Avalon 5.12 Bad Wine, part 3 of 5

The travelers were not disappointed with the tantrum.  The ground began to shake, which Elder Stow said had to be below the screen.  He reminded them the screens formed a globe and projected below the ground as much as above the ground.  The travelers watched as the desert cracked.  Steam shot up from several cracks, like wild geysers.  Flame came up from others.  The Tornado slammed into the screens.  The whole landscape turned from the desert, to an image of Hell.

Boston saw one of the streams of fire waver, and curiosity made her go invisible.  She saw a big, vulture-like bird had fallen to the ground.  It smoked, like it had been burned, and it took a moment to get Alexis’ attention well enough to explain what she could see in the dark, lit up by the light of the flames.

“Of course,” Alexis said.  “It isn’t just us stuck between two worlds.  The whole area around us is shifted, like the real world and the sand world are being overlapped in our location.  We are mostly insubstantial to the real world, and the real world is mostly unsubstantial to us, but not entirely so.  We pass through the real world and the real world through us, but not entirely so.  We have substantial shadows, we might say.”

“Uh-huh,” Boston said, but it would take her some time thinking about it before she understood what Alexis understood.

The ground began to rise, beneath their feet, and while the rest of the people, and the horses, began to panic, Elder Stow smiled.

“Something like rock must be pushing us up from underneath,” Lincoln said.

“The ground won’t stay still,” Sukki complained.

“Why are you smiling?” Boston returned to visibility and asked Elder Stow. He played with the screens, and slowly let sand fall out of the screens from beneath the traveler’s feet as they rose.  The travelers began to sink in the globe or protection.  Elder Stow began to float so he, and his scanner and equipment, stayed in the center of the screen globe, even as the bottom half of the globe got pushed out of the ground from underneath.  Elder Stow left enough sand in the bottom part of the globe for the travelers and the horses to stand upon, but soon enough he floated well over their heads.  He seemed to know exactly when the screen globe broke free of the sand, and he moved without warning.

They flew.

The travelers, the horses, the sand beneath their feet, and Elder Stow overhead.  The whole screen globe flew toward the city, and the djin appeared stymied, like this was an option he had not considered.

“My little flotation device is not designed for all this weight,” Elder Stow shouted down.  “It may give out after a short way.  I do not know how we may hit the earth.  I hope we don’t roll.  I hope the horses are not damaged, or worse, roll on top of you and damage you, but for now, we might as well take advantage of the djin’s mistake.”

“He is flying,” Sukki gasped.

“It is how he got around at first, when he followed us,” Boston told her.  “He went invisible and flew after us.  Nothing we could do about that, until he decided of his own free will, that it was safer and better to join us on the journey, since we were headed in the same direction he was headed.”

They did not fly fast, but some time passed before the djin figured out to raise the wind and sand again and try to blow them back.  Too late.  They reached the city, and Elder Stow just had to figure out how to set them down, safely.  He found a market square, deserted in the night, but big enough if he trimmed the size of the screens.  He went for it, though it took some fast and delicate manipulation of the screen and floatation controlers.

As the screens sank back into the sand, and Elder Stow returned to set his feet again, on the ground with the travelers and the horses, he flipped the invisibility disc back on to show them where they were in relation to the town.  He imagined it was a market.  Katie knew better.

“We must be in Rabbah, and this is the temple complex.”  Katie pointed toward the three-story tall bronze looking statue of a man with a bull head which took up one whole side of the square.  “That is the altar of Moloch.  He eats the sacrifice of human children.”

“Ashtaroth land,” Lincoln read, before he explained the Sukki.  “The one with the basilisk, who ate your entire expedition.”

“No,” Sukki whispered, and hid her face in her hands.  Boston and Alexis comforted her, while Lockhart kept Katie from getting closer, to examine the altar.

Something swirled in the square.  It became a little tornado before it began to form, outside the screen.  The travelers feared the djin, but it turned out to be a woman.  She came dressed in a plain, pull-over dress that fell around her like a shapeless tent.  She did not appear a bad looking woman, though it would have stretched the truth to call her pretty.  Mostly, she looked haggard, or cruel, or broken in some way; and angry, which did nothing for her looks—that, and the two big horns, like bull’s horns, that grew out or her forehead.  Still, she looked human-like despite the horns, but from the way the travelers trembled, they knew she had to be the goddess.

“Let me see you,” she demanded, and Elder Stow wisely turned off his screens.  It seemed better than her breaking them. The woman squinted, growled, and waved her hands.  The travelers felt themselves drawn back into the real world.  The only thing missing was the thump! when they landed.  They watched as Ashteroth grinned a wicked grin.  “The two ancient ones from the before time,” she said.  “And six ohers that do not belong here.  How nice.  What fun we will have.”  She looked up at the black cloud that appeared to hover in the sky and defy the wind.  No one had to guess who that black cloud represented.  “I might even let you live for bringing them to me,” she spoke to the sky.

“Who should we call?” Lockhart whispered.

Katie shook her head.  “In this place, only Moloch, her husband.”  Katie pointed at the altar, the big, bronze bull-headed man.

“Yes,” Ashtaroth said.  “And my husband will be very pleased with your sacrifices.  We have seven chambers in image.  We will cook you, and eat you, and I will relish your spirits.  One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…” she stopped when she pointed at Boston.

“Eight,” Boston prompted, in case the goddess forgot what came next.

Ashtaroth shrugged.  “I have no need for a spirit one.”

“Moloch,” Boston called.  “Moloch…”

“No,” Ashtaroth said, but it was too late.  The god appeared, eight feet tall, muscular, naked, bull head and all.

“You have trespassed on my place,” he said.  “I claim your children.”

“We have no children,” Katie responded.

The bull head looked up at the black cloud and yelled.  “I said no.”  He clenched his fist and the cloud disappeared, leaving a night sky full of stars.  “I claim you,” he said, and Ashtaroth smiled.

“We are hedged by the gods,” Boston said.  “By Enlil, Enki, Marduk, Ishtar, Hebat, Arinna, Hannahannah and Astarte.”

Katie found courage in the names and added to the list.  “By Odin, Zeus, Amon Ra, Tien Shang-Di, by Ameratsu, Leto, Artemis, Apollo and Ares.”

“By Hathor and Horus,” Boston continued.  “By Varuna and Brahma.”

“By Maya, and the Great Spirit over the sea.  By Poseidon, Feya, Bast and Anubis, Sekhmet and the Kairos, and many others.”

“Are you prepared to bring the wrath of the gods down upon you?” Boston asked.

“Harm us at the risk of your life,” Lockhart added.

“The gods will send you to the other side,” Lincoln said, using the words the gods used for death.

“You will be cast into the outer darkness,” Alexis added.

“Even into the lake of fire,” Boston said with a shiver, her head lowered that whole time.

Moloch did not appear to be a bright person.  He held his unclenched hand out to the travelers, like he felt for something.  He seemed to sense something.  He roared loud enough to shake the nearby buildings.  Then he spoke.

“You should not be here.  You should go to the other side.”

Moloch unclenched his fist even as Ashtaroth shouted, “No.”  The travelers vanished from that place.



Go to the other side…of what?

Be sure to return for the second half of episode 5.12, and the end of Season Five

Until then… Happy Reading


Avalon 5.12 Bad Wine, part 2 of 5

The sandstorm kept up for several hours, but with a couple of hours to work, Elder Stow made something like a window, high up on the back side of the screens.  He even bent one section of the screen dome above the window so the sand slid off it, like rain off a roof, and did not come in the window.  Boston, the engineer, asked how he did that.  Elder Stow grinned his best Neanderthal grin and answered the question with a question.

“And how did your father Mingus make a window so only I could see you, though you remained invisible to the rest of the world?”

Boston, who had become visible right away, because staying invisible was too draining, wrinkled her nose as she spoke.  “That is very complicated magic,” she said.  Elder Stow nodded, but said no more.

“How long do you think he will keep this up?” Decker asked.  He chewed on some beef jerkey that had to be at least sixty-years-old after coming through the time gate.  He handed some to Sukki with a word.  “I don’t swallow it.  I just chew it for a while and spit it out.  I don’t have any gum or tobacco.”

Sukki understood.  She tried a piece for something to do, but she did not care for it much.  Gott-Druk, in general, were not big meat eaters.

After Elder Stow set the window, and made sure the screens were functioning properly, he joined the others and had a request for Boston.  “The sand appears to be covering the front end of the screens very nicely.  Boston, would you mind going invisible again and tell me what you see.”

“Okay,” she said, and it took a minute of concentration before they heard her voice.  “I see the field, the trees and the big rock, like no sandstorm ever happened.”

“Good,” Elder Stow responded, and he touched something on his belt and went invisible.  Sukki shrieked before she covered her mouth, and they heard Elder Stow’s voice.  “I see the same, trees, open field, and rocky hillside.”  Elder Stow became visible again, and Boston became visible a moment later.  “Now, let’s see what happens.”  He reattached the invsibility disc to the screens, and when he turned it on, everyone saw the native area.  Dog and Cortez let out sounds of surprise.  Misty Gray and Honey came up to stand beside Alexis and Boston.

“Question.” Lockhart spoke.  “Can you move us with the screen around us, like you did back in Althea’s day when the volcano went off?”

Elder Stow had to think about that.  “I can, but I would have to let solid items pass through the screen, like sand.  Perhaps we can move out from beneath the piled-up sand first before adjusting the screens for easier movement.”

“I don’t believe we have moved back into our world,” Alexis said.  “By becoming invisible, we have made the world visible, but in reality, I suspect we still have one foot in that other world.”

Lockhart understood, as well as he could understand.  Everyone mounted, and did their best to cover themselves and their horses against a blast of invisible sand.  They moved a small way, and could not move any further, like the sreens got stuck or caught on something immovable.

“Okay,” Lockhart said, and Elder Stow switched the screen settings, and they felt the wind, and the sting in the wind, though they did manage to get out from under the collapsing sand hill, which they could no longer see.

“We may have to take this bit by bit,” Katie shouted against the wind.

Lockhart nodded and started them in the direction they needed to go.  They got about a quarter mile before they had to stop and Elder Stow had to restore the screens to their previous condition.  He turned off the invisibility disc.

