Written in cooperation with Anatol Rathbauer

Written in cooperation with Anatol Rathbauer.

*****

Fire. Fire in the air, coming from the consoles, burning his hair and
blinding his sight. He forced down a cough in his throat and tumbled forward
towards the seat of the Commander. As he turned it around, he saw the corpse
of Loin Gab, the Commander. All seemed like in a dream to him; only five
minutes ago, everything had been fine. Now his world was, quite literally,
in flames. A glowing-hot metal shard sliced the floor open in front of him
and he jumped back.
"Navigation out, engines down, communications down, weapons off-line,
life-support down, reactor regressing," he heard a crewman report. Nima Van,
the next one in the row of command after the Captain, shouted: "Get us
life-support back and switch to bio-drives, the rest's secondary." Then she
spotted him, took a chemical fire extinguisher from the wall and pushed it
into his chest. "End those fires!"
He did as ordered, but he still was like in trance. He was a High Rank
Scientist, not fit to cope with catastrophes like this one. They had been
underway to the Protectorate of Avalon when they had hit the anomaly. They
didn't know what it was, but it had damaged the little craft beyond repair,
so much was clear. He put out the fires on the bridge, and the full extent
of the disaster became obvious. The bridge was destroyed, there was no other
word for it. Most of the Maran were dead, the rest wounded, like him and the
crewman at the comm, and only Nima Van looked almost unharmed, apart from
the dirt on her face and robe. She was a competent woman in her middle ages,
and he was quite sure she would manage to get them out of this as good as
possible. If there was a way to get out. He was staring at her, and she
seemed to sense his gaze rest upon her, for she turned around and laid her
right hand on his shoulder, pushing him gently towards the door. "Go now,
you can do nothing here! Try to find the others!"
His eyes grew wide at the thought of going into the shattered ship, where
the dead bodies of his friends and comrades would be lying. "No, I will not
go away from here."
"Please, you are of no use here. Go!"
"No, I'm staying. What if a new fire breaks out? No one would have the time
to extinguish it..."
"GO," Van shouted, then adding, slightly more peaceful, "please!"
"I... I can't... I won't... I mean if there are..." The woman sighed and
shook him by grabbing his arms. "Pull yourself together! Get out of here!
See if you can do something outside. These people might be needing you! Do
you understand?"
He nodded after a short pause, and went through the door. He heard the
crewman report about some hull-breach that would be automatically sealed.
Van tried to answer, but before she could finish her sentence, another
explosion erupted on the bridge. He ducked, but the closing door behind him
was pushed out by the pressure-wave and hurled against him. As the hard
metal door hit his head, he finally lost his consciousness.

*****

---Begin recording---

----Recording...----

"I am High Rank Scientist Fullor Bren, part of the SST team aboard the
"Garolf". According to ship's computer, which I don't trust anymore, four
days have passed since our ship was struck by some space-anomaly. Apart from
Ina Tan, who is wounded, and Goba Rel, the High Rank Engineer, I am the only
survivor. Rel has found out that the reactor is stable enough to provide us
with energy for the life-support, but that's pretty much it. We're using the
bio-drives to propel the ship, but Asman knows where we're heading. The
navigation-computer is destroyed, so we tried to take an estimated course
back home by looking at the stars. Looking at the stars! We might miss our
whole sector by a few thousand light-years this way! He's also trying to get
the comm back on-line, but there is little hope. Even more so as his wounds
are pretty severe. If I'm not completely wrong, he won't be able to work
anymore tomorrow. Then we can only pray someone finds us or the comm is
alright again, or he will die in my hands.
Lieutenant Nima Van is also dead. I think I already said that... I... *sigh*
I think she was dead immediately when the explosion tore the bridge apart.
Without her, I would have been in there, too. I would be dead now as well.
Not that it would make much of a difference; realistically seen, our chances
to get rescued are close to nil. We will be, save for a miracle, the first
SST team to die in the name of the search for Asman...
Ina is sleeping much. I think I was able to stop the bleeding, and no inner
organs seem to be penetrated. She will be fine in a few days. To what avail
is questionable, but at least she won't die without me having done something
for her. Water supplies are enough for three weeks and six days. Some more,
should Rel die.
If this tape is ever found, you, who are listening to this, will be waiting
for details on the crash, instead of stories about people who will already
be dead. Well, the sad truth is, I can't give you any. We're drifting
through space with only minimal rudder control, and the ship is broken.
That's all I can say. May Asman be with us if we don't manage to repair the
communication systems. Rel's the only technician here; without him, we are
doomed.
I see the intact storage-room on the hard-drive is becoming full, so I'll
have to end my report here. I would feel tempted to finish with a good,
theatrical last sentence, but I can't think of one, so I'll let it be. May
our deaths, should we die, be swift and painless. And tell them at home
that"

