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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Thirty-Six


Chaz and his friends did not have a chance to grieve, did not have a chance to even rest. Raja did his best to heal Hahn's injury but could not heal it completely. The Mahlay Dagger contained properties which took any flesh wounds it inflicted longer to heal. At least it did not kill him; they could be thankful for that. He would be sore for at least another day before regaining all of his body's facilities. Thom Larsson would have said that the metal itself recognized its wielder and did not injure him fatally. The Scholar's father explained its creation and the magical properties it possessed to both his son and to the Reverent Fifth who accompanied him. Raja just said he was lucky.

Demi was successful in reattaching Wren's left arm which he lost during battle. It took her nearly half of the trip during which he was impatient and incorrigible. She was so frustrated with him that she almost told him to do it himself which would have been difficult. He continuously shifted his gaze from Nei's empty seat to Chaz who was driving the hydrofoil. Just as he found it hard to cope with Rika's death, Wren was going to have a hard time dealing with Nei's. During the short time that the Numan was among them, she did much more than touch the hearts of organic beings, she managed to find a way into a couple mechanical ones as well. It was obvious that he was concerned for the Hunter's well-being and experienced a large amount of emotional pain from Nei's departure.

The big android, in return, repaired her crushed hand as best as he could. She would not have full use of it until one of them constructed a new unit, but it would suffice until then. Already, the android was beginning to feel the change in moods from Nei's absence. Not only was she a valued fighter, but she was a valued friend and confidant, too. If there was a way that she could have saved the Numan, she would have offered her own existence to do it. Demi vividly remembered the moment she suffered her injury, when Neifirst caught her hand and crushed it in her grasp. The experience had been a harrying and humbling one. Even Dark Force seemed more kind to them than Neifirst was. At least it did not take one of their beloved companions.

Chaz and Demi healed Raja first for he was the key to getting their numbers healthy again. The Archbishop wove the mystic spells he possessed to heal his friends' physical scars, but he could do nothing to help the emotional ones. He felt so bad because he was not as strong of a fighter as the others were and felt helpless pitted against a formidable foe like Neifirst. He was an aging Dezorian whose worth lay not in his weapon skills, but in his spiritual support, his skills as a healer, and his value as a friend. Raja would sacrifice his own life without so much as a second thought for any of his friends and he hoped that they all knew that. Outside of Jaerli, they were the only family that he had left.

Gryz sat next to his best friend, his heart filled with compassion. He, as the rest of the gang, knew the Hunter's true feelings toward Nei, even though he never admitted as much to them. The Motavian lost everything that ever mattered to him in his live save his closest friends, but he still managed to empathize with Chaz. Gryz never experienced the kind of love that his friend shared with Rika and even with Nei. He could only imagine that the pain was equally severe. A couple of times he tried to strike up conversation with him, but he merely patted him on the arm and smiled sadly, not wanting to talk. The Motavian Esper recognized the grief written in his face, recognized it as his own after his parents died. The love for his friends was what motivated him the most, but there was also something else -- vengeance.

Rune sat in his seat slowly dozing off. He was just as physically exhausted as the rest of his comrades were. His head beat with an insurmountable pain. Beyond all of the physical exertion, he was suffering from an overuse of his mental facilities as well. While in Ladea Tower and in the past couple of days, the Reverent Fifth expended so much of his Telemental power that he was on the verge of collapse. Rune believed that he alone was the only one who accepted that Nei could not stay indefinitely, but that did little to ease the scars that her departure left in him. That only added to his fatigue. Even though the trip to Aiedo was lengthy and it hindered their progress, he welcomed the rest. Flying the Landale to Dezoris would take another four hours at least. Rune would have almost half a day to rest -- and he needed it.

The Esper Leader sat at the hydrofoil's rear, keeping her distance from Chaz. She witnessed first-hand his execution-like action against Nei. What was more damaging to her was that he had yet to explain himself. In her eyes, he probably told the Numan that they needed Elsydeon to defeat Neifirst and forced her into compliance with his plan. Besides the Hunter, she had never bonded with anyone so quickly. Truthfully, she never had a "best friend" before and coveted the experience. Kyra kept her gaze averted from him, occasionally breaking out into sobs. She watched as Algo slowly rose in the eastern horizon, took note of its dwindling intensity. On a normal day the entire sky would have been illuminated with its rays by now. She could only imagine what it was like on Dezoris. They were running out of time. Kyra hoped that she could find it in her heart to forgive Chaz before it was too late.

