People bustled on every side of Mathias, as he made his way down the crowded market street. From under the shade of his wide brimmed hat, his gray-blue eyes darted around, taking in the sights and sounds of the busy denizens of the city. And to keep an eye on Rift of course.
His companion, like the walking ball of personified energy she was, was bouncing in every direction, greeting and talking to anyone who bothered to listen. It was all Mathias could do to keep her from buying half the market and signing on with half a dozen crews, most of which looked like they were probably slavers.
Finally, much to Mathias's relief, she dragged him to an open air tavern and declared it was time for refreshments. Rift happily thumped down on a stool, ordering a tall bottle of ale, while Mathias quietly sat by her and ordered a simple glass of milk. When their orders arrived, Rift took the opportunity to ask the bartender about any locale going ons or events. Mathias just sat silently, half listening and half watching the streets.
"Nothing of interest, lady. Ever since the Benevolent's Prophet arrived, there hasn't even been any major plagues or outbreaks."
"Oh? Tell me more of this 'Prophet'."
She reached down for her drink, only to find it switched with Mathias's. She frowned at him, while he just shrugged and downed most of her drink in one gulp, even while the bartender explained.
"You've never heard of the Prophets? Where have you been, living under a rock? Some say they're gifts from the Gods themselves. Others, the next step in evolution. All we really know is that they posses gifts."
"Gifts? Like superpowers? Magic? Bubblewrap?"
"If you stop interrupting me, I'll tell you."
The bartender angrily retorted. Apparently, the Prophets were serious business here.
"They can end any argument in peace simply by talking. They offer wisdom and guidance like our world has never seen. They posses the ability to heal any ailment just by touching you. You'd have to see them to understand. We have one living right here in our City."
Rift started to ask another question, but the bartender abruptly left to serve some other customers. She happily sipped from the glass of milk and waited for him to come back, but was made to turn around by Mathias tapping on her shoulder. Her traveling companion gestured to a procession of three making their way down the street.
Two women in simple brown dresses were supporting a nearly unconscious man as they made their way through the crowds. The man, whose normally healthy green skin natural to this planet's people was obscured by ugly reddish marks covering his face and hands, looked surprisingly chipper for someone who looked like he could drop dead at any second.
"Do you see that?"
Mathias quietly asked.
He glanced at Rift to see she had her hands over her eyes. He shook his head and pulled them down.
"Oh, now I do! Isn't that Sarchophes Plight? Poor fellow."
"No, but don't you see?"
Mathias gestured to the people in the marketplace, none of whom seemed overly bothered by the walking pathogen in their midst. In fact, many of them were stopping and talking, even laughing with him.
"No one seems bothered, or even worried."
"Huh. Sarchophes is only cured by the Lilli herb, aint it? They don't have space travel of their own and the herb isn't native here. It's highly lethal and contagious, Sarchophes. These people should be panicking about getting anywhere near him. Less they have plenty of tomato juice of course."
Mathias elected to not bother reminding her that Tomato juice was not generally regarded as an acceptable diseas cure-all. And that this planet didn't have Tomatoes anymore than they had the Lilli Herb.
"Odd. Do you suppose there really is a 'Prophet of the Benevolents' who can heal these people?"
"If there is? Probably some kind of alien spy, con man, squid in disguise or just generally worth looking into. Maybe even the Mad God himself."
"Think they'll let us see him?"
"Can't hurt to ask."
"Last time you said that, we almost got eaten."
Rift dreamily replied, leaping to her feet and skipping after the women escorting the Sarchophes patient. Mathias finished his drink and was about to chase after her when the bartender reminded him they hadn't paid yet. Without locale currency, Mathias just tossed him a large diamond which seemed to suffice.
Mathias had to practically sprint through the market before finally catching up with Rift. She and the trio, who had apparently became fast friends during their short walk (Rift tended to have that kind of affect on people), were standing outside an old but stately three story home. It was painted a faded white, ornamentally decorated in an archaic fashion and was overall distinctly mundane for someone who was known globally.
The three women were still deep in conversation, apparently less than overly concerned for their sick friend. so Mathias silently stood behind them and waited for whatever it is they were waiting for. He didn't have long, as a bald man in a simple white robe pushed open the rusty front door and beckoned the four forwards.
"The Prophet of the Benevolents is ready to see you now my son."
