A Big Shiny Blue Marble Ch. 24


Dahlgren explained that people spoke differently depending on where they were from and Nahl'een nodded.

"I'm sorry for the way that I talk if it sounds strange to you --"

Nahl'een shook her head, "Not sound strange. I like it!" Faith was surprised to find Nahl'een hugging her then, but she held on tight and they smiled at each other.

Faith grinned, until she saw what looked to her to be a tall, two-legged wolf walking toward them with some sort of weapon in its arms. There was a human-looking female with it. When they were close enough, Faith saw that the creature was female as well.

"Hello, Dahlgren," Selena said, "before you get all cold and silent on me, I'd really like to apologize to you for stealing your horse."

Dhalgren looked a little shocked, but he nodded, "It's alright. It was a while ago."

"Well you told me then that if I wanted to know the rest of it all, then I'd need to find you. Your mother found me first, but you were gone when I arrived."

"Selena is my sister!" Nahl'een exclaimed proudly, "I have a sister, Dahl!"

He smiled and nodded. Faith stepped over to take Selena's hand, "I'm uh, I'm Faith. I don't know who all everybody is here yet."

"Selena," the rogue said, "and this is Shaevre. She's something called a Xer, and they're also called hellhounds. You'll see why if you see them in their other shape. There's two more on the cutter there, both males so they're somewhat larger. We'd better get a move on Dahl, We've got a ways to go yet before it gets dark."

They began to walk, and did their best to explain.

Faith listened to all of it, but ...

Shaevre noted her confused expression and walked alongside, keeping her head on a swivel at the same time as she looked for threats. She expected none, but she'd been a trooper once and still considered herself to be Nahl'een's bodyguard. It suddenly came to her that this was coming to an end, and she wasn't sure about the way that she felt about it. She suddenly picked up on Faith's nervousness and looked over.

"You have nothing to fear from me," she smiled, "We have gone to some lengths to help Dahlgren and you."

She chuckled a little and Faith looked at the long teeth in her wolfish face, "You are partly the cause of all of this. Today, I am enjoying my life again. I know that it will take a little time to understand everything, but for now, accept my thanks."

Faith nodded, and as odd as this creature looked to her, she found herself liking Shaevre instantly once she'd heard her speak like this. As they neared the craft, Faith saw the lowered ramp and another of the creatures next to it. He was armed as well, and though he nodded politely as they approached, he remained until they were aboard before he looked around once more and walked aboard, hitting a control somewhere to cause the ramp to rise up and close with a whine.

Dahlgren walked forward and saw Arrax. "I am thankful, my friend, believe me, but what is all of this? How did you know? How did you find us?"

"We have little time, Ranger. Be seated and strap in. Have Shaevre provide headsets and we can talk on the way, but we must get moving soon. Come Xhan, I have learned that at least a little of your mother's gold was well-spent at the academy. Take the craft, while I navigate. I will give you a heading to fly."

There were humming and very muted roars coming to their ears as the cutter powered up. Faith looked around with wide eyes until she felt Selena's hand on hers, "It can be a little strange," she smiled, "but it got us here. I was nervous only an hour ago. Now I think that this is almost better than traveling on horseback. I'll keep you company, Faith. There's only one seat next to Dahl's over there and there is no way to keep Nahl'een out of his lap unless we let her sit in that seat."

Faith chuckled and nodded, "Can you tell me what's goin' on here?"

They heard Arrax' voice in their ears. "Aside from the Xer, there are two kinds of demon on this world and others. There are many sorts, but the three are the most widely spread. Dahlgren is one-half of the type that we Xer call the Merren, as are Selena and the little one. The third type we know as the Red, using the Merren name for them. You are one-half Red.

For longer than we can know, we Xer have allied ourselves with the Merren. Since there was often war between the Merren and the Red, we fought them beside the Merren, for the Reds have always been wilder. The Merren have always hated the Reds. The Xer have never cared much, but we are driven by gain and there is gain to be had as the allies of the Merren. This is a cold way to say it, and it is not the view that I hold in me, but it explains things better.

The Merren eventually forced the Reds to remain on only one plane of existence, and there was peace after this. Recently, Reds have appeared here on this world. They cause havoc wherever they appear, killing many, since the humans here have no effective defense against them. The Xer would not care one way or the other, but our allies are involved, and so we stand with them. And of course, they pay us well.

This world was once considered as a feed world for its resources by both us and the Merren. We established outposts here, but the efforts were abandoned once we learned of the humans and their history. The faith of the Merren considers that this world belongs to the humans, and the efforts at colonization were curtailed. Both of our races would already be gone, but for the appearance of the Reds on this world in the last twenty-five years or so, and the Merren faith holds natural balance above all, and so the last outpost remains with one Ranger to stop the advance of the Reds. That Ranger is Dahlgren, or course, since this is his home world anyway.

