AN OLD FRIEND ON TRELLA

Another full day on the ship was taking its toll on the Muse of Mischief, Agent Brzko and Lelelu. After working out with Zri and some of his team they were still a little stir crazy. It was easy for Emperor Bartala and Empress Nalau to stay busy. They had administrative duties with regard to overseeing a planet and the roinad empire. There were endless tasks for them, and those were easily completed with basic communication equipment. The other three however, were looking for a way to spend the day.

“Let’s just  go  to Trella and look around.” Lelelu suggested.

It was obvious that M liked this idea, but she had a few concerns. “Zri, what do you think? Are you comfortable with the three of us leaving for a while? Or better still, why don’t you come with us?”

The group of four was in the cargo bay, post workout, casually sitting on storage containers while chatting and rehydrating.

Zri paused and looked off in the distance, considering this idea. “In a way it makes sense for me to go ahead of everyone and look around. On the other hand if something happens here….” he trailed off.

Agent Brzko jumped in, “We are all in constant contact with your crew and we can have you back in less than a minute.”

“Well OK then, give me a few minutes to speak with ShyUst.” he headed for the door with a slight spring in his step. He was excited about a brief exploration.

“I’ll go tell Bartala we’re leaving.” M said as she left the room.

She found Bartala and Nalau settled into the common room, both of them engrossed in their duties.

“Hey, we’re going to be off the ship for a while. Brzko, Lelelu, Zri and I are going to take a quick trip to Trella. We’ll be back in time for dinner.” she announced.

“Have a wonderful time, and please be cautious.” Nalau said before returning her attention to her work.

“As long as you don’t take all of the espidrun.” Bartala said without even looking up.

M took a step toward Bartala, ready to lecture him about appreciation or respect, but realized that would only delay the group’s departure. Instead she turned and left.

Zri was already back in the cargo hold when she returned. M looked at Brzko and asked, “Green Lake?” He nodded and stepped forward taking Lelelu’s arm, they were gone.

M stepped toward Zri, took his arm and they were gone.

She kept a firm grip on his arm for a second after arriving on Trella. He was used to his own Gaznzulian transports but not her apertures; they could make the passenger a little dizzy.

They group stood on the shore, just looking at the water. The lake is the color of emeralds. There was a light breeze, just enough to create small ripples on the water’s surface. The ripples reflected the sunlight, creating sparkles. It is not a large lake; one could easily swim across and back. The shores are a combination of sand and flat stones, all bright blue. The area near the lake is clear, at the edge of the clearing is perfectly green grass, and behind that are green trees.

Lelelu broke the silence, “It looks manufactured. Not just because of the fairytale colors but because it’s so perfect, so symmetrical. Does everything look like this?”

“You’re right I never thought of that when I was a child.” M responded. “Yes, I think everything on Trella is perfect like this.”

“This is where the blue crystals are from?” Zri asked. “Yes” Brzko answered. “See the sparkle coming from the opposite side of the lake?”

“Interesting. I have some new hive drones. As soon as my ship is in orbit I’ll deploy them, I’d like to see the surface of the entire planet.”

“Hive drones?” Zri mentioning new technology had sparked Brzko’s interest.

“Yes,  they  are  based  on  the  same  concept  as  a Burdohnirc. They function as one unit, combining their power for fast, distant travel. But when they reach their destination they separate into individual units, and cover an exponential amount of territory. Then they rejoin to return. It allows us to send them further from base, and cover much more territory.”

“I can’t wait to see them in action.”

“Is there a place you had in mind for landing? If I’m going to land we’ll need someplace with less vegetation.”

“M, isn’t there a field over that way?” Brzko asked. “It seems like the path here cuts through the trees for a short distance and then ends up in an open area.”

M stopped skipping rocks with Lelelu long enough to answer, “It’s been a long time but I think so.”

“Let’s go see.” Zri said.

Lelelu chucked the last stone, and it was perfect. “Wow nine skips Lelelu! You killed me on this round.” They high-fived each other while both men just looked at them like they’d lost their minds.

“What?” M said defensively when she noticed. “It’s not like you two aren’t just as competitive.”

They both conceded.

“True.”

“Well, yeah, you’re right.”

They headed to the trail with Zri in the lead. After they were through the grassy area, before they even entered the trees, he came to a dead stop.

Brzko was right behind him. “What’s wrong?”

Zri was looking down, “Shoe prints from a biped. Someone has been down this trail recently.”

