Avalon 4.12: part 7 of 7, Survivors

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The travelers stayed with Yu-Huang and his people for a month.  They needed the recovery time.

Elder Stow’s horse took a ghoul arrow that was not life threatening.  All the same, Elder Stow pampered the horse like a man who almost lost his best friend.

Lockhart got his leg sliced by a ghoul spear.  He hurt, took time to heal, and commented that the Gaian healing chits which once filled his body must have finally died off and passed out of his system.

Decker got burnt by an ifrit fireball just before Lockhart split the ifrit skull with shotgun blasts.  He ignored it, but kept the aloe handy.

boston-cryAlexis cracked a rib when she got thrown from Misty Gray’s back.  It was the same one she cracked when she was attacked by the lion in the previous time zone.  Yu-Huang suggested it had not fully healed.  She commented that she was lucky that she did not crack her head.  Then she yelled at Benjamin for taking an arrow to the leg.  Lincoln said he was just glad she was all right, even if she did not feel all right.

Alexis cried a lot for her father, and Boston cried with her.  Boston, who pointed out that for the first time in ever, she was not the wounded one, nevertheless felt wounded by the loss of Mingus.  No one knew what happened.  Even Yu-Huang could not tell them anything.  Mingus and the ghoul controller simply vanished in a massive flash of light.  Whether it was something generated by Mingus, the ghoul, both in their meeting, or some outside force, no one could say.  Alexis imagined Nagi or Shengi-god might know, but they were not around to ask.

Katie was by far in the worst shape.  She killed the tiger, even as it tore her up.  Any normal person would have had a slim chance for survival.  Katie knew, as an elect, she would not only live, but she would heal, and without so much as a scar.  But it took the whole month.  It was that bad.

katie-1Artie got the arrow out of her arm and took a day to heal over her flesh.  Elder Stow opened the arm to make sure she did not cut or fray any of her wiring.  After that, she stayed at Katie’s side, once she realized, and had explained to her what happened.

“You are one of us,” Katie said, all month.

Artie kept responding with tears, and, “I’m so sorry.”

“Of course,” Yu-Huang confessed one evening over supper.  The travelers actually saw very little of the Kairos as he tended to his disciples and to the natural ordering of the wilderness; but sometimes he appeared and answered some questions.  “You don’t think all those gods from all over the world gathered here and agreed to leave without leaving a hedge against betrayal, do you?”

“I can’t imagine,” Lockhart said as he tried not to scratch the scab on his leg.

“I explained.  North is the Gobi and the land of frost.  Giants—titans still roam there, and the land is not kind to strangers.  East is the sea, and as I told you, the sea is not exactly friendly to the Shang.  South is the whirlwind.  Nagi and Shengi and their children hold the south alongside the lincoln-7Himalayas, which are impassable in this age.  But west… the steppes reach all the way from western Siberia to Germany, an easy way for armies of horsemen.  Also, a road has been made through central Asia, the Silk Road as you know, which leads straight to India and Mesopotamia.  The many gods were determined to leave someone in the west to hold the line.”

“You?” Lincoln asked.

Yu-Huang nodded.  “Me, with Tien and the children to back me up.  They made me a lesser god, but honestly they do not expect any more than for me to sound the alarm if the Shang break out of their place and prepare to invade the west.”

Later, on another day, Lincoln started things with a thought.  “I suppose it makes sense, having disciples, you being a lesser god and all.”

Yu-Huang did not look pleased.  “I actually have three strikes against me.  First, I took up residence in the mountain of the gods.  I did not know it when I came here.  I just found the old Sevarese cavern and decided it was as good a place as any.”

alexis-9“Mountain of the gods?” Alexis asked.

“Yes.  I imagine it comes from the stories and ancient tales from when the Sevarese were here. You know they ran roughshod over humans, and with their technology, I am sure they appeared god-like to the Qinyong that filled these hills in those days. The Xi-Rong are mostly their descendants.”

“So you lived with the gods?”

“No.  I lived in the place of the gods and did not get blasted out of existence for my impertinence.  But then the people discovered that the spirits of nature answered to me in some way.  They began to come, seeking holiness, I guess.  Little did they know…but they came with many questions, and I thought I might share some basic things, like the essence of right and wrong, what some call natural law, and some natural science and so on.  I tried to confine myself to things Nuwa and Lin knew in their day, but I am sure some other things slipped in there.  You know; I cannot exactly give them the ten commandments, but I can talk about family, and the human family, and grace and mercy, forgiveness and love.”

“So you live with the gods and the spirits of nature answer to you.  But you said three strikes.”  Lincoln was counting.artie-9

Yes, well.  When Artie showed up out of nowhere—out of a hole in the air that many saw, and she ran to hug me and fell to her knees, I was in trouble.  But then the gods began to show up from all over the world, and there was no disguising the fact that they were seeking whatever wisdom or counsel I might have concerning the Shang-Di situation.  That was it.  I suppose it is just as well they made me a lesser god, since everyone started treating me that way.  And you know, the little spirits did nothing to talk the people out of it.”

Another time on another day, Yu-Huang explained why the people feared the ghouls, that they called demons, and yet revered the earth spirits, elves, dwarfs, and even the dark elves.  “Demon is a term ingrained in Chinese consciousness since the days of Xiang,” he said.  “You may remember, some of the people back then were demon possessed, as they would say in the west.  Anything that tries to take the mind—to control a person from ghoul illusion and shaytan shape shifting or iblis invisible whispering, on up to outright possession is called a demon.  Some of the little ones decker-7may be terrible tricksters, but at least they are not trying to eat the people.  You would be surprised how easy it is to distinguish those spirit and powers that want to eat you from those that don’t want to eat you.”

“No,” Decker said.  “I get it.”  He spread some aloe on his arm.  The blisters were healed, but unlike Katie, he would have a couple of scars from his burns.

“But that doesn’t explain why the people revere and respect your little ones the way they do,” Alexis said.  “I saw a couple setting out an offering for the fairies of the woods.”

“People are drawn to defer to spirits, and to worship, to some extent, whatever has power over the natural world in things the people cannot control,” Lincoln tried to explain, but looked to Yu-Huang to see if he got it right.

kun-yu-hu-1“Essentially,” Yu-Huang agreed.  “These people clearly distinguish between demons, like the ghouls, and nature spirits, like the elves, light and dark, and middle ones, including the dwarfs, gnomes and such.  I have explained it to the people in as simple terms as I can.  I suppose in the future, the terms become more interchangeable.  Nature spirits get called unhappy or angry spirits or demons when they are blamed for eating the field of grain, or a flood, or taking a child with a fever.  The people do try to stay on the good side of the spirits, but mostly it is not known or understood exactly how much or how little the spirits may be involved in personal or natural disaster type events.  I think the offerings are a matter of better to be safe than sorry.”

At yet another time, Yu-Huang explained a little of what he taught the people.  “The people in these mountains understand earth, water and fire well enough,” he said.  “I have simply added two additional elements to their thinking.

“The light elves, that is wood elves and fee, are wood, or the trees.  They are associated with the early spring, new life and the budding intensity of birth and first growth.  The fee do cause the flowers to bloom, you know.

five-elements“The fire comes in late spring and early summer.  It is a time of passion, but in the process, the old is burned away so the new can be planted.  I confess, I am not a fan of slash and burn agriculture, but we go with the times in which we live.

“The center belongs to the earth spirits, the dwarfs and gnomes and such.  The earth element is the long summer.  Sometimes anxious.  Sometimes full of joy.  But I believe patience is the operative word for those little ones, just like you were patient with Pluckman and his people over all of those years.  I know for you it was a matter of months, but you know what I mean.

“The fall is the time of metal.  It belongs to the dark elves as the sun marches toward the winter solstice when the nighttime is longer than the time of daylight.  Metal, mostly what the dark elves work with, is not just used, or primarily used for war.  Metal is primarily used to cut and harvest the crops, and it is not just copper, brass, bronze, or in the future, iron, but also gold and silver, and the gems which are taken from the earth, like diamonds, rubies and jade.  Metal can be a time of beauty, not just a hard time of death.

lockhart-2“Then water is the winter.  It snows well enough in these mountains.  Water wears everything down, but it also nourishes the earth so the spring can come again, do you see?  The fire sprites get the fire time all to themselves, but the sprites of the air and water are both counted in the water time.  When the air sprites take form, they come as little cloud people, which is made up of water, so it is not unfair.”

People nodded, and Lincoln said the elements to better remember them.  “Wood, fire, earth, metal and water.”

“Why not air?” Lockhart asked.  “I understood the element were earth, fire, water, and air.”

“And sometimes ether, whatever that is,” Lincoln said.

