Child Of Darkness
It was three years ago that Chaz, Rika, Gryz, and Demi journeyed there
to find Rune and retrieve the Psycho Wand. The Reverent Fifth made the
trip earlier with Dorin but was unsuccessful in getting it himself. The
Psycho Wand was needed to negate Zio's Magic Barrier, a all-powerful
shield which granted him near invulnerability. Although he never admitted
to as much, Chaz thought that Rune might have been planning to return to
Dezoris and would have if he and his friends had not arrived when they
did. During their ascent to the top, Rune revealed to him the true power
and purpose of the Tower. Through use of powerful magic, it served as a
bridge between Motavia and Dezoris. The Child and the mysterious stranger
who looked like Nei undoubtedly were planning to use that bridge to begin
their invasion of the Dezorian and Espers' home world.
The Hunter remembered how difficult it was to reach Ladea's apex. The
Psycho Wand itself was protected by a barrier that only Rune was able to
breach. Moments later, a creature sent by Zio to steal it away from them
materialized. It was a fight for their lives, but by working together as
a team, they were able to defeat it and emerged triumphant. Rune took the
magical tool into his possession and felt its power. That was when he and
Rika somehow sensed that Alys' condition took a turn for the worse and
they rushed back to Krup to be by her side when she died.
Now they were back and circumstances were different. The Protectors
were on a hunt in which the hunted could easily become the hunters. It
was all too possible for the Child and her companion to turn the tables on
them. The enemy was but two and they were nine strong, determined
individuals who were prepared to sacrifice everything so that their galaxy
might survive. The only way they were going to survive was to work
together as a team.
The bottom floor of Ladea was just a vast room of sorts and reminded
Chaz of the caves they just left. Everything echoed, including their
footsteps, and it gave an impression that there were dozens of individuals
walking instead of nine. Across the floor nearly a thousand feet away was
a single staircase leading to the second level. It was this floor which
allowed a true sense of how large the tower actually was. Being
completely cylindrical, the upper levels were just as large, but because
of walls and such, they did not look it. Rune and Kyra could feel the
structure's energies pulsate through them.
Demi walked between Wren and Gryz. She turned her head to the side and
saw Chaz and Nei walking side-by-side and wondered if the Hunter
accomplished what he set out to do. Judging on their body language she
guessed that he did not. The android noticed that when Palmans express
their true emotions to each other, it brings them closer not only
mentally, but physically as well. Had Chaz expressed his, they might be
walking hand-in-hand. For the most part, he was like Wren in that way.
Even though he possessed emotions, the big android was not good at letting
them be known in a constructive way. Frankly, she was surprised that he
found the courage to let Rika know although it did not sadden her in any
way. If he was not going to tell her -- well, then she would have to step
in before it was too late.
Reaching the staircase, Chaz unsheathed his Guard Sword and motioned to
his companions to be quick. He placed a finger across his lips and slowly
made his ascent. Nei slipped on her claws and followed closely behind.
Kyra went next, a slight wavering in her stature. She was about ninety
five percent recovered, but the emotional scars left by her experience
would take more time to mend. Hahn was right behind her and touched her
shoulder in a supportive gesture. Rune magically pulled the Guard Staff
from his robes and hurried after the Scholar. Next was Demi who was ready
to fire her weapon at a moment's notice. Gryz still carried his Defeat
Axe because he felt more secure with a large weapon than with the Esper
magic he now possessed. The Motavian did not believe he would ever give
up using it. Finally, Wren brought up the rear, his sensors ever-alert.
If something was to attack the party from behind, he would be the first to
meet it. With one last look behind him, the big android charged up the
Photon Eraser and climbed upward.
Everything was deathly silent. Even Nei with her finely honed senses
could not hear a single sound aside from her companions' breathing and
heartbeats. Over the years some unknown magic managed to keep Ladea in
tip-top shape; consequently, it was nearly completely free of dust,
debris, and no vermin crawled within its walls. To the casual observer
this place might look like a hallowed sanctuary. Rune and the others knew
better than to think that way, however, because they also knew it as a
place where Darkness existed -- and she probably left a guardian or two to
watch her back.
Chaz and company made a couple of left turns and emerged in a wide open
area. At the other side of the room standing adjacent to the corridor
leading toward their destination stood two massive statues. Dressed in
warrior's garb, they stood over twenty feet tall and word helmets over
their heads that masked their faces. One statue held an enormous sword
while the other carried a spiked mace and chain. "I don't remember those
being there before," said Gryz.
"I know," Rune returned, "that's what worries me."
The Protectors proceeded ahead slowly, weary of the lurking giants
awaiting their passage. Each had his weapon drawn and ready because no
one knew when they would suddenly spring to life, or even if that was a
possibility. The slow movement made them tense and they would have been
content to simply run and be facing their backs, but no one wanted to be
Nei looked up into their darkened countenances and thought she saw a
hint of red, glowing eyes. Raising her line of sight, the Numan observed
as the helmets began to glimmer. "Look!" she called everyone's attention.
The Protectors stopped in their tracks and took a defensive stance.
Flaring to life, the statues' helmets emitted an unnatural light which
completely filled their metal bodies with dark sorcery. Like an invention
switched on for its first time, their eyes lit up with a blinding red
glow. "Kyra! Quickly!" Rune shouted. "Before they have a chance to
fully come to life!" The Esper Leader stepped up and along with Rune she
cast Tandle and sent millions of volts of electricity surging through
their metal bodies, but it was too late. Fully alive and ready to crush
their opposition, the Laconian Sentinels took their first step forward.
The Protectors took a few steps back.
With stiff joints, the Sentinels loosened up with each step they took,
every movement they made. The Sentinel Swordsman swung its massive weapon
but fortunately Chaz and Rune were able to parry its blow. Rune cast
Hewn, which turned out to be a futile maneuver. Their bodies probably
weighed several thousand pounds and even that powerful Esper spell did not
have an effect on them. It swung again and the Hunter brought his own
sword down from over his head, Rayblade proving to be an adequate defense.
The Sentinel's weapon went flying away and it hurried to retrieve it.
Hahn leapt into action, striking at the Sentinel Barbarian. He slashed
at its legs with his Mahlay Dagger. Sparks flew everywhere, momentarily
blinding the Scholar. His target kicked him out of the way and began
swinging its mace. Kyra, Demi, and Raja dove for cover as the massive
spiked ball crashed down only inches from where they were standing.
Bringing it back up for a second attack, it was met by a discharge from
Wren's Photon Eraser. While the big android's weapon was powerful enough
to prevent his adversary from doing further damage, it was not able to
destroy its mace. The Barbarian recovered quickly and closed in on its
Nei sprung into the air and raised both claws. Taking advantage of her
enemy's languidness, she used Double Slash on the way down. Sparks
erupted like miniature volcanoes with each motion. Below her at
approximately the same time, Gryz heaved his axe and struck with all his
strength. The Motavian Esper managed to leave a small dent in the
Swordsman's knee, but nothing else. He managed to get out of the way
before Nei landed on his head. Both felt Wren's strong arms pull them out
of danger before their enemy decapitated them.
Demi held both arms out in front of her and ran at the Barbarian. Her
android legs carrying her faster than any biological life form, she was
successful in avoiding its mace and hit its left leg like a missile. The
Sentinel lost its balance and tumbled over, breaking stone tiles and
creating an uneasy rumble in Ladea. In the meantime, the android failed
to see the other Sentinel encroaching on her position and found herself
actually having to hurry to get away from it. She pulled out her Sonic
Buster and fired several times, aiming at its sword in hopes of knocking
it away. Its grip was like that of death's and this time it was
determined not to be caught off guard. Chaz was fortunate enough to
surprise it with Rayblade's suddenness. After finding it next to
impossible to disarm it, Demi shifted her legs into overdrive and
high-tailed it out of harm's way.
"Hahn!" Chaz shouted, "help me!" The Scholar, still dazed from being
kicked, made his way over to his companion. To the best of his ability,
Hahn discharged Astral while the Hunter used Rayblade again. The brute
force of Paladin Blow completely propelled the Barbarian across the entire
room, crashing through a wall. It lay still for a moment, then stirred
slowly and got up. The instant it did, Conductive Thunder struck it down
again, courtesy of Kyra and Rune. The Sentinel merely shrugged off the
attack and the Espers only succeeded in enraging it further.
Without warning Hahn fell unconscious, obviously a result of his
injury. Raja rushed over to help his fallen friend and heard the loud
clanking of metal. The Archbishop turned around to see what was
happening. The two Sentinels joined hands and aimed their weapons at the
Protectors. There was a blinding flash and an eerie green glow surrounded
them. Raja tried to get back to Hahn, but found that his entire body was
paralyzed! His eyes sought out his companions and discovered that they
were paralyzed as well. Only Demi and Wren who seemed immune to the
effects of whatever kind of magic the Sentinels used were still mobile.
While she frantically ran from person to person to try and shake off the
paralysis, he launched Burst Rockets to try and halt their enemies'
The Laconian Sentinels approached and did not give the androids much
time to react. Somehow they were going to have to stop them and bring
their companions around at the same time. To do that, they needed to buy
some time. It was their hope that eventually the paralysis would wear off
for between them they did not have a means to do so. Calculating the
precise moment in which they could effectively hold off their pursuers.
