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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Forty


Alone and in pairs, the Espers began arriving at Meese. The native Meesians welcomed Chaz, Raja, Demi, and Gryz with open arms, but the arrival of hundreds of Espers was a little overwhelming. The Telementals immediately spread out over town, securing every entrance, weaving their powers in a blanketing shield. Midday was almost upon them and yet the sky merely glowed in a disturbing twilight. Algo was fading away quickly and with it, the cold settled in.

Fires burned all around town. Without the light from Algo, it was necessary to keep them burning both for light and for heat. The Espers used Flaeli and Foi to keep fires lit, volunteered to go out and retrieve more firewood. These strangers to Meese were suddenly becoming welcome friends. The citizens did not know how to welcome them at first, but now they did not feel they could live without them. Many Meesians saw their Mansion from afar, never daring to approach them. Once, the Espers came to help them when the sickness came, never coming back. An opinion of them was formed after that -- that they were recluses with no real connections to the outside world. That opinion changed, however. The Espers were now looked upon as saviors.

Chaz and Gryz patrolled the perimeter as well, taking time to get and know a few of their Esper companions. The Motavian felt distanced from them even though they were now his people. They were kind enough to him, but because he was both an Esper and Motavian, they did not know how to react to him, what was acceptable by his standards. Most of them had only seen Motavians in texts. Truth was that they were just as uncomfortable in his presence as he was in theirs.

Alexander was among the last to arrive. With his makeshift council in tow, they made sure that every last Esper fit to make the journey left Esper Mansion. When he finally made it there, almost two hundred and fifty of his people walked Meese's streets. Alexander immediately began to converse with his colleagues, occasionally shooting a cautious, almost distrusting, glance in Chaz's direction every so often. The Hunter knew that it would take a lot of convincing before he trusted him completely. Hopefully, should Kyra and the others succeed in their endeavors, he would have all the proof they needed.

Dezoris' climate became frigid and almost unlivable in the days following the first signs of Algo's demise. Although the snow stopped and there was virtually no wind, the biting cold of darkness was like that of death itself. No matter how long they waited, Algo would not rise. Many of the Meesians recalled cursing the bitterly cold days where Algo did not shine. Technically, it was, but the warmth and light could not fully penetrate the planet's clouds. Now that it was disappearing altogether, they were sorry they ever complained and longed for those days again.

After losing him from sight for nearly an hour, Alexander spotted Chaz near the inn still in Gryz's company. The Esper needed to speak with him, but he was uncomfortable around the Motavian. He realized that such feelings toward another Esper was unwarranted and would be considered offensive by normal Esper standards. Gryz, however, was by no means a "normal" Esper. By far, he was the most intriguing of the four strangers. Some of his people remembered Chaz from the last time he visited Esper Mansion and even recognized Raja as the Dezorian Archbishop. Demi was easily identified as an android and they knew that she would be a great asset to their cause.

Then there was Gryz who looked like a Motavian, who he was, but was sensed like an Esper. If he was to walk into a crowded room with a hundred other Espers' backs turned toward him, they would not be able to tell the difference. As far as Alexander was concerned, he was an aberration, a being who was, but really should not be. Gryz was about as strange-looking to him as a two-legged Musk Cat would be. For some reason, he could not get over the Motavian's outward guise. He had no real reason to distrust him, only that he did not really know him. That was something he needed to work on.

"Chaz," Alexander called his attention. The Hunter and Gryz stopped, proceeded to meet him half-way. They stopped at a comfortable distance, but close enough to see each other's facial expressions in Algo's dying light. Chaz could not help but notice the troubled look in Alexander's eyes.

"What troubles you, my friend?" he asked.

The Esper was taken by surprise. Here was a person who barely knew him calling him "friend." For all Chaz knew, he could turn out to be more of a nuisance than a help. The Hunter and his friends failed to produce any evidence to back his words and Alexander had sufficient reason to doubt him. He would have if the Light did not shine from him and his friends like a bright star.

"What exactly are we waiting for, Chaz?" asked the Esper.

"Some friends of ours."