Everyone saw the sandstorm still raging, and Lincoln asked this time how long this could continue.

“A true duststorm can last from several minutes to several days,” Katie said, having dug up the relevant information from somewhere in her memory.  “It depends on a number of factors that I have no way of knowing right now.”

“Well, we have passed the few minutes part,” Lockhart said.  “We will see how long the djin keeps it up.”

“Hush,” Alexis told Lockhart.  “Let me see your eyes.”  She found some petroleum jelly in the medical kit and made them aply some to the insides of the nostrils, while she explained.  “This storm will dry you out worse than making your breathing heavy.  Your nose and mouth can dry.  We should keep the masks moist.  Your eyes can become dry enough to cause blindness, even permanent blindness. Best not to look up, and not into the wind at all.”

“We should probably cover our horse’s faces completely, and keep their face covering moist as well,” Lincon added.  He read in the database.

“Hey,” Boston got their attention.  “Why don’t we completely cover the horses with our tents, like we do in the snow, like medieval blankets, you know.”

Lockhart nodded and looked at Decker.  Decker appeared to be thinking, but in fact he was meditating and letting his eagle spirit haul him up above the screens to see what he could.  Sukki spoke up.

“Why are we heading straight into the wind?” she asked, innocently.  “Could we go to the side and go around the storm?”

“I imagine the djin wants to blast us head on,” Lockhart said.

Lincoln said, “Tacking,” and Alexis said, “A sailboat,” at almost the same time.

“We would be hit on the side,” Alexis explained.  “But we would not be hit in the face, and could better see where we are going.  With the blanket-covered horses, it would not be so bad.  And when the djin swings the storm to hit us in the face again, we swing to angle in the other direction, to be hit on the other side.”

“At a forty-five-degree angle, our forward motion would be about cut in half,” Lincoln said.  “But it should be more bearable.”

Elder Stow spoke.  “I have to assume the djin is subject to the same laws as anyone.  He can’t hit us from more than one direction at a time with wind and sand.”

“Keep the masks moist,” Alexis said.  “We brought plenty of water, so for a couple of days, if need be, should not be a problem.”

Decker came back and reported.  “The storm in about half-a-mile high and roughly half-a-mile in front, but from the way it dies instantly behind us, I would guess it is being artificially created.  I bet he can keep this up as long as there is sand.”

Lockhart stood.  “We are going to tack to the city, like a sailboat.  Get your tents and get the horses covered.”


The crew stopped for about the tenth time, well after dark.  Stopping proved no problem, but if they stopped for too long a period of time, the sand built up again against the screens, and then they had to backtrack before they could move forward again; and progress came painfully slow as it was.  People and horses got as much rest as they could, and they turned off all the lanterns but one to conserve power each time they stopped, but there was not much rest to be had.  Alexis checked people’s eyes and noses every time.  Boston and Katie took on the task of checking the horses.  It did not help matters when Boston said the horses should not go out again.  She said that the last two stops, but this time Katie agreed with her.

“Quite all right,” Elder Stow said.  “It appears our djin is tired of the game as well.”  He threw a switch on his scanner and the screens solidified, even as they had been at first.  He also turned off the invisibility disc so everyone could watch.  The storm ended, suddenly, and a tornado took its place.  It slammed into the screen, but it could not penetrate.  Elder Stow spoke calmly.

“Over our various stops, I tinkered with the scanner.  I managed to see what was going on in the desert world through or around the invisibility disc.  I expect a temper tantrum.”

Avalon 5.12 Bad Wine, part 1 of 5

After 999 BC Jerusalem.  Kairos 71: Korah, Musician and Prophet


The travelers came prepared.  Too bad for the djin.  They took their blankets and their horse blankets and shaped them into water carriers, where the water would evaporate slowly over the next four days to a week, depending on how much of it they drank in that time.  They draped one carrier just behind their saddles where it would cool the horse’s rear, and the other, just in front of their saddles, where it would drape down and cool the horse’s neck.  They separated a piece of fairy weave from their clothes to make a mask for the horses to protect them from the sand.  They protected themselves with sold clothes where they could sweat, and masks and hats of their own.

“Tien said desert,” Alexis reminded everyone several times, before she finally asked, “Are we ready?”  Their canteens were full, and the horses had a long drink.

Katie looked at Lockhart before she nodded, and they left China behind.  They came out on a plain where they saw only sand for as far as they could see, and it felt like it would be a hundred degrees in the shade, if they ever found any shade.

“I don’t like it,” Katie said.  “It feels unnatural.”

“About what I expected,” Lokhart said, and with a glance at Katie, who checked her amulet and pointed, they started right out at a slow, walking pace.

“Looks like nothing but bread crackers for a while,” Lincoln said.  “Unless Decker or Elder Stow can find something.”

“How can we eat bread crackers without hot water to make the bread?” Sukki asked Boston.  Alexis heard and leaned back to answer.

“We may have to just eat the crackers.  Don’t worry. They won’t expand into full loaves of bread in your stomach, though they will fill you more than you would normally expect from crackers.”

“It will be fine,” Boston assured her.  “We have eaten the crackers before.”

“My mother.  My father,” Elder Stow interrupted and moved up beside Lockhart.  He had his scanner out and shook his head.  “I do not understand what I am seeing.  I am picking up a hot and dry land, but there are bushes and some trees.  I would guess olive and fig trees, among others.  I see a farm and a village that we should be able to see from here.”  He pointed off to their right.  “But my eyes see nothing.”

“Boston?” Lockhart shouted back, though Boston’s elf ears would have heard his whisper.

“Sorry, Boss,” Boston responded.  “All I see is sand.”  She got out her amulet, which offered more information about the location of cities and towns, and the general terrain than Katie’s prototype amulet.

“An illusion?” Alexis asked.

“Boss,” Boston raised her voice for Lockhart’s attention.  “I don’t see the village in the amulet, but we should reach a city by the end of the day, or a bit less.”

“We’ll look for it,” he said and turned to those around him.  “I want to keep Elder Stow with the main group to keep an eye on the terrain, in case we come to a cliff or something.  Katie, would you mind taking the wing with Decker?”

“Really?” Katie asked, and appeared to smile about it.  It could be dangerous by herself out on the wing, but previously, Robert would not let her get in a dangerous position.  It almost separated them at one point.  She thought, maybe he was growing, willing to let her be the elect she was.

“If you don’t mind,” Lockhart said.  “Lincoln needs to use the database to figure out where we are.  Alexis and Boston are trying to figure out how to pierce this illusion, or whatever it is.  Sukki is too new at all this, and not military trained, and as I said, Elder Stow needs to keep a watch on the terrain.”

“Oh.”  Katie lost a bit of her enthusiasm.  “So I am the only choice?”

“Not exactly,” Lockhart admitted.  “You have elect senses.  You might sense something that none of us can see.”

That helped.  Katie rode off to one side, and Decker rode off to the other.  Lockhart watched them to make sure they did not disappear in the sand.  Then he spoke into his wrist communcator.  “Testing, testing.  Don’t get out of range in case we need to pull you back quickly.”


“Yes, Dear.”

Lincoln looked at Lockhart, who turned slightly red but did not turn his head.  Lincoln kindly changed the subject as he pulled out the database.  “I would guess our equipment has been taken out of the djin’s hands.  He had to teach the men in Sinon’s day to fire the weapons, and Elder Stow’s radiation detector still worked.”

“Zoe took away his ability to control our minds, way back when,” Lockhart responded.

“Looks like he still figured out a way to control our senses, though.” Lincoln said and turned to read.

“This way,” Elder Stow said.

“Why?” Lockhart asked.

“Trees.  A grove,” Elder Stow replied.

Lockhart shook his head.  “I don’t see them.  Let’s see if they are there.”  He kept them moving straight ahead.

Elder Stow grunted, raised his eyebrows and grunted again before he spoke.  “You…We appear to have walked right through them.”

“That doesn’t mean if we come to a cliff or crevasse we won’t fall off or fall in,” Lockhart said and turned his head.  “Alexis.”

“We seem to be partly out of sync with the environment,” Alexis responded.  “Like we have one foot in another world.  Boston.”  Boston looked at her.  “Try to go invisible.”

Boston had to concentrate, but she eventually succeeded, and though they did not see her, just Honey, her horse, plodding along in the heat, they heard her well enough.  “I’m in regular land,” she said, and everyone knew what she meant.

Sukki had a question, after she got over her shock of seeing Boston disappear.  “Is it as hot there?  I’m melting.”

“Still hot, but not as bad,” Boston said.

“The benefits of a green environment,” Alexis said.

“Elder Stow.  Want to try it?” Lockhart asked.  Elder Stow had a disc with which he could simulate invisibility.

“Wait until we stop for lunch,” he said.  “It is still tied to the screen device.”

Lincoln looked up.  “Hey, I was wondering.  Can your screens cut the glare of the sun, like sunglasses—or those glasses that darken out in the sun.”

“Like shade,” Alexis said.

Elder Stow looked up and thought about it.  “I believe so, but I may need to take extra time at lunch to work on the program.”

“Sandstorm.”  Katie’s word came from every wrist communicator.  Lockhart looked up and saw Decker, and then Katie riding hard.  Behind them, he saw a wall, like a giant cloud pursuing them.

“No time like the present,” Lincoln said.

“Over here,” Boston spoke.  “Follow Honey.”  Honey wandered to a spot that looked, to the others, no different than anywhere else.  But they followed, and Decker and Katie angled in to join them.  Elder Stow got down and worked feverishly on his scanner and screen device.

“Why here?” Lockhart asked to Boston’s horse.  He heard an answer over his head.

“We are behind a hill and great rock outcropping.  I can kind of see the desert, if I concentrate, and I don’t know if the natural barrier will help, but I thought it was worth a try.”

“Everyone, get out your tents,” Lockhart shouted.  “See if it will expand enough to cover yourself and your horse.”

“Wait, wait,” Elder Stow said, and he judged where Katie and Decker rode in the distance.  He hit a button with a word, “Now.”  Suddenly, the sound of the wind that they hardly noticed cut off.  Elder Stow continued.  “I made the screens as big as I could and still keep out the sand and dust.”