----Hard-drive full----
---Recording ended---
--Record stored, saved and sealed--

*****

Vel'te's draconic form slid gracefully through the thin atmosphere along the
outer edge of Dra'Keshi space. As with all the other patrol routes, his too
had been extended out to the very edge of the Q-zone. This far out from the
homeworld systems, there was only the silence of deep space surrounding him
and his own thoughts for company.
It was a tribute to his rising rank that he had been given this route, as
only the most powerful Dra'Keshi were given the outer zones. A tingle upon
his senses and taste of metal in his mouth woke Vel'te from his musings of
which turn his life would take next.
Turning from his course to investigate, the large male dragon focused his
eyes upon the vessel before him. His nostrils caught the scent of smoke
from the ship and a mental scan revealed only 3 active minds within. Two of
the minds he felt were livid with pain, while the third demonstrated a state
of severe desperation and shock.
Contacting Zylen and quickly informing the king of the situation, Vel'te
received orders to protect and 'assist' the vessel to the safety of
Heartstone where the situation might be investigated. Casting a translation
spell, Vel'te sent a mental statement of his intentions to the desperate
mind and hoped that it would understand his intentions.

Fullor was only half-awake and a metallic taste had filled his mouth as it
had slowly dried out. Ina had recovered somewhat, or better, her condition
wasn't worsening at least. Rel had been unconscious for days, and Fullor had
no doubt he'd die soon. Just like the rest of them, only sooner. Suddenly
his mind was flooded with uninterpretable feelings and information from
regions of his body that didn't even exist. He jerked up, only to clasp his
head with both hands and crumble on the ground a moment later. He tried to
scream, but couldn't remember how to do it.

As he drew near to the craft, Vel'te weaved a force globe around it to
protect against any further damage. Catching the solid shielded bundle in
his fore claws like a beach ball, Vel'te turned toward Valik Prime making full
speed in his flight back.
Advising Zylen of the capture and estimated arrival time, Vel'te added that
a healer should be present at the designated arrival site. The chosen
location being a sheltered cleft within one of the higher peaks known as
Fin's Roost.

Lying on the floor and panting heavily, Fullor realized the ship was moved.
Not like it had during the past weeks, but with more force, and more stable.
He wondered briefly whether that was another... what was the word... boat?
Then his mind faded into unconsciousness.

The trip back from the edge being nearly a day and a half at max flight
speed, Vel'te could feel two of the minds loosing strength rapidly and
pushed himself to the limit of his endurance for the return flight.
When he finally arrived back within the thicker atmosphere of Heartstone,
Vel'te could barely force his wings to continue beating long enough to
gently set the craft down and land in elven form beside it. Releasing the
force shield, the craft settled softly into the niche while Vel'te collapsed
exhausted onto the stone ledge where he stood.
One of the two healers in elven form who stood nearby moved to aid him while
the other walked toward the craft and sent a request that they allow her
entry and that she meant them no harm.

