Child Of Darkness
The Protectors spent the remainder of the day in the caves north of Krup
to give both Kyra and Rune enough time to recover from their injuries.
Despite the tremendous loss of life over half of Krup's residents managed
to escape with only minimal injuries. Luckily the caves were large enough
to house all of them because that was where they would be staying until
they felt it was safe to return to Krup and attempt to rebuild it. That
could be anywhere from as little as a week to a couple of months. Who
knew, perhaps because of the inviting natural coolness the caves offered,
they might take up permanent residency there.
Rune and Kyra slept peacefully in an area designated specifically for
them so they would not be disturbed. In the meantime, Chaz walked outside
the hustle and bustle of activity, his external wounds dressed, his
internal ones still being nursed. He and his remaining friends
volunteered to patrol the borders of camp to make sure the cave's present
occupants did not decide to take shots at the townsfolk.
The inevitable occurred -- he met the Child face-to-face and the
outcome was not a positive one. There was a small part of him that hoped
that she would accept that he was his father and her emotions would sway
her from any wrongdoing, but it was obvious now that she was beyond
reason, beyond compassion. The Hunter felt foolish for thinking that she
might actually consider his own sacrifice over his friends' when all life
in Algo was about to be sacrificed.
"Chaz!" Demi called out, "Chaz, wait up!" The android hurried her
short legs to catch up with the Hunter. "How are you doing?"
"As well as can be expected," he replied. Demi patted him on the back
and it offered him a small amount of comfort. She was itching to ask him
what he was feeling, but did not want to intrude. Instead, she walked and
kept him company, observing their surroundings. The stalactite and
stalagmite formations in the caverns were beautiful and intriguing. Some
of them were almost five feet long, formed when there was still plenty of
groundwater to help form the calcium and other mineral deposits. She
would have to warn the townspeople to stay clear of them. Too loud of a
sound could cause the stalactites to break off and fall.
"Chaz," the android spoke again, "forgive me for being blunt --"
"You? Blunt?" the Hunter joked. "Naa . . . ."
"Ha, ha, very funny."
"I've been giving that some thought as well."
"Giving what some thought?"
"Her. The Child. The first thing she did when she saw me back in Krup
was call me father. That really threw me for a loss. Never in my life
did I think I would ever hear someone call me that. Now, I think I'm
beginning to regret hearing those words. The Darkness never ceases to
amaze me, Demi. It must have known that if she didn't kill me, I would be
wandering around a cave delving into my doubts, questioning my worth.
Tell me, Demi, do you think I would have made a good father?"
For the first time in a long time, Demi did not know what to say. Chaz
had obviously been thinking about the subject for much longer than she and
she could not offer an immediate answer. Truth was, she never pictured him
as a father, never thought his life would take that road. But now that
observed first-hand the compassion he possessed, the kind, caring part of
his nature and not just his warrior side, she surmised that he would make
a great parent. He was still young and could start another family if he
wished. That all depended on whether or not Motavia could survive the
latest threat to its existence.
"You would have made a great father," said Demi. "And you will
"Thanks," the Hunter returned, "I think I needed to hear that."
"Why all the soul-searching?"
"I was just wondering what kind of father would desire to kill his own
"Chaz, you're not being fair to yourself. There's no way you could
"Isn't there? I could have not fallen in love with Rika."
"Chaz Ashley, I've heard enough of that kind of talk! Would you have
me believe that you would just give up the years you spent with Rika
because of your own insecurities?"
"If it means having her here today, that only being her friend would
have spared her life -- then yes."
"I don't believe you."
"Yeah," the Hunter agreed, "neither do I."
Hunter and android continued their rounds and were actually surprised
they did not cross paths with their other friends. Many of Krup's
residents were either pacing or completely gave up to despair. Chaz
guessed that of those that were lost, almost all of the remaining ones
either knew or related a great many of them. Hahn told him once that his
town prided itself on the closeness of its citizens, how everyone worked
together to achieve a common goal. The Scholar felt that Krup gave new
meaning to the phrase, "One for all and all for one."
"So what happened at Vahal?" Demi asked.
In all the confusion, Chaz realized that he never told the rest of his
friends what occurred at the fort. As they walked, he explained to Demi
what happened, how all the AI's were destroyed. When he began to tell her
of Siren and Miun's deaths, she seemed to shudder a little. The Hunter
must have hit a sensitive spot in her because he never saw her as reserved
as she became from that point on. He would have to make a point not to
bring up the topic again.