“Why make it so big?” Sukki wondered.

“Because, I would not put it past the djin to try and bury us in sand, at which point the only air we will have to breathe will be the air inside the screens, until we dig ourselves out.”

“Well, if he buries us, it should cut the glare from the sun,” Lockhart said.

“And bake us, like in an oven,” Alexis responded.

“Cheery thought,” Decker said, as he dismounted.

Katie got down to stand beside Lockhart as they watched the sand strike and begin to build a wall of sand on the outside of the screen dome.

Avalon 5.11 The River Circus, part 6 of 6

Gongming, Aunt Chen, Wang and Bi all stood by the railing, ignored the three bound soldiers, and watched the river water rise in the shape of a bridge that spanned the whole river.  They watched by the moonlight as sand and mud came up from the deeps to color the bridge, until it looked like an earthen bridge, or perhaps a stone bridge.  It was hard to tell in the dark, but in any case, it looked solid enough.

They watched as the travelers doused their lantern lights and stepped out on that bridge, leading their horses by the reins, and stepping carefully, but trusting.  They got about half-way and stopped.  They waited.  Hardly a minute, and the people heard a strange roar on the shore.  Baby became agitated, but Feyan had her.  Bi had put her collar on down below, and he held her leash.

Another minute and the pack arrived.  They howled and roared, and made all sorts of odd squealing sounds before they ventured out on to the bridge.  They went slowly and carefully, like they suspected something.  They did not charge their prey as they would have on solid ground.  All the same, they went, only they did not wait for the rear guard to catch up first.

“They do not swim,” Feyan said in her anxious voice.  “They have a very heavy specific gravity, and sink like a stone in deep water, and they drown.  It is one of the surest ways to kill them.”  Feyan sounded nervous, and it translated to nervousness in the tiger, who turned her head several times to growl at the soldiers.

Out on the bridge, Katie and Decker got to their knees and readied their rifles.  Lockhart cradled his shotgun.  Elder Stow had his energy weapon in hand and Alexis and Boston had their wands.  Lincoln and Sukki only needed to keep the horses back, over the hump of the bridge where they could not see the night creatures, though they could certainly hear them.

The night creatures got close before one howled, and they charged.  A water sprite stuck his head up from the bridge and yelled, “Hold your fire,” and the travelers trusted, but got very nervous.  At the last second, the creature-half of the bridge gave way.  Four fell to the water.  A fifth one leapt and clawed at Decker’s feet, but the water bridge, despite its solid look, gave nothing for the creature to grab.  It fell with the rest, and sank quickly under the waves.

The travelers turned from the scene, and only Boston thought to wave, though she imagined no one could see at that distance in the dark.  Katie stated the obvious.

“There is probably a rear guard out there, still on our tail.”

“We will have to watch out for that,” Lockhart said.

“It is the djin I am worried about,” Lincoln admitted.  “He may be diminished, as he says, but he set off a volcano, and sent night creatures after us.  What’s next?”

People quieted.  None could think of what they could do about the djin.  They reached the other side, and Sukki asked if they could stop.  Somehow, camping by the river that had been so friendly to them seemed a good choice.

They watched the bridge collapse and said thank you and good-bye to Wei We.  Boston thought to say thank you to the water sprites.  A five-foot wave passed them by, followed by any number of little water spouts.

“That means you’re welcome,” Boston lied with ease, not knowing what it actually meant, or even if it meant anything at all.

The travelers backed up, off the riverbank, and found a clear area where they could pitch their tents and the horses could graze.

Boston got a fire going, and Alexis got some food cooking.  Katie got out the grain the kind farmer insisted they take, so the horses got a treat as well, after being so loyal and riding so hard.

Elder Stow got out his scanning device and explained for the others.  “It occurred to me, there is no way to seriously screen out a night creature being helped by the gods.  It might confound the god for a bit, but not prevent the god in the long term.  But there is no reason why we can’t be warned.  I have scanned all the particulars concerning the creatures.  If one should approach us, the alarm should go off.”

“Annoying alarm, you mean,” Decker said.

Elder Stow nodded and grinned.


Back across the river, a young woman stepped up to the riverbank to look at the travelers.  Some arcane power crackled between her fingertips, and her eyes easily pierced the darkness and the distance.  Ordinarily, no one would give such a young woman a second glance, but in her case, she stood out, an oddity in that part of the world.  She had European-like features, and her skin was darker than anyone would expect to find in Asia.  She did not appear Indian, but perhaps Arabic or North African.  For the present, though, she simply watched.


Aboard the ship, Feyan got Gongming’s whip stick without a word.  She handed it to the man and knelt, with a deep sigh, awaiting her punishment.  Gongming did appear to consider it, but asked instead for Feyan to explain herself.

“I kept secrets from you and from the family, and I promised never to do that.  I am sorry.”

Gongming tugged on his beard before he reached down to help Feyan stand.  “Some secrets are best not kept, but some secrets are nobody else’s business,” he said.

“Fortune cookie?” Bi asked.  Feyan made a face, like she was not sure about that one.

“Hmm,” Gongming hung the whip-stick back up.

“I’m glad you feel that way,” a young man said, as he appeared out of nowhere.  “The famous fortune man, Zhou Gongming.  A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”  He shook Gongming’s hand and moved on before the man could frame a thought.  “And this is Chen, your lovely wife.”  He kissed her cheeks like a long-lost relative.  “Always remembering the gods, and being so good to take in your poor niece, like she was your very own.  And Bi, and Weng.”  He shook their hands.  “And you, too, Ziya Baby.  You have been a good girl.”  Baby was excited, but in a happy way.  She even let the man pet her, which was most unusual.  Normally, she only let the family touch her.  “And…” the man opened his arms, and Feyan leapt into them with a shout.

“Tien.”  She wrapped her legs around his middle, her arms around his neck, and whispered in his ear.  “Tell mother I love her, I mean Nameless loves her, and he loves you, and so do I.  Oh, Tien, I am scared.  There are soldiers and armies gathering everywhere, and I know it is important, and I should be there, but I am scared.”

Tien kissed her cheek and extracted her from her stranglehold.  He set her down, and walked her to the bow of the ship where they could talk; and he made sure no one else heard.  “As the daughter of Bi Gan, you are royalty, first cousin to King Bi Xia of the Shang.  You came here when your father was killed by the king.  Yes, your mother and your brother Quan are safe, but now you must decide for yourself.  Your uncle, Jiang Ziya, has taken the side of Lord Wu of the Zhou, and they plan the overthrow of Shang rule.  So, you see.  You have blood on both sides of the issue.  You must decide for yourself what you will do.”   He patted her head.  “You are young, but brave enough.  And I will tell you, I would like the Zhou to finish the change that began with the death of the Shang-Di, all those years ago.  But history is your thing.  You know how it is supposed to turn out.  I will follow your lead.”

“Why do I have to decide?  I’m just a little girl.” Feyan whined.

“And a cute one, at that.”  Tien smiled and disappeared, and Feyan came out, staring, looking much like Gongming when he received a shock of surprise.

“All secrets will be made clear in time, but some things are best not knowing in the first place,” Gongming said.

“Fortune cookie,” Feyan said, absentmindedly, before she spilled the most important thing to her.  “My mother is alive, and I have a brother named Quan.”

“Great,” people said.  Wang looked happy for her.  Aunt Chen looked conflicted.  Bi was not sure he liked the idea.

“Don’t worry Bi,” she said.  “You and Wang will always be my best brothers.  Now you have a younger brother, that’s all.  He must be a baby.”

“About five,” Aunt Chen said.  “The same age as you when you first came here.”

“And Aunt Chen, you will always be my mother, too.”  That made Aunt Chen smile, even if it was not exactly true.  But Feyan moved on and shook her finger at their three prisoners.  “And, so you know, that was Tien Shang-Di, and he did not say it, but I am sure he thought it real hard.  You three better be good while you are guests of Lord Gongming or the gods will be very, very angry with you.”  Baby roared, as she picked up on what Feyan was feeling.


It was after midnight, so Lockhart said everyone should take a two-hour shift.  “So we can get some sleep, and still be on the road by nine or ten.”

“Sounds reasonable,” a man said, as he appeared in their midst.  “So, what’s for late night snack?”

“Just leftovers,” Alexis admitted.

“My favorite,” the man said, before Katie and Lincoln recognized him.

“Tien,” Katie said it out loud.  He smiled.

“And I thought I was getting good at appearing human,” he said.

“Could have fooled me,” Lockhart said, and Tien laughed.

“By the way,” Tien spoke seriously as Decker cut the god some Chinese deer.  “I took care of the rear guard, and the one that hid on shore, so you are night creature free for the moment.  The djin, on the other hand, is a slippery character.  He has moved on to the desert, I believe.  Hot, dead land is probably where he belongs, what Alexis might call a natural habitat.  He is a fire creature, after all, like the ifrit, iblis and ghouls that you finally got rid of in father Yu-Huang’s day.  So, Elder Stow, no need to use up your batteries, unless you want to keep the screens up against the wandering soldiers.  That might not be a bad idea, but the further south you go, the less soldiers you will see.”

Tien stayed for a while, and they had a good conversation before they all got some sleep, and the horses rested.  Of course, the people all dreamed about being in a desert land, and did not wake up excited to get there, except for Boston, who dreamed about playing with the water babies.



Avalon season 5, the final episode begins: Avalon 5.12 Bad Wine, which will post in 5 parts.

The travelers struggle through the desert of the Djin to get to Jerusalem, to the Kairos Korah, musician and prophet in the court of Solomon, the king…

Happy Reading


Avalon 5.11 The River Circus, part 5 of 6

“So, tell me about these night creatures,” Gongming said.  Lockhart explained as well as he could.  Basically, he said honestly that they were faster, stronger and tougher than the tiger, and would tear the throat from the tiger without blinking.

“Without blinking?”

“Without a second thought,” Lockhart affirmed.  “And worse, they hunt in packs, like wolves.”

“Like wolves?”  Gongming pulled on his beard.  “And why have I not heard of such creatures before?”

“They are very rare,” Katie took up the explanation.  “They must be brought here from far away.”