Se'lena studied the ship carefully and located what appeared to serve as an
entry/exit. Banging upon the metal hatch, the female Dra'Keshi healer
waited for a time with no response. Feeling the minds within growing
gradually weaker, she decided that finesse would have to take a sideline for
the moment and grasping either side of the metal hatchway with her delicate
hands Se'lena tore the door off and set it against the side of the vessel.
Stepping inside the alien craft, she followed the mental trace to where she
felt the survivors were located. The scene was rather unsettling, however
nothing that the trained healer had not seen before. Stepping over the
corpses and gore of those who had not survived, while slipping around the
wreckage filling the corridor.
Arriving outside what appeared to serve as an eating-place within the ship,
Se'lena found the three survivors. One of the males was on his feet looking
over his companions when she arrived. Casting a quick translation spell as
she entered with empty hands extended before her.
"I am Se'lena. I have come to help and mean you no harm."
The upright male did not seem alarmed at her appearance, so the female Drak
moved into the room and knelt beside the female. She was unconscious and
wounded, however not beyond help. Weaving healing magic into a glowing blue
aura, which surrounded Ina for a short time without disturbing her sleep,
Se'lena turned her attention to the injured male. He was lying within some
sort of bed which emanated soothing energy, apparently to help sustain his
life in some way. The man's injuries were much more serious and while she
could stop the slipping of his life she could not reverse it. Healing what
she was able, Se'lena created a stasis globe around him that would
effectively seal him in his current state until such time as he could be
released and tended to more fully.
Looking over the conscious male, Se'lena found that his few abrasions
required no additional healing that the natural process could not do as
easily. Gesturing toward the female, Se'lena effortlessly lifted the man
sealed within the emerald colored force globe and began walking toward the
exit of the vessel.
"I trust you can manage to carry her outside?" She asked over her shoulder
while navigating around the debris of the corridor just outside the
mess room.
Hearing the man shuffling behind her as he carried the unconscious female,
Se'lena worked her way back out of the devastated craft and upon arriving
outside gently set the stasis globe down. The gesture being quite
unnecessary as within the globe she could have tossed him off the side of
the cliff to fall 3 miles to the bottom and he would not have been harmed in
the least.
Turning around she helped the struggling male by taking the prone female
from him and lying her gently beside the other man. Se'lena noted that
Vel'te was recovered for the most part and indicated that the other healer
should carry the globed male back to the capital. Vel'te being above her in
rank took his own initiative and gathered up the unconscious female.
As the two Draks transformed into dragon form and carried the survivors
away, Se'lena turned and carefully studied the remaining man's reaction...

*****

Fullor stared at the dragons without much emotion. His mind had just
capitulated. After the stress and pressure that had tortured him for the
last few weeks, the rescuing action had been too much. After the... incident
with his brain the people who had been moving the ship had not contacted
them. They had been alone again. Then the sudden landing, and that female.
First he had thought her to be Andorian, as that seemed logical; the sleek,
gentle forms and the proximity to their space all pointed towards that
conclusion. Then he had witnessed the magical healing of Ina and even Rel,
and his theory had crumbled. And finally this: dragons within Elves.
He hadn't spoken a word since the Andorian... the Elf, had come aboard, and
he didn't feel like talking now either. He just looked at the Elven woman in
front of him with watering eyes, as the sunlight touched them for the first
time in many weeks.
"Thank you," he whispered.

Se'lena smiled brightly in response to his words and gestured toward the
distant peak toward which the diminishing forms of her two companions were
heading.
"If you will allow it, I can carry you to our capital so that you may remain
near to your friends and we can better see to your needs within the comfort
of Valik's Hold. I fear there is little we can do for your flying craft,
however we shall do everything possible to help you find a way back to
whence you came...if that is indeed your desire..."

*****

The mountains here looked very different to those at home, Fullor mused as
he was drawn towards that "Heartstone". But he couldn't pay much attention,
as he was tired and worn out. The thing he longed for most was a bed. The
other two dragons, or Elves, or whatever they were, had already landed
inside the mountain and were now carrying his two companions through the
hallways of the capital.
As Fullor was placed on the floor and Se'lena transformed to her Elven
incarnation again, he finally asked: "Who, by Asman, are you?"

