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Chapter Twenty-Nine

"We appreciate your being able to see us... ah..."

"Priest Rahib."

"Priest Rahib. When the man we first met referred us to you... he didn't seem too happy to see... Palmans." Alis, Odin, Myau and Noah sat inside a small office, located in the rear of a massive church deep in the underground Dezorian settlement. On the other side of a large desk, sculpted out of some unknown ore, sat the local religious leader of the town, one Priest Rahib. He looked remarkably similar to the first Dezorian they had seen... in fact, if it were not for his far more ornate garments and larger hat, he might very well have passed for any of the other Dezorians they had seen on their way to the church. The population here seemed to lack significant features to distinguish themselves from one another.

"Tis true, most Dezorians have little stomach for ali... for Palmans. It is an unfortunate byproduct of the events that have occurred between our peoples... along with each of our species' need to feel that they are the dominant, most advanced lifeform." The priest was calm and spoke with an open tone, quite unlike the stares and grimaces they had received from the laic Dezorians.

"I take it, then," Noah commented, "that you don't share such views?"

The priest leaned back in his chair. "In all my years of guiding my people, I've come to learn that hatred for anyone or anything is hezbacule... spiritually unhealthy. Whatever may have happened in the past, we only compound the problems with our fear and anger."

"Would that all of your people shared your views, Rahib," Odin added, still obviously distrustful.

"And likewise your own," Rahib responded, "unfortunately, the marriage between Dezoris' political leaders and religious leaders has not been on steady ground in the last few decades. We of the clergy have a difficult time in convincing the people of the damage we do to ourselves. You are an Esper, no?" The priest turned to Noah.

"Yes, I am. Born on Palma, late of Motavia. How did you..." Rahib cut him off.

"I've had very nice relations with your people... your Master Tajim is a very honorable man."

"You know Master Tajim?!?" Noah gasped. "How is that possible?"

"Of course you know that several of your fellow Espers came to Dezoris some time ago... in my course of dealing with them, I've met Tajim... he visited the Esperic settlement here once, and I happened to be visiting the settlement at the time." Noah's awed expression grew larger.

"You've interacted with the Dezorian Espers? But I..."

Rahib again interrupted. "Despite what you may think, not all Dezorians share hatred. I've told you that our priestly class is far removed from such petty matters... as spiritual leaders, we make it our business to enhance relations between us. And your Espers are quite like us. In many ways, we are mirrors of each other. When we heard that you landed here, we sent many delegations, bringing supplies, and advice on coping with the climate."

"And did your government know about this?" Alis asked, intently following the conversation.

"They knew of the first delegation we sent... but since, we've kept the missions fairly secret. Our politicians would not look kindly on our using Dezorian assets to assist a Palman community." Here the priest turned back to Noah and paused for a moment. "I am surprised that you were not aware of such things, Esper."

Noah gazed back at him, chasing thoughts around in his own mind. "I learned many years ago that a group of Espers has come here to Dezoris. They had taken the Aero-Prism with them... hoped to establish a friendly beachhead here to improve relations... but Tajim had not mentioned them to me in years... I had only assumed that something had happened to them... Tajim did not even mention them when he instructed me to find the Prism..."

"Ah yes, the Aero-Prism... quite a powerful object... quite corruptive as well."

"You've seen that too?" Noah questioned.

"Yes, on one of my many visits to their community. It verily radiates magical power. Unfortunately, such a power source also draws out the worst in some beings... it was stolen from the Espers by one of our priests... apparently he coveted its power, and after murdering two Espers to get it, he fled with it to one of the abandoned caves far south of the Altiplano Plateau... It was only a short time after that that something happened to the Espers here... some time ago, when one of our delegations was off to see them, they found the settlement abandoned. Homes were deserted. Food and clothing stores were gone. We surmised that there was some kind of mass exodus... but there were no clues as to where they might have went. We have had no contact with them since."

"We need that Prism," said Alis, asserting herself. "It is key to our mission."

"Good riddance to it, if you find it. It is cursed, leaving only death in its wake."