“It is the genie,” Boston said to Feyan, so Katie also turned to Feyan.

“He got one of the gods to work with him in the last time zone, and has one of the Shang gods working with him here, as well.”

“No other explanation as to how the night creatures could stay up with us on the trail,” Lockhart finished.

Feyan pulled on her chin, in imitation of Gongming.  “I have to think.  I assume they are not far behind you, even now, but I have to think.”  She went to the far railing and looked out across the river.

Gongming gave her a hard look, to imagine the youngest, and a girl, should have anything to say about the matter, but Aunt Chen interrupted his thoughts.  “Let the princess think.  She also has the blood of the Shang-Di in her.  Maybe she can intercede with the gods on our behalf…”

Gongming nodded grumpily as Wang came up from the small boat for the third and final time, bringing the last of the almost stolen bronze, and he spoke.  “Mother is very careful about not offending any of the gods.”  He smiled for everyone, but he really wanted Boston’s attention.  “Are you really a benevolent spirit?”

“Yes,” Gongming let that distract him.  “How is it a spirit should even know a little girl.  She has been with us since she was five, and I have not seen any spirits before now.”  Both Wang and Aunt Chen looked like they may have seen something, but they said nothing.

“We worship her, like she is our goddess,” Boston said.  Both Katie and Lockhart thought it might not be a good idea to be so honest, but Boston ignored them.  Boston, like any little spirit, knew that the secret to good lies was knowing when to lie, or stretch the truth, or be completely honest.  The little ones seemed to have a sixth sense about that, especially some imps and dwarf types.

Gongming shook his head.  “A giant being the leader of others makes sense to me.  A yellow-hair woman being captain over men makes no sense to me.  But one who appears human, claiming to be a spirit of the sky, and claiming to worship a young girl sounds dangerous.”  He looked at Chen, his wife, knowing the great care she took to give all of the gods their due.  “The gods can be jealous.  They require our worship, and do not share our devotion.  I fear you may anger them with what you say.”

“No,” Katie protested to Boston, but Boston removed her glamour to reveal herself in all her elfish glory.  Wang gasped and Aunt Chen lowered her eyes.  Gongming returned to his shocked, unmoving look, as Boston caused a fire to rise in the palm of her hand, shaped it into a ball of light, called a fairy light, and let it float into the sky to just above the mast, so it could bathe the whole boat in light.

“I am a spirit of the earth,” Boston said.  “Though the littlest spirits of the sky, water, fire, metal and wood also worship Shang Feyan, since the earliest days.  Though she is presently a young girl, she has not always been so.  Have you not seen anything strange about her?  Have you not heard words come from her that seem to make sense, though you do not understand what she is saying?”

Gongming slowly nodded, and asked an odd question.  “What is a fortune cookie?”  Boston, Wang, Aunt Chen, and Katie all laughed.  Lockhart tried to explain.

“A cookie is a treat that a person has at the end of a meal. Inside the hollow cookie is a saying, words that are usually wise and encouraging, and may point to the future.  That is called your fortune.”

“Some fortunes are funny,” Boston said.

“They are a delight for people, and instructive.”

Gongming pulled his beard.  “One who can bring delight to people will surely have good fortune.”

“Fortune cookie,” Feyan yelled back from the other side of the deck.  Eyes turned to her as she took hold of her feelings and spoke in her most humble tones.  Clearly, she was not speaking to any of the people on board.  “Great Wei.  Please.  May your most humble servant speak with you?  I have a special request, unheard of in this broken world.” She added a last word, as softly as she could.  “Tien, my son, I have need of you.”

Immediately, the river began to boil.  People walked over to watch, but backed up a couple of steps as a true giant, a woman rose out of the water and leaned her arms on the rail.  People assumed the reason the whole boat did not tip in the giant’s direction was because she was made of water, and probably did not weigh much.  Katie and Lockhart knew water could be very heavy, but they were finally getting used to the gods ignoring the laws of physics.

“Wie We?” Feyan spoke to the woman like she knew the woman.  The travelers, at least, were not surprised.

“Father doesn’t want to get involved,” the woman said, with a smile for the travelers.  “I am one of the daughters of the river, a naiad, you might call me.”

“Wei We, my friends are being followed—”

“By night Creatures.  We know.”

“I thought, maybe a collapsible water bridge,” Feyan said.

Wei We liked the thought.  “Your water sprites are anxious to help.”

The boat rocked slightly and several water blobs popped up to the deck.  They looked like little gingerbread men made of water, and spoke in the sweetest, baby-like voices.  “We are ready.  We want to help.”

“Water babies,” Feyan yelled her joy just before Boston yelled the same thing.  Both struggled to keep themselves from bending down and hugging them, which would not have offended them, but might have broken them to pieces.

Wei We looked almost as pleased with the water babies as the others.  “I understand horses do not do well over running water.  I will bring up the sand to color the bridge, if that would work.”

“That and some sides,” Lockhart said, and showed with his arms.  “That would work great.”  Boston checked her amulet.

“The time gate appears to be south, on the other side of the river,” she said, and restored her glamour of humanity, though she left the fairy light overhead.

“What about the prisoners?” Katie asked.

“Here,” Gongming shook himself enough to say the one word.

“They are tied?” Wang sought assurance.

“Yes.”  Boston looked and saw that they were.

Wei We spoke after a moment of silence.  “Are we ready?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Lockhart responded

“Goodie,” the water sprites shouted and leapt back into the water.

“Ma’am?” Katie questioned.  Lockhart came from Michigan.  Decker was the one from North Carolina.

“It doesn’t hurt to be polite,” Lockhart responded

“Courtesy can often gain what demands cannot,” Gongming said.

All three travelers looked at each other and said, “Fortune cookie,” before they disappeared from the deck of the ship to be replaced by three frightened looking soldiers.  Bi chose that moment to come back up with Baby following.  Baby bounded to Feyan as Wei We appeared to break apart and return to the river.  They all watched from the railing.

Avalon 5.11 The River Circus, part 4 of 6

Baby, the tiger was the first to wake.  She served better than a watchdog.  Feyan woke next, and before Baby growled, Feyan let out a soft guttural sound like she and the tiger lived on the same wavelength.  Feyan woke Wang by clamping a hand over his mouth.  Baby stayed quiet, but her tail twitched.  Suddenly, they heard a crash, clink, clunk in the small hut they built in the bow to house all their bronze and such.

“Quiet.”  That word from overhead was not very quiet.

Bi got up, and Aunt Chen stirred, but Gongming snored.  Feyan imagined Uncle Gongming could sleep through a thunderstorm, and flood, with the river water sloshing up and threatening to swamp the boat.

Feyan got her short sword and her bow and arrows.  She slipped a couple of knives into her belt.  She handed the boys their swords, and Baby finally had to let out a growl loud enough to make the shuffling feet above pause.

Feyan sent the brothers up the stern ladder to the steering oar area behind the main house up on deck.  She and baby went up the front steps to the kitchen area behind the little hut, as far forward as they could get.  The boys did not know what to do other than watch, but Feyan had ideas.  There were five men on board, and no telling what they were looking for.  She figured it had to be something important, or they had to be stupid to invade a ship with a live tiger aboard.

Feyan pulled her knives.  She threw one so it stuck in the mast right in front of the face of the one she figured was the captain.  She threw the other so it cut the arm of the soldier about to enter the house, and pinned his sleeve to the wall.  She stood, one hand on Baby, who looked at her like a puppy, waiting permission to tear the intruders apart.

“Hold it right there, Captain,” she shouted.  “What brings you to our little home?”  She put one arrow on her string, but otherwise kept petting Baby to keep her quiet.

The Captain looked in her direction, though she remained hidden by the dark and mostly behind the little bronze hut.  He grinned as he talked.  “You have to be pretty stupid to disarm yourself.”  He pointed at the knife in the mast.

Feyan shouted, “Boys.”  Then she removed her hand from Baby long enough to fire her arrow. The shot whizzed past the captain’s eyes and also stuck in the mast, the fletching tickling his nose on the way.   Baby could not hold back the roar of agitation that came out, but Feyan got her hand back to scratch behind Baby’s ears as quickly as she could.

“You were saying?  I think you have to be the stupid one to invade a boat that has a live tiger on board.”

“I heard it was a puppet,” the Captain said.  “I heard you have been up and down the river and have been paid in gold and jewels.”

“You heard wrong,” Feyan said.  “Whoever told you that wants you dead.”

The captain paused, but Gongming came up the central stairs and out the main hatch through which they loaded rice and supplies.  He probably imagined he would make a grand entrance and soon straighten out whatever the problem came aboard his boat.  The captain had another idea.

“Grab him.”

The two soldiers on the deck did just that, and the one with the bleeding arm, that got himself free from the wall, grabbed Aunt Chen.  Poor Aunt Chen looked like she knew going up amid ships was a bad idea.

That became too much for Baby.  She roared, leapt right over the little bronze hut and raked her claws across the back of one of the men holding Gongming.  All four of the men on deck leapt overboard, the captain to the port side and the other three to the deep, off the starboard side.  They had anchored off the town, so they had water in both direction.  Baby went to the starboard railing, certainly not against a good swim, but Bi and Chen both called to her.  They knew better than to try and corral an angry tiger.

Gongming looked confused, but Feyan ran to the port side railing.  She saw a sixth man, rowing to shore with all his might, some bronze in the small boat, and the captain swimming to catch up.

“Thieves.  Thieves,” Feyan shouted to the people on horseback who rode up to the shore line.  They had lanterns burning to light up the shore.  Several dismounted, and made the man in the boat get down on his face.  They got the captain, too, when he arrived.  They found some rope in the small boat and tied up the two, but then they felt stymied.  They had no idea what to do with them.

Feyan ran to the other side to look for the others.  Even with the moon nearly full, it was too dark to see anything.  The three disappeared in the water, or likely ended up being swept down river due to the current.  Feyan figured at least one of them would not live long, and only one of the three escaped, unscathed.

Baby calmed down enough to nudge Feyan’s arm.  Feyan paused to snuggle Baby’s face and head, and kiss her nose.  She placed Baby in Bi’s hands with instructions to take her below and keep her there.  Then she ran back to the port side and yelled.  “Lockhart.”  She opened her arms like she was giving a big hug.  “Boston.”

