Chapter 98: The Hunter's Contract
The thing was impressed as it stood, unnoticed, in the entrance to the cavern. It hadn't ever seen things as potentially powerful as had just awoken. Of course, since they were only newborns, it could kill some of them itself, if it had any wish to. But it didn't care about Lavoids. All it cared about was its prey, less than twenty feet away. It just had to wait and see if the Lavoids would take care of Rakin for it. If not, it could do the job personally.
Same Time Period
Valiod's laughter only increased as the fluid emptied from the organic pink mass. The sac shrunk until it pressed against the spiked shells of the spawn. The spikes punctured through and tore it to pieces as it continued to shrink, until all that were left were the spawn, with ragged pink strips hanging from their quills. Slowly, as if it was completely natural, the spawn rose from the floor, floating a few feet above.
There were seven of them, all completely different. The central one was huge, at least five times the size of the spawn the original Travelers had faced. It didn't have a central eye as Lavos had, so that it looked like nothing so much as a big ball of spikes. This was a newborn Lavoid Queen, and it called itself Primus. It didn't tell anybody this name, but they all knew. Its power was overwhelming, and its intelligence was astonishing. They all received brief flashes of its mind as the thing worked out its place in the universe, and they could feel its thoughts, huge and all-encompassing, yet faster than any of them could follow. Here was a god among lesser living creatures.
Its siblings were great, but they could not compare to its majesty. Nor did they wish to. They circled around it in a defensive shield, ready to throw their lives away to protect it against any threat, as if they were its children. They all had names as well, known to all as well as Primus', chosen for reasons either obvious or beyond human perception.
Shade. The spawn had chosen its name well; it was barely visible. It seemed to shift in and out of reality, and even when visible it created an aura of darkness. Looking directly at it made the Travelers dizzy. It was impossible to make out its shape, except to say that it was on the small side, compared to some of its brethren.
Wormwood. Its spikes were so sharp that their points were invisible. The single eye among the spikes was an odd, sickly green. It wafted out a sharp, unhealthy stench. Its size was perfectly normal for a Lavoid spawn.
Stone. Its coloring was grey, and its spikes were so small and dull as to be useless. It was, however, almost as big as Primus, although it was hard to tell this. Something about it immediately said "Don't notice me," and the Travelers found themselves looking away without cause.
Beloved. This one was incredibly small, about the size of Masa or Mune. It had no spikes or eyes, but it was roughly round. Its form seemed almost soft, and looked as if it had been spun from silk. Its color was white.
Echo. Its surface was perfectly smooth. There was no sign of a spike anywhere. Only careful examination revealed the eye, since it was closed. The Travelers could see themselves reflected in the shell, but they were all somewhat... disturbed by the distorted reflections. It was on the small side.
Trio. This one was odd. It was composed of three separate normal-looking shells, each a little bigger than Beloved. The shells weren't visibly connected, but though they turned as they floated, and though they occasionally moved further apart, they remained in a perfect triangle.
And then Primus fully awoke, and the Travelers had to try hard to keep from running.
I live, Primus said, and its voice was terrible. Some of the Travelers held their hands to their ears, but the voice wasn't physical, it was mental. It was voice to set teeth on edge. It felt like swallowing tinfoil, or having something swimming around in your skull. It felt just plain wrong.
Valiod's laughter ceased. Tears were streaming down his face. Paternal pride shone on his face. "Yes, my child, you do. I... I am your father."
There was a pause as Primus seemed to consider this. Yes.
Valiod smiled. "You are wonderful, my child."
Valiod pointed at Rakin. "Now, Primus, destroy those interlopers."
Nobody could believe it, least of all Valiod. "Wh... what?"
No. Its voice held no anger or rebellion, simply certainty.
It would not benefit me.
Valiod's eyes bulged slightly. "Not benefit you? It would benefit me."
Primus seemed to be thinking again. Finally, it responded: So?
Valiod shook his head as if trying to clear away what he was hearing. "But... I'm your father!"
"You must do as I say!"
Valiod was again taken aback. "Because I'm your father... Isn't that enough?"
You are not of the Hive. You are unnatural. You are not a Lavoid or a Planeswalker. You are human.
"No, I'm more!"
You are less. You are a human with just enough Chaos in you to allow you to tap a very small amount of Chaos energy. You cannot even use the elements.
"But... but... If I'm unnatural, you are, too!"
Primus considered this new bit of information, but its voice betrayed no surprise when it spoke. Yes. We are not of the Hive. If the Queen discovers us, she may destroy us. There was no fear in the statement, simply fact.
"But if you obey me," Valiod pleaded, "I can protect you until you are powerful enough to challenge the Queen herself!"
No. You cannot. But your powers will be useful to us.
Valiod gasped, but there was nothing he could do. He could only take a step back before he was abruptly engulfed in a ball of darkness. He screamed then, a scream of pain and horror, but mostly of the pain of betrayal. The darkness dissipated, and he fell to his knees, breathing harshly. He shuddered. He was powerless, now. He coughed. "Wh... why? Why did you... betray me?"
Betray? Primus seemed honestly baffled by the word.
"You... owe me your lives. I'm your father... Don't I deserve something for that?
Primus considered this. Fathering us was the last duty given to you by your father, Chronos, the one you call Lavos. You deserve nothing for doing your duty.
Valiod seemed to sag. "Then... at least let me die, now that I am done. I've lived so many centuries, only to end up... useless. I can still feel that I'm immortal. Kill me, or at least let me age."
