As the man hit the soot covered floor of the temple, Father Thomas rushed forward. Upon reaching his side, he saw that the man still breathed. He had merely fainted and remained uninjured. Turning to where Ogger still knelt he said "Help me carry him somewhere more comfortable."
"Kyn's place out in the woods was untouched," offered one of the bystanders.
"Good, we shall take him there." With Ogger's help, Father Thomas lifted the unconscious man and carried him from the temple's remains.
Revitalized with hope, Father Thomas had thrown off the cloak of despair which had settled upon him. Obviously, the appearance of this man was the answer to his prayer. This man of unknown origin would somehow be instrumental in the return of his people.
"What was that?" Ogger asked once they emerged from the temple.
"I believe it was a Qyaendri," replied Father Thomas. "A servant of our Lady."
A hushed murmur passed through those accompanying them. Throughout their lives they had heard tales of the wondrous creatures, but never in all their days had they expected one to materialize in their midst.
"Have everyone gather at Kyn's," he told them. "When the stranger awakens, we'll discover how we shall bring about the return of our people." Moving quickly, he and Ogger brought the man to Kyn's home and laid him on the bed. Kyn had been one of the men who fell during the initial moments of the attack.
A water filled bowl and towel were brought to clean the soot from the stranger and his clothes. And such strange clothes they were too. The shirt was made of a material softer than wool. Brown in color, it bore a bear's face with indecipherable symbols stitched in an arc over its head.
His pants were dark blue and made of a sturdy material. Perhaps the greatest oddity about the man's apparel was his shoes. Never before had any seen their like. They only came to the man's ankles and were tied with a long cord looped through circular, reinforced holes. Altogether it made for a very odd and strange appearance.
While one of the village women cleaned the man, another came in carrying the items the man had been holding when he appeared. "Father," the woman said as she came forward with them.
"Give them here my child," he said. Reaching out for them, he took the bucket and container from the woman. A strange aroma was being emitted by the contents of the bucket which he found to be not entirely unpleasant. Inside were a multitude of small yellowish-white objects. Setting the bucket on the bedside table, he turned his attention to the container. The outside was blue and white with strange, unfamiliar diagrams inscribed upon its surface. Moving the container, he could feel liquid sloshing about within. Setting the liquid filled container next to the bucket, he turned to those assembled in the room.
"These must be the man's food and drink," he said. "Perhaps given to him by the Lady." That elicited a murmur from the onlookers.
"It might be wise to let him rest," Ogger said.
Father Thomas nodded. "I shall remain here with him," he told them. "The rest of you continue in your search for any others who may have survived." As the villagers started to leave, he said, "Ogger."
The old man stopped and turned back toward him.
"Thank you for your help," he said.
Ogger nodded then continued out from the room.
Once the door was closed and he and the man were alone in the room, Father Thomas watched the rise and fall of the man's chest. In his mind, he contemplated the events culminating with the man's appearance. Praying for strength to do what must be done, he pulled a chair next to the bed, sat down, and waited.
Man, what a dream that was, Hunter thought. Rolling over, he tried to settle into a more comfortable position but failed. For some reason, his bed wasn't very comfortable.
His room was dark and he glanced around for the clock but failed to find it. He then looked over to where the red standby light on his monitor should be glowing in the dark and couldn't find it either. "Great," he moaned to himself. "Power's out."
It was still dark so there had to be another hour or two before he would be forced to get up for work, not that he wanted to. In the back of his mind he knew that with the power out, his alarm wouldn't sound and he would probably oversleep. So? he thought. Perfect excuse to sleep in.
Rolling over yet again, he tried to find a comfortable position. That's when he became aware of what sounded like breathing coming from within the room. Instantly he snapped fully awake and held still while trying to ascertain whether or not his imagination was playing tricks on him. After a few moments, he heard it again. Then he heard other noises coming from outside which gave him the impression of several others.
The first thing that came to mind was looters taking advantage of the blackout. He was being robbed! Not if he had any say in it. Whoever was in the room didn't appear to be moving. In fact, the breathing noise seemed to be coming from the same place. Whoever it was, was remaining in the same spot. Why? Hunter couldn't figure that out, but he wasn't going to waste time thinking while his few meager possessions walked out the door.
Between his mattress and box spring nestled a 9mm handgun. His father had given it to him shortly after he left for college. He was pretty good with it, having spent time out on the firing range every once in a while with his friend Mitch.
