Elect II—20 Underground, part 3 of 3

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Roland rubbed his hands together and something like fire appeared in his hands.  He dropped the flame and it illuminated the shaft all the way down, about twenty feet,

“Here’s a rope,” Jessica said and brought one end to Latasha.  She went back and tied the other end to a steel column that held up the ceiling.

“Me first,” Roland said and grabbed the rope from Latasha.

Officer Dickenson spoke while Roland went down, slowly and quietly.  “Science teacher?”

“Biology,” Boston said.  “I’m thinking of letting Latasha do her project on arachnids.”

ac-jessica-2Officer Dickenson nodded.  Jessica had a comment.

“I never had cool teachers like you.  My science teachers in high school were all dorks.”

Roland directed his speech up as he got some kind of lights in place that stayed on.  “Come down quietly.”

Fiona came next, but she looked first at Jessica and spoke to Harmony.  “You did say these were not spiritual creatures.”   Boston made Harmony call her troop so they could guard the opening while they went exploring.

Boston was the last to reach the bottom of the hole.  She saw a cavern made of natural limestone and granite.  There was an old cot along a wall with a couple of moldy woolen blankets folded on top.  Several boxes held World War II ration packs and there was a rifle and a rusty revolver in one corner.

“Fallout shelter,” Harmony named the place.

“Nineteen-fifties, I would guess,” Boston agreed.

“Wow,” Latasha was curious about it all.  “People used to think they were going to get bombs dropped on their heads?”  She did not understand the thinking behind bomb shelters in America.  Boston at least understood the history.

ac-roland“Over here,” Roland called, and he showed them an opening at the back of the cavern.  It was a perfect archway, like a door, framed in metal.  “Looks like someone uncovered this more recently.”  He pointed to the rocks and rubble pushed aside.

“Or some slight earthquake revealed it, and someone recently dug it out,” Jessica, the California girl suggested.

“Possible,” Boston agreed.  She stood in the opening, tried to pierce the darkness of the long hallway and made a decision.  “Roland and I.  The rest of you wait here.  Latasha, you have to guard our escape hatch.”

“But I—.”  Latasha saw the look in her teacher’s eye and amended her words.  “Yes Ma’am.”

Roland had another globe in a hidden pocket which glowed with a silver light that he could increase or dim with a word.  It was like the three globes he left floating around the cavern with no visual means of support.  Roland went first and Boston followed with a hand on his back.  She immediately spoke.

“I have to call Lockhart.”  They had entered a hallway of some kind of ship—no doubt an alien ship.  There were small chambers on either side of the hall that glowed ever so slightly with a sickly green light.  Each one held a spider, unmoving, and the hall looked like it led to a huge central room that gave off a green glow from hundreds if not thousands of such chambers.

“They appear to be in suspension, some kind of cryogenics,” Roland said, touching the outside of one of the chambers.

“I wonder how long,” Boston thought out loud.

boston-4b“No telling.  I don’t recognize the writing.”  Roland pointed at the scribbles over each chamber which appeared to be a numbering system

“So wait.”  Boston tapped her head and paced in the hallway while she talked.  “Latasha’s enemy, Carlos the drug dealer finds this place to hide out from the police.  He finds a partially uncovered door and manages to open it.  After a time, he manages to revive a spider.  A stupid thing to do, but it turns out to be a not so smart male with whom he can make a deal to kill off his rival drug dealers.  All is well but he does not know that secretly the male has revived a female which he keeps hidden while she is busy laying eggs.  When the babies are born, Carlos finds through the male he can have some control over the babies.  He thinks this is even better, but when he meets Mama, he has to make a new deal, especially after Jessica and Latasha slice up the male.  Mama goes along with it while she gets the lay of the land, but terminates Carlos as soon as she realizes she will do better without him.”

“That is correct.”  Roland and Boston heard the voice.  The big spider was clinging to the ceiling of the hallway looking down at them with multi-faceted eyes and snapping jaws.  Roland and Boston wore a glamour that made them appear human, but they were not human.  The spider shot her web to trap them, but they vanished at elf speed and were already in the cavern yelling by the time the webbing struck the empty hallway floor.

“Get out!  Get out!”

ab-spider-web-5A strand of webbing shot from the darkened hole before the Mama appeared.  It wrapped around Latasha’s leg and yanked her feet from beneath her.  A whip of the spider’s head and Latasha shot across the room to crash into the cavern wall.  That hurt, but mostly it made Latasha angry, and she still had her ax gripped tightly in her hand.

Harmony rushed up the rope first to prepare her troop for what she expected might be an invasion of spiders.  Officer Dickenson was right behind her, but not elf fast.  He stopped at the hole.  He swore mightily, turned, pulled his revolver and fired on the giant spider.  Jessica and Fiona both fired their arrows as well.  Officer Dickenson did not have the best aim, but both arrows struck the spider.  The spider did not seem bothered by two arrows.  Jessica and Fiona escaped up the rope without a word.

Mama spider tried to fire her webbing several times, but Boston had her wand up and the webbing went astray.  Officer Dickenson ran out of bullets as Roland had his bow out and fired a flaming arrow.  It struck the back end of the spider and exploded even as Latasha arrived.  The spider was already leaking guts from the back when Latasha brought her ax down on the head and ended it.  And there was silence for a moment before they heard the clickity-clack sound of spider feet in the hallway.

“Babies!” Officer Dickenson shouted.  He about had his revolver reloaded.

“Get out!” Roland said again and Boston repeated it as she held her hands and her wand up.

ac-ash-dickersonDickenson grabbed Latasha by the arm and also repeated the words, but softly, “Get out.”  Latasha looked like she wanted to argue, but she did not.  She went ahead of the police officer and jumped almost the entire way to the top.  Dickenson followed more slowly.

Roland grabbed Boston around the middle and brought her to the base of the hole, even as the babies came pouring into the room and stopped at the magical barrier Boston put up.  Roland tied the bottom of the rope in a harness around Boston so she could be pulled up, then he raced to the top.

Boston was straining against the pressure of the spiders trying to break through when the rope tightened and she began to move.  Immediately, she pulled her barrier back to cover only the bottom of the hole, and then she tried to do something she did not know if she could do.  As she went up, she sucked the air out of the hole to create a vacuum.  The rocks around the hole collapsed into the vacuum to seal the exit.  No doubt some babies were crushed at the bottom when the rocks settled, but it was more magic than Boston could handle and she arrived at the top of the sealed hole, dizzy and incoherent.

Roland kissed her quickly and stole her phone.  “I have to call Lockhart,” he said without explaining for the uninformed.  But even as he started through Boston’s interminable contact list, Jessica interrupted.

ac-jessica-2“Wait,” Jessica turned off her phone.  “The ghouls have taken over city hall.  Sara is trapped.  We have to go.”

“Ghouls?” Officer Dickenson asked in a shaky voice.  Latasha could only nod

Jessica stared for a second at her phone before she asked.  “Ghouls in city hall?  Why is that unusual?”

Elect II—20 Underground, part 2 of 3

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Sara got to city hall a little after five.  Paul was working on a brief for the Mayor.  The Mayor, of course, was home relaxing along with most of the people in the city administration.  It was only people like new, young lawyers in the prosecutor’s office that usually worked late.

Sara came with her shepherd’s crook in her hand.  She was uncertain about the weapon at first, and Heinrich made it clear it was a weapon even if it was only used to protect the sheep from beasts in the wilderness, but lately she had come to think of it as something like a security blanket.  a-trent-policeman-1She was dressed in her fairy weave gift from Avalon—her long white dress over boots and her white cloak with the hood over all.  She was determined to tell Paul everything and thought the fairy weave would serve for evidence when she turned it pink and then green with a mere word.

Ben, the security guard at the front door did not recognize her at first.  When he realized who she was he said, “Wow, er, Reverend Michaels.”

“I’m just here to totally interrupt Paul from whatever work he is doing,” she said.  He buzzed her in with a whisper that it should not be hard, and he watched her all the way to the elevator.