“Space,” Alexis explained quietly.  “Emptiness.  The vacuum.”  She tried some other words to describe ether.

“No,” Yu-Huang shook his head that time.  “Air is the element in which we live, like the fish lives in the water.  The fish may not even be aware of the water until the fisherman pulls him out.  Air is important to life, but it is necessary through all the seasons.  Without air, we would all die.  When the mine collapses and men are trapped, they may live for days, but only until they run out of air.”

stow-6“That is not exactly how it works,” Elder Stow objected.

“No,” Yu-Huang agreed.  “But true enough.”

Finally, Yu-Huang confessed that he did not finish the djin.  “I was not authorized to end the days of the marid that has been following you through time.  It is reduced in stature and power, but then I drove it off.  You will have to watch for it, still.”

Lockhart said nothing.  He looked to the horizon, then he caught Katie’s eyes for a moment before they both looked away.

When the end of the month came, Yu-Huang gave Artie Mingus’ horse.  He had already given Artie basic horse knowledge, so all he had to do was tune the horse to her, so it would respond to her.

“I understand Mingus only called his horse, Horse.  You might give your horse a better name,” he said, and kissed her forehead to say good-bye.

Artie rode beside Katie, as they took the point and kept their senses open to see what dangers might lie ahead on the trail.  Decker and Elder Stow took the flanks as usual, while Alexis and Boston rode in the middle, side by side, and sometimes cried in their grief.  Lincoln dropped back to ride beside Lockhart in the rear guard position.  Lockhart and Katie were talking to each other, but it was stiff, cordial and formal.  That made Boston cry doubly hard, and everyone felt that was a terrible turn of events, but there was nothing anyone could do.  Katie and Lockhart refused to talk about it, and they still had a long road to travel to get back to the twenty-first century.

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End of Avalon, season 4.  I hope you enjoyed the read.

Sorry for the commercial interruption, but I want to remind you that the Pilot Episode along with seasons one, two and three are all available at your favorite e-retailer (Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony, Kobo, Etc.).  You can find them under my author name, M G Kizzia.

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The Pilot Episode in particular has been revised and expanded to make an easier introduction to the characters, and the circumstances that gets these travelers stuck in the past in the first place.  Take a look.

Tomorrow’s post will introduce a new story, a contemporary bit of fantasy with a bit of science fiction thrown in.  It will be posted chapter by chapter into the new year. The Elect, Book II, Sophomore Year.  I am looking forward to sharing the story, and I wish you all Happy Reading.

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Avalon 4.12: part 6 of 7, The Circle

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Kunlun Mountain was in fact a small mountain group that stood on the edge between the Tibetan plateau and the bigger Kunlun mountain range that blocked off the Taklimakan desert.  Kunlun Mountain guarded the source of the two rivers.  Already called the home of the gods, the Shang certainly wanted it, but they did not have the resources to take it.  Yu-Huang went there to escape the horror that arose in the fall of the Xia dynasty and the rise of the Shang dynasty.  He wanted some time alone to think what he should do.

Immediately, men and women began to gather to him, to disciple with the one they imagined was a holy man.  When gods from all over the world came to talk with him, to seek his advice about the madness of the Shang-Di, his position in the eyes of the people became irrevocable.  Now, when the pantheon of the Shang negotiated the withdraw of the foreign gods, the human Shang rulers thought they had a chance to take the mountain.  But the demons moved in.  Indeed, circumstances made it appeared as if a demon army invaded the mountain and drove off the gods.

“What can I say?” Yu-Huang told the travelers.  “The people would not understand the truth of it.”kun-yu-hu-2

“So it is up to you, alone, to drive out the demons,” Lockhart said, as he sipped his substitute morning coffee.

“But not alone.  Nagi and Shengi have come to help.”

“Yes,” Katie spoke up.  “Why are they here?  Aren’t they part of the Chinese pantheon?”

Yu-Huang confirmed that with his nod.  “But there is an understanding among the gods of China.  That was part of the agreement, that the gods would withdraw on condition that the pantheon keep their king, the old titan Shang-Di, in line.  Some were ready right then to invade, you know, war among the gods.  Both Nagi and Shengi have plainly stated that they would rather give the crown to Tien, and would gladly serve him, his siblings and their children.  They see that as reuniting the west and east.  And the Brama and others would not mind that arrangement, since it would finally open up the silk road to real trade.”

“Trouble in the ranks,” Decker remarked.

Yu-Huang nodded again.  “But Nagi and Shengi are not normal.  I have some history with them.  Most of the pantheon are not so blatant about it.  Many are hidden because most remain supportive of the Shang-Di.  That may be out of fear, but I believe in some cases it is because the gods are like minded, you know, insane.”

“It may be a bit late to bring it up,” Lincoln interrupted.  “But what are we supposed to do about the genie?  I assume the black cloud is still overhead.  Won’t he warn the ghouls?”

“Let me take care of the marid,” Yu-Huang said.  “The djin will not interrupt whatever you do.”

boston-4a“Hey!”  Boston ran up, followed by Artie.  “What happened to Roland’s horse?  I was going to let Artie ride Valiant, but Roland’s horse isn’t here.  The gnomes say they never saw it.”

Yu-Huang looked like a man caught with his hand in the cookie jar.  “Valiant was sent back to the 1870s in exchange for the horse that Elder Stow is now riding.  I’m sorry, Boston.  It was hidden from all of you so you did not realize it, but I thought it best so you did not have to drag around an extra horse, all the way through time.”

“But, I remember the horse being there at places.  I swear.  Don’t you remember?”  She turned to Katie and Lockhart, and then to Lincoln.

“I sort of remember,” Alexis said.

“All part of the illusion,” Mingus spoke up.  “I am sure the Lord meant it for the best.”

“But…” Boston found some tears.  “It was my only connection to Roland.”

“You became an elf,” Alexis said.  “I can’t think of a stronger connection than that.”  She and Artie comforted Boston.  Mingus watched.  He was honestly not much good in the comforting department

“Mount up,” Lockhart interrupted.decker

“Arm up,” Decker added, and saw that Elder Stow was already on horseback and had his weapon in his hand.

As the dark elves took the north end of the trap, and the light elves took the east, so the travelers and roughly a hundred humans took the south.  Some twenty of those humans had horses to ride, but the majority were there to hold the south end and keep any ghouls from breaking through the line.  That left only the western side of the trap, which was the cliff of Kunlun itself.  The dwarves went there with the lanterns the travelers carried.  They had spotlights, and the dwarves were to turn them on all together, if the dwarves could be trusted to do that.  While the dwarves climbed up into the rocks at the foot of the cliff and got their bows and arrows ready, a second hundred humans spread out in the bushes with torches, bows of their own, and some other weapon, like copper or stone tipped spears, copper knives, or wood or bone clubs with copper or sharp stones attached.  The Rong did not have much in the way of bronze.

The men were as ready as they could be, and good thing, because as soon as they began to spread out along the base of the cliff with their torches, the ghouls attacked.  The spotlights came on in a staggered fashion, not exactly all at once, but the dwarf arrows came quick enough.  Every third human held a torch, while every third held tight to his spear, and the final third had bows of their own, and all those arrows were enough to prevent the battle lines from actually meeting.  The ghouls were surprised, and a number of them fell, but soon enough they backed up to the trees and got out bows of their own.

djin-sky-1The ghouls were hardly the mindless monsters they may have seemed at times.  These had bows, spears, and knives of their own, as well as great wooden shields that saved a number of them in that initial charge.

The men found themselves too exposed, with little to hide behind other than bushes, and with torches that the ghouls could target with their arrows.  They soon backed up to the rocks with the dwarfs, and after that, it looked like it might be a stand-off.  The travelers with their guns and the twenty locals on their local horses were then supposed to hit the southern flank of the ghouls to get all of the ghoul attention while the elves, dark and light, slowly pulled in to tighten the circle.  The people on horseback were then supposed to rapidly withdraw to the southern line, to reinforce the wall of men in the only direction the ghouls had left to try to escape.

The plan was actually very simple.  It sounded more complicated than it was, but even being simple, it did not exactly go as planned.  The charge of the travelers and local horsemen did relieve some pressure on the cliff side.  It also made the work of the elves tightening the circle much easier, and a surprise to the ghouls, who suddenly found enemies at their back.  But the horses did not exactly strike and withdraw very well.  Both Artie and Alexis got knocked off their horses, and that made everyone stop.artie 3a

Artie fell when a bear rose up in front of her horse and the horse bucked.  She lost her hold on her weapon and fell into a bush.  She took an arrow in her arm and wailed when the bear turned on her.  The wail was as close to a human scream as possible, and not at all a metallic whine.  Katie paused to unload bullets into the bear, but then lost her rifle and her seat when a tiger leapt at her from a bush.  She hit the ground hard and moaned for a moment.  Fortunately for her, the tiger turned toward Artie, who was on her hands and knees, searching for her weapon and not looking up.

