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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Wren and his team of Protectors hurried to their destination which was less than an hour away from Esper Mansion. In the meantime, Kyra had time enough to prepare herself mentally for returning to Gumbian. Her experiences in the holiest of structures in Dezorian religion was not exactly a memorable one. She nearly died the last time she and Raja were there, attacked by who Chaz and some of her other friends believed to be a reincarnation of the evil sorcerer, Zio. As much as the Esper Leader hated to admit it, she was scarred by that turn of events. Kyra was not to thrilled to return there.

Hahn was a little more excited to go to Gumbian than any of his companions. He heard Raja talk many times about the place he called home and was intrigued by it. During his extensive studies of Motavian culture, the Scholar also discovered many texts referring to Dezorians and their way of life. From the Palmans who visited Dezoris in the past, some references dating even before Alis, Myau, Odin, and Noah travelled to the planet, he learned that their way of life revolved around the worship of Tak'khan, the Dezorian equivalent to the Great Light, and the casting out of Charak'khan, their word for the Profound Darkness, from their lives. Strange, he thought, how he never thought of Raja as being an extremist when it came to religion despite that he held the highest rank a Dezorian could obtain in society. Smiling, he guessed that after knowing him for so long, he was not surprised at all.

Wren felt empty inside. He grew accustomed to having Nei along for so long that he was beginning to miss her presence. Although he was weak at the time, the android also watched Chaz strike her down back on Motavia. He had the advantage of logic on his side and did not see reason to overreact. The Hunter saw no other way to save himself and his friends. He would have done the same.

Still, a nagging feeling remained, one that he could not shake. Every so often, Wren looked to his side and expected to see the Numan sitting next to him. If not there, when he looked over his shoulder to check on his companions, she should have been next to them. The android believed that what he was experiencing was a feeling of loss similar to the one he experienced after Rika died. This time it was not as severe, but it was severe, nonetheless. He did not like feeling this way and was almost angry with himself for his weakness. Rika would have told him that emotions made him strong. Nei would have said that knowing his weakness was to know his strengths. Wren missed both of their insightful opinions.

The Icedigger pulled up to Gumbian and halted. Everything appeared to be quiet as they saw no indication of any kind of activity from within. Caution in their steps, they disembarked and with Wren in the lead, they approached the door. A stiff breeze blew making Dezoris' cold more unbearable than it already was. Kyra wondered if the Dezorians locked Gumbian up tight because of the recent turn of events or, perhaps, because of the recent cold spell. She feared that they might not be able to get someone to answer the door.

Wren knew it, too, because his own thoughts mirrored hers. He did not want to be forced to tear down their entrance when they came with the purpose of recruiting their assistance. It would not fare well with the Dezorians if they appeared to be attacking their holy temple. Their only alternative was to keep pounding on the door until someone answered. Seeing Palmans and especially Espers outside, they might very well decide not to answer at all. If that happened, their plans would be shot unless something else turned in their favor.

The Esper Leader knew how to turn their situation around, however, and it involved talking to Raja's friend, Jaerli. If Ovis and Chele came to the door like they did previously, then she might be able to convince them to let them speak to her. Raja warned that Nyr could be a major obstacle in path. With Jaerli's help, she and her companions might be able to effectively sway his opinion. She remembered how after the battle with Zio ended, the Dezorian extended her hand to her in friendship. Raja was the only Dezorian she befriended before and was excited about having another. Someone like Jaerli would not soon forget anything like that. Kyra believed that seeking her out was their best option.

Reaching up, Wren rapped loudly on Gumbian's door and heard it echo in the halls within. They listened for a minute, but did not hear anything. The android knocked again, this time more forcefully. This time two sets of footprints were heard rushing toward them. Several locks opened up and a Dezorian Bishop peered out.

"Who is it?" someone asked in the Dezorian language. The person looking out was not the one asking, rather it was another person behind him. Wren understood as did Rune and Kyra. Hahn, having never heard the dialect, could not make out what they were saying. Knowing this, the Reverent Fifth translated for him.

"It's an artificial life form, a Palman, and two Espers," the person looking out told his companion.