Continuing on with his story, Chaz told Demi of his revelation about
where Siren and Miun came from. She took an interest in his theory and
her spirit perked up. When he was done with that, he moved on to their
discussion about the Profound Darkness' plans. The Hunter remembered
their discussion to the most minute detail and practically recited it to
his companion. Demi listened and wondered if she would have came up with
the same conclusion. "I'm sure Wren will be interested in knowing this,"
"When I confronted her in Krup," he continued, "she all but confirmed
that our theory was right unless, of course, she was deceiving me. I see
no reason why she would have to at this point. She and her 'Master' must
be pretty confident that they will be successful or else we would have not
met when we did. Revealing one's strengths too early in a confrontation
can almost be as bad as revealing one's weaknesses."
Chaz became silent, his thoughts consuming him. Although he walked
steadily, Demi felt that he did not have purpose in his steps. It was
like he was sleep walking, not having a particular direction he wanted to
follow, not really wanting one. Truth was that the Hunter was not
thinking about the pressing issue of confronting the Child again -- he was
wondering about where his relationship with Nei was going. He worried
about the Numan, especially after seeing how withdrawn she became after
being thrashed by the mysterious stranger. Her demeanor changed after she
helped Rune recover, too. He would have given anything to hear the words
they exchanged and found himself feeling a bit jealous of his friend.
Chaz thought that he and Nei were beginning to bond and he was comfortable
with that. Based on this assumption, they should have been able to tell
each other their feelings. He would have to speak to her.
"What are you thinking about?" Demi interrupted her companion's train
"Nei --" the Hunter blurted out, "I mean -- uh -- well, I guess it's
too late to pull out of this one." Demi waited for Chaz to continue which
made him nervous. Under normal circumstances he would have simply changed
the subject, but he knew that she must have guessed that he had many
unresolved issues on his mind and was prepared to lend him an auditory
unit to get them off his back. "You know, back at home before we left for
Vahal, she and I sat down and had a pretty intense conversation. We
touched and I felt a connection, but I don't think either of us was ready
to start a relationship. I have feelings for her, Demi, but I don't know
if I should pursue them, not this soon. Some might say that I'm moving
too fast, that I let go of Rika too easily. How can I face what people
will think of me?"
"I think that you should stop worrying about what other people think
and follow your heart. If you truly believe that you should pursue Nei's
affections, then nothing should stop you. Chaz, you don't have to worry
about what any of us thinks because we are all growing to love her.
"Don't forget that we, Wren included," Demi added with a smirk, "are
all having to deal with feelings of guilt. I mean, who is this person who
just waltzes into our lives a little over a month ago and presumes to take
over the life of someone we loved so much? We know so little about her
besides what she tells us and what we know from our history lessons. But
now -- now we see that she's not here to replace Rika, only to help out in
any way that she can. If anything, what's unexpected is that we've grown
so close to her. That, my friend, is a decision I believe we can all live
Demi was right, of course. Her mind, being able to process thousands
of independent thoughts at times, probably donated considerably more time
to the subject than Chaz's had. It was at times like this that he envied
the android's multifaceted abilities. Both Demi and Wren were expert as
simulating how Palmans constantly vie between thoughts, but he often
wondered if they truly had to deal with issues like that or if their
thought processes allowed them to simply choose the best decision. To
think of them like that would take away their "Palman" characteristics and
he did not want to do that. "Do you think she loves me?"
"I think that you're asking the wrong person," Demi returned, but it
was not an attack, merely an observation. Ask an android a hypothetical
question, he thought, and you'll the most logical answer. Who has use for
logic, anyway, especially now? We might as well throw it out the window
for all the good it's been doing us lately. "If you truly want to know
how she feels about you, I think you should give her the benefit of the
doubt and ask her directly. If she sees how honest you're being, she
might return your affection. Right now, I see that she respects you too
much to make the first move. She's not going to know that you want a
relationship. She's pretty amazing, but I don't know if she can read
minds that well."
"But I don't know if I want a relationship right now."
"Then I think you owe her an explanation for that as well. Chaz, I may
be an android, but I'm not ignorant to how Palman emotions work. I've
seen young females pine over their young beaus only to have their feelings
hurt when they discover that they don't share the same feelings for them."
"Are you saying that I might unintentionally hurt Nei's feelings?"
"No, not at all. What I am saying is that I think she'll respect you a
lot more if you're truthful about your feelings -- and your doubts."
"And what happens when she has to return to the Light? What of my
"That's something you'll have to deal with when the time comes. With
the future as uncertain as it seems now, all I know is that you should
seize the time, Chaz; live now. Make now always the most precious time to
you. Now will never come again."
"Thanks, Demi. You've given me a lot to think about." Demi smiled.