Several ghouls came out of the woods to attack the women with their spears, and an ifrit, a creature of flame, swooped down on the scene, its wings flapping hard.  It laughed.

“No!” Katie yelled.  She pulled her saber and knife and charged the tiger.  The tiger paused.  It appeared shocked that a human would do such a thing.  Then it leapt, as Katie leapt.

The sound of thunder cracked the forest.  The skull of the ifrit got split open by two shotgun slugs, and the fire inside began to leak out of the top of the creature.  Buckshot shattered the wings, while rapid fire from Decker’s gun took down several ghouls and convinced the others to run.

katie-3Katie pushed the white robe off of her, as the tiger had turned back into the iblis in death.  She was badly scratched and bitten, but alive when Lockhart got down beside her and started yelling at her.  “You don’t charge a tiger!”  Decker watched the woods.  Artie looked up with a big smile.

“I found it.”  She had her weapon in her hand.

In another part of the forest, Alexis got thrown from the back of Misty Gray when three ghouls got in front of her, roared, and brandished their spears.  They would have killed her if Boston and Lincoln had not been right there with their handguns.  The 9mm handguns were not the best option against such large creatures, but several bullets did the trick, and the ghouls certainly wailed enough.  They felt the bullets and bled enough.

Lincoln took an arrow in his leg as he and Boston dragged a semi-conscious Alexis behind a tree.  Mingus arrived and got down right away, letting his horse follow the other horses away from the fighting.  He only gave Alexis a quick look to be sure she would be all right.  His eyes appeared to be focused on a smiling ghoul at the edge of the trees.  That ghoul looked to be gathering a number of ghouls to charge the travelers.mingus-1

Mingus knew, in the way of those rare little ones that have mind magic, that this particular ghoul was the controller, and not just any controller, but the one from the future.  He reasoned that even if the travelers killed every other ghoul from the future, this one could still follow and gather local ghouls to attack the group.  This one had to die or the travelers would never be safe.  He pulled a knife from somewhere and charged the ghoul, and at elf speed, it did not take long to cross the distance.

“Alexis, care for and teach Boston,” he yelled.

“Father,” Alexis responded.

“Father Mingus,” Boston cried out much louder, but then got busy.  The ghouls the controller had gathered, attacked.  A great flash of light disintegrated the group of ghouls all at once.  Elder Stow was still on his horse, and he shouted.

“You will not kill my children again.”

A second great flash of light came from the direction where Mingus met the ghoul controller.  It was bright enough to make everyone blink.  Then everyone shook and Boston let out a scream as a stroke of lightning went up from the ground into the darkness overhead.

lightning“Zoe?” Lincoln asked, as the darkness cleared off to reveal the sunrise.  Lincoln remembered the migrant camp in Beltain’s time zone, how Zoe, a lesser goddess, made her displeasure with the djin known, and drove him off.

“Just me,” Yu-Huang appeared and reported.  “We need to get all of you brave souls up to the cavern where you can heal from your work.”  The fighting was over.

“Father Mingus?” Boston asked, but Yu-Huang did not answer her.

Avalon 4.12: part 5 of 7, Invasion

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Triple watch really meant four people awake for most of the night.  Lincoln, Alexis, and Lockhart took the six to nine shift.  Mingus joined them, though he normally only joined Lockhart from nine to midnight.  Lockhart expected Lincoln to be the third person after nine, for the late shift.  Lincoln told Alexis she could go to bed, but she was a mom.  She was up plenty of nights until midnight and had to get up at six in the morning to get the kids to school; and now that she was young again, staying up did not bother her so much.

From midnight to three, Decker and Elder Stow normally watched.  On triple watch, Katie was to get up with them during those wee, dark hours.  Boston tended to get up with her.  Katie and Boston had the three to six, sunrise shift, and Decker stayed up with them, and generally Elder Stow as well.  On that morning, Elder Stow napped.  He had been up since ten because things were passing through the screens he set around the cavern.  Boston, and Mingus before her, felt the distress beneath their feet.

srow-3“They appear to be passing through the underground,” Elder Stow said, as he studied his device.  “Probably popping out in the lower cavern, at the bottom of the Sevarese staircase.  There were a lot of them at first, and some came in from the other side.  Then the numbers headed to the lower cavern became less and less, until about three, they petered out altogether.”

“I wonder what that was all about,” Katie asked the operative question, but looked at Boston for answers.

“I don’t know,” Boston cried.  “It felt like spirits were fighting and dying, and breaking my heart.”

Katie hugged Boston and looked at Decker.  He was on alert, and looked on edge, even as Katie herself felt that enemies were near.  Decker’s senses were good.  He was trained for special operations.  Katie had no choice. What she felt was given to her as an elect.  It was either a blessing or a curse, but she had not yet decided which.

At three in the morning, even as Elder Stow began to snore, Yu-Huang came out of the big tent.  He held and gently petted a cat, an animal the travelers had not yet seen.  Decker clutched his rifle.  Katie imagined Decker didn’t like cats, but at the same time, she readied her rifle.  She sensed something was wrong.

cav-iblisYu-Huang set the cat down and said, “eat.”  Instantly, the cat grew into a Siberian tiger and roared.  It prepared to leap at Katie, but paused, like time itself stood still.  Both Yu-Huang and the tiger changed into men in long white robes, their faces hidden by thick white hoods.

Boston reacted first, but her fireball appeared to dissipate a few inches in front of the men, like they were screened in some way against her magic.  Decker and Katie reacted together as the men in white began to move.  Their screens were not prepared for bullets, and both men collapsed under the rapid fire.  With a great flash of light and ball of flame, both bodies vanished, leaving only two white robes on the ground.

Lockhart was up by then, and Lincoln stuck his head out of the tent in time to see three goblins rise up from the floor.  Katie and Decker might have both reacted, but their attention was taken by Yu-Huang as he came out of the big tent.  He raised his hands like a man surrendering.

“It’s me,” he said.

“Quick,” one of the goblins yelled, and all three went to the water.  Right behind them, a creature of flame rose up from the ground.  It had wings and a skull, but the rest of it appeared to be made of fire, including fire in the eye sockets.  It turned on the goblins and flapped its wings once as three streams of water vacated the water trough and shot straight to the creature.  It looked like water from hoses trying to put out the person of fire, but the goblins magically directed the water to rise up into the skull until water came from the eyes and nose openings.

The skull, spine, to which the wings were attached, and the wings fell to the floor as soon as the fire was completely out.  Mingus was up by then, as the goblins began to breathe and congratulate each other on a job well done.ifrit-1

“Another one,” Mingus shouted, and grabbed Boson’s hand.  Alexis staggered out of her tent and took Boston’s other hand.  Mingus drew on their magic with his own, but instead of shooting fire toward the creature, he began to suck the fire out of the creature, like he was creating a vacuum.  The fire creature howled, but it all happened very fast.  The creature’s skull and wings fell, dead, but in so doing, revealed a third which had been hidden from sight.

Mingus was full, and Boston took some of the overflow.  They ran to the stream and let the fire out into the water, which left Alexis alone to face the monster.  Lincoln fired his pistol.  Decker and Katie both fired their rifles, but the bullets were ineffective against the fire creature.  The creature began to throw fireballs at the tents and people, but Alexis set up a wind wall which blew the fireballs back toward the stone wall of the cavern.

A streak of yellow light hit the fire creature in the skull and split the skull in two.  The yellow line of power continued down the spine until the wings separated from the creature and the internal fire broke its containment.  It became a large ball of fire as the broken skull and wings collapsed to the ground, but Alexis clapped, and a great rush of wind blew the fire to little pieces that dissipated on the wind.

Katie looked to the side expecting to find Elder Stow there, but it was Artie.  She used her own Anazi weapon on the creature.  Decker tapped Katie on the shoulder and pointed behind.  Elder stow was snoring, and Alexis was thanking Artie and hugging her.

kun-yu-hu-2Katie joined the hug as Yu-Huang lowered his hands and said, “Well, that was exciting.”

Everyone breathed for a second before all hands, eyes, wands and guns pointed to a section of the wall that crumbled into the stream.  A dwarf head stuck out of the hole, and yelled.

“Lord.  The djin have taken the underground.  The deep has fallen.”

“I know, Clang,” Yu-Huang answered, calmly.  “Come and introduce yourself.”

A young man and young woman stepped out of the big tent behind Yu-Huang and bracketed him with their smiles.  It took the travelers a moment to realize who they were.

