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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Nine hours into their trip, Chaz and the others rose from their slumber. Wren and Demi, who did not require sleep, were up the entire time. While Wren drove, his counterpart made ready a few supplies like Trimate, Antidotes, and some food rations should they need them. Chances were that they were not going to be separated long enough to have the need of a meal. How quickly they accomplished their tasks were of utmost importance. The more time they let slip through their fingers, the closer the Child and its Master got closer to their goal. Algo's dim light barely penetrated Dezoris' thick clouds and the entire planet was plunged into darkness. According to Wren's earlier estimate, there was less than fifteen hours until Algo burned out completely, fifteen hours until their worlds were plunged into eternal darkness.

The Icedigger was approaching Meese, the Palman town where Raja fell ill and where they ultimately made Kyra's acquaintance. Wren sped by it without so much as a look back. Esper Mansion was a little more than an hour away and he understood the importance of getting there quickly. If Algo was extinguished before they even made an attempt to save it, then not only would all life in the system die within seventy-two hours, but the Profound Darkness would also be one gigantic step closer to freeing itself from its prison -- permanently. They were bound and determined to make sure that did not happened, no matter the personal cost.

Rune, Raja, Kyra, and Gryz sensed a change in the air and reacted accordingly. A disturbance in both the magic and mystic planes caused excruciating mental agony in all four of them. Hands pressed against their temples, they grimaced against the pain. Concerned, Wren stopped the Icedigger so his friends could tend to them. Rune, however, waved for him to continue, so he sped off as quickly as he could. Chaz unstrapped his restraint and went to see if he could do anything for his friends. Hahn replaced him in the seat next to Wren and peered curiously outside.

"What in the name of --" the Scholar began.

"Would you look at that!" Demi cried fearfully while pointing ahead.

A rift, a tear in the fabric of space and time, towered over the land in the exact spot where Garuberk once stood. Even though Dezoris was dark, the blackness of the rift stood out, pulsating like an evil heart. The Profound Darkness' essence spewed forth from it and even Chaz could tell that it was not having a favorable effect on the planet. The effects of it could ultimately spell the doom for the entire system.

Elsydeon began to hum and glow in its sheath, drawing the attention of its wielder. The Hunter brought it out, held it above his head by its hilt and blade. An aura of light enveloped the Icedigger, dispelling the effects that the rift was having on four of its passengers. Raja, Kyra, Gryz, and Rune eventually came out of their agony and rejoined their friends in the land of the living. They were confused as to what just occurred, but recognized the presence of Darkness, nonetheless. Chaz briefly filled them in.

"So, it has begun," said Wren solemnly. "The Child is already preparing for its Master's return. It is no wonder that we have not seen hide nor hair of her since we arrived here. She has been working on freeing the Darkness and all of her time must have be currently dedicated to that task."

"At least we know where to bring the Dezorians and Espers once we've convinced them to help us," Chaz said. Hahn vacated his seat and the Hunter seated himself in it, taking a moment to study the odd phenomenon.

"Strap yourselves in," the big android ordered. "We will be entering the ice field leading to Esper Mansion. I must engage the nose cones." Chaz quickly put his restraint back on as Wren ordered and prepared for the impact.

Minutes later, the Icedigger dove into a vast ice field and began tunneling its way to the other side. The entire vehicle rocked and shuddered under the weight of tons of ice above, below, and all sides of them. What they accomplished on the other side would make or break their plans. Chaz felt that they discussed it through well enough to fully expect success. That was all based on whether or not the Dezorians and Espers decided to cooperate. It would take them about half an hour to clear the ice and their hearts beat in nervous anticipation.

* * * * *

Wren dropped off Raja, Chaz, Demi, and Gryz at the door of Esper Mansion and everyone said their farewells. The door closed and they sped away, leaving four individuals standing alone in the dark. Chaz and his companions watched until it was out of sight which was not too long because it was still dark outside. Raja took a deep breath and turned to face the Mansion. He looked at its massiveness, felt Telemental energies pouring outward from it. It reminded him of Gumbian in an odd sort of way. He was almost sorry that he could not return home. That seemed almost inconceivable at the time, but he did not abandon all hope that it would eventually happen.

