What I had just been told threw out everything I had believed in, the philosophers taught, or the priests preached. Our whole concept of the world and our place in it would have to be rewritten. I really hadn’t wanted to hear Seth’s words but I was left with no choice it seemed. Good thing I listened because, as I was later to discover (the hard way, as usual), that unwanted knowledge would be crucial to my race’s survival on planet Earth.
As Seth told his tale, the little voice in my head was filling in the fine details as fast as my host could speak. I was burning out. Fast. Seth noticed because, with a look of concern on his face, he paused in his narrative.
“You don’t look so good Varus. I’m sorry. I’ve been a thoughtless host. I forget that you’re new to all of this mind science of ours. You have to be near exhaustion. Lucifer here will escort you to your quarters and we’ll continue after you’ve rested a bit.”
I wasn’t going to argue with the man. I’d never felt so tired in all my life. At a signal from Seth, Lucifer gestured me to follow him. As we walked slowly out of the palace (I thought I had a long stride, but Lucifer could have easily outpaced me had he chosen to do so) the Cherub stayed close to me in case I started to wobble. No way was I going to give him the satisfaction of seeing me fall to the floor. I gritted my teeth, sucked it up, and strode out of there as though I was fresh as a daisy.
It worked only for a short distance. By the time we’d crossed the courtyard and were heading toward the barracks where my men were staying, my legs began to feel like they were weighted down with chains and I was getting a bit lightheaded. Then I felt a rush of energy and my weariness slipped away from me as though it had never been. It was then that I felt a hand placed lightly on my right arm. I looked at the hand, then at Lucifer who was smiling that enigmatic smile of his.
“Thought you might need a pick me up. You were looking pale as a sheet and wobbling all over the place. There’s no shame in that General. I’ve seen Terrans and even young Eldethi collapse after one of Seth’s sessions. The fact that you can even stand at all is a credit to your race and, especially, to yourself.”
That made me feel a little better. A little, but not much. My macho ego just couldn’t accept the idea of me having ANY weaknesses what so ever. All my life I’d been so used to being the biggest, strongest, nastiest predator around, that what was currently happening to me was beyond my life experience. And the idea that Lucifer had to power me up enough to stand was a thorn in my already bruised ego. It was then that I came to the utterly grim realization that I was going to have to rethink my place in the world.
Hell, I was in a place where even a bunch of furry dwarves were tough enough to kick my tail if they so chose, let alone two races of men so far above my current abilities that any kind of real competition was just plain laughable. It was with these thoughts swirling through my head that we reached the camp. I hadn’t even realized we’d gone the distance until I found myself walking into my camp.
I looked around and Lucifer was nowhere to be seen. This wasn’t Lucifer’s first, or last, surprise he had in store for me.
No sooner had I set foot in camp than my men mobbed me, abuzz with questions. Bulling my way through them I headed for the center of the camp and what should have been the main fire pit. It wasn’t there. In its place was a glowing yellow orange disk putting out light but no heat. I looked at Actius, who had sidled up to me.
“What in the nine hells of . . . oh. Eldethi science again. Got it.”
Actius was positively beaming with pent up enthusiasm.
“Y’ oughta’ see how these things work Varus. You can fold them up into a packet no larger than a fist and you don’t get burned. No heat. A lot better than lugging wood around or stripping land. I could make a fortune selling these things back home.”
My predator instinct went off. For a brief moment during Actius’ monologue, there had been a strange gleam of . . . something . . . in his eyes. It had been so brief that, had I not been looking at him the entire time, I wouldn’t have spotted it. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that Actius was lying. I didn’t know WHAT he was lying about, but I was damn sure going to keep my eye on him ’till I found out. I kept my mouth shut and let him go on.
“Also there’s a whole bunch of other stuff here you need to see. Entire beds that fold up like the fire pit. Lights that shine without lighting ‘em. Food packed in small tins like ours except they heat up when you open them, complete with things to eat the food with. Beats using our knives. They even have bread wrapped to stay fresh no matter long you carry the stuff.”
I would’ve been more enthusiastic about all of these wonderful discoveries, except that, thanks to my little voice, I already knew about them, and that split second gleam in Actius’ eyes. Had Seth’s people done to my second in command what they had done to me? If so, why wasn’t Actius telling me about it? One thing was for damned sure. He knew a lot more than he was telling. The implications of such a thing was something I definitely didn’t need at that moment. I chose to ignore my suspicions and act just as enthused.
“I’ll have to check all this out, but right now I need to sit down and eat. I’m pooped. How are all the rest of the guys? Especially the wounded?”
I brought this up because I had noted that, as we neared the Ethereal lamp (fire pit) everyone but Actius had skedaddled back to whatever they had been doing before I arrived. That left just the two of us alone to talk. Even Philos and Marcus were staying clear, which was unusual in itself. Did they also know something I didn’t? Or was I just being paranoid? I decided to err on the side of caution. Watch everybody until I knew precisely what the hell was really going on.