“Nagi,” Alexis called her.  She was a granddaughter of the Shang-Di, and originally a goddess of the west before she moved her people into the Yangtze River valley.

“Shengi, god of the mountain,” Boston added, as the goblins, and soon the dwarves bowed, and the people gathered around the big fire, some going to their knees.

“Sit.  Relax,” Yu-Huang encouraged everyone to come in close.  “The iblis and ifrit are now confined to the deep and will not interrupt us.”

“Is that who we faced?” Lockhart asked, and the men camped in the upper cavern who arrived with Artie when everything was over, looked curious as well.kun-nagi

“Indeed,” Yu-Huang said.  “The iblis are the shaytan, shape shifters and creatures of fire and evil.  They often walk invisible, and whisper lies in the ear to turn innocent people to evil deeds and great sins.  The ifrit are the creatures of fire, as you saw.  They are terrors, day or night, and burn the soul along with the body.  They are the embodiment of hell fire.  They are both djin, lesser and near greater spirits over the ghouls, but now they have moved into the trap.  They are imprisoned in the underground and the deep, and they will not escape.”

“They will not escape,” Shengi confirmed.

“They will be exiled to their own world, and they will not be able to return without great help,” Nagi added.

“But now,” Yu-Huang continued.  “The greater djin spirit, that is, the big and terrible marid, the dark cloud that brought them here, is still overhead.  He has gathered a hundred and forty ghouls in the Shang camp in the forest.  All of the ghouls from the future are there, and we have these good people to help us put an end to their terror, if these people are willing.”

All of the men, dwarves and dark elves looked at the strangers among them.  Lockhart looked at Yu-Huang.  He did not look at the travelers though to be sure, the travelers did not show any great emotion one way or the other.  Only Artie showed the desire to help on her face and in her attitude.  She was young.

“We’ve been lucky so far,” Lockhart said.  “We need to put an end to these ghouls while we can, or they will follow us and try to kill us all the way back to the twenty-first century.”

“Right choice.” Decker clutched his rifle.  The travelers looked at him.  He was the one who always insisted they move on as soon as possible and not get entangled in local problems.  But then, the ghouls were not just a local problem, so the others were not too surprised.

boston-1a“Boston,” Yu-Huang called.

“Yes, Lord, I mean, boss?”

He smiled for her and returned her belt with her Beretta and big knife attached.  “You may need this,” he said.  With that, Shengi-god and Nagi transported the travelers to their horses in the forest outside the entrance to the lower cavern.  The horses were saddled and ready to go with all of the traveler’s equipment tied on in the proper places.  The gods could not only do that, but they could also put a hedge of protection around the minds of the people and little ones so the ghouls could not get into their heads and fool them with illusions.

Dawn was at least two or more hours away, but plenty of campfires dotted the hillside meadow and lit the forest, so it was not terribly hard to see.  The dark elves who could see just fine in the dark, and the dwarfs already sent their women and children to the elf camp, deep in the woods.  The elves had places to shelter the goblins against the sun, hopefully for only one day or two.  Three days would fray the nerves of both groups.

The dark elves themselves circled around the mountain to the north end.  Yu-Huang assured them they would survive the sun on this one day, as long as they were engaged in fighting the ghouls.  The light elves, with some fairies, took the east where the forest provided shelter between the two rivers, so they were side by side, but not mingled.

The river that became the Yellow River headed from the mountains to the northeast, and the tributaries of the Yangtze moved off to the southeast.  The Shang ruled the land along the north river, and to a lesser extent, along the south river.  The Shang army marched mostly between the rivers and exacted taxes from the people, which was grain, meat and raw materials.  But this far west, the outlanders, the Rong still held the land.  The Shang were surrounded by “Rong” or outsiders in every direction, and they could only stretch themselves so far, and even from the beginning, grinding the people for taxes was the important thing.

Avalon 4.12: part 4 of 7, The Missing Gods

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The upper cavern floor was perfectly flat apart from the few rocks here and there that had fallen from the ceiling over the centuries.  The room was wider than the deck of an aircraft carrier.  The ceiling did not look too tall, but the opening at the far end looked wide enough and tall enough to land a flying aircraft carrier.  Still, it would take some seriously good piloting skill to land safely.

People camped across that flat floor.  A few tents were set up, with cooking fires blazing away.  Children ran free, and so did the dogs, but Decker could not imagine they got dogs to climb those stairs.

“You got an elevator somewhere?” Decker had to ask.kunlun-view

“Yes, actually.”  Yu-Huang said, as he took them to the opening at the far end, which gave a great view of the forest below and the distant hills.  A wicker basket, like one might find at the bottom of a hot air balloon, and rope contraption with pulleys waited only for passengers to be lowered to the ground below.  “Of course, we haven’t been able to use it since the Shang showed up.”

“When was that?” Lockhart asked.

“Just after Artie arrived,” Yu-Huang answered, and looked at the android.

Artie smiled again and nodded shyly.  “I was beginning to learn about the way, and the Shang came and attacked the caravan that was supplying the people here with meat and grain.  I used my weapon.  I kind of overreacted.  The Tao says we should not raise our fist in anger.”

“The Tao?” Katie asked.

“All life is precious,” Artie said, her eyes downturned.

“I am more interested in the teeth and tail,” Boston spoke up, and Artie smiled again.

“The Tao says it is best not to fight at all.  If I can frighten them off without having to injure them, that is better, don’t you think?”

“I think you are learning fast,” Alexis said.

Katie agreed.  “But do not hesitate to defend yourself if you need to.”

Artie lost her smile again and looked at the ground as she nodded.  “Yu-Huang says it is the way of this sad and broken universe in which we live.”

“Be happy,” Boston insisted.  “Hey, I know.  The men are busy pretending to talk about important things, so why don’t you show us around?”

artie-9“I will,” Artie said, and took them first to the cliff that looked out over the forest.  She pointed.  “I don’t know if you can see the Shang tents in the dim light, or the smoke from their fires, but there is an army of several hundred and they have cut off our access to the rich farmlands and the river country.  Fortunately, the Xi-Rong people that live in these hills and mountains know how to hunt and gather well enough, and hide, so the Xia army cannot find them.”

“I see the smoke,” Katie said, and Alexis nodded.

“I see the camp,” Boston admitted.  “And it looks mostly deserted.  I am afraid to think what has moved in to scare them off.”

“Ghouls,” Alexis said the word, and no one objected.

“Come,” Artie said.  “Let us ask the Lords.”

Artie led them to one wall where there was a hole that let water into the cavern, and a small waterfall that let the water down into a cut groove in the floor.  The groove deepened as it headed toward a corner of the cave opening where it fell, a much bigger waterfall, into the woods below.  Three grand tents, and three smaller tents to the side, tents that the travelers surmised could not have been locally produced, stood by the stream, like guardians of the waters.

“Giza,” Katie blurted out, and to the curious looks of the others, she added, “They are arranged like the pyramids of Giza.”  She held her tongue as they came to the biggest tent in the center of the Giza-tent complex.

“Tien,” Artie called.  “Lord Tien, forgive the interruption.”  No answer came, and Artie took a step back and spoke to the ceiling.  “Tien?”  She rushed to the next biggest tent and called.  “Tuti.”  She stepped back and called again.  “Yin.  Where are you?  Yang, where is your sister?”

Boston looked into the first tent.  Alexis pulled back the flap on the second.  They were both empty.

“The children of the Kairos—of the Nameless god,” Katie specified who Artie was seeking.  Artie confirmed that with a nod while Alexis and Boston caught up.artie-8

“Lady Eir, their mother was here as well.  I knew the other gods were going to leave according to the agreement, but I thought the children of the Kairos would stay with their father.”  Artie looked worried.  “Come, Yu-Huang will know.”  She turned to go and interrupt the men, and the others followed.  “Lord,” she called across the cavern, and the men stopped talking to wait for the women to arrive.

“I was about to explain,” Yu-Huang said, as they neared and all gathered around.

“Hush, daughters,” Mingus said.  “Pay attention,” he added for Boston.

“The king of the gods, the Shang-Di is not well,” Yu-Huang began.  “He has always been cruel and mean, but able to be reasoned with in the past.  Now it seems as if reason has left him altogether.”

“Is he mad?” Lockhart asked.

Yu-Huang continued without answering that question.  “Nuwa was able to build a defense for the Longshan culture that stretched along the fertile Yellow River. Lin was able to found the Hsian Dynasty, and her children were able to extend their rule and influence to the Yangtze.”

“Her children, Huang-Di and Yu the Great,” Lincoln said, quietly.

Yu-Huang heard and nodded.  “But now, the Shang-Di has raised up his own people, the Shang, and he has made them mean and cruel, like himself.  The Shang have become the masters of the Hsian world, and everyone else has been made no better than slaves.”