"When are these 'friends' supposed to arrive?"

"Soon."

"Very well," Alexander conceded. "I will be around with my people. Ask any of them and they will know where to find me."

His statement was a simple one, meant to inform and nothing more. Chaz could not help feeling that he was being brushed off, that his words did not carry as much weight as it once did. He knew that Alexander did not mean any disrespect, but it was still unnerving. For the first time since he and his friends went their separate ways, the Hunter felt nervous. He was worried that his friends would not be able to accomplish their task.

No, Chaz thought, now is not the time for doubt. It was imperative that he placed the fullest confidence in his friends. After all, he, Gryz, Raja, and Demi accomplished their goal so why should Kyra, Rune, Hahn, and Wren not? They were just as much accomplished diplomats as he was, even more so. He assumed that his concern was getting him worked up.

Alexander walked off and left the Hunter and his friend standing alone. Chaz was dumbfounded by the suddenness of his actions and words. The Esper obviously was not diplomatic when he was not required to be.

Gryz shrugged his shoulders. He was used to being shrugged off so it did not phase him at all. Most people did not consider Motavians worth the attention and frankly he was surprised that the Esper even considered him at all. There was something that seemed phoney about his sincerity. Gryz would be the first to admit that he was no judge of character, though. His best friend was better at that so as long as he trusted Alexander, he would, too.

Hunter and Motavian continued their patrol of Meese's perimeter. With the powerful spells the Espers brought with them it was doubtful that anything could get in or out of town without anyone being aware of it. Still, that possibility existed, so it did not hurt to be cautious. Chaz was worried that it might appear that he was simply being paranoid, but that mattered little to him. It was better to be viewed as paranoid than dead.

Gryz placed a restraining hand across Chaz's chest without provocation which caused more than just a mild irritation to his companion. "Did you feel that?" he asked?

"All I feel is the bruise you left on me," the Hunter returned while nursing his chest. Quelling his anger, he remembered that Gryz's senses were heightened after he gained his Telemental abilities. "What is it?"

"I -- I'm not sure," he returned. "It's just this feeling I have. It's a feeling I recognize and yet it feels so foreign to me. I think something's going to happen soon."

"What exactly?"

"I don't know."

Chaz grunted. Now was one of those times when he wished that his friend had more control over his blossoming abilities. Normally, if Rune or Kyra was around, they could interpret the same feelings in a heartbeat. Gryz felt pretty bad because he could not elaborate on exactly what was going on. He was reasonably sure that the signals he was receiving were not bad ones or else he would probably panic. No, the signals were definitely not of a bad nature.

"Someone's coming," the Motavian stated.

"Who? From where?" Chaz questioned anxiously.

"I don't know, but they'll be here any second!"

Gryz grabbed his friend's arm and pulled him to the side in between two buildings. Seconds later, a Dezorian appeared out of thin air. Soon afterward, another appeared, then another, then another. Before long, Meese's courtyard was brimming with virtually hundreds of Dezorians. Chaz was taken aback by their numbers and wondered how it was that they came to be there.

"Dezorians!" a voice cried out.

"Espers!" another cried in the Dezorian language.

A strange glowing appeared from just beyond Chaz and Gryz's sight while a similar one radiated from the Dezorians. The Hunter was not sure, but he believed that they were readying themselves for battle. He never saw Espers and Dezorians engage each other. From what he observed from observing Rune, Kyra, and Raja's powers, it would probably be a monumental struggle.

"Wait!" Chaz heard Rune order.

"Don't do anything!" Raja barked.

"Raja!" Jaerli shrieked in glee and ran to his arms.

If Rune is here, the Hunter thought, then that must mean . . . .

"Kyra!" he shouted in excitement, "Hahn! Wren! Rune!"

"Chaz?" the Esper Leader inquired out loud. Chaz saw someone pushing her way through the tangled mass of Dezorians which appeared out of nowhere. Kyra finally made her way through the crowd and emerged on the other side. "Chaz!"