The woman smiled and replied: "We're the Dra'Keshi. But don't ask now, I'm
sure somebody will answer all your questions later. But now we will show you
your accommodations and let you rest." Pointing to the labyrinth of the
Heartstone, she added, "Shall we?"

*****

Arriving at what appeared to be the center of the city, judging by the
amount of people traversing here and the outlook of the central column,
which really was more a tower than that, the groups changed the direction it
was heading to and approached a number of rooms in one of the sidewalls that
were all separated from the main cavern by curtains. Although Fullor had
expected a crude interior, it was simply beautiful instead. Finely crafted
furniture and pieces of art gave the rooms a very comfortable feeling.
One of the Elves returned from one of the bedrooms, where he had laid down
Rel. Meeting his quizzical look, the alien said: "He's in stasis, you don't
have to care for him here. He's as safe as possible." Ina was carried into
the bedroom next to Rel's, and now Fullor was alone save for the three
Elves. The male dismissed the two females and mustered the Maran in front of
him. Obviously he wanted to ask something, but finally decided against it
and turned around as well. "Rest here for a while; I will go to see the king
in person with regards to the situation. I would really like you to relax a
bit until then; maybe you can wake up your friend later. Just don't leave
these chambers for the time being, please."

"Am I a prisoner?"

"No, but I'd rather not have to look for you in the whole of the Heartstone
later," the Elf replied smiling. Fullor nodded and watched the other man go
away. He closed the curtain to the large cavern outside and yawned. Maybe
going to sleep wasn't such a bad idea after all...

*****

Vel'te stepped off the disc when it came to a stop in the reception area
where Zylen was sitting with Onshir, Ash, and the Andorian ambassador.
Nodding politely and apologetically to the sage, Vel'te whispered a few
words to the king who rose and followed him to the far side of the room.

"The craft has been left at Fin's Roost, though I fear it appears far to
damaged to be of use to the three who survived. One of the three is in
stasis as his injuries were too grievous to be treated. The female should
recover fully and the male seemed relatively unhurt save for being in shock.
They are resting now in bordering guest suites on the east face." Vel'te
reported and awaited the king's response.

"You have done well in this and shown honor with your actions...such will
not be forgotten. I wish to speak with them once they are rested and have
had time to come to terms with what happened to them. It is my hope that we
can find some way of assisting them in whichever way best suits their
wishes. Please have someone see to their needs and invite them to meet with
me here when they feel up to it." Zylen responded with a warm pat upon the
Drak's arm before returning to his seat with the others.

Departing the central pillar, Vel'te made the appropriate arrangements and
headed off to his own rooms for some much needed rest of his own.

*****

Se'lena activated the chime spell over the entry into the suites being
occupied by the survivors. Stepping into the section of partitioned off
cavernous rooms, the Dra'Keshi healer extended her mental senses and found
the male's mind in a calm state of slumber which was restorative and
beneficial considering the agitated state of shock it had been in when she
had first met him. Leaving Fullor undisturbed, Se'lena checked upon her
other patient. The female seemed much more in tune with magical energies
and she had hopes that this female might be able to give more insight into
what had happened to the three of them and the craft they had been found in.
Taking a seat within the outer common chamber, Se'lena waited with hopes of
speaking with them both when they had rested and were better able to
communicate their situation.

When Fullor woke up, he felt much better. Rubbing his eyes, he noticed fresh
clothes had been placed on a chair. They looked slightly strange to him, but
they were clean and felt good. He dressed and went out to wake up Ina, too.
She seemed to be much better. Then he went outside to find something to eat.
Instead, he discovered one of the Dra'Keshi women that had brought them
here. "Hello!" he said tentatively.

"Hello," replied the woman. "How are you?"

"I'm fine, thanks."

"And the woman? Is she coming?"

"She's also fine... and I think she'll join us soon, yes."

"That's good. I'm sure you must have a lot of questions, but they will be
answered later by people who are more able to do that than I am. Would you
answer me some questions first?"

Fullor shrugged and took a seat close to her. "Why not?"

The Elven woman smiled. "Who are you?"