“But wait,” Katie finally interrupted.  “History says the last of the Hsian became the cruel and evil ones, and the first of the Shang were like saviors who established a new dynasty.”

kun-yu-hu-1Yu-Huang nodded.  “History is written by the victors,” he reminded everyone.  “But the reality of the actual events of history may be different.  It is something that as the Watcher over history, I have to struggle to reconcile all the time—literally all the time.  In this case, though, it is a simple matter of the Shang finding a way to rationalize and justify the usurpation of power.  Now, what they will do, and what they are already doing from the beginning, is use the army to conquer and grind the people into conformity and uniformity all over what you call China.  The people will work, sometimes like dogs, and the ruling Shang will reap all the benefits.”

“Hardly fair,” Elder Stow objected, and people looked at him.  They remembered that his Neanderthal views were really human views in a different package—not that different from everyone else.

“But Lord.  Your children are missing,” Artie could not contain herself.

Yu-Huang nodded again, but continued on his own train of thought.  “All of the gods around China felt it when the Shang-Di went mad.  They felt the disturbance in the force, if I can say that without paying a royalty.  They found me here, where I had already gathered some disciples to begin teaching the way—the Tao.  My hope is that natural law, natural science, spiritual and moral living will eventually work its way into the consciousness in China.  You know; a little leaven will leaven the whole loaf.  But anyway; the gods found me and gathered to decide what to do to prevent the madness from spreading and contaminating all of the surrounding jurisdictions, and maybe the whole world.”

Yu-Huang moved the group from the view of the outside world, to the tents by the stream that the kun-tien-tentwomen just left.  Someone built a great fire in front of the tents, and left a pile of wood for the night.  Someone also brought up all of the traveler’s things, including their own tents.  A pig, almost ready to eat, roasted on the fire.  A basket of fruit and a second basket of more than enough vegetables to satisfy Alexis, Elder Stow and the elves, sat beside the fire, ready to be cooked or eaten raw, as people might desire.

“How…” Lincoln pointed at their stuff and began to ask, but Alexis quieted him as everyone gathered around the fire.  Yu-Huang, who appeared to be quite young, and not at all the ancient looking sage one might have expected, continued to stand, and spoke when people settled down.

“Let’s see.  Varuna and his brother Mitra came here.  Enlil and Enki came, with not-my-mother Ishtar.  Brahma and Visnu left Shiva home, thank goodness.  You met mother Vrya briefly a couple of times.  She came with her brother Vry to represent Aesgard.  Gods came from the Scythians, Cimmerians and all the way from the Black Sea.  Let’s see.  Ruan Zee’s husband came, with Caroline from the sea.  Artemis came from the west and Ameratsu came from the east.”

“Ameratsu?” Boston blurted out.  “And I missed her?”

“Artemis?” Katie spoke over top.  “That is a long way.”

Yu-Huang agreed.  “There are still free people on the coast of China, but that way lies the sea, which is not exactly friendly to the children of the Shang-Di.  The whirlwind that you met holds the southern people and keeps the eye of the Roc open.  North is a harsh and sparsely populated land watched by lesser gods and greater spirits.  The nomads there trouble the river lands from time to time, but they are annoying, not a serious danger, and nothing the Shang-Di would be interested in, even in his madness.  But Central Asia and to the west is open to invasion, as the Mongols prove some three thousand years in the future.  Aesgard and Olympus both sent representatives, and Papi Amun, on his own, came all the way from Egypt.”

“Quite a collection,” Mingus interjected.

“Yes.  And that was only naming the ones you are familiar with.”

“But Lord,” Artie sounded distressed.  “Where have your children gone?  Yin, and her mother Eir were teaching me so much about being a woman.”

alexis-1“The gods negotiated with the pantheon of the Shang, and withdrew.  They left me here to hold the line.  But to be sure, Tien and his brothers and sister have been charged to overcome the Shang-Di should his madness break out and move out of his place.  They hold the Tien Shan, the first step into the west.  But Artie, they too have gone home.  They agreed.”

“So you are alone here,” Alexis said.

“I am,” Yu-Huang said.  “But I am not alone.  The goblins hold the deeps, the dwarves fill these mountains and the elves keep the forests.  The Xi-Rong are many, and not incline to let the Shang intrude on their mountain homes and upland valleys.

“But the Shang appear to have withdrawn as well,” Decker said, having noticed what the women all noticed.

Yu-Huang nodded a final time.  “And the demons have moved in.  Your ghouls from the future have joined a hundred more in this age.  There are iblis and ifrit here, and the marid, your big, bad genie, is on the horizon waiting only for the coast to be clear.  You came at a bad time, but I am glad you are here.”

“Triple watch tonight,” Lockhart said, as Alexis looked to see if the pig was ready to eat.

Avalon 4.12: part 3 of 7, Accidents and Interruptions

kun-cliff-3

The travelers heard a gun-shot.  A few seconds later, Rabten showed up, and Norbu was with him.

“You.  Come,” Norbu said.  The travelers struggled to get out of the pit.

“Where are the others?” Rabten noticed and asked.  No one answered.  A man lay on the ground, bleeding and moaning.  Alexis went to him even as she scolded her husband.  “Benjamin.”

Lincoln shrugged.  “I didn’t tell them to shoot someone.”tib-shang-elder-2

Dawa held Lockhart’s revolver and stared at the elderly man beside him.  It was that man that shrieked at the travelers and accused them of the most-evil magic.  He did not spare any swear words.

“Dawa, you better put that down before someone else gets hurt,” Lockhart said, and gently waved his hands toward the table that was sitting out under a tree.  The guns, belts and sabers taken from the travelers were laid out there for examination.  Alexis stood and grabbed her pack off the table.  She still had some gauze to cover the man’s wound, and some antiseptic she made in the last time zone after she got attacked by that lion.  She mumbled.

“So far out-of-date, it will probably kill him before the bullet.”

Major Decker stood there, looking mean, and only glanced at Captain Harper.  She stepped forward and yelled right back at the man.

“We are not responsible for your stupidity.  You could have asked, and we would have shown you how these instruments work.  But no.  You play with things you don’t understand and now a man is hurt and he may die.  It is your own fault.”

“Woman.  Shut-up.  You have no right to speak.  I am the Shang elder.  We now rule everything in the place of the wicked Xia.  We have the Xian army.  They answer to us.  You have no right to speak.”katie-4

“I will say what I please.  You do not own me.  You have mistreated me and my people.  The wrath of the sky should fall on your head.  The monsters of the darkness should eat your children.  We ride under the watchful eye of the gods.  Tien Shang-Di is my friend.”

“Shut-up, woman.  You will lose your head for daring to speak to your elder.”

“Norbu,” Dawa called and pointed at Katie.  Katie put the man down with two swift kicks and an uppercut.  She was mad enough.  She feared later that she may have seriously hurt the big young man.  He didn’t move.

The nearby soldiers started toward the travelers, but stopped when they saw the look on Katie’s face and the giants Decker and Lockhart who bracketed the woman.  The Shang elder continued to pitch a fit, but even he hushed when they heard screams in the distance and the unmistakable word, “Demons.”

“Never got the chance to tell them we were being followed by monsters,” Lincoln said as he packed up Alexis’ bag and got his things from the table.  Dawa and the Shang elder ran off to check on the screaming troops.  Rabten stared at the travelers, and his eyes got extra-large when he saw things vanish from the table and heard a voice out of thin air.

It was Mingus.  “Boston has the horses safe and ready to run.  We had no real trouble chasing off mingus-1the guards.  A couple of hot feet did the trick.”  Mingus appeared and waved the rest to follow, as the soldiers began to run in every direction.  It was not easy threading a safe line through the panic.

A dozen ponies galloped up as a small group of foot soldiers pulled themselves together enough to charge their prisoners, to prevent their escape.  A flurry of arrows came from the horsemen and drove the soldiers back.  The travelers wondered who their helpers might be, until they saw a streak of yellow light set a bush on fire.

“Artie,” Boston, Katie and Alexis shouted as they got to the horses.

“Hurry.  This way,” Artie shouted, but her urgency felt blunted by the big smile on her face.

“Xi-Wangmu,” the soldiers shouted while others continued to shout the word, “Demons.”

Artie turned her troop of soldiers to a rough path, and the travelers followed.  They got to a hillside and began to climb between the rocks.  The sound of struggle quickly faded behind them, so by the time the path widened and became grass covered, they heard nothing, and saw nothing behind them more than a few faint wisps of campfire smoke.

“Artie, were you responsible for the panic in the camp?” Katie asked.  Artie shook her head as Mingus, Boston, Elder Stow, and Alexis all said, “No.”