The two friends ran and embraced each other. The Hunter was so ecstatic he could barely hold back the tears. Chaz heard footsteps run in their direction and suddenly he was surrounded by all six of his other friends. He and Kyra broke their embrace and immediately went to greet the rest of their companions. Handshakes and hugs were given freely and gladly accepted. It was two days since they saw one another and the worrying never ceased.

"I was afraid of what the Dezorians might do to you," Chaz said, addressing his four friends who journeyed to Gumbian, "or rather, what they are capable of doing."

"We are," said Rune, "all of us capable of great evils as well as great feats of goodness. I assure you, Chaz, that we were just as concerned for your safety."

My friends, the Hunter thought. Now that we're all back together we are whole again. There were times when I thought that my team wouldn't be successful, but we pulled through. I'm relieved that Kyra and the others were able to as well. Our next goal should be to convince these two peoples that cooperating is in both their best interests. How we're going to do that is beyond me. I think I'll leave that task up to Rune, Kyra, and Raja.

* * * * *

"You expect us to work with them?!" Nyr roared, defying Raja's wishes and speaking in his native tongue and not in Palman.

"Kyra, Reverent Fifth," Alexander acknowledged both with a nod, "I can tell you right now that our people will not be happy if they are forced to work with these . . . creatures."

Chaz and his other friends stood back while Raja, Rune, and Kyra dealt with their current dilemma. He was unsure of what he or any of them could do to aid. Wren and Demi were busy performing routine maintenance on their bodies. Because of Dezoris' cold climate, they needed to be especially vigilant about keeping their systems in working order. If snow and ice somehow penetrated their metallic bodies and melted within, there could be dire results. It was not too likely that something like that could happen, but better to be safe.

Hahn and Gryz stood to either side of the Hunter. Gryz was starting to understand bits and pieces of what the Dezorians were saying, but Chaz and Hahn were not fully versed in their language. On several occurrences, Raja encouraged Nyr and his people to speak Palman, but they refused to comply. They either had no respect for him or were incredibly defiant. There were three exceptions, however, and they appeared to be close friends of the Archbishop. Two Bishops, Ovis and Chele, stood behind him and a female Dezorian named Jaerli stood by his side. Still, four individuals seemed hardly enough to sway the opinions of a couple hundred miffed Dezorians.

"You leave us without word for several months and now you expect us to follow your lead?" Nyr questioned.

Rune and Kyra were even worse off. At least Raja had some of his people step forward in support of him. No Espers came forward to support their leaders. Many of them stood with their arms crossed, staring at their mortal enemies, waiting for the moment Alexander told them to strike. To them, Rune and Kyra had been poisoned by being in Raja's company for so long and their judgement was impaired. The two Esper leaders could have told them otherwise until they were blue in the face, but it would have not made a difference. Right then, their faith was placed in Alexander and as long as he did not cooperate with them, they would not either.

Arguments continued and before long, both the Espers and the Dezorians were fighting among themselves. The town's entire courtyard erupted in verbal confrontations. Surprisingly enough, none of them were directed at the enemy. Many of Raja's people opinions were starting to sway in his favor. Most of those was because of the love and respect they shared for him. Nyr was rapidly losing influence over his people despite the collective hatred they had for the Espers. They were willing to rush to the Archbishop's rescue, but what Rune and Kyra failed to mention was that they would have to work with hundreds of their generations-old enemy. The Esper Leader and the reverent Lutz of legends themselves came to their holiest temple to ask for their assistance. There had to be a pretty good reason for their visit or else they would not have risked their lives seeking them out. And besides, they were not too bad -- for Espers.

Rune and Kyra were not having an easy time swaying the opinions of their people. Many of them did not agree with Kyra's appointment as Esper Leader although she performed the duties of her position well. The once loved Reverent Fifth did not fare any better. The Espers felt betrayed by him. He awakened over three years ago and then left them for three years. It was one thing to retire to the Hibernation Chamber where they knew his location, but a totally different situation when he was nowhere to be found. Chaz watched patiently as Rune explained his absence to his people and the reasons behind it. The Reverent Fifth spoke eloquently, making sure not to leave any details out. Kyra backed his words up, taking the story over after they met up with him the last time they were in Esper Mansion. From there, she explained her absence, some of which they understood for they were under Lian's spell.