Wren raised an arm and used Barrier; Demi fired the Phonomezer. The sound
waves scattered the ionic field and created a Sound Barrier. Waves of
energy stretched from floor to ceiling in a temporarily impenetrable wall.
Sound Barrier was only used as a last resort because by using it they
trapped themselves as well. Backed against a wall, once their defense
failed, they would be sitting ducks.
Demi ran around frantically using Medic Power on everyone in hope that
it could free one of them from the paralyzing effect of the Sentinels'
assault. Wren chose to stand guard with his weapon ready. Swordsman and
Barbarian were violently delivering blow after blow to the shield, each
one weakening it. At long last, Raja began to regain the use of his
facilities and fell flat on his face. "On your feet, Archbishop!" Demi
commanded. "You have to bring the others around! Start with Rune --
he'll be able to help you!"
Demi pulled Raja to a standing position. He immediately used the Rimpa
Technique, which neutralized any kind of paralysis, on himself to purge
what was left of it. Next, he used it on Rune who already knew what he
had to do the instant he was freed. While he went ahead with that, the
Archbishop went to his unconscious friend and used Arows on him. The
Technique had the same results as if one used smelling salts on someone
who passed out. Hahn began to stir while the Archbishop healed his
wounds. By that time Rune already freed the other Protectors from their
predicaments and they were ready to fight. "Prepare yourselves!" Wren
The Sentinels hit the wall simultaneously and it appeared to crack.
The rupture spread across its length causing to fade completely. Gryz
stepped up and thrust his hands forward. Esper magic swirled around him
as he used the Patarus Skill. Waves of energy manifested itself into a
single, powerful concussive blast which could be used as either an
offensive attack or as a defensive maneuver. Aiming at the legs, the
Motavian Esper toppled the Swordsman. A second Patarus did the same to
While they were down, Chaz and Nei decided to take advantage of the
situation. Jumping onto the Sentinels' backs, the Hunter thrust downward
with his sword while she slashed ferociously at her opponent. As valiant
as their efforts were they went unrewarded for both Protectors were thrown
off of their enemies as they returned to their feet. Swordsman and
Barbarian turned to be rid of the minor annoyances when they felt Burst
Rockets explode on their backs. Moments later, Legeon's bursts forced
them to turn back around and face the threat coming from behind. Hahn and
Demi moved swiftly to retrieve their friends from the path of destruction
that the Sentinels were leaving.
The Swordsman swung its weapon, barely missing Wren. The big android
noted that he would have been sliced in half if it was not for his luck
and retreated a few steps. When it swung a second time, it impacted
Blessing's mystical shield. The Barbarian, however, was able to attack
from above the shield and practically threw its mace at its prey. Wren
and company were propelled forcefully into a wall, free for the taking.
Chaz, Demi, Hahn, and Nei worked quickly to save the lives of their
friends. The Scholar attacked first, using Nawat in an attempt to
immobilize his foes. Next was Nei, her Disrupt Skill proving to be an
efficient attention-getter. Demi and Chaz were last to attack, Silent
Wave forcing them forward a few steps which did not fare well with their
companions who were in their direct line of fire.
Wren fired twice and was immediately followed up by Kyra and Raja's
Holy Thunder. The Sentinels covered their heads and shied away from the
celestial assault. Rune noticed their moment of weakness and cast Legeon
again. Beside him, the Motavian Esper thrust his arms forward, Patarus
passing through Legeon's energy bursts and incorporating them into its own
power. The power of Savage Strike was like that of a hundred men
converging their swords on a single target. The force completely ripped
off the Swordsman's hand and his weapon went sliding across the room. The
Barbarian retrieved it and, tossing the defunct hand aside, handed the
sword back to its companion.
"Our best attacks don't even phase them!" Nei observed.
"They're made of pure Laconia," Hahn told her. "It's going to take a
lot more than we have to stop them!"
"Did you see how they protected their heads when Kyra and Raja used
Holy Thunder on them?" Rune asked.
"Yeah," Gryz answered, "so what?"
"So, why would they have to protect their heads when their bodies are
nearly invincible? I think their weakness is there, if not in their
heads, then perhaps in the helmets."
"Yes," Wren added. "If I remember correctly, it was the helmets which
alerted us to their sentience."
"Then it's settled," concluded the Hunter. "The helmets are our
targets." He turned and faced the Sentinels who were already closing in.
"We must concentrate all of our strength on attacking their helmets!"
Chaz pointed his sword in their direction, indicating a challenge. "There
lies our only hope in defeating these giants!"
"Right!" Nei exclaimed and charged into battle.
Nei ran right at the Barbarian who swung its mace right at her. Using
her animal-like reflexes, she avoided it deftly. The Numan leapt into the
air and slashed at its helmet, leaving visibly deep scratches. She landed
on both feet and was about to attack again when she looked up and saw the
mace coming down on her. Kyra let her Moon Slasher fly, hurling it at the
Sentinel. The weapon sped on its way and sliced through the mace's chain,
freeing it from its base. Nei ducked out of its path before it crashed
into the floor. Jumping back up onto the Sentinel's shoulder, Nei buried
both claws deeply into its head. The Barbarian reached back and threw her
off. Luckily for her, Wren jumped up and caught her before she collided
with a wall. Everyone watched as their enemy's helmet sparked, its magic
fading. The Sentinel fell like a dead tree and lay still.
Together, Rune, Chaz, and Raja managed to parry a blow delivered by the
Swordsman. Using Crosscut, the Hunter broke off the end of its weapon but
continued its attack. Gryz used Patarus again for it was quickly becoming
his favorite offense. His enemy flew backward and brought down yet
another wall. It got back up quickly and charged into battle.
The Reverent Fifth's cape flew around his body as he and Chaz prepared
to combine their strengths. Efess' blue light filled the room, sparked to
life the moment it incorporated its power with Crosscut. Grandcross burst
onto the Swordsman with so much force that it cracked the Laconian body
and the giant toppled over. "Hahn!" the Hunter yelled. "Over here!"
Throwing sensibility aside, he jumped on his enemy's body and placed
himself above its head. With the Scholar's assistance, Paladin Blow
completely shattered the Swordsman's helmet and whatever may have been
inside of it.
"Wahoo!" Gryz exclaimed. "That's the way to kick some major butt!"
Chaz jumped down and exchanged hugs and high-fives with his friends.
Nei took advantage of their close proximity and used Nasar to replenish
their strength. Wren and Demi took a moment to repair their bodies with
Recover. Nei and Chaz hugged, the first time they showed any kind of
intimacy toward each other. The Hunter could not help but feel like it
was natural, like they had been doing it for years. He would have taken
her in his arms and kissed her had he not been aware of his companions
watching them. They broke their embrace and Chaz felt his face flush.
"We did well," he said, trying to draw the attention away from him.
"We did," Kyra added, "because we were prepared. We must not ever let
our guard down. It's obvious that she has been expecting us."
"Then we proceed with caution," Wren advised.
All agreed that they would take no chances. They could not afford to
lose one of their numbers to fate or to another one of the Child's
welcoming gifts. As they moved off, Chaz noticed that Nei was becoming
increasingly edgy. For some reason he believed that she already knew what
they would find at Ladea's apex. If it was not that then there was
definitely something else that she was holding back from them. He would
have to find some time to pull her away from the others and ask her about
* * * * *
The Protectors moved up to Ladea's second level which was more complex
than the first. They made their way through a series of corridors --
first left, then right, then straight, right, straight, left, and so on.
Rune mentioned that he did not remember any part of the tower being this
complex; in fact, each level was nearly identical. The Reverent Fifth
surmised that it was within the Child's power to physically alter
structures to become what she willed them to. It was a useful tool as she
could slow those who were following her down or simply stop them. She
would not do the latter because that would defeat the purpose. No, she
wanted to destroy her enemies herself and nothing would deprive her of
Gryz moved along steadily, moving with the flow of traffic so-to-speak.
He thought sorrowfully of Pana, Dorin and the rest of Molcum, how they did
not stand a chance against their attackers. He also wondered if some of
them might have survived had he not set fire to part of town in a blind
rage. There was no way he could have know that his Telemental powers
would react that way. He did not even know the full extent of them for he
was still discovering Skills and Techniques that Kyra and Rune had not
even seen before. The Motavian wondered if he was prudent in making his
decision about accompanying Rune back to Esper Mansion. Hurt was speaking
for him at that time and he did not think about his best friend who would
live his life without his loving wife. That could change in the near
future though. It appeared that he and Nei were on their way to
developing a lasting relationship.
Kyra's thoughts totally consumed her. While she desperately longed to
return to action after more than a day's rest, she also missed Esper
Mansion and the administrative duties which came with her title of Esper
Leader. There was an unmistakable fear inside that she could not shake.
She dreaded facing the Child again, but knew that a confrontation was
inevitable. Kyra feared that she would let her friends down, that she
would become so paralyzed with fear that their lives would be in jeopardy.
She had never in her lifetime hesitated to do anything, especially where
the people she cared most about were involved. Their last conflict gave
her some measure of her confidence back because it turned out positively.