Boston got down and ran across the top of the water.  She barely got to the boat before she sank, but she managed to grab a piece of netting, the same the soldiers used to clamber aboard, and she hauled herself up.  Baby looked as Boston come aboard, but Baby did nothing, like she did not see the elf at all, or like some instinct in animals prevented them from hostility toward benevolent spirits.  Boston hugged Feyan with a comment.

“You are younger than I have ever seen you.”

“I’m ten.  I get to be young once every life,” Feyan whispered.  She saw Lockhart and Katie using the invader’s boat to row out to the ship.

Gongming came out of his stupor, and Aunt Chen and Wang walked up beside him.  “And who are these people?” Gongming asked, with a long, hard stare at Boston.

“These are people from the far future who have fallen back into our time and are trying to get home.  They are people of power, and friends of mine,” Feyan said, in her most humble and placating voice.  “Boston is a benevolent spirit, most of the time.  Lockhart is the leader of his group, and Katie is a captain of soldiers, and Lockhart’s wife.”  She paused to see what Gongming heard.

“Don’t be foolish.  Women cannot captain soldiers.  The soldiers would not listen to a woman.”

Katie climbed up first, while Lockhart figured out how to tie the boat to the netting.  “Shang Feyan?”  She looked at Aunt Chen.

“Right here,” Feyan said, with a frown, and Katie shifted her eyes and smiled for how young Feyan was.  “Robert Lockhart.  Captain Katie Harper-Lockhart.  Allow me to introduce Zhou Gongming, his wife, my Aunt Chen, Wang, their eldest son, and Bi, who is below deck, is their younger son.  Also, so you know, we have a full-grown Siberian black tiger female as a pet, like another family member.  Her name is Ziya, but her given name is Baby.”  Feyan finished and struck a perfect pose of submission.  Aunt Chen stepped forward before Gongming could pronounce something.

“This must be very important.  You must be very special.  Feyan never submits to anyone.”

“She is a good little actress,” Gongming said.

“Wonderful to meet you,” Katie responded, in particular, to Aunt Chen.

“Yes, but we have a problem.”  Lockhart spoke to Feyan through Gongming.  “We have night creatures on our tail.  We have traveled three days and now in our third night, and have taken only twelve hours or so to sleep, but they have kept up the whole way.  Our consensus is one of the old Shang gods is keeping them on our tail.”

“Oh dear,” Feyan said.  “We can’t take you aboard ship. The boat is not big enough for all of you and your horses, and Baby would not like being confined.  The horses would not be comfortable, and the smell of horses would drive Baby crazy.  She would find a way to get out.”

“Maybe the water babies could help us cross the river,” Boston suggested.

Feyan shook her head as Katie spoke.  “What is the point?  If the god is helping the creatures, they would just catch up again.”

Gongming pulled on his beard and spoke to his son.  “Wang.  Climb down to the boat and retrieve our things.  I must think what we can do.”


“It is good to help others when you can.  Someday, you may need help,” Gongming said.  Wang went, and Feyan explained.

“My uncle speaks fluent fortune cookie.”

Katie, Lockhart and Boston all nodded as someone shouted to them from the shore.

“Oh, also, what do you want me to do with the two men we have on shore?” Lockhart asked.

“Yes,” Gongming started to speak when they heard a crash in the bronze hut.

Katie and Lockhart carried their handguns and their Patton sabers.  Katie pulled her saber.  Lockhart pulled his police pistol.  Boston pulled her wand.  When Katie was ready, Lockhart opened the door quickly and spoke.  “Come out of there with your hands up.  Drop your weapons and reach for the sky.”  It was a cliché, but effective.

A soldier came out and Feyan nodded.  She thought there were five on the boat.

“Please,” the man begged.  “Save me from the tiger.  I was just following orders.”

“Whom do you serve?” Katie asked with a touch against the man’s chest with her evidently sharp sword.

“We serve the king, but Captain says there is nothing to be gained by service.  The king only pleases himself, so why should we not please ourselves?  I did not believe him.  Oh, no.  I am loyal.  But he ordered me, and threatened me.  He forced me to come.  I don’t want your gold and jewels.  Please, I am innocent.”

“A nickel for every time I heard that,” Lockhart, the former policeman said.

“Can you swim?” Katie asked the man.  The man nodded slowly, not sure what she had in mind.  Katie sheathed her saber before she grabbed the man by his pants and shirt, pulled him to the rail, and threw him into the water.  He was not a big man, shorter than her, but she threw him impressively far to make sure he missed the boat tied to the side.  “One more.  Sit on them,” she shouted.

“Captain Harper,” Feyan whispered to Gongming, who simply stared, dumbfounded.

Avalon 5.11 The River Circus, part 3 of 6

The travelers kept to their watch schedule, even though it was daylight and they were sheltered.  Decker and Elder Stow went right to bed, having the noon to three shift.  Boston and Sukki had a hard time sleeping during the day.  Lockhart and Katie slept about two hours before their shift, with the thought that they could get more rest in the afternoon.  People stayed on edge, but they understood that there was no way the night creatures could get near them in the daytime without help, and they planned to start moving again before dark.  Every hour of daylight they moved, the more space they should theoretically put between them and the creatures.

“I hope the clouds move off by nighttime,” Lockhart said.  “And the moon comes up like last night.”

“It won’t be the moon’s fault,” Lincoln said, and the others agreed.

Around four o’clock in the afternoon, Boston heard the sound of a baby crying in the distance.  It sounded far enough away so she could not tell if it was a night creature or a real baby.  She decided she could not take a chance.  She began to wake the others and make sure they moved into the patches of afternoon sunlight that shone here and there across the floor.

Lockhart and Elder Stow got grumpy.  They were not finished sleeping.  The others woke well enough, but they were all slow moving into the light.  They needed something to encourage them.  They got it when a claw, then a head that roared broke free of the dirt in the back corner of the barn.  Sukki screamed, an alto with a slight gurgling sound, like she had a mouth full of water.  It did not exactly sound like a human scream, but no one missed the point.

“The horses,” Alexis yelled.

“Out in the field,” Lincoln said, and followed Alexis to call them in.

Boston had her wand out, but Elder Stow stopped her from spraying the creature with fire, for fear she would set the whole barn on fire.  For that reason, he kept his energy weapon at the ready, but did not use it.  Katie and Decker had their marine rifles, and this time they shot for the head, and especially the eyes and mouth.  That seemed more effective.  The night creature staggered like a drunken donkey as it pulled itself free of the tunnel.  Lockhart unloaded his shotgun in the creature’s face and it collapsed into a stream of sunlight.  It immediately began to smoke, and in seconds, became engulfed in flame.  A few seconds more, and nothing remained but ash to be blown off on the wind.

“That explains why no bones of a Set animal has ever been found,” Katie said.

Sukki looked at her and Lockhart with questions on her face.  Lockhart explained.  “Their hide is tough and their bodies are full of muscle and cartilage—better than Kevlar.  Even with a high-powered rifle, it is nearly impossible to penetrate the body deep enough to hit a vital organ.  Their bones and skull are also much harder than human bones, but the head has vulnerable spots.  The eyes and open mouth are the best option to penetrate to the brain.”

“They got big, strong teeth, too,” Boston added as she put away her wand and encouraged Sukki to put away her knife.

“From a heavy gravity world, so exceptionally strong and fast,” Elder Stow added, though Sukki did not really understand what he meant by a heavy gravity world.  She came from a time before the Gott-Druk mastered space flight and began to explore other worlds.

“I don’t sense any more in the immediate area,” Katie said, as she grabbed her saddle.

“I heard them, though pretty far away,” Boston admitted while she began to pack her saddle bag.

“Let us hope this one was the scout and the others will take some time to get here,” Lockhart took the hopeful note.  Decker took the sour position.

“With the tunnel, it probably won’t take the main body long to get here.  Maybe an hour, and this barn will be swarming with night creatures.”  People grabbed their things and went out to grab their horses.

The old man came out of the little hovel he lived in to watch the travelers get ready to leave.  Katie found a small bronze bell she picked up back in Nameless’ day, and she thought to offer it to the man for his kindness.  He refused to take it.

“I sense the gods about you,” he said.  “They are watching, even when you think they are not.  Tien Shang-Di is looking down from heaven and sees what is done, even in the dark.  I know, for longer than I have been alive, there are struggles going on in the heavens.  The demons tried to break out of their place and fought against the gods, but the gods have gained the upper hand, and I believe good days are on the horizon.  There will be one final struggle before then.”

“How do you know this?” Katie asked.

“I have seen the signs.  I listen to the wind,” he said.  “And a small troop of Zhou and Shang fought each other not two days ago in my fields.”  He grinned.  “The Shang have kept us in bondage for hundreds of years, and these last years have been the worst of all.  The Zhou have been raised up to set us free.  Thank the gods, and may they have the victory.”

“I take that as the attitude of the general public all over China,” Katie said.

“Back home, we just have an election,” Lockhart said.  “Though lately, things have been so divided, I sense violence, depending on who gets elected.”

“No,” Katie and Alexis objected, and Katie spoke.  “We may not like who is elected, but we can be civil about it.  We are all Americans.”

“People set aside their differences after the election to try and work for the common good,” Alexis said.

Lockhart shrugged, and Lincoln spoke.  “But apparently, in human history, these things were decided by violence, revolution and war.  Like here, I am guessing the Zhou are getting ready to overthrow the Shang.”

Katie nodded.  “That would make it sometime before 1046 BC.”

Boston rode up.  “I got a lead on the Kairos,” she said.  “If we ride through the night and all day tomorrow, we should catch him by tomorrow night.”

“Her,” Lincoln said.  “Shang Feyan is a woman.”

“Great,” Boston looked happy, before her ears picked up the sound of a baby crying.

“You and Sukki need to take the front again in the dark,” Lockhart said.  “Weave us a good path.  Lincoln and Alexis in the middle and Katie and I will protect the rear.  Tell Decker and Elder Stow to stay in close and keep their senses peeled.”

“Great,” Boston repeated, and went to tell the others what was decided.