No one knew what to expect once they approached Esper Mansion's door. The Espers within undoubtedly knew of their presence, so standing around in the cold was doing them little good. Their only hope was that they would not attack them at the doorstep and not listen to explanations. Sometimes, especially in times like these, it was better to act first then ask questions later. Raja hoped that they did not don that type of philosophy yet. If they did, then their journey would be the shortest one in history.

Chaz rapped loudly on the front door and stood back to wait with his friends for someone to answer. Gryz was too busy trying to decipher all of the signals he was receiving from everything around him. He was used to having Rune and Kyra around and was familiar with their presence as fellow Espers. He learned to recognize their auras and could identify them from afar or even if he was blindfolded. Now, hundreds of Espers were in his vicinity and he did not have the Esper Leader or the Reverent Fifth there to guide him. Gryz suddenly wondered how he would be received being that he was a Motavian and also an Esper.

It seemed like forever before Chaz and company heard a latch turn from inside and the door opened slightly. An eye peeked out and regarded them with suspicion. "Who are you?" the person asked. "State your business here."

Chaz stepped up. "We are friends of Run -- er, Lutz, and of Kyra's. We have come to speak to the Espers."

"Friends of Kyra and Lutz, eh?" The person pulled away from the door for a moment as if he was speaking to his comrades, then returned. "Why have you brought that with you?" Raja heard the emphasis and knew it was directed toward him.

"I am here on behalf of my people because the dangers threatening Dezoris concerns us as well," he stated. As Archbishop, I, too, seek your audience." The four Protectors could hear whispers come from behind the door. Every Esper knew of the important role the Archbishop played in Dezorian religion and recognized that it was the highest rank a Dezorian could achieve in society. Raja's mentioning of the word was enough to cause a stir among the ranks of the Espers.

"You," the person continued, saw it fit to change subjects, "strange one. You are a Motavian, are you not?" Gryz timidly stepped forward.

"I am," he stated simply.

"We don't quite know what to make of you. You are obviously Motavian and yet we sense the aura of an Esper from you."

"That is because I am an Esper just like you."

"Nonsense!" the voice argued. "Zarah was the last Motavian Esper and she's been deceased for two thousand years! What kind of trickery is this?" Gryz held up a hand and sent a bolt of Flaeli into a snow bank.

"I'm afraid that there is no trickery involved here. I am an Esper." Gryz and the others heard more discussion from behind the person and he disappeared for a second, then returned.

"If what you said is true, then touch this Purity Staff," a long, wicked-looking staff jutted out of the cracked doorway. "It measures the purity of your soul and whether or not you are telling the truth. If you are not, the magic contained within it will vaporize you where you stand."

Gryz walked up to the staff gingerly and held out a hesitant hand. He eyed it, seemed almost loath to touch it. The Motavian kept telling himself that what Rune and Kyra told him was the truth -- he was an Esper. He accepted it without question, but wondered if he could truly could ever be one in his heart. "We believe in you," he heard Demi say, "but this isn't about us. You must do this for yourself and there is no way that we can help you through it."

"You're wrong," he told her. "It's because of your belief in me that I am able to find the courage to believe in myself." Gryz reached up and seized the staff in his hands, nearly ripping it from the hand of the Esper who held it. Gasps sounded from inside Esper Mansion and his beak parted in a grin. "I am an Esper."

"So you are." The massive door to Esper Mansion creaked open wider and a handsome Esper man stepped outside. He was wearing white robes and had the characteristic blue hair that all Espers had. About a dozen other Espers gathered at the doorway. "I am Alexander, but you may call me Alex. Please, brother, enter at your own free will."

"What about my friends?"

"I'm afraid we must deny them entry. The moment that non-Espers enters our mansion, our magic becomes tainted."

"Then it was tainted by our presence three years ago," said Chaz, "when we came to retrieve this." The Hunter drew forth Elsydeon and held it to the sky. Light burst forth from it and illuminate the immediate area. Alexander and the rest of the Espers present dropped to one knee.