When she reached the third floor, she had to walk carefully around the wet floor sign as she smiled at the cleaning crew.  They didn’t smile back, but she did not expect them to.  When she reached the corner office where Paul often hid while the cleaners worked, she paused.  She steadied her heart and mind while her lips said a small prayer for serenity, and she went in without knocking.

Paul looked up.  “Sara?”  He took a second look.  “Sara.”

“We have to talk.”

“I—.”  He looked very tempted, but swallowed.  “I have to finish this for the Mayor.  Give me about an hour.”

ac-sarah-b1“No Paul.  I have a confession and it must be now.”  Sara was still standing in the doorway and it occurred to her if he could not stop long enough to listen she would probably leave and not see him again.

Paul still hesitated, but at last he pushed back his computer keyboard, sat back in his chair and folded his hands.  “I’m listening.”  Sara closed the door, sat across the desk from him and took a moment to fold her hands in her lap before she began.

“It has to do with the young women at the University I told you about, the ones who style themselves as an Amazon tribe.”  Paul looked skeptical and Sara worried her hands.  “It is an anomaly in this age, I know, but the truth is they are a real Amazon tribe sanctioned by the goddess Zoe herself, and they can all do things that no ordinary human being can do.”

“Sara—.”

“And so can I.  They call me priestess.”  Sara said pink and her dress and cloak changed to that color.  She said blue, and with the change Paul’s mouth opened wider but no words came out.  She changed her clothes back to white and spoke to him again.  “Right now you just need to listen.”  She talked for an hour and told him many things but found herself still holding back on many details, and some things like Avalon she hardly mentioned.  When she took a breath, she felt she had conveyed all that was most important.  Paul remained silent and thoughtful.  At least he was not freaking out.

Sara looked out the window.  The sun was just down and she honestly could see nothing but darkness, but Paul joined her in looking at the glass and her reflection in the glass.  She felt sure he would say something in a minute, but a minute was all it took for the lights to sputter and go out.  Paul’s first concern was his computer which dimmed and went off.

ac-sar-paul-1“Damn it!” he said.  “I didn’t get that saved.”  Sara did not mind the swearing.  It was very human.  Then they heard a scream out in the main room and both jumped to the door.  Paul looked at her.  “I’ll just check it out.  Stay here.”

“No.”  Sara grabbed his arm.  She was feeling what she could only describe as the presence of evil.  “Wait.”  She opened the door carefully.  There was a person not far from the door, just visible in the emergency lighting.  They recognized that the person was not a human person when they realized he was eating someone’s arm. The person noticed them and started toward them.  Then they saw it for the creature it was, full of caws and fangs.

Sara yanked Paul behind her and yelled.  “You shall not come in here.”  She slammed the butt of her shepherd’s crook on to the rug and while it made no sound, a brilliant light emanated from the Priestess.  The creature backed up and threw its arms up to cover its eyes while Sara quickly shut the door.  She pulled out her phone and once again Paul appeared speechless.

“Lisa,” Sara spoke and leaned against Paul’s desk.  “The ghouls have taken over city hall.”  She covered the phone for a second.  “Detective Schromer.  You met her.”  Paul nodded.  “Nice husband.  Maybe we could double sometime.  Give you someone to talk to.”  Paul shook his head before he thought and shrugged but then Sara was talking again.  “No, I don’t know how many and I am not leaving this corner office to go out and count them.  Fine.  I’ll keep the phone handy.”  She hung up, put the phone on the desk and took hold of her shepherd’s crook again.

ac-sar-paul-3Paul shrieked like a little girl.  There was a claw sticking up through the floor and it had grabbed hold of his ankle.  Sara smashed the claw with her crook and something like electricity traveled down the wood.  They heard a horrifying scream from below as the claw began to shrivel and it was rapidly pulled back beneath the floorboards.

“You might want to get your feet off the floor,” Sara said as she shoved things out of her way to sit on the desk.  Paul went for his desk chair and pulled up his knees.  He spoke after a 360 degree inspection of the floor area, only possible because Sara was glowing.

“This kind of thing happen often?”

Sara smiled at the feeling of liberation.  Right then she could tell Paul anything and he would have to believe her.  “No.  I wouldn’t say often.”

Elect II—20 Underground, part 1 of 3

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Emily was still in bed three days later when Jessica and Fiona the hunter joined forces and found Carlos in an unused warehouse meat locker.  He was completely drained of blood and stank.  Fiona guessed he had been hanging for two or three days.  They all kept quiet as they looked around the main room for Mama spider.  Officer Dickenson spoke first.

“I imagine the big spider is long gone,” he said.  He knew it was wishful thinking when the others contradicted him.

aa-warehouse-dock-1“She is near,” Jessica said.

“I can sense something, not far,” Latasha agreed.

Harmony called her troop for backup with a word.  “There may be more babies as well.”

“Not what I want to hear,” Dickenson said.  “But if there are more, we get out, call Schromer and get extra back-up.”  It took some convincing, but eventually the women agreed.

###

At that same time, Sara was in the city hall, waiting outside the courthouse for Paul.  She had come to realize if she did not go see him at work, she might never see him at all.

Lisa came out from testifying against one of the drug dealers Latasha got her mixed up with.  “Off with time served,” she said as she sat beside Sara on the bench outside the courtroom.  She expected Sara to say something about the lack of justice and how the streets will never be safe if the bad guys keep getting off so easy, but that was not what she heard.

“How do you do it?”  Sara looked at Lisa with questions written all over her face.  “With Josh and the kids, I mean.  The only place I see Paul these days is here or over in City Hall where he is working in the Mayor’s office.”

Sara got quiet and Lisa paused for a moment to think.

“I got lucky.  Josh knew what he was getting, police and all.  He knew about my election, not all the details, but that my life would never be normal.  He sent me flowers anyway.  He said his programming job was the kind he could work from home most of the time, and he did not mind being a house husband and doing child care if we should have children.  He said he would always a-trenton-court-hallbe there for me.  How could I say no?”  Lisa smiled and then added a serious note.  “Honestly, I don’t do it very well.  I struggle with guilt the way most women do these days, I suppose.  The days of wife and mother staying home with the kids are pretty much over.  Women work these days because they have to, and the idea that a woman can have it all is a croc.  Either work or Josh and the children are always getting gypped.”

“Not so,” Ashish said.  He had come out of the courtroom in the middle of the conversation, but heard enough of it.  “I think Lisa does a remarkable job of balancing things.”

Lisa gave her partner a brief smile but turned straight back to Sara who looked so serious. Lisa’s intuition was acting up.  “You haven’t told Paul about you and the girls, have you?”

“I have, but not in detail, and I haven’t taken him to meet them yet.  I’m afraid.”

Lisa reached for her hand.  “Complete honesty.  That is the only way to know if he is right.  You don’t have the luxury of picking just any old husband.”

Sara opened her mouth and shut it just as quick.  “When I met the girls I thought I stumbled into a band of superheroes, like the X-Men.  I discovered it isn’t just Emily, you and Latasha.  Each of the girls, in her own way, can do things no human being ought to be able to do.”  Sara stopped and Lisa encouraged her.

“And then?”

Sara took a deep breath.  “And then I found out I could do things that defied nature.  Not big things, but subtle things.”  She looked up at Lisa and let out the smallest grin.  “I can glow in the dark.”

ac-riverbend-3Lisa patted Sara’s hand and stood.  “My pastor says we all have our crosses to bear.”  She returned the slight grin and added the word, “Priestess.”  Then she raised her voice.  “Aurora.”

A young girl stepped around the corner, or more likely appeared from somewhere else.  Sara was not fooled.  She knew this was an elf in disguise.  It was confirmed when Aurora stopped at the bench, looked at Sara, gave a little bow and said, “Priestess,” in echo of Lisa’s word.  She turned to Lisa, nodded her head again and said, “Lady.”

“Anything?” Lisa asked.

“There have been ghouls here, but not here now.”

“Ha,” Ashish interrupted.  “She hasn’t seen the lawyers.”

