"Gentlemen! Welcome!" the leftmost man said smiling "I trust the journey here was satisfactory?"
"Nothing untoward." Blaze replied giving a warning look at George before returning the smile "So to what do we owe the pleasure of this visit?"
"Not one to beat around the bush is he." the rightmost man said his lips compressing a bit.
"Oh let it go John." the middle man said quickly "I don't like to dance around things either."
"John...?" George said under his breath sniffing the air slightly.
"Something wrong George?" the rightmost man said with a devilish grin.
"Umm...nothing." George said simply.
Chuckling slightly the leftmost man addressed George "We have a better cleaning system now so John doesn't have to do it himself. No more Stinky."
"You just had to say it didn't you Fessel?" grumped John "Will I never be free of that name?"
"I'm done using it at least." grinned George "You won't hear it from me again."
"Gives me no excuse to chase you out any more." John said grinning in return "That said Balder here is giving me even less excuse to boot your sorry ass when I see it."
"Ahh yes." the middle man said "As pleasant as this is it's not a social call. We...have a proposition for you gentlemen. And your absent mental companion as well."
George's eyes widened looking at Balder in disbelief. "I'm not gonna ask you how you know but it's damn surprising."
"Let's just say it's family related and leave it at that. Good?" Balder said reassuring him.
"Good." George said nodding his head slightly in assent.
"In that case let us adjourn to some place much more comfortable." Fessel said still smiling and rising from his chair with his coffee cup "This way please." John and Balder rising as well.
Coffee cups in tow and followed by George and Blaze the druids left the kitchen via a door in the back. An immediate right turn started the group down a long hallway lit by evenly spaced bright circles in the ceiling. At the end a heavy rustic style door carved completely with ornate roses.
Reaching the door first Fessel took hold of the knob and opened the door. "After you." he said motioning with his other hand slopping a bit of coffee on the floor in the process "Dammit."
Following the others through the door Blaze pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and gave it to Fessel "Here you go."
"Thanks." said Fessel proceeding to mop the coffee from his fingers and cup. After wiping up the floor he passed through and closed the door behind himself.
Beyond the door was an extremely large but simply furnished living room. The furnishings however were dwarfed by an extremely large curved bay window made of one piece of clear glass occupying one wall.
Framed within that view was what appeared to be a lush forest of dark cyan trees broken here and there by tall buildings.
"Holy shit." George said stunned by the view.
"Surprised?" said John "This is something that only a few people know. And now you're one of them."
"What the fuck is this all about John?" George asked softly still in thrall of the view "This isn't Earth is it?"
"Nope." said Balder "Does that bother you?"
"Oh hell no!" George replied tearing himself away from the view to look directly at Balder "In fact this makes perfect sense of all the things I've heard about you guys and The Rose."
Chuckling John looked over at Blaze "What about you?" he asked raising one eyebrow.
"I'm...speechless." Blaze replied still staring out the window his hands fidgeting a bit.
"Well you guys have accomplished something even more impressive then." George said grinning broadly "Last time I saw him this quiet was when I hooked him up with a dancer I knew."
Looking at George and frowning "Hey! I thought we weren't going to talk about that!" Blaze said a peculiar light in his eyes.
Laughing out loud George just shook his head slowly. Turning back to the druids George asked "So what's this all about then?"
Taking a sip of his coffee Fessel spoke up "Well...the easiest explanation is the simplest one. My partners and I have searched for many many years for a way to an alternate universe. What we got was a way off planet. Best we can tell it's somewhere closer to the core of the galaxy but we haven't pinned it down yet."
Continuing where Fessel left off Balder said "In short we lucked out. The planet is habitable and even fairly friendly to human habitation. There's a number of things we had to do like set up hydroponics locations because the forest almost completely covers the planet but for the most part we just had to build and set up solar power stations. Speaking of which - the transfer dehydrates you a bit." Reaching into a nearby drink fridge and handing them each a steel water bottle Balder nodded towards John "You get to tell them the big one."
