Aughra entered the room where Mark and Alera were sleeping, snuggled tightly against each other. She bent down and began to shake both of them.
"Wake up," she yelled. "Much wrong."
Mark forced his eyes open. "What's happened?" he asked. By this time Alera was beginning to wake and she held on to Mark as Aughra told them of the events of the previous night.
"Podlings come this morning," Aughra began. "Tell Aughra that creature attacked their village last night. No more village. Almost no more podlings."
Mark was fully awake. "Was it Ydra's village?" he asked.
"No," Aughra answered. "Another village, not far from Ydra's."
Mark thought for a moment. "Go to the Gelfling," he began. "Get the to gather up the podlings and go to the valley of the urRu. I think the stones there might be able to provide some protection, at least for a while. I'll go to the castle and consult the Great Crystal. I have a feeling the cloud creature is going to be coming after me and I want to meet it in the castle. I think the best chance I have of defeating it is there.
He finished dressing. "I'll leave right now," he said. "If I'm able to defeat the creature I'll come to the valley and meet you there. If I don't show up sometime in the next three days then you'll have to try some other approach."
Alera looked up at Mark and took his hand. "I'm going to the castle with you," she said.
"Alera, you can't go with me," he said. "I won't put you in that kind of danger. I love you more than anything else and I can't stand the thought of anything happening to you. I'm the one that brought the evil here and I'm the one that's going to have to destroy it."
He hugged Alera tightly to him once, then ran from the room, heading for the path that would lead him down the hill and on towards the Great Castle. He ran as quickly as he could, driven by fear of what the creature might do to Alera and the others if it wasn't stopped.
Dark clouds were moving through the sky as he finally saw the castle standing pure white against the growing darkness. He was breathing heavily by the time he entered the castle. Still, he forced himself on, going to the chamber of the Great Crystal. He looked at the crystal and tried to place himself in a state of deep meditation, hoping to contact the Crystal in the same way that Aughra had earlier.
He sang the chants that Aughra had taught him, repeated the phrases she had told him to use and opened himself as much as he could to the vibrations of the Great Crystal. Finally the air around him seemed to fade to white as he felt his being merging with that of the Great Crystal.
"Show me where the being of evil is," he said.
An image formed, wavered and then cleared. He saw the energy cloud moving swiftly towards the castle.
At least I've gotten its attention," he said to himself. He could see that, as the cloud moved, it burned the ground, destroying any life it found there. The cloud flashed with burst after burst of internal lightening, giving it an angry appearance as it moved ever closer.
Mark looked at the markings on the floor and sensed the one from which he would draw the most power. He moved to the marking and turned his back to the Great Crystal. As he stood he could hear the sounds of the storm outside, the thunder starting to reverberate throughout the castle. Soon, those sounds were joined with another, a low, dark sound coming from the cloud creature as it entered the castle.
The stench from the creature flowed like a thick miasma into the room as Mark removed his shirt, baring the mark of the talisman. The Great Crystal began to emit a sharp tone that slowly built in volume as the
creature approached through the castle corridors.
Soon the blackness of the energy cloud could be seen in the entrance to the chamber room. Light from the Great Crystal then began to pour into Mark from behind him, filling his body. The central pit below the Crystal began to radiate its power, focusing the might of the planet itself through the Crystal and on into Mark.
"And so it begins," Mark said quietly as the power from the Crystal increased. The talisman on his chest began to glow brightly, and suddenly a beam of pure white energy blazed forth from it, smashing into the cloud creature and slowing its advance.
Sweat poured from Mark as he stood, a focus and a user of the energy in his desperate defense of Thra. The light blazed from the talisman again and the creature wavered but still continued its advance. Mark realized that he was losing, yet he fought to open himself even more to his adopted planet and its energies. No sounds came from the cloud as it struggled against the energy being directed against it, nor did any sounds come from Mark as he struggled to control and focus the energy.
Mark fell to one knee and then rose again as the fight began to take its toll of his body. The creature advanced at every sign of weakness on his part.
Suddenly Mark could hear the sound of soft footsteps coming closer. He glanced quickly to his right and saw Alera smiling at him. She looked into his eyes. "I love you," she said, then came closer and took his hand in hers and turned to face the evil cloud.
Mark looked at her for a moment, all resistance to the forging of their bond now gone from him. "Together, then," he said, once again turning to face the intruder.
Slowly light began to spread from the talisman over Mark's chest, down his body and across the bridge of hands to Alera. The light soon covered both their bodies as they held hands tightly. The cloud hesitated in its advance, acting as if it was unsure of what was now happening.
Aughra watched from a hidden corner in the galleries far above he chamber. Alera had refused to go with the other Gelfling, and she and Aughra had ridden landstriders with Aughra complaining all the way about the roughness of the ride. They had arrived at the castle shortly after Mark and had watched as he first confronted the creature.
She watched as Mark and Alera became totally bathed in the energy from the Great Crystal. Light poured from Mark's talisman, a fire stronger than before, fueled by his love for Alera and Thra.
Aughra had to shield her face as the light blazed brighter than anything she had ever seen before. Suddenly a terrifying, grating scream rang throughout the castle.
Moments later the light dimmed. The Great Crystal returned to its normal level of intensity. As for the cloud creature, there was not a single trace. Aughra saw the light dim around Alera's body as she fell, unconscious, to the floor.Where Mark had stood there was now only a shimmering pool of light on the floor, quickly becoming smaller and soon vanishing entirely.
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