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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Thirty-Two


Chaz, Rune, Hahn, and Nei boarded the hydrofoil and set off quickly. There was only about an hour left before daybreak and already the sky was beginning to lighten. They moved like the wind itself, fear and worry driving them. The early morning air felt good on their already perspiring bodies. Hahn guided their vehicle along because he felt that his Hunter friend was too stressed to do so. Chaz sat behind him, strapped to his seat, fists clenched, heart racing. If it would have helped, he would have gotten out and pushed. Of course, they would have been able to reach Aiedo in a matter of seconds if his mind was not all a jumble from their findings at Vahal. Presently, he could not even use a simple Tsu Technique.

Instead, the Hunter sat quietly, forced into submission. He watched Nei who was seated in front next to Hahn. Her hair occasionally blew across her face and she had to brush it aside. Chaz saw her eyes dart to the side once or twice as she checked to see if he was still staring at her. It was endearing to him and he would have preferred that she sat next to him so he could slip her hand into his . . . .

But this was not the time or place to be thinking about affairs of the heart. They possessed reborn purpose and needed to hurry back to prevent a disaster from happening. Again the Hunter was going to have to place his personal life aside for the greater good. He could not afford to be led astray because already he felt the effects of how his body was reacting to shock. There was no way he could ever endanger his friends because of his insecurities. Things would get better once they got back into action.

Sitting impatiently next to Chaz, the Reverent Fifth cast his gaze into the sky. He was comforted that Algo would be making its daily journey across the heavens, but now he wondered how many more days it would. Rune felt so ignorant for not figuring out what the Child and its master had planned. How could he, one of the wisest living beings in all of Algo, have missed that? Chaz and the others would have told him that he was too hard on himself, but they could not possibly understand. As the Reverent Fifth, his knowledge was expected to surpass that of even the most educated person. The Telepathy Ball imbued all of the knowledge of his predecessors into his mind during his ten-year hibernations. He had the amalgamated knowledge of over two thousand years and yet he could not decipher a simple phrase. Some Lutz he turned out to be.

Hahn's thoughts were not so clear, either. It was fortunate that there were not many obstacles in his path or he might have ran into all of them. He thought of all the years he spent on his education, all the sacrifices, all the expectations. He was determined to become one of the most influential people in Algolian history, not through his fighting ability, but purely through how he could contribute with his intelligence. The Scholar hated feeling the way he did about Chaz since the Hunter was primarily responsible for unraveling the puzzle. He respected his friend and never once tried to dazzle him with how intelligent his was because he was not as educated. The way Chaz hit the mark dead on gave him a new opinion about his friend, and a new-found respect.

Nei was not free of troubling thoughts herself. She was also plagued by things she could do nothing to be rid of. What was primarily bothering her was the revelation that she had back at Vahal. It always seemed that something about her past would always find a way to ruin the Numan's life. When she travelled about Motavia with Rolf and her other friends, she was just beginning to discover what true happiness was. Nei loved them so much that he sacrificed her own life for them. She would do the same for her new friends, for the love she felt for Chaz and all of the others. The Numan would not do so by choice, only as a last resort. She hoped and prayed that the situation would never become so dire as to warrant such an action.

Now -- now, her past returned just as she did, just when the Numan was beginning to find happiness as a mortal again. They were both mortal, in fact; mortal, but immortal at the same. Nei thought back to when she was first resurrected, how she told her companions about the only way she could die. How long ago that seemed. The twins could not kill each other no matter how hard they tried. Only strength, faith, ingenuity, and love could possibly bring the Darkness' advocate down. Her circle of friends possessed all of those.

Hahn continued to cruise along at a rapid pace when he caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye. In the faint light of the early morning sky, the Scholar noticed a peculiar set of vehicle tracks on the sand he and his companions hovered above. So peculiar were they, in fact, that he nearly slammed on the brakes just to get a closer look at them. His friends glared at him angrily, their thoughts interrupted. Chaz and Rune's first impulse to yell at him for stopping to smell the roses. "Hey, guys!" Hahn called to them. "What do you make of these?" Rune unbuckled his restraint and leaned over the Hunter for a better look.

"Looks like Landrover tracks to me," he said. "There aren't many of those around here."

"Where do you think they were heading?" asked Chaz.

"Based on the direction --" Hahn stopped and took a moment to calculate the direction, "I'd say they were headed toward Molcum." The four turned their headed in the direction of the Motavian city. Off in the distance, over many a hill and ridge, a faint orange glow tainted the crystal blue sky.