"Chele?" Kyra spoke up. "Chele, is that you?"

"She knows my name!" Chele exclaimed.

"Let me see," Kyra heard Ovis say, at least, who she thought was Ovis. Chele moved out of the way and nearly stumbled over his companion. The Esper Leader smiled. She remembered how comical these two Bishops could be.

Seconds later, another eye peered out. "You!" Ovis blurted out. "You're that Esper friend of the Archbishop!" he added, making a reference to Kyra.

"As a matter of fact," she told him, "we all are."

Ovis pulled open the door and fell over Chele in the process. "Please," he said from a most ungracious position, "come inside out of the cold."

The Esper Leader led the way and helped the bumbling Bishops to their feet. She was shorter than both of them (most Palmans were), but she managed to make it seem like they were not too clumsy. She saw first hand how Nyr regarded them before. She suddenly wondered if he would chastise them for letting her and her friends inside.

"Do you two know the Palman tongue?" Kyra asked. Ovis nodded. "My friend doesn't know your language and it would be polite if you could speak in a language we can all understand." The Bishop turned to Hahn.

"Welcome," he said, speaking fluent Palman, "I am Bishop Ovis and this is my brother Bishop, Chele." Chele bowed awkwardly which made the Scholar smile. "Welcome to Gumbian. You are the first non-Esper Palman we have had within these walls in a long time."

"Thank you," Hahn returned, bowing gracefully. "It is a magnificent structure."

"Who is in charge here, now?" questioned Kyra.

"Nyr is," Chele said, almost sneering. The Esper Leader sensed a moderate amount of distaste from him and Ovis as well. She guessed that in Raja's absence the Bishop, now probably self-proclaimed Archbishop, was up to no good. Nyr did not like her and she did not trust him. He was, in fact, the only Dezorian she did not trust. But that was not what was most important, not now. She was willing to put aside her opinions and distrust for the greater good. Kyra only hoped that he was willing to do the same. It would take some convincing, but with her friends there with her, she did not have to do it alone.

"Nyr is in Shaakrum Hall for mass right now," Chele informed him. "He heard your knocks and sent us to answer. Come, we will take you to him right away."

"Maybe we shouldn't right now," Rune observed. "If he is conducting mass perhaps we should wait until he's done."

"Nonsense," Ovis told him. "Nyr instructed us to inform him immediately if Kyra ever returned here."

"Where is Jaerli?" the Esper Leader inquired.

"Sadly, Jaerli has been confined to her quarters," Ovis informed her and seemed melancholy. "She protested Nyr's succession and spoke out against him. Once he became Archbishop, he confined her to her quarters and she hasn't been out in over a month. She hasn't been eating well, lately. After you and Raja left, she kept our spirits up even though Nyr insisted that you stole him from his people. She was so adamant about your friendship with Raja that she convinced us that you had only the purest of intentions. If she did not, we wouldn't be having this pleasant conversation right now."

"Can you take us to her?"

"Yes. You might be just the person to lift her spirits."

"But what about Nyr?" Chele protested.

"Oh, he'll get to see her as well. After Jaerli, that is."

Ovis and Chele led the four Protectors down a corridor and turned right, going the opposite direction of the voices they heard. The two Bishops obviously knew exactly where they were going for there was not even a hint of hesitation in their gait. They had probably walked through these corridors more times than they could count and a blueprint of them was imprinted in their minds.

Hahn looked at his surroundings with intense interest. He was always exploring, forever learning, taking in all kinds of information. He marveled at the ornate pictures carved into the walls, saw the stories that they told. The Scholar remembered how Palman ancestors used to draw pictures in caves and rocks back before Palma was destroyed. Apparently, the Dezorians never gave up on this form of communication. He always considered it a fascinating and efficient way of expression. If he and his companions did not put a stop to the Child's plans then it would be a lost form.

Ovis and Chele walked swiftly for several minutes, their long strides carrying them far. Wren had no problem keeping up, but Rune, Hahn, and Kyra, their Palman legs naturally shorter, had to walk twice the speed of the Bishops. Gumbian was much larger than any of them expected. Even Kyra, who was here only a few months ago, did not remember it being so vast. Then again, she only went from the front door and directly into Shaakrum Hall. There was probably still eighty-five percent or better of Gumbian that their eyes had yet to see.

