Cheryl was surrounded by warm, golden light. It permeated her being and comforted, cleansed, healed, and empowered, all at the same time. She felt the same way after a particularly fruitful sermon or devotion time.
"Oh, it's You!" she whispered, but didn't really know what she meant.
"It always has been," The Voice was deep, melodious, and gentle. It seemed to speak inside her at the same time it spoke to her.
Cheryl longed for it to always be this way. "Don't leave," she pleaded in whisper.
"I never have; I never will." Yet the Voice seemed to fade a little. "You will have some hard times, but I will always be with you."
The brilliant light faded to a barely perceptible mist, and Cheryl found herself standing beside her two brothers, Sarah, and Angel.
"Oh, boy," Ralph said excitedly. "Angel, you're so big!"
The light had apparently changed a few things. Sarah, Lenny, and Cheryl were dry and clean, Cheryl's cheek didn't hurt anymore, and Angel had grown huge. Her head was now at the height of Cheryl's waist.
"Yes," said Angel. A deeper, more purry voice than a human's, but they all understood the words.
"Wow!" Ralph exclaimed. "You can talk now, too!"
Lenny was incredulous. "This is impossible."
Cheryl smiled. "Nothing's impossible, but this sure is amazing."
Sarah was sullen. "Where are we?" she demanded sulkily.
Angel turned her golden-eyed gaze to the girl. "For lack of a better term, this is the Middle Zone."
The Bryants looked around. A yellow-gold haze obscured everything but the small space where they and the cat stood in a circle. They stood on something like soft, springy turf, but when they looked down they saw it was the same soft yellow-brown as everything else.
"The Middle Zone," Ralph said softly. "I like it. Especially the light."
"Did you feel the same way I did?" Cheryl asked him. "Comforted and healed, and cleaned inside and out?"
"Yeah!" the boy said enthusiastically. "It was really great."
Lenny looked confused. "It didn't affect me that way at all," he said. "I felt like Someone was trying to tell me something, and I simply could not understand it, as if it was over a radio and I was tuned in the wrong frequency."
"What did you feel, Sarah?" Ralph asked curiously.
She was silent, but her red cheeks told the tale of conviction and her own rejection of the love and forgiveness.
After the silence had become uncomfortable, Lenny asked, "Where are we?"
"The Middle Zone," Angel patiently explained. "A place between worlds."
"Between worlds?" Lenny was struggling with the fact that this entire episode should be utterly impossible.
Angel looked at him for a moment, then seemed to listen to a voice he couldn't hear. She nodded as if in understanding, then answered, "You are aware that there are spaces between molecules, atoms, and the particles atoms are made of?"
"Yes," Lenny replied, on familiar ground now. He understood science.
"Have you heard that if you could squeeze together the matter in an object the size of a fist, getting rid of all the tiny spaces, you wouldn't be able to see the pile with a microscope?"
"Science knows no reason why two entire worlds couldn't exist in the same place. The molecules of one world would be in the tiny 'empty' spots of another. This concept has led to the science fiction idea of 'parallel universes;' thousands of universes exactly alike, except that the people in them make different choices. That, of course, is merely fantasy. Thousands of universes wouldn't fit in the space allotted to your particular universe. However, there are at least two 'parallel universes' that I know of. This is one of them."
"And the other?" Cheryl was nearly bursting with excitement.
Angel smiled, which looked very unusual on her feline face. "The name of the world is Madra, and you are going to Maychoria."
"Mah-drah," Ralph copied, "and May-chore-ee-uh? It sounds joyful."
"It means 'happy land' in the language of the people who live there," Angel explained. "Maychoria is actually only one country on the face of the planet of Madra, and it is where you are headed."
Cheryl's head spun with the implications of what the cat had told them. Finally she latched onto one question: "Why tell us all this? Why did you bring us here?"
"In all fairness," Angel gently replied. "I didn't bring you here."
"Who did?" Lenny asked, his throat dry.
"In Maychoria He's called Abba, El Shaddai, Jah, Atheos, Sebastoes, the Timeless One, the Maker, the Master of Time and Space, and the High King. In your world He goes by a few different names."
Cheryl smiled. "It was His voice I heard in the light."
Angel nodded. Again the strange feline smile spread across her furry face. Ralph knew Whom Angel meant, too, and seeing the bewilderment on the faces of Sarah and Lenny, he had the feeling he was in on a beautiful secret.
Sarah broke the quiet, snarling savagely, "You didn't say what we have to do with it."
"Sarah," Cheryl began reprovingly.
Angel interrupted, but it seemed to Cheryl that only she could hear it--another property of the mysterious Middle Zone. "It's all right, Cheryl."
Cheryl shut her mouth and listened to Angel's answer to Sarah's demand.