"It would be merciful."
How would that benefit me? Primus asked, simply.
Valiod stuttered, trying to come up with something, but in the end he was defeated by the spawn's self-serving logic. "It wouldn't."
We leave, Primus said, and as suddenly as that it and the other spawn shot up through the roof of the cavern, easily breaking through the shell of the dead Lavoid, and out into space.
Valiod quietly wept. "Why?" he asked nobody in particular. "Why?"
He didn't flinch at a hand on his shoulder. "You knew all along this would happen, Valiod," Rakin told him. "You knew that Lavoids are incapable of love."
"But... but my children were supposed to be... different."
"They were. They were amazingly powerful. More powerful than Lavos could have dreamed of becoming. And none of them fit the description of a 'normal' Lavoid physically, either."
Valiod shook his head. "I created them, and... they stole everything from me but the one thing I wanted them to steal. They wouldn't accept me." His voice hardened. "I hate them." He stood, shrugging off Rakin's hand. "I hate them. All of them. All Lavoids! They created me to serve a purpose, and just threw me away when I was done!" He clenched his small fists and shouted at the hole in the roof of the shell. "Well I'm not some tool to just be discarded! Do you hear me!? I'm Valiod! Valiod! Not some nameless pawn! And I swear, if I must live forever, I will spend every day of it trying to track you down! I will destroy you utterly!"
"You're going to need help."
Valiod turned to Rakin, his expression incredulous. "You... you would help me? Why?"
Rakin's voice was emotionless. "I've already told you why. It's not for you. It's for billions of people who won't survive if I don't help you."
Valiod still stared as if seeing some new, strange creature. "What can you do?"
"Just trust me, Valiod. Just trust me." He offered his hand, though he almost seemed to want to take it back.
Valiod stared at the hand for a moment, as if he didn't know what to make of it. Finally, though, he reached out and shook it. "Alright. I'm in. Whatever you've got planned, I'll be a part of it."
"He's not going to be planning anything," a voice whispered, and it carried across the room. The Travelers all turned to see who had snuck up on them, all stepping automatically into fighting stances. Rakin didn't turn around, simply closed his eyes, as if he wasn't surprised. He let go of Valiod's hand, and his arms dropped to his side. He knew what was coming.
The figure was, to put it simply, dark. It wore a cloak, blacker than night, so black that it seemed to suck in the light. Its hood was drawn up, and the face was shrouded in darkness. The hands and legs protruding from the cloak were wrapped in simple black cloth, and it wore black boots as well.
Having made its presence known, the thing pulled back its hood, drawing disgusted grimaces from the Travelers. It was human, or had been. There was a face, but it was gray and mostly rotted away. Shreds of skin flapped loosely here and there, and the right cheek was gone completely, leaving only grey teeth to show in its place. Reading emotion was impossible; there wasn't enough of the face to make out any expression at all. But its voice was enough. It was a cold creature, whatever it was, and its voice told of its coldness. Since the vocal cords had long since rotted away, its impossible speech conveyed meaning beyond human tones.
"Your time has come, Rakin Guardia of Elosia, born 1004 A.D. You are hereby commanded to finish your transfer."
"What is he talking about?" Corea asked. "Transfer?"
Gaspar shook his head. His shoulders slumped with despair. "No... Not you... Not Rakin... Please." He turned to Rakin. "Run, Rakin, run!"
"That's what I've been doing," Rakin said. He turned around, but didn't open his eyes. "I've been running for a long time, ever since I realized he was after me."
The figure didn't move a muscle. In fact, it wasn't breathing. But it spoke. "This is all irrelevant. You will come with me, or I will take you. Nobody escapes me forever. Not even immortals."
"Nobody threatens my son," Crono said simply, and stepped before the thing. "Whoever you are, you can just go home."
The thing looked at him as if he had just realized the King even existed. "He must pay the price."
"I'll pay the price. I've got all of Guardia's gold backing me."
The left side of the thing's face drew up in what was probably meant to be a smile. It failed to look anything like amusement, though. "You don't know what you ask for. But you both can pay the price, if you wish."
"No," Rakin said, forcefully. "If anyone here pays, it's me. And only me."
The thing was suddenly a blur, moving so fast that Crono didn't even have a chance to blink as it passed him, easily weaving between the Travelers to stand before Rakin and Valiod. It ignored Valiod completely, and stared at Rakin with something very like hunger. "So you accept?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Rakin, who is he?" Marle demanded. "What 'price' does he want you to pay?"
The thing turned toward her. "He escaped. Nobody escapes from me for long. I catch up with everybody sooner or later."
"But who are you?"
The thing tried to smile again. "I am the Reaper of Elosia, this planet. I am the final destination of all mortals. I am Death." It looked at Rakin, still talking to Marle. "Your son escaped me once. He was killed by a Golem at Zenan Bridge, but he was granted life again, just long enough to save Elosia. That was the contract. He agreed to it. He's saved this world. Now he comes with me."
"No!" Schala cried out. "You can't take my Prince! He and I are meant to be together!"
Though the Travelers were surprised that she was the one to issue the charge (Christina had been about to do it), they all joined in. Even Valiod jumped at the Reaper, determined not to let Rakin, his only chance for revenge, die. They all charged as one, though they didn't know what they were up against. The Travelers were mighty, but who could defeat Death itself?
The Reaper defended himself.
"Death findeth all."
-Glenn, Chrono Continuum
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