“I sense you have a long journey,” the old man spoke again.  “I also sense that the demons following you will not have long to live.”

“Great,” Lincoln borrowed Boston’s word.  “Will that be before or after they eat us?”

“Oh, come on,” Alexis turned him to the group.

“Thank you,” Katie said again.

“Oh,” Lockhart had a final thought as he mounted.  “I recommend you stay inside until the sun comes up in the morning.  Please stay away from the barn until tomorrow, daylight.  It is for your own safety and protection.”  The old man nodded as the travelers rode off.

With a three-hour head start in the daylight, and being in an area where more and more people lived, they found roads, or at least worn paths between the farms and villages.  They crossed a small river about midnight, one deep enough where they hoped it might at least make the night creatures pause.  Night creatures could not swim.  On the other side of the river, they passed through what Katie called a genuine town, though she figured in China, a thousand years before Christ, the locals probably called it a city.

No one stopped them, or interfered with their progress, including several camps of soldiers they passed in the dark.  They did not stop to see whose side the soldiers were on.  When the sun rose in the morning, they had to stop in a field.  They ate, and opted for four-hours of rest.  Boston volunteered to stay awake and watch.  Being a light elf, she dragged through some of the night, but became energized again when the sun rose.  She was also young enough, and her constitution strong enough, so it did not bother her, even with little rest the day before.

Most of the others were in no position to argue.  Katie, an elect, stayed up with her for a while.  Sukki, who was also young and had an enormously strong Gott-Druk constitution, got up after a couple of hours of sleep, so mostly Boston did not watch alone.

At noon, they ate again before they set out, and this time they did not stop until the sun got ready to set.

All through the afternoon, the soldiers and gathering army became more evident.  “These people are serious,” Decker said when they finally stopped to catch their breath.  “This is way more than a few thousand Greeks versus a few thousand Trojans.”

“Right, Major,” Katie said.  “I’m not as conversant on this period in China because the historical record is so sketchy, but as I recall, modern estimates say a bit less than fifty-thousand Zhou will attack some seventy-thousand Shang.”

“The numbers are against the Zhou,” Decker countered.  “Wisdom says they should set up a defensive position.”

“Yes, but maybe seventeen-thousand of the Shang Troops will be slaves who will switch sides.  And some of the Shang troops will refuse to fight for their corrupt king, and some of them may even switch sides.”

Decker nodded.

Alexis spoke.  “So much waste.”

“Yes,” Katie agreed.  “But sometimes there is no other choice.  Either people force a change, or they surrender to suffering under the Shang, maybe for centuries to come, generation after generation.”

“The people appear to want a change,” Lincoln added.  Alexis still looked disgusted by the whole idea, but she didn’t argue.

“So, Boston,” Lockhart changed the subject.  “You said we might reach the Kairos by nightfall.”

“I didn’t plan on a four-hour nap,” she said, and pulled out her amulet, though she had studied it earlier.  “But we should be there by midnight.  I assume we are not stopping for the night.”

“Don’t dare,” Lockhart said.  “Not if one of the Shang gods is helping the djin and bringing the creatures close during the day.”

“I wonder why the night creatures don’t just appear in our midst,” Lincoln said, not as a serious suggestion.

“I imagine the god or goddess does not want to be obvious about it,” Alexis answered.

Decker had another thought.  “I was wondering why the night creatures don’t appear in front of us, where they can ambush us.”

“Oh, great,” Lincoln yelled.  “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Same reason, I suppose,” Alexis said.  “That would show obvious interference by someone.  I think, whoever it is, is keeping the creatures close to our tail, but then expecting the night creatures to do their job.”

“Time to move,” Lockhart said.

“I hope the Kairos has some way to stop this,” Sukki said.  They all hoped that.


The travelers are headed rapidly toward Shang Feyan, but the night creatures appear to be keeping up.  MONDAY, part 4 of 6 will continue the story, and see who or what will catch up…

Until then, Happy Reading.

Avalon 5.11 The River Circus, part 2 of 6

Zhou Gongming stood on the deck and looked out over the town.  His sons, Bi and Wang made the boat fast against the dock.  His wife, Chen, cooked the fish and rice, while her niece, Feyan, who was also Gongming’s ten-year-old good luck charm, slept lazily under the shade of the boat house.  She had one arm draped over the tiger who napped with her.  The tiger, like a nanny, had the sleeping girl trapped between her front paws.  They were a team.

He found the black tiger cub and saved it when it was a newborn, barely able to suck milk from a cloth.  To this day, he had no idea what madness possessed him to do that.  But when Feyan showed up, a runny nosed four-year-old, and Feyan’s mother begged her sister to take the girl, they did.  Another act of madness.  Now, the tiger adopted the orphan girl, or the girl adopted the tiger, and they were making him a fortune.

The boat bumped the dock.  Gongming had to shift his weight to keep from falling over.  The tiger let out a small sound of protest.  Feyan shouted.  “Wang,” like everything was Wang’s fault.  Well, he was the eldest, but she never shouted at Bi.  A different Bi, that is, Bi Gan, had been Feyan’s father, presumably murdered by the Great King of the Shang, Di Xin.

They gave the girl the stage name of Shang Feyan.  Gongming thought it was a great rub in the nose of the Shang king.  No one would ever know her father had been brother to the former king, Di Yi, the present king’s father.  Feyan was the current king’s first cousin, but only Gongming and Chen knew that, and Chen’s sister, if she was still alive somewhere out there, in hiding.  The woman had been pregnant when she begged Chen to take the girl.  Gongming often wondered if the woman had that baby, and if Feyan had a baby brother or sister.

The tiger they named Ziya, a reminder that there were great rulers before the Shang took over.  Of course, Feyan just called the tiger Baby.

“Come along, Baby,” Feyan said.  “Let us see what Aunt Chen is cooking.  Maybe we can help.”

Baby let out something between a purr and a yawn, but got up and lumbered beside the girl.  The big tiger’s head was as tall as the girl’s head, and Feyan was not so short for a ten-year-old.  In fact, the tiger grew into a monster size, big enough and strong enough for Gongming to ride upon, and Gongming was not so slim for… his age.

“The boat is fast,” Bi reported.  “Wang is hungry.  Feyan is not helping, and Baby is following her like a puppy.  All is right with the world.”

Gongming raised one eyebrow.  The name Baby had pretty much infected the family.  “Son,” he said.  “Always do your job as well as you can.  Work hard and save, and fortune will smile on you.  And always take care of the things you have or you will soon lose them and have nothing at all.  Like, try not to damage the boat against the dock.”

“That is too much to fit in a fortune cookie,” Feyan protested.  She sat scratching the shoulder of the cat who sat beside her. The shoulder was as high as she could reach.

“Very wise,” Chen said.  She said that every time Feyan said something that no one knew what she was talking about.

“But father,” Wang spoke up.  “What is our job right now?”

“Lunch,” Gongming said, and Chen gave him his big bowl full of rice and fish.  Wang, the eldest got his bowl.  Bi said, “Thank you.”  Feyan got her little bowl.  She never ate much.  Then Chen set aside her own bowl before she scooped most of the rest into Baby’s big bowl.  Baby loved her rice and fish.  Feyan sometimes turned her nose up at the same thing, day after day.


The sun got ready to set.  It turned pink and extra bright against the river water.  Feyan knew from long experience that it would give her a headache if she stared at it for too long.  But the colors were especially beautiful that evening as the sky turned from golden to crimson, to maroon, and finally to a deep purple.  “Ultraviolet,” Feyan called it.  “Probably storm clouds gathering in the west, or too much dust from the Taklimakan Desert blowing up into the sky.”

“Very wise,” Aunt Chen said, and hugged Feyan and gave her a motherly kiss.  “Time to get ready.  Feyan had her pants on, and only needed to tie back her long, straight hair and make sure Baby had on her brass collar.

Many people came to the dock at sundown, because they had been told, they had heard about the show, or just because any sort of entertainment to break the monotony of their lives was welcomed.  Most of the rest came when they heard the fighting.

Wang and Bi set up a square on the place between the dock and the market.  They put up a bamboo curtain with great, wide openings for the people to see through, and admonished the people at every opportunity to stay behind the curtain.  Many people got up on the roofs of the houses around so they could look down into the square.  The boys brought out the stand with a great circle on top, and Bi made sure the wooden circle got soaked with plenty of oil that would burn without turning the circle to ash.  Wang set the two buckets of water aside, and then the brothers set up the wall on the fourth side of the square.  The wall had rope attached, though it was not evident what the rope might be used for.  Only one opening next to the wall let people in and out of the square.

As the sun set, Bi and Wang began to light the torches.  Wang tossed them to Bi, who pretended to not catch very well.  The torches went up in the air, and as soon as they were all lit, he tossed some back to Wang.  In this way, the brothers juggled the torches for a bit before they set them in place.

Shang Feyan came out doing a series of back hand springs.  She entertained the crowd with her acrobatics before she ended in a handstand, and walked on her hands until she stood between the brothers.  She curled to her feet and walked around the boys in a figure eight.  When she stood between them again, she tapped Wang on the chest and said, “No.”  She tapped Bi on the chest and said, “No.”  Then she threw her nose straight up in a haughty look, and stomped off through the opening by the solid wall.

“I will have that girl to wife,” Wang said his line.

“You will not,” Bi responded.  “She will be my wife.”

The boys growled at each other and retrieved their swords.  Wang and Bi fought a very well-choreographed duel.  The fists and kicks flew around the swords, but it all ended when Feyan leapt into the ring with a short sword of her own.

“Who is it that disturbs my beauty sleep?”

“It is I, Shang Wang, your one true love.”

“It is I, Shang Bi, the one who loves you most of all.”

Feyan practiced a little acting and marched around the two boys, examining them again, this time like one might examine livestock, going for more than a couple of laughs, including looking at their teeth.  She ended with, “But I do not love either one of you.”

“Give us a chance,” both boys objected.

“I tell you what.  I will marry the one who can best me with a sword.”

Suddenly, the sword fight became three ways, and Feyan got good licks on the boys, but they never touched her, until, at last, she disarmed them.  She picked up their swords and began to juggle them.  The boys stared, amazed, and came close until she jumped, did the splits in mid-air, and supposedly kicked both boys in the face.  They fell and pretended to be unconscious, and she caught her own sword, but let the other two hit the dirt, to prove they were real.  One or both usually stuck into the ground and stood straight up, but even if they clanked on the dirt, that proved the point.