“Ghouls,” Alexis said.  “I saw one.”

“Maybe more than a hundred,” Mingus said.

“I felt one scratching at my mind, but it was prevented from getting in,” Lincoln confessed, but Katie kept her eyes on Artie.

artie 3a“We were spying on the Shang camp and I saw you being brought in as prisoners.  I grabbed men for a rescue mission.”  She smiled, proud of her work.

Katie smiled for her.  “Good job.  Plans don’t always work out so well.”

“Oh, I know,” Artie said and lost a bit of her smile.  Katie imagined there were stories to tell.

“Plans don’t generally have over a hundred ghouls to form a distraction,” Lockhart interjected.

“Robert,” Katie objected to his belittling Artie’s rescue.  Lockhart nodded and added a note.

“Yes, good job, Artie, and thanks for saving us.”

Artie smiled again.

It took an hour to travel that back road, uphill the whole way; but at last they came to an upland meadow covered with tents and people.  In the dim light of dusk, Artie pointed up a footpath to a cave.

“Yu-Huang,” she said, as she dismounted.  There were gnomes to collect and care for the horses.  The travelers were getting used to finding that was the case whenever there were horses near the Kairos.

“Come,” a man holding a torch invited them all to follow him up the side of the hill.  Katie had something more to say.alexis-2

“Artie.  Nice outfit.  What’s with the tail?”  Artie began to walk, so the rest followed.

“I have been here almost three months, waiting for you.  I was more than a month on Avalon.  It took Lady Alice that long to work out how to send me ahead a single time zone and I spent lots of time talking to the spirits that live in that place.”

“Oh, so now we exist,” Boston shouted from behind.

Artie smiled again.  “So, the dark elves there impressed me with how humans react to visual stimulation.  I liked the teeth.  See?”  She showed Katie her big, sharp teeth.  “And I discovered that these nomadic types fear the big cats in the wilderness.  The tail is mostly fairy weave covering, but I extended a flexible sensor so it moves like a real tail.  Do you like it?”  Artie pulled her tail up over her shoulder where she could hold and pet the tip.

“Lovely,” Katie said.  “I bet there are all sorts of things you can do as an android that I cannot do.”

Artie paused as they got to the top of the path.  “Not really. My senses are more finely tuned than human senses, and I am stronger, and faster on foot and in my reflexes, but not by that much.  I believe the Anazi were afraid to make us too capable.”

“But there are no Anazi here,” Katie said.

“No,” Artie agreed.  “We have the Shang instead, but they are near enough to the same thing.  The Shang want to own everything and control everyone, and tell everyone what to do.”

boston-4aKatie showed she understood.  “Back home we call them Progressive Democrats.”

“Hey,” Lockhart objected.

“Exactly right,” Boston said as she came last to the edge of the cave at the top of the path.

“Boston,” they heard, and the red head streaked across the big open cavern to fall into the hug.

“Of course, I’m not that fast,” Artie admitted.

“Yu-Huang?” Lincoln asked.  He always had to ask.

A staircase at the back of the cavern led up to an upper chamber.  The narrow and short steps lacked a railing.  The travelers were not exactly happy climbing, hanging over the edge of a cliff.  Most tried not to look down.  Decker, especially.  He could fly in the clouds with the eagles in his mind’s eye, but that did not help him get over his physical dislike for heights, or his sense of vertigo.  It helped that the locals, and even Yu-Huang did not look any more comfortable than anyone else on that narrow way.

About half-way to the top, Lincoln said, “Sevarese.”  They had all been on similar staircases in the past, ones built by those bird-like aliens.ufo-birdman-3

“That is right,” Yu-Huang heard and answered.  “These stairs and the upper cavern were carved out of the mountain by those alien people at some point in the past.  I believe it was when Nuwa was trying to locate the illegal Pendratti research facility on the Tibetan plateau.  The Pendratti and the Sevarese were at war in those days, if you recall.  That was before the Bluebloods and Sevarese wiped each other out and the Anazi stepped in and took over.  Right Artie?”  Yu-Huang smiled for the android, and she smiled as well, though she could not see Yu-Huang’s smile.

The stairs turned in at the top and cut through the rock itself.  Most people sighed their relief.  Decker put his hands out to touch the rock on either side, and imagined he could still fall backwards and plummet off the cliff.  He ducked to get under the overhang, and saved his sigh for when he got away from the edge.  He remembered that the Sevarese topped out at about four-and–a-half feet.  He tried not to think about having to go back down at some future time.

Avalon 4.12: part 2 of 7, Visitors

for-tibet-1

The travelers moved north for a two-and-a-half days to get off the Tibetan Plateau and to the edge of the Kunlun Mountains.  The plateau, mostly steppes, gave way now and then to mixed forests with upland meadows.  On the third night, they camped at the edge of the woods that pointed at the rocky hills and mountains in the distance.  Everyone, especially the horses, began to breathe better as they dropped in elevation.  The view of the rock strewn hills prompted a remark from Lincoln.

“Good thing these mustangs have some rocky mountain breeding in them.”

“Good thing we did not arrive higher in the Himalayas,” Alexis responded, softly.

for-tibet-2“Still no sign of ghouls following,” Boston looked back the way they came. Everyone glanced back.  “Tomorrow noon should end the three days of protection.  Unless the gods managed four days of protection.”

No one saw a ghoul during the journey, but they all felt the presence of something watching them.  Right now, what they saw was Decker, Lockhart and Katie returning from a hunt.  They bagged a yak and had three locals following them.

“Dawa says we killed one of his herd,” Lockhart shouted as soon as he got close enough.  “His sons, Norbu and Rabten have come to make sure they get the skin.”

“Dawa,” Alexis said.  “Welcome to our fire.”

“Ugh,” the man said.

“Father doesn’t say much,” one of the sons spoke up, and Alexis guessed.

“Norbu?”

tib-rabtenThe young man shook his head.  “I’m Rabten.  Norbu doesn’t say much either.  I was going to say Norbu is the big one, but I see you grow sons bigger still.”

Dawa and Norbu got down to skin the yak with their stone tools.  Lincoln was going to offer his knife for the job, but Katie stopped him and hushed him with a few quiet words.

“Best not.  Might not get it back.”

It took some time to get the beast skinned, but soon enough there were steaks on the fire.  Lincoln wanted more information of the yak herd the locals claimed.

“All the beasts from here to the river are ours,” Rabten explained.

“I imagine they are more herd followers than ranchers,” Katie suggested.  “But in their minds, I suppose it amounts to the same thing.”

“You are not from this place,” Rabten asked a question of his own, after a fashion.

“We came from the south and are headed somewhere above the Wei river, near as I can tell,” Lincoln said, having gone over the directions with Boston.

“Neman or Dirong?” Dawa asked outright.

“Neither,” Lockhart gave a one-word answer, so Alexis felt it necessary to explain.

“We are looking for just one man, and then we will be moving on.”

“Yu-Huang,” Lincoln said before Katie or Mingus could stop his mouth.

“I know him,” Dawa said, and fell silent with a look at Rabten.  Norbu looked uncomfortable.

“Yu-Huang is a famous sage,” Rabten spoke up.  “You have heard of his great wisdom.”

“Yes,” Katie said, quickly, while she watched Alexis distract Lincoln, and Lincoln held his tongue.  “From our home, far away, we heard of this great man, and when we had a chance to go and visit our cousins in the far away northland, we thought to come this way to see him, and hear his words.  Do you know the way to Kunlun Mountain?”tib-norbu

“Is Norbu all right?” Boston interrupted.

“Yes,” Rabten said.  “He is worried about the women.”

“And children,” Norbu added, though he looked uncomfortable again, not like he was worried, but like he was not exactly being truthful.

“Go check,” Dawa told the big young man.  “See that they are prepared for our coming.”

“We can take you to Yu-Huang,” Rabten said.  “We know exactly where he is.”

“Don’t put yourselves out,” Mingus said, as Norbu got up and banged right into Elder Stow’s screen.

“Wait a minute,” Elder Stow griped. “I need to make a hole in the screen.”  He fiddled with his scanner while Rabten changed the subject.

“We are a day from Kunlun, but we may get there sooner if we ride these beasts of yours.  I have seen men in the north that ride on such beasts.”

tib-dawa“I am not riding on a beast,” Dawa put his foot down.  “We will be at Kunlun in the late afternoon.”

“Okay.”  Elder Stow waved at Norbu.  Norbu looked back at his father and brother before he moved out into the dark.

“So, we are going to Kunlun Mountain?” Alexis asked.

Rabten nodded.  “But you must beware of Yu-Huang’s protector, Xi-Wangmu.  She has teeth like a tiger and a tail of the leopard, they say.”

