On a plane of existence unattainable by living mortals, sat the High Temple of Casdralla. Within its sacred halls resided the greatest of the Qyaendri who served the goddess. These beings, immortal and powerful, had the ability of traversing between the planes upon which the gods resided and the ones their mortal worshipers inhabited. Having such beings in their service was the only way in which the gods could affect what transpired on the numerous inhabited worlds of the universe.
In a never ceasing stream, the prayers of Casdralla's worshipers were brought to the High Temple. Lesser Qyaendri were always among her people, ever watchful and listening to their needs. When a prayer was given up to the goddess they brought it to the High Temple, and there the decision was made whether or not to grant the follower's prayer.
Prayers ranged widely from the mundane to the grandiose. Those which flowed from great need, or were in line with the philosophy of the goddess, were the ones most likely to be granted. Those of a selfish nature such as wishing ill on another so you could prosper, or for money to buy items of little import, were summarily rejected. Whether large or small, each was brought to the High Temple for consideration.
Many Qyaendri were always in and about the High Temple for there were many worlds upon which Casdralla's influence had spread. Some worlds numbered followers in the millions, while others held but a handful. No matter the size, each was accorded the same amount of diligence by the attending Qyaendri.
This day was no different than any other, though days as mortals thought of them had little meaning in the High Temple. Qyaendri came and went with prayers both large and small. Those which had been deemed worthy, were assigned lesser Qyaendri that would return to the world from which the prayer originated and do their best to fulfill the worshiper's need.
Needless to say, some prayers needed to be answered by more experienced Qyaendri. Those were the prayers which had a much more encompassing affect, or were directly linked to the worship of her followers; ones such as the choice for the next High Priest, or dealings with neighboring kingdoms, those sorts of things.
Once in a very great while, communication to the High Temple comes not from the worlds of her followers, but from the goddess herself. Only three of Casdralla's Qyaendri ever had direct dealings with Her. Those three had served her the longest and proven their faithfulness and judgment over the millennium. Rarely were they seen within the High Temple. For the most part, they appeared only when they were there to gather high ranking Qyaendri and a cadre of Celestial Warriors for a mission to a world wherein Casdralla held little or no influence. Such missions were how she continued spreading her influence throughout the universe.
Of the three, Xi was senior and had served Casdralla longer than the memory of any other Qyaendri could recollect. Not for a thousand years had he graced the High Temple with his presence. And so, when he appeared within the Rotunda of the High Temple before the goddess' statue, it was greeted with great surprise and anticipation. For surely, his presence foretold an event of possible world shattering import. Word of his presence spread like wildfire through the ranks of the Qyaendri.
Those Qyaendri on their way back to worlds to answer prayers, or simply to watch over the faithful, stopped when they were made aware of his appearance. Prayers were left waiting as each and every Qyaendri converged on the High Temple in the hopes of being one of those chosen to aid Xi in whatever his endeavor may be. While it was true, those of minor standing in the hierarchy of Casdralla's Qyaendri had little chance of being chosen, one never knew. And so, each came and waited as Xi stood there quietly gazing out over the assembled Qyaendri.
Finally, his eyes settled on one of the Qyaendri. "Daeson," his deep, base voice intoned.
A murmur ran through the assembled Qyaendri as the one upon whom Xi's gaze was fixed made his way forward.
Daeson's heart, if Qyaendri were to have such, pounded in his chest with pride and exhilaration for having been picked. As he made his way forward he could feel the eyes of everyone upon him, some joyful for him, others envious.
He wasn't a high ranking member of Casdralla's Qyaendri, but had proven himself throughout the years and was now what in human terms would be considered a sergeant of sorts. Daeson held a modicum of authority and oversaw a cadre of the lesser Qyaendri.
Coming to stand before Xi, he knelt down on one knee, bowed his head and asked, "What does our Lady require of me?"