You have found each other, and since the Merren and the Xer share information on many levels, you were known to us, since a little before the incident where you met each other. All that was known of you was that you killed Red demons as well as Dahlgren did for your own reasons and that your name was Faith. If you have a surname, it is not known to us since it is not known to you, but if this mating between you is what we believe it to be, then it is the custom on this world for the female to take the surname of the male. If it is your wish, Faith, we will enter your name in our data as Faith Runei from this point forward."

There was a pause, and after a moment, Faith realized that Arrax was waiting for her response. She looked at Dahlgren who sat smiling back at her with Nahl'een and she spoke up. "Yes, uh, Mister um, ..."

"Arrax," the voice reminded.

"Yes, Arrax, sir. That is what I would want."

"Thank you, Faith," he chuckled, "Duly noted, and this will cause the poor Esteemed Ambassador Runei to lose the last of her mind, unfortunately, but as I tried to tell her often, it is not her choice to make.

You all should know that the Xer have decided to leave here. It will cause some trouble, but not much. What usually happens is that we would agree to remain, but the cost of our services would rise steeply, since there is nothing here of interest to us anymore. We foresee that the Merren will not agree to the increase and so we will leave. My role here is that I am in command of the outpost contingents on this world and many others. For something such as this world, I would simply order the closing of our efforts and be gone. But I find that in this case, I have reasons to wish to make certain other ... arrangements.

Our outpost will be scaled back to minimum with no guards -- other than the automated systems for as long as they might last. Dahlgren has asked the Great Ones -- a council of high-order Merren to recognize your union. This is something which has caused them a lot of trouble for obvious reasons since you are one-half Red demon, Faith.

To recognize the union would cause trouble on many levels, and they consider that you are not an enemy by yourself. They have feared that this would cause Dahlgren to turn from their service, and that is not wanted either. So what they have decided to do is to effectively look in the other direction, giving neither sanction nor censure to the joining, though they will note that the Xer have recorded it properly just now. Their hope is that Dahlgren will continue in his role with you, but they now wish for you both to focus your efforts on finding the cause of this outbreak, Dahlgren, and removing it if you can, so that the Merren can leave this world behind in good conscience with the tenets of their faith.

In exchange for this service to them, they will render you the abilities peculiar to your position -- in addition to your own considerable ones as your own as long as you live. Before you let your heart grow cold to them, my sincere advice to you is that you consider your position.

If you turn from them, you will lose any aid from them in terms of ability and be left with whatever might still work for you here. It is better than the normal way of terminating a Ranger instantly. So be careful as you consider this. Now, I will tell you what you must do if you both wish to survive, and remember that there is your daughter to consider. If you turn from them, they will come to retrieve Nahl'een, for they see another future Ranger in her. My advice is to accept their aid and their terms -- for now at least. I have been informed that you were already aided in a confrontation with Ambassador Ny'Zeille earlier today."

Faith looked over and she saw the hot glare of Dahlgren's eyes as he looked at the floor panels while he listened.

"From the records of your missions, I have learned that you once met another male, something like yourself, a half-breed, as it were. He is one-half Red demon, and he has much ability. The meeting was by chance and you both recognized each other. Since you had no reason to kill that one, and since he was acting sanely and seemed very intelligent, you felt that you had no cause to take any action against him and you parted amicably.

We are now going to a place approximately one-day's ride on horseback from where that male resides. You did not give your names to each other, but I can tell you that he is called Azrael Wannamaker."

They heard a bit of a tired sigh from Arrax through their headsets for a moment as he considered how to say what he felt that he had to say.

"Dahlgren, you and I have become as friends over your time as the Ranger here, and I can say that I have always looked forward to my trips to visit you with your mother whenever we journeyed there. I wish you only the best, and in case it has escaped your notice, none of this is being done with the knowledge or consent of Ny'Zeille Runei. We have parted over this issue, since I still have a brain and my sense of what is honorable and right causes me to act.

You and your mate will have to suspend your hatred of Red demons -- if you ever had such a hatred in you. Azrael is what you are, Faith, and he is not evil or rabid or tainted any more than are you. From the little that is known of him. I can say that he makes his living in the same profession as Selena. You will make your way to Azrael's home and if you do not wish to be hunted down, the best thing that I can think of for the time being is that you will need to ask him for sanctuary, for where he lives is not known to the Merren or your - at present - crazed mother.

The reason for the distance is so that the positional data in the craft's records and the particle trails left by this craft cannot be used much by her or others to find you and your family. I may be able to provide additional support, but at this time, this is not clear to me.

Unless I approach you, do not come near to this craft if you see it. Hide from this craft or any others. I may be ordered to search for you with Ny'Zeille. I doubt that it would happen, but I wish to take no chances. You and your family here - even though I have not even had the chance to speak with Faith very much -- you all mean much to me and I will not permit the twisted view of a ..." he chuckled, " sour old titbag to ruin your lives. Questions, while we still have time?"