Odin inhaled a large breath. "I don't suppose you could be a bit more specific as to its location, eh?"

"Its supposed location... I have no idea if its still where the priest fled to. And I suppose you are searching for some Laerma nuts as well?"

Rahib was looking directly at Myau as Alis replied, "Laerma nuts?"

"A food that has magical properties... it alters Musk Cat structure... or so it is said," Myau answered. "They're one of our many mythic legends."

"Heh heh, they are no myth, my friend," Rahib returned, "they do indeed have said properties... I've seen them work myself, a lifetime ago."

"How would you have seen a Musk Cat before? Have you visited Palma as well?" Now it was Myau's turn to play the flabbergasted guest.

"I have never been to Palma... but I of course have visited Musk Cat settlements here on Dezoris before... as I said it was a lifetime ago."

"Musk Cats on Dezoris!?!? That's impossible! We're indigenous to Palma!"

"Apparently your local history isn't as strong as it should be, friend. I can affirm with utmost honesty that there used to be Musk Cats here on Dezoris."

Myau sat quietly, eyes wide, mind racing with the implications of this. Noah spoke again. "Where would we find these nuts, Priest Rahib? Do you have any?"

"No no," the priest said, "they are inedible to Dezorians. But there are fields of Laerma trees scattered throughout the planet. I'll make you a map, showing the locations of the fields, as well as the last known holding place of the Prism. Of course you'll need an Eclipse Torch to get the buds of the Laerma tree to blossom into nuts."

"An Eclipse Torch...?" Odin remarked.

"The iconographic representation of Dezorian faith. Eclipse Torches are fires that are lit every one hundred years to mark the Great Eclipse. It is a key component to our religious worship."

"Can you offer us one of these torches, Priest Rahib?" Noah knew what the answer would be.

"I'm afraid that that is out of the question. Torches lit by clergy are holy objects... they are not meant to be given away to aliens... forgive the term... but I cannot in good conscience supply you with one."

"...However...?"

"However... there is a Dezorian man at the very outskirts of this town... a hermit, really, who lights his own torches, dozens of them... We do not recognize them as having religious significance, and therefore would have no problem in you using them. You are free to barter with him as you wish."

"Your help is invaluable, Priest Rahib. We would never have expected so much assistance from a Dez..."

"From a Dezorian? It is unfortunate that such feelings exist... we can only hope that newfound trust and mutual respect can bring our worlds together." Rahib looked down and noticed the axe at Odin's side. "You bear Laconian weapons, I see, though it seems that you do yet possess the protection."

Odin looked down, then back up in shock. Noah was the one to respond. "You know of the Laconian Arms, then..."

"Yes, your Espers always have interesting stories to tell. They knew about the arms, though they did not know where they were held."

"And...?" Noah pressed.

"And," Rahib continued, "I told them where they could find the armor and shield. I don't believe they ever went after them, though. They seemed more concerned with meditating and training than treasure hunting."

A sly smile formed across Noah's face. "Of course. And you can tell us where they are held, then?"

"Of course. I'll put them on the map as well."

"You know, Rahib," Myau chimed in, "it is quite odd that you would freely offer us all this help without even asking us what our mission is..."

Rahib chuckled to himself. "Your mission is quite like my own, or that of any hero... to rid the world of evil."

"And you surmised this because...?" Odin asked.

"I've spent far more time that you've been alive in dealing with the nature of living beings. I can recognize the inherent heroism in each of you... whatever you fight for, it is for the betterment of all in this system. It is then my duty to help you in any way I can, for I too have a responsibility to participate in such betterment. We are flip sides of the same coin, you and I. You fight for the physical world, I for the spiritual. It is when we work together that true progress is accomplished."

Alis let a small smile creep across her face. "You are truly a great man, Priest Rahib. We are honored to have met one such as you. You will never be forgotten in our journeys." Alis stood and extended her ungloved hand to the priest. Rahib slowly rose from his chair, and extended his own hand. Upon the mutual grasp were founded seeds of reconciliation between two alien worlds.

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