M came up alongside him to see what he was looking at.

She recognized the prints right away, and she extended her leg and put her boot down right next to one of the prints. When she withdrew it there was an identical print. She giggled.

“Oh, right, when you came to get one of the blue crystals for Bartala.”

“Yep.” she said.

They continued on for a short distance through the trees. The forest continued on their right but, but in front, to the north of them and to the west, there was a large open area, maybe ten acres.

“What do you think of this area Zri?” Brzko asked. “It’s open and flat.”

“This looks fine, but I’d like to see what borders it on the other sides.”

“Let’s go, so we can be back in time for lunch.” M stepped into the lead and headed to the right, intent on walking the perimeter of the field.

Zri shook his head, “No wonder you and Bartala get along so well, you’re always ready for the next meal.”

“What can I say, I love food.”

The group finished walking the perimeter quickly. Zri hadn’t seen anything to cause him concern about landing his ship here tomorrow. So unless his scanners found something of concern, landing was a go.

“What else do you want to see while we’re here?” Brzko asked, looking at Zri and Lelelu.

They looked at each other and smiled, turned back to Brzko and in unison said, “The Pink River.”

All four of them laughed. “Let’s go.” M said “It’s over this way.” She pointed to the west.

~~~

They group spent a few minutes in the clearing created by the Pink River. Bored, the Muse of Mischief and Lelelu wandered on ahead, heading downstream, while Agent Brzko and Zri were deeply engrossed in a conversation about Zri’s new drone technology. Zri was explaining how the controls of his hive drones had been improved when they both heard something.

“Brrrrrrrrrrrrrzko, Brrrrrrrrrrrrrzko……..”

“Did you hear that?” He asked looking around.

“Yes, where is it coming from? I cannot detect the origin of the sound.” Zri was on full alert. No longer focused on their conversation, he was at full attention, ready to defend himself and Agent Brzko.

“Brrrrrrrrrrrrrzko, Brrrrrrrrrrrrrzko…….. Do you not remember me? I am Ferocity, I am your Ferocity.”

The words hit Brzko. They literally knocked the wind out of him. He plopped down on one of the boulders near him. Zri thought he’d been hit and went to him.

“Where were you hit, do you require medical?” He shook him by the shoulder trying to get a response, “Can you hear me? Agent Brzko?”

“Stand down Zri, stand down. I know this creature. He will not harm us.”

Zri was confused and there was no way he could “stand down” as Brzko suggested. Not until he knew what they were dealing with. He stood next to Brzko, surveying the area, looking for anything that may be a threat.

“I remember you Ferocity. Show yourself, please.”

The previously sunny day turned dark instantly. Something was blocking the sun. Brzko and Zri both looked up. There was a large winged being drifting down from above them. It had an amazing wingspan, and a long forked tail.

“Is that a Dragon?” Zri asked. “Brzko are you bonded to a Dragon?”

“Yes, I suppose I am.”

The winged being landed directly in front of Brzko. He knelt, lowered his head, and placed it in Brzko’s lap, “Lord Brzko, you have returned for me.”

Brzko reached out and rubbed Ferocity’s head, between his eyes. He began to make a sound, similar to the purr of a cat, but much deeper. The sound was so deep it created a vibration that could be felt. “Yes Ferocity I have returned. I, I…” He wasn’t quite sure what to say. “It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen you. Have you been here on Trella the whole time?”

Ferocity lifted his head and stood upright. He is a biped, and not much taller than Brzko and Zri, once on the ground with his wings folded behind him he does not seem as large as he had in the air. But he looks as ferocious as his name suggests. At the moment he was the same grayish color as the boulder Brzko was seated on. He has several horns on his head and large claws at the ends of his toes.

“Yes Lord, awaiting your return.”

Brzko stood and embraced Ferocity. “I’m happy to see you again Ferocity.” He pulled back and turned toward Zri, “This is my friend Zri, Zri this is Ferocity.”

Zri stepped up and put his hands on Ferocity’s forearms, “Greetings friend. It is a pleasure to meet you, I’ve heard about Dragons but never have I met one.” He was clearly very excited.

Ferocity tilted his head to the side as he looked Zri up and down, “You look like a Dragon to me, but not…..” he trailed off. He could sense that something was not as it seemed with Zri’s appearance. He inhaled several times in quick succession, sniffing the air around Zri, attempting to identify him.

“I am a Gaznzulian.”

“Ohhhh yes, Gaznzulian. We learn of your race as children on Dragona. You are reflective?”

“Essentially, yes.”

“Impressive.” Ferocity disengaged from the embrace and stepped back to get a better look at Zri. “Fascinating.”

“Me? No. But you on the other hand, you do realize that you are a mystery to the Universe. There are stories, but no one seems to know if Dragons really exist. Brzko, why didn’t you tell me you were bonded to a Dragon? You could have used his help a few times over the years.”