It was not too often that she got to offer useful advice to anybody since
she had been isolated on Zelan with Wren for so long.
"Oh!" she said. "I'll catch you later. I think I'll go and check up
on how Kyra and Rune are doing. Whatever you choose to do, I wish you
luck. See ya!"
Demi hurried off and left Chaz standing alone, a move that was
simplicity itself. She left the Hunter with burning questions he needed
to ask of himself, and of someone else. There were times when his
friends' actions stood out more than others. This was one of those times.
She could have hung around him pointlessly and allowed him to ramble, but
it would have not done any good because there was another who should hear
those ramblings. Chaz shook his head and laughed at Demi's ingenuity.
Scanning the area, the Hunter moved off to find who he decided he was
seeking all along.
* * * * *
Nei sat alone in part of the caves which had yet to be discovered by
the Krupians. Not really fearing the caves' natural inhabitants, she
penetrated deeper into it to be away from her friends so she could sort
through her thoughts and her feelings. The Numan's body still ached from
the stranger's unprovoked attack. She could have used a Technique to ease
her physical pain, but it had been a long time since she felt its presence
and welcomed it. The physical pain was nothing compared to the others she
felt -- the pain of fear, the pain of emotion, and the pain of memory.
Sitting at the foot of an underground lake whose waters were beginning
to recede, Nei ran her fingers through its cool waters. She watched a few
crustaceans scatter beneath the surface. If only she could escape her
problems so easily . . . . A lone, blind fish, curious as to where the
vibrations were coming from, swam near the shore. The Numan tapped at the
water surface and it swam nearer. She wondered how such a creature could
survive for so long without ever seeing the light of Algo. The longer it
stayed near her, the more she grew envious of it. It did not know emotion
or memory or fear. It lived its entire life without seeing, without
fearing. And why should it fear? The fish did not have any natural
enemies and was not being hunted. It was born, would live, and would die
all in the absence of fear. Nei picked up a small stone and angrily threw
it into the water, skipping it across the surface. If the blind fish did
not know fear before, it did at that moment and swam out of the Numan's
A thousand years ago when she was created, Nei felt a different kind of
pain. The anguish she felt while being a part of Neifirst was partially
because she could do nothing to stop her. She always maintained that she
separated from her twin because of that reason, but that was not the whole
truth. Neifirst was such a malevolent being, so uncompassionate, that she
could not stand to have another consciousness inside of her that she had
to constantly battle. Nei feared her and in her twin's eyes that was a
cardinal sin. How could she go about destroying the ones who so foolishly
tampered with life, her life, when part of her was living in fear of
herself? The truth was harsh, but Nei had to face it or it would never be
conquered. She did not estrange herself from Neifirst by choice --
She was kicked out.
"Coward," Neifirst called her when they went their separate ways for
the first time.
And that word stuck with her all through her first life, a shadow which
never left her side. Nei lived vicariously through the courage of those
who surrounded her because that was the only way she felt she could. She
did not know what courage was, never had to face it thanks to her twin.
Neifirst was right about her, though. She lived in fear that one day,
when she least expected it, she would have to meet her again and this time
she would not be so merciful as to merely walk away. The Numan lived in
fear of the Palmans who scorned her, afraid to attempt to embrace them
instead of running away. Outside of Rolf and the others, she did not know
how truly generous some Palmans could be because of her fear. If only she
had tried, then things might have turned out differently. There was no
use in crying over spilt milk now. What was done was done. What was
important was that she did not regret her choices. In the end, she found
her courage, and saved the lives of those she loved.
Now, a thousand years later, Nei had to face the inevitability of
facing her twin again. There was absolutely no reason not to believe that
it would not happen. As sure as the Motavian winds would erase any trace
of life that trekked across its deserts, she and Neifirst were destined to
cross paths again. The Numan still could not get over the shock of seeing
her again after so long, but she did not know why. From the moment she
entered the world, she knew that it was a possibility. She and Neifirst
were two parts of a whole and where one went the other was sure to follow.
Once again nature was working to correct the balance of good and evil.
The Great Light created a tremendous imbalance by returning her to the
world of the living. It was only logical that Darkness would react to
correct that imbalance. It was too bad that the people she was growing to
love would be the ones to suffer most.
Nei looked across the surface of the underground lake and found comfort
in its serenity. Closing her eyes, she imagined herself as a tiny insect
soaring across it, feeling its coolness, taken in by its simple beauty.
Looking down, she saw every living thing, from the tiny crustaceans
picking at decaying matter to the blind fish who found its way around
expertly. At that moment, she would have been content with living the
rest of her second life that way for the insect's life was so simple. All
it had to do was survive.