The Protectors and their guiding Bishops eventually came to stop in front of a door. There was no one in sight and the voices coming from Shaakrum Hall were a vague memory. Chele reached for the door's handle and discovered it to be locked tight. "I was afraid of this," he said in Palman, politely remembering that there was one among them that did not understand his native tongue. "Nyr must've ordered her door locked during mass so she wouldn't try to get out." He put an ear to the door and did not hear anything from within. Knocking softly, he called out to the room's occupant. "Jaerli? Jaerli, this is Chele. Are you awake?"

"Go away!" they heard her reply in a weak, strained voice.

"Please, Jaerli! There are visitors here to see you!"

"I said go away!" The Protectors heard something fall to the floor. Apparently, Jaerli tried to throw something at the door but lacked the strength to throw it far enough. Sobs came from inside and stirred Kyra into action.

The Esper Leader approached the door and put her ear to it next to Chele. "Jaerli --" she said, "Jaerli, this is Kyra." She heard something large fall to the floor, then shuffling as if her friend was crawling across the floor. Moments later, a thud sounded on the door.

"Kyra!" she said, her voice sounding sickly and weak. "Kyra, is that really you?"

"Yes, it is, my friend." Kyra was almost in tears after hearing how feeble and yet excited her voice was.

"Is -- is Raja with you?"

"No, but he is alive." The Esper Leader heard her sobs strengthen, but not out of despair. Jaerli was weeping in joy. "He is with three other of my friends. He, as well as I and my companions, are working to prevent the Profound Darkness from reentering our world." Kyra ceased talking for a few seconds to allow what she just said to sink in. "Jaerli, we need your help."

"What can I do?"

"First, stand away from the door. I'm going to get you out of there."

Kyra and Chele stood back from the door. The Esper Leader gave her friend a full minute to get to a safe distance, then held her hands up and called upon a spell which would reduce the door to splinters. She felt a cautioning hand on her shoulder.

"Take care, Kyra," Wren said. "Your actions may draw attention to our presence here."

"I know, Wren,' she returned, "but my friend is locked in there and we need her help if we're going to get through this." The big android nodded and stood away.

The Esper Leader concentrated and a single bolt of lightning shot from her hands as Tandle completely ripped off the door to Jaerli's prison and left no indication of ever having been there. After the smoke cleared, she rushed in to search for her friend. Scanning the less-than-impressive room which contained a small table, a chair, and an obviously uncomfortable bed, she saw no sign of her. "Jaerli!" she shouted.

"Over here!" the Dezorian called to her.

Kyra's attention was drawn to her left where Jaerli huddled in a small corner. The Esper Leader practically tore through a table to get to her. Taking her hand, she guided her friend back to the bed where they embraced. Wren, Hahn, and Rune entered soon afterward.

Jaerli cried in Kyra's arms, happy beyond words to see her friend alive. What made her even happier was that Raja was alive. "I prayed every day to Tak'khan that both of you were all right," the Dezorian sobbed. "I'm glad that it heard my prayers." Kyra felt the weakness in her arms and cast Medice.

"Let my power heal you," she said, the effects of her spell having an immediate effect on her friend. "It will return your strength temporarily, but you need to eat and get your health back up to par."

"Now that I know that Raja and you are both safe, I'll be happy to!"

"But they are not safe, Jaerli," Rune said, approaching them, "none of us are. That is why we need your help."

"I don't understand."

"Surely you must have felt it -- the Darkness, the pure evil, all around us. It's latching onto the Light which surrounds us. Some have chosen to ignore it but it cannot be ignored. We have to make the others see that this is not just some dark period of time; it could be the very end of time as we know it.

"We need to somehow convince your people and the Espers to work together or all is lost. The spirits which reside inside the blessed sword, Elsydeon, advised that we work to do this quickly. There is a temporal rift forming near Meese in the very spot where Garuberk sprung into existence. The spirits believe that something good will come of bringing our peoples together there although I admit I don't know what that purpose is yet."