The Esper Leader could not take the chance that her courage would fail
her. No matter her personal fears or doubt, she would never let her
Oh, how free Wren would feel just to tear down the walls that
surrounded him and rip through the one who caused his friends' so much
pain. He could not pretend to know how Chaz or Gryz were feeling about
their losses, but he was consciously aware of the rage inside which slowly
grew with every step he took. It would have been so easy to simply
annihilate the Child with the massive firepower he possessed, but he did
not feel that the Hunter would forgive him for that. He, like all mortals
whether they were Palman, Motavian, or Dezorian, had emotional issues to
work through and his friends were no exception. There were issues that
the Hunter needed to work out before it was too late and as his friend
Wren would never deny him that opportunity. Even though he could not
admit to them his own fears and insecurities, he could never jeopardize
their friendship like that.
Hahn was not worried about friendship. Frankly, he was enraged and
only wanted to get his hands on the ones who destroyed Gryz's people and
his own home. Sure, he was worried about Chaz's reaction to all of this,
but there was no way that the Hunter could deny that the Child needed to
be eliminated at all costs. There was no way he could let her live after
she had caused everyone so much pain. It was pure luck that Saya and his
parents did not die in the attack. He had a feeling that they were the
targets all along. If it was not for the man he and Rune met on their
trip back to Aiedo, they surely would have perished. The Scholar felt
guilty for not having learned his name, but if they came back alive, he
would be sure to make time to get to know him. That was providing that
the man and his family stayed around long enough. He would try his
hardest to make sure that he and his friends returned in one piece.
Raja was just one with the herd, moving along like a bovine creature
with no mind of its own. He could not shake the thoughts of his first
encounter with the Child. Never in his eighty-eight years had he
encountered an evil that so closely matched that of the Profound Darkness
itself. Even the Dark Force could not hold a candle to her. At least
those manifestations of its parent followed rules of some sort. As far as
the Child was concerned, there were no boundaries.
Still, the Archbishop was trying to figure out where he found the
courage to stay on this journey considering what he just went through. He
never considered himself as courageous as his companions, just that he
always did what was right when it really counted. In fact, there were
times when he considered himself a downright coward. The only reason Raja
could figure out why he had the courage that he did was because he drew
upon it from his friends. He would stick by their side until the end
because they were the key to saving his own planet. If fate took them
back to Dezoris, then so be it. It would be great to have another chance
to see Jaerli again.
Demi's legs worked double-time to keep up with her companions. She did
not understand why Wren built her with such a short stature. She did not
think poorly of him, however, because it was his own hands that allowed
her to be functioning. All that almost changed when they faced their
ultimate foe back in Molcum. She remembered standing next to Wren in the
heat of battle. Hearing his Burst Rockets launch, the android carefully
aimed her weapon and fired at the Child. Intense sound waves which would
have normally caused an organism to explode from the inside out merely
bounced off like a stone skipping off the surface of a pond. Wren's
rockets found their mark, but had little or no effect. Seconds later, a
blur passed before her eyes and a creature possessing super strength
tackled and nearly dismembered her master. Reaching into his circuitry,
it pulled out some of his "vitals," deactivating the big android. Demi
screamed and the creature turned to face her. What she saw would have
turned her blood to ice had it been flowing through her body. A face
which looked like Nei's looked directly into her mechanical soul. If Demi
did not trust the Numan implicitly, she would have sworn that it was her.
Quicker than even her enhanced optics could see, the thing that looked
like Nei struck, and that was her last memory before Rune reactivated her.
It was the first time she had ever been deactivated by someone else's
will. She was determined to never let it happen to her or Wren again.
The Reverent Fifth could have sworn that he and his companions were
walking in circles, but he had a gut feeling that they were not. It was
apparent that the Child was not concerned with attacking them again. She
was hiding something up her sleeve and it probably spelled their doom. If
he did not know her better, Rune would have guessed that Nei was bothered
by all of their excitement than all of them combined. She was not one to
keep secrets from them, especially not when their lives were at stake.
For the first time since they began travelling together, he was beginning
to distrust the Numan. She risked her life many a time during their
battles to ensure their survival. That was not entirely true, however,
because she was immortal and could not be killed by normal methods. The
Child's companion looked remarkably like her, but it was within her power
to alter the appearance of anything. There was a memory lodged deep
within his mind that ate away at his insides that he could not resurface
-- one of Lutz's memories. Nei had a secret all right. The problem was
getting her to tell them what it was.
Chaz walked next to the person he was falling in love with and yet it
felt like they were a million miles away. Nei was as aloof now as she
ever was. When they first met she was puzzling and hard to figure out,
even copping a pious attitude which was annoying. Since then, she dropped
that defense mechanism and opened herself up. The Hunter was dubious
about sharing room with someone that could turn out to be a know-it-all,
but fortunately she did not turn out like that. She never once used the
intelligence she possessed to belittle them, only to advance their cause.
Nei quickly became an asset to them, one that he was not willing to trade
Chaz had so many feelings he needed to work out about Nei. He
definitely felt love for her, but also hesitation. The love did not blind
the fact that she could possibly have to return to the Light once her
mission was complete. She promised him that she would do everything in
her power to stay within him, but he knew that it was most likely not
within her power. What he would not do to get inside of her thoughts and
see if she shared the same feelings for him as he did for her. The Hunter
desperately wanted to tell her his feelings, his emotions, but was so
afraid that she would rebuke them. Nei was not so easily clouded by such
frivolous things. Still, if an opportunity presented itself, he would
have to come clean about everything.
Of the nine individuals who walked in the company of each other, Nei
was the most troubled. Already she could sense the presence of her evil
half lurking somewhere within Ladea. There was no denying that their
paths would cross. Her greatest fear was that she would not be able to
stand up to Neifirst. Looming above her head like a dark cloud was a
distinct possibility that like the Great Light had provided her with
certain other abilities, the Profound Darkness probably did the same for
An icy-cold hand gripped Nei's heart with fear, but it was not for her
own sake. She knew exactly what Neifirst was capable of doing and the
thought of her ripping through her friends like paper dolls was one she
did not want to dwell upon because she knew that it was within her power.
Neifirst was merciless killing machine with a high level of intelligence
to complement it. A darkness began to settle in and she was unsure of how
to face it. Part of that darkness was the fact that she still had not
settled her feelings for Chaz. How could she pretend to take the place of
his deceased wife? Could he ever love her as much as he loved Rika? But
the hardest question she had to answer was if she was willing to take that
chance. If she told Chaz and he rebuked her, then she would simply return
to the Light and nothing will have been lost on her side. He showed signs
of affection toward her, but she was not sure if it was because of love or
because, as Kyra once suggested, that he felt a closeness to her because
of her similarity to Rika. Would he ever truly love her as Nei or only a
vision of Rika? Would he be kissing her or only a fantasy? There were so
many questions she needed answered and time was running out. Algo's time
in eternity was about to be cut short.
Chaz, Wren, and the others eventually found their way up to Ladea's
next level and found themselves submerged in blackness. Raja stepped
forward and immediately turned to look behind him but saw nothing but
dark. Stepping backward, the Archbishop emerged back into the light where
his friends still stood. "What is it?" Demi asked.
"Why didn't you follow me?" he asked.
"We stopped and you kept on going. You were gone for almost five
"Impossible! I stepped forward only a few seconds ago! How can this
be?" Raja looked to his friends to offer an answer, but they could not
provide him with one. "Well, I went in and could not see anything so I
turned around and you were gone. There was nothing inside but blackness."
"I sense a dimensional disturbance," Wren said. "Demi, assist me in
scanning this phenomenon." The two androids moved to the head of the group
and began to evaluate the source of whatever they were staring into. Both
walked along what appeared to be a veritable wall of blackness sensing
everything about it. This went on for several minutes before they met to
compare what their individual scans revealed. The big android faced his
friends. "This phenomenon has no mass," he announced, "no width, no
length, and yet it exists here."
"What do you think it is?" Hahn queried.
"A dimensional portal," Demi told him.
"To what dimension?"
"Most portals lead do dimensions which are similar to our own. Once a
person steps through it he normally notices that his surroundings are very
much like the ones he just left. Our universe exists in three dimensions
which allows us to see width and length, depth, and height. Time is
believed to be the fourth dimension and is what keeps all events from
happening at once. There is, however, a universe in which there exists a
fourth dimension in which time and space play no role."
"Are you saying that this portal leads to that fourth dimension?" Rune
"Portals like this one are not supposed to exist in our universe," Wren
explained. "We have no explanation of why this one is here besides that
the Child must have created it."
"Those Dimension Worms we encountered in The Edge --" Chaz began, "they
were from this fourth dimension, right?"
"Precisely. Without the presence of time and space, every possibility
imaginable collides and chaos reigns. The Great Light has no dominion
there. Similarly, there is a dimension in which the Profound Darkness has
no dominion. We are merely stuck in between them. I do not believe that
the Child placed this portal here with the intention of stopping us. Like
it was mentioned before, she would get more satisfaction out of finishing
us off herself. I suspect that this is only a minor portal designed only
to slow us down like the labyrinthine corridors we just emerged from.
Because of the discontinuities with time, however, when we come out on the
other side, it could be minutes, hours, or even days later than where we
are now, depending on how long she needs to activate the magic contained
within this structure. I would suggest that we join hands so we do not
lose each other in the blackness."
"What are the chances that we'll encounter resistence inside there?"
"I would say about ninety-nine point five percent."
"I don't like those figures."
"Shall we proceed?" Chaz prompted.