“Ferocity and I used to hang out here on Trella when we were young. It didn’t seem like a big deal back then. Ferocity how have your survived alone for all these years?”

“Adolescent Dragons live a solitary life. It is our way, it is how we learn. If we do not survive our youth, we are not strong enough to complete the bonding. It has always been our way.”

“So our bonding is not complete?”

“No, for that we must go to Dragona and appear before the Great Assembly.”

“Where is Dragona? I’ve heard tales of the planet but I’ve never seen a reference to its actual location. I thought it was make believe.” Zri asked.

“Only the bonded can know its location. Long ago Dragons were kidnapped and enslaved. We now keep the location of our home world guarded.”

Brzko and Zri both nodded, “So how do we travel to Dragona? And when?”

“We will make the journey in my ship. We can make the journey very soon, when you are ready.”

Both Brzko and Zri had the feeling that there were things Ferocity was not ready to divulge in front of Zri, in front of a stranger.

“We are here with my partner, the Muse of Mischief and my other friend, Lelelu, you need to meet them.”

“As you wish Brrrrrrrrrzko.”

“I just need to find out where M is.” Brzko said as he reached to activate his earcom link.

“You do not need the device, look inside and ask yourself where she is, ask yourself to feel her.” Ferocity said quietly.

“What? I’m not a telepath.”

“Are you sure? Use the bond as a link to find her, to ask her where she is.”

Zri stayed absolutely silent, just observing.

Brzko was about to protest again, he and M were close, they knew each other very well but could he actually reach out to her with his mind? There was only one way to tell. He closed his eyes and thought of her, tried to picture where she was.

The Muse of Mischief was walking with Lelelu when something came over her. She momentarily lost her balance and startled Lelelu.

“M, are you ok? What’s wrong?”

She didn’t answer right away. There was something new in her head. She could hear Brzko asking her where she was. It was just like hearing a Suus. She turned and looked at the river to give a visual representation of her answer.

Agent Brzko immediately appeared before her with a being she had never seen before.

They were all caught off guard by the appearance of this new being. Lelelu expressed her surprise by drawing her breath in sharply.

“It worked!” Brzko exclaimed. “You were right Ferocity.”

They all heard someone approaching from upstream where Brzko and Zri had been; it was Zri catching up with Brzko and Ferocity.

M turned back to Brzko, “What just happened and who is our new friend?” She was thinking that somehow this creature that looked like a mythical Dragon had facilitated Brzko’s telepathic ability.

“This is Ferocity, my Dragon. Ferocity, I present the Muse of Mischief.”

Ferocity stepped forward and bowed in front of M, “Your Highness. I am at your service.”

“Hello Ferocity, I’m pleased to meet you. I didn’t know Brzko had a Dragon. Did you somehow facilitate his ability to contact me telepathically?”

Ferocity paused, allowing Brzko a chance to answer. “No, he just told me that I could because I was bonded with you, I tried it and it worked. I’m still a little surprised myself.” “As am I!” M said.

“Ferocity, I’d like you meet Lelelu, she is a friend and significant member of our team.”

Ferocity turned to Lelelu, “Lelelu, it is my honor.”

“You three must have some things to discuss why don’t you take a walk? Zri and I can hang out here for while, right

Zri?”

“Of course, you can teach me how to skip rocks.”

M turned just in time to see him looking at Lelelu; he had the same twinkle in his eye that she had seen in Lelelu the night before. Could they be… Those thoughts would have to wait.

“Thanks Lelelu, that’s a good idea.” M said.

Brzko added. “We’ll catch up with you later. Call us if you need anything.”

He headed up the trail, back the way Zri had come. M was walking next to him and Ferocity was just a step behind. The trio walked in silence for few minutes, they paused where there was a deep bend in the river.

M could wait no longer, “So when did you two meet?”

“I’ve been thinking about that, trying to recall. It was the first time I came to Trella.”

“When you were a child?”

“Yes, and so was Ferocity, well not a child but whatever you call young Dragon. I think he was here every time I came to Trella alone. And it turns out he never left, he’s been waiting for me to return.” Brzko turned toward Ferocity, as did M.

“How did you survive alone for so long Ferocity? And why didn’t I ever see you here?”

“You did not see me because I was not meant for you.

Adolescent Dragons are solitary creatures. It is how we become strong. Only those that survive are worthy of being bonded. I have survived. I am ready to complete the bond with Agent Brzko if he will have me.”

“What exactly does that mean?” Brzko asked.