"Arrax," Dahlgren said, "Thanks for this. How do you know where Azrael lives? He never told me, and I didn't ask, so there wouldn't be anything in the transcripts of my reports."

"The Xer have never shared the faith of the Merren," Arrax said, "We have our own. It came as a huge surprise to me to learn in my research that there is a deity worshiped long ago by humans far from this part of the world. I investigated out of my own interest, and I found that deity to be the same as the one central to my own faith."

"So, "Dahlgren said very cautiously, "You got the location in your prayers?"

"No," Arrax chuckled, "of course not. I will not tell you, and you will have to trust in the word of an old war dog, my friend.

But now it is the time for you to take stock and see what you have to aid you in this undertaking. Selena, what is your plan for yourself?"

The rogue laughed, "You're joking, right? I won't leave my little sister, if Dahlgren will let me tag along. I've still got more than eighteen gold on me. That's more than I've ever had in my life before, and I've got my things and my horse. If Dahlgren wants me to come along, and if you'll allow Shaevre to go, then I'm in."

"Shaevre is not under my command," they heard him chuckle, "she has already told me of her choice, which means that from the point of view of her commander -- me -- Shaevre is about to become listed as missing."

"You're in," Dahlgren smiled, "and thanks for what you've done."

"Besides," the Selena laughed as she nodded to acknowledge Dahlgren's thanks, "the way that I look at it, Ny'Zeille will be after my hide almost as much as she'll be after yours. I liked her as my friend, but after you and Faith sort of declared yourselves -- or whatever they call it, she just went crazy, and she'd barely talk to me anymore. She came to me and almost threw my pay at me and said that I could leave whenever I wanted. If this guy Azrael is a thief, well, I guess that I like him already -- if he's got any work for me."

There was a brief conversation between Arrax and Shaevre and she looked at Dahlgren. "I wish to come too. I love the little one too much to just walk away. I have Selena and I have Nahl'een. I would come if you want me."

Dahlgren bowed his head toward the Xer female, as was polite to them, "I am in your debt. This is better news than I could have hoped for. But horses..."

"Your horse is aboard, as is Selena's and she stole that of your mother to cause confusion when she left with Nahl'een," Arrax said.

He looked at Selena and he began to laugh.

"Some habits are hard to break," she shrugged.

"And we have my new pony!" Nahl'een added.

"I was going to ask --" he began, "My daughter has mentioned this maybe a hundred times now."

"I had a feeling that you were not able to get home as fast as you wanted" Selena said, "and I knew that she wanted to have one, so I bought uh, ..."

"P'tunia," Nahl'een reminded her.

"Yeah, Petunia," Selena smiled, "the burro that we hope will grow up to be a pony as her birthday gift from you. I also got her a saddle. I wanted to give her something from me as well. It's not every day that you find your sister. We can settle up later unless, ..."

"We'll settle up later," He grinned, "I'm just happy that you paid for the uh, pony instead of the usual way that you get horses."

"Is it your birthday today?" Faith asked as if she was only finding it out now, "I knew that it was gonna be soon. I don't have much, but I did get you a dress from the town that we were near. I hope it'll fit you."

Nahl'een sat and beamed, "I hope so too, but you are big present to me. Dahl need someone. I need someone. Have sister now, but, ... " she laughed, "I have BIG family now!"

She turned to Shaevre, "I think we cannot play much anymore, but I am still happy. I still have Shaevre."

Shaevre nodded, "I heard what you said to Arrax when you were afraid that I was in trouble today. My friend Nahl'een was afraid for me. Thank you, little one."

"Why we hide from Gramma?"

It brought them all an awkward silence. "Nahl'een," Dahlgren began, "You can't understand this and I don't want to upset how you think of Gramma, but, ... she's angry with me because Faith and I are together now."

"You love each other," Nahl'een said, "I see. What wrong?"

"Gramma does not like what Faith is. She tried to kill her today."

"She beat you up some, too," Faith added.

Nahl'een was shocked, and looked at Faith, "What you are, Faith? You are girl like me, like Selena, like Shaevre."

Faith smiled, "Honey? Ima give you a great big hug the very first chance I get. Your daddy said that you're six from what he told me. You've just taught me something."

"Xhan will remain with me," Arrax said, "I need two to manage this craft best, and he is skilled. We will begin our approach in a few minutes. Can you see past me, Dahlgren? See the mountains? The largest closest one. That is Cheyenne Mountain. The one that you seek lives there."

"Where on it does he live?" Dahlgren asked, "On top, or somewhere on the side of it? It looks a little large, Arrax, that's why I'm asking."

"I have no answer for you, my friend," Arrax said, "It was not made clear to me. You have some time to look, I think, and we brought enough food to last some days. It is wrapped tightly in ice in the largest pack. I will tie it to Ny'Zeille's horse when we land."

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