was encouraging her to spend more time with him. She could not understand her reasoning. It finally began to dawn on the Numan how much two thousand years could change a society. "Wren," Kyra turned to her companion, "what do you think?"

"I believe that based on what Siren and Miun told us about their plans," the big android explained, "there should be minimal danger now. It is reasonable to believe that they will have most of the AI's in Vahal in control by now."

"If we must go, then we must leave as soon as possible," the Numan explained.

Chaz nodded and proceeded back into his bedroom to pack a day-bag or in this day, a night-bag. They all knew that he was just itching to get some action and frankly they were sort of offended that he did not want them to go with him. "Kyra!" Nei snapped. "What do you think you're doing?"

"Don't sweat it, Nei," the Esper Leader assured. "While you were visiting with Chaz yesterday, we all had a discussion that if he took interest in you, we wouldn't keep him from exploring that interest. It looks like he has."

Nei shook her head. Now she was really confused. She understood that Kyra and the others wanted Chaz to make his own decisions about his life after Rika, but what she did not understand is why they were encouraging her to pursue one with him. The Numan explained to them at an earlier time that her time as a physical being was finite and that she would not be there forever. It was like they completely forgot that she was once dead for two thousand years and that she was as just as a permanent part of their lives as Rika was before she died. Knowing that they trusted her, depended on her, and even cared for her was something she never bargained for when she agreed to come back. Nei expected to remain an outsider, never wanting to be trusted, never really wanting to trust. Now -- now she had to deal with a resurgence of emotions she thought her stay in the Light diminished. She felt a passionate commitment and love for these strangers-turned-friends that she never experienced before and although she vowed never to love another like she loved Rolf, she felt a different, but no less fervent love for the Hunter.

"You know," said Nei in a half-whisper, "I have all this knowledge inside of me and yet I still don't understand the nuances of Palman emotions or what causes you to do some of the things you do. I never thought of myself as being old-fashioned, but I guess I am at heart. I'm used to everything being straight-forward and there are no hidden messages."

"There are no hidden messages here," Kyra assured.

"But, why, Kyra?" Nei turned her back toward the Esper because she was beginning to feel flushed. "Why did you discourage me getting close to Chaz before when nothing would have happened? Why do you now tell me to let happen what should not happen?"

"Because after Rika died, I wasn't ready to let her go and I didn't want Chaz to let go of her, either. Now that I realize that I can be happy again and that Chaz can be, too, I want what's best for him. I know Rika would want Chaz to be happy again."

"Truth is," Gryz stepped in, "we all felt that way, but we couldn't put our feelings into words like Kyra can. When she spoke to you about Chaz, she spoke for all of us. You see, when Rika died, a part of all of us died with her. Then, only a few hours later, you appear. You look so much like her that the resemblance is painful to us, a reminder of what still remains in our minds and our hearts, but what really isn't tangible. We thought that you were here to replace her and we didn't want her to be replaced. Once we began to see that you didn't expect to replace her, only to offer what you could to our cause and nothing else, we decided that we wouldn't want anyone else but you. We could never love you the same way we loved her, but there's nothing keeping us from loving you as Nei."

"You tell her!" Raja laughed. Gryz was angered at the Archbishop's outburst and stepped aside to have some friendly words with him.

The fools, Nei thought, these poor, misguided fools. They haven't fully grasped the true purpose of why I'm here. I hate to mislead them, but who am I to shatter their happiness? The Light take me. I never thought I could ever be happy as a mortal again.

* * * * *

A brief nighttime sandstorm made for a few tense moments during Rune and Hahn's trip home. It appeared out of nowhere and they were forced to huddle under the Reverent Fifth's protective cape. For a moment they thought it would rain for they could smell the moisture in the air. As quickly as it started, however, the sandstorm blew over and dissipated.

Back on track, Esper and Scholar doubled their pace to make up for lost time. Neither of them was too concerned about getting to Aiedo before daybreak because a normal walking trip between Krup and Aiedo only took about half a night. Sure, they could have used a teleportation Technique like Ryuka and zipped between the two cities, but the walk was nice and good exercise. It was even more pleasant when accompanied by good conversation, but Hahn was not in a talking mood and Rune did not feel obliged to start any conversation that might upset him.