“Dragons are creatures of servitude. We always have been. However, unlike slaves, we choose whom we serve. Only those that are worthy are able to bond with a Dragon. Once bonded my purpose becomes to protect you, to support you, to care for you.”

Brzko realized that Ferocity was no longer grey; he had become more of a brownish color, the color of the sand they were standing on. “You’ve changed color since I first saw you.”

Ferocity smiled, with his large open nostrils and jagged horns jutting out of forehead, it was difficult to see pulling his lips back and baring his teeth as a friendly look. But his eyes, his golden eyes displayed exactly how he was feeling, and they sparkled with joy. When he blinked there was a second, inner eyelid, clear, that covered the eye from front to back; rather than top to bottom.

“You are still just as observant and inquisitive as you were as a child. Yes, my color has changed, now that I am fully grown it changes to adapt to my surroundings. It is naturally passive, but I can also control it – amplify it.” He sat down on the sand, with his legs drawn up, he wrapped his wings around him and changed his color to exactly that of the sand he was sitting on. His eyes were the only thing that stood out, once closed he blended in so well that he was almost invisible. He stood back up. “It is useful when I do not want to be seen.”

“That’s impressive. And I know you can fly, I’ve seen that. And you knew I could contact M telepathically. How did you know that?”

“Because I see both of you for who and what you are.

Your visions of yourselves are veiled by your own limited expectations.”

“Do you know what we are?” M asked.

“No, not for sure. There are stories on Dragona about beings like you, beings that can travel through their own apertures.”

It was M’s turn to ask some questions. “So how do you travel through the Universe? You breathe so surely you don’t fly through space.”

“Dragons use ships to travel. Our ships are somewhat sentient. They are small and very fast and cloaked. This is why scanners did not detect it.”

“A sentient ship? Oh I’d like to see that!” Brzko said, excited about the idea of new technology.

Instantly an image appeared in both his and M’s mind. It was a ship with a small center chamber and a large pointed wing on each side. It looked like a fighter of some kind. It was sitting in an open field, near a large rocky outcropping, and then it just blended into its surroundings and seemed to disappear.

“You’re telepathic?” M asked.

“Yes, slightly. Once bonded it will be stronger between Brzko and me. And because he is bonded to you, I can also communicate with you.”

“Speaking of bonding you said this would be completed on Dragona in front of a Great Assembly and that it would happen when I was ready. What did you mean?”

“A bond cannot be undone. A Lord can shun his Dragon, force him to live in exile, but the Dragon cannot bond with another, nor can he return to Dragona. This would force the Dragon to live in eternal solitude. The bond should not be completed if the commitment is not genuine.”

“What  responsibilities  do  I  have?  I  mean,  am  I responsible for your, housing, sustenance, things like that? And what do you eat? You’ve been alone on Trella for more than a decade and I’ve never seen any creatures large enough to qualify as a food source here.”

“A Bond does not need to provide housing or sustenance, although some do. Some want their Dragons under their roof, others just want them available. As for sustenance, Dragons evolved to survive on a diet of plant foods, just as you do.”

They were silent for a few moments, reflecting on the things they had just learned.

“I have another question, how did you choose Brzko? What brought you to Trella to meet him all those years ago?”

“Dragons are selected in a variety of ways. Someone made a deal with my father, at the appropriate time I was sent to Trella. I do not know who made the arrangements. It is an honor to be chosen to serve one such as you. To question it would be disrespectful. You need time to think Lord Brzko. I will return to my ship. You have seen it so you can now find it, or reach for me with your mind. I will hear you.” He bowed to Brzko and then spread his enormous wings and flew up, past the trees. They watched until he was out of sight.

Brzko plopped down, sitting on the sand. “I, wow, um….” “A little speechless huh? I guess it’s not every day that you find out you’re bonded to a Dragon!”

“So you think I should proceed with the bonding?”

“I think it’s an honor to have been selected to bond with a Dragon, I think it would be foolish not to accept such an honor. If we can find out who arranged for you to have a Dragon, we may find more clues to our origins.”

“But this will change things M this could create some big changes.”

M stood in front of Brzko, with her hands on her hips she looked down at him and asked, “And your point is….?

Brzko reached up as though he wanted a hand up, but instead, when she took his hand, he pulled first. He pulled her down on top of him, making her giggle like a schoolgirl. “I’m crazy about you M, you make everything better.”

“I love you too Brzko. Let’s get our friends and go back to the ship, I’m sure they have a lot of questions for us.”