###

It was on a Saturday, around sundown, two weeks’ shy of finals, when Jessica and Fiona found their way back to that same warehouse.  Latasha, Harmony and Officer Dickenson followed, and all said they knew the trails would return to this place.

“I about have this old warehouse memorized,” Officer Dickenson said while his eyes continued to search every corner for signs of spiders.

“We have been over this place,” Harmony admitted.

“And we found nothing,” Fiona agreed.

“But all the signs point here,” Jessica looked frustrated.

“Maybe we missed something.”  Fiona began to second guess.

boston-5“At least the place is not full of webbing this time,” Officer Dickenson remarked.

“In here.”  Latasha was by the door and everyone looked in her direction.  A young man and a young woman came in.  “That is why I asked for a second set of eyes.  This is my science teacher, Ms. Riley.”

Jessica opened her mouth but said nothing.  The absurdity of Latasha asking her high school science teacher for help was beyond even Jessica’s ability for quick remarks.  Harmony and Fiona were not fooled by the glamours.  Both heads dipped and Harmony spoke.

“Lord Roland.  Lady Boston.”

Boston responded while Roland took a long look around the big room.  “From the way Latasha described things, I am guessing a secret door.”  Boston sat down in the middle of the floor and opened her purse.  She took out a Jar of dust and a stick, which was her wand.

“Your wife is sitting down to find a secret door?”  Officer Dickenson thought they should be tapping the walls and looking for signs on the floor, but in part he wanted to know who these strangers were.  It was police curiosity.

“Yes,” Roland spoke openly to the police officer.  “My wife was a witch before she became an elf.”  Officer Dickerson just shut his mouth like it served him right for asking.  “Like your Melissa,” Roland added for Jessica who nodded that she understood and stepped back to let the woman work.

Boston chanted very softly and waved her wand several times in between her chants.  Jessica could see the orange colored swirl of the magic that surrounded Boston like a fine mist of fire.  Every time she swirled the wand, the mist expanded to cover more of the warehouse floor.  Officer Dickenson asked his question before it reached the walls.

“What is happening?” he whispered.  “I don’t see anything.”

“Hush,” Latasha quieted him.  “It is like a red-orange mist, and it looks like she found something.”

boston-1The mist began to pull together over one round spot on the floor.  Boston got up slowly and brought her jar of dust to the spot.  She sprinkled the dust and spoke, and the round spot glowed with a sparkling golden tint that everyone could see.  Then she spoke.

“This is not a magical door.  It seems mechanical in some way and that may be why our elves did not find it, because they were not looking with the right set of eyes.”

“You did say at first they were not spiritual creatures,” Fiona reminded Latasha who simply nodded and unwrapped her ax.

“Here, give me a hand with this,” Roland said to Officer Dickenson.  Latasha also got down to apply her strength to what for all practical purposes was like a manhole cover cut smoothly out of the concrete floor.  When it was open, all they could see was down into the dark.

Elect II—19 Leftovers, part 3 of 3

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It was dark when Emily left her study group in the library.  She normally did not think twice about walking home in the dark, but there was an early spring chill in the air which made her turn up her collar, and she shivered.  It was a straight path to the dorm, beside the science building with the main classroom building, Gorgon Hall on her right.  She had to go down a small hill and through a couple of dark patches where the trees obscured the walkway lights, but then she was in dorm land and only needed to cross the street to get to her suite.

Emily paused in front of the science building.  She pushed her collar up again against the feeling that someone was following her.  She tried to look back as she reached in her purse like she maybe left something in the library, but she did not see anyone behind her so she took a deep breath and passed it off as imagination.

a-n-campus-2A young couple burst through the science building doors and headed toward the library.  Emily watched for a moment and felt like she wanted someone to laugh with and hold their hand.  She sighed and looked and saw no one back there, so she started walking again.  Someone was following her.  She could run, and outrun any normal person, but as she came to the slight hill that went down to the street and moved into a dark area, she had another thought.  She slipped behind a tree and held her breath.

She was sure whoever it was, or whatever, it was definitely following her.  She imagined it paused at the top of the hill where it could not see her.  She wondered who it might be.  Riverbend was likely resting or for once doing as she was told—helping Lisa track ghouls.  She could not imagine it, but she supposed Riverbend might have assigned another one of the elf maidens to temporarily take her place.  But no, Emily thought, no elf maiden would be that obvious.

Emily heard a sight growl beside her and felt a rock-hard fist in her shoulder before she could turn her head.  She flew across the walkway and slammed hard into a tree.  She was hurt from one punch and when she looked up she was not surprised to see a monster of an orc step out into the dim light.

There was someone on the path, running.  The person leapt and he had a knife in his hand which got shoved deep into the orc’s neck.  The orc grabbed the young man with one hand around the waist and squeezed.  The man arched his back and moaned as Emily heard bones break.  Then the young man was tossed away like a rag doll.

 

The orc reached for the knife in his neck and pulled it out with a great roar.  But by then, Emily had out her knife and came up from beneath to shove her knife in the orc’s belly and up toward the heart.  The orc backhanded her, and mostly missed, but even at that Emily felt it hard enough to be seriously hurt, and she was shoved again across the walkway to crash and slide across the bricks on her back.

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As the orc tossed away the knife from his neck, somehow the young man grabbed it.  Emily was astounded.  She thought she gutted the thing, and it was bleeding terribly from its neck and belly, but it seemed her cut through the abdomen only hit muscle.  The knife fell out as the beast turned on her.  She staggered to her feet.  But then the young man managed a miraculous leap on to the orc’s back, though his ribs had to be broken.

The orc got the knife again in the neck, on the other side of its head.  It roared again and jumped backward to crush the young man into the tree.  Emily heard the big old tree crack from the weight and force exerted, and she moved in again, retrieving her own knife as the orc turned to tear the young man apart.  It roared again and Emily shoved her knife into the orc’s mouth, reaching from behind.  The backhand came again, but this time Emily ducked and rolled away.  She moaned.  The roll made it clear that she was hurt everywhere.

The orc turned on Emily once again, but it stood to spit and try to disgorge the knife from its mouth.  It made great hacking sounds before an arrow struck it in the chest.  Two more arrows struck the heart area and the beast fell to the ground to roll and grasp at the shafts.

Emily crawled over to the young man by the tree.  She was sure he could not possibly be alive.  She gasped when she saw him.  It was Pierce’s younger brother.  There was a flicker of movement and recognition in his eyes

“I’m glad you loved him.  I’ve got a baby sister.  Save her,” the young man said before the last of his breath went out of him.

Emily turned, though it hurt to turn.  She saw a male elf making sure the monster orc was dead.  boston-a1She saw the female elf at her side, and the elf yelled at her.  “I ordered Riverbend to stay with you.  You have no business sending her off to help Detective Lisa.”

There was something in the way the elf said Detective Lisa that sounded familiar, but Emily could not think about that just then.  She was busy passing out.

Emily woke a short while later, in her dorm and in her bed.  Maria was there having tea with the elf healer, Linnea.

“Must have been a monster,” Linnea said.  Emily could only nod.

“Nothing broken,” Maria reported.  “But you have to be banged up bad.”

Emily nodded again as Riverbend came to the door and came into the room, crying.

Elect II—19 Leftovers, part 2 of 3

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That same afternoon, Melissa and Maria finally cornered Amina.  They had books Mindy picked out and Amina was just going to have to sit and look at the pictures in the hope of identifying whatever was blocking her, and maybe blocking Zoe.  Melissa flipped the pictures.  Amina tried not to look too close.  Maria talked.

ac-maria-3It’s no good running away.  We are running out of semester.  We have to get to the bottom of this.”

“Here,” Melissa said.

“No please,” Amina turned her head.

“But this is a good picture,” Maria said.  “Apollo and Artemis.  Greeks.  Hey.”  She took the book for a moment.  “I didn’t know they were brother and sister.”  She moved the book back in front of Melissa when someone screamed.  Heads went up.  More screams followed.

The orc in the main room had a sword and he looked like he wanted to take out as many students as possible.