Passing the midpoint of their trip, the friends heard some faint screams from somewhere ahead of them. They heard a woman and child scream, then a man. A curious glance passed between them. Far be it from them to refuse an unheard call for help. Running in sand was difficult, but they made the most of it.

Rounding a ridge, Hahn saw a man swinging a short sword above his head as something he could not yet see. Huddled behind him was his wife and daughter. Upon nearing them, the Scholar was disturbed to see a menacing swarm of Monster Flies. Ten by first count, both of the travellers knew that one man could not hold off the Flies, especially when they were hungry and swarming. Incapable of delivering a fatal blow, the creatures usually picked the flesh off of a victim until it dropped dead.

"Stand your ground, friend," Rune shouted as he and the Scholar ran toward the struggling man and his family, "help is on the way!" Hahn ran forward and slashed at one fly with his dagger and it dropped almost immediately. The Reverent Fifth raised his arms and cast Hewn. A gust of wind appeared out of nowhere and carried off most of the flies momentarily, but they returned within seconds. The man, knowing that competent help was nearby, threw himself over his wife and daughter.

Hahn felt the brush of wings against his back as he was knocked over. Spitting sand from his mouth, he felt his entire body being lifted upward. He struggled, but the Monster Fly's talon-like feet had a firm hold on his clothing and was biting into his flesh. Aiming carefully, the Scholar stabbed upward in an arching motion and embedded his weapon in the fly's head. It was then that he realized his folly, that he was nearly ten feet above ground, and a hundred and fifty pounds of dead weight fell on top of him, completely knocking the wind out of him.

Flames ignited the evening darkness. Rune's Nafoi Technique incinerated one Monster Fly while scattering the others. The Reverent Fifth hovered protectively over the man and his family, his hands glowing with Esper power. Holding one of them aloft, he used it like a homing beacon for Hahn to see. What he saw, however, were the flies swarming together for one collective strike. "Look out!" he heard the man yell. A stray fly, seeing a window of opportunity, flew in from behind.

Suddenly, Hahn was there, his Eliminate Skill proving most effective against their winged foe. Still winded, the Scholar rejoined his companion. Lightning struck from a dark sky as Tandle took out a couple more of the flies. "Come on," Hahn said, "let's get rid of this vermin."

"The sooner the better!" The Scholar used Savol while Rune cast the Esper spell, Diem. There was a flash as Holocaust went to work. The remaining Monster Flies tried to struggle against it, but it was futile. The flies dropped like, well, flies.

Esper and Scholar breathed a sigh of relief and approached those whose lives they just saved. The man was young as well as his wife. He had strong arms, broad shoulders, and a strong chin which probably was passed on through the men in his family. He had long, unkempt brown hair and brown eyes. His wife, in contrast, had relatively short hair and hazel-green eyes. Both she and her daughter, who was about five years of age, looked harrowed and tired. The girl looked like she might collapse in her mother's arms at any moment. "Thank you," the man said, "I don't know what we would have done had you not shown up at the right moment. Tell me, where is it that you came from?"

"From my home town of Krup," Hahn answered.

"How is the journey to Monsen?" The Scholar and Rune looked to each other in bewilderment.

"The road to Monsen is impassable without a land vehicle. The quicksand fields are a natural barrier like no other."

"Do you think that we can get transportation across the fields from someone in Krup?"

"Hmm," Hahn thought, "I do believe that there is one man in town who has the capability to traverse the quicksand although his name escapes me right now. Tell you what -- when you get to Krup, go to the weapons shop. My father, Thom Larsson, owns the shop. Tell him that his son, Hahn, sent you to him and what you require and I'm sure he'd be happy to help you." Hahn added a smile with his statement. At any time before his last visit with his family, he would have not dared tell anyone that. Now that things changed between him and his father, he could do so with confidence.

"Where is it that you're heading?" the man's wife inquired politely.

"We're going to Aiedo," Rune told her. "Back to our friends there."

"We passed through Aiedo on our way from Kadary. There was some really nasty business there," the man stated.

"Yes, we know. We were a part of it."

"Well, after seeing the way you handled those Monster Flies, I doubt it was any trouble for you."

