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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Forty-Two

Chaz and company reappeared within Esper Mansion's walls. Its few remaining inhabitants, those who were either too elderly or too young to make the journey, were startled by their arrival, but instinctively knew that they were not a theat. They were oblivious to what occurred, assumed that everything was well because of Algo's return. The Espers offered warm congratulations which the Protectors gladly accepted.

Dispensing with any more formalities, Rune led his friends through the small crowd of grandmothers, grandfathers, and children that gathered around them. Walking swiftly through the Mansion, he glanced back at Chaz who was being led by Kyra and Hahn. Elsydeon's light must have burnt out his retina. That must have been why his eyesight was rapidly deteriorating. It was funny how the weapon could save thousands of lives and not spare the vision of the one responsible for it. He felt bad for him. At least Wren and Demi would be there for him since they would most likely be taking up residence in Aiedo. He would not have that luxury.

The Reverent Fifth entered his sanctuary and it was empty. Normally there would have been at least two guards, but since every capable Esper was needed for the journey, they left it unguarded. The door which led down into the Hibernation Chamber was relatively close by and they reached it only after a few moments. Rune opened it and together they walked carefully downward.

Chaz walked with caution, forced to feel each step to make sure something solid was beneath his feet. Still helped by Hahn and Kyra, he felt guilty for slowing their progress, but not a single soul would have complained. His friends, after all, were there at his request. They went along to be supportive of him, to comfort him at the very moment his vision was lost forever. To lose a sense, whether it was sight, hearing, taste, touch, or smell, was very traumatic. All he could see now were faint, blurred images he knew to be his companions. He hoped that somehow his vision would clear up enough to be able to look upon Rika's peaceful visage one more time. It was not exactly the way he wanted to remember her, but a glance was better than nothing. After that, the Hunter would no longer to behold the rising of Algo in the East or its setting in the West. He would no longer be able to recognize familiar faces, faces of friends and neighbors. Chaz would be cast into a world of utter darkness and the light of day would never welcome him again.

Gryz was truly torn between two worlds now. Noah instructed him to join with the Espers, to learn about their power and their heritage. He fully intended to do so, but now that his best friend needed him, he was not so sure about leaving. Chaz already sacrificed so much for his friends and for his world and now, like salt on a festering wound, he was delivered another blow by his loss of vision. Nothing Raja or anyone else could do would save it and to attempt to do so was futile. The Light itself willed it to be so.

After nearly half an hour passed, the Protectors reached the floor of Rune's Hibernation Chamber. It was peaceful there and seemed to wipe away all of the agony and suffering of the past months. This hallowed area was free of even the slightest hint of impurity and Chaz felt like he was finally coming to accept his loss. He saw a vague impression before him which he assumed was the sarcophagus, blinked his eyes, and then it was gone.

"It's too late," he said calmly.

"No!" Demi gasped. "Not yet!"

"My eyesight is gone," the Hunter blinked a few more times and rubbed his eyes. "I guess I won't be able to see Rika again after all. It's all right, though. I can see her clearly in my mind the way she was when she was alive and well. That is the way I want to remember her, not laying lifelessly in a coffin."

"I am sorry for your loss," Wren said. "Demi and I will do everything possible to accommodate your handicap. Who knows? Perhaps there will be a way in the near future to give you back a portion of what was taken from you."

Chaz heard a whooshing of air from somewhere in front of him. "Rune," he said, "what are you doing?"

"You may not be able to see her, Chaz," the Reverent Fifth told him, "but you can still hold her hand one last time." He lifted the Chamber's lid and a platform slid out from underneath it. The Hunter heard him gasp, take a few steps backward.

"What?" he asked. "What is it?"

"Kyra, Raja," Rune spoke, "would you come over here, please."

Hearing them move away from him, Chaz suddenly began to worry. It was not like Rune to keep anything hidden, but his reasoning must have been sufficient enough to do so now. He started walking forward and Gryz lay a restraining hand upon him. The Hunter did not like being kept in the dark. He would have to get used to that from now on.