The women helped the Sarchophes patient struggle up the stairs, with Mathias and Rift following close behind. They were lead into a run down entrance hall and out through a more well maintained kitchen to the building's backyard. It was fashioned like a peaceful garden, with colorful flowers, vibrant green trees, murmuring fountains and a sense of serenity. In the middle sat an elderly man with a long, black beard, eyes closed in silent meditation. He seemed aware of their arrival nonetheless, as he spoke up a moment later.
"My son, you are not well."
Mathias privately thought this was obvious, as the man was mere hours away from death.
"Come to me. The Benevolent's have bestowed their blessings on us. Let me share it with you."
The Sarchophes patient stumbled forwards, as the Prophet stood to catch him. Mathias watched with veiled interest as bright golden light began emitting from the Prophet's eyes and hands, slowly crawling over the patient's skin and enveloping him in a cocoon of energy. Seconds later, it dissipated and left a fully healed and whole man without a trace of Sarchophes standing before the beaming Prophet.
"You are cleansed my son. Go forth, and spread the good will of the Benevolents."
The man bowed and thanked the Prophet profusely, before joining the two women as they were escorted out of the garden by the Prophet's servant.
"What about you, my son?"
The Prophet turned his gaze to Mathias, smiling and making no attempt to eat the uninvited guest.
"We heard about the Prophets of the Benevolents and decided to come see if the stories were true."
The Prophet asked inquisitively. Mathias glanced to his side to see that Rift was no longer standing by him. He looked around until he found her sitting in a tree above him.
"This is a very nice tree."
Mathias gestured for her to get down, which she did reluctantly.
"Well, I hope your curiosity has been satisfied."
The Prophet said with a smile, stretching out his arms.
"The touch of the Benevolents is upon me. I can heal whatever ails you my son and daughter, both physical and spiritual."
"I'm suitably impressed. I would like to ask you a few questions though father, if you don't mind."
"Go right ahead. I keep no secrets."
"Can you REALLY not skate in a Buffalo herd?"
Rift interjected. The Prophet didn't seem to be able to answer that, so Mathias quickly went ahead with his own question.
"When did the Benevolents 'bless' you?"
"Six months ago, as with the other Prophets. They came to me in a dream and told me of all the good I could do with their powers. I was once a simple merchant, but I forsook that life in dedication to using the Benevolents magic for the good of all."
"Technically, it appears you're manipulating the fabric of time/space to influence reality, which is something else entirely. But close enough really, all things considered."
Rift absentmindedly interrupted from besides a rabbit-like creatures hole, from which she was attempting to coax said rabbit creature. The Prophet looked like he wanted to disagree, but Mathias asked him to go on.
"Like the other Prophets, I am seen as a ruler of our World, but I am a simple peacemaker and healer. I live to serve. Pardon me..."
He said, suddenly changing subjects.
"But might I ask you a few questions, my son? Just to satisfy an old man's curiosity."
Mathias shrugged and sat down on the smooth stone steps of the Prophet's back porch, pulling off his hat.
"I'll answer what I can."
The Prophet nodded in thanks, remaining standing.
"Who are you? I don't believe we've met before and you don't seem familiar with our customs. Are you travelers? Hermits? Family? Siblings, perhaps?"
Mathias scoffed at the last suggestion.
"Not exactly. We're..."
Rift helpfully supplied (interrupted, really) now arm deep in the Rabbit hole.
Mathias impassively corrected her.
"Boyfriend and Girlfriend!"
"Husband and Wife."
"He's my enforcer!"
"I'm her bodyguard."
"I'm over six feet tall!"
"You're five foot one."
For some reason, this exchange didn't seem to help the Prophet any.
"You are a… curious pair. Where did you say you were from?"
Mathias answered simply.
"We're visiting from a distant land, far from the cities. Like I said, we've never heard of the Prophets before so we…"
"If I may interrupt."
The Prophet… interrupted, smiling sternly.
"The Benevolent's gift allows me to see when someone is keeping the truth from me. I am but a simple old man who doesn't pose a threat to anyone. Keep your secrets if you must, but please: No lies."
"Okay! We're visitors from another part of the Galaxy, just passing through and helping where we can. I'm Rift, and this is Mathias Noble. We work for a literal Angel."