"How fresh are the tracks?" the Hunter questioned.

"Well, knowing that they would be covered over a couple of hours after they were made and based on how deep they still are, I would say that they couldn't be more than about half an hour old."

"Change course. We going to Molcum."

"You don't have to tell me twice."

Hahn changed course and immediately began heading in a southerly direction toward Molcum. The Scholar forced the hydrofoil into going as fast as it could. Driving a vehicle that hovered above ground was tricky because steering was mediocre at best. Plus, because there was no solid land to grab onto, it required a large area to stop. At the rate of speed he was going it would require at least five or six hundred feet to some to a safe stop. Every passenger knew it including Nei who was able to determine the dangers herself. Not a single one of them was concerned, however.

As they neared Molcum, the sky became lit with a bright orange-red glow. It was clear now that something was burning because the breezes carried the scent to their nostrils. They had a pretty good idea of what was happening even though no one felt comfortable about discussing it. Wandering Motavia were two of the possibly most diabolical beings to ever exist and they had one thing in mind -- to wreak as much havoc on the planet as possible.

The flames rose high from Molcum's numerous huts and structures. Despite that Hahn and the others were still ten miles away from their destination. Dark clouds swirled over the town and Rune recognized the sparks of Tandle as Kyra's. Their friends were already there battling Darkness and probably did not know what they were up against yet. Her twin was probably there, Nei reflected, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Waiting, much to their despair, to pounce and kill at the precise moment they arrived. The Dark Advocate had no vendetta against Chaz and his friends, but she did with her other half. They were merely in the way of her vengeance and if they interfered then they would just be destroyed like the Numan was in her previous life.

Hahn managed to stop just outside of town and quickly set down. The four companions threw off their restraints and went to join their friends. Sounds and smells of burning structures surrounded them, but there was no one to be seen. These structures were not really constructed of plant life since there was not enough plants or trees to build them with. The Palman government offered to build them modern homes, but they refused, instead choosing to take advantage of the synthetic, plant-like fibers that Palman scientists invented. By weaving the fibers together, the Motavians used their innovative minds to create their dwellings. Their cousins in Tonoe could not figure out why they wanted to waste so much time and energy when tents were just as comfortable to live in.

The further Chaz led his friends into Molcum, the more distressed they became. Beginning to fill their nostrils was a sulfurous scent, the scent of burning hair. As the fires raged around them, it was painfully obvious that bodies were burning inside the huts. "Rune, Hahn --" the Hunter began, "douse those flames!" No sooner than the last word was spoken, the Reverent Fifth and the Scholar raised their hands toward the heavens and cast Blizzard. The swirling of ice and wind took only a few moments to sweep across Molcum and extinguish the once raging flames. When the storm subsided, for the first time they got a first hand look at the devastation.

Motavian bodies littered the ground everywhere they looked. Most of them were charred beyond recognition, but some were relatively untouched. One thing was for certain, however. The devastation was so complete that not a single life remained. Nei looked around and only saw death. She knew that the rest of her friends were around here somewhere and prayed to the Light that they did not suffer the same fate as the unfortunate residents of this hapless town. Gryz told her of when Zio managed to destroy it once before, but fortunately most of its residents escaped to Tonoe. This time, the Motavians must have been caught by surprise. There was no other explanation for why there was apparently not a single soul left alive.

Just as they were about to give up hope, Hahn caught some movement out of the corner of his eye. It was definitely not one of his companions because it was moving way to slow. "Hahn . . . ." a weak voice called out. "Hahn . . . ." The Scholar ran toward the voice, panicked. He recognized it almost immediately. Only one of a few Motavians would have been bold enough to call him, a Palman, out by name. Usually when a Motavian was facing death, he or she called out to his family or countryman to spend the last few moments of life with. He was probably the most senile of all of them, but even he would never forget the traditions of his people.

"Dorin!" Hahn called out. "I'm coming!" Rune, Nei, and Chaz saw their friend run off and followed immediately.

Hahn found Grandfather Dorin crawling on the ground in his direction. The elderly Motavian, though weak in body, possessed an incredible will to survive, and it did not surprise him at all that he made it through all this destruction. The Scholar dropped to his knees and pulled Dorin close. "Dorin, what happened here?" he asked. The Motavian's body was cut and scarred by wounds; his own blood, plus those who must have died around him, caked his hair in mats. Dorin was reluctant to speak, his breaths coming in short, rapid bursts.