Feyan went to the water bucket and took a swig of the river water.  Then she took the boys to the solid wall.  She used the rope loops, where she supposedly tied the boys so they could not escape.  She backed up and threw water into Wang’s face to wake him up.  She threw two knives, one to each side of his head.  He shrieked, which he was supposed to do, but he always shrieked.  She threw a third knife between his legs.  The entire audience winced before she spoke.

“No, I will not hurt my one true love.”

Then she splashed water in Bi’s face and picked up her bow and a handful of arrows.  She put an apple on Bi’s head and split it with an arrow.  Then she shot arrows all around him, without hitting him.  People applauded, until they heard a roar.

Feyan let the boys loose with a word.  “My Father!”

Zhou Gongming came into the square, riding on the back of the tiger.  He had Baby on a leash, but it was not necessary.  Baby knew her part.  Wang and Bi brought out the ring and the see-saw while father paraded along the edge of the bamboo curtain where the people could see the tiger up close.  He had a stick in the hand that was not holding the leash, and he was quick to slap any hand, young or old, that was foolish enough to try to reach through the bamboo to touch the tiger.

When they stopped, Bi and Wang pretended to be petrified, unwilling to move.  Feyan kissed baby’s nose and Baby licked her, and Gongming got down.  He asked what was going on, and Feyan said, I will show you.  She made Wang stand in a certain spot and put Bi on the see-saw.  She backed up about as far as she could and did back handsprings before a final back flip where she landed on the other end of the see-saw.  Bi went up, and landed, standing on Wang’s shoulders.  Feyan grinned and stood on the down end of the see-saw, presumably to laugh at the boys.

“Jump Ziya.  Jump,” Gongming said, and the tiger jumped on the up end ot the see-saw with enough weight to send Feyan to the top, where she landed on Bi’s shoulders, so they were standing three people high.  People applauded as Baby roared.  After Wang turned a bit, about as far as he could move, Feyan jumped down into Wang’s arms while Bi jumped back off Wang’s shoulders.  Then Wang shouted.

“But the tiger.”

Bi jumped through the ring and echoed, “Tiger.”

Wang jumped through, and rolled on the other side while Bi got a torch.  Feyan jumped through, and Gongming did something that made everyone gasp.  He took off Baby’s leash, and Baby did not have to be coaxed to jump through.

Bi brought up the torch and lit the ring.  “This will stop the tiger,” he declared, as Wang jumped through again, in the other direction, followed by Bi.

“You won’t escape us,” Feyan yelled and leapt through.  She turned and called.  Baby paced until she called a second time.  The tiger leapt through the burning ring, and Gongming immediately put the leash back on Baby while Wang and Bi put out the ring.  It burned mostly the oil, and they got quite a few shows out of one ring, but eventually, they did have to build a new ring, so they tried to preserve it.

All that remained was the bows, and Gongming quickly brought Baby back to the boat for treats.  After Chen got Baby, he returned to see what he could get for such a show, having already worked some things out with the village elders.  He got rice and fish.  That was expected.  He also got some pork and fowl, and a few copper, bronze, and brass trinkets that he knew where to trade for more rice and fish, or if need be, to keep the boat in top order, or even to buy a new ring.  He was a happy fellow.  As word of their little show went ahead of them, the price went up.  He thought it remarkable what people would pay for a little entertainment.

“Chen, my wife, we have so much bronze, I fear some nights that we may sink the boat,” he said, as he put the new things away.

“So you say,” Aunt Chen said.  “I never expected to have things when I married a fisherman.”

“Do what is right, and the gods will smile upon you,” he said.

“Now, I can put that in a fortune cookie,” Feyan said, as she slipped into the water and threw her soaking wet pants up to the deck to be hung to dry.

“Very wise,” Aunt Chen said.

Avalon 5.11 The River Circus, part 1 of 6

After 1057 BC The Wei River.  Kairos 70: Shang Feyan


Katie waited by the time gate, her rifle at the ready.  Decker and Elder Stow came through last, and Lockhart yelled for them to ride.  No one moved.  Decker and Elder Stow swung around, so Decker and Katie could get the night creature in a crossfire.  The creature came through.  The marksmen did not miss.  The creature roared and jiggled back and forth, slammed by the bullets, but it did not stop until Elder Stow fried it with his energy weapon.

“Now,” Decker yelled.

“That was the scout,” Katie also yelled, and they started to ride.

They rode, but slowly.  The sun touched the horizon and looked ready to rise, but presently, it remained dark enough to require care.  It also felt dark enough so when the main body of night creatures reached that point, they could come right through the gate before they needed to go to ground.

“Damn,” Lincoln said, as they rode into a ravine.

“Who are you thinking?” Alexis asked.  Clearly, the night creatures had help from one of the Greek gods to catch up with them.  Thrace was a long way from Troy, and across the Bosporus besides.  They covered that distance instantly with Aphrodite’s help.  No way the night creatures covered that same distance, and crossed the water, without help.  So she asked who her husband thought the traitor god might be, without spelling it out.

“Eris or Hecate.  Probably not Ares.”

They came to a place where they could gallop, so talking got put on hold.

“Sukki,” Boston reached a hand out toward the Gott-Druk.  As an elf, Boston could make herself heard even over the thunder of the horses.

“I’ve got her,” Elder Stow responded, though it was not exactly clear in what way he had her.

When the travelers came up out of the ravine, the sun broke above the horizon and bathed them in light.  Lockhart did not let them stop, though they had to slow to a trot.  Lockhart merely looked at Katie, and she got out the prototype amulet, and pointed.  They weren’t too far off, but adjusted their trajectory accordingly.  They headed toward a forest where they finally had to walk the horses.

“Down,” Lockhart said, and the travelers grabbed the reins and led their horses through the brush and into the shadows.  Most kept their ears open for sounds of a baby crying in the dark places.

“So, Eris or Hecate?” Alexis asked.

Lincoln nodded, and took a couple of minutes to get out the database.  Alexis took the reins to Cortez, Lincoln’s horse, so he could use both hands to access the relevant data.  Then he spoke.

“We are in China,” he said, to begin.

“Hecate,” Alexis reminded him of what she asked, as the others listened in.

“I just wanted to be sure we were out of range of the Greek gods,” Lincoln said.  “Yes, Hecate.  She has no love for the Kairos after Althea beat up Madea, her pupil.  Then Eris is discord.  She was the one with the golden apple that began the family argument that started the whole Trojan war.”

“Diomedes said it was a political thing,” Alexis reminded him.

“I am sure it was, on a human level,” Lincoln agreed.  “The database suggests the Hellene invaded Greece just after the war, when so many of the Dorian Greek heroes were dead, and their sons were not yet grown.  It also says the iron made a bloody mess of everything.”

“You said probably not Ares?” Alexis asked.

Lincoln shook his head.  “The Amazon queen was his granddaughter, and Diomedes wounded Ares on the same day he cut Aphrodite, but Ares is in the thick of the war and Zeus is too likely watching him, especially, since he is the god of war and on the Trojan side, which as you know, was decreed to lose the war.  Ares would not dare.  Besides, Ares knows the gods have set a hedge around us, and he has nothing against us, personally.”

“Neither do the others,” Boston spoke up.

“No,” Lincoln agreed.  “But Eris is discord, and proved she would not hesitate to do something that would cause the gods themselves to be at odds with each other.  And Hecate is just ornery.  Think Tiamut.”

People understood, and stopped, because Katie stopped.  Something roared.  No one saw it, but everyone recognized the sound, and Lockhart yelled.  “Ride,” though they were still among the trees.

The travelers rode, and kept riding until noon, when Katie finally got them to try walking the horses again.  She had a thought that no one wanted to think.

“Maybe one of the Chinese gods is also working with the djin.”

Lincoln got the database out again and read before he spoke.

“The Shang-Di went demonic-crazy, and Nameless had to kill him.  I won’t read the details, but the hierarchy of the Shang gods over the people collapsed.  Tien is now the king of this jurisdiction.  Many are calling him Tien Shang-Di.  You may remember back in Yu-Huang’s day, the Shang-Di was already threatening the west and south, and Tien, with his brothers and sisters, and some rebellious Shang gods set up a hedge to prevent the Shang-Di from breaking out of his place.”

“I remember Nagi and Shengi-god were on the side of the Kairos, and they said some others were secretly ready to rebel, and declare back then for Tien.” Alexis said.

“Yes,” Lincoln said.  “Well, Tien Shang-Di is now in charge, and I am sure his brothers and sisters, as well as some others are giving their full support, but you know any such transition has got to have rough spots. I’m thinking there may be some old Shang gods that may be willing to gum up the works in a passive-aggressive way.”

“Or maybe rebel indirectly by assisting the djin against us,” Boston said, before Alexis got ready to say the same thing.

The travelers did stop for some lunch, but then rode through much of the afternoon.  They stopped near sundown, but only to eat a meal.  The moon had come up, nearly full, so they rode through most of the night, until moon set.  Even then, they walked their horses until the sun began to glimmer again on the horizon.

All along the way, they passed houses, farms, and villages, but they never stopped until daylight.  A village lay up ahead, and though they were tired, they thought shelter, like a barn, would be preferable to being out in the open.  The sky had clouded over, and it looked like rain.

The travelers got the usual slack-jawed, staring reception in the village.  They had shaped their fairy weave to imitate the local dress for men and women.  There was not much they could do to disguise the big horses, the saddles, or their equipment, but they did what they could.  Boston and Alexis could put up a glamour to make themselves appear Chinese, but there was nothing they could do about the others.  Katie’s blond hair stood out, and Lincoln remarked that at least Sukki and Elder Stow had glamours to make them appear human.

Some of the locals ran away when they approached.  Some of the men grabbed old spears and farm implements, and kept a wary eye on the travelers.  It took three tries before they were able to explain that they rode in the night, all day, and all night again, and all they wanted was a roof and a chance to rest during the day.  One old man finally agreed that they could stay at his farm, but it was some distance from the village.  From the looks of the locals, everyone imagined that was for the best.  They walked the old man home.