The Hunter felt the crowd's anger and disappointment quell. For the first time since the Dezorians arrived, there was beginning to be a sense of peace, and the abundant animosity between them began to diminish. Raja, Kyra, and Rune told their peoples about their stories of hope . . . their stories of despair. This time, though, they told them to their own people. The town's entire courtyard became like that of a cemetery and only three voices carried throughout.

Native Meesians came out from their homes and peered around corners and the spectacle before them. As Palmans, they understood all too well the differences that Dezorians and Espers had with each other in the past. They, themselves, were weary of having so many of their green-skinned neighbors within their town's walls. It was not out of the ordinary to occasionally play host to one or two travelling Dezorians on a pilgrimage to Gumbious and even to Gumbian after it was built. The Palman scientists who help with the construction of Gumbian stayed in Meese for awhile, so natives knew that they would not be shunned away. Meesians were proud of their reputation of being so liberal, but having so many "guests," including the Espers, was unnerving.

"So," said Nyr, "how can you guarantee our peoples' safety while travelling in the company of these Espers?"

"You have my word --" Raja started.

"And mine as well," the Reverent Fifth added.

"Rune," said Alexander, "how can we be sure that this danger you speak of is real?"

"Can't you feel it?" Kyra questioned. "The danger surrounds us, is swallowing our entire solar system. We need to stop it now or all is lost." The Esper Leader's words carried far into the furthest of their numbers from them and held them in thrall. It seemed like minutes before Alexander responded.

"I admit that my Telemental abilities are not as finely honed as yours, but I have felt something. In fact, all of us have detected a disturbance in the natural order of things. It seems that the balance of power is currently shifting in the Darkness' direction." Alexander stopped for a moment to consider where his words were leading. "If it is the desire of our people, then I will do what past Espers have done for generations in the past -- I will follow the lead of the Reverent Fifth and join you, Kyra, and the Dezorians."

"It is our wish, Alexander," a voice called out from the crowd.

"For the greater good," another one added.

"What about you, Nyr?" Raja asked. "Will you come along willingly?"

"I don't know," the acting Archbishop replied.

"Technically, my friend, you're just temporarily taking my place. I am the one true Archbishop of Gumbian. I am asking you this out of respect because I know our people think highly of you."

Raja paused, letting his words sink in. Nyr was very much aware that Raja could take back his title without question. Even though he left his people, it was apparent now that he did so for good reason. The Archbishop was at least partially correct when he said that his people thought highly of him. There were also many that thought poorly of him as well. Nyr applauded him for his ingenuity and for his choice of words.

"I will go," he said, "if only to see if you are deceiving us."

"Forever the cynic . . . ."

"Shall we go, then?" Chaz spoke up, relieved that they were finally getting somewhere. "I don't mean to seem impatient, but every minute we waste arguing is one less minute in Algo's existence."

"Then let us leave immediately," said Wren and he, Demi, Hahn, and Gryz turned and headed for the nearest exit out of town.

* * * * *

Walking in knee-deep and at some points, waist-deep, snow, the Protectors, the Dezorians, and the Espers slowly made their way to where Chaz and company saw the rift. The journey would have been much more difficult had Dezoris' raging storms continued, but that was not so. What hindered their progress the most was the lack of light. Otherwise, the temperature was not frigidly cold. In fact, if Chaz's feet were not numb from walking in the snow, he might have considered the walk a pleasant one.

According to Wren's calculations, it existed in the exact same spot where Garuberk once stood. Due to their extraordinary senses, the entire group already felt the rift's dark pulsations. Chaz hoped that if the need arose, Elsydeon's power would be able to protect all of them. Sure, it was capable of doing so for him and his travelling companions, but to protect several hundred individuals would be a task of great magnitude. It was not that he doubted the sword's power, it was just that it seemed overwhelming to him. If the power of Elsydeon was capable of bringing Nei back from the dead surely it possessed the power to protect them.

Nei.

