Child Of Darkness
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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.