"For centuries Maychoria has been a happy, peaceful place. The people live in peace together, Humans, Elves, and Dwarves. But long ago, a servant of Abba, like myself one of the Elinrómi, (called angels in your world,) but much higher up in the chain of command, rebelled against the King and was thrown out of Hosiotos, the heavenly dwelling place. A third of my colleagues joined him in exile, and they are known as the Katamobi, and their leader as Kataphage."
Lenny had some knowledge of Latin, and he spoke up. "Kataphage means under-eater. Is…"
"Yes, Lenny. Kataphage is the evil lord of the Underworld of Fire, or Katatchthonios. And this evil spirit immediately set out to exact his revenge on the Maker. The only way to do that is through His most precious possession, the free-willed Peoples, the Humans, Dwarves, and Elves. If he could hurt the Three Peoples, he would hurt El Shaddai."
Cheryl shuddered. "Then they fell too, just like Adam and Eve in the garden long ago."
"Yes, Cheryl. Centuries ago a single lowly human began a slow chain reaction that will end in the destruction of the planet."
Ralph looked a little pale. "How awful!"
"Yes, Ralph. Indeed, it is very terrible. But the degeneration of this world has not been as swift as your own. Perhaps the camaraderie of the Three Peoples has slowed it, for the Elves and Dwarves are nowhere near as susceptible to the seductions of Kataphage as the Humans are. But when an Elf does leave the service of the Maker, he or she is a great enemy to the good of the planet. One of these has disrupted the world of Maychoria at this time, and you have been called to right the wrongs of the Elf, in fulfillment of prophecy."
"You're pulling my leg," Sarah said with incredulous certainty. "Prophecy? That names us as the saviors of a world? No way."
Ralph shook his head. It was pretty amazing, all right, and almost too much to take in. But then, after all, they were conversing with a huge cat they had known for months, though she'd never talked before. "But this Elf," he said slowly. "Who is he? What has he done?"
"Her name is Ryoo, and she is a Witch."
Sarah perked up at this. Cheryl noticed, and she quickly asked, "A Witch? How has she disrupted the world?"
"A century ago Ryoo used the twisted power of Kataphage to enslave her entire clan and moved to the Land of Shadows, Galgolb. The Klairooyn people, once her relatives, became Sleepwalkers, forced to labor under the cruel Witch, compelled by the evil power."
Sarah spoke. "Is Ryoo very powerful?" Cheryl saw that her eyes had the same feverish glow they'd had when Sarah ran down the left fork of the path and almost met her end.
Angel was unperturbed. "Yes, but El Shaddai is infinitely more powerful, for all power comes from Him."
A comforting thought, Cheryl reflected. Yet she still didn't know quite what was going on. "Angel, is Ryoo going to start a war?"
Angel's sober feline face nodded slightly. "For a while she was content to stay in Galgolb, using her enslaved relatives to build Castle Ryoo, and around it the wicked city of Kakon, which was built to accommodate the Witch's slaves."
"Is the Klairooyn tribe very large then?" Ralph asked.
"No," Angel replied calmly. "It is relatively small."
"Then why is there a whole city for them to live in?" the question came from Lenny.
Angel sighed for the first time. "Ryoo grew discontent with the fifty or so slaves she had, and wanted more to work on her evil projects. So she cast a drought over the free lands, Maychoria and Tappuah, and the colonized lands between Maychoria and Galgolb."
"Tuhpoouh?" Ralph asked.
"Maychoria's ally. Anyway, though Ryoo's drought was powerful, Abba's Power is of course the greater one. Those who trusted in Abba during the drought were well cared for. Abba caused springs of water to come up on the property of those who remembered that He would provide and prayed to Him for help and guidance. Some, though, forgot of His love and turned to other sources for help, depending on themselves and their land. When that failed, they still forgot El Shaddai. So Ryoo sent messengers to all of these, saying she had food, and that they could come and get it. Many people set off for Galgolb. When they arrived in a Kakon, Ryoo enslaved them as she had her family members. All this was several generations ago and the descendants of the Maychorians and Tappuans who served Ryoo are still enslaved there, but now they cry to Abba for deliverance. He has heard their pleas and is moving to save them. But that is only part of the problem. As I said, it has been several generations, and Ryoo is getting greedy again. She wants to rule the world, and she's starting with Maychoria. She kidnapped Princess Elladia and is keeping her in the dungeons of Kakon. Prince Tirzah is beside himself with worry."
"Whoa, whoa!" Ralph cried. "Back up and explain Princess Elladia and Prince Tirzah."
"Elladia is the Princess of Tappuah. She's engaged to Prince Tirzah, the ruler of Maychoria. Just before the journey from Tappuah to Maychoria, Ryoo the Witch managed to spirit her away to Galgolb. She is currently being held in the dungeon of Kakon."
"If Prince Tirzah is the ruler of Maychoria, why isn't he a king?" Ralph asked.