"The Blessed Sword!" he proclaimed. "You are the Protectors!" He stood up, keeping his head bowed. "Please, forgive my insolence! There was no way I could have known! In troubled times like these, we cannot be too careful."

"Please don't bow down to me like that," Chaz joked, "it's embarrassing." Demi and the others laughed.

"Please -- all of you -- come inside," he motioned them to enter and they did so. Once inside, a couple Espers closed the doors with nothing more than the power of their minds. Gryz marveled at them and could not wait for the day when he could do the same.

Alexander led Chaz and company through Esper Mansion's halls to a meeting place he deemed appropriate. The Hunter recognized his surroundings from the three times he previously visited this place. Because of the circumstances of his last visit, however, this was the last place he wanted to see. It was the only place that he feared returning to. There was no escaping what he was required to do, what fate dictated that he should do. Overcoming his fear was not only beneficial to their cause, but it sped him on the way to recovery as well.

The closer the Esper got to his destination, the more nervous Chaz became. The path he took was all to familiar. He recognized it as the one leading to the Council Chambers, the very place where Rika had died. A certain amount of aversion and sadness came over him. His friends must have noticed the change in mood in him for he felt Demi's hand slip into his and Raja and Gryz's comforting touch on each of his shoulders. It would be hard for anyone to return to the very place where his wife died, where his child was stolen from her womb. With his friends there with him, Chaz felt like he could take on the world.

But a disturbing thought entered his mind, a thought that tore at his insides. Rika's body still lay within these walls, within the chamber that housed the hibernation chamber used by Lutz and his scions. Chaz suddenly felt pangs of guilt at having loved Nei. He should not have played around with love so carelessly. While his wife lay dead, her soul held in thrall by Darkness, Nei was alive, given a second chance at life. Why could Rika not be given the same chance?

The Hunter cursed himself for attempting to be so logical. Where love was involved, there was hardly any logic. He would have fallen in love with Nei even if he had never met Rika. He loved her because she was an individual with a personality of her own, not because she looked almost exactly like his wife. It just so happened that both Rika and Nei shared similar qualities that he enjoyed. Chaz would always love his wife, but it was time to finally accept that he also loved Nei -- without guilt.

Alexander stopped and turned left into the Council Chambers where he stood behind a makeshift podium. Seated to his left and right were three Esper men and women who must have been filling the seats which were vacated by the previous Council members. Scars of battle still marked the walls of the chamber and it appeared that the seats were thrown together in haste. "Please forgive the appearance of our chambers," Alexander apologized. "We have yet to find the resources to properly restore it after the battle here. I have been elected to serve as Leader in Kyra's absence and these fine Espers were elected to the Council. By the way, how is our Leader?"

"She is well," Demi returned. "Along with us, both Kyra and Rune are fighting for the preservation of Algo."

"The Reverent Fifth is with you? It has been a long time since any of us have felt his presence. Is he well?"

"Alive and kicking," Gryz told them. The Council members regarded him with curiosity, being careful not to offend.

"Your name is Gryz, is it not?" Gryz nodded. "Oh, and just to let you know, you would not have been vaporized by touching that staff." The Motavian Esper looked at Alexander quizzically and the Esper chuckled. "We had no other way of proving your words, so we figured that if you possessed courage enough to touch it, then you must be telling the truth." Gryz did not appear amused. Alexander quickly changed the subject. "How is it that you came upon your Telemental powers?"

The Motavian launched into an explanation of how he was with Balor when the Esper died. It was difficult for him to adequately express his feelings on the matter, how the changes occurred within him. Alexander and his peers were compassionate toward him, though, and did not once cast a disapproving look in his direction. Gryz was comforted by that and felt no fear in their presence.

In the meantime, Chaz's eyes wandered off in the direction of the door that led to the subterranean chamber where his wife lay. He fought the urge to simply walk over and enter that chamber, but that would have been disrespectful to his hosts. He wanted to check on her, make sure that her body was still there. The Hunter heard Alexander say something about Gryz being a descendant of Zarah and that Balor's prophetic words must have had something to do with the activation of latent Telemental powers, but his mind was otherwise occupied. He knew that he had to stop dwelling on the subject or else he would lose sight of their goal. Easier said than done, he thought.