Maria and Amina rushed out from behind the library table while Melissa stood and pulled the wand given to her on Avalon.  Blue magic snaked out and encircled the orc.  She was attempting to immobilize the creature, but even as the orc’s movements began to slow, it shrugged like throwing off a fly.  Melissa was lifted off her feet and flung back to slam into the nearest bookrack.

That brief slow down allowed Maria to kick the sword from the orc’s hand.  It clattered to the floor and slid under the table even as the orc returned Maria’s kick with the back of his oversized hand and sent her spiraling into the lounge chairs.  Amina went straight for the sword, but the orc went straight for her, and would have gotten her if she wasn’t prepared.  As the orc reached for Amina, Amina spun around and sprayed his eyes with perfume.  The orc howled and stood and scratched at his eyes.

Maria bumped a young woman who was sitting in the lounge area, unmoving, with her eyes and ab-scared-womanmouth wide open.  Maria said, “Run.”  That was all that was needed.  The woman stood, knocked over her chair, threw her hands up to her hair, screamed and waddled off in her heels because actually running seemed too difficult.  She got totally in Maria’s way and Maria added a second thought.  “Never.”

As Amina grabbed the sword, the orc pulled out a knife.  He looked angry for revenge until a young man hit the orc on the back of the head with an encyclopedia.  Melissa ran up, holding her banged up shoulder as the orc staggered and then turned on the young man.

“Robert!”  Melissa yelled, but she did not have to tell Robert to back up.  When the orc turned fully, he lifted his arms and roared.  Three arrows went straight into the orc’s chest.  His eyes gazed over and he collapsed.

“Linnea,” Maria recognized the elf healer and her elf friends.

“Lord Roland and Lady Boston said we needed to watch you, not just the Queen.”

“Good thing,” Amina said.

ac-riverbend-2“Yes,” Linnea agreed when she got down with Maria to examine the orc and be sure it was dead.  “Boston said the law of luck would bypass the ordinary students and bring the trouble straight to your door,”

They all looked up at the sound by the door.  It was Courtney Chase, and she was loud.

“Shit!  Joe!”  She ran back out the door shouting, “Joe!”

‘Quick,” Maria said.  “You have to get this body back to Avalon.”

“Down here,” Amina said and pointed with the sword that was still in her hand.  “The hallway is less conspicuous.”  Two elf women grabbed the orc’s hand and dragged the body after Amina.  Linnea followed.  Maria looked at Melissa, but she was kissing Robert so that was no help.  She picked up the fallen lounge chair and sat in it as there was a flash of light down the hall and Courtney Chase came back in, Cameraman Joe in tow.

Everything was quiet in the main room.

ac-news-5Courtney glanced down the empty hall suggesting she saw the light.  She turned to Melissa and Robert.  “Where the hell did they go?”  Melissa and Robert were busy, so she harrumphed and stepped over to confront Maria.  “Where the hell did they go?” she shouted.

Maria wrinkled her brow and scolded the reporter.  “Please.  Library,” she whispered.

Courtney made an angry and very unflattering face and returned the whisper with an edge in her voice.  “Where the hell did they go?”

Maria answered in her normal tone and voice.  “Where did who go?”

Elect II—19 Leftovers, part 1 of 3

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It was hard getting back into the normal routine of school and the real world after Avalon, especially when there was something to do that didn’t have anything to do with homework.  Sara and her friend Nancy in the administration building, kept a close watch on President Batiste’s office when the mail came.  Bernie the campus cop kept one eye on his superior, Captain Gouldos.  Mindy tried her best to keep watch on Professor Papadopoulos.  Melissa and Maria had their targets, too, but these three topped the list.  The only one they could not track was Ferdinand Franco, the drug kingpin, but they imagined they would know if the man came to campus.

ac-emily-1Emily could hardly concentrate.  She could hardly eat or sleep.  It was like a twisted Christmas vigil.  The letter got delivered Thursday and Emily ran to the administration building in record time.  She managed to say “Hi” to Nancy, the President’s secretary before she sat, picked up a magazine and pretended to be nonchalant about life.  Sarah came in after a moment and was not surprised to see Emily already there.

Only another moment later, President Batiste came wandering out of his office, a calm look on his face.  Emily hid behind her magazine and Sara leaned in to her shoulder so as not to look obvious.

“Nancy, get me Franco on the phone.”  Batiste looked at his hands like he needed to remember what he had.  “Here.  Send these to Captain Gouldos.  This is his department.”  He set down Emily’s package and went back into his office, unperturbed.

Emily spouted as soon as the door closed.  “That’s it?”  She was flabbergasted.  “He didn’t even blink.”

“Wallets?”  Secretary Nancy looked up at the women.  “Driver’s licenses?  These are the identification of the missing men.”

“Maybe Gouldos is the one we should be watching,” Emily finished her thought.

“Maybe Batiste figured out the men were dead and saw this coming,” Sara countered.

“Wait a minute,” Emily interrupted and Nancy paused with her hand over a wallet like she was about to pick it up.  “Franco.  Ferdinand Franco?”

ac-sarah-4“Yes,” Nancy nodded.  “He is a big donor to the school.”

“And he calls here regularly?”

“Yes,” Nancy said, but then she backed up.  “But I probably shouldn’t be telling you that.”

“You should.  Ferdinand Franco is the biggest drug kingpin in South Jersey.”  Emily pulled out her phone and dialed Lisa.  Sara was miffed.

“Nancy, this is exactly the sort of information I needed.”

###

Down in the archives, Mindy was getting frustrated.  Papadopoulos was not being at all cooperative.  He was not showing any signs of involvement with apples or tattoos or anything.  Presently, she was rummaging around his personal desk in his private space.  She knew she was risking her scholarships, but she couldn’t help it.

The desk drawers had nothing of interest, but the center drawer was locked and she wondered if she could open it without breaking it.  The files in the cabinet at any other time would have captivated her, but they weren’t what she was looking for.  She rummaged through the papers held in short stacks beneath the knick-knacks on his desk.  The one beneath the desk lamp looked like bills.  The one beneath the Leaning Tower of Pisa souvenir looked like shipping orders.  Mindy picked up the Medusa, a cheap metal statue with chipped paint.  She pursed her lips and thought of Gorgon Hall, the main classroom building.  What a stupid statue, she thought as she felt arms around her middle.  It startled her and she dropped the statue.

ac-mindy-5“You are going to get in trouble,” Bill said.

Mindy squirmed around to face him and looked coy.  “I hope so.”

Bill immediately started to back up.  It was one thing to catch a woman unprepared and quite another to find out it was what she wanted.  “Yes, well.”  He let go.

Mindy decided to be good.  She reached down to the floor to pick up the gaudy statue and saw it was hollow and had popped open.  Inside was a scroll.  It was the scroll she was looking for.  She took it.  After all, Papadopoulos shouldn’t have had it either.

Elect II—18 Spring Break, part 3 of 3

ab-war-avalon-2

The women left the bodies of the men to their fate.  Those bodies would have just slowed them down.  When they were ready, they vacated the ledge at the top of the hill and rode hard down the hill.  Immediately, Melissa’s alarm went off.  It was a perfect imitation of a car alarm and made all those different annoying sounds.  But the orcs who decided against direct confrontation were not against hiding in the bushes and pelting the troop with arrows.

Jessica happened to turn her head so the arrow just scratched across her cheek.  Two elves were wounded, one in the arm where she held her shield and one in the leg just below her shield.  Most of the arrows fell short or hit the shields the women had pulled out against just this possibility.  ab-war-elf-4Emily’s horse took an arrow behind the saddle, but it did not penetrate deep and soon fell out on its own.  Fortunately, the horse did not balk.  It ran with the rest as hard as it could.

When the women got out of range and the alarm died down, they paused only long enough to examine their wounds.  The bloody one was Jessica’s cheek, but a bandage was about all they could do.  The bandage would turn red, but soon stop the bleeding.  The one most seriously injured was the elf with the arrow in her arm, but she broke off the shaft of the arrow and looked at her Captain with determination etched through the pain.