Clearing his throat John said simply "For years now, too many to count, we've been funneling people of ability to new lives here. Sort of an underground railroad so to speak. We test each person's personality among other things before we even think about contacting them. We even have people here without abilities though a lot less of them. And...now you know."
"Wow." said Blaze "So what kind of population do you have here? How many people?"
"Well we relocate about a small amount every year so oh somewhere in the 2 - 3 million range." said John matter-of-factly.
As expected both Blaze and George choked on the water they were drinking. Laughing openly Fessel said "I don't know why but that never gets old even after all these years."
"Either of you have a problem with any of this so far?" asked Balder looking at both of them.
"I don't have a problem with it so much as it's not supposed to be possible..." said Blaze "But then neither George nor I were supposed to be possible a decade or so ago."
"Hmph." grunted George "So if you guys have all this why not just build up an army and take Earth?"
Fessel looked at his feet quickly while John concentrated intently on something in the aqua colored trees.
"We don't like to talk about it because it's one of our worst screwups." said Balder breaking the silence.
George raised an eyebrow while reaching over to grab Blaze's shoulder and break his fixation on the window.
Sighing slightly Fessel looked up and said "It was World War II. Our mistake I mean. And almost the last war. Years before we'd managed to rescue a family of telepaths before they got too noticable. During the rescue there was an accident. We thought one of the children died - a small boy."
Going silent again Fessel shifted from one foot to the other uncomfortably.
"The child survived." John continued in Fessel's place "A small telepath child. Unsupervised and alone he managed to grow and hide into adulthood without our knowledge. Did I mention this was in Austria?"
"So you can see why we're so careful now and why an army is out of the picture." said Balder chewing a fingernail "We're not only protecting the people of ability but we're protecting the rest as well. A conflict would end everything on all sides."
"And that is why we stay strictly neutral." finished Fessel his face brightening a bit "It's just better that way."
"...can I?" interjected Blaze "Can we go outside so I can see one of the trees?"
Looking a the other druids Balder broke into a broad grin "Of course!"
After a few minutes of travel in another elevator that Fessel revealed from behind a set of bookshelves they stepped out onto a large patio complete with a large bistro style table and a half dozen chairs. Mysteriously the table was already set with several glasses of deep blue liquid that George almost mistook for black until some reflected sunlight shone through it.
At one end of the patio, appearing to grow out of the stone floor itself, was the trunk of one of the trees they'd seen from the window above.
Without hesitation Blaze took three strides to the tree and put his hand slowly on the trunk.
"It's...strange." said Blaze with a puzzled look on his face "It feels like any other bark I've felt but I know it's not the same. Weird..."
"Things are just a little more alive than on Earth." John said with a smile "Now have a seat and have some tea."
Tearing himself away from the tree Blaze took a seat to George's left, picked up the glass in front of him and sniffed cautiously. George watched him carefuly out of the corner of his eye.
"It doesn't smell like anything!" said Blaze laughing in surprise "It should smell like something!"
"It's made, as you'd expect, from local plantings of tea leaves." said John looking at his own glass "They grow surprisingly well despite the color from the minerals. It's just plain iced tea. Promise!"
"It's excellent!" remarked George who'd already downed half a glass still keeping an eye on Blaze.
"It really is isn't it?" said Blaze after tasting it. Pausing a bit Blaze looked closely at Balder "Did you say Austria?"
"Geeze Blaze!" grunted George "Shake off the fog!"
"Sorry." said Blaze looking into his glass "I'm just having a little trouble taking it all in."
"Most people do Blaze." said Fessel "I will say this for you though, the average person sometimes takes weeks to 'shake it off' as George put it. You bounce back considerably better than most."
"Thanks..." said Blaze bringing himself back up to speed "So with all this what do you need from us?"
"Simply put we need you two, and your absent telepathic friend, to become our collection and transport team." John said "Our last collection team retired and have 'gone native' so to speak and we need replacements."
"It's a tough job and while we used to be able to do it ourselves in the past the world is getting too busy and we're getting too old." continued Fessel.
"Speak for yourselves..." muttered Balder behind his glass.
NOTE:(This is where I've stopped at the moment. I'll try and complete this chapter soon and more on to the next.)