~~~

The outing to Trella had been just what they needed, even though it was more than they expected. The Muse of Mischief and Agent Brzko had retired to their room as soon as they returned. There was never a doubt that Brzko would accept the honor of being bonded to a Dragon, but they still wanted a little time alone to come to terms with it, to digest it. He went back to Trella to speak to Ferocity, to accept the offer of bonding. And M joined the others in the community room.

Lelelu had been reviewing messages, sifting through them to see if anything needed M or Brzko’s attention.

M plopped down on the sofa next to her, “Anything interesting?”

“Yes and no. Bivoor checked in, everything with the hives seems to be fine. There are still no signs of aberidus. And the Rogsaars are readjusting to life on Myaad. Several of them are already planning exploration missions. I guess adventure is in their DNA. There is also a message from G’ist. He and Rogsaar are expecting their DNA was successfully combined.”

“Fantastic! The first Xinood Myaad cross.”

Empress Nalau joined them, she squealed with delight, “Ohhhhhh!!! That is wonderful news! Is there anything we can do for them? Do they need anything?”

“I don’t think so, at least not yet.” Lelelu answered. “I think they are keeping a low profile. Not everyone supports the idea of different species joining to create offspring.”

“An antiquated barbaric belief. Are we talking about Earth again?” Emperor Bartala asked, taking a seat next to his wife.

“What happened on Earth?” Brzko asked from the doorway.

“Nothing, well nothing we know of. Lelelu was just telling us that she received a message from G’ist. They were successful, he and Rogsaar are expecting.” M answered.

“Exciting news!” Brzko said. “I have some additional

news for you. Unless M and Lelelu already told you?”

Bartala turned to Brzko, standing in the doorway. “Told us what? What has happened Brzko?”

“I have been reunited with an old friend of mine on Trella, his name is Ferocity.”

“Wait, I thought there weren’t any beings on Trella.” Nalau said, “I’m confused.”

“It has been so long, and I was just a child when I last saw him, I forgot that I used to hang out with a Dragon whenever I was there alone.”

“A Dragon?” Bartala said waving his hand dismissively. “Stop Brzko, we have not had enough espidrun to believe tall tales yet. In fact we have yet to open a bottle.”

“I kid you not Emperor. Would you like to meet him?”

Bartala almost gave himself whiplash turning toward Brzko, still casually leaning in the doorway. Nalau jumped to her feet. “You’re not kidding. And the others aren’t saying anything, it must be real Bartala.” He jumped to his feet.

“Yes. Yes, of course we would like to meet a Dragon! Is he here?” Bartala said.

Brzko stepped through the doorway; Zri followed him into the room.

“No, you can meet him as soon as we get to Trella.” Brzko said taking his usual seat next to M.

“Did you begin today’s story hour without us?” They all turned and looked toward Zri still standing near the doorway. He was uncharacteristically outgoing on this trip.

Everyone just stared at him. “What? Oh, you two want more information about Brzko’s new friend.”

Their attention turned to Brzko when he spoke. “Dragons are real, I have one, I will soon be bonded to him, and you can meet him when we land on Trella tomorrow. Now who’s pouring?”

M couldn’t help it, she suffered a fit of laughter, Lelelu and Zri joined her. “Oh that’s just cruel Brzko. I love you but, c’mon you can’t leave them hanging like that.”

Empress Nalau jumped up to retrieve a fresh bottle of espidrun and glasses, “I’ll pour Brzko. But please give a little more detail before we have… story hour as Zri called it.”

“OK, OK, here’s what we know so far. Dragons are real, not mythical and they become bonded to individuals they deem worthy. My Dragon’s name is Ferocity. I used to see him when I visited Trella as a child. But that was so long ago that I had forgotten all about it. Anyway, he’s a little taller than me; he has horns and large wings. He looks frightening but is actually very gentle. You’ll meet him tomorrow when we land. I still have a lot to figure out, so that’s all I can tell you right now.”