“Ride,” the elf said, and Riverbend, who was barely holding to her own horse did not argue.  They rode, perhaps not all out, but at a swift pace all along that valley.  Twice more they heard Melissa’s alarm, but they did not stop.  They rode through and saw no more arrows.  And they saw no more orcs until evening, just at sunset.

The trees were already back to normal.  The light was pure and untainted with the darkness.  Sara and some others hoped they were out of it, but Riverbend knew better even if no one else did.  Sure enough, there was a line of orcs directly in their path, and that line was three thick.  The whole troop came to a halt some distance away.

ab-war-wo-3“No way around,” Riverbend said.  The river to their right was too fast and deep, and the trees to their left would give them no chance of outrunning the enemy.  Emily did not pause.

“Wounded to the rear.  Everyone else form up like two sides of a triangle behind me.  We poke a hole to ride through.  Protect the wounded.”  To be sure, the line was ragged and would get more so once they started to ride, but the idea was there.

“Lances everyone,” Riverbend yelled.  “Tuck them tight under your arms and shields up.”

Emily began to trot, Riverbend beside her.  They all had fairy weave helmets since Jessica took that arrow in the face.  No doubt they looked as formidable as they could be.  The enemy began to shoot some arrows when they were still out of range, and there was some yelling and shoving among the orcs.  But then the women were in full charge mode, spears pointed forward like needles deadlier than any arrow.  Some orcs began to back away.

ab-war-elves-1Then they were within range.

Fifty arrows came at them all at once, followed by fifty more.  Some of the first fell short and some of the second overshot their targets.  But some struck hard on.  Many of the arrows were stopped by helmets, shields and armor, but a few penetrated.  Two horses went down, but the elf with an arrow in her leg reached down and picked up one of the elves without stopping.  Mindy was a bit more difficult.  Arwen had to slow considerably to bring her aboard.  Then they had to catch up, but by then Emily and Riverbend reached the enemy line and the orcs scattered, or died.  The hole was plenty wide when Arwen and Mindy went through last, and they were free.

Two hundred yards on and they stopped.  The orcs were not following them and there were wounded.  Just about everyone was hurt, or had an arrow somewhere.  The Kevlar proved effective, but not entirely so.  Melissa had an arrow in her thigh.  Maria had one in her side not unlike the one Jessica took all those ages ago in the gym.  At least that was how it felt apart from ab-war-wom-1the pain.  Mindy likely had a concussion to match Amina’s.  Jessica’s cheek was bleeding badly again, and Emily was sure her hand was broken this time.  Even Sara took an arrow, in her foot, but she was more embarrassed by it than otherwise.

They left two dead elves on the field, and Emily started the tears.  The elves cried with them, and then Sara started the hugging.  It was not long, though, before they all vanished from that place and found themselves in a courtyard of the castle where little ones of every shape and size stood ready with stretchers and elf medicine that Maria the healer and Emily the would-be nurse wished they knew how to make.

 

###

Once the Amazons were settled in the hospital, all in the same ward, Zoe came to visit them.  “At least none of you got killed,” she said with a smile.  Several of the women moaned.  “And I thank zoe-1you for retrieving the apples.  That was one of the things my elves could not retrieve.” she added as she turned to Amina.  “Any idea who the mysterious goddess might be?”

Amina started to shake her head, but it hurt so she said, “No.”  And it was a sad little no.

Zoe smiled again.  “Cheer up.  I have every confidence you will solve my mystery soon enough.  Now get well.  You still have a whole week of spring break.  No reason why you shouldn’t spend it here.”

Zoe left.  Nurses came and changed bandages and gave pills, just like back home.  Then they were told to rest, but Hilde, who had said nothing that whole time finally spoke up.

“So tell me again why I am doing this?”

“You said in Israel you would be doing the same thing,’ Greta said, seriously.  Several of the women looked at Greta like she had a loose screw, but Jessica remembered she was a psychology major.  She probably had several loose screws.

“Can you think of any better training?”  Emily asked

ac-sarah-3“I am not expecting Israel to be attacked by orcs anytime soon,” Hilde responded sharply.

“I don’t see why not,” Sara spoke up.  “Everyone else wants to attack Israel.”

Hilde nodded and pointed at the Priestess.  “One point for you.”

###

On the following Saturday the women sat around in the great hall where the dwarf lady, Ms Biggabut brought in some new treats for the buffet table and stayed to tend to what was already there.  Riverbend and a few of her troop sat with them.  Maria remarked that the week was far better than a trip to Florida if she did not gain a hundred pounds.  She meant it as a compliment.

Ms Biggabut shook her head.  “Young girls eat like birds.”  They all smiled

“Better than Disneyland,” Jessica commented.

“Disneyworld,” Mindy corrected the Californian.

“And Six Flags put together,” Maria added.

ac-sarah-a1Heads were nodding in agreement when Sara came in dressed only in a bikini.  Natasha was the one who verbalized the “Wow.”  They had only seen the Priestess in frumpy head to toe clothing, sometimes with a minister’s collar.  This was a sight, and in fact Sara was very good looking, if not beautiful.

“Who would have thunk it?” Jessica said.

“Are you girls going swimming today?  The mermaids said they would come up the river after lunch.”  Sara looked down, like she, herself, was a bit embarrassed by what little she was wearing.

“Paul should see you dressed like that,” Emily said with a little impish grin that she was learning to imitate from being in such close quarters to the real thing.

Sara shook her head when a golden fairy came in the door and fluttered right up to her.  “Are we ready?” the fairy asked.  “You look remarkably lovely.”

The women all knew that voice.  It was Commander Falcon.

Sara nodded and the fairy sprinkled her with some proverbial fairy dust.  Sara rose up into the air and followed the fairy out of the room in flight.

“Paul is going to be so jealous,” Maria decided.

“She better stay away from Brinkman,” Jessica decided something else.

“Robert could not handle my little bit of magic.  No way he could handle all this,” Melissa sighed.

“Bill would be freaking out, too,” Mindy responded.

ab-bigabut“I would like a boyfriend.”  It was Arwen, the elf who spoke up.

“I got mine,” Riverbend said with the biggest grin of all.

They all stopped when they heard the sharp crack of Ms Biggabut’s cooking spoon on the buffet table.  “Boyfriends,” the old dwarf said through her frown.  “All you get with them is the three Hs, heartaches, headaches and husbands, and husbands are usually the reason for the first two.”  She cracked her spoon sharply once more when Amina spoke up.

“I think I am going to go out on another date.”

“Got anyone in mind?” Jessica asked.

Elect II—18 Spring Break, part 2 of 3

ab-war-elf-2

Come the morning, the Amzons helped with the horses as much as they could.  It still took a good hour after breakfast before they were ready.  Then Riverbend felt it was important to say something.

“I know you may be feeling rather stiff,” she spoke to the humans.  “But the cure is to ride some more, to loosen up the muscles.  We will be moving fast.  Please try hard to keep up.  We won’t leave anyone behind, but the faster we get in, the faster we get out to safety.”

Emily looked at her crew.  The head nods suggested they were as ready as they would ever be.  They started out at a walk, but soon were trotting and preparing to gallop.  Half of the human women were already bouncing like bobble-heads in the back window of a pick-up.  Emily would have been bouncing too if she did not have the strength in her legs to grip hard.  She doubted they would get far without someone falling off, but Riverbend leaned over and whispered.

ab-war-running-2“A little magic has them glued to their saddles.  Ready?”  Without warning they broke into a clearing and let the horses run flat out.

Emily kept her mouth closed when they slowed down for the next little set of woods.  She had bit her tongue, so contented herself with a look around.  These woods were more open to the sky than the ones they wound through at the beginning.  There was more room between trees, yet somehow these woods were darker.  Emily’s eyes went several times to the sky, but she saw no smoke to block the sun, much less rain clouds, yet there was an eerie darkness that surrounded them all.

They rode all out again before they began to climb up into some hills.  On the way, both elf and human alike turned up their noses at the sewer smell that came from a small stream.

“The land is changing,” Riverbend admitted.  “To suit the orcs that live here.”

“Alice?”  Emily asked.  She could say that much.