"Very well. Chaz we would do best if you took the lead while I bring
up the rear. If for some reason our Techniques and Skills fail us, you
and I must do all the fighting. We must never break our link to each
other. If one person wanders astray, he or she may be lost forever."
Everyone understood even though the prospect of lost in the fourth
dimension was frightening enough to prevent them from ever entering. Chaz
and Nei joined hands followed by Hahn, Kyra, Gryz, Demi, Raja, Rune, and
finally Wren. The Hunter entered the portal and was immediately enveloped
by blackness. It felt almost fluid and his body seemed to be working in
slow motion. The first step he completed felt like it took an eternity and
he began to realize that they could very well walk forever before reaching
the other side, assuming that there was one.
Chaz opened his mouth to speak Nei's name, but heard nothing. It
appeared that they could not communicate with each other. He felt the
Numan's reassuring touch and welcomed it. He was becoming more and more
frightened with each step he was not able to take. "Nei," he heard a
familiar voice call out, but it sounded like a recording that was slowed
down many times. The Hunter realized that it was, in fact, his own voice.
Apparently this dimension not only physically slowed them down, but it
also slowed sound as well and the delivery of sound. Chaz completed his
second step and heard the voice again.
"Chaz," the same slowed-down voice said, "this is Nei. Keep on
walking. We must not stop at any point."
The Hunter continued on, his movement languid half way through his
third step, he heard one of his companions scream and knew that, much to
his dismay, he or she was probably attacked several seconds before he
heard it. He could not tell which of his friends was attacked because
everyone's voices sounded the same or even what attacked him or her.
Suddenly, there was a brief flash of light and Chaz was barely able to
turn his head in enough time to see what it was before it disappeared. A
horrible tubular body or indiscernible color and size loomed over Kyra and
struck her with one of its many tentacles which stuck out from all parts
of its body. Red eyes pierced through their blackened environment like
lasers. It vanished, leaving him and his companions in blackness again.
Several seconds later, he felt Nei tug on his hand as the impact of the
attack on Kyra finally reached him. "Run, Chaz!" a slowed-down voice
called out. "Kyra's hurt! We have to get out of here!"
Chaz completed his third step and continued on with the fourth in what
he thought was going to be a faster pace, but discovered otherwise. He
and all of his friends were in grave danger, but he could not do anything
to quicken their journey. Feeling some kind of movement in the fluid-like
blackness, the Hunter raised his sword and sluggishly turned around to
strike at something that was not there. Time passed and the bright flash
returned. Chaz saw his sword strike at what he believed to be a dimension
worm attacking Nei, severing one of its tentacles. He could not figure
out how it was able to strike before they saw it since everything else was
moving in the opposite direction. He guessed that the worm must possess
the power of paradox. How else was it able to attack before they saw it
when their own bodies and actions were slowed down many times? If
anything, they should have been able to see its attack before actually
feeling it. The Hunter also could not figure out how he was able to
successfully fend off its last strike. It must have been pure luck.
Five steps and Chaz did not feel that they were any closer to their
destination. He heard strange sounds coming from ahead, from both sides,
and from behind and knew that whatever was there probably moved on since
it made a sound. He was getting more and more frightened the longer they
were in that horrible place. The Hunter sensed the same kind of movement
within the blackness he felt just before Nei was attacked and brought his
sword up to protect himself. He held the sword up for what seemed like an
eternity before something hit it and nearly ripped it from his hands.
Several seconds later, the flash returned and he saw that he was somehow
able to parry a blow that could have been fatal.
Six steps. Chaz heard a low rumbling followed by what sounded like a
discharge from Wren's weapon. Half way into what was to be the beginning
of his seventh step, two flashes appeared, one created by the dimension
worm, the other by the android's Photon Eraser. The two flashes collided
and Wren averted its attack on Rune who was beneath its body and was about
to be crushed. The Hunter must have not been the only one who figured out
how the creature attacked. They were in the worm's element and could not
possibly defeat it. Their only hope was to get out of there as quickly as
possible. Now that Wren also learned how to defend against it, that
possibility looked a little better.
On Chaz's seventh step he felt his muscles begin to strain against the
fluid blackness. Never had he moved so slowly while wanting to move so
fast. It was like one of those dreams where he could run as fast as he
could and get absolutely nowhere, except this was not a dream. It was as
real as the hand that held his and trusted him to lead it out of danger.
He felt Nei's grip begin to weaken and guessed that she was beginning to
tire. The Hunter wondered about his other friends, particularly Kyra who
was injured. Hopefully Wren and Demi, who were stronger than any of them,
could manage to keep them going.
Eight steps and the Hunter began to lose control of his senses. His
head pounded with a pain like no other and he could no longer hear
anything besides the pulsing of blood through his ears. Spots and little
dancing lights appeared before his eyes. Something struck his chest but
he could not hold the wound. To do so would mean he would either have to
drop his sword or break the chain and risk losing his friends forever. A
burning sensation began to slowly spread out and his step began to falter.
In the next instant, the flash returned and so did the dimension worm. A
tentacle reached out and struck him. It was odd to feel it happen before
seeing it, but the effect was the same, nonetheless. He felt Nei's
reassuring touch and it encouraged him to continue onward.
It was the most difficult nine steps that Chaz ever took and it was not
over yet. He tried to calm himself down and not let panic take over and
the Numan's touch give him the extra clout he needed to do that. The
Hunter felt the impact of another attack and knew that another one of his
companions had fallen victim to the worm. He anxiously awaited the flash
that would inevitably follow and feared seeing who it was. When it
appeared, he saw that a tentacle hammered into Demi's back. Luckily the
android possessed great stamina and took the blow without severe damage.
Chaz concentrated and tried to use Nathu but to no avail. It became
painfully obvious that the sluggishness of this dimension was beginning to
effect his thought processes as well. Wren warned them that they might
not be able to use any Techniques or Skills and it appeared that his
assumption was correct. As slow as they were moving, it was incredible
that they could think at all. Without a mind clear of clutter, the use of
those special maneuvers was almost impossible. No matter what, they needed
to keep their heads screwed on straight if they were going to make it out
alive. There was no telling how many more steps they needed to take
before making it out of the fourth dimension.
Ten steps and the Hunter would have been content with dropping to his
knees and giving up if it would have not taken ten minutes to hit the
ground. There was simply no way he could stop moving. If he stopped,
then the nine bodies behind him would stop as well because they would just
assume that he did so for good reason.
Chaz suddenly felt himself back in the body of a babe taking its first
steps. His difficulty in walking reminded him of an infant thrusting
itself forward into a bipedal world. So many times it tried to put one
foot in front of the other, to imitate its parents and go running into
their arms. It was a journey which every Palman, Motavian, and Dezorian
must take in their lives. To do so signified growth and movement toward
the future. In the case of a plant, it was growth toward the light from
darkness, which was exactly what they were doing. Chaz was the tip of the
shoot that would eventually break through the wall of soil where they
would enter the light and continue to grow toward it.
The Hunter's eleventh step was accompanied by a wave of power which he
never felt before and did not think was possible in this dimension. An
enormous pulse like a tidal wave propelled them forward far enough to
cover at least ten more steps. Chaz felt the air knocked out of him and
he could not inspire another breath fast enough. A flash brighter than any
of the previous ones lit up what seemed like the entire fourth dimension.
There, standing before the one dimension worm that was attacking them plus
three others they were unaware of, stood the most unlikely of saviors.
The Child, her hands raised, cast the worms away with her dark power.
That same power was obviously responsible for hurtling them forward in
what surely would have been a lethal assault. Chaz was pleased that his
daughter came to his rescue and nearly broke into a smile. Wren's words
intruded into his thoughts and he was reminded that she was purely and
evil being and that her sole purpose in saving them from the dimension
worms was probably to finish them off herself. While his heart was
romanticizing the whole situation like in some fairy tale, that she had
some shred of love for him and that he could rescue her from the way of
Darkness, his android friend's logic burned into his mind like a branding
Another flash drew the Hunter's attention from his twelfth step to
where the Child was still battling the dimension worms. One of them
completely wrapped its body around her, oblivious to the power she
possessed. The flash occurred when she used it to completely annihilate
the creature leaving no trace of it having been there -- no blood, no
carcass -- nothing. The remaining two worms gathered themselves for a
collective attack, one that would spell their doom. Chaz kept his gaze
toward that battle, waiting for another flash to reveal what was happening
while at the same time continuing to inch onward to freedom.
Thirteen steps and Chaz felt a renewed vigor for removing his friends
and himself from their fourth dimension hell. A long period of time
passed since the last flash occurred and he found himself becoming
strangely worried. True, the Child was a being of utter Darkness, but he
could not put the fact that she saved their lives out of his mind. The
Hunter often fantasized about his child or children coming to his rescue
one day. Now, the was fulfilled, but he wished it was under different
circumstances. He regretted that he had no part in the Child's upbringing
and that she probably did not consider him an important part of her life.
A peculiar type of sadness settled in and he heard her voice again in his
mind: "Oh, father, dear. . . ." Chaz felt like his heart was weighted
with a ton of lead.
The Hunter lifted his leg to start on his fourteenth step and half way
into another flash from the battling Child and dimension worms, he fell
forward into an intrusion of light. His eyes adjusted after a few moments
and was pleasantly surprised to find himself back in his own dimension.