Nalau had finished filling everyone’s glass with espidrun by the time Brzko finished his explanation. She sat down next to Bartala, took a sip of espidrun. After a moment she said, “OK, who’s telling stories of their past tonight?”

Before anyone could begin a story, Bartala offered a toast, “To friends and story hours, may we always have time for both!” Everyone agreed and drank. Zri plopped into his usual

chair and swung his legs up over the arm. Everyone stared at him.

“What? What is wrong? Why are you all looking at me? “We just aren’t used to seeing you relax, ever.” Bartala said.

“I used to relax a lot when I was young.” He smiled across the room at M.

She laughed out loud, and even though the group was looking back and forth between her and Zri, hoping for an explanation, she offered none.

“So what did I miss about G’ist and Rogsaar?” Zri asked.

“They are expecting. And I was explaining that they are going to keep a low profile, as not everyone approves of interspecies reproduction.” Lelelu explained.

“True. There is no shortage of feeble minds in the Universe. Will you please send them a message for me? Tell them that Gaznzul is willing to provide them with complimentary security services. We can help secure their dwelling or keep a ship in orbit around Xinood 5, provide an escort for their ship, whatever they need.”

“I’m happy to convey that message to them, thank you Zri.”

After a few moments of silence, Bartala spoke up, “It’s time you to tell us how you saved Ciic. Just how did the leader of Suus become indebted to you?”

“Yessssss,” Zri said “This is a great story because Gaznzul saved the day!”

Everyone got a kick out of Zri’s exuberance. Brzko started off…

“Lelelu had us travel to ancient Ireland. She had received a request for help from…?” he looked at Lelelu, waiting for her to fill in the blank.

“The initial message was anonymous; it appeared to be from someone that served the Naan family. But we now know that it was actually originated in Ireland… Earth. She clarified.

Brzko continued, “We were waiting for an Irish Faerie, I couldn’t imagine why a powerful being like this would need from me and M. Irish Faeries have the ability to travel between this world and Otherworld, sometimes friendly, sometimes not, but always powerful.”

“Otherworld? Is that a planet?” Bartala inquired.

“Sort of, it’s ancient mythology, the name translates as other Earth. Many cultures describe a place like this, usually containing beasts or odd creatures. The area that is Ireland was heavily influenced by a group called the Celtic. They described Otherworld as an island off the coast, with creatures that were red and white.” Brzko paused to sip his espidrun and continued. “It was cold and damp while we waited for the Faerie in the early morning, before it was light. Standing still gave strength to the damp cold so we started walking around the stone cairn where we were meeting the Faerie. We were both a little on edge; Hag’s have a bad reputation.”

“Hags?” Nalau asked.

“Ancient beings thought of as witches or sorceresses.” M answered.

Brzko continued, “The place seemed to have a lot of energy, there are many stories about the area. Some believe that the hills are haunted! It is said that Ireland was ruled by a witch sitting upon the Hag’s Bench. While smoking her pipe she doled out her demands, those that didn’t comply had spells cast upon them. The tombs were created by the witch when she was flying over the hills dropping stones to make the cairns. She fell and broke her neck, ended up buried under a pile of stones. No one knows for sure, but some say the tombs are actually doorways to Otherworld.

Anyway, we walked around the huge stone structures. The largest one had a single opening with a huge flat stone on the Northern side, that’s the stone that’s called the Hag’s Bench. We couldn’t shake the cold so we kept walking around the ancient burial chamber. All of sudden I see this woman where she hadn’t been before. It stopped me in my tracks.

She was standing on the stone, and she was stunningly beautiful. She wore a long white gown with so many layers it seemed to be alive in the breeze. There was a golden rope tied around her waist. It looked like stone in the center of her headband was moving, the color seemed fluid. She looked like the very definition of femininity. Yet… she seemed to exude so much power that it could be felt in the air. It was like being near lightning strikes in an electrical storm.

You may call me Mahb. She says with so much authority that we immediately knelt and averted our eyes.

I am the High Queen of the Daoine Sidhe, and Supreme Ruler of the light realm of the Otherworld. Do you know why I have summoned you here?

We did not know why she had asked to see us, and told her that.