Chaz brought his friends to spaceport, disembarked, and boarded the Landale with haste. There was no telling what their enemy was capable of doing on Dezoris and frankly Raja, Kyra, and Rune were not thrilled to dwell on it. She could attack either of their peoples or both. It was too bad that there was so much bad blood between them, Chaz thought. They could be powerful allies and make a stronger stand. Perhaps there was something that could be done to bridge the chasm between them. It would take much more than strength or power. It would rely on faith, and the courage to face the unknown.

Kyra walked up the boarding ramp as Chaz was sorting through his thoughts, not offering so much as a greeting. He observed this with curiosity, passing her behavior off as fatigue and emotional distress and thought nothing of it. Sometime before they arrived on Dezoris he needed to gather her, Rune, and Raja together to discuss the chances of receiving help from both the Espers and the Dezorians. The Hunter did not know what they could do for them, but they needed to get all the help that they could.

With everyone strapped in his seat, Wren and Demi activated all of the Landale's internal systems and prepared her engines for flight. While they took a few minutes to look everything over and examine the hull's structural integrity, the rest of them took a few moments of silence to reflect on the previous day's events. Chaz heard his big sister sniffle a few times and looked over his shoulder. She sat as far as possible from him and grievously stared down at the floor. There was something much more involved going on with her than he previously thought. Once they were on their way, he would have to talk to her about it.

The takeoff was a bit rough, but Wren and Demi were able to compensate and soon they left Motavia's atmosphere and gravitational pull and sped on their way to the ice planet. Once the ride smoothed out enough, Kyra unbuckled her restraint and left the forward compartment in muffled sobs. All except Chaz exchanged worried glances and he knew what he had to do. "Maybe I should go get her," Rune offered, unstrapping his own restraint.

"No," the Hunter stopped him. "Why don't the rest of you go back to the crew's quarters and try to get a few hours of sleep. Wren, Demi -- I'm sure there are a few more repairs that you'd like to effect on your bodies before we arrive."

"Affirmative," the big android replied.

"I'll go get Kyra," Chaz continued, a touch of melancholy in his voice. "I think I owe her an explanation."

"Would you like me to go with you, my friend?" Gryz asked.

"No, I think I need to do this alone, not only for Kyra, but for myself as well."

"Chaz, I think I speak for all of us when I say that we understand that you and Nei did what you had to do for the greater good. I don't think there is one among us who blames you for her departure." Gryz stopped for a moment and looked to his companions who nodded their heads in agreement. "You saved all of our lives."

"And all of you saved mine as well. You can't know how much hearing that means to me. Without your friendship and support, without your love, I would have not been able to go on after losing Rika and now after losing Nei, too." He paused, made sure they followed his words. "It is because of my concern for all of you that I found the strength to do what I had to -- to do as Nei requested and raise my sword against her. Believe me, I would not be where I am today if not for all of you. You are more than just my friends. You are my inspiration. You are my life."

Gryz suddenly grabbed hold of Chaz and pulled him close. "We are your friends, Chaz -- never forget that. Even in death we will never leave your side." The Motavian released his hold and Demi took his place, kissing Chaz on the cheek. Hahn, Rune, Raja, and even Wren offered hugs as well and he gladly took all of them.

"Thank you," the Hunter said, wiping the tears away with the rest of them. "Now, I must go and find Kyra. You were wrong about one thing, Gryz. I believe there is one among us who blames me for Nei's death."

* * * * *

Kyra ran through the Landale's corridors, her mind and heart filled with a plethora of emotions and unanswered questions. Tears clouded her vision and it seemed that she would never stop running. The Esper Leader felt that the longer and faster she ran, the farther she could distance herself from the source of her feelings. There was, however, no where to run for she could never escape her troubles.

Chaz was like a little brother to her, had been more like family than her own people. She knew in her heart that he would never lie to her or purposely do anything to jeopardize their relationship. Kyra could not understand where these feelings of disappointment and even hatred came from. There was a time before she got to know Nei on a more personal level where she would have thought that the Numan corrupted her in some way. The Esper Leader did not think that she would live to see the day when she would associate those kind of feelings toward Chaz. Times change, she forced herself into thinking, and so do people.