Rune placed his hand on Rika's forehead and it felt chill to the touch. Her lips were blue and she looked only like she dipped into cold water for too long a time. Moving downward, he placed his hand upon the forehead of another -- a newborn infant. It was chill as well, its body as lifeless as the one who held it in her arms. The Reverent Fifth wondered how it was that the infant came to be inside the chamber with Rika. He was shocked into the realization that it may be the very child they just defeated. That was obviously Kyra's conclusion and Raja silently argued that they should not tell Chaz at all. It would only add to his grief.

While they whispered in silent conference, Chaz became impatient. He wanted desperately to know what was going on. His friends were far enough away to be just out of earshot and secretly cursed them for their secretiveness. It was not fair that they were hiding something from him, but he guess that they did so for his own protection.

Rune felt a curious warmth against leg and reached into his pouch, bringing out three round objects. The Laerma Nuts glowed with a startling intensity. Something nearby caused the magic within them to activate, but what that was remained a mystery. The Reverent Fifth held the Nuts in his palm, brought them closer to Rika's body and was surprised to witness their glow intensify. Taking two Laerma Nuts, he placed one inside the Numan's mouth, the other inside the infant's . . . .

A thumping sound like that of a heartbeat echoed through the Hibernation Chamber. It was so abrupt that Chaz was startled by it and jumped. A choked sob from Kyra alerted him and he started toward her voice. "By the Light!" Hahn breathed.

Chaz listened intently to the heartbeat and found himself comforted by it. Drumming its sound into his head, he found familiarity and ardor. It seemed to reach out, caress his very being, weaving its way into his bones and muscles, flowing through arteries and veins. If he were anywhere else, the Hunter would have given in, let it consume him wholly. The comforting touch of his friends slowly guiding him forward broke him from the trance, however, and the drumming ended as quickly as it began. Chaz was in an almost drunken state and was barely aware of footsteps approaching him.

An object was held out to the Hunter. Although it barely grazed his chest plate, he was consciously aware of it. The hands he touched were warm, smooth. Chaz took the object and held it awkwardly for he was still unsure of what it actually was. Upon taking it, he felt movement, and a breath of life.

The cry of a baby rang out and Chaz pulled it close to him before he dropped it. Many, many months had past since he last heard a baby's cry for Palman birthrates declined sharply. The last one he heard was from one whose mother died giving birth to him. The Hunter instinctively knew that this infant was his own, but was not prepared to accept that yet. Still, having a daughter to raise could have been the Light's gift to him. He eyes could never look upon her face, but his love would not be lessened because of it.

Chaz cradled her, swinging her back and forth. The cries ceased and was replaced by the sounds of a happy infant. He wondered what she saw in him, wondered if she was looking at him at all. What color were her eyes? Feeling around her head, he found her pointed ears and smiled. Gently smoothing back an almost full head of hair, the Hunter wondered if it was blond like his or some other color. He poked at her stomach playfully and a tiny hand grasped at his finger.

"Kyra?" Chaz lifted his face to whoever stood before him, wondering if she was the one who handed him the baby.

"No," she answered quickly from his right, he voice hinting of great joy and happiness.

Chaz felt his heart nearly explode within his chest. His stance wavered as he was overcome by emotion. Unable to remain standing, Wren and Hahn gently lowered him down to his knees. The Hunter cried, emotions empowering his sobs. He shook his head over and over again as in disbelief while making several attempts to speak, but the words failed him. His entire body began to tremble. Hands reached out, grasped his own tightly. Lips pressed against his forehead. Chaz's blind eyes could not see, but his heart provided all the sight he required.

"R -- Rika!"

The Hunter reached up with one arm and brought their lips together, then used it to do the same for their bodies. They wept without restraint, then began to laugh as they nearly crushed their daughter between them. She struggled, but did not cry. Kyra, on the other hand, held both hands over her face and let tears of joy flow into them. Rune used his cape to wipe his eyes dry. Raja's tears were flowing as well. He thanked Tak'khan over and over again for its great gift. Hahn and Gryz patted each other's backs and smiled blissfully like fools. They needed no tears to express the happiness they felt in their hearts. Wren and Demi held hands as they watched the tearful reunion, overjoyed to have Rika back, comforted by each other's presence.

"Chaz, my only love," said Rika, "I told you that I would never leave you."

"How is this possible?" her husband questioned.

"It was Myau's Laerma Nuts," Rune explained. "Once Rika's soul was free from its captor it must have returned to her body. The magic contained within the Nuts was able to restore both her and your daughter to life."

"It doesn't matter how I came back," Rika told him, then noticed that his eyes did not look at her and jumped about at random. She did not want to believe it at first but now knew it to be true. Her husband was blind. "What matters is that I'm here for good," the Numan continued, "and I'm in it for the long run."

Rika kissed Chaz on the forehead again and caressed his head. Tears fell from her eyes, streamed downward, mingling with his own. The Hunter nearly jumped away from her, quickly handing their daughter to his wife. He eyes stung like acid had been poured into them. He rubbed and rubbed, but the sensation did not stop. Finally, it began to abate and he opened them.

There was only blackness again, but the Hunter noticed a change. A grey tinge, a slight lightening and suddenly his world did not seem so dark. "What is it, Chaz?" Rika asked.

"My sight is returning," he told her.

"Can you see us?"

"No, but I can see light again." Chaz rubbed his eyes again. "I think I'm back in business!"

Rune was delighted beyond words. When he found out that Rika died he never believed that Chaz could ever truly be happy again. He found happiness with Nei, but even more now that his wife returned from the grave. The Reverent Fifth suddenly remembered Noah's words to him, how he said that he did a not bring shame to his title and that his devotion was inspiring. While Kyra was puzzled by what he said to her, Rune understood completely. She had a special destiny which she had yet to discover and only he could reveal. His devotion to her and to the rest of his friends was not over yet, and time was running out.

"Come on, you guys," Rune called his friends from their reverie. "We have to get going."

"Why?" Hahn questioned. "What is there left to do?"

"Save the Palmans from extinction."

* * * * *

Arriving at Dezoris' only spaceport near Tyler, Rune led his friends aboard the Landale and instructed Wren to take her outside the planet's atmosphere. The Reverent Fifth managed to once again surprise his comrades with this unusual course of action. Instead of aiming their ship toward Motavia, he instructed its pilot to take them to the Palman asteroid belt. Obviously there was something there that needed to be done.

Wren did not even question him, just did as he asked because he trusted him implicitly. The big android noticed a change in his friend, a tired sullenness about him. It was unlike Rune to do anything to place them in danger. It was, however, in his character to place himself in danger to ensure their survival. Could he be doing that now? Not likely, Wren thought. The greatest danger was gone, banished into another dimension.

Still, Rune seemed anxious. He undoubtedly had some kind of plan of action to accomplish what he said they needed to do. That plan was masked in secrecy, but in order to make it work, he had to tell them what it was at some point. Perhaps time is what he needed to mull through his ideas and check and compensate for any anomalies that might occur.

The Reverent Fifth returned from looking out a porthole and sat down with a sigh. "Everyone," he called his friends' attention, "I'd like to tell you a story, a story whose roots began over almost two hundred years ago. Kyra, come sit here before me."

The Esper Leader did as Rune instructed, pivoting in a chair, she sat down and faced him. Gryz, Demi and the others joined them, taking the remaining seats, devoting their full attention to the Reverent Fifth. Rika guided her husband closer, stood behind him with one hand on his shoulder, the other cradling a sleeping child. Chaz's vision continued to improve. He could now see a vague image he knew to be Rune as he spoke.

"My life as Lutz has been comparatively brief where my predecessors are concerned," Rune began. "The Lutz before me lived for over seven hundred years. Before him, the Lutz who help Rolf on his quest was a ripe old age of five hundred. Both the Reverent Second and Noah lived to be approximately three hundred years before passing on.

"As you can see, it's just like I said -- my life has been brief compared to them. There is another factor that separates us and that is I have been forced to battle Darkness twice in my lifetime, a burden none of the other Lutz's had to bear. Our last battle has taxed my strength far more than you can imagine. I am exhausted and it's time for me to rest."

Kyra tried to insert something, but Rune raised a silencing hand.

"When I was born almost two hundred years ago," he continued, "I knew of my destiny to succeed the title of Lutz before I understood what it meant. I grew into a man and on my twentieth birthday I replaced the Reverent Fourth. For sixteen decades I awoke every ten years and handled administrative matters for the Espers, ensuring their survival. Upon awakening in that sixteenth decade, I learned of another matter I needed to attend to. In Aiedo on the planet of Motavia, a young girl at the age of six was to soon face the pain of abandonment and I was required to befriend her for she would be key to defeating the Darkness when it returned in twenty years. I visited her once in her dreams and told her that the future held great disappointment, but to be strong." Rune paused for a moment, then continued.

"I retired to the Hibernation Chamber and cast a spell which would allow my mind, though not my body, to awaken in two year's time. When the girl was abandoned by her parents at eight, I returned to her in her dreams. That is when I befriended her, coming to her on her loneliest nights, comforting her, speaking reassuring words. She grew up to be one of Motavia's finest Hunters."

"Alys," Chaz said, reaching up to touch his wife's hand. She took it in hers and held tightly. "So that's how she knew you."

"Yes, Chaz," the Reverent Fifth went on, "it was Alys. We talked as often as four nights a week and she always told me her thoughts. Our conversations went on for the next eight years and we grew close.

"When Alys was sixteen she learned of the deaths of two of Aiedo's residents and heard that they left a five year-old boy behind." Chaz knew the rest of the story from there on, at least the part where he was concerned. That five year-old boy was him. Curious, though, how Rune said she was sixteen when she took him in. Alys maintained that she was thirteen although he did not know any better at the time. He guessed maybe she was not aware of her true age or that she did not want him to know how much older than him she truly was.

"Using Ladea Tower's magic," Rune was saying, bringing the Hunter out of his pondering, "I physically visited her that year although you were never aware of it, Chaz. There was only ten years left before the galactic seal weakened enough for Darkness to rear its ugly head in our dimension again. I explained to her that it was vital that she train you in the ways of a warrior so that both of you might help me banish it. She agreed.

"After that, I returned to Dezoris, returned to my Chamber. We corresponded only a couple dozen times in the next decade, but Alys was still true to her word. She trained Chaz in the ways of the Hunter and he grew up into a fine young man. I awoke when I was scheduled to, took a year to stay with my people, then went to Motavia where I met Chaz, Hahn, Gryz, Demi, and Alys for a second time. All of you know how the story goes from that point on."

"I don't understand," Kyra spoke up. "Why is this story supposed to be so important to me?"

"I haven't gotten to that part yet," Rune returned with a warm smile. The Esper Leader smiled back.

"I spent part of my childhood growing up with a girl who my mother told me was my adopted sister," he explained, completely changing the topic. "We were extremely happy children, extremely close in age, and were very close despite that I believed that we were not related by blood. When I began my studies, we were separated and I missed being with her very much. Only when I had been through two hibernation cycles did I finally find out the truth. Sariah Walsh was not my adopted sister, but a sister in the truest sense. She was my twin."

"Saria?" Kyra questioned, the name sounding vaguely familiar to her. "But one of my ancestors --"

"Saria met a young Esper when she was in her twenties," Rune interrupted. "They married and had three children. The man's name was Kyle Tierney."

Kyra's eyes widened. "By the Light!" she breathed.

"Your family has always been gifted with strong Telemental abilities, Kyra, and you are no exception. Our people have always traditionally thought of Lutz as being a male figure, as much as I'm ashamed to admit it. My parents knew that because Saria was a few minutes older than me, she would have the right of succession. Rather than reveal her true identity, they concocted a story to allow me to become the Reverent Fifth. Kyra, my friend, this is what I needed to tell you. I wanted to know your true heritage. You have more right to lay claim to Lutz's name than any other Esper besides me. You will need to return to the Mansion and lead them into a new generation of peace with the Dezorians."

"Me?" Kyra asked with surprise. "What about you? You are the current Lutz and you need to come back to lead us! I can't possibly --"

"You can, you must, and you will. I have faith in you, Kyra. Since I don't have an heir it's only logical that you take my place. You're about the right age to do so, anyway."

"What will you do?" Rune stopped and thought for a moment. He knew what he needed to tell them but was loath to speak the words.

"I will join my ancestors in the pages of history."

"No!" Chaz yelled abruptly and stood up. Rika was instantly by his side. "No, Rune! Say it's not true! You can't leave us just like that! For the sake of all that's good, why now?"

"Because the Light beckons me, my friend. I have done far more than it ever expected of me and now it wants me to find peace in eternal rest."

Despite his clouded vision, Chaz somehow managed to quickly find his way to Rune and wrapped his arms around the Esper's body. "Don't cry, Shorty," Rune said playfully, recalling how Chaz used to hate that nickname, but did not get the angry response he was so used to. "We live, we die. It is all a part of the cycle of life."

"I owe so much to you," the Hunter managed to say between sobs.

"No, Chaz. You owe me nothing. You have been a true friend and like the son I never had." Rune's admission of his true feelings toward him only drove the Hunter's sorrow deeper. Truth was, he thought of him as a father figure although he never summoned the courage to tell him so.

Chaz looked up at him and the cloudiness faded away. He saw tears in Rune's eyes. It was the first time he ever recalled seeing him cry and knew that the Esper's sorrow mirrored his own.

Rika approached with tears in her own eyes. Chaz released his embrace and turned toward her, saw his child with clear vision for the first time and almost wept again. He held his head close to his wife's and they wept together. They then faced Rune and she held the girl out to him.

"Please," she said, "just this once . . . hold our daughter so that we may tell her of the brave man who once held her, of the man who helped save her parents' lives, of the man who helped save her lives. Hold her so that we can tell her that she was once carried by Greatness."

Rune took the Ashley child and walked a few steps away from them. She was awake but did not cry. He saw both of her parents in her face. She was beautiful and had the most beautiful parents in any world to raise her. He knew that she would never be a point in her life when she went unloved.

"This is such an honor," Rune told them with his back still turned, but then faced them. I -- I don't have the words to express what this means to me."

"Really?" Hahn asked, wiping his eyes. "The day Rune doesn't have anything to say is the day that sand crabs fly. Look out." The Reverent Fifth laughed half-heartedly and Hahn approached him. "For what it's worth, I'm glad we spent that time together when we travelled to Krup. You learned a lot about me then and I learned about the true friend you really are. You're about to help save the Palman race and then you're going to be taken from us. Forgive me, but I'm feeling a little short-changed here."

"Me, too," Gryz added while staring down at his feet. "I was hoping that you would be my mentor, that I could learn from the greatest Esper who ever lived."

"Not me, Gryz," Rune told him. "I'm far from it."

"Not in my book. Not in any of our books."

"Oh, Rune," Demi said, "I never thought I could be close to any mortal before I met all of you. There are many who say that an android could never truly love, but I feel it. To think of your passing causes me great anguish. I still get surges when I think of the adventures we had together. I will miss you."

"And I, you," he returned.

"Dezorian history will record your name in its pages," Raja spoke after a brief silence, "and I will make sure that it records you as the greatest Esper who ever lived just as Gryz said. You helped bring our people together after thousands of years of petty bickering. That is no small feat. From now on, Dezorians will no longer call you enemy or Esper. You will be called Khrabal. You will be called 'friend.'"

"We all know that I have never been an expert at expressing myself," Wren began. "Sometimes it is hard for me to realize that, like Demi, I, too, have emotions. If what I am feeling now can be interpreted as loss and sorrow, I hope to never experience it again. I did not realize what love was about until Rika died. I know now that it is a powerful weapon for it gave me the strength to fight even when the odds were against us. I also discovered that love and friendship come hand-in-hand. You helped me to finally understand that. Thank you for being my friend."

The Protectors became silent as Rune handed the Ashley child back to her parents. When Rika died they barely had enough time to say good-bye. At least they were spared the grueling backlash of emotions one experiences when saying a lengthy farewell. It was not the same with Rune. He was there with them until the very end, but no more. Kyra knew it was her turn to say something, but was at a loss of words.

"I can't ever possibly hope to replace you, Rune," she finally told him.

"Then don't," he returned. "Start a new chapter, one that begins with, 'Kyra Tierney, Lutz by heritage . . . ."

"I've learned so much from you, not only how to be a great leader, but also how to be a great follower, how to lead others to inspiration, how to show true devotion, but most of all, I learned how to live. I will try my hardest not to bring shame to our heritage. Knowing now that we are related is the greatest honor anyone could bestow on me. I follow in the footsteps of a great Esper. I follow in the footsteps of Rune Walsh."

"We've arrived," Wren informed his comrades. Rune peered out of a porthole. Only a few hundred fragments of what used to be Palma remained. "What is it that we are here to do?"

"Used the Landale's cannons to seek out and destroy those asteroids," he told the big android. Wren nodded and instructed his friends to return to their seats.

The next half hour or so was spent chasing down rock fragments. Wren fired the ships cannons with deadly accuracy, not missing a single target. Flying at several hundreds of thousands of miles per hour at some points, his friends wondered how he could find them at all. There was, however, one enormous fragment that was too large for the ship to destroy. It was the fragment Lassic's Air Castle sat upon.

"How do we get rid of it?" the Scholar questioned.

"With concentration," Rune replied, "and teamwork. If we concentrate hard enough, we can project our energies outside the ship and use them to our advantage. So, what do you say? Want to fire up the Nova Cannon one last time for old time's sake?"

"Let's do it."

Demi, Wren, Kyra, Chaz, Rune, Raja, and Hahn prepared themselves for the task before them while Gryz and Rika stood away from them. Aiming their concentration and energies directly outside the Landale's nose section, they amazingly projected Nova Cannon and fired. A gigantic beam traveled through space at the speed of light and impacted its target, blowing it into thousands of harmless fragments.

"Now what?" inquired Raja.

"Now we must move Motavia into Palma's old orbit."

"That's impossible!"

"Yeah," Rune laughed. "We thought as much when we first set out to defeat the Profound Darkness. Improbable, yes. Impossible -- perhaps. We should all know by now that anything's possible, even returning from the dead." Rika reached over and held his hand, patted it gently. He silently thanked her for her support, then turned to Kyra.

"Kyra, do you remember the special way we combined our Skills? You know, the way only two Espers could?"

"Black Hole," she said almost immediately. "I know what you're getting at, but it's only the tiniest portion of one and I doubt that the two of us alone can move an entire planet."

"We have to try . . . for our friends and for all of the Palmans on Motavia."

Kyra nodded, try to effectively grasp the enormity of the task before them. Any astronomer would know that a black hole is a star which has gone out and collapsed in on itself. Normally one of the last cycles of a star's life, the immense gravitational field created by a black hole was so great that not even light could escape it. Espers, with their ability to manipulate vacuums and gravitational fields, were capable of creating a false Black Hole, one that was disproportionally smaller, but having the same effects.

Wren carefully examined Rune's plan. Being that Motavia and Palma had very similar mass, he ventured to say that the chance of Motavia following the other's orbit was approximately ninety-seven point three percent. The change in the distance from Algo would most likely moderate the surface's temperature as well as other climatic changes. That was, of course, if the planet was not torn apart in its moving. They hated playing fate to millions of lives, but if everything turned out well, life would get much, much easier.

Rune held Kyra's left hand in his right and they closed their eyes.

The Reverent Fifth cast Negatis and a shadowy black sphere appeared outside of the ship. Reaching into the farthest depths of her Esper powers, the Esper Leader used Nagra. There was a brief flash and suddenly Black Hole sprang into existence. Negatis' powerful vacuum was augmented by a virtual gravity bomb and the Landale began to shake like a leaf in autumn. "We need more power!" Rune strained, veins appearing on his forehead. "If we don't do this right, Motavia's atmosphere will be sucked away and everyone will die!"

Chaz and the other knew how dire the situation was, instinctively knew what they could do to help. Joining hands, he and his friends threw in their support. Rika took Kyra's hand and Wren took Runes. Each felt his circle of being come together, strengthen the other's. Their bodies erupted in a brilliant white light and slowly but gradually, Motavia began to shift . . . .

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