"So," Alexander continued, oblivious to Chaz's sidetracked thoughts, "how may we assist you?" Raja stepped forward timidly, not knowing what to expect while under the scrutiny of these Espers. He was taking a big chance by just being there. A part of him said that they would laugh at him or worse. Another part of him hoped that they would be open-minded toward him, especially since they acknowledged that he was one of the Protectors and Archbishop of his people.

"Well, aside from being here with my friends," he said, "I have also come here to formally request your assistance on behalf of my people. A great evil threatens our planet and all of Algo and we believe that with your people's assistance we may be able to turn it away."

The Archbishop smiled awkwardly and tried not to look like he was guilty of anything. He was lying, of course, at least in the part about being sent there by his people. Out of experience from having been friends with Rune and Kyra, he knew that Espers were capable of looking into one's soul for the truth, even a Dezorian's. Frankly, he was surprised that these Espers gave him a chance to speak. Most of his people believed that they were a judgmental people who could not see past the end of pointed little noses. Raja hoped that his soul was a good-enough bluffer.

Alexander and his Council conferred in a mental discussion only they could take part in. Gryz, still not able to control his Telemental skills, could only pick up bits and pieces of it. From what he could determine, they were weighing the possibility that Raja was telling the truth with what was occurring on their planet against their past relations with his people.

Raja did not blame them, not really. He found it hard to trust Kyra and Rune when they first met and vice versa. Generations of bad blood and distrust was virtually erased in the face of danger and necessity. For those who were not willing to open their minds, hearts, and eyes to outside influences and opinions, though, it would be harder to change their minds.

"We have considered what you have said and have decided to convene until tomorrow," Alexander announced.

"No, you fools!" Demi roared. "Don't you understand? Can you not see what is happening around you?"

"I do admit that we have felt a strong disturbance, but without knowing exactly what is happening we should not act. To do so without more knowledge could cause more harm then good."

"That is what we're doing here," the android rebuked. "We have come here with knowledge enough to stir you into action."

"What would you propose we do?"

Demi withdrew, indicated that she needed a moment to confer with her friends. They had a brief discussion on what to do about these stubborn Espers and what could motivate them into action. They were trying so hard to be polite about everything without causing panic, but based on how their hosts were acting, they wondered if panic was even in their vocabulary. Alexander and his Council were so nonchalant that it almost sickened Chaz to be around them. They decided that now was the time to play their trump card.

"We didn't want to tell you this so soon," Chaz began, "but Rune and Kyra are not so well."

"What do you mean?" asked Alexander, his interest piqued.

"Their lives are in danger." The Council Leader pounded on his podium.

"If what you say is true, then we must go to them." A wave of agreement spread through the Council's ranks. "How many of us do you require."

"All of you," Gryz said.

"Hmm," Alexander considered thoughtfully. "It seems that we are faced with a much more grave threat than we suspected." Now, Chaz thought, we're finally getting somewhere. "Vera," he said to a woman seated to his left, "send out word for all Espers to gather here in one hour's time." Vera bowed in compliance and hurried out of the chamber to spread word to the rest of her people. "Where would you have us meet?"

The Hunter thought for a moment, remembered seeing the giant rift on their way to Esper Mansion. "Meet us near Meese," he said. "If your people need transportation there, I can help with that."

"Thank you for the offer, but it is not necessary. There are enough among us who command the Ryuka Technique just like yourself."

"When we first arrived on Dezoris, we could not use Ryuka to travel at all. Let's hope that something has changed."

"Please excuse us. We must prepare for the journey."

Chaz and his friends were satisfied with what they accomplished. At one point they did not think it would be possible. Playing on their loyalty to their fellow Espers, they were able to sway opinions in their favor. Now, if only Rune, Kyra, Hahn, and Wren had the same kind of luck with the Dezorians.

Chaz gathered his companions together and said a few parting words to Alexander who was heading out of the Council chambers. The Council leader acknowledged him and reassured that his people would be at the designated meeting spot in less than an hour. Satisfied, the Hunter used Ryuka and he and his friends disappeared.

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