It took several seconds, but, one by one, all eight of his companions fell
through the doorway as well. Chaz grasped at the stinging in his chest
and used Gires to alleviate some of his pain. Raja did the same for the
Esper Leader who suffered more debilitating injuries. Looking behind him,
he saw the black portal still there and resisted an urge to go back in to
see how the Child fared. Only now did he realize that the route they
travelled only took them less than a millimeter further from where they
"Did you see what happened in there before you came out, Wren?" Chaz
asked as he approached the big android.
"No," he returned. "I was out of the dimension before anything else
happened." Wren took a cursory look at his friends. "I would suggest
that we rest for a short while before continuing. There is only one floor
left inside of Ladea and it would be prudent to conclude that the Child
and her companion is there."
"So," Kyra interjected, recovering quickly from her injuries, "the
final conflict begins."
"Yes, it does," Nei said, "but it does not have to be that way for you.
Chaz, there is something that I need to tell you. Will you walk with me?"
The Hunter exchanged puzzled glances with Kyra and Wren who did not offer
any suggestions. Shrugging his shoulders, he hurried to Nei's side who
already walked off.
Nei was concerned about getting too far from safety and did not wander
off too far. She dreaded this time, when she would have to tell Chaz the
identity of the Child's champion. Unsure of how he would react to her
deceit, the Numan walked in silence for what seemed like hours. She
occasionally glanced in his direction to see if he was looking at her and
saw that he was not. He trusted her so much that he was oblivious to her
deceit, to what she was about to reveal to him. This was something she had
to do, however, because she could not live with herself if she did not.
"Chaz," Nei spoke, "I have to tell you something and I'm not sure how
to do it without you thinking that I have deceived you because the truth
is I have. Ever since we left Vahal, something has been bothering me but
I've been afraid to tell you and the others."
"You, afraid?" Chaz replied. "I find that a little hard to swallow."
"Nonetheless, it is true. I have selfishly been hiding the identity of
the Child's companion because of my own fear. If something happens
between now and our journey to the fourth level, it is imperative that you
let the others know."
"That the Child's companion is me." Nei waited for a response from the
Hunter, but got nothing. "Or, more appropriately, a part of me. Chaz, the
identity of the stranger is none other than Neifirst."
Chaz gasped although he was not aware of it. Neifirst -- the person
responsible for killing the person he was growing to love so much -- was
now wandering free on his planet again. He was suddenly gripped with an
unparalleled fear, but not for himself. The Hunter's fear was for Nei,
that she would to face her evil other-half and face the possibility of
death at her hands again. She was correct in assuming that he would be
bereft of any opinion of her hiding this secret from him and the Hunter
suddenly became very angry and upset about it. Casting a baleful glance
in her direction, he stormed off in the direction of his other friends.
Nei ran after him.
"Please, Chaz!" the Numan called, "wait!"
"Why should I?" the Hunter questioned vehemently while turning to face
her. "You've been lying to me, Nei, and even worse -- you've been lying
to all of us! How could you do that and keep a clear conscience?"
Offering no answer or even an indication of a reply from her, Chaz
continued on his return to the others. Feeling chastised, Nei took a
moment to regain her composure, then hurried after him.
The Hunter, in the meantime, walked briskly and inwardly fumed. Never
in his life had he felt so betrayed by someone he loved. Alys was fond of
making examples of his actions so he would learn from them and that hurt.
What she never did, however, was lie to or deceive him. That was
something that he hoped he would never have to experience from someone he
trusted and loved as a friend or more. All of his friends knew everything
about his life, including Nei. There was not anything that he did not
share with them and he expected nothing less in return. If there was an
issue that was bothering him, Chaz was sure to talk it out with someone.
He just did not understand why Nei let this one get away from her.
Chaz entered his friends' makeshift camp and gained their attention
immediately without saying a word. Gesturing with his hands and arms, he
beckoned his friends to return to their feet. "What's going on?" Gryz
"We need to get going before we lose our element of surprise," the
Hunter said. "I have a feeling that she is expecting us to rest. We need
to get moving so we can take them before they know what's happening."
"Chaz," Rune said, "we were expecting to rest before
continuing on. This isn't a question of whether or not we want to -- this
is something we're doing out of necessity. "
"Fine," he remarked while grabbing his sword, "I'll do it myself." The
Hunter turned on his heel and aimed his sights on what fate had in store
"Chaz," Kyra called out, "what's going on?" The voice caught him off
guard and he stopped dead in his tracks. Chaz breathed heavily and felt
his heart racing as it pumped harder and harder to keep enough oxygenated
blood flowing through his arteries. He began to feel light-headed and
leaned on the hilt of his sword for support. It was obvious that he let
his anger get out of control because he never experienced the type that
hurt him inside as well. Taking a few deep breaths to regain some amount
of self-control, he was finally able to tell them what was on his mind.
"We've been deceived," he said.
"What? By who?"
"By me," Nei announced, arriving, like always, at precisely the right
time. Chaz felt his entire body become rigid at the sound of her voice.
He did not need to turn for already he could feel the Numan's penetrating
eyes burning into the back of his head.
"I don't understand," the Esper Leader admitted. "How have you
deceived us." A long, uneasy silence passed between all of them as
someone was expected to build up enough courage to speak.
"Would you like to tell them or should I?" Nei asked, but the question
was a simple one and not spoken out of malice.
Another uneasy silence.
"The Child's companion is Nei's other half -- the wicked she-demon,
Neifirst," Chaz blurted out with little tact. He knew that the words
probably stung pretty bad and almost instantly regretted saying them in
such a manner. "All of our lives are in even more danger now because of
her," he continued without remorse.
"Please, let me explain!" Nei begged of her friends, but Kyra raised a
silencing hand. At that moment, the Esper Leader commanded all actions,
all words said and unsaid. Lowering her gaze, she shook her head in
disgust. Rune wondered what she had up her sleeve. He, as well as
everyone else, knew that it was times like this that she was at her best.
It seemed like every time there was a dispute between them, she played the
role of the arbitrator.
"I refuse to believe what my ears are forced into hearing," she finally
blurted out. Nei took a precautionary step backward. "How can you do
this to us now?" The Numan opened her mouth to speak, but did not find
the courage to do so. Rune, Gryz, and the others stayed completely still
almost as if any movement would shatter a mold built around their bodies.
"You need to stop this right now, Chaz."
"Me?" the Hunter questioned and was genuinely surprised. He was
expecting Kyra to really lay it on the Numan, but found that her distaste
was not with Nei. For some reason unknown to him, he was the source of
it. "Why me? I'm not the one who lied to all of us."
"Wake up, Chaz. Nei didn't lie to us. It's apparent now that she did
not volunteer some vital information, but we never asked her if she knew
who the Child's companion is. Despite what you may think of your
flawlessly honest world, there are those among us who have secrets and
good reasons for keeping them that way. We've all known Nei as long as
you have and you don't see any of us flying off the handle because she's
come out with some information that might give us a fighting chance for
survival, even if it is at the last moment." Kyra took a moment to
collect her thoughts and decide how to move on.
"Fighting is the last thing we need to do. Right now, the most
important thing is that we remain a team and a family. That is what will
get us through this. I think that maybe you're a little confused and
upset about our purpose here after seeing the Child save our lives. For a
second there I was having second thoughts about her. Nei is here to help
us and we have to trust her no matter what."
"Easy for you to say." Chaz sheathed his sword and walked off without
another word. Nei moved to intercept him, but Kyra blocked her path.
"Just let him go, Nei. He needs to blow off some steam for awhile.
Don't worry, he won't go off and do anything without us. He may be angry
right now, but he's not that foolish." Nei nodded and understood. She
was surprised that her other friends were not questioning her about
Neifirst and why she did not tell them of her. There was a certain amount
of trust gained between friends and she guessed that they did not need an
explanation. If one of them should need one, though, she would not
hesitate to answer.
Chaz rounded the first corner he came to and slid down the wall into a
sitting position. He was so mad at Kyra for being right he could not even
defend his own statement from her scrutiny. And how could she turn on him
like that? She was supposed to be like an older sister to him and she
discounted his feelings and opinions like they did not even matter. The
Esper Leader was right about how he reacted, though, and that is what made
him so angry. He hated being psychoanalyzed by an Esper, but that was
part of being one's friend. All kidding aside, he felt that he was going
to reconcile the situation with Nei, but he needed to be alone for a
little while more.
* * * * *
Over an hour passed before the Protectors were rested enough to
continue on. Wren led the way and discovered Chaz resting within earshot
of the rest of them. The Hunter saw that everyone was ready and joined
them without a word, taking care to keep his distance from Nei. She felt
his cold shoulder as surely as if it was an arctic wind and it did nothing
for her feelings. Dejected, the Numan drifted to the rear and remained
The fourth level of Ladea was completely devoid of walls which was not
how Rune or any of the others who previously visited the tower remembered
it. An irritating hum filled the entire area and a magical column of
bluish-white light radiated from its nucleus. Wren stopped short and
halted his companions' advance. Rune looked around at the transformation
that took place and was not pleased. In fact, he seemed more troubled
than anything. "She's activated the bridge," he said solemnly. "We might
be too late."
"Maybe," the Child said as she stepped out of thin air, "maybe not."
All nine Protectors immediately drew their weapons and readied themselves.