All of the sudden, Nei's blind friend leapt out of its element and
swallowed a winged insect that she failed to notice before. Snapped out
of her reverie, the Numan decided that even a simple existence had its
challenges. She decided that life as an insect probably would have not
been to her liking because every hour of every day would be a struggle to
survive. Basically, it would not be any different from the life she was
living now, except that she would not have seven close friends plus one
she cared so much for. Nei made a promise to him that if it was within
her power, he would not be the one who would have to strike the Child
down. With Neifirst in the picture, that promise might turn out to have
been made in vain. There was only one way her twin could die and it was a
subject she did not wish to dwell on. Still, if there was a chance that
she could be defeated without the tremendous personal loss, she would find
a way to do it. There was simply no way she was going to cop out on her
friends. The Numan would fight her hardest to make sure she saw their
journey to the end, no matter how it turned out.
Dipping her hand into the water, lost in her thoughts, Nei did not hear
Chaz approach her until it was too late. Startled by his seemingly sudden
appearance, she nearly jumped out of her skin when he touched her shoulder
to let her know he was present. Laying on her right side, she looked up
and smiled fondly at him, then returned her gaze to the lake. The Hunter
stared hard at its waters and failed to see what held her in thrall, but
guessed that she was just thinking about important issues. His hand
sought her remaining dry one and just before they touched, Nei decided to
strike up a conversation. "What are we doing?" she asked. Denied his
goal, Chaz sat back and sighed.
"We're fighting for our world and for all of Algo," he replied. Nei
laughed, the first time the Hunter could remember hearing her do so. It
was hearty and jovial -- the kind of laugh one enjoyed listening to unlike
those nasal laughs or silly giggles. He was pleased that she found his
answer amusing, but was a little disconcerted that he was the object of
her amusement. She stood up and faced him.
"I was talking about us, Chaz -- me and you. Should we be doing this?"
"Doing what? Developing a strong friendship in which one respects the
other, values his opinions, and supports him no matter what? Yeah, I
think we should be doing that, and so should a lot of other people."
"Don't play coy with me, Chaz. You know exactly what I'm talking
He did, of course, but was not really prepared to admit as much. Nei
made a talent of making him feel uncomfortable if only to prove a point.
There were times, more frequently lately, that he did not donate enough
time to consider what he was doing. This was one of those times. Upon
Demi's urging, he rushed off to tell her what was in his heart, but before
doing that he had to deal with the nagging guilt he would feel after doing
so. He had not healed fully from his wife's death.
"So, what do you think we should do now?" the Numan questioned.
"I -- I don't know. Admit our feelings to each other?"
"I'm sorry, Chaz, I didn't mean to do that to you. I was talking about
our next move after Kyra and Rune recovers. The Child and its companion
could be anywhere."
"Just before they disappeared, I saw her point eastward. I think she
wanted me to see where she was going. There's the possibility that we'll
follow her to our deaths."
"What's east of here?"
"Well, there's Monsen, Termi, and Torinco. If you keep going east
you'll eventually run into Uzo. There are a lot of lives in those towns
and it would seem logical that both she and the strange woman would take
the path that we first did to attack something that we hold so dear -- our
memories. So far, the Child has managed to completely destroy almost
everything important in Gryz's life and nearly succeeding in doing the
same to Hahn's. Stopping them is only half our concern, though. We still
have to deal with the destruction of Algo and I don't know how we're going
to stop that. We can deal with any threat on the planets, but in space
it's a totally different situation."
"I agree," Nei conceded, "but I think there also might be a glimmer of
hope. Right now, the Profound Darkness cannot enter our dimension because
the seal prevents it. Have you noticed how much its power has grown since
it took the Child under its wing? I'm beginning to believe that she is
not only serving as its champion -- she is the gateway through which it is
effecting the destruction of Algo as well. If we find a way to destroy
her, then there is a chance that the Profound Darkness' power in our
dimension will fade as well."
Chaz was relieved. If what Nei said had just a hint of the truth in
it, then their task of saving Algo did not seem so overwhelming. Of
course he and his friends would fight to the very end, but getting to that
end was not necessarily going to mean their lives. The Hunter thought
selfishly about what his life was going to be like with Nei. Now that
there was a possible answer to their immediate problems, he gave himself a
little slack in thinking about the future. For the past few weeks, he was
not even sure there was going to be one for himself much less everyone
else in Algo.