An expectant hush fell over the gathered Qyaendri as they waited for Xi's reply.
"Have Larus returned to the High Temple," Xi commanded.
Daeson couldn't believe at first what he had heard. Xi wanted him to bring Larus back? His first inclination was to ask why, but he dared not do so. If that was what their Lady wanted, then that is what he would do. Raising his head, he looked at the ancient Qyaendri. "It shall be done," he replied, giving Xi another bow. When he brought his head back up, Xi was gone.
On a world far removed from the High Temple, a boy worked in a field cutting tall grass with a scythe half again too large for him. The youngest of five sons, he was thought to be a little bit addlepated.
He was often withdrawn and rarely had dealings with others his own age. This gave his mother and father grave concerns for his future. Now eight years old, he should be taking a more active role in life, but instead, seemed to be withdrawing more and more. He tended to work alone and was lost when forced to work with others. That was why he was here, alone in the corner of the field, cutting grass to feed their livestock. Next to him stood a wagon partially filled with grass already cut. Once it was completely filled, Allen could return home.
"I don't care what you think," he said to his friend.
"Yes you do," replied Stymie. Though no one else could see him, Stymie was Allen's best friend. They had been fast friends for two years now, and Stymie was the only one with whom Allen would talk outside his family.
"School is stupid!" Allen said as the scythe cut a small swath of grass.
From where Stymie sat on a nearby stump, he sighed as he watched his friend pick up the cut grass and lay it within the wagon. "School is not stupid," he argued. "You get to meet people and make friends."
After tossing the grass into the wagon, Allen turned to his friend. "I don't like people," he replied. "No one understands me."
This has been a common conversation between them for some time. In the fall, Allen would be starting school as do all youths in his community when they reached their eighth year.
"They will," replied Stymie. "You simply need to give them the chance to get to know you."
Returning to cut more grass, Allen gripped the scythe and paused before cutting a swath. Without looking at his friend, he whispered, "I'm scared."
Stymie hopped off the fence and came toward him. "I know you are," he replied. "But I'll be there with you." When Allen turned to look at him, Stymie could see the fear in his eyes. Even a small tear had begun to make its way down his cheek. The dread he felt at being forced into social contact with others had grown steadily as the first day of school began.
"I don't know what I would do without you Sty," he said.
Then as Stymie always did when Allen grew melancholy, which he had begun to do less and less since Stymie's first appearance, he hopped onto his hands and began gyrating around. When a smile broke across Allen's face, he flipped back onto his feet and launched himself toward the boy. Giggling and laughing, the two rolled about in the tall grass as they wrestled.
When they finally broke apart, the melancholy which had taken hold of Allen was gone. Stymie knew Allen was in for a hard time once he began school. Over the past two years, he has seen Allen emerge from his shell bit by bit. By the time school began, it was Stymie's hope he would be ready.
"You always know just what to do," Allen told him. Stalks of straw intermixed with his shoulder length brown hair made him look quite comical.
"That's what I'm..." began Stymie when his attention was caught by the sight of someone standing across the field looking in their direction. A sharp intake of breath followed as he saw a faint glow shimmering about the figure.
Larus' time wasn't nearly over yet. When he had come in answer to the prayers of the boy's mother two years ago, he had been charged with helping Allen emerge from within himself and be able to have a more active role with those around him. In Larus' mind, the resolution of Allen's mother's prayer hadn't yet come about. To remove him from Allen before his mission was completed could undermine everything he had worked to achieve with the boy.
Staring across the field to where Daeson waited, he inwardly sighed. Creating a simulacrum of himself to remain with Allen, he hurried toward Daeson.
He came and knelt on one knee before the superior Qyaendri and bowed his head. "What does our Lady require of me?" he asked. Such was the ritual question a subordinate Qyaendri always asked a superior.
"You must return to the High Temple at once," Daeson replied.
"But," argued Larus as he came back to his feet, "my work here is not finished."