"You scar me with your assumptions," she added. "Why waste my precious
energy on you when I know another who would enjoy the challenge." The
Child turned her head and looked over her left shoulder. A horrible
shriek reverberated within the walls of Ladea and sent shivers down the
spines of those unfortunate enough to hear it. There was nowhere for
anyone to hide and they were puzzled as to where it was coming from.
Then they had their answer.
From the same thin air that the Child appeared from came a flash of
reddish-lavender. Somersaulting forward like a cannon ball, Neifirst
landed squarely on her feet and even though she was several yards away
from her enemies, she reached forward and grasped at them. In that
instant, five enormous ghost-like hands appeared above their heads and
delivered a blow which equaled that of what five full-grown sandworms were
capable of. Like trees standing in the path of a massive avalanche, eight
Protectors were bowled over and remained flattened -- all except one.
"Greetings, sister," said Neifirst in a voice that was eerily similar
to Nei's. "We meet again."
"Yes," Nei returned, crossing her claws before her face, legs
shoulder-length apart, prepared to defend herself and her comrades, "and
this time I am stronger."
"As am I." Neifirst reached down to her belt and drew forth her light
blade, glowing in a whitish-red tinge. Looking across the room at her
other half, she could see its light reflecting off of Nei's eyes, but did
not see the fear in them that she did when they last met. In fact, she
was experiencing a certain amount of trepidation in her presence. Deep
within the Numan's soul shone a light like no other.
"Prepare to meet your fate again," Neifirst announced.
"I sense your fear, Neifirst. You can see for yourself the power the
Great Light has instilled in me. While you have been summoned for the
sole purpose of serving the Darkness, I am the Light's messenger, its
"So you are," the Child cut in, "but I am the Darkness', and Neifirst
is mine. And because she is, she will defeat you. Prepare to face
"You should have chosen better travelling companions, sister," Neifirst
observed. "These ones fell with one swipe."
"Don't count us out yet," Chaz said, picking himself off of the floor.
He held his Guard Sword and aimed it at Nei's double. Keeping his gaze
steady, the Hunter stood to Nei's right side. "You might find that
getting rid of us is harder than you think.." The Numan smiled inwardly,
if not outwardly. Nothing meant more to her than to know that he would
stand by her side.
Slowly, one by one, the seven remaining Protectors recovered from the
blow dealt to them, joining Nei and Chaz in their preparedness. Kyra took
her Moon Slasher from her belt while standing just to Nei's left, the
light from the bridge shining brilliantly off of its sharply honed blades.
Gryz stood next to the Esper Leader, his Defeat Axe held threateningly,
hands glowing with Esper power. Demi took a position next to Chaz, her
face molded into that of a statue, the Sonic Buster aimed and ready to
fire. Beside her was Rune, wisest of any mortal creature in Algo, his
weaponless hands pulsating with Telemental energies, ready to cast
powerful spells in a moment's notice.
Raja silently said a word of prayer to Tak'khan and joined his
friends by standing beside Rune, his mystic powers blanketing them in a
protective shield, the Nares Staff prepared to fight to the death if it
came to that. Choosing a spot next to Gryz, Hahn unsheathed his Mahlay
Dagger which pulsed with its strange but comforting ebullience and held it
before his face. His father told him that the metal would protect him if
the need arose; he, in turn, would protect his friends and if he could
not, he would die trying. Wren was the last to join, taking his place
next to the Scholar, and Neifirst took special notice of him. The big
android held the barrel of his Photon Eraser upright with both hands and
stared at the Champion of Darkness with malicious intent. Besides her
sister, Wren appeared to be her most formidable opponent.
Neifirst turned to the Child and appeared perturbed. "I thought you
said I would only have to deal with my sister."
"Ah, well," she returned, "the more the merrier."
"No matter," Neifirst's light blade began glowing with more intensity,
"they will suffer the same fate as Nei!"
Quicker than the eye could see, Neifirst swung her weapon, discharging
a burst of energy. Nei uncrossed her arms and slashed, dissipating it
before it did any damage. "Everyone, hit the ground!" the Numan roared.
Trusting her implicitly, eight bodies dove head-first onto the floor.
Seconds later, Neifirst grasped at them and the ghostly hands appeared
only inches above their heads. The Numan did not evade them, did not even
attempt to do so. She understood that they would not stop their downward
progression unless one of the hands came in contact with something, so she
acted as the doorstop, so to speak. Nei practically flew backward from
the impact and collided with the far wall. Chaz howled in anger, returned
to his feet in a split-second and attacked.
Neifirst managed to sidestep and the swing of the Hunter's sword missed
its mark. Seizing Chaz by the skin of his back, she lifted him completely
off of the ground, causing excruciating pain. Wren fired, using his
uncanny android targeting system to aim precisely. The shot was met with
a swipe of a ghostly hand which rendered it harmless. Kyra, in the
meantime, saw an opportunity in her companion's distraction to engage the
With her arm cocked, the Esper Leader let fly her Moon Slasher.
Neifirst saw it out of the corner of her eye but it was too late to avoid
the deadly weapon. Grazing the arm holding Chaz suspended in the air, she
was forced to drop him and temporarily nurse the resulting wound. Kyra
caught the slasher and continued on with her double-fisted assault by
casting Hewn. A gusting vortex of wind bypassed the Hunter and caught his
attacker in a swirling maelstrom. Hahn joined in, using Nawat to
hopefully cause more damage. Ladea's entire fourth floor became
illuminated by Blizzard's raging power.
Neifirst's tireless extremities appeared out of nowhere and knocked
Kyra away, disrupting Blizzard. But where she left off, Gryz was able to
take over for, using his newly discovered Esper Skills to cast Hewn in her
absence. Blizzard continued, swinging the phantom hand around and around
at a dizzying rate. All of the sudden, the Protectors heard something
crash against a wall and noticed that it seized a hold of one of the
walls. Demi fired at it and Rune tried to dislodge it by using Nagra, but
since it had no substance, their efforts were futile.
The Dark Emissary pulled with all her strength and successfully
extricated herself from Blizzard's vacuum. Although the Child was no
where to be seen, she felt her presence by the warmth flowing through her
veins and arteries, dispelling the cold caused by her opponents. She saw
them confused by her sudden exit, saw Blizzard fade into nothingness.
Never before had she ever underestimated her foes, but this time she did.
There were much more capable than she gave them credit and as a result she
was caught off guard. That would not happen again.
Chaz still lay unmoving on the floor, paralyzed by the injury inflicted
to him by Neifirst. She noticed his inability to move and quickly moved
in to finish the job she did not have the opportunity to complete. With
the speed of an animal in pursuit, the Dark Emissary appeared above him
with her light blade in hand. Before she knew it, Nei was on top of her,
almost fully recovered from her injuries. She was just barely able to
roll her body sideways before her sister's Guard Claws were implanted
firmly in her cranium. While the Numan was temporarily incapacitated due
to the immobility of her weapons, the Dark Emissary placed her legs under
Nei's stomach and thrust her away. Nei flipped and twisted with a cat's
litheness and landed on her feet. Neifirst rolled her body backward and,
using her arms, sprung up into a standing position.
Nei raised her arm and swung at her other half who anticipated her move
and deftly moved out of her path. Spinning around, Neifirst attacked,
discharging a burst of energy from her light blade. The Numan felt it rip
through her insides as it entered her body while at the same time seeing a
shimmering aura of light surround her. Risking a look over her shoulder,
Nei saw Raja weaving his mystic powers in the form of Nasar to counteract
any damage her sister might have caused her. Chaz, having to deal with
his own injuries, also recovered.
Flipping out of the way, the Numan made room for her friends to join in
the battle. Demi, Hahn, and Chaz stepped forward. Together, they cast
Cosmic Boom and the Dark Emissary was inundated with sound, light, and
power. Neifirst never experienced anything like it before and did not
know how to defend against it. She felt herself being torn apart, forced
against her will into the Astral plane. With three carefully aimed shots,
she was able to take out all three of her foes and prevent her body from
exploding under the duress.
Gryz, Chaz, and Nei attacked simultaneously, their weapons converging
at a single point. Neifirst raised a bare hand and caught the claw,
sword, and axe without so much as a flinch. Pushing them away, she
side-kicked her sister, then spun around and caught the Motavian across
his face in a roundhouse. Chaz blocked a punch that would have been
delivered right to his face and swung his sword at the Dark Emissary.
Using her forearm, she blocked the blow with no apparent damage to herself
and used her own blade in an attempt to eviscerate her opponent.
Fortunately for the Hunter he was able to counter her move with Rayblade,
saving himself from death.
A whistle from Hahn caught Chaz's attention and in the next instant the
two friends combined their Skills together to form Paladin Blow. Neifirst
did little more than flinch at their assault, much to their dismay. She
moved in to take them both and found herself engulfed in bolts of
Conductive Thunder. Rune and Kyra compounded their strengths to bring the
Dark Emissary down, but somehow she deflected the bolts and turned them on
their creators who were forced to disengage before causing major harm to
Neifirst caught sight of Gryz and Demi standing together and knew that
something was afoot. Using her telepathic prowess, the Dark Emissary
created two phantom hands and cupped them together to form a U-shape just
prior to being attacked with Silent Wave. Not expecting such a defense,
Demi quickly set up an Energy Barrier to lessen the effects of the force
turned against them. Even so, both she and the Motavian Esper were forced
to curl up in a ball to escape Silent Wave's impact.