"In Maychoria nobody but Abba is called King. And it's not a true monarchy, either. Instead of the son of the Prince becoming Prince after him, Abba chooses the best person in the country for the job, man or woman. Not long ago, Princess Zena died, and a wise elf-maiden she was too, an asset to any kingdom. Young Prince Tirzah, who was once a village schoolmaster, was chosen to take her place as ruler. In Tappuah, it is a monarchy, with the eldest son of the Prince becoming Prince after him, regardless of whether he's wicked or good. Lately the Princes of Tappuah have been good, and Maychoria allied itself with them."
The Bryants nodded their understanding. Cheryl saw that the strange gleam in Sarah's eye hadn't left. She seemed to be thinking of something far away. Maybe Galgolb? The thought frightened Cheryl.
Lenny spoke up, fear constricting his throat. "Are--are we g-going t-to Maychoria?"
Angel smiled comfortingly, and very comforting it was, as it imparted the peace of El Shaddai. "Yes, Lenny, but that's not all. You were brought here to save Maychoria from destruction at the hands of the evil Witch."
"How?" Cheryl asked, excited.
"By going to Galgolb and freeing the slaves and Elladia, and retrieving the Hosiridion."
"Wait a minute," Ralph interrupted. "What is the Hosiridion?"
"And how on earth are we to set free the prisoners and get it back?" Cheryl added.
"Hosiridion means Holy Book. It is essentially the Holy Book you know, Cheryl."
"You mean the Bible?"
"Yes. Ryoo managed to get hold of the only copy of the Hosiridion, (or Hosridon, as it is more commonly called,) that exists on Madra. It is now being kept in one of the rooms of Castle Ryoo."
"How are we going to do this?" Cheryl asked again.
"That you must find out for yourself. But you will succeed. The prophecies in the Hosridon tell of visitors from another world who will rescue Maychoria in its most desperate hour." Angel's features grew soft and thoughtful. "They also speak of another Savior, One who will rescue the people from their sins for all eternity."
"Eternity, huh?" Lenny sounded skeptical, momentarily forgetting his fear.
"He has already come in your world."
Lenny sighed. He had heard it all before. "What happens next?"
"You need to step beyond this clear space."
"Why?" Ralph asked.
"You are still inside the golden sphere on a hill in the clearing on Terra, (your world,) and in Maychoria, it's in a clearing in a forest, as well. All you have to do is step into the mist, and you will be in Maychoria."
Lenny's fear returned, stronger than before. "I still don't understand," he whimpered.
"When you stepped into the sphere, the Power of Abba changed your molecules to 'fit' in this world. It's a little like a radio being tuned. When you step out your body will be 'tuned' to Maychoria. Your position doesn't change so much as your composition."
Ralph was delighted. "Way cool," he said. "Let's go!"
Lenny was bordering on panic. "Y-you go f-f-first," he stuttered.
Cheryl smiled encouragingly at him and stepped confidently into the mist. Again the light poured through her, and then she was standing in a clearing. She turned around and saw that the huge golden orb was directly behind her. Cheryl took a few steps back as first Ralph then Sarah popped out of the globe. There was a slight pause, then Lenny and Angel tumbled out.
Lenny seemed relieved to be out of the strange Middle Zone. Angel looked as if having her molecules 'tuned' to different 'frequencies' was a normal, everyday occurrence. But then, emotions are tough to tell in a cat.
"I'm glad that's over," Lenny sighed.
"But it's not!" Ralph replied. "Look!"
The four children studied their surroundings. They were in a forest clearing, but it was definitely not the state park. There was no hill in this clearing, and instead of the long prairie grass short, silky, emerald-green moss covered the ground. Instead of the mixture of conifers and broad-leaf, the trees were of species even Lenny didn't know. Some were tall and stately like an oak, but fruit grew on them. A few had branches that hung like a willow, but the leaves were shaped like that of a sassafras. Flowers of exquisite form and color dotted the moss beneath their feet. The underbrush in the forest looked quite a bit like the bushes back at home, but somehow different. A path that had not been there before led into the strange trees, and besides, this clearing was much smaller than the one they'd left on Terra.
Cheryl turned to look at the golden globe, but it had disappeared. In its place was a huge wooden table covered with a feast. Luscious looking fruits, some kind of bread, nuts, four bowls of thick steamy soup, four goblets and knives, and two pitchers, one filled with milk and the other with a sweet-smelling juice, made for a wonderfully fragrant repast.
Ralph bolted for one of the four chairs around the table, licking his lips in anticipation. "What're you waiting for?" he asked his siblings, who had hesitated in confusion.
Cheryl looked to Angel for guidance. The humongous feline smiled and said, "The meal is for you, to provide you with nourishment before you start your journey. Sit, and eat. You're hungry, I know. We left Terra just before lunch time."