"I realize that." He paused a moment as he glanced back to where Larus' simulacrum sat near Allen. "Xi has requested you to return."
"Xi?" he asked, shocked beyond measure that a lowly Qyaendri like himself would even be known by one such as Xi. "What...what does he want of me?"
"He would hardly explain himself to me," explained Daeson. "All I know is that you are to return to the High Temple immediately."
It was with no small amount of trepidation that he heard those words. Once before he had been summoned back to the High Temple and it hadn't been for congratulations on a job well done. Rather, it had been due to the disruption he had caused on a mission where they had striven to bring Casdralla's enlightenment to one of the many worlds filling the universe. He could see that Daeson remembered as well. Daeson had been one of the leaders of their group and had lost much standing within the Qyaendri hierarchy because of him.
"But, what of Allen?" he asked.
"Allen will be assigned another Qyaendri," Daeson told him. Directing Larus' gaze back to the boy, he showed him where another Qyaendri had already taken his place. In every aspect, the new Qyaendri looked just like the ‘Stymie' Larus had portrayed. It didn't appear Allen even noticed the difference.
Larus looked on with mixed feelings, not the least was sadness at being parted from Allen. Many of the Qyaendri disliked being the ones who fulfilled the lesser prayers and would have jumped at the chance to put behind them such an ignoble job as being the playmate of a small boy. Larus on the other hand enjoyed these types of jobs. True, he had originally been part of Casdralla's Celestial Warriors, and had shown great promise before the incident which had preceded his earlier summons back to the High Temple. But where he was happiest was out in the field helping to make the lives of his Lady's followers better. He held great empathy for them.
Turning back to Daeson, Larus sighed and nodded. "I'm ready," he said.
"Before we return," said Daeson, "let me just tell you that I don't know why Xi would request you. There are many others who are wiser..." he paused and stared at Larus as if daring him to argue, "and more dedicated."
Larus knew that Daeson didn't like him, and he felt guilty for having been responsible for all the troubles Daeson had gone through because of him. Frankly, he too was rather astounded that Xi had asked for him.
"Whatever he may have in mind for you to do," continued Daeson, "give it your utmost attention and stay focused on the job at hand. I don't want you to mess it up like you did before."
"I won't," replied Larus. "I've learned my lesson. I'll stay focused on whatever my task is to be."
Daeson continued glaring at Larus for a moment before nodding. "See that you do." Then with that, he and Larus left Allen's world and returned to the High Temple.
Upon their return, they found the High Temple even more crowded than it had been when Daeson departed. Word must have spread throughout the ranks of Qyaendri that Xi had appeared and something momentous was in the offing.
None spoke to the pair as they made their way toward the rotunda where Xi had so recently appeared. The Rotunda was the general meeting area within the High Temple. Seven statues of the goddess were evenly spaced in a circular formation around the outer fringe. An eighth statue, dwarfing the others, stood majestically in the center. It was toward the central statue that Daeson and Larus proceeded. As they drew close, Xi appeared.
Larus and Daeson dropped to one knee and respectfully bowed to Xi in silence. They remained that way until Xi spoke.
"Larus," resonated Xi's deep voice.
Larus raised his head and gazed at the most ancient of all Casdralla's Qyaendri.
"Our Lady's people are faced with great difficulties in the times ahead," he said. "Her presence on their world may come to an end."
"No!" several of the Qyaendri among those watching exclaimed.
"What does our Lady want of me?" Larus asked.
"To save her people," he replied.
"How?" asked Larus. The fate of her people on an entire world was going to rest in his hands? Where most would feel only the greatest sense of pride in being selected for such a job, he instead felt grossly inadequate with just a touch of fear.
Reaching out his hand to Larus, Xi replied, "Take my hand."
Larus reached out and laid his hand upon Xi's palm. As soon as contact was made, they disappeared.