Wren fired but Neifirst was able to raise the light blade an absorb the
shot. Using the power enhancement to her advantage, she released a flurry
of energy bolts. The big android was not able to move out of the way and
was caught in the middle of the fire. Several of the bolts hit him
squarely in his chest causing a blowout of major circuitry. Wren lurched
forward and for a few moments appeared to be immobile. The next four
swings of Neifirst's blade were aimed at his extremities. The first two
struck his arms and completely ripped his left out of its shoulder joint
while his right, still holding his weapon, remained intact. Two other
bolts struck his legs and felled the big android in a split-second. Wren
lay unmoving, either unable to move or because his body was already
The Dark Emissary moved in to finish Wren before any of his companions
realized the enormity of his situation. Fortunately for the big android,
Hahn was already en route to intercept her. "Protect us!" he spoke to his
Mahlay Dagger. "Father said that you would protect whoever wielded you,"
he added, almost in disbelief. Positioning himself between his friend and
Neifirst, the Scholar menaced his weapon threateningly. She laughed out
loud which caused a certain amount of embarrassment to him, but he
remained determined to protect his fallen companion. The Dark Emissary
swung her blade and he closed his eyes, prepared to feel its impact.
The Scholar's hand moved under its own volition which caught him by
surprise and his eyelids fluttered open. His Mahlay Dagger pulsated with
unrealized power, its blade splitting the energy bolt into two halves,
sending them to either side of him. Stunned, pleasantly surprised that he
was still alive, Hahn did the first thing that came to mind. As an expert
knife thrower, he could accurately hit a small animal from twenty feet
away, and Neifirst was bigger and closer than that. The Scholar hurled his
dagger in the Dark Emissary's direction and it passed through another one
of her energy bolts along the way. Had she not stepped to her left, the
weapon would have lodged itself into her chest, but as it was, it went
into her left shoulder.
Neifirst did not even cry out in pain, merely reached up to extricate
Hahn's weapon. Upon touching it, however, electricity sparked and jolted
through her entire body. Screaming in frustration rather than pain, she
pulled and pulled, but could not remove it. The Protectors smelled ozone
in the air from the electrical sparks.
Suddenly, the Child appeared again and reached over to her companion's
shoulder. Taking hold of the dagger's hilt, she easily took it out and
the wound healed almost immediately. In the next instant, the Child
veered around and hurled it back at its possessor. Hahn's Mahlay Dagger
inserted its blade into its wielder's stomach and he stood there for what
felt like minutes, his mouth open wide as he was trying to scream out loud
but the breath was taken from him. Hahn brought his hand up from where it
had been near his injury and saw it coated with his own blood. Shaking his
head, the Scholar doubled over and lay still.
"NO!!" the Reverent Fifth roared, images of his journey to Krup with
Hahn swirling vividly around his mind. Wren, incapacitated, his legs
paralyzed for the time being, found the strength to prop himself up on one
arm. Before him lay his friend's broken body and he was shocked into the
realization that the Scholar had given his life to protect him. Hahn had
his back toward him, but he could see the blood trickling out of his
wound, staining the floor. Neifirst laughed out loud.
With strength born of anger, Wren launched Burst Rockets into the air.
Gryz stepped next to the big android and cast Flaeli. Shooting Star's
explosions would have normally incinerated anything unfortunate enough to
be standing beneath them, but Neifirst emerged from them unscathed. Wren
collapsed again and Gryz dove out of the way just before the phantom hands
grasped at him.
Raja cast Blessing and lessened the impact of the Dark Emissary's
succeeding attack on Gryz with her blade. He spoke the Holyword, hoping
that somehow it would have an effect on her, but it did not. The
Archbishop's Nares Staff absorbed her next strike with the light blade,
but at great cost. He felt his stamina slowly draining away. Raising a
hand, Raja quickly cast Saint Fire before collapsing. Anticipating his
comrade's action, Rune cast Tandle and Holy Thunder rained down on
Neifirst with a startling intensity. Neifirst shielded herself with a
ghostly hand, but appeared somewhat weakened by the assault.
Demi saw her momentary lapse and charged in. Throwing herself bodily
onto the Dark Emissary, the android managed to knock her flat on her back.
Neifirst screamed like a thing possessed and returned to her feet without
so much as a flinch. Her enemy successfully evaded two bolts from her
weapon and was getting dangerously close to her again. Demi fired a
Stasis Beam, but it had no effect. With a clenched fist and the super
strength possessed by almost all androids, she struck at Neifirst. The
Dark Emissary caught her fist in mid-strike and crushed it in her grasp.
Demi watched in horror as her hand was crushed by her foe. Neifirst
thrust her out of the way and she landed near Wren. Chaz and Kyra used
Fire Bolt, but it seemed that she was beginning to adapt against their
most powerful attacks. An outstretched phantom hand sent Hunter and Esper
Leader diving in two separate directions.
"Fight me, damn you!" Nei screamed while charging into the fray.
Standing before her other half, she executed Double Slash, but she deftly
avoided all four swipes of her claw. Nei used Illusion and several false
images of herself surrounded Neifirst, throwing her into confusion. The
Dark Emissary swung her blade at a few of them, the energy bolts passing
harmlessly through their bodies. She felt intense pain as her sister's
claws tore at her back and she swung around with her weapon, but saw only
several of her ghostly images.
Creating the phantom hand, Neifirst swung it around in a circular
motion and passed through several of Nei's images before finding the real
one. Trapped in its grasp, the Numan struggled valiantly, but could not
break free. "Die, sister!" the Dark Emissary shrieked, then delivered a
blow to Nei at point-blank. She screamed in tortuous agony before going
limp in the phantom hand. Satisfied, Neifirst merely threw her sister
over her shoulder like refuse and resumed her onslaught.
"NEI!!" Chaz hollered and ran to intercept the Dark Emissary. Rune,
who was previously tending to Kyra, sensed his comrade's intention and
quickly worked to reinforce his efforts. Grandcross exploded onto Neifirst
with so much force that she was propelled backward about a hundred feet
and did not immediately get up. When she did, though, she quickly slashed
savagely at the Hunter with her own hands, then moved to finish off Rune.
The Reverent Fifth took Kyra by the arm and pulled her backward where Gryz
stood protectively before them.
"Demi!" Wren called to his counterpart, some of his strength returning
to him after successfully using Recover. "The Sound Barrier!"
"But Chaz and Nei will be trapped outside!" she protested and pointed
behind the advancing Neifirst to where the Hunter knelt next to Nei's
"Then at least they will be able to escape while we are trapped here!"
Demi nodded, understood.
While Wren used Barrier, she fired her Phonomezer and an impenetrable
Sound Barrier sprung into existence. Neifirst used the light blade in an
attempt to breach their defense, but the bolts were absorbed into the
barrier. She struck violently at it and all of her efforts were wasted.
In her frustration, the Dark Emissary completely forgot about her sister
and the remaining Protector behind her.
Chaz cradled Nei's lifeless body and rocked her gently. She told him
before that she would be there with him and his friends until the very
end. Never did he imagine that all of their ends would come so soon. The
Hunter looked to his friends of over three years behind Wren and Demi's
Sound Barrier. Wren, an arm missing, his legs paralyzed, still managed to
prop himself up to face his end with dignity. He had lived for over a
thousand years, but only in the past three did he finally discover his
true purpose in life. Demi stood by his side and could do nothing and
meet her fate with the pride of knowing that she served her friends well
and that her death, much like her life, had meaning to it. She knelt down
next to her master and put an arm around his shoulder, pulling him close.
Raja was unconscious but still managed to look dignified, like he was
satisfied that he did what he could and even though he failed, he did not
regret trying. The Archbishop's hand somehow found Hahn's and even though
both were not conscious, neither of them would die alone. Hahn lay
unmoving in a fetal position, the same position he was in when he fell.
The Scholar's dreams of reaching the ranks of Professor and having a
family were shattered. At least he reconciled his differences with his
father before meeting this untimely demise.
Rune and Kyra consoled each other. They were leaving their people
leaderless and without the wisdom of the ages. The Reverent Fifth hoped
that the Telepathy Ball would receive his memories and knowledge in the
event of his death so that the next Lutz could take his place. He
regretted that he could not have served his people better. Kyra thought
the same and was saddened to think that she was about to leave the mortal
world after living for only twenty-one years. She wept uncontrollably.
Looking out past Neifirst, she caught Chaz's gaze on her, felt the
connection. Her sobs stopped. Even in death, she had to be strong for
her little brother.
Gryz stood right behind the Sound Barrier and anticipated the moment
when their defense would fall. He would take the brunt of Neifirst's
attack in the hopes that his friends could retaliate in some way. Perhaps
his death would give them the extra boost they needed to turn the tables
on her like the death of his family did for him. It seemed like only
yesterday that he discovered his Esper powers and was glad that they
helped them get this far. He would not die a happy Motavian, but at least
he would die a proud one.