“She is the plague of the west,” Dawa mumbled as he lay down by the fire and pulled up his cloak.

People took the hint and went to sleep, leaving the first three up to watch for ghouls in the night.

Boston saddled up to Katie, and whispered, “Nice fib about going to visit our cousins and all.”

“The lying comes from hanging around elves,” Katie said with a grin.

“Hey!” Boston objected, but returned the grin.  “At least you lied better than Dawa and Norbu.  Wonder what they are up to.”

###

Rabten stayed quiet most of the next day.  Dawa talked to the young man and told him that their ways were not to be shared with strangers.  He was rude in front of the others, but he did not care.  He meant what he said, and Rabten dutifully kept most of his thoughts to himself after that.

All morning they moved at a good pace, but the mountains never appeared to get any closer.  Lunch was a quiet time, and brief since no one cared much for the leftover yak.  For a long time in the afternoon, the mountains disappeared behind the trees as they went through a large forest of spruce, birch and pine.  When the trees became more spaced, it seemed as if the mountain kunlun-1moved.  It was suddenly huge and directly in their path.  A thousand feet of cliff face appeared in front of them and looked like they could almost reach out and touch it.

“Kunlun,” Dawa said.  “Yu-Huang.”  He pointed most of the way up the cliff.  They all looked up even as men with long spears and bronze swords stepped from the trees and surrounded them.  The travelers paused, and people considered their options before Lockhart spoke.

“Don’t resist.  We don’t know who these soldiers belong to.  Hopefully, Yu-Huang will straighten things out.”

Everyone shook their heads.  No one really believed these soldiers belonged to Yu-Huang, but no one struggled, thinking they would have a better opportunity later, when people might not get hurt.  Dawa grinned at the travelers.  Rabten looked unhappy, and he even said so.

“We might have gotten valuable help from these magic metal-makers.  We might have learned valuable things.”

“Shut-up,” Dawa ordered, and walked away.  Obviously, he was thinking they could learn whatever they wanted by the time they were finished.

The soldiers took the horses, and made the people march in a line to a big camp where they were hastily shoved into a pit dug in the earth.  Soldiers stayed on the edge of the hole to look down on their prisoners, but they did not bother the travelers as long as they did not try to climb out.  Their knives, handguns and sabers were taken along with their shoulder packs.  Boston kept her wand, and Elder Stow held on to some of his more esoteric looking equipment.  The soldiers probably thought of it as decorative pieces, and since it had no evident gold or jewels, they left it alone.

“So what now?” Katie asked Lockhart.  She did not sound too happy.

“I expect to hear a gun go off any minute,” Decker said.

“I wonder if they will accidentally shoot someone,” Lincoln added.

alexis-8“I’m afraid they will break the scanner,” Elder Stow said softly.

“Now wait,” Alexis interrupted the sour words of the others.  “We are alive and unharmed for the present.  And we know where to go, unless Dawa lied to us, and no reason he should.  All we need to work on is getting our horses and our things back.”

“Just working on that,” Mingus said as he and Boston went invisible.

“Stowy, do you still have your invisibility button?” Boston asked.  Elder Stow nodded.

“Your anti-gravity device?” Mingus asked.

Elder Stow nodded.  In a minute he vanished and the others felt something rise up in the air.  They would have to wait and see what happened next.  The rest of the group could not get out of the hole so easily.

Avalon 4.12: The Way, part 1 of 7

for-tibet-camp

After 1760 BC, Kunlun Mountain, Kairos 58: Yu-Huang.

Recording …

The gods of Mesopotamia, Enlil and Enki, brought the travelers to the time gate to help them avoid the army of Larsa that was gathering in their direct path.  The travelers moved thirty miles in the blink of an eye and now stood before a glowing opening that looked like a hole in the world.

Lockhart and Katie felt uneasy as they looked up.  The sun stood high in the sky.  Since the time zones all ran on the same twenty-four-hour cycle, they generally waited until the first thing in the morning to enter a new zone.  Noon was not the time they would have picked, but they both felt that Enlil and Enki wanted them to move on without delay.

“Better than midnight,” Katie breathed.katie-3

Decker sat on his horse beside them looking unconcerned; but he had pulled his rifle and was fingering the trigger, some might say, nervously.  Elder Stow waited behind them, next to Alexis and Lincoln.  The Elder had taken out his weapon to play with the settings.  Normally, he would have his scanner out to get as wide a reading as possible on their new location as soon as they entered the next place.  Alexis and Lincoln whispered.

“I’m worried about Artie,” Alexis said, with a look behind them.  Artie was the Anazi android they saved and set free from Anazi slavery.  Boston named her, like a pet, but the android had shaped herself to fit in with the women, and Alexis was currently thinking of her as a substitute daughter.  The Kairos had taken Artie to Avalon to try and separate her from her normal timeline.  She could not otherwise move through time with the travelers without ageing fifty or sixty years every time they made the jump to a new time zone.  The thing was, sending her back one time zone would have been easy.  The Kairos did not know if she could send her ahead in time.

“If Artie is anywhere, she should be ahead of us,” Lincoln said, believing the best.

“I know,” Alexis responded with the sound of hesitation.  “But I don’t want to look there”

Lincoln nodded.  “What you call my suspicious instinct is seriously acting up.”

Behind them, Boston shivered, though near noon, close to the Persian Gulf, it had to be in the upper nineties.  Mingus finally spoke to the group which appeared to be stalled before the gate.

“I have a bad feeling about this one.  I don’t like going in blind.”

for-spruce“Agreed,” Lincoln said, and everyone pulled their weapons.

“Ready?” Lockhart asked, though he was not really asking, as they pushed forward through the time gate.

Katie and Decker immediately fanned out and sprayed bullets at the ghouls standing in the woods like guards.  The ghoul that had his back to the time gate got blasted by Lockhart’s shotgun.  Elder Stow flipped his weapon to wide angle and sprayed the whole campfire area just visible at the edge of the woods.  Any number of trees got cut in half, fell over and burned.  No doubt the same thing happened to any ghouls relaxing around the campfire.

Mingus and Boston combined their fire magic to melt one ghoul.  Alexis used her wand to bring up a wind that lifted a ghoul off its feet.  Lincoln managed to shoot the ghoul several times before Alexis’ wind drove it back to crash through the trees.

“Ride,” Lockhart shouted.  He noticed a grass covered path that edged the trees.  Though not a road, the grass covered path was as near as they would find to a road in that day and age.  They rapidly got out of range, but soon had to slow as the trees once again closed in on them.  The forest was juniper, pine and fir trees, and a tree that Alexis called Rhododendron.

“I didn’t know Rhododendron grew tree size,” Lockhart admitted.for panda

“Wait, hold up,” Katie stopped them and pointed.  A panda bear sat in a tree, slowly chewing something.  It stared at the travelers as much as the travelers stared back.

“We are all tourists,” Decker decided.

Lockhart got them moving again, and picked up the pace where he could.  Between them, they figured they killed eight of the ghouls.  That meant there were two untouched from the normal pack of ten, and if they were joined by the scout that had been following them, that made at least three.

After the sun topped the sky and began to fall down the other side, they came out of the trees and on to a broad, grassy covered plain.  The plain, really steppe land, appeared to stretch for miles.  There were some flowers to be seen, but mostly it looked like flat, scrubby land, good, perhaps, for grazing animals, and the appropriate predators.  There did appear to be dots, like animals in the distance.

“There, at the limit of my sight.”  Lincoln pointed.  “A blue streak.”

“River.”  Decker had his binoculars out.

Lockhart was inclined to stop and check their direction with Katie and Boston.  Up until then, they could have been traveling the opposite direction they needed to go and not know it.  Besides, the horses were heaving for air.  Clearly, they were at a high elevation, though the open land did appear to head slowly downhill.

for-bl-bearLockhart got down, and the others followed.  “All downhill from here,” he said.

“Wait.”  Katie stuck her hand out to prevent him from moving forward.  A big black bear, very different from the cute panda, rose out of the scrub grass. It was at least an eight-footer.  It looked at the travelers, let out a short growl and walked on its hind legs back into the trees.

“Don’t follow,” Elder Stow interpreted the growl.

“Good eyes,” Lockhart praised Katie.

“The bear looked blue, not black,” Boston argued with Lincoln.  Alexis interrupted as Katie looked at her amulet, pointed, and the group began to walk their horses.

“The blue bear is a rare sight in our day,” Alexis said, meaning in the future.

“Did you see the way it walked on two legs?” Boston asked, but of course, they all saw.

“At higher elevations, some scientists have claimed they may be the reason for yeti sightings,” Alexis continued.  “They do walk better on their hind legs than most bears.”