"I am High Rank Scientist Fullor Bren, and the woman is High Rank Scientist
Ina Tan. The one you put in stasis is High Rank Engineer Goba Rel. We are
from the Maran Community."

The Elf nodded. "And where is that... Community?"

"Its in sector C."

The eyes of the woman showed confusion at that statement. "Sector C?" she
repeated.
"I am not familiar with such a designation. It must be quite a distance
from here for our race to have no record of such a place. Your race must be
terribly far-traveled!"

"No, not really," Fullor replied. "We are..." he grimaced as he thought of
the ship and its crew, "were part of an SST team. SST stands for Standard
Search Template. We're scientists on the search for the great prophet,
Asman. Originally we were on our way to the Protectorate of Avalon, which
looked quite promising, when our ship hit the anomaly."

"I am known among my people as Se'lena. The one who discovered your wounded
craft and carried it here is known as Vel'te. When you and your companion
feel up to it our King, Zylen'Valik, wishes to speak with you both regarding
your present situation."

"I think as soon as Ina is awake, we can go to see him."

"What more can you tell me of this anomaly? Do you feel that it may pose a
threat to our systems?" Se'lena displayed concern as she spoke with the
scientist.

Fullor folded his arms in front of his chest and chewed on his cheek. "I
would like to say something more concrete, but I really wouldn't know. The
situation was too chaotic. I simply don't know. I am sorry."

Se'lena nodded and answered: "I shall leave most of the questions we have
for Zylen himself to ask. I
will however ask if there is anything else we can provide to make your stay
here more comfortable? Surely you must be in need of food?" Se'lena rose
without waiting for an answer to this last question and waited to show the
two guests to a dining chamber where a meal, hopefully suitable to their
needs, was prepared and waiting.

*****

While leading Fullor and Ina the short distance down a corridor to the
dining chamber, Se'lena contacted Zylen. A short time after they were all
seated around the table that was set with a wide variety of dishes, Zylen
arrived and joined them, taking a seat opposite the two guests.
Responding to their casual questions, the Dra'Keshi king described and
explained with as much detail as possible the area of space where his
guest's journey had come to a rather unexpected turn. Not wishing to tax
their minds too greatly, Zylen presented a brief summary of the relevant
information regarding himself and his people.
Turning the discussion back toward the current situation, Zylen expressed
his apologies that they could not assist in healing the craft in which the
travelers had arrived.

"What, if any, plans have you made with regards to continuing your journey?
You are of course welcome to remain among us for as long as you wish. If
however your desire is to move onward we shall do anything in our power to
aid you. I am of course interested in hearing anything you are willing to
tell me regarding your people and where in space you come from..."

Fullor and Ina exchanged a short look, before Ina started talking. "I think
that falls into my competence. I am the specialist for comparative cultural
comprehension - an awfully long title for a sociologist working in the SST
team." She threw the king a winning smile. For some reason, she had never
been afraid since she'd woke up on this world. It almost seemed as if the
Elves radiated a soothing aura.

"The Community consists of our homeworld, United Maranar, an autonomous
Terchan colony on a moon called Sanoan, and two small enclaves, all situated
in one system. We have only recently been introduced into the greater
galaxy, and are now beginning the search for Asman."

At this point Fullor took over again. "Asman, or the great prophet, as we
call him, is the individual upon whose teachings our whole society is based.
He is the beginning and the end of our development as a civilized race; once
we find him, he will complete his task to lead us to a higher plane of
existence by freeing us from our physical needs and bodies, so that we may
further on exist as the perfect life form."

"And you look for him... here?" asked the king somewhat doubtfully. "Well,
it is not my will to judge you. But I suppose you'd like to go home. I could
send a message with one of my people to the space fortress of the Omnet
people if you think they might be able to contact your world?"

As if in afterthought, Zylen added. "If we are successful in finding a
method of contacting your people, will there be a way to transport your
wounded ship as well?"

Fullor shook his head. "We'd be more than grateful if you could send a
message to our people. But I doubt they will arrive sooner than two months
or so. And, if you don't object to it, we will leave the damaged ship here
as well. It's just a bunch of metal compounds, nothing we couldn't replace."