When they were again corporeal, Larus discovered that he was in a very strange place. The air was the same as what he had experienced on most of the other worlds to which he had traveled in Casdralla's service. It was an arid place with sand and round shaped weeds which tumbled as the wind blew. Larus gazed to the horizon and found a range of mountains rising to the sky. Between where they stood and the mountains were more sand and dirt, a few small trees, and the odd bird.
What made it so strange was the uniform, black road that lay on the ground before them, and the building situated on the other side. The black road was unlike any he had seen before, with a strange yellow stripe running down the middle and a single white line adorning either edge.
The building across the road was rather squat, looked dirty, and in disrepair. A tall pole in front had a large squarish sign that bore the inscription: Good Food---Gas.
"Where are we?" Larus asked. Other than the strange road and the building, there were no indications that people inhabited this place. "Is this where our Lady's people live?"
"No," Xi replied. "On this world, there are none who worship our Lady."
Larus glanced at the other in surprise. "Why am I here then?" he asked.
"There is one here who can help our people," explained Xi. Glancing to Larus, Xi continued. "You have a single year of this world to locate the one and prepare him for what he must do."
"Him?" asked Larus. "So am I to understand that I am to find a man?"
Xi didn't reply. "We have made arrangements for one person to be selected and removed from this world," he further explained. He glanced to Larus and said, "Only one."
Larus nodded gravely. He understood that whoever was selected would be the only chance they had. "Part of our agreement is that you in no way attempt to bring our Lady's influence to this world. You will not interfere with its people. Confine your actions with locating, and training the one who must save our Lady's people."
"I understand," he replied. Then he felt energy flowing from Xi to him and what needed to be done, as well as the information to impart to the one chosen, was made known to him.
"You have one year," Xi said then vanished.
As he stood there in the aftermath of what he had learned, he thought of the great responsibility entrusted to him by the mighty Xi. The fear he had earlier felt at being summoned by Xi faded away only to be replaced with pride and a sense of purpose. Yes, he said to himself. I can do this!
Glancing around at his surroundings, the first question that came to mind was, ‘What manner of people lived here?' He bent down to touch the black road running along the ground in front of him and was surprised to find it hard, yet slightly malleable.
"Interesting," he said to himself.
Then his attention turned toward the squat building. Stepping toward it, he walked across the black road to investigate. Often times, an examination of the native architecture would reveal insights into the inhabitants of a world.
Out front were two small obelisk looking structures about five feet high. They had tubes of a firm substance that was attached to them at one end. Passing the obelisks, he made his way to the building.
It had several windows whose glass had long since been broken, all but one were boarded up. The front door was a latticework of metal which he found to be unusual. Looking inside, he saw barren stands and tables. Small animals the size of his hand with a long tail, rats he thought they were, could be seen making their way across the floor. Whatever this place's original function had been, it was deserted now. Realizing he wasn't going to learn anything further there, he returned to the road.
Glancing down either direction failed to gave him any indication as to which way he needed to go in order to reach the nearest town. Determining that the path to the right traveled slightly downhill, he decided to try that way. Stepping upon the black road, he set out in search for the one who would save Casdralla's people. Larus had been walking for a little over two hours, all the while contemplating the information Xi gave him to impart to the chosen one. First and foremost was the language of the world in question. Whoever the chosen one turned out to be, it was a given that his native tongue would not be that of the world to which he would be taken. Also, there was a general knowledge of the world which would prove invaluable, as well as basic skills he may need along the way. Then a sound began to develop behind him, bringing him out of his reverie. It was growing louder by the second. Glancing back the way he had come, he saw what looked to be a fast moving carriage hurtling toward him. What propelled it? he thought. There were no horses drawing it and the carriage rode low to the ground. It was black and shiny. Along the side were what looked to be red flames, but were in actuality simply an adornment.
As he turned toward the fast moving carriage, he could see two people riding inside. "Well, this was easy," he said to himself as he waved to them in greeting. It was nice of Xi to have placed him where he was sure to encounter the chosen one so readily.