The Hunter felt pangs of sorrow and remorse every time he thought of her. Once before she fought to protect the people and the planet that she loved and for many, many years she was never recognized for it. Once again, she came, she helped defend all of Algo, and she passed on, but this time it would be different. Chaz was determined that her deeds would not go unrecognized. He would do everything possible to make sure that Nei's name would never fade away into obscurity. He owed her at least that much.

The Protectors and the amassed armies of Espers and Dezorians entered a dense portion of the forest and emerged out the other side. From there, they followed an unnaturally cleared portion which they knew led right up to Garuberk's front door. Turning to the left, they saw first-hand just what had taken the tower's place.

A narrow rift as tall as three Gumbians seemingly floated in mid-air. It was as black as the cold heart of Darkness itself and radiated evil thoughts and intentions. Chaz felt fear sprout from within him like mushrooms. He knew now exactly what they were up against. As Algo's light faded, the Profound Darkness' presence increased. When they first saw the rift on the way to Esper Mansion, it was much smaller. Only a couple days passed since then and the rift appeared to have grown exponentially.

As they approached, walking became increasingly difficult. The rift was having an effect on Dezoris gravity somehow and even Wren and Demi, with their great strength, was not immune to it. If any Esper or Dezorian still doubted their sincerity, he surely would have rethought his opinion by now. Younger, stronger individuals among the groups kept up with ease, but the truly young and aging were falling behind. No one was going to be left to fend for himself. They needed each and every one of them to succeed, although they did not know why as of yet. All Chaz knew was that Nei told him that they needed to bring two disputing peoples together. Instinct told him that they needed to bring them to this place, to the rift. There was one such place in Algo where a similar rift once existed and its energy ended causing the deaths of the citizens of Mile.

The Edge was not a pleasant place, to say the least. It was the one place in the known universe where there was no order in any way, shape or form. Chaos reigned there and time, substance, and thought swirled around in a maddening brilliance of color, confusing the senses. The creatures which lived in that transition zone between their dimension and the dimension the Profound Darkness was trapped in were many and powerful. Beings such as Prophallus, Gi-Le-Farg, and Imagiomage, beings they battled even recently, came from The Edge. Three years ago, they posed a difficult challenge to reaching their destination. The Light only knew what other obstacles the Darkness thought up since then.

Upon nearing the rift, Chaz and his party ran into a wall. It was not a physical wall, but a magical one obviously erected by the Darkness. This wall drew in power from negative energy, using their doubt, their anger, their intolerance, and their fear to strengthen its rigidness. There was no way that they could possibly breach it without some kind of divine intervention.

"This is why we're here," said Nyr.

"It would appear that way," Alexander replied.

"Chaz," Rune said, "let's see if we can break through this." The Hunter nodded and positioned himself in front of the Reverent Fifth. Working in unison, the two performed Grand Cross with perfection. A bright flash lit the entire area, but quickly faded, Grand Cross having absolutely no effect on the wall.

"I believe that now you can probably see why we need your help," Raja stated.

"Indeed," Nyr told him. "But what can we, Dezorians and Espers, possibly do to help you? You and your friends are the strongest among us."

"Yes," Kyra spoke, "but together our people may be able to punch a hole into the rift large enough for my friends and I to enter it. So what about it? Will you help us?"

"The Espers will help," said Alexander.

"Nyr?"

The acting Archbishop was silent for a few moments. What Kyra, Raja, and the rest of their friends were proposing was an alliance between their peoples, an account unprecedented in the history of their two races. Raja could have easily retaken his title and the rest of the Dezorians would have followed him. It was better to work as one than against each other was what the Archbishop was implying. Nyr felt the Darkness' presence as surely as if he was a mother carrying it in his womb. That could not be denied. There was only one thing he could do.

"Raja," he said, speaking in Palman for the first time, "I appreciate your objectiveness on this matter. You could have easily ordered me to help and I could not have said a word to the contrary because you are the one true Archbishop. Thank you for showing me what I must do." Everyone was silent. "I agree to do this for the sake of our people, for the safety of our planet and our galaxy, and because I, too, desire better relations with our Esper neighbors."