“This is not a good time.  These are dangerous days,” the old man explained to the group as they walked.  “The king, Di Xin, and his consort Daji play in their palace in Yin.  They care nothing for the people, and it is said they kill and eat those who displease them.”

“Human sacrifice,” Katie mumbled, with a nod to the others.

“Lord Wen?” Lincoln asked, without actually asking anything specific, but the old man shook his head.

“It once looked like Wen of the Zhou might rebel against the Shang, but he died, mysteriously, about three years ago.  His son, Lord Wu is raising an army, and the Zhou are strong in battle, but the Shang have ruled forever.  They claim to rule by right, being descended from the gods, and no one has ever successfully escaped their hand.

Lincoln nodded and said to the others, “I’ll tell you later.”

Avalon 5.10 Family Feud, part 4 of 4

Alexis and Lincoln took the first watch, though people stayed up and talked until about nine, and there was not much need to watch with Elder Stows screens running.  Decker said they were better to keep to the pattern, regardless, and Katie reminded everyone about the djin.

“Though I don’t suppose he would dare show his face to the Olympian gods after he set that volcano off in the last zone.”

“I don’t know,” Diomedes hedged.  “What we have here is a family squabble among the gods.  The Greeks and Trojans are just playing out the reflection of that, not like mindless pawns on a chessboard, but with willing hearts, shall we say.”

“So, Helen?” Katie did not know what to say in front of Nestor, even if he appeared to be already sleeping.

“The last straw,” Diomedes explained.  “You see the Dorians, for want of a better name, came down into Greece from the north and conquered the cities and the land, all the Aetolians. Achaeans, Mycenaeans, Corinthians, Eubouians, Boeotians, and so on.  The Dorians became like a ruling class over the rest of the people.  I was involved in the final work, when we overran Thebes, so it was that recent.  Well, plenty of people did not like being ruled and having their independence taken away.  They rebelled, mostly by escaping to Asia, that is the coast of Turkey in your day.  Troy opened her gates to the rebels and became like the central city of the rebellion.  Helen, one of the original Achaeans, got forced into marriage to Menelaus, brother of the high king, Agamemnon.

“High king?” Katie asked.

“Yes.  Right now, under Dorian rule, Greece is as close to being a united nation as it gets up until the twentieth century.  Even under occupation by the Macedonians, the Romans, and the Turks, the various cities hold on to as much independent power as they can.  The idea of a Greek nation has to be ground into them over a couple of thousand years.”

“Sounds painful,” Lockhart said.

“Yes.  But when Paris convinced Helen to join the rebellion, and she ran away with him to Troy, that became the last straw.  I’m not discounting Aphrodite’s work in the mess, but this war is really a political thing, mostly.  It is like most wars, I guess.  It is trying to decide who is going to rule and be in charge here, if you know what I mean.”

“I get it,” Katie said.  “There is more at stake for the Hellenes than meets the eye, or the history books.”

“No, actually…”  Diomedes had to pause to think what he could say.  “The Hellene are another people group altogether; one that is more of a loose confederation of tribes, like brigands, like the Huns, or Mongols.  They kill with abandon.  Shortly, after the Dorian Lords get home, for those who get home, the Hellene invade the land, and they have something that the Greeks don’t have.”

“What is that?” Lockhart asked, while Lincoln pulled out the database.

“Iron,” Diomedes said with a sour look.  “And a thirst for blood.  You see, after we took Thebes, I was fifteen, and got married off to the princess of Argo.  I ruled for only a couple of years before raising the army again to come on this adventure.  Who would have guessed ten years of war?  I just turned twenty-eight.  I look older, I know.  It’s the stress.  But I don’t know.  My wife—even having a wife at fifteen was weird.  We kind of bonded, but not really, since she was older and way more mature.  I don’t know.  With the Hellene coming, I may go to Italy.”

“The iron age begins?” Katie was surprised at the early date.

“Not exactly,” Diomedes said.  “With the arrival of the Hellene, the country eventually takes the name of Hellas, as a general idea or description, but otherwise, they plunge into two or three hundred years of dark ages, and don’t emerge until Homer writes about this mess we are in right now—and really not until Socrates in the five-hundreds.”  Diomedes lay down, and said, “Good-night.  I wonder if Italy gets snowy cold in winter.  Maybe the southern coast.”  He went to sleep.

Alexis and Lincoln got up and went into their tent.  They were like newlyweds, now that Alexis turned human again.  Katie and Lockhart were actual newlyweds and did not do much watching between nine and midnight.  The others were glad that Elder Stow had his screens up.

Elder Stow and Decker had the wee hours, and Boston and Sukki agree to take sunrise.  When Elder Stow woke Sukki for her turn, she surprised him with a question.  “You don’t want to marry me?”

Elder Stow’s eyes got big.  I have three wives and plenty of children.  I already have a big family group.  And I am old, I’m thinking too old to be a father again, he thought, but he said.  “You don’t want to be my daughter?”

Sukki considered it, and nodded.  “I can, but I won’t always be a good girl,” she said.

“Expected,” he agreed and gave her a small kiss on the cheek to seal the agreement.

Sukki sat happily with Boston, and opened-up about many things.  She found it hard to talk to the humans, but the crazy elf seemed easy to talk to.  She was just explaining how children spoke to their parents, when Boston told her to be quiet.  She got quiet for a second before she started again.

“Hush.  Listen.”

“I don’t hear anything.”

“Listen real close,” Boston stood and walked to the edge of the campsite.  They waited a long time before Sukki finally spoke.

“A baby?”  It sounded so far away, she could not be sure.

“I have to wake the others.”  She started with Diomedes.  “I hear a baby crying.”  She woke everyone, Nestor last, and he commented.

“Many babies are crying in the night now that their fathers have been lost to them.”

“It isn’t that kind of baby,” Boston said, and Diomedes understood. Fortunately, Athena showed up before he could swear.

“It is the djin that has been following you,” Athena said, quickly.  “He is not in this time zone, but I believe he contracted with one of the gods to bring the night creatures here.  There appear to be nine of them.”

Diomedes stepped close and gave her a soft kiss.  “Clever girl to slip through Elder Stow’s screens like that.”  On seeing the others did not understand, he briefly explained.  “Particle, energy, and radiation screens function in the realm of matter and energy, the same that the gods manipulate by divine fiat.  Flesh and blood, even godly flesh and blood, have limits that have to be figured out to get around.  I’m not explaining it well.”  He turned to Athena.  “No, no.  Some things mortals just have to take on faith.  I am sure Athena could explain it, but that is not why she is here.”

“Quite right,” Athena said.  “Someone is protecting them, so I can’t just wipe them out of existence.  I don’t know if they can follow you through the time gate, though, so I figure if I send you to the next gate, you can at least have a three to five-day head start.”

“No, no.” Diomedes made Boston put her amulet away.  “Athena keeps track of where the time gates are.  She is the most-clever person, ever.”

“See?” Athena said, without explaining what they were supposed to see, and she returned Diomedes’ kiss.

“Traveler.” Aphrodite and Artemis appeared.  “You have company coming for dinner.”

“They know,” Athena said, and the icy stares that shot between the girls nearly put the fire out.  Diomedes bravely stepped between them.

“Girls, girls.  You are sisters.  Sibling rivalry is fine, but please remember deep down you care about each other.  We have guests right now who need our help.  You can fight later.”

“You cut me,” Aphrodite yelled at Athena.

“You made me fall in love with the most annoying person in… in… history,” Athena shout back.

“And I love you, too,” Diomedes said to Athena, who backed off a little.  “And I am sorry I cut you.  I was just trying to do my job.”  He changed to Diogenes, Alexander the Great’s cousin, and focused on Aphrodite.  “Show me,” he said.

Aphrodite looked up at him and pouted, but lowered her sleeve to show a small scar in her shoulder.  The other men nearly lost it to see just her shoulder, not to mention her pouty face, but Diogenes leaned over and kissed it.

“There,” he said.  “Now it will get all better.”

Aphrodite huffed a little, but tried not to smile.  Diogenes smiled for her and changed back to Diomedes and he slipped his arm around Athena’s waist.  Athena responded by grabbing on to him like a possessive woman saying, this one is mine, you get your own.

Aphrodite smiled then and turned to point at Decker.  “And don’t think I’ve forgotten you.”

Artemis removed the grin from her face and spoke.  “I got my Amazons.”

“I’ll take the Greeks back to their ships,” Athena said.

“That leaves me with the travelers,” Aphrodite said.

“Thrace.  Across the Dardanelles,” Athena told her.

“Ah.”  Aphrodite’s face lit up.  “I know just the place.”

And everyone vanished.


Diomedes and Nestor appeared beside Odysseus and a dozen other men who had evidently spent the night mapping out the extent of Elder Stow’s screens, as Diomedes guessed they would.  “So, did you leave me any beef?” Diomedes asked.

“No,” Odysseus said.  “We ate it all.”

Sthenelus came running up.  “Diomedes.  come on.  We saved you some of the cut-up rump.”

Odysseus shrugged.  “You have loyal men.  After ten years of following your orders, it is a wonder.”

“You missed Althea and Diogenes,” Nestor tattled.

“You didn’t let Diogenes do your fighting for you again?”

“One time.  I borrowed him one time,” Diomedes shouted.  “They never let you forget.”


“Time gate dead ahead,” Boston reported.

“Come eat your breakfast first,” Alexis and Sukki insisted.  Aphrodite transported everyone and everything as is, including the campfire, still cooking away.

Aphrodite spoke once more before she left them.  “This is the land of the Hellene.  I suggest you go through this morning and not wait until tomorrow.  They are a bloody lot.  Ares likes them.  Better they don’t find you here.”  She disappeared.

“Thank you,” Katie said.  Everyone said, “Thank you,” to the air, assuming Aphrodite would hear.

“Eat first,” Alexis added.



The travelers find themselves in China just before the end of the Shang dynasty, and the rise of the Zhou.  But they hardly have time to examine the evidence.  They need to reach the Kairos as fast as possible, because the night creatures of the djin follow them through the time gate…

Happy Reading