"Then I will help you," said Jaerli, rising to her feet. "Tell me what you need me to do."

* * * * *

Nyr commanded silence whenever he spoke. He allowed his clergy and those fortunate enough to find sanctuary within Gumbian to converse briefly before he began mass. Paying tribute to Tak'khan was one of the most important rituals in Dezorian society and he coveted the time he would be able to conduct it. Over the past few months, he conducted many masses and enjoyed it more every time. He recognized that his sermons were not full of the vitality that Raja's were and that his people did not enjoy them as much. Raja had a way of preaching life into his people as well as the teachings of Tak'khan, something he obviously lacked.

Still, Nyr did what he could and had the best of intentions at heart. He only wanted what was best for his people. Lately, he felt a disturbing presence during his personal meditations. His senses were not as keen as the Archbishop's, but he knew that there was something not right. For the first time, the acting Archbishop missed Raja's insight. He could explain just about anything, much to Nyr's dislike. Raja would undoubtedly have an explanation for all of this.

So now Nyr stood at the altar of Shaakrum Hall while everyone else sat in silence. He fumbled through some notes he scribbled on a few sheets of parchment. The acting Archbishop prepared a speech about the strange occurrences happening all around them, how the days were becoming darker, the nights colder and longer. He was going to give them his impressions of the evil feeling with blanketed their planet and of why he thought the storm of many months ended in a matter of minutes.

Everything he said would have been a lie, however. Nyr knew about as much of what was going on as the whole of his clergy. There was no way he could possibly pull the wool over their eyes for long so there was little point in trying. He had already torn off the edges of the parchment in the long moments of silence.

A cough echoed through Shaakrum and might as well have been a bomb to Nyr. His nerves were already so frayed that the sight of bacteria moving would have made him jump out of his skin. A barely audible whisper came from the mass of people gathered before him and the acting Archbishop nearly exploded. Even though he could not hear the words he already knew what was spoken. His own people were regarding him as incompetent, that he was a fool for thinking that he could replace their beloved Raja.

He could not blame them, not really. Raja was more to them then just their Archbishop -- he was a friend, a companion, a confidant. The Archbishop came in a complete package that everyone enjoyed. Having been a part of saving the known universe from complete destruction did not detract from their favor, either.

Nyr forced himself to admit that he was envious of Raja and his accomplishments. Sure, the acting Archbishop's own accomplishments were nothing to scoff at, but he was never satisfied. That was one of his faults. He worked all of his life to achieve the rank of first advising Bishop to the Archbishop, but achieving the rank of Archbishop always seemed to elude him. Nyr often wondered if his ambition would someday be his downfall. Fortunately, it had not come to that end as of yet. Raja once told him that ambition was good until the day it turned to obsession. He never paid much attention to his advice, dismissed the words like they were annoying insects. Now, he would give anything to hear some of the Archbishop's advice.

Nyr straightened himself and removed the Holy Mrtsh, placing it on the altar before him. The Archbishop left it when he left which proved to be fortunate as far as he was concerned. He always imagined how it would fit his own head. The first time he wore it he felt like he was living a dream. Shortly after, that dream became a living nightmare that he could not wake from. It was as if everything started after he took the title of acting Archbishop. Nyr was beginning to curse the day he ever laid eyes on it.

An uneasy whisper passed through the congregation. Nyr was silent long enough to warrant concern from his people. Fumbling through his papers again, the acting Archbishop despaired. He had fooled his people long enough; they deserved to know the truth. They needed someone to guide them through the unknown and he was obviously not that person. There was only one logical answer and that was to step down as acting Archbishop and return to his position as first advisor until the day that Raja returned -- if he returned.

"Nyr!" a voice called out just as he took a breath to speak. Nyr immediately recognized the voice and that its bearer was not welcome. Shaakrum Hall's doors swung open and Jaerli entered with four individuals close behind her. Stopping at the end of the last pew, the Dezorian defiantly stood up to him. Several hisses and cackles emanated from the congregation upon sensing the presence of two Espers. Rune and Kyra meekly fell to the back of the group while Wren and Hahn stood protectively before them. Ovis and Chele entered soon afterward and walked to the altar, taking their place in front of the acting Archbishop.