Kyra rounded a corner and walked right into a wall, creating a sense of deja vu in her. Without thinking, she fully expected someone to be behind her to catch her fall, but there was not. She fell flat on her butt and cried out in surprise. Her thoughts garbled, the Esper Leader unconsciously brought her back to the same spot where she and Nei had their first conversation, where they first connected. She walked into the very same wall and the Numan had been there to break her fall before she landed. This time, though, no one caught her, and she felt even more alone than she did before.

Calling on her memories, Kyra retraced the exact path she and Nei took while engaged in conversation. She remembered how nervous she was because she followed the Numan for the purpose of telling her to stay away from Chaz. She did eventually tell her just that, just in words with less bite. Kyra also walked away from that conversation with a new friend, one discovered in the midst of a distrust created by her own people. It was because of Nei that she was able to trust again. ". . . Kyra," she had said, "I can't pretend to try and replace the hole in your soul left by Rika's death, but you have to let go of this distrust you feel toward me."

"I have no excuse, Nei," she had told her. "I have always tried to tell myself that I would never project negative feelings on anyone else based on past experiences. But the betrayal, the hurt -- Nei, Lian was one of my own people. He was an Esper and we are supposed to be immune to the plagues of Palman society."

"Nobody's perfect," came Nei's simple response and she half-laughed then. She would have laughed out loud now except that she had a heavy heart and was not in the mood for humor.

The Esper Leader entered a dark room and did not bother to turn the light on. She and Nei walked into that very room months before during their conversation. Kyra remembered the exact spot on a wall she had placed her hand. Walking up to it, she placed her own hand there and imagined feeling a special connection with her. She closed her eyes, listened.

"I will always be with you," Kyra heard a voice say and she nearly choked on her breath. The voice did not sound spiritual, did not even sound like Nei's. Opening her eyes, she turned to the room's entrance and saw a figure standing there, its identity masked by the light from the outside corridor. The figure reached over and flipped a switch, filling the room with ambient light. Chaz walked into the room and seeing who it was, the Esper Leader turned away from him.

"That is what Nei told me," Chaz continued talking although she refused to look at him. "She would have told you the same had she the chance to. She would have told all of us the same." Kyra did not respond, her arms wrapped around her stomach like she was feeling ill. The Hunter started to approach her, but she backed off. It was her way of telling him that she was not yet comfortable with his presence.

"You know, Kyra," he said while pacing back and forth, daring not to approach her, "one of Nei's last requests was that I explain to you why she made the decision that she did. She loved all of us so much that she was willing to sacrifice her second life and everything she had come to treasure in it for us. I realize now that you were probably the only one who witnessed my actions."

"Why did you do it?" the Esper Leader questioned, her tone cold, driving, quick-to-the-point.

"Because I loved her," Chaz admitted, "because I love you, and because I love all of our friends and the life that we share together. Before, I couldn't even admit to myself that I loved Nei, but I had to. I had to love her more at the very end than at any point when she was alive. She told me that by striking her down, we would be able to defeat Neifirst, and she was right. Now, because of her selflessness, we have another weapon to use to our advantage --" Chaz reached into his sheath and brought forth a sword, "Elsydeon." The Hunter held it above his head and Kyra heard it hum with power.

"She's not dead," he resumed while returning Elsydeon to its sheath, "not really. Her spirit of giving and sacrifice lives on in our hearts and in here," Chaz patted the Blessed Sword's hilt. "Even though she is not here to fight with us by our sides, she will definitely be protecting us through the sword."

Chaz saw Kyra's body relax after being so tense in his presence. Something he had said or something she came to realize must have changed her demeanor. For the first time since he struck down Nei, she turned and faced him.

"Did she --" the Esper Leader began, her eyes lowered in what could have been interpreted as shame,"did she say anything else to you?"

The Hunter smiled. "She wanted me to express her thanks to you for being her friend. She knew, as well as I did, that you two did not have the most comfortable relationship at the beginning, but it blossomed like beautiful flower. Nei also wanted me to tell you that she loves you." At hearing his words, Kyra broke into tears.