Moving his hand slowly, he slipped it over the edge of the bed and inched his way toward the space in which his gun was hidden. To his chagrin, his hand encountered the bed frame before the crease between his mattress and box spring. Raising his hand back up, he sought the crease but for some reason, couldn't locate it.
Cursing silently, he figured he was going to have to do this the old fashioned way. Hoping the intruders didn't have guns of their own, he slowly sat up on the edge of the bed. As he came to his feet, he continued to concentrate on the sound of the other's breathing. It remained unchanged. Curious.
From outside he heard muffled voices speaking to one another but wasn't able to make them out. One thing at a time, he thought. He had to take out the one in the room first. It still didn't sound as if the one in the room was moving about. Unwilling to take the time to ponder such an anomaly as an immobile intruder, he readied himself to pounce.
Turning toward the sound of breathing coming from the one in the room he sprang into action. He no sooner took a step than his bare foot forcefully struck a hard object. Aside from the massive amount of pain such a blow elicited from his toes, the unexpectedness of the encounter knocked him off balance. Crashing into a nearby table, he smashed it to pieces on his way to the floor. As the still intact section of the table fell upon him, he resisted the urge to cry out in pain due to the throbbing of his recently stubbed toes.
The sound of the crash startled Father Thomas awake. The candle which had been burning on the table had gone out and the room was pitch black. "Ogger!" he cried as he scrambled to his feet.
His first thought was that someone had made an attack on the stranger. But when Ogger and several others burst into the room with a lit torch, they quickly realized what had happened. The stranger had left the bed and took a misstep in the dark.
Father Thomas pulled the table off the stranger only to have the stranger strike him in the stomach. Doubling over from the blow, he stumbled backward.
The stranger grabbed a section of the broken table and wielded in like a club as he limped backward to place his back against the wall. Moving the club back and forth, the stranger looked as if he expected Father Thomas and the others to attack him.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ogger move forward toward the stranger. "Stay back!" he ordered the old man.
Ogger stopped and glanced his way. Upon seeing the priest motioning him to back off, he fell back several feet.
Father Thomas turned his attention to the stranger. He felt no anger for being struck, for he too would be unnerved to suddenly find himself inexplicably in foreign surroundings. Raising his hands with palms facing the stranger in a disarming gesture, he said, "We are not going to hurt you."
The stranger looked to him, his eyes slightly wild. Then the stranger looked to Ogger and the others before continuing to pan around the room. As his gaze moved, his expression turned from determination, to puzzlement, and then finally to one bordering on fear.
"Are you okay?" Father Thomas asked in a gentle, reassuring voice. Again, the stranger's gaze turned to him but made no other reply.
"I think he's not all there," observed Ogger.
"Quiet!" exclaimed Father Thomas quietly, all the while keeping his gaze fixed on the stranger.
"What is your name?" he asked. When again the stranger made no reply, Father Thomas moved one of his hands to his chest. Pointing to himself, he said, "Father Thomas." Again, no response.
Glancing over his shoulder, he realized most of the survivors of the earlier attack were crowding the area just within the room behind him. Turning to Ogger, he said, "It might be best if I dealt with him alone."
Ogger nodded. "You may be right father." Turning to the others he said, "Alright, you heard him. Everyone out." Moving forward he began ushering them toward, then through, the door.
"Do you want me to stay?" Ogger asked.
Father Thomas shook his head. "No," he replied. "But leave the torch."
"As you wish." As he came to the door and gently persuaded the last of the villagers to leave, he wedged the end of the torch into a crack in the wall, then walked out.
Once the door closed and he was alone with the stranger, Father Thomas could see the stranger begin to relax.
What is going on? Hunter tried to make sense of what he was seeing. He was not in his room. Rather, it looked like he was in some sort of cabin. The walls were made of logs and the furniture crude. How did he get here?
He held onto the piece of wood he was brandishing as a weapon while his mind worked to come to grips with the situation. There were at least ten people here other than himself. The one before him seemed to be the leader. From the way he was dressed in a robe and had short hair, he looked like one of those cultist leaders. Could that be what happened? Are they going to brainwash him and make him sell flowers at the airport? Hunter figured they were going to have to kill him before he would ever allow that to become a reality.
The leader spoke to him in some foreign language, but he couldn't make any sense of it. It sure wasn't Spanish or any of the others he had encountered over the years. He did relax some when everyone but the robed leader left the room. Hunter figured he could take the leader if he had to, but then what?