Both men stared at her as she grinned manically and went back to trying to catch the Rabbit. The Prophet took a moment to compose himself, before continuing.
"Visitors? From another World? That's… hard to believe."
Rift choose that moment to start glowing again. The Prophet's eyes gleamed and he gave a deep laugh. Mathias was just glad he wasn't freaking out and trying to shoot them or something.
"Imagine! Visitors from the stars, bothering to visit our humble little world. Visitors from the stars in my humble little house! But I must know: Can you tell me more of the Benevolents?"
His demeanor suddenly shifted to wary, even anxious.
"You have… doubts, about your gift?"
Mathias asked, his interest perked.
"I… yes. I must admit, I had a good deal of misgivings at first. But the blessings were to tempting not to use. I don't mean to sound ungrateful: The other Prophets and I have brought peace and prosperity to our entire World. And yet, I wonder."
"Well, that's probably because they're going to ea…"
A look from Mathias that very plainly said 'Let me handle this' cut her off.
"Unfortunately, we do know more about your gift. I was hoping we were wrong."
He took a deep breath before continuing.
"'The Benevolents', or by their proper name 'The Pyracali', are a race of Brobdingnagian, void indigenous, non-Polyp Phylum Cnidaria."
"Big Jellyfish that live in space."
"Basically, yes. The Pyracali are considered benign, harmless people who lack any real weapons or means of defense."
"To people with spaceships, that is. Unfortunately, they have a nasty habit of forcing less advanced Worlds into their Tournament."
The Prophet asked. Mathias scowled.
"The Pyracali feed off of traces of Time/Space found in submolecular substances. They were once content to feed off of what they could find in deep space, but discovered that their food substances are much more 'appeasing' when drawn from organic life."
"Ever since, they have occasionally chosen worlds without spaceships at random and gifted certain members of the population with some of their own reality warping powers, to 'help' them."
"Whichever world boasts the healthiest population, and least defensive capabilities, at a certain date is drained of all life for the Pyracali's feast."
Mathias finished grimly.
"I don't understand. My gift is meant to doom my people?"
The Prophet asked horrified.
"My 'blessing' is curse!"
Rift placed a comforting hand on the Prophets shoulder.
"It doesn't have to be."
"What do you mean?"
"The Pyracali's prey on less advanced Worlds for a reason. They aren't a warlike people and, ignoring their colossal size, they aren't very strong."
"What are you suggesting?"
The Prophet asked, confused
"You're advanced enough to have developed atomic and hydrogen weapons aren't you?"
Mathias asked rhetorically.
"Yes, but we've disabled most of them and signed treaties against their use."
"Do those treaties say anything about Space Jellyfish?"
Mathias got to his feet and looked the Prophet directly in the eyes.
"Keep using your gift. Make your people strong and united. Rebuild your armies and point them towards the sky. Contact the other Prophets and tell them the same. The Pyracali want a strong World. Show them you already were one."
"But how could I ever convince them? Why would they believe me?"
The Prophet protested.
"For the same reason you believe us without proof: You can feel it. Deep inside your very being, you always knew the truth of your powers. So do the other Prophets. Your people trust you: If you can unite them to save this World from war and plague, you can unite it to save it from the Pyracali."
"I… I don't know what to say."
The Prophet faltered, wringing his hands.
"'Thank you' would work."
"So would 'Always brush your teeth!'"
Rift added, moving to stand behind Mathias.
"I… I hope you will excuse me. There is much to I must do."
The Prophet said shortly, running past them and disappearing into the house, calling for his servant. Mathias and Rift watched him go, before leaving the Garden themselves hand in hand. Moments later, they were back standing in the busy market street, the bustling crowd blissfully unaware of the coming changes.
"Well, I consider this a day well spent."
Rift pleasantly declared.
"It's not over: These people still have a war ahead of them. Even if they win, they'll be a lot of casualties. Not to mention the other Worlds in the 'Tournament'."
Mathias dourly replied.
"Maybe. Then again, the local Pyracali herd may mysteriously have a few torpedoes dropped on them, leaving them in no condition to eat anything but deep space particles for quite a while."
"Come now: Who would do such a thing?"
"Oh, I might know a couple of idiots with a starship and nothing better to do. And… Are those genuine Rubies?"
Rift gleefully dashed back into the mass of shoppers. Mathias shook his head and slipped his hat back on, chasing after her.