He stood upon the road waving but the carriage failed to slow down. Almost as if those within didn't see him, it approached and then with a gust of wind, roared past. Larus was startled when just as the carriage was passing by, it let out with a very loud, very unnerving sound that lasted but a second.
As the carriage sped down the road away from him, he ceased waving. Standing perplexed for a moment, he tried to figure out what happened. Then from behind him, another roaring sound began to be heard. Looking back, he saw another carriage heading quickly toward him.
This carriage was unlike the other one. Where the first one had been black and shiny, this one was kind of a brownish color. Only one person was within it, and behind the area where the person sat, was a long open area that resembled a box without a lid.
Larus stood there as the carriage roared toward him. Always the friendly sort, he again waved. To his astonishment, the carriage let out with an unpleasant squealing sound as it began to slow. At its current rate of deceleration, he realized the carriage was going to stop next to where he stood.
As the carriage let out a final ear piercing squeal as it came to a stop, Larus looked through the carriage window and saw an older man inside. The glass of the window suddenly began moving down and smoke belched forth. "Are you lost?" the old man asked.
Larus wasn't sure how to respond so remained silent. Could this be the chosen one?
"Do you need a ride?" the old man asked.
"Yes," replied Larus. "I would find that most welcomed."
The old man waited while Larus simply stood there for a moment then said, "Well, don't just stand there." Motioning to the other side of the carriage, he added, "Get in."
"Oh, right," replied Larus. He quickly moved around to the other side and opened the door. The opening apparatus was unlike any other he had ever seen, but readily deduced its function. Climbing inside, he sat next to the old man then closed the door. As soon as the door shut, the carriage roared back to life and they began moving down the black road.
"What's your name?" the old man asked.
"Larus," he replied.
The old man grinned. "You can call me Pete," he said. Reaching up to the panel before him, he pressed a button and music filled the inside of the carriage. It was loud and its sudden appearance startled Larus.
As the old man pulled forth a small thin circular tube, Larus reached up out of curiosity for the button which seemed to have produced the music. Pressing it, the music abruptly stopped.
The old man applied a flame to the tube and smoke began to issue from it. He glanced to Larus and asked, "What, you don't like county?"
Country? Thinking fast, Larus replied, "I like your country very much."
"Then why did you turn it off?" the old man asked.
"Off?" asked a confused Larus.
"Yes," replied Pete. Reaching up, he pressed the button and the music reappeared. Pressing it again, the music vanished.
"Oh!" said Larus as he realized what the man was talking about. "You mean the music."
"Yes," said Pete, giving Larus a sidelong look.
Larus gave him a grin and pressed the button which caused the music to once more fill the carriage. The novelty of creating music by pressing a button intrigued him.
"Are you okay?" Pete asked.
"I am fine, thank you," Larus assured him.
Pete held forth his hand which held a small package with more of the round tubes and offered him one. "Want a smoke?" he asked.
Larus shook his head. "I must decline," he answered. He had encountered various means in which people inhaled smoke given off by burning vegetation, but never once had he enjoyed it.
Pete shrugged and said, "Suit yourself."
They rode down the road in silence for a bit, Larus completely enthralled by the novelty of riding in a horseless carriage. Turning back from watching the landscape zipping by, he caught Pete casting glances toward him. "Is there something I can help you with?" he asked.
Shaking his head, Pete said, "No." Then a moment later, "You're not sweating."
"That is true," replied Larus.
"But, it's a hundred and fifteen outside," the old man stated. "And you were walking beneath the sun."
"I don't perspire," he explained.
"Some kind of medical condition?" Pete asked.
"I suppose you could call it that," he replied.