Riverbend nodded.  “Our Lady is good.  She bears no ill will.  She will let the orcs have it their way.”

Emily returned the nod as she began to see trees that were twisted and distorted like the orcs themselves.  “I might not be so gracious,” Emily said.

ab-war-rinning-1“None of us would,” Sara said, and Emily turned her head to see that Sara and her elf had pulled up to ride behind Emily.  Even as she looked, an arrow sank into Sara’s shepherd’s crook.

“Ride!” Emily reacted, and everyone kicked their horses to get up the hill as fast as they could while the two elves who served as rear guard turned in their saddles and fired several arrows in the general direction of the enemy.  Those who understood such things prayed it was only a hunting party, but when they topped the hill they saw they were surrounded by a hundred orcs.  The leader of the orcs had Jessica and Fiona trapped and held by the arms.  They were not going anywhere.  Emily turned in the saddle, saw the determination in the faces of her Amazons, and was proud of them, but she dismounted, and Captain Riverbend dismounted to walk with her.

Emily and Riverbend stopped some ten yards from the orc line, and Emily spoke.

“We are only here to retrieve the men.”

“And deprive me of my supper?”  The orc commander laughed and several orcs laughed with him.

“We might not kill you all, but we can certainly kill most of you,” Emily shouted.  She was banking on the orcs having some sense of self-preservation which might at least cause them to hesitate if it came to a fight.  But the orc leader just laughed louder, until an arrow appeared in his chest.  At the same time, arrows took out two of the orcs holding Fiona and Jessica.

Jessica did not hesitate to kick her other captor where he would feel it most.  As the orc went to his knees, she retrieved her WAK.

ab-war-elvesFiona was more deadly.  While her orc stared at his dead buddy, she whipped his own sword from its holder and raked it across the orc face.  Then she tapped Jessica and they ran for their horses that were nearby.  The orcs guarding the horses actually moved out of the way as they got busy.  Fifty fairies flew up and transformed into full sized warriors.

Emily stood transfixed, both fascinated and repulsed by the sudden barbaric gore that spilled out all around her.  Commander Falcon ran up and yelled for her attention.  “They did not buy our ruse.”  He fought off a brute and yelled again.  “Ride!”

Emily and Riverbend broke for their horses and both yelled the same word.  “Ride.”  The women grabbed their spears and held them like lances.  To be honest, it was mostly the elves who cut a clear path through the orc line.  Emily and Riverbend ended up in the rear, but they both pulled their swords and each took out one before they broke free.  Emily breathed.  She had been so scared and swung as she imagined so wildly, it was a wonder to her that she did not cut off her own horse’s head.  Riverbend breathed as well, but said nothing until they were all well clear of the battle.  Then she slid off her horse.  Her leg was badly cut and she was bleeding profusely.

Everyone dismounted for a rest.  “Only a moment,” Riverbend said through teeth closed tight against the pain.  Maria and Linnea were right there to lay on hands.  They stopped the bleeding, closed up the wound and relieved the pain, but neither could heal Riverbend completely, and she had lost a good bit of blood.

ab-war-river-2“Can you ride?”  Emily asked.  Riverbend looked uncertain.  “For David?”  Riverbend smiled and nodded.  She could do it for David.  “Good,” Emily said as she helped the elf to her feet and set her on her horse.  “I don’t want to lose you.  David would never forgive me.”  Riverbend smiled a bit more and they rode, slowly.  They were near their destination.

They arrived on the ledge of a tall hill where they could overlook the distant valley.  At the back of the ledge there was a cave.  Mindy suggested that it was likely the cave that lead to the door to the archives.  Jessica found Sergeant Valenko and two other men hanging upside down from the ceiling of the cave.  They were dead, their blood drained and hanging, no doubt, to tenderize the meat.

“No guards,” Riverbend noted as she slipped off her horse to sit for a minute in the cave entrance.

“Not true,” Mindy shouted as two dozen orcs came up the rise.  The women were cut off from escape and only had a short cliff with a cave at their backs.

“Form ranks!”  Emily commanded, and the Amazons grabbed their spears and began to form a line.  The Women of the Watch caught on quickly and added their spears to the line.  “Forward march!”  Emily shouted, and as the wall of spears began to move forward in unison, Sara raised her shepherds crook and yelled.  A blinding white light emanated from her being and caused the orcs to blink and back away.  Most of the orcs changed their minds about the fight.  They turned to rush back down the hill, but one big ogre, likely the one Emily kicked in the Archive room burst through the line.  It was badly cut and had two broken spears in its middle which it tore out.  It was far from dead, and several orcs followed it through the hole in the line before the women could close up ranks.

Jessica and Fiona had their bows and took out two of the orcs.  Riverbend pulled her sword again, but she could hardly lift it.  Emily faced the ogre and made her sword move left and right to distract and confuse the beast before she shoved the sword deep into the ogre’s chest.  It howled, but sheer anger and hatred kept it standing.  It looked paralyzed in its right arm, but it could still roar and reach for Riverbend.

ac-j-j-orcEmily slapped the ogre’s hand away from the elf and the ogre looked surprised that he felt the slap.  Then Emily punched the ogre in the eye while he was bending down toward the elf.  She knocked the ogre to the ground, but immediately regretted the decision.  It felt like her hand was broken.  “Damn!”  She got angry and jumped over the flailing beast.  Her knife finished the ogre, but when she stood she said again, “Damn!”

Maria came after a moment, and Linnea joined her after the two finished treating the others.  One elf had a broken arm.  Arwen and Mindy would have bruised faces for some time, and Mindy would have a bad black eye.  Amina might have a concussion and her elf had a deep cut on her arm from defending Amina.

It turned out Emily’s hand was not broken, but Maria said there were probably several cracks in the bones.  It took some effort to heal the hand, and then Maria was spent.  Linnea did not look too steady either.  “I hope we don’t run into any more,” Maria said as she put her hand to her forehead to wipe away the sweat.

“Hey, Emily,” Jessica called from the cave.

ac-j-j-orc-2“Majesty,” Fiona added her voice, and the two came out with a big bucket of apples.  One of the orcs was not quite dead.  It saw and it spoke even as it spit blood.

“Go ahead, elf.  Touch the apples.  Don’t you want to?  Human, try one.  They are delicious.”  Riverbend, Arwen, Mindy, Sara and Emily all shouted, “No!” at the same time.

“To so much as touch the apple, for a little one is death,” Linnea said.

“It is the apple of youth.  Jessica, it will make you young,” Mindy spoke at about the same time.

“But I am young,” Jessica said before she said, “oh.”  She remembered the apples might make her young enough to where she ceased to exist altogether.

The orc laughed like it was his last breath.  “We want no god over us, but we remember the rules,” it said and closed its eyes.

“How did you come to get these apples,” Fiona shouted at the orc.

The orc just laughed again and stopped moving.

“The goddess who will not show herself,” Amina said.  She threw her hands over her eyes as if she saw something she did not want to see.

Riverbend took a piece of fairy weave from her own clothes and laid it over top of the apples.  She attached it to the bucket and made it as thick as possible as a guard against temptation.  “But who can take this?” Riverbend asked.  “For elves it is impossible, and for humans it is irresistible.

ab-war-elf-1“Let me see,” Melissa stepped up.  She pulled her wand and focused on the bucket with the fairy weave cover, waved her wand over top, and shortly the whole thing smelled like the sewer stream they passed earlier.

Sara stepped up and held her nose as she picked up the bucket.  “I will take the bucket.  I am least likely to be tempted.  The last thing I want is to risk being a teenager again.”

No one argued as the priestess strapped the bucket to the back of her horse’s saddle.  Her elf helped and had one thing to say.  “My lady is very brave.”

“One more thing,” Melissa said, and she let her magic surround the group and float in and out between them.  “There.”  She took a deep breath.  “Now if there are orcs within bowshot, an alarm should sound.”  But then she was as worn out as Maria and feared she would be no help if the alarm went off.

“The valley below looks clear,” Riverbend spoke to Emily who came back out from the cave, still nursing her hand.  “We did not come that way for fear they would see us coming.”