"It was . . . a child." the Motavian finally managed.

"No!" Chaz gasped.

"I've never seen . . . such malevolence in one so young. The fire . . . that burned from within her was . . . strong enough to overtake us. We are not the fighters that you and your friends are. We did all . . . but she --" Dorin coughed, bringing blood from his internal injuries up into his maw. Hahn steadied his friend. "The Child was merciless. I heard the screams of my people as they . . . burned. The parents huddled their children into the huts but they . . . ." The Elderly Motavian could not bear to continue for the screams of his people still hung fresh in his mind. Those who surrounded him understood and did not try to force more out of him.

"Dorin," said Rune, "the others -- Gryz, Kyra -- they were here, weren't they?"

"They came . . . but they were no match against her. I watched Gryz fall with my own eyes."

"Gryz!" Nei almost screamed, her own hand coming up to muffle it. "It -- it can't be!"

"The flames engulfed him and . . . consumed him. He was trying to protect those he loved so much, the same ones that . . . ridiculed him. Only when their own deaths were inevitable did they realize that he was . . . one of us. Too little, too late."

"I can heal you, Dorin," the Scholar said. "It's not too late for you."

"My people are gone and I must . . . go with them. Save your strength, my son. You will need it for what is to come." Dorin fell into a deathly silence, one that disturbed Hahn tremendously. "Hahn, you know the words. Speak them . . . for me."

"I -- I shouldn't, Dorin. One of your people needs to do it for you."

"Sadly, there is . . . no one left. You have been like a . . . grandson to me over the past few years. If there is anybody . . . it should be you."

Hahn always prided himself on his extensive studies of Motavian culture. He really had Gryz to thank for that because it was not until after he met the big Motavian that his interest was sparked. Having travelled with Gryz, the Scholar made it a point to ask as many unobtrusive questions as possible. When Hahn left the group and returned to Motavia Academy, he made sure that his mentor, Professor Holt, had plenty of literature for him to study up on. It was around that time that he returned to Tonoe and began some field word. Having seen him there before, the Motavians were not intimidated at all and some of them even invited him into their homes.

Hahn found out that one of the most interesting points about Motavian culture was its outlook on death. In it, death is viewed merely as a passing into nonexistence. They did believe in a higher power which watched over them during this period of transition, but there were some who saw a lifeless body as an empty shell which would never be filled again. Such an indifferent view led to skirmishes which was not unlike any other society. And like other societies, the Motavians believed that there had to be someone with a dying individual, preferably a family member, to facilitate his or her passing into nonexistence.

It was believed by all Motavians that their bodies and spirits were tightly bound together and the only way to separate them without consequence is to speak the words of Release. Most Palmans did not like to watch the ceremony being performed because it involved what they perceived as brutality to the dying individual. When spoken, the Motavian tongue sounded anywhere from the screech of a bird of prey to the low, guttural rumblings of a creature who was three times the size of a full-grown adult. When the Palmans first encountered them upon their colonization of Motavia, the first attempts at communications was futile. While the natives found it easy to emulate the spoken Palman language, the colonizing peoples did not deem it necessary to resort to an animal-like form of communication. There was much respect lost in that fact; as a result, Palman/Motavian relations became strained.

Hahn, being naturally opposed to aversion, wanted to breach that gap by becoming one of the foremost authorities on Motavian culture aside from those who lived it every day. One of the first subjects he studied was the ritual of Release. When an individual was only moments from death, he or she let it be known. The family or close friends normally designated one among them to perform the Separation. During this time, he was struck repeatedly with the hands, open- and close-fisted. When the body has been softened and the spirit is ready to be freed, he finally spoke the final word which indicated that he was ready.

The designated one then spoke the words of Release, a type of eulogy delivered even while the dying still lived. Hahn decided that beyond the Separation, this was going to be the most difficult part of the ceremony primarily because of the intense, emotionally powerful words which were difficult to pronounce. Usually it began with words of happiness and praise, eventually ending with words of sorrow. The dying demonstrated his strength by living through the end of the Release, then passing on.