"I can't believe that I waited so long to tell her that I loved her," Chaz continued, turning his back toward Kyra. "I can't help but wonder if I had told her earlier if it would have made a difference. At least we could have lived in our love a little longer than we did."

Chaz felt a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry I got angry with you. It's just that Nei became like my best friend in such a short time."

"And I eventually could have taken her for my wife. What she asked of me -- I couldn't do it, Kyra. I was on the verge of begging her not to make me do it. I looked into her eyes and knew that it was, in fact, her that was begging me because it was the only way we could possibly walk away from there alive. Her sacrifice was the greatest gift that she could have ever given us. It's important that we make sure it was not in vain."

Chaz turned to face his big sister again and she buried her face in his shoulder. He ran his fingers through her hair, comforting, soothing. He had watched friendships blossom before, but never did he see so many with just one individual. Nei was special in more ways than one and none of the reasons had to do with the fact that she lived a second life. They learned so much from her -- a debt they could never repay.

Reaching over to the switch, the Hunter turned off the light and guided Kyra over to a wall and sat against it. He placed her head on his chest and let the Esper relax against him. She found one of his hands and held it tightly. Chaz welcomed her need for support for he was in need of a little himself.

"So what do we do now," Kyra asked out of the blue." Chaz sighed.

"I don't know. I'm afraid that we are going with the hand we're dealt and unfortunately the Child is the dealer. We'll just have to go with the flow." He paused for a moment, seemed to consider what he was going to say next. "Kyra, what do you think the chances are that we can get the Dezorians and the Espers to work together?"

"Slim," she answered honestly. "There is a lot of animosity between our people and I don't believe it can all be erased in a matter of hours or however long it will take before Algo is snuffed out of existence. Do you have a plan or something?"

"Just a passing thought. I thought there wouldn't be any harm in getting them to cooperate. When people put their minds together, a lot can happen."

"By the way, has anyone mentioned how much longer Algo can remain burning?"

"I believe that Wren estimated that at its current rate of deterioration it will go completely out sometime in the next thirty hours."

"Then the end of the world is really at hand."

"That's about the size of it."

The two fell silent for several minutes and a comforting calmness settled in. They sat against a wall in the dark, each supporting the other. Chaz was just about to doze off when Kyra's body briefly convulsed like she was waking from a dream. "Chaz," she said sleepily. "I love you. Thanks for being my little brother."

"I love you, too, Kyra," he returned, half asleep himself. "You've been a great big sister to me."

Those were the last words they said before both succumbed to their fatigue. Chaz began to dream almost immediately. He dreamt about the life with Rika that he did not have, saw them going on picnics on fields of green grass on nice, sunny days.

Visions of going on fishing trips with his wife danced around in his head. They would spend half the day catching fish, then take it back to their home where they would have a nice meal for dinner and then spend the evening in each other's arms. After that, they would retire to bed and sleep comfortably.

Chaz dreamt of sending his daughter off to school every morning. The climate on Motavia was livable once again. He would walk her half way there, then kiss her on the cheek and send her off. Her blonde hair and pointy ears made her easily recognizable even in a crowd of children. He turned away for a moment, then looked back. Suddenly, Nei was there, next to his side. She had her hand in his and was waving to their daughter. What was her name?

He and Nei returned home and the Hunter discovered that nothing changed, only his wife. Nei walked in and went about doing daily chores he had no recollection of. She acted exactly like Rika, looked exactly like Rika, and the only way he could tell that she was not was because of a change in feelings for her. He loved Nei differently than Rika, but almost as equally.

Nei told Chaz to put his sword away, much like Rika used to tell him. Picking it up, he eyed it, then felt a sudden compulsion to raise it toward his wife. While her back was turned, he approached. She heard him coming and spun around to greet him. The Hunter drove his sword into her heart and she gasped, but did not scream. Imprinted on her face was a look of happiness, satisfaction.

Chaz dropped his weapon and wailed in sorrow . . . .

A strong hand woke the Hunter from his dreams. "Chaz, get up," Gryz was saying. He looked down and saw Kyra still resting peacefully and wondered if her dreams were as disturbing as his.

"Where are we?" he asked.

"We've landed. We're on Dezoris."

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