While Pete had been checking him out, Larus had been weighing the chances of Pete being the chosen one. It didn't take him long to rule him out as a candidate. Using the senses all Qyaendri possess, he could tell the man had extensive problems with his lungs. In fact, Larus would be surprised if he lived through the week. He wanted to help the man for it was within his power to do so, but Xi's warning about not interfering with the people of this world prevented him.
Larus sat back and again looked out the window at the world passing by. Arid, barren, lifeless, he felt the chances of finding anyone suitable in such a land extremely remote. He knew his Lady's people were counting on him to find the one to save them. But where could that person be?
As they continued down the black road, they began encountering other carriages coming from the other direction. Not one of them looked the same. He was fascinated by the apparent need for variety these people exhibited. For the most part, places he had been sent to help Casdralla's faithful tended to be all the same; the people, sights, and sounds. But here, things were different.
"How far are you going?" Pete finally asked.
"I'm not entirely sure," he replied.
"A free spirit huh?" the old man guessed.
Larus shook his head. "No, that I am not."
The response wasn't what Pete was expecting. Shrugging it off, he said, "Well, I'm only going another couple miles. My son and I have a booth at the fair where we sell produce."
"Fair?" asked Larus.
"That's right," he replied.
"Will there be many people there?" he asked.
"A fair amount," he said, then laughed at the play on words.
"Excellent," Larus commented. "That would be an ideal place in which to start." He began thinking about how he was going to go about winnowing the people he was to meet down to the few who may fulfill the criteria for the chosen one. Before he had it figured out, his attention was drawn to a town appearing out of the horizon further down the road. As they drew closer, a sight appeared some ways from the town off the right side of the road that he had never seen before.
There was a large wheel going round and round yet not going anywhere. As they drew closer still, he saw people riding upon seats attached to the inner surface of the wheel. Then other sights, equally strange and wonderful caught his eye. "What is that?" he asked.
"That's the fair," explained the old man. "What, ain't you never seen one before?"
Larus shook his head. "Not like that," he replied.
"Shoot, that's a small one," he said with a chuckle. "Out here in the middle of nowhere, you can't wrangle the big amusement companies to come. But this one suits our needs and provided a place for the young'ens to have fun."
Not really paying much attention to what Pete was saying, Larus was taking in the wonders coming at him through the window; the lights and the people. And the energy! He could feel it radiating out from the fair. Only extreme emotions could generate such an outpouring of energy from mortals. Fear and love would do it, but he didn't feel any of that coming from there. Something else was causing it.
As Pete pulled from the road they had been traveling upon onto another smaller one, they covered the last of the distance to the fair.
Larus' eyes were trying to take in everything the fair had to offer. He then caught a whiff of an odor coming from outside the carriage. It took him a moment of searching before he found the correct mechanism and rolled his window down to better experience it. Baked bread, only sweeter with a hint of something else. As the window came down, so too did the noise enter. Larus was beside himself with the sights, sounds, and smells of the fair.
Pete followed the smaller road to one of the entryways where he came to a stop. A lady stood near the gate and approached Pete's window. "More produce Pete?" she asked.
"Yeah," he replied. "My boy called and said they were running low."
The lady looked over to Larus. "Who's your friend?"
"Found him wandering along the side of the road. His name's Larus," Pete explained.
"Walking out in this heat?" she asked.
Pete nodded. "Yep." Revving the engine, he said, "Talk to you later."
"You take care," she replied warmly.
Making their way slowly through the fairgrounds, Larus was overwhelmed by the sights and sounds. Never in all his experiences had he encountered anything like this on a mortal world. When Pete brought the carriage to a stop, Larus opened the door and left the cab. In the back of his mind he heard Pete calling his name but he was too enthralled by the energy bombarding him from every side to pay any attention.
The gleeful cries of children, the amazing odors emanating from dozens of sources, all added to the sensory overload he was experiencing. It was unlike anything he had ever experienced on a mortal world. Moving deeper into the fair, all he could think of was Pete's comment that this was small. He couldn't help but wonder what a large one would be like.