"How did you get out of your room?" Nyr fumed. "How dare you interrupt my sermon!" The acting Archbishop spoke his native language as did Jaerli. Rune leaned over Hahn's shoulder and translated for him.

"Sermon?" Jaerli returned. "This is mediocre cinema!" A few laughs rang out from the mass but were silenced immediately by a baleful glance from Nyr.

"How dare you bring that Esper trash into Shaakrum Hall? She was allowed to be in here before because it was Raja's wish," he pointed to Kyra who almost flinched under his scrutiny. "I am Archbishop now and I will not have that filth walking free in our holy temple!"

"You are not Archbishop, Nyr, nor have you ever been. Raja is alive and he is on Dezoris." Several excited voices rang out from the congregation, voices that were both happy and relieved. Nyr, on the other hand, felt threatened by the news. A few moments ago he was ready to step down, but now that he heard that the Archbishop was in fact alive and on their planet, he was prepared to defend his title.

"And who informed you of this?" Nyr questioned. "These Espers? Why should you or any of us believe anything they have to say."

"Because Kyra is my friend. She, Raja, and her companions are singlehandedly responsible for saving all of Algo from Charak'khan. They are the Protectors. I think we all owe it to them to hear what they have to say."

"I don't care who they are!" Nyr roared. "And I owe them nothing!"

"Let them speak!" a voice rang out from the congregation.

"We want to hear them!" another voice said.

Nyr frowned and inwardly fumed. He was not used to having his voice and opinion drowned out. Had Raja been standing at the altar, these same people would have held their tongues and showed respect. He always felt that his people did not respect him, but now he had proof of it. The anger that was present before slowly drained away along with the confidence he was trying to build. Jaerli stared at him and might have well been staring through him as transparent as he felt.

"Please, Nyr, listen to them. They know what's going on."

And you do not.

The acting Archbishop heard the words as surely as they had been spoken aloud. At any other time he would have immediately launched into a defense. There was no use in denying the truth in what was said. He knew it; so did everyone else.

"Very well," Nyr conceded.

Kyra approached the altar, her head held high. She was very much aware that every single pair of eyes was watching her. It was an unnerving experience, one that she did not care to repeat if it was within her power. She was used to giving speeches to her own people, but nothing like this before. The Esper Leader was always prepared to face irate Espers with an open mind. Speaking in front of the people who literally hated every fibre of her being would prove to be a truly humbling experience. Luckily, they wanted to hear what she had to say. That, at least, would keep them from lynching her.

Although the majority of Dezorians wanted to hear her out, Rune could still feel doubt coming from the congregation. He was a little uneasy about letting Kyra walk alone but it was too late to change that. If the Reverent Fifth ran after her now, it would not come off well with their hosts and he would most likely be intercepted. He wondered what was about to be said. Knowing Kyra as well as he did, he guessed that she had something up her sleeve. Rune had all the faith in the world in her. Hopefully she would pull them through.

Kyra reached the altar and stood beneath Nyr who loomed above her like a statue. To her right and left stood Chele and Ovis who winked awkwardly at her. At least they would be by her side if worse came to worse. Her friends were only about two hundred feet away from her, but they might as well have been two hundred miles. With Shaakrum filled to its capacity, they could do little to save her should the Dezorians feel that they were being deceived.

"I -- we," the Esper Leader corrected, "are here because the time is right for our peoples to come together to face the Darkness which is encroaching rapidly." She paused, waited for a response. Nyr tapped his finger impatiently on the altar.

"I realize that there are countless generations of bad blood between us, but never has the need to work together been so great. We are all of us in grave danger, a danger that cannot be ignored. My friends and I have fought to preserve our world and we doing so again. Some of you may have seen us here before when Dereth was Archbishop. He helped us by trusting us to return the Eclipse Torch to Gumbious, even after it was destroyed. Raja was the first to extend his hand in friendship and Dereth's kindness and understanding showed us the way. It's proof that the hatred our ancestors possessed for each other does not flow within our veins. Hatred is not genetic. Can't you see that?"