The Scholar finished the ritual of Separation, his friends standing by his side and honoring Dorin. Chaz felt like diverting his gaze because it was not easy for him to watch, but being ethnocentric was not very becoming. Nei and Rune, however, watched with intense interest, their curiosity piqued by the fact that one of their friends was performing it. Throughout it all, Dorin looked as if he was in peace, gratified that his long life was coming to an end. Hahn was not merciful at all during the first part, not that he was required to be. The last half of the ceremony was beautiful, however, and the Scholar enunciated the Motavian language eloquently. When it was all over, Dorin lay still, his last breath drawn. Hahn collapsed, his strength and emotions drained. Chaz, Rune, and Nei went and comforted him.

Footsteps reverberated through Molcum sounding like they were in a mausoleum of some sort. >From behind the four friends stepped a dark shadow which began to approach them slowly. Nei instinctively crowded the others behind her and took a defensive stance, preparing to launch herself onto any threat should it present itself. The shadow made no unexpected movements, though, and its gait was seemingly straight and purposeful. As it neared, Chaz noticed that it was carrying something which could have easily been distinguished as a body had the early morning light not been throwing weird shadows everywhere. A familiar silhouette appeared, much to their dismay, for what it brought was another reminder of vulnerability and mortality.

Gryz walked up to his friends and nearly stumbled. In his arms he carried the body of his sister, Pana. Shadows hid the big Motavian's true expressions but Chaz and the others did not need light to read what was already written there. The Hunter ran to his friend who fell to his knees almost at the same time he got there. He knelt down and let his friend cry on his shoulder.

"Let it out, my friend," Chaz spoke the comforting words. "I feel your pain as surely as it was my own." Gryz tried to talk, but his words were incoherent. Hahn looked at Dorin, his pain eased, then at his friend's whose had only just begun. His heart sunk low while his anger simmered. Nei wept and wanted to put her arms around both Chaz and Gryz, but fought the urge. She knew that they both had issues that they needed to work out for themselves. Rune averted his gaze. His Telemental abilities were picking up Gryz's emotions like a radar and they were almost too much for him to bear. Chaz clasped at his grief-stricken friend, his anger growing exponentially. "Gryz," he said, "I must know -- where are our friends?"

"Th -- they're somewhere . . . here," the big Motavian managed. Looking back to Hahn, Rune, and Nei, they dispersed in search of their apparently fallen comrades.

"I'll get the repair kits from the hydrofoil," Nei offered.

"What happened?"

"A lone Palman traveller . . . passed through Aiedo." Gryz took a moment to regain the composure he had left. "Word got to us that Molcum was being attacked and I -- I left without a second thought. I suppose I knew that they wouldn't let me go alone; I've come to depend on my friends that way. If I would have known that it would end up like this I never would have --"

"You cannot take all the responsibility for this upon yourself, Gryz. A part of caring, a part of being a friend, means that you will share a part of your other friends' responsibilities as well. You think that you alone must shoulder the lives of your people but let me tell you -- the moment we became friends, the responsibility became ours, too."

Gryz was moved by the Hunter's words. Truly, he was his best friend.

"So, what now?"

"Now, you must go on living, as I have." He stopped, hearing his own words echo within his mind. Was he just now realizing that he was moving on? "We can either grieve for our losses or find solace in each other." Gryz did not have to answer. Chaz knew it already.

"I didn't even get to speak the words of Release," the big Motavian reflected sorrowfully, "but there's something more. I -- I lost control of my Esper powers. I am partially responsible for Molcum's burning. My own flames consumed me and set fire to part of town that wasn't already burned. Kyra saved my life by controlling them with her own magic. I don't know what I would have done if it wasn't for her. Maybe she should have let me burn with my people."

"I'm positive that the Light has a special place for Pana." The Hunter placed a trembling hand on Pana's forehead. "Farewell, my friend. We will meet again someday." He turned his attention back to Gryz. "Don't blame yourself for what happened here. If the Child never came then you wouldn't have done what you accidently did. The blame is not on you. It lies on the one who came her to do harm to your people."

Chaz looked around and noticed that his other friends had vanished. Apparently they had yet to find Wren, Raja, Kyra, and Demi. Off in the distance he could hear banging noises like one of the androids was being repaired. Sure enough, Demi and Rune rounded a corner a minute later. Demi looked spent and needed to recharge herself. Nei and Wren found their way out shortly after, the big android limping and struggling to right himself. Eventually, Hahn appeared with Raja leaning on his shoulder, practically dragging the Archbishop along the ground.