Having covered the majority of his agenda, Zylen rose and announced that he
was needed elsewhere. Reiterating that they were both welcome to come meet
with him anytime should they wish to speak further, the Dra'Keshi bid them
both a formal farewell and departed from the dining chamber.

*****

After the king had left with the message for the SST authorities back in the Community and the permission to dispose the wreckage of the "Garolf", Fullor went to get a cup of the hot drink that seemed to be a Dra'Keshi version of tea - its taste was intense and aromatic, and it helped to stay awake somewhat. Returning into the "living room", as they jokingly called the central chamber of their quarters, since it was the only one with a sofa, he found Ina sitting in one of the recliners and reading in an old and dusty foliant.

"What are you reading there?" he asked.

Ina turned down the foliant and threw Fullor a look of sheer amazement. "It is a collection of old Dra'Keshi myths. Their culture seems to be very rich in this kind of tales - and they all reflect their strong, even war-like culture."

Fullor couldn't help but smile, which was answered by an angry look from her. "What? Why are you smiling? You know I don't like it when you make fun of me!"

"I'm not making fun of you," he defended himself, "but even when you're in private company you talk like a true SST scientist."

"Well, I have always taken great pride in my job. Something you never seemed to do; isn't it so?"

Fullor sighed and let himself fall back into the sofa. "That's not true. At least not completely. You know, I always wanted to see the galaxy, even when I'd been a child. The SST was my only chance to do that; we both know our merchant fleet is more than pathetic. But you're right in one aspect: I don't believe the credo of the SST, which states that other cultures aren't interesting per se, but only in their potential to harness a clue to Asman's position. I think other cultures are worth as much as our own. If anything, my work in the SST has strengthened that view."

Ina nodded and returned to her myths.

*****

The following days had flown by. Fullor and Ina had been shown around by their "liaisons" Vel'te and Se'lena, and especially Ina seemed to suck in everything that concerned the Dra'Keshi culture. When Vel'te had some spare time, he practiced with her the art of communicating through thoughts. Ever since Ina had been told that was the Dra'Keshi primary form of communication, she'd connected it with the "feelings" she had in the presence of the Elves. She suspected it had something to do with her magical abilities, and so she tried to master the new method of talking.

Fullor was more fond of seeing as much of the Empire as possible before the Maran ship would arrive. Although the flight took it more than two months, he was sure he would regret it if he didn't discover as much as possible until then. When he wasn't out exploring the Dra'Keshi homelands, he read to kill the time. After he was through most of the important stage plays, which impressed him rather lightly, he turned to Ina's foliant. She had ceased reading it when she had begun her training and focused more on contemporary literature.

Fullor, however, found the old myths most interesting. It was indeed a fascinating mental world, but he found many parts that equaled those found in other cultures. Maybe that was the reason he nearly choked on a mouthful of Elven stew when he found one myth that resembled only one distinct tale.

*****

"You should have kept reading this!" Fullor said, weaving the foliant through the air in front of Ina's face.

"Please, I just came home, spare me with your outbreaks!"

"Oh no, listen to this:" he started while Ina went, not caring at all, through the living room to put down her belongings.

"And then he appeared in a burst of light and flames, coming down from the sky. The ones who saw him were afraid at first, but he presented himself not as a threat, but as the announcer of a new age, one that would bring them to a new stage of life, that would make them the perfect life form. And he began to preach his words..." Ina had just put down a small backpack and turned around now. She looked tired when she asked: "Fullor, please, what are you up to?"

"What would you say was this?"

"The tale of the arrival of Asman. Very prosaic, perhaps Book Cudun. Why are you..."

"Wrong!" shouted Fullor triumphantly. He held the open foliant under her nose. "It is the myth of He'mon, the eremite. A Dra'Keshi myth many, many centuries old."

Ina's eyes widened when she understood. "You mean?"

"Yes, I think Asman was here, in the form of He'mon!"