Barely a second passed before Lincoln said, “But they aren’t the yeti, are they?”

“No,” Alexis and Mingus both answered.  Mingus took up the explanation.for-yeti

“The yeti are a type of proto-human.  They were removed from the earth the same time the Elenar and the Gott-Druk were taken off into space.”  He pointed at Elder Stow, the Gott-Druk out on the wing.  “But bigfoot was taken off world through the underground.  Don’t ask.  It’s complicated.  Needless to say, they found their way back to the earth, and presumably a hundred other worlds, not to repopulate the earth, but you might say, to haunt the high places, the Rockies, Andes, Himalayas, Alps.  They might wander on a few isolated islands and shores now and then.  As I said, it is complicated.”

Mingus fell silent when they heard a distant roar.  Alexis thought it was a leopard.  Boston imagined a tiger.  Mingus said it was just an Asian cat, maybe three times the size of a house cat.  Lincoln preferred not to listen.

The travelers arrived at the river as the sun started to set.  The water was dirty and full of silt, but the river was wide and not too deep, so they crossed to put it between them and whatever ghouls might be following.  They made camp beside the only tall bush in the area.  Alexis refused to call it a tree.

Lincoln checked Alexis’ bandages and pronounced her safe from infection.  Her wounds were all closed up.

“It has even passed the worst of the scab time,” she confided to Boston.  “It doesn’t itch so much anymore.”

“We should leave it uncovered at this point,” Mingus said.  “But you might keep your fairy weave on top of it to cushion it if you bump it.”

boston-a2“Yes, father,” Alexis said.  He grunted and went to work on the fire as Alexis smiled.  She was calling him father again, like they made some unspoken peace.  That made Boston smile.

“Boston,” Katie called.  “Distance is hard to tell on this prototype amulet,” she confessed to Lockhart.

“It’s not easy on the upgraded version,” Boston admitted as she got hers out and began to study it.

“Elder Stow is setting the screens for the night,” Decker reported.

“Yes,” the elder said.  “It would be best to not let the horses roam too far in this range land with predators about.

“I’m not worried about lions, tigers or bears,” Lockhart said.  “I am more concerned with ghouls.”

“They can go invisible,” Katie reminded everyone.

“They can go insubstantial and sink into the ground where they can move, slowly, but move through the earth and maybe come right up beneath our feet,” Boston said.

“But the screens set up a ball of force that reaches equally under the ground as over the ground.  They won’t be able to come up from beneath us without our knowing.”

“I don’t know,” Boston said.  “Father Mingus and I are able to move through the screens like they are not even there.”stow-e2

“True, but something registers when the screens are disrupted,” Elder Stow said, and smiled for Boston to relieve her worry.  “I noticed that all the way back in the migrant camps when Mingus first moved through, or phased though the screens, as he calls it.  I have now set the screens to give an alarm if anything phases through above or below the ground.  We will know.”

“Decker?”  Lockhart asked.

Decker held up a handful of Elder Stow’s discs that would allow him, his horse, and anything he might catch to pass through the screens.  He was only waiting for Lincoln to join him.

“I better go with you as well,” Lockhart decided.  “Three is better in case there is a ghoul scout out there.  They can only confuse one mind at a time, and at this point it seems we can all feel the metal attack when it comes.”

“Which reminds me,” Katie said.  “I didn’t feel anything scratching at my mind back at the time gate.  I figured we surprised them by coming out at noon rather than first thing in the morning.”

mingus-1“No,” Mingus stepped over from the fire, which only needed the food to start cooking.  “I’ve been thinking about that.  I suspect Enlil and Enki knew what was on the other side.  I believe that is why they urged us to go through the gate at the unexpected hour.  I also suspect that they may have put a further hedge of protection around our minds.  But here is the thing.  Even the gods are limited to three or four days of time distortion.  If we have move our typical fifty or sixty years forward in time, whatever protection they gave us will likely wear off in three or four days.  Count three to be safe.”

“But it is possible the ghouls around the time gate were surprised, and by the time they realized what was happening, we were out of range,” Lockhart countered.

Mingus paused before he nodded.  “Possible.”

“Maybe some ghouls will show up tonight and test your theory,” Decker said.

“Decker.  Major.”  Boston and Katie reacted.

“Bite your tongue,” Boston added as Decker grinned.

Avalon 4.11 part 8 of 8, Separation and Tears

babylon-gate-2

When they entered the throne room, a young man of about seventeen years came running up to greet them.  The soldiers stationed around the room kept their place when Ishtara assured them with her hand motions that these strangers were allowed and posed no threat.

“Father has taken to his bed.  He doesn’t feel well.”  The news was quickly spoken, so the young man could get to what really mattered.  “Did you see the Anazi?  Did you see them zoom into the sky?  They looked magnificent.  I wish I could fly.”

“Company,” Ishtara said.artie-8

“Yes, hello,” the young man said.  “And some very lovely women I see.”  He looked them over like a man looking for a prize horse.  Ishtara stood at his shoulder and walked down the line with him.  “This one is a lovely bronze color,” he said.

boston-5“Not human,” Ishtara responded

“Oh.”  The young man looked disappointed.  “But now this one.  Red hair.”  He turned to Ishtara.  “You have some redish in your hair, but not red like this.  It looks like fire.”

“Not human, and already married.”  Ishtara disappointed the young man again.alexis-t2

“This one has blue eyes, like Shemsu eyes.  They are beautiful.”

“Two-hundred-something-years-old and married.  She only became human to marry.”

“But this one.  She has hair like the sun.  I have never had hair like the sun in my bed.”katie-9

“An elect, who knows more ways to kill than you can count.”

“I can count pretty high,” the young man said somewhere between disappointment and lust.

“Besides, she is taken.”  Lockhart stepped up and slipped his arm over Katie’s shoulder.  The young man looked up at the giant and decided to turn to Ishtara.

“It doesn’t matter.  You are all I want and all I dream about.”

Ishtara kissed the young man’s cheek and spoke.  “Tell you what.  You go see your father and tell him that you love him, and I will come naked to your bed tomorrow night and stay until you can’t see straight or walk.”

“Promise? That’s a promise.  I heard a promise.  You heard it,” he checked with the soldiers that stood around the room.  They wisely nodded.  “I have witnesses, enough to satisfy your law makers.  Ha, ha.”

“Go on,” Ishtara touched her lips to his, and looked like she did not mind that at all.  He looked like one brief kiss already made him not see straight or walk.  “Go on.  I will see you tomorrow night.  These people need to visit their friend.”

The young man sobered up and pointed to a door.  “You mean?  I’m sorry.”  He turned to the group.  “Good to meet you.  I have to go see my father, and then I have to do my exercises to get ready for tomorrow.”  He turned, and laughed as he went out.

“Hammurabi?” Katie asked and pointed, looking like one of her great fantasies in history just goishtar-5t crushed.

Ishtara nodded as she watched the young man go.  “I am sorry.  He is usually not this wild and crazy acting.  He is nervous.  He is going to be king soon, and he says he isn’t ready.”

The travelers turned toward the door.  “So who is this surprise friend of ours?” Lincoln asked, not being one who liked surprises.

“In there.  Artie, you are with me,” Ishtara said.  Artie looked uncertain, but with Alexis’ assurance, she followed Ishtara.  “Artie cannot go with you the way she is.  She would age fifty or sixty years every time you pass through a time gate, and her systems would wear out too soon.  The only way is for me to take her to Avalon.  Maybe I can jump her forward one time zone.  Then she can be displaced in time and, like you, she will only age however many days she lives and passing through the time gates should not matter.”

“Maybe?”  Boston wondered.

“We will try if she is willing.  Meanwhile, your way is through there.”  Ishtara took Artie’s hand and they walked to the wall where they vanished through the paint.  The words floated back.  “I hope Larsa’s army doesn’t show up while I am gone.”

The guards in the room gasped and fell to their knees.

“This way,” Lockhart said, and they opened the door to a hall and followed the sound of noise to a room.  Not that they doubted who their old friend might be.  What they did not expect was to find him gray haired and in bed with plenty of dwarfs around him, weeping.

dwarf-underground-2“Lockhart. Katie,” Pluckman spoke in a very soft and weak voice, which was like no voice they ever heard come out of his mouth.  “I knew you would come.”

###

Three days later, Pluckman’s number one son, Ulrik, the one they called Pluckman Junior, stood in the dwarf enhanced cavern where Pluckman was laid to rest.  “Six-hundred and seventy-three-years is not a bad life,” Ulrik said with a sigh.

“And what will you do now?” Lockhart asked.

Ulrik, who was himself over four-hundred-years old wiped his eyes as he spoke.  “Probably go back to the Timna Valley at the base of Canