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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Five

Ever since Archbishop Dereth's passing, Dezorian religion had not been the same. Possessing their religion's highest title, Dereth was held in high regard for over seventeen decades, respected by both his people and Palmans alike. When Gumbious Temple was destroyed by the Profound Darkness, it was his power which saved those within it, but depleted his strength. He was poisoned by its evil, unable to purge it. He passed on a few months later.

As Bishop, Raja was Dereth's successor (Raja was promoted from Priest to Bishop by the Dezorian Archdiocese shortly after returning from his travels with Chaz). Many believed that the Archbishop's mystical powers were granted by Tak'khan itself (Dezorian religion's equivalent to The Great Light) and considered Raja a prodigious son since his powers were well established even before he was granted the title of Bishop.

Raja was loved by all of his brother and sister Dezorians, some say even more so than Dereth was. They were not disrespectful and loved him just as anyone should, but Raja possessed one thing that he did not -- a sense of humor. The new Archbishop was Dezoris' youngest in the planet's history, which he often made jokes about, bad jokes. Raja's jokes were, in Chaz's own words, 'tasteless' by Palman standards, but they amused his people and one other -- Rika. She always roared with laughter when he recited them to her, much to Chaz's consternation. Now, all of Dezoris was subject to his humor, a captive audience of sorts, and they all loved him.

Raja was in heaven.

At eighty-eight, Raja was in his prime. As a Priest, he could have taken a wife and started a family, but Bishops and the Archbishop was prevented by Dezorian tradition from doing so. He regretted leaving his little temple, but having a chance to rebuild and restore Gumbious to its timeless greatness was incentive enough to rethink his purpose in life.

With help from Palmans who corresponded only through Raja (due to the mistrust Dezorians had for Palmans), he and his people attained stone, mortar, and titanium-reinforced girders to erect a new Gumbious Temple. Though not as magnificent as its predecessor, it stood nearly three hundred feet at the apex of its tallest pillar and was over a thousand feet wide. Two and a half years passed before it was complete. Raja and various Bishops, Priests, and clergymen just recently began moving into it, making Gumbian Temple (Gumbious' new name) their new home. From there they would serve as was required and since Dezorians had no formal Leader, Raja and his Bishops served that position's requirements on occasion as well.

Raja walked down Gumbian's hallowed halls in deep thought, paying scant attention to his surroundings. He often walked down these halls and inspected its architecture, sometimes several times a day. In effect, the Archbishop travelled many miles while performing his inspections, a duty not required by him. Bishops were more accustomed to inspecting. Dereth himself hardly ever left Shaakrum Hall, the palatial worshiping room where Dezorians could go and pay their respects and give thanks to Tak'khan for prosperity or other good fortunes. Raja frequently took it upon himself to perform inspections just to get himself out of Shaakrum Hall because he hated being cooped up in there. It was a temporary anathema to relieve him of his omnipresent boredom.

Gumbian was, in fact, structurally sound, more so than Gumbious which had fallen under hard times in its two thousand year history. Harsh winters, gale force winds, unusually warm summers -- all contributed to its degradation. Gumbian, however, was erected with new architectural techniques which reflected a two thousand year progress of technology. They kept to Gumbious' original floor plan, though (if Gumbious stood for two thousand years before it was destroyed, its builders must have done something right!). Palman scientists provided enough Corostatin, an anti-corrosive chemical which protects and slows down natural breakdown processes, to coat all of Gumbian Temple in hopes that it would preserve its aesthetically pleasing appearance.

Feeling fatigued after walking several miles through innumerable halls, Raja decided to retire to his chamber for a brief respite before returning to Shaakrum Hall. In his right hand he carried the Nares Staff, a shiny, metallic ornament donned by the Archbishop. For countless generations it had been handed down from Archbishop to Archbishop and contained magic which healed wounds instantly without drawing upon its user's internal energy as did the Technique by the same name. According to legend, Tak'khan itself infused the magic, and only by breaking it in half could the magic be removed.

It was by no great surprise, therefore, to see Raja carrying it close to his body. The staff was largish and awkward to carry (and heavy, too!); consequentially, he felt clumsy when he walked around or engaged in any other activity. The Archbishop would have been content to open a display case in Gumbian, place the Staff inside, and charge admission. At least that way they could make some profit and even offer guided tours of the basement which escaped Gumbious' destruction. Now that would be fun!

Fun -- now there was a word Raja had not used in a while.

He could hear his Bishops now. "Raja, need we remind you that part of your responsibility is to personally protect the Nares Staff. If we put it out for display, some thief might find it profitable to steal Dezoris' second holiest possession. Holier, I might add, than even you."

Another one would say, "Raja, Gumbian Temple is a place of worship, not a place of fun and frolicking. If outsiders are brought in, many items could be damaged. Only Charak'khan, source of all evil and darkness, would do anything as foolish as that."

Bah, Raja thought to himself, they are just a bunch of old stiffs.

The Archbishop arrived at his chamber and entered quietly. Being Archbishop had its advantages, namely large quarters and an enormous bed. In reckless childhood abandon, he threw aside the heavy staff and jumped onto his bed. Its softness and comfort drew him in further and further until he was on the verge of sleep.

"Raja!" a voice exclaimed, startling the Archbishop so profoundly he nearly leaped out of his robes. Instantly, Raja was up on his feet straightening himself, searching for his Holy Mrtsh (pronounced "mertch"), a type of cap which all Dezorians wore to cover their rather elongated heads. "Raja!" the voice called out again, a female voice. "Raja, how could you leave this just laying there?" Archbishop Raja looked up from his panic and saw a Dezorian female standing at his quarter's doorway. She quickly entered and lifted his Nares Staff from the floor. She walked over to Raja and handed it to him "You're acting like you're fifty-five again. You can't keep on acting like this or you can be removed."

Ashamed at being caught, Raja lifted his gaze and looked at who addressed him. The Dezorian female was about six foot, five inches tall and wore black and gold robes that were a sign of Priesthood. At her shoulders she wore a white shawl rimmed with black. She possessed characteristics common to all Dezorians -- a tall, spindly appearance, a green, almost scaly complexion, a sunken nose that was almost absent save the nostrils, dark eyes, and ears that were merely small orifices. They were nearly hairless except for a barely visible layer of hair fibers that served as temperature sensors and regulators. "J -- Jaerli," Raja stuttered while replacing his Mrtsh, "I -- I didn't hear you come in."

"Well, of course you didn't, silly," Jaerli replied, "you were intoxicated with rest." She sat on Raja's bed, a move that would have her ridiculed publicly if she were in different company.

"I really wish you wouldn't do that, Jaerli. You could have your priesthood stripped from you and then you'd be sentenced to be thrown into a pit of rabid Moles. When they're done with you, Skytiaras will swoop down and pick the remaining flesh from your bones."

"That's all right," the Priestess said to her superior, "when everyone finds out that you had the Nares Staff on the floor, you'll be impeached. They'll throw you out into a deep snow bank where Snow Worms will drain all of your blood. When they're done feasting, Snow Slugs will slither over your pruned body and dissolve the very flesh from your bones."

Raja and Jaerli laughed out loud. They enjoyed thinking of gruesome ways the other could die and always tried to outdo each other. Lately, Jaerli was thinking of better ways, but then again, she had more time to think of them. She was quite possibly Raja's best friend, and he confided in her more often than not. "It wouldn't be so bad if you got impeached. We could get mar --"

"Stop right there, Jaerli," the Archbishop ordered. "Have you been possessed by Charak'khan or something?" Angered, Raja took his staff and stormed out of the room, Jaerli not far behind.

Archbishop Raja moved quickly down Gumbian's halls toward Shaakrum Hall where he would sit in eternal boredom and listen to his people's sins, desires, and pleasures. He thought fondly of Jaerli, more so than any Archbishop was allowed to. His feelings for the Priestess were strong, indeed, and just before Dereth was given unto Tak'khan for eternal rest, they had planned to marry. It was unorthodox for a Bishop to marry, but because of extenuating circumstances regarding Chaz's rescue of the Eclipse Torch and Raja's prior travels with him, leniency was permitted. He could have chosen not to accept Dereth's position, but all of Dezoris needed him to look to for advice. He put his duty before his longings, much to Jaerli's dismay, and did not disappoint anyone aside from the one who desired him.

"Raja, I love you!" Jaerli called out, and suddenly all of Gumbian fell silent. The Archbishop stopped in his tracks, afraid to move any further because he knew there were some who chose to eavesdrop on him. His love approached him, compassion and hurt present in her expression at the same time. "Tell me, Archbishop," she always called him by his title when she was angry, "tell me that you don't love me and I will leave you alone and not bother you anymore."

Raja was aghast.

He intensely disliked showing his emotions publicly and despite the fact that they were alone, he knew somebody somewhere was listening. The Archbishop stood still, staring deeply into Jaerli's dark eyes, hoping to Tak'khan that she could read what was in his eyes. He always had the right words to say, but could not say them. It frustrated Raja that Jaerli was so apt at conveying her feelings to him and yet he was so reserved. It must be a male thing, he thought.

Dezorians possessed very limited telepathic abilities. While thoughts, ideas, and the like could not be exchanged, things such as strong emotions and distress could be projected mentally. Though Raja did not speak, Jaerli felt his feelings for her as surely as they were her own feelings.

Jaerli, Raja thought, my love. You know that if I could, I'd give all of Dezoris to you, and more. Of course I love you. I wouldn't have it any other way. But you know as well as I do that as Archbishop I am forbidden from feeling romantic toward anybody. Yes, sometimes I do regret taking this position, but we have to think of our people. How selfish they would have perceived us, particularly me, if I turned down the appointment just to satisfy my own needs. We didn't marry out of concern for our people, a gallant gesture, indeed. We have sacrificed much, but I believe it is you who is suffering more. I would be selfish to ask you to stay here with me, so I won't. If you so desire, you should go and find another love, one in which there is hope that you can be together. Should you decide to do so, remember this: I will always be the one who loved you more.

Tears streamed down Jaerli's emerald cheeks as she leapt into Raja's arms. He embraced her tightly, not wanting to let her go, longing for the days in which they used to hold each other all through the night, talking, dreaming. He felt Jaerli's emotions pouring from her like a waterfall.

I love you, Raja, she was thinking, and I will never leave you. If all we can ever have together is a relationship in which neither of us can show our emotions or even acknowledge them, then so be it. I will be content just being near you.

* * * * *

Archbishop Raja sat before an alter while numbers upon numbers of Dezorian citizens poured in from outside to seek his company in sort of a confessional. Most came from the city of Jut, but seeing citizens all the way from Zosa and Ryuon was not an uncommon sight. Their confessions ranged from stealing toys to committing adultery. Raja's job was to simply listen to them, offer advice, and have them swear to Tak'khan that they would not commit the sin again.

Raja had no idea how many sins Dezorians committed on a daily basis, and some of them were downright gruesome. One citizen admitted to murdering his neighbor's little girl. When he realized what he did, there was already a commotion created over her disappearance. The Dezorian man knew that if he dumped her body somewhere, it would surely be found. Panic stricken, he did the first thing that came to his mind -- he cut her flesh from her bones and ate it, then ground the bones into fine dust and spread it into the wind. Raja was totally taken aback at this heinous act and fought to keep his lunch down. The Bishops that accompanied him noticed that he was turning various shades of blue and pink, indicating ill health and queasiness. Without another word, they cleared Shaakrum Hall of all visitors, allowing their Archbishop to regain his composure. "I don't know how Dereth did it, Nyr," Raja addressed one of his Bishops after everyone had been cleared out, "and for so long. So many people, so many sins. It's enough to change a Dezorian into a bitter, raving old fool. Wait a second, did I just describe Dereth?"

"Your humor escapes me, Raja," Nyr replied.

"But seriously, after hearing confessions from what seems like all of Dezoris, I'm surprised Dereth didn't run screaming from Gumbious."

"Dereth was remarkable, but he was not flawless. If the truth must be known, even he did have mental lapses due to some of the horrors he was forced to listen to. Nobody is immune to society's repugnance."

Raja stepped down from the altar, approaching his Bishops. Nyr held the highest rank among them, followed by Ovis, then Chele. Their responsibility was to always keep the Archbishop in check, make sure he made public appearances as scheduled, and offer assistance if he should require it. Another important part of their job description was travelling to various towns to visit with citizens who were elderly or too ill to make a pilgrimage to Gumbian. There, with limited healing powers, they were able to ease sickness or provide a direct link for the elderly to the Archbishop so that he may send their prayers or dying wishes to Tak'khan. Raja himself wished to be able to do this not only to get out of Gumbian, but also because he enjoyed being around people. He always felt that laughter was the best medicine, but an Archbishop was not permitted to leave his temple, and Raja missed the chance to practice his jokes on them.

Ovis and Chele sometimes found their Archbishop's humor amusing, but not when Nyr was anywhere in the immediate vicinity. His very presence commanded every strictest rule there was to how orderly and businesslike Gumbian should be, scorning any Bishops coming from lesser temples who did not adhere to his guidelines. Nyr was very analytical, calculating, intelligent, and if there was a rule book for how a Dezorian Bishop should behave, he would have written it.

Ovis and Chele, on the other hand, were exactly the opposite. They did not say much unless called upon to do so. They were adolescent in mentality (Nyr often wondered how they attained the rank of Bishop) and lacked knowledge sufficient enough to be assets to their discipline. Lacking any type of leadership skills, the two Bishops required someone to guide them or they ceased to function.

Nyr called to his Bishops and together they left Shaakrum Hall, leaving Raja to himself to think. Many things came to his mind such as his last confessional, Jaerli and her devotion to him, Gumbian's structural integrity, and why Ovis and Chele were such "morons" (a word borrowed from Palman language which he borrowed from Chaz).

"I mean, come on," Raja spoke out loud to nobody, "I thought 'morons' only existed in Palman society, but here they are -- my own people. It must be contagious."

Archbishop Raja sat alone in Shaakrum Hall for hours pondering all of life's questions and getting not a single response. He knew no one would bother him while he thought within Shaakrum; this time was set aside for him to plan the following day's activities, if there were to be any. Often times Raja would simply tell all of Gumbian to do whatever they like. While Dereth found importance in everything, Raja only thought a few things important such as life, health, goodness, and humor, among other things. These were his ideals and established an unwritten doctrine on how they attributed to a Dezorian's good physical and mental stability. A few of his people shared his ideals, but did not believe them. They saw Raja as kind and giving, but deviating from social norms. They loved him anyway.

After spending too much time by himself, Raja decided to leave Shaakrum Hall and rejoin his comrades, as boring as they were. As he got up to leave, an enormous shockwave of pain hit him like a ton of lead bricks. It seemed like an iron vise closed two powerful jaws around his head and squeezed until he was sure his head would explode. He fell to his knees, screaming, thrashing, hoping something would take away this excruciating pain he felt. Unable to open his eyes, Raja vaguely felt hands around him, restraining every part of his body. Strange chants filled his head, chants of Res and other mystical spells Nyr, Ovis, and Chele were able to cast, but nothing worked. He felt gentle three-fingered hands caressing his head, trying desperately to give comfort and then found himself screaming out Jaerli's name to rid the pain. It remained a few seconds longer then in an instant --

It disappeared.

Raja sat up, stunned. Across from him lay his Holy Mrtsh and the Nares Staff. Surrounding the Archbishop were Ovis and Chele, trembling and shaken, and Nyr and Jaerli, calm, collected, doing everything in their power to help him. "Raja," Jaerli spoke, concern evident in her voice, "Raja, what happened? Are you all right? I felt your pain and came running as fast as my legs would let me." He was about to respond when an odd sensation caught his attention.

Standing up, Raja moved around Shaakrum Hall sensing, detecting, almost like a person trying to determine his position with a compass. He said not a single word, but kept at it, the strange sensation growing stronger, more puissant.

This feeling, he thought, this sensation . . . I've felt it somewhere before, but I can't remember when or where. I feel cold, darkness, indifference all encroaching on me, but from where? It is a familiar feeling, yes, but why can't I put my finger on it. Was it on Motavia when I first encountered it? No -- it was right here on Dezoris. Now I feel anger, hatred, death as if they were my own feelings, but they are not. Are they coming from my comrades? Could their collective minds be overwhelming me? Doubtful. They have their flaws, but they are incapable of betrayal. Perhaps from other Dezorians, or maybe the Palmans. No, no -- these feelings are beyond physical, they are ethereal. Now I feel . . . what? This can't be! Rebirth?

"This can't be!" Raja cried out loud.

"What?" Jaerli questioned, frightened beyond words by the Archbishop's outburst. "What is it, Raja?" Raja stumbled, falling to his knees again, trembling, grasping onto the Nares Staff as an anathema for fear formed out of recognition.

"Garuberk! Garuberk Tower has been reborn!"

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