Emily also tied a small satchel to the back of her horse’s saddle and nodded.  “But we skirt the edge and ride hard.”

“Second tree to the right and straight on until evening,” Riverbend nodded.

Elect II—18 Spring Break, part 1 of 3

ab-war-avalon-1

Eleven women followed Riverbend and stepped from this world to that world.  Fiona, the elf huntress was there along with eleven elf warriors, all women dressed in tall leather boots, skirts of fine chain mail and helmets that covered all but the eyes and mouth.  They carried swords, knives, spear-like lances, the inevitable bow, and wore soft green cloaks with the hood down overall.  They looked formidable, but the Amazons could hardly appreciate that fact.  They were all busy feeling sick, dizzy, and like they were dying or had already died.  Those feelings passed soon enough, but by then all eyes were turned to the tall and stately beauty of the woman who approached across the lawn of soft, green grass.  The elves dropped to their knees and lowered their eyes, but the Amazons hardly knew what to think.  Emily saw a golden light buzzing around the woman’s head, but before the woman arrived it vanished into her golden hair at the shoulder.

hween-alice-1“Welcome.”  The woman’s voice was as beautiful as her person, and what is more, she was framed by a perfectly blue sky and a magnificent castle which stood on a hill some distance away.  “I am sorry but there is nothing I can do about the transition between Earth and the Second Heavens.  Some find it rough, but the feeling passes.  Are we all here?”

Emily looked around and saw that the others were waiting for her to answer.  “Yes,” she said.  “All that are coming.”

“And it is all that were invited.”  The woman smiled and the smile was dazzling, warm and lovely.  “I hope you will have time to rest here. But I know the urgency of your task must come first.”

Jessica was feeling like she just moved from Earth to Oz.  The colors of Avalon were more colorful, somehow, than any of the colors back home.  In fact, back home was so drab by comparison she felt like she just went from black and white to color.  “The Good Witch of the North?”  Jessica could not hold back the words.

“Alice,” the woman introduced herself.  “And welcome to Wonderland.  This is the place for my little ones, where the spirits of the earth can come to rest from their labors.”

“In the Second heavens?”  Sara made her statement a question.

“Yes, Sara.  The first heaven is over the Earth as you know, and the third contains the throne of God, even as Uncle Paul wrote to the Corinthians.  There is paradise in the third heaven.  These second heavens are the place between.  Matter, energy, and even time work strangely here and it is layered like a fine French pastry so many think there are seven or more heavens here but it is really all one.”

“But—” Melissa started to speak, but Alice interrupted.

“Now, Melissa.  You above all know how Mister Hawkings postulated parallel universes.  This place does not qualify, exactly, but you surely grasp the concept.”  Alice waited for the next outburst, but the women fell silent so she spoke again.  “Well, Commander Falcon, what do you think?”

ac-war-falcon-1“I think they will likely all get killed,” A gruff male voice spoke as the golden light exited Alice’s shoulder.  It was a fairy and there were several gasps, and then several more when the fairy transformed into a full sized human.  He looked human too, with a bit of gray around his temples and in his beard, and without the pointed ears of the elves or any sign of wings; that is to say he looked ordinary if one did not count the fact that he was standing in full plate armor, golden in color and with a falcon symbol on his chest plate.

“Now Commander.  There are twenty-four of them and that is the Storyteller’s favorite number, and they will be twelve and twelve if David ever asks her.”

“As it may, my Lady.  These Women of the Watch might yet provoke a war, and as for the humans…”

“Pardon me,” Alice interrupted and stepped forward to tap each human woman gently on the forehead.  She spoke as she went.  “Normally I have no say over human affairs, but this way I may track you and recall you if you are injured or in serious trouble.”

Mindy stepped up after she was touched.  “But Zoe is a true goddess.  You could simply wipe out the rebels if you chose.”

Alice stopped and touched Emily last.  “Solve my mystery,” she said before she turned to Mindy.  “I am Alice, not Zoe right now, but as far as it goes, I believe I will let the priestess explain why Zoe holds back.”  And Alice vanished.  She simply was not there anymore.

Every eye turned on Sara, including the eyes of Commander Falcon.  Sara dropped her head and spoke slowly, but clearly.  “Because every person deserves a fair chance to repent and be forgiven.  We would not be here if the Most High wiped us out for turning our backs on him.”

“Enough.”  Commander Falcon shouted.  “Women, gather your horses and your charges.  We will create the agreed distraction, but you are on your own.”  Commander Falcon looked ready to leave, but he paused for a final word.  “Good luck,” he said and he changed back to his normal fairy size and flew off toward the castle with such speed he also appeared to vanish.

ab-war-wo-3The Amazons got swords, shields and spears of their own.  They got fairy weave clothing as well, a magical cloth that could be shaped and colored on command.  Emily told everyone to make the fairy weave into Kevlar-like vests.  She assumed the men had guns.  Sara made a long white dress and a white cloak with a fine hood instead, and the priestess would take nothing but her crook.  No one argued.

The horses were a bit of a problem.  Jessica had her own horse back home, of course, but of the others, only Sara and Melissa and the farm-girls Diane and Greta had ever ridden, and that was not much.  The rest were all city girls, more or less.  They had to force Detroit Natasha up on the beast.  The Watcher Women were assigned to ride one beside each Amazon.  Riverbend said it was to promote cohesion in the group, but she and Emily both knew it was so the elves could keep the Amazons in the saddle.

When they were finally ready, they turned their back on the distant castle and headed for the hills whose cliffs faced the sea.  Maria was the one who asked.  “What good is this?  We can’t ride our horses across the water, can we?”

“Wait,” the elf healer, Linnea who rode beside Maria spoke softly.  Maria waited, and when they passed through a gap in those hills, instead of being confronted with the sea, they found themselves on a grassy meadow that stretched into the distance for as far as they could see,

“The islands of Avalon can be reached without ever crossing the water,” Fiona explained to Jessica.  They were the hunters who rode out front, like scouts.  Jessica later said she understood completely, but none of the others understood at all except perhaps Melissa who talked about black holes and folded space and things that were even more confusing than the reality they experienced.

That afternoon they went to three or four different islands, or lands as Emily preferred to think of them.  Riverbend had explained that they were riding alongside but outside of orc territory.  In the morning, they would turn into orc lands and ride swiftly to the center where the men were.

ab-war-river-1“This way we may enter the land from an unexpected direction.  With that we might be able to get in and out before they notice and mount a defense.”

“Might,’ Emily responded.  “But what makes you think they aren’t watching us even now?”

Riverbend paused to look around.  “That may be, but in the morning Commander Falcon has proposed to intrude, however briefly, on orc land.  Our hope is he will draw all eyes to him while we dash for the center.”  Emily nodded.  She had no better suggestions.

“I would rather he draw all the spears to him,” Melissa said in her quiet voice from behind.  Emily and Riverbend turned their heads briefly and saw Melissa’s elf nodding her head without a word.

“You put those two quiet ones together,” Emily accused.  Riverbend just smiled in her elfish way.

“I won’t bite,” Sara said.

“Yes, Lady.”  That was all her elf would say except for the occasional, “No, Lady.”

Maria and Linnea were exchanging recipes for Gazpacho, whatever that was, so Mindy turned to her elf and spoke.  “My name is Mindy.”

“Yes, Mum.  I’m Arwen.  I was southern born myself, around Charleston.”  Mindy perked up.  But she would file that for later.  First she had some questions.

“So tell me how Lady Alice and Zoe could be the same person.”

“The Kairos has been reborn one hundred and twenty-one times right down since the beginning of history.  My father works in the Avalon history department.  Oh, but I am not supposed to talk about it.”

ab-war-mind-elf“Yes, I see.”  Mindy smiled.  “Interesting, though, how she can be Alice one minute and a person who lived and I suppose died thousands of years ago the next.”

“Oh, it is worse than that,” Arwen said.  “Lady Alice has not even been born yet.”

“What?”  That threw Mindy’s thoughts into confusion.

“Yes, she won’t be born for another fourteen or fifteen hundred years.  We aren’t quite sure, my father I mean, since it isn’t actually history yet.”