"I can," a voice spoke out, but its possessor went unseen.

"So can I," another one said.

"What about Raja?" a female voice asked. Kyra sighed and bowed her head which caused a disturbance in her audience. Rune was so proud of her dramatic acting that he almost applauded. The majority of her, however, was not acting, and he regarded that part the respect that it was due.

"Raja is my friend," she said, "and I love him like he's my own brother. If there was anyone who was more committed to this task, it is him. I have never met another person in my life who is as dedicated to his people as he is. The truth is, Raja's life is in danger. He is willing to sacrifice his life so that all of you may live."

"What?" a Dezorian shouted as he stood up from the pews. "If Raja is in danger then we must go to him." The Dezorian pounded a fist into his hand to indicate urgency. "He would do the same for us."

"Yes!" a tall female agreed. "We must do what is right for our people and if that means working with the Espers to do it, then I will do it!"

An overwhelming roar of support came from the congregation. Dezorians turned to their brothers and sisters, discussed what they could do to help. Rune, Wren, and Hahn, in the meantime, took advantage of their upper-hand and approached the altar to join Kyra there. Some of the congregation turned and watched them walk by, but they felt no malice from them, only a sense of companionship. They were finally coming together to defend their world -- just as it should be.

"Please, Nyr!" Jaerli pleaded, last to walk to the altar. "We have to help!"

Nyr blocked all sounds out of his mind and concentrated on his own thoughts. He could very easily make the decision for himself, but it was not a decision that concerned only him. His people were looking to him for leadership, something that they never did before. Rushing off to Raja's rescue would endear him to them. Once he was safe, he would return to retake his title as Archbishop, a title that eluded him even though he now possessed it. He could selfishly deny what they wanted, come up with an explanation of how he did not feel that putting their lives on the line for Raja was necessary. Nyr could tell them that he deserved what he gets because he left them without word. There was no denying that. If he refused, though, he might as well place his own life in danger. They were going with or without him. It would mean more if he went with them.

"What I do I do for the benefit of my own people, Esper," Nyr finally said. "I'm not doing this because I care for you or any Esper who has ever walked on Dezoris, but because we are in danger. There is no way that anyone can dispute that fact. I will go with you."

"Thank you, Nyr," Kyra said.

"Now," the acting Archbishop stepped down and approached the Esper Leader, "how do you propose to take us to wherever it is we're going? You don't expect us to make the journey by foot, do you?"

"I have an answer for that," the Reverent Fifth told him as he approached. "That is, if you trust me."

"It seems I have little choice."

"Very well, then. Who all will be going?"

Immediately, the entire clergy jumped to their feet and volunteered to accompany Rune and the others. From the congregation came shouts of support and a wave of over two hundred Dezorian men and women jumped to their feet. When all was said and done, only the elderly and children were left and they would have volunteered as well if the journey did not require so great a physical demand.

"Well, I guess that answers my question," commented Rune.

"Now that you see that we are serious about this, how are you going to deliver on your part?"

"Lend me a portion of your mystic power and I shall get us there."

Nyr nodded, called to his clergy to aid him in the task. The gathered together and began to chant, raising their voices in a nasal tone. Deep basses, rumbling baritones, powerful tenors, and high-pitched altos filled Shaakrum with a harmony never heard by Palman ears before. Rune felt their power weave around his body, fill his soul with energies he never experienced before in his life. When he saw nearly ever Dezorian in Shaakrum stand and volunteer to help, the Reverent Fifth felt overwhelmed. Now that he felt just was just what the Dezorians were capable of, it did not seem as impossible as before.

Rune closed his eyes and encompassed those who stood around him in a shell of Telemental power. Concentrating, he used Ryuka, his body becoming light as air. Strengthened by the Dezorians, the shell lifted him, his friends, and over two hundred Dezorians up into a jet stream of almost magic-like winds. The Reverent Fifth concentrated on Meese, their destination, and then they were on their way.

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