"It was quite a dangerous situation, actually, and we narrowly escaped with our lives. We pulled through, though."

"Lucky for my family, I must say." A moment of silence passed between them. "We shouldn't let the night get away from us. I don't know how we can repay you. The meseta we have left are reserved for food. We heard by word of mouth that there are openings for mine workers in Kadary. That is why we decided to make the move."

"Don't worry about it," Rune told him. "We were all too happy to help out."

"May the Light speed you on your journey," said Hahn.

"As it for you," the man's wife returned.

Rune and Hahn said farewell to the man and his family and went their separate ways. The Scholar could not help feeling good about helping strangers. He figured that what comes around goes around and one day he might be in need of assistance from strangers. Hahn hoped that someone would be kind enough to help him.

But helping others had its price, and the two travellers were beginning to feel the effects of their efforts. Each step came with more difficulty and it felt like they lacked the energy to continue, but they did. They would hopefully have enough time to rest once they were safely within Aiedo's walls. Not only was it dangerous to stop and sleep between towns, it was stupid, too. Often times travellers who had done so were usually found the next evening either half devoured or as a pile of bones which were picked clean. Some were never found.

So Esper and Scholar continued on their way despite their weariness. They could try to start conversation, but there was really nothing for them to talk about. Everything they needed or wanted to discuss was done back in Krup. Besides, they always seemed to do better if they stayed concentrated on their destination. Neither of them was much of a conversationalist without the others around anyway.

Eventually, the walking began to reassert their energy and they began to make up for lost time. They were approaching a point in their travel where they would turn and head in a northwesterly direction toward Nalya. Aiedo was only a few hours away, but so was daylight. They would be lucky to reach their destination before that happened.

Rune stopped, placing a restraining hand across Hahn's chest. "What is it?" the Scholar asked.

"Do you hear that?" Rune queried. Hahn listened carefully. Off in the distance he heard the faint roar of something mechanical. Judging by how loud it was getting, it was apparently travelling at a high rate of speed.

"What do you think it is?"

"I'm not quite sure, but it might be a vehicle of some sort."

"Should we take cover?"

"No, I don't think that anyone with a vehicle would harm us."

Hahn agreed. He decided to think nothing more of it and they continued on their way. Five minutes later, they saw a single light off in the distance approaching them rapidly. The way it swayed back and forth indicated that it was not a land vehicle because if it was, it would not operate in such a manner. "A hydrofoil?" Hahn asked.

"Looks like it."

The hydrofoil approached them, slowing to nearly a crawl. The pilot must have spotted them or else he or she would have just continued on. It just hovered there, waiting. "Hello!" Hahn shouted. The lantern sitting on the helm was lifted high and revealed the identities of its passengers.

"Fancy meeting you here," said Nei.

"Nei and Chaz," Rune observed, "I should've known. Where were you heading?"

"We're going to Vahal."


"I have to see it, Rune," the Hunter told him. "I have to see Siren and Miun for myself. There's still plenty of time for us to make it there before daylight. If you want, we could shorten your trip some by taking you to Nalya."

"We won't have it. I think we'll just join you."

"Sure we will!" Hahn added.

"What are you waiting for?" asked Nei. "Get on board!"

Rune and Hahn hurried to board the hydrofoil. Once they were securely strapped in, Chaz shifted the vehicle into gear and they were off. Nei explained to their new passengers the reasoning behind their second visit to Vahal. Not only would it satisfy Chaz's curiosity about the strange androids there, but it was also their hope that Siren and Miun would be able to help them figure out what the Darkness had in store for them. Normally, like it had for several millennia, its primary goal was to directly destroy the planets of Algo and all of its inhabitants. It seemed intent on destroying this system before the others. That, as LaRoof told them, was because Algo and its planets lay on the great seal which prevented the Darkness from entering their dimension completely. Once that seal was broken, it would be free to wreak havoc across their universe until the Great Light could seal it away again -- that was if it was still capable of doing so. Several millennia of watching over it had weakened its power which was part of the reason why the Light relied on mortal Protectors who possessed mortal ingenuity and the will to survive to keep its nemesis in place.

No matter now. What was important was that they try and figure out its true motive. There had to be a method to its madness. With luck, Siren and Miun would be able to provide some much needed information.

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