“She is from the future,” Amina spoke up from behind like it was an obvious fact.

“Holy Moly!”  Mindy wanted to swear.  “How does she do that?”

“Oh, I’m not supposed to talk about it,” Arwen said.  And that was the way their conversation went after that.  Mindy would ask questions and Arwen was not supposed to talk about it, with the occasional compliment that some of Mindy’s questions were tricky enough to almost be elf worthy.

When they stopped for the evening, they built a fire and laughed when they realized they knew some of the same jokes.  Linnea brought out some crackers as Fiona cut a deer for the fire.  Jessica watched as much deer cutting as she could tolerate.  Maria thought it was going to be a very slim meal until Linnea added some heated water to the crackers and they blossomed into full loaves of hot steaming, fresh baked bread.

“You know, though.  Laughing at humans is not encouraged,” Arwen admitted.

“Good to know,” Sara said, and there was silence for a time until Arwen stood up and told the story of the three dwarfs at the bottom of the well.  All present, elf and human alike, laughed so hard at the story, their sides hurt.  Even when they went to bed, there were occasional giggles that rose up here and there almost until sunrise.

Elect II—17 Closing the Door, part 3 of 3

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No one found any sign of orcs over the next week and a half.  No one found any spiders or ghouls either, so overall things were fairly quiet, if one did not count midterms.

ab-boston-libraryGertrude Pennyfeather from Boston, an elderly elect who was rich beyond reason, sent Lisa enough spare change to buy a whole new house.  Lisa accepted the help toward the hotel stays and for the repair of her house, but returned the rest.  Ms Pennyfeather sent it right back with a note saying, use it to help those youngsters, that college girl and the little black girl.  Emily was grateful.  Latasha and her mother were astounded.  Now Latasha had the money for college so she had to get good grades.

Courtney Chase, Channel 5, Eyewitness News caught up with Lisa at her house.  Lisa told Courtney they had to fight off alien monsters or maybe they were remodeling, the latter of which sounded reasonable by comparison.  It didn’t make the evening news despite the social media imagination of the guy at the pizza place.

Sara got a room in the campus center for a small celebration, Thursday night after midterms.  The whole tribe gathered, Greta and Hilde being fully healed by then, thanks mostly to Maria.  When Emily arrived last, her first words were, “Where are the boys?”

“Brinkman already left for spring break,” Jessica shouted across the room.

“Bill is still trying to figure out how the archives got fixed so perfectly,’ Mindy mumbled.  “And so am I.”

“I didn’t know we could invite guys,” Diane said.

“I left Paul to a night of legal briefs,” Sara admitted.

ac-riverbend-8Emily looked around and spied Melissa.  “What about Robert whom I never met?”

Amina took Emily’s arm and spoke softly.  “Melissa and Robert broke up.”

“Oh?”  Emily offered her sympathy through her eyes, but Melissa seemed okay with it.

“I was never a fan of girls night out,” Maria said.

“People.”  Sara raised her voice and tapped her shepherd’s crook against the table to get everyone’s attention.  “Before we all go wild on orange soda; I could use your help.”  That was unexpected.

“Priestess?”  Amina took her proper seat at the table and everyone slowly followed.  Emily was last again as she had to pace before she took the seat at the table head.

No one asked, “What is the matter?”  They all waited patiently until Sara spoke.  Sara only hesitated, not because it was unimportant, but because she knew it would take the rest of the night.  She took a deep breath and looked down at the table.  “It’s just, I never killed anyone before.”  It turned out she was not the only one struggling with that problem.

Jessica started with the hard line.  “Orcs are not people.”  But they ended with the understanding that orcs were people of a sort, or at least they were before they went into rebellion.  Jessica cried a little.

“But it all happened so fast,” Natasha said.  “There wasn’t time to think.”

“It was kill or be killed,” Hilde added and touched the place where her leg was cut.  But with that, Sara pointed out that they did have a choice and they all chose to live.

“It wasn’t like the rifles,” Diane said, referring to the orcs they faced on the parade ground.  “That was different, somehow.”

ac-sarah-3“That wasn’t personal,” Mindy said.

After a long conversation in which Sara offered most of the comfort and counseling, Sara spoke her own thoughts again.  “The thing is, I feel we have all been in denial.  We need to reach the point of acceptance to move forward.”

“Like grief,” Greta said.  She was the psychology major and everyone nodded.

“The thing is,” Emily spoke at last.  “This thing isn’t over.  We need to know that we can count on each other to do what must be done.”

The women looked at each other, and Jessica spoke first.  “I’m still in,” she said and placed her hands flat on the table.

“And me,” Maria added her hands, and the others all followed.

“We still have apples to find and a scroll with the recipe,” Amina said.

“And a mystery to solve,” Melissa added in her quiet voice.

Sara tapped her nails.  “And Lord help us find and stop whoever it is before they succeed in making Ambrosia.”

ac-riverbend-a2Everyone agreed as they heard a voice from the end of the table facing Emily and wondered how long the young woman had been sitting there.  “I don’t understand why you did not ask for our help.”  The young woman pushed her glasses up, and Maria mirrored the movement.  Emily countered by running her hand through her hair.

“Riverbend.  Because this is not your job.  Zoe did not ask you to do this.  She asked me and these women through me.  We are supposed to be Amazons like of old, and that means we have to defend our place and our people from night creatures, orcs, or wicked men and women or whoever might want to steal, kill and destroy.”  Emily stood, her face red with emotion.  She was silent for a moment before she softened her tone.  “Besides, what would I tell David if I got you killed.  Seriously, this is our job.  It wouldn’t be right to ask for your help every time we got in a tight spot.”

“Oh,” Riverbend let her voice fall silent and she looked down at her hands and worried her fingers.  Sara had to ask.

“What is it?”

Riverbend looked at the Sara and spoke into the eyes of the priestess with utter honesty.  “Because I need to ask for your help.”

Emily stood.  Everyone waited.  She asked Riverbend to stand.  When Riverbend got up and a look of uncertainty crossed her face, Emily spoke.  “You need to show yourself, the way you really look.”

Riverbend hesitated and played with her glasses.

“Sister, everyone needs to know what you are asking.”

ac-riverbend-4Riverbend smiled on the word sister, and consented.  Her glamour vanished and she stood, an unmistakable elf.  People gasped.  They had seen her with their own eyes in the gymnasium first semester, but that was a very brief encounter.  Emily had told them about her protector over Christmas break.  They had even seen her emerge from the bright light in the archives, but she came as a human, and the mind can play tricks and tell itself lies.  Elves were something out of fantasies and fairy tales.  They were not real.  Yet, here she was.  It was Sara who stood at last, and stuck out her hand.

“Captain Riverbend.  Wonderful to meet you at last.”

Riverbend grinned and shook the hand but looked at Emily as she spoke.  “And I did not even start it this time.”  Then the room filled with so many questions and comments, Emily had to shout for silence and quiet everyone to ask her own question.

“What do you need us for?”

Riverbend put on her serious face.  “To come with me to Avalon.  There are men who are trapped there now that you have closed the door.  I need your help to fetch them.”

“Your troop?”  Emily asked.

“A dozen are ready, but Commander Falcon will not allow more, and only women.  Right now things are quiet, and his spies watch the orcs, but he will not provoke them to war.”

“I assume the men are behind enemy lines,” Jessica spoke up.

“Very much.”

“And how many orcs are there?” Maria wondered.

ac-jessica-1“There are three hundred rebellious ones.  They have claimed a small territory and they are mostly left alone.”

Emily nodded, and looked around the table as every eye shifted to her.  “Some of you have plans for spring break.  This is above and beyond the call of duty, and I won’t think less of you if you don’t come.”

“Shut-up,” Jessica said.  “I’m spending spring break on Avalon.”  She turned to Riverbend.  “So where is Avalon, exactly?”

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Next Monday, The Elect II-18, Spring Break will take Emily and her Amazon tribe for a wild ride into the jaws of danger.  Don’t miss it, and Happy Reading

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