When Chaz saw Kyra dry her tears after their eyes met, he felt that he
also needed to be strong for her, for all of his friends, and choked back
the tears that were already on the way. Nei's body relaxed in his arms,
the life drained from it. "I'm sorry I yelled at you before," he
apologized, hoping that somehow, somewhere, she could hear him. "I also
regret that I didn't get a chance to tell you that I l --" A sudden jolt
of movement stopped the Hunter in mid-sentence. "Nei?" he asked
excitedly. The Numan's eyes suddenly fluttered open and she sat
"What happened?" she demanded.
"You --" Chaz stuttered, "you died!" Nei was silent for a few fleeting
"It's apparent that Neifirst cannot kill me in which case, I'm afraid,
we cannot kill her, either. This calls for some drastic measures that I
hoped it would not boil down to."
"What are you talking about? If we can't kill Neifirst, how are we
going to save our friends and then save Algo." Nei smiled sadly, ran her
fingers fondly through Chaz's blond hair.
"We may not be able to stop Neifirst, but I believe there is a
way that you can." The Hunter noticed the emphases made in her
statement and did not like the sound of them.
"How can I?"
Chaz felt the thoughts contained within his mind swirl around in a
"But --" he started, his throat suddenly becoming hot and dry, "but
Elsydeon resides inside you!"
"Yes," the Numan conceded sadly. "In order for you to obtain it, I
must leave your mortal world." Chaz was aghast, stunned, and appalled all
at the same time. At the time he did not know how it was that he was
supposed to take Elsydeon from Nei's body and imagined himself having to
reach into her bloody carcass to get it. A nagging memory burned in him,
but he could not place it.
"I --" Chaz started to say, "I can't," but his words failed him.
"I love you, Chaz," Nei stated matter-of-factly.
"What?" The Hunter pulled away and both of them returned to their
"Do you love me?"
It was then that the burning memory returned to him, clear and
unadulterated. He briefly went back into time, back to when she was first
resurrected and Hahn commented about her immortality. "That is true;" she
had said, "I cannot die by conventional means. My death can only be
brought about by someone whose feelings for me mirrors my own." Chaz
suddenly felt sick to his stomach and could wretch at any moment.
"Do you love me?" Nei demanded again.
"No," he returned.
"Chaz, why do you deny it? In order for this to work, you must not
deny your feelings for me!"
"If it means that you will stay here with us, then you're damn right
I'll deny it!" The Hunter turned his back on her, could not look into her
penetrating eyes. "You promised me that I wouldn't have to face my
"I never promised anything," she replied, her tone soft, gentle,
understanding. "I said that if it was within my power, you would not have
to strike her down. It is not within my power, Chaz." The Hunter said
nothing, stared at Neifirst fomenting destruction before his eyes.
"Chaz," Nei continued, "I love you more than anything else in this world
and maybe even in the afterworld. I was afraid to admit as much, but now
I'm not -- not when the balance of the entire universe is at hand. What
you have to do goes beyond your courage, beyond your love for me. This
has to do with your love for your friends and for life." Chaz said
nothing, continued staring at nothing. "It may pain you to hear this, but
you must be the one to strike me down."
"I WILL NOT!!" the Hunter roared while turning to face her, eyes wide,
faced flushed with anger. Seeing the look in Nei's eyes, however, he
softened immediately. A loud thud brought their attention back to where
their friends anxiously awaited their ends. Gryz was smashed against the
barrier. His body slid down slowly and he was out for the count.
"Look," said the Numan, "Neifirst is already finding a way to break
through their defenses. She may not physically be able to penetrate the
Sound Barrier, but she can project her mind, and therefore the phantom
hands, inside of it." What Nei said was true for Chaz saw the hands grasp
at Demi, Rune, and Kyra with his own eyes. "She and I are bound by body
and spirit though not by mind. The only reason the Profound Darkness was
able to bring her back was because I returned. She cannot live too long
in my absence and vice versa." The Numan was silent for only a few
seconds. "Chaz, it's important that you speak your feelings for me out
loud before you strike me down. It's the only way that this can work."
"I -- I can't!"
"Damn it!" Nei swore. "This isn't about us, Chaz! It's not about our
feelings for each other! It's about preventing the Profound Darkness from
reentering your world! We all have to die sometime whether it's sooner or
later! I am choosing to give my life so that you and the rest of our
friends can keep the Darkness away! Besides," she added somewhat
grievously, "I'm already dead. I have been for over a thousand years."
"Not to me you're not," the Hunter whispered, but Nei heard it, anyway.
She embraced him, tightly, ardently, not wanting to let go. He buried his
face in her hair and inspired deeply, taking her in. He clutched to her
every essence with his dear life and refused to let go.
"Do this for our friends," the Numan continued, "do it for all the
people of Algo. Do this for me, Chaz. Most importantly, do this for
yourself. You are still young and have a long life ahead of you."
"A life without you."
"Not true. As long as you hold my memory close, I will always be with
you. Tell Kyra that I'm glad I got to know her and thank her for being my
friend. Also, try to explain to her my decision, and tell her that I love
her. Tell all of them that I love them."
They released their embrace and saw the severity of the situation
concerning their friends, and yet Chaz still lacked the energy or emotion
to retrieve his sword quickly. Nei stood alone, an unwavering pillar of
courage and strength. The Hunter picked up his sword which felt heavy,
leaden. He looked at it and almost regretted the day he chose to pick its
kind up. He turned to Nei, standing alone, trying to appear composed, but
the tears streaming down her face gave her away. She smiled at him sadly,
looked at him with fondness. Chaz raised his sword and she closed her
Though wracked with pain, Kyra watched the events transpire between
Chaz and Nei. At first she was pleased to see that the Numan had
survived, but then was saddened to read the emotions on both of their
faces. She saw him pick up his sword and raise it to Nei. "Chaz!" she
screamed, horrified at what he was about to do, "don't!!"
The Hunter heard his big sister's plea. He swung the sword and dropped
it in mid-strike. Nei opened her eyes and suddenly he was on her, holding
her close. They kissed passionately, feverishly, and then he retrieved
his weapon again before he had a chance to have a second thought. Nei
stood tall, her composure regained. She had wanted to kiss him like that
ever since she first realized her feelings for him and it gave her a small
amount of satisfaction. Chaz closed his eyes, held the sword over his
right shoulder with both hands. Behind him, he heard the Sound Barrier
fail, heard Neifirst move in for the kill.
"In the Light," the Hunter heard Nei's voice not with his ears, but
with his mind and heart, "The one you love most will be returned to you.
We will meet again, Chaz . . . someday. Until that time, I will always be
"I LOVE YOU, NEI!!" Chaz declared in a roar and swung his sword.
Chaz stumbled and fell, the Guard Sword having vanished from his hands.
For a brief moment, there was a deafening silence and not even a breath of
air moved through. Then, a loud clank as something metal struck Ladea's
stone floor. Behind him, he heard a body fall. The Hunter opened his
eyes and discovered that Nei was gone, returned to the Light. Before him
lay a pile of body armor, two claws, and a glimmering sword of remarkable
craftsmanship -- Elsydeon. He gingerly picked it up and listened to it
hum, felt its power.
Standing up, Chaz heard movement from the area his friends were in and
turned quickly. There, dragging herself across the floor, was Neifirst.
She had no visible wounds or injuries, but she was incapacitated,
nonetheless. The Dark Emissary was crawling toward the magical bridge
between Motavia and Dezoris where the Child was probably waiting. "Help
me!" she was pleading. "Help me!" The Hunter walked over and stared down
at her with compassionate eyes, but the compassion was not for her, it was
for his friends and Nei. Now that he got to see her up close, he could
not help but notice how two people who looked so much alike could be so
"Go back to the Darkness where you came from," he told Neifirst,
holding Elsydeon high above her head. "May your soul never find peace."
Driving it downward, Chaz drove his weapon through the Dark Emissary's
back. There was a clap of thunder from somewhere outside of Ladea, then
Neifirst's body went limp.
A laugh, the Child's laugh, reverberated through the fourth floor, but
Chaz was too tired, too emotionally drained to care. He knew that she was
escaping to Dezoris, but he and his friends would inevitably follow. She
was directly and indirectly responsible for causing the deaths of two of
the people he loved most in life. There was no way that he could let her
live now, not after losing Nei.
The bridge's light scintillated and went out all together. Ladea began
to shake and rumble -- an obvious sign of its demise. The Child needed to
get to Dezoris with enough time to foment chaos before the Protectors
arrived to try and stop her. The only way she could insure that was to
force them to make the trip by space, not by instant teleportation.
Gryz and Demi recovered their senses enough to help Chaz gather their
friends together. Using Hinas, he transported all seven of his companions
to Ladea's first floor and he, Demi, and Gryz carried their fallen
companions out before the entire tower collapsed on them. The Hunter
watched as Ladea fell in on itself, raising sand high into the air. It
was morning, just before sunrise, and a cool breeze caressed the land. It
could not, however, blow away his troubles. He wondered how bright the
star, Algo, would be this day.
The hydrofoil was still nearby and it was fortunate that no one decided
to steal it. There would be one empty seat on the way back. Chaz was not
looking forward for the trip back to Aiedo that would take them to almost
midday. Once again he was returning without the woman he loved.
Chaz took Elsydeon from his sheath and regarded it reverently. It was
this sword which allowed him and his friends to thwart the Profound
Darkness' plans before. Hopefully, it would allow them to repeat that.
The Hunter held Elsydeon to the sky and heard the words he kept close
to his heart:
"I will always be with you."