She asked what we knew about Changelings.” “Changelings? What is a Changeling?” Bartala asked. “Irish folklore says that Changelings of that time were Faeries, sometimes children, sometimes old. Faeries took human children to Otherworld and left a changeling in the child’s place.” Brzko explained.

“A common story in many cultures. But they are usually just stories meant to frighten children. Are Irish Changelings real?” Nalau asked.

“It seems they are, or were. Mahb told us that one of the stolen human children was recently brought to her by a Faerie under her rule. But that the Faerie had been tricked because the child was not human and that if the child stayed in Otherworld she would destroy them all. We didn’t want to ask Mahb any questions because she clearly lacked patience and had a lot of power. A bad combination. Even though there is no physical place or time that can hold me and M, we knew there was a good chance that this creature could hurt us. And truthfully we were curious, what kind of child could frighten the ruler of Otherworld and how could she be linked to Suus? She told us she needed us to take the child back to wherever she was really from.

I asked her if she knew where that was and she lost it! She turned on me with vicious speed and yelled If I knew THAT I would have had her delivered there by a faerie. This Queen seriously hated men.

We asked where the child’s human parents were. She said that the Changeling that had been left with them killed them and fled. She told us she would go and get the child from Otherworld and then we were to leave her time and place immediately. In exchange she would grant us one favor. All we have to do is return to the Mountain of the Hags and summon her.”

“So when was this? I mean what century was this Mahb creature living in?” Zri asked.

“It was what Earth defines as about 900 years BC – so it was about 3,000 years ago.” Brzko answered.

“Are you ever concerned that you’ll get stuck in a different time? There are children’s stories about time jumpers getting stuck. Or worse, changing something in history and then returning to the present time and finding things have been changed. How do you know you aren’t making changes?” Bartala asked as he got up to refill everyone’s glasses.

“History can’t really be changed.” Brzko explained. “It will always take care of itself. If we are in the past, we are just observers. We can interact but nothing significant can be changed because it already happened. The worst you can do is create a new timeline. There is not a single timeline in a single Universe, timelines split into different possibilities.”

Bartala wasn’t quite satisfied yet, “Can you take a passenger, like you do when you open an aperture and travel?”

“No, we’ve tried a few times. Lelelu has been kind enough to try, but it just doesn’t work.”  Bartala nodded, acknowledging Brzko’s answer.

Brzko continued, “So she disappears to get the child, and we wait in silence. We kept our mouths shut because someone may have been listening. We circled the cairn one more time while we waited. Even after sunrise the Mountain of the Hags has its own eerie energy. There are definitely some secrets there, including exceptional symbols engraved in the stones. I don’t think their meanings are fully understood to this day.

By the time we got back to the Northwest side of the cairn, Mahb had returned. She was sitting on the Hag’s chair, with the child below her, she was holding the child in place with a very heavy hand on her shoulder, and her fingers were digging into the child. Which was odd, why didn’t she just use her magic to hold the child in place. We realized there must be something really unusual about this child.

Why must you keep me waiting? She yells when she sees us.

I bowed and apologized, referring to her as Your Majesty.

I told her we were savoring the beauty of the place before we had to leave. She was mad, but my charm was just enough to keep her from lashing out at us again. She looks at me and says Remember our agreement, you will remove this vile creature from this place and time and you will do so immediately. She shoved the child toward us and disappeared.

The child looked like a young human girl, a little more than a meter in height with long, smooth black hair, and dark eyes. They were black, the darkest eyes I had ever seen. But that was before I met Rogsaar. We introduced ourselves and asked her name, she just stared at us. We didn’t want to piss Mahb off so we decided to leave right away. We don’t usually take beings to our home but we didn’t know where else to go, se we took her there.”

“Wait, how did you get her from a historical time to present day?” Zri asked as he turned to the side and kicked his legs up over the arm of the chair, after pouring another round of espidrun for everyone.

M smiled at him, she really enjoyed seeing her old friend relax and enjoy himself. It had been far too long. “We weren’t sure we could do it at the time. But we think it’s because she wasn’t from that time, and we were essentially bringing her back to her time.”

“How did she get to a different time?” Nalau asked. “Probably with either a hired timeship or a time portal.

There are portals on the Planet of Portals that lead to different times.” Lelelu answered. “The problem with using them is returning. All Portals are one way. M and Brzko are the only beings we know of that can move through time on their own. These Portals were secured long ago, but with the right influence the Portal Authority could be swayed to provide access. And the ruling family of Suus could definitely have the right influence. I think that’s more likely than a hired timeship.”