Not far from where he stood was a window. He began edging his way toward it to see if could figure out where he was. The leader stood still and quiet as he crossed over and looked out. He couldn't see much more than that they were surrounded by trees. Those who had been in the room earlier were congregating together nearby, a few cast glances his way.
Many looked to be in mourning. Men as well as women were crying, some spoke in anger, all in all the mood outside was not good. A second glance revealed that more than one bore fresh bandages that were stained with blood. Turning his gaze back to the leader, his confusion only grew.
As soon as his eyes met the other man's, the leader again pointed to himself and very slowly said, "Fa-ther Tho-mas."
"Father Thomas?" queried Hunter. His question elicited a smile and a nod.
The leader again pointed to himself and said, "Father Thomas." Then the leader pointed toward Hunter and looked at him questioningly.
"Hunter," he explained. "My name is Hunter."
"Hun...ter?" the leader asked.
Hunter nodded. "Yes," he replied. "Hunter."
The leader smiled and said, "Hunter."
"Okay," Hunter said, "now you know my name." The leader nodded when he paused. "What am I doing here?" The leader looked blank at the question. Then, he pointed over to a table near the bedside. When Hunter glanced over, he saw his drink and popcorn from the theater.
That sparked a memory. He had just arrived for the last half of the Three Stooges' marathon, bought his popcorn and drink, then had gone to sit down. After that his memory grew fuzzy. He faintly remembered walking through the door and into the theater. Then nothing until he woke up here in the dark. It didn't make any sense. If they kidnapped him, why bother to bring his popcorn and drink?
The leader spoke again and again gestured toward the popcorn and drink.
Hunter shook his head. "I don't want any, thanks," he said. "What I do want is to get out of here." The leader looked blankly at him for a second then nodded as he spoke several words.
"Do you understand what I am saying?" Hunter asked. The leader again paused a moment before nodding. Hunter remained quiet as the leader spoke, then nodded. "I don't know how I got here, but I want to leave." As it didn't appear that his life was in peril at the moment, he lowered the piece of wood.
As the leader spoke, Hunter nodded every once in a while in an attempt to placate him. He didn't know what was going on, but he hoped that by keeping this guy happy it might afford him a chance to escape. Thoughts went through his mind about cultists and how one documentary had detailed how a man managed to escape their clutches by pretending to go along until an opportunity presented itself for escape. So nodding and giving a small smile, he listened to words he did not understand.
"Hunter," Father Thomas said, "my people are in great peril. The Lady has brought you in answer to my prayers." Pausing, he waited until he saw Hunter nod before continuing. "We must hurry if we are to rescue my people." Again, Hunter nodded during a pause.
"Are you a wizard of great power?" Father Thomas asked. Relief washed over him as Hunter nodded. "Praise the Lady," he said.
Pointing again over to the man's food, he said, "We brought this for you should you require sustenance. Or can you eat our food?" A nod. "You can? Excellent." He gave Hunter a smile which was returned. This is going better than I had imagined, thought Father Thomas.
"We should hurry," he said, "before those who took our people have a chance to get too far away. They already have half a day's head start on us." When Hunter nodded, he turned his head toward the door and hollered, "Ogger!"
The door immediately opened and Ogger entered. Fear sprang anew in Hunter's eyes which Father Thomas was quick to alleviate. "It's okay," he said in a mollifying tone. "He's a friend."
"Everything alright Father?" asked Ogger. He glanced from the priest to the man against the wall.
"Yes," he said. "I think I've explained the situation. He's willing to help." Turning back to Hunter he asked, "Aren't you?"
The appearance of the second man worried Hunter at first. But when the leader, who's name he believed to be Father Thomas, turned back to him and spoke reassuringly, he relaxed and nodded again. The old guy seemed harmless, at least for the moment. Hunter felt the need to placate his captors until he could make a break for it. Until that time he would go along with anything as long as he didn't get hurt or was forced to do something immoral. At that time he would turn from a willing, passive captive to one bent on immediate escape by any means necessary.
After several exchanges of words, the old man passed back through the doorway. At that time, Father Thomas turned back toward him and began motioning for him to follow. Backing through the door, it was obvious he wanted Hunter to follow him from the room. Having little other recourse, Hunter moved away from the wall and cautiously followed him through the doorway, the piece of wood still firmly clutched in his right hand.
There he found another room which looked to be the cabin's living room with a small, crude kitchen off to the side. The lack of refrigerator and other modern amenities led him to believe this cult must not believe in modernization. There wasn't even so much as a television, radio, or lights. He looked to the walls but failed to locate any switches or power outlets.