Nyr held out his hand to Alexander in a gesture of friendship which was traditional among the Palmans. Alexander took it and they shook hands. Rune, Raja, and Kyra placed their hand atop theirs. Espers and Dezorians alike cheered and rushed to greet each other in a newfound alliance. When they were done, Alexander ordered his people back to one side and Nyr did the same for the Dezorians.

"It is time," Wren announced solemnly. "We cannot delay a moment longer."

Jaerli came running out from the crowd and held Raja in an embrace. She was not weeping the tears of someone who was saying "farewell" to a loved one. No, her tears were the worst of all -- the tears of someone who was saying good-bye forever. She was able to compose herself long enough to see Kyra standing next to them. Jaerli turned and embraced her as well. "Take care of yourself, my friend," she said. "I will pray to Tak'khan for your safety."

"Thank you, Jaerli," the Esper Leader replied. "We will do our best."

Kyra walked off and Jaerli returned her attention back to Raja. Holding him, she once again started to weep. "Don't let any Snow Slugs get you, Raja," she told him. The Archbishop said nothing, could not even find the words to tell her good-bye. He was not even sure that they would ever come back this time. Jaerli was determined never to let go of him.

Without her knowing, Raja motioned for a couple of his people to come and retrieve Jaerli. They gently put hands around her arms and started pulling her away. "No! Let go of me!" she ordered. The Archbishop broke his embrace and watched as they pulled her back into the safety of the crowd. He started to say good-bye, but his courage failed him and the words were never spoken. Unfortunately, Jaerli read his lips all too well.

"Raja!" she screamed. "I love you, Raja!" Jaerli continued to struggle, but could not break away from her restrainers. "You better come back to me, Raja! Do you hear me?! You better come back to me!"

The Archbishop averted his gaze, could not bare to look upon her. He started to walk away when Nyr grabbed his arm. Startled, he turned around to see what he wanted. "Good luck," Nyr told him, then, clenching his right fist, he placed it on his chest and bowed his head, signifying the highest homage a Dezorian could ever pay another. Raja's gaze went beyond Nyr and he saw that every single one of his people was paying the same respect. Then, much to his surprise, he saw the Espers doing exactly the same. Raja came to realize that their salute was not meant for him alone, but for all of the Protectors. To know that he was instrumental in bringing the bitterness to an end filled the Archbishop with pride and made what he was about to do a little easier to swallow.

"Let's get this over with."

Nyr and Alexander shook hands with all the Protectors and then returned to their people. Chaz heard both the Esper and Dezorian bark out commands to their comrades and all of them stood ready. They turned, gazes fixed on him. As the bearer of Elsydeon, he was destined to lead the Protectors into battle. He was to give the word to his support.

The Hunter unsheathed Elsydeon and nodded his head. Looking up, he saw no clouds above, only the stars of countless galaxies billions of miles away. Their own star, Algo, looked as weak as the light of a dying firefly.

The Dezorians began to hum, eventually turning it into a deep, throaty sound. The strong baritones and basses were heard above all others. Beside them, hundreds of Espers crossed their arms on their chests and closed their eyes. One by one, each of the Telementals opened their eyes and a single beam of blue light shot forth from his or her forehead merging at a single point above the Protectors, then blasting into the rift. In the meanwhile, an emerald-green scintillation formed above the Dezorians and grew brighter in intensity. The many harmonies and melodies came together in a great euphonious song. The green scintillation flashed even brighter than it was and suddenly it exploded onto the rift. Surprisingly enough, the Esper and Dezorian powers seemed to compliment each other, growing stronger.

A tunnel formed of bluish-green light burrowed its way into and through the magical wall, creating a safe passageway into the rift. Chaz held Elsydeon before him and entered. His friends, their own weapons now drawn, followed close behind. Once they were through, the Dezorians and Espers ceased their efforts.

"So, what do we do now?" asked Nyr.

"We wait," Alexander said, "and pray," he added gravely.

Jaerli watched as the last remnants of the tunnel disappear, then felt her heart drop as the rift closed up, sealing her friends within it.

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