Brzko paused to sip his espidrun and let Lelelu’s answer sink in. It was new information for them, the time Portals on the Planet of Portals were not well known. “When we get back to our home the child wouldn’t answer our questions about who she was or where she was from. But she really stunk! I mean if you got close she smelled like carrion that had been rotting in the sun for days.”

Brzko’s expression was priceless as he remembered the smell. Surprisingly no one interrupted, so he continued with the story.

“So you’ve probably figured out that in order to look human Ciic was put into some kind of shell, the shell had begun to deteriorate as she approached maturity. We’d been home for a few hours and were trying to decide how to figure out what kind of being this was and where it was from when she finally spoke. It gave us a terrible shock when her telepathy reached us. Telepaths were not new to us, but she looked human. She told us exactly who she was and that she was next in line in the Naan family to rule the planet Suus. She explained that the Viiv family was attempting to overthrow the Naan so she was hidden in ancient Ireland until she was old enough to take the throne. She said if Mahb had figured out that she was to be the ruler of a planet, she would not have let her go without a ransom. Ciic said that Mahb had powers we could not imagine, it almost seemed like she was telling us that Mahb is not of Earth. Which could explain how she was able to send the original message, and why the Suus picked an ancient Earth culture to hide Ciic.

We considered having Lelelu contact the Naan family and let them know where she was and what had happened. But Ciic didn’t think the privacy of the communication channels on Suus could be guaranteed. Our next option was to travel there, but that would take a little preparation and it was late. So we decided to wait until the morning. We set Ciic up in the spare room but she didn’t require sleep so she started watching a science fiction show called Star Trek: Next Generation.”

“Oh? What is that is it better than Babylon 5? What are the hairstyles like?” Bartala asked.

Everyone laughed, at first he couldn’t” figure out why, but then he joined in. “Oh I see yes, that is humorous. But you see this is validation. If a being like Ciic watched Earth science fiction then perhaps it is not so foolish an endeavor for me!” He dramatically finished off his espidrun, setting the glass on the table; he leaned back and settled in next to Nalau.

“It’s not foolish at all my friend.” Zri said as he stood up and retrieved the bottle. Knowing another round was to be poured; those that had not finished the current round did so. “I too have seen much Earth science fiction and it is quite entertaining. It is fascinating to see what a primitive species thinks the Universe may be like. They are so arrogant!”

Bartala nodded enthusiastically, he was pleased to have someone on his side.

“Zri, you’ve been watching Earth science fiction?” M said a little shocked.

“Hey, you are not my only source for goods from Earth.”

“I realize that, but what I’m wondering what is your favorite production is?” she teased back.

“Another day my friend, I will tell you on another day.” He smiled and sat back down after refilling everyone’s glasses, legs dangling over the arm of the chair.

M picked up the story giving Brzko time to catch up with the espidrun, “We never had a chance to decide what to do with Ciic. We were awakened by an intruder a few hours later. A Viiv had used a black market code jammer, probably purchased on the Black Sea Planet, to get through our security system. They jam the signals just long enough to transport through a system, but it

immediately triggers the security alarms. So within seconds Zri and his team were there.”

She paused to see if he wanted to finish the story. “When we arrived we found the Viiv holding Ciic, who still looked like a small human, by the neck. She was amazingly calm, just patiently waiting to see what would happen. She was intelligent enough to know that if she struggled, it would have made rescue that much more difficult. There was a brief dialogue, I demanded that he release the child, he demanded his family had a right to the throne on Suus. He would not succumb, there was an opportunity to neutralize him without harming Ciic and he was taken out. The team made sure there were no other breaches, updated the security system firmware so that style of jammer would never work again and prepared to leave. M and Brzko explained who Ciic was and why the Viiv wanted to kill her. I offered to take her and hide her until her ascent to the throne. And that’s it. She was on Gaznzul for less than 200 rotations before she shed the human cloak and emerged as a mature Suus. She returned home, took the throne, and married Muum.”

“No wonder she feels indebted to you three, without you she would have never lived long enough to take the throne.” Nalau said.

Without meaning to, the three of them answered at the same time, “It’s what we do.”

This made everyone laugh. When the laughter subsided Bartala spoke up. “What’s for dinner? I’m hungry.” This created another round of laughter.

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