When he reached the doorway leading to the outside, he paused. Almost twenty people were present outside, standing still and watching him. "Okay," he asked, "now what?"
Father Thomas spoke to him in his indecipherable language, again motioning for Hunter to follow. Geared to flee at a moment's notice, he stepped from the cabin. After three steps, he saw a woman approach him and came to a stop.
The first thing he noticed about her were her red eyes and the tracks tears had made in the areas of soot covering her face. She came toward him with what looked to be an old fashioned satchel. Stopping an arm's length away, she held it out for him.
Hunter glanced over to Father Thomas and saw him nod for him to take it. Reaching out, he took the satchel from the woman. She began speaking to him as tears welled anew. Then, panic seized him when she rushed forward. But it quickly dissipated when she wrapped her arms around him and began sobbing almost uncontrollably. Two of the other women quickly came and pulled her away. Something was greatly troubling these people, though for the life of him he couldn't figure it out.
Three other women came forward. One gave a satchel to Father Thomas, another to the old man, and the third to a younger man. When he saw the three of them sling their satchels across their backs, he did the same.
"Are we going somewhere?" he asked.
The crowd of people grew silent as every eye turned back toward him. Father Thomas came forward and laid a hand on his shoulder. He spoke for a few seconds and afterward waited with an expectant look. Not knowing what else to do, Hunter nodded. Immediately, the crowd collectively sighed in relief, many directing smiles his way.
From out of the trees came a man with a bow slung across his shoulders. The people grew silent once more as the man came and spoke with Father Thomas. Pointing back the way he had come he spoke quickly and urgently.
The effect of his words was immediately apparent to those assembled. The momentary happiness they had exhibited deteriorated quickly back into sadness, some even breaking down into sobs once more. When the man finished speaking, Father Thomas laid a hand on his shoulder and nodded. After speaking a few more words which sounded encouragingly to the crowd, he turned back to Hunter.
By this time, Hunter was thoroughly confused. What he was sure had been a cult didn't really act like one. On the contrary, they seemed to be in a great deal of distress. Either way, when Father Thomas spoke to him again and indicated they should follow the man with the bow, he didn't know what else to do but acquiesce. Until he figured out what was going on, he better play along. But the first chance that presented itself, he would make a break for it. Somewhere out there had to be a phone where he could call for help.
Father Thomas fell in behind Lurri, with Hunter close by. Ogger and Kyle, the younger man who was to accompany them, brought up the rear.
"They've made camp in the foothills," explained Lurri. A local woodsman, he had returned from a hunting trip not too long after the marauders had finished their business in Billin and headed south. He had immediately followed in the hopes of affecting their peoples' rescue, but the force had proven too strong. Once the enemy had made camp, he hurried back to inform the others and perhaps organize a more able rescue party. Imagine his surprise when he was told of the stranger and the way in which he had arrived.
Moving quickly, they soon returned to the charred remnants of their village. The sight of which caused the stranger to stop in his tracks. One building still burned while the others were either still smoldering or had been reduced to a pile of ash.
Father Thomas came and put a hand on the stranger's shoulder. "This was our village," he explained. "Most of our people have been captured by those who did this." The stranger glanced at him with an odd look in his eye. Then he silently nodded.
"Come," Lurri said. "We haven't much time. If we don't hurry dawn will come before we can reach them."
"And if that happens," added Kyle, "our chances of doing anything effective will be gone."
"You are correct my son," Father Thomas agreed. Turning to the stranger he said, "We must hurry." With a gentle tug on his arm to get him going, Father Thomas had the stranger moving once again.
As they left what had been his home for many years, Father Thomas offered another silent prayer beseeching help up to the Lady.
"Looks like Larus came through this time," said Ftheril, one the Qyaendri Daeson had authority over.
Standing unseen by the mortals making their way from the ruined village, Daeson nodded. "Perhaps." He and Ftheril watched as the mortals left the vicinity of Billin and began making their way down the river toward those who held their Lady's people. "Watch them," he told the Qyaendri. "Let me know if anything should develop."
Ftheril nodded as one of the lesser Qyaendri left to take the priest's latest prayer to the High Temple where it would be considered. No sooner had the one left than another appeared. Priests always had at least one Qyaendri in attendance at all times. In certain times of crisis or turmoil, there could be more. "As you wish," Ftheril replied.
Daeson cast one final glance to the mortals before they disappeared into the trees. Then he left this world, for there were many Qyaendri attending numerous errands that required his attention.