Cheryl, Lenny and Sarah joined Ralph. After Angel left, saying she had a job to do, Cheryl said a brief prayer of thanksgiving. She noticed that Sarah sighed and rolled her eyes while Lenny appeared to perceive prayer as a binding duty instead of the privilege it is. But that was forgotten as they dug in. Though the food was a little different from what they were used to, it was very good. They drank glass after glass of milk and juice, but the pitchers were never empty. Neither were the bowls of fruit, breads, and soup.
Finally, Cheryl sat back and sighed with contentment. Ralph and Lenny soon followed suit. Then Cheryl sat bolt upright in fear.
"Where is Sarah?" she gasped in alarm.
Soon after the others had begun eating, Sarah had slipped away and gone into the trees. She was afraid to eat the food provided by the 'negative' Power, and was besides greedy to try to use the power her friends could.
Sarah sat on a stump and closed her eyes, trying to remember all Jamie and Karla and Sharise had taught her of using power for her own ends. Sarah wanted to go to Galgolb. She wanted to ask Ryoo to teach her to be a Witch. She would show them all!
"I can be a Witch," she muttered fiercely under her breath. She clenched her fists and concentrated, trying to gather power to herself to teleport to Kakon, to Ryoo. Jamie had said moving objects was as simple as imagining it moving; why shouldn't the same method work for Sarah?
"To Galgolb, to Kakon, to Ryoo," Sarah chanted. "To Galgolb, to Kakon, to Ryoo."
Far away, in the country of Shadows, the city of Evil, the castle of Power, two bright evil eyes opened wide. Ryoo turned from her window and laughed. She was a beautiful elf-maiden with jet-black eyes and hair plaited in eight braids that hung down her back. She bore herself proudly, and everything about her spoke of menacing power. Her black robes were trimmed with crimson, a heavy iron crown adorned her head, and in her hand she held a scepter of stone decorated with iron and painted with scarlet figures. Her small red mouth under the sharp nose accented her loveliness and cruelty. Her beauty was deadly, and all her slaves avoided serving in the castle as much as they could. It took great force to make one go into the same room.
Ryoo stood looking to the west, which was the way her enemies lay. It was also that area in which she felt the feeble stirrings of one trying to use the power that belonged only to Ryoo and her evil master. Ryoo laughed again, and bent her thought towards that region.
"So you desire to come to Galgolb, do you?" the Witch said in a strange mixture of amusement and curiosity. No one had wished to see Ryoo for over a century. And never had someone attempted to use the corrupt power to get there.
Tears trickled from Sarah's tightly closed eyes. She was trying so hard her head hurt.
"Please let in work," she pleaded in a whisper, not really knowing to whom she spoke. "Please."
Suddenly, she felt herself begin moving through the air! "Yes!" the girl exulted.
Ryoo chuckled. "When you arrive, little one, you will tell me all you know, whether you wish to do so or not. Then we shall see. You desire me to teach you? Very well. But you may not like that it was I who brought you here, not yourself. Yet, perhaps you may learn to do it yourself. Ah, Sebastoes, you have not beaten me yet." But despite her triumph, the Witch felt a twinge of fear. The prophecies…
A Voice, deep and melodious, but terrifying to the Witch, rang through the hall in which she stood. "What know you of true power, little Witch? In a very little time you will be vanquished," the Voice became suddenly gentle, "unless you come back to Me. Come back, leave your foolish search after power and wealth. I will fill the void you seek to fill. Come back, come back to Me, and I will yet forgive."
Ryoo trembled. She knew the Voice spoke the truth. But she hardened her heart and yelled. "No! No, I may yet win! I will not return to You to be a servant! Never!"
The Voice sighed deeply. "I knew what your answer would be, yet I had to give you this last chance." The Voice grew hard and firm again. "Very well, little one. I am sorry to have to punish you, but I am Holy, as are my Laws, and they must be obeyed." The Voice faded from the room, leaving a quivering Ryoo in its wake.
Drawing a shaky breath, Ryoo sat on her throne and prepared to greet her visitor.
Ralph ran to Angel as the cat returned from the forest. "Angel, Angel!" the boy cried excitedly. "Have you seen Sarah?"
"We looked everywhere," Cheryl informed her friend. "We don't know where she is!"
A cloud passed over Angel's feline face. She sighed slightly. "It has to be."
"What does?" Lenny asked anxiously.
"Sarah has gone to Ryoo."
Cheryl gasped. Lenny's eyes sought the ground, and he let out his breath in a sigh. Ralph's eyes widened in fear and sudden understanding.
"No…" Cheryl whispered.
"I knew it," Lenny said sadly. "I should have done something."
"No, it wasn't your fault," Cheryl said. "I should have noticed the signs and taken some sort of action."
"Placing blame will help nothing," Angel said gently. "She is gone, and the fault belongs to none but herself and Ryoo."
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