Chaz quickly ran though the decimated town frantically searching for the one companion he did not see. While Hahn, Nei, and Rune attended to the others' injuries, he went about looking for the missing Esper Leader. On his second pass around, the Hunter started to worry more and more, his heart dropping into his stomach. He threw aside burnt homes and even some bodies while venting his despair, but it did not do any good. Then, looking down at his feet, he found her Moon Slasher, sitting in plain sight like it was mocking him.

Not you, Kyra, he thought sorrowfully as he picked it up. Not you, too.

"Kyra!!"

"She's gone," said a voice from behind Chaz. The Hunter veered around and saw Raja standing there. A cut above his right eye still oozed blood and despite his more serious injuries, the Archbishop walked over under his own power.

"What do you mean, 'she's gone?'" Raja shook his head in disbelief.

"The last think I saw before losing consciousness was Kyra being carried off by a companion of the Child. There was nothing I or anyone else could do. Those two ripped through our defenses like a Dezorian blizzard."

"Rune?"

The Reverent Fifth already knew what he was going to ask and went to work immediately. Using his Telemental skills, Rune connected himself with his environment, reaching out, sensing. The Esper power allowed him to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell with facilities other than his own. There was a powerfully diabolical presence on the planet which was preventing him from sensing fully, but he was still able to push past it. Somewhere not too far from them, Rune felt the weakening aura of a powerful Esper. He tried to contact her, but to no avail. She was either unconscious or her powers were being suppressed, something the Reverent Fifth did not think was possible. Wherever Darkness was concerned, anything was possible.

"She's alive," he said.

"Where?"

"There," Rune pointed to the east where Algo was rapidly ascending.

"Look!" Nei gasped. Hahn took a break from Wren's repairs and ran to the edge of town. Looking almost directly into Algo, he saw a hint of smoke, and a lump grew in his throat. No one had to tell him what direction the Child's path of destruction took.

"Mother," he whispered, "father, Saya." The Scholar felt a hand on his shoulder and turned. Gryz looked his friend in the eyes.

"Krup will not suffer the same fate," he stated adamantly. "First, there is something I must do."

Gryz carried his little sister's body into the center of Molcum and lay her beside Dorin. He stood there for a moment, quietly. Three years ago he and Pana fled their town after Zio massacred most of its inhabitants. With the graces of their cousins in Tonoe it was rebuilt, but now that it suffered the same tragedy twice, there was no way he could ever let anyone rebuild on top of it. "There's nothing left here for me. I bury my past life here with my family and the rest of my people. Rune, when you return to Esper Mansion, I want to accompany you. That is where my road will take me; that is where I must go. I'm ready."

The Reverent Fifth and his Motavian companion stood at the foot of Molcum, their friends waiting patiently behind them. Gryz stared blankly into his hometown, the place where he was born, the place where his family was destroyed. So hapless were the people that like Sodom and Gomorrah their city was destroyed, but not because of their wickedness. For some higher powers, innocence was much more threatening, and suffrage more gratifying.

Bolts of jagged lightning shot downward from the sky as Rune unleashed Tandle's power. Gryz watched with much emotion as its might tore through what was left of the buildings and his people. Nei stood behind Chaz, her head pressed up against his back, weeping. She knew what lay ahead and was not too thrilled about it. The last bolt of Tandle dissipated and left nothing untouched. Everything that once was now was nothing more than rubble. The Motavian Esper felt power grow within him, felt the surge of energy as he called upon the one new Technique that he had at his disposal. The ground shook and molten rock shot skyward from beneath Molcum. Giant cinders of stone and pyroclastic debris flowed outward from the rift created by the Nalan Technique. When it was done, a huge volcanic dome was formed, its very structure cooled by the hot Motavian breezes. "Never again," the Esper said solemnly.

Gryz turned his gaze eastward, toward the building smoke in the light. In himself he felt a different fire, one that could not be quenched even by the deepest sea. There, ahead of them, was the greatest threat to their existence that ever was, but also the life of one of their own. Hahn clenched his hands in nervous anticipation. With their damage repaired, Wren and Demi took control of the hydrofoil. Chaz stepped inside and took a quick look at all of his friends. Despite their injuries, the overwhelming concern for Kyra and for all of Algo kept them going. His heart swelled with pride. The Hunter looked down to Kyra's Moon Slasher which was fastened tightly to his belt and wrapped his hand around its blade, feeling its bite, welcoming the pain. It was an anathema for the rage he felt growing in his heart.

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