"Chaz," Nei said, "have you given any thought to where the Child will
go once it is done here? It's obvious that she is out to destroy
everything that is important to us. I'm afraid that she might decide to
move on to Dezoris, to the Dezorians and the Espers. First it was you
then Gryz and then Hahn. On Dezoris, she can destroy what's important to
Raja, Rune, and Kyra. Your lives are what are most important to Demi and
"Our lives," Chaz inserted. "All our lives."
"Our lives," Nei let her words hang in the air. "If the Child and her
companion succeed in destroying our families, I suspect that they'll go
after us afterward. She gave us a big scare with what she did with Kyra,
but now that I think about it, I don't think she really meant to kill her.
She could have completely taken her aura and killed her outright.
Instead, the Child left it in tact, knowing that we would find a way to
heal her. Believe me, she will get much more enjoyment from watching all
of us suffer before she kills us."
Chaz stared at the Numan while at the same time smiling like an idiot.
Nei stared back, her brow raised in curiosity. For some reason or
another, he chose not to hear any of her last few thoughts. If he could
have said anything to her at that moment, he would have told her that he
loved her. Chaz was still caught up in his emotion. He was elated that
there was a glimmer of hope in the future and clung to it like life
itself. Nei snapped her fingers and brought him out of his trance.
"Nei," he started after recovering from embarrassment, "what will
happen to you when all this is over?"
The Numan took a step back for the question caught her off guard. She
feared the day that he asked that question because she did not know the
answer. When she first arrived, her purpose was predetermined and she was
adamant about carrying out her orders. She never expected that those she
kept company with would cloud her vision. Never did she expect that one
man would cause her to lose sight of her goal.
"I suppose that I will simply return to the Light." Nei could have
tried to explain to him the intricacies of why she had to return. It
would have been useless, though, because the words would fall on deaf
ears. Chaz lowered his gaze and became melancholy. "Chaz, please don't
do this to me. When I first met all of you I told you up-front that my
time here is finite. I could tell you that I will be able to stay after
my job is done but I could be lying to you. I don't know what the Light
has in store for me." She sighed, almost despairing. Clenching her fists
to her heart, she continued.
"Despite all the knowledge you think I possess, I don't have the answer
to that. Nothing would make me happier than to stay here with all of you,
the people I care about more than anything else. Nothing would make me
happier than living out the rest of the life I didn't have with you. If I
promise you that I'll stay then it will be an empty promise because I not
the one to make that decision. I will, however, promise you that when the
time comes, I'll try my hardest to stay."
In the span of a mere minute or two, Chaz's world was built up into a
mighty tower then torn down into its basic building components. He felt
like crying again, something he had done far too much of lately. The
Hunter began to miss Alys' firm hand, how she was always so tough on him.
At least she would have knocked some sense into him and told him that
crying did not solve anything. "Nei," he said sheepishly, "I l -- I mean,
I care for you," he stumbled, his courage failing him, "and your staying
with us would mean the world to me."
"And I care about you," Nei returned, "so much that it hurts me more to
not tell you how much I love you instead of saying it aloud." The latter
went unspoken, however, for they were a forbidden fruit that Chaz should
not bite into. An uneasy silence passed in between the two. Both wanted
desperately to speak the words that could possibly tear down their walls,
but right now those walls were impenetrable.
"Ladea Tower," Chaz blurted out.
"Ladea Tower. That's where she's heading."
"How can you be sure?"
"Rune told me once that it was through Ladea Tower he was able to
travel from planet to planet without the use of spacecraft. Apparently
the tower serves as some kind of bridge between Motavia and Dezoris that
only those gifted with enough power can utilize. You're right, Nei. She
is planning to go to Dezoris and sooner than we think."
Chaz grabbed Nei's hand without thinking and pulled her to her feet.
At that moment, he felt the electricity between them and nearly stopped in
his tracks. They both knew what was at stake, though, and put aside their
personal feelings. It was hard for them to continue on like that, to
constantly hold back the feelings that they already knew was there and yet
never consummated by words. Even through a simple touch of the hands they
could sense the tension between them.
They had to tell the others of what Chaz believed to be the Child's
destination. That took precedence over all other things. To stop her
from leaving Motavia meant they could give themselves more time to prepare
for what was surely going to be the final confrontation. There was more
at stake than just their lives of the lives of their loved ones. Their
star would most likely die before they would. None of them, even Wren or
Nei, the oldest among them, had ever seen a star die, but it was a sure
bet that it was not a pretty sight. The Child and its master were about
to commit the most heinous act in the history of Algo. Only they had the
strength, the courage, and the faith in each other to throw a monkey
wrench in their plans. Time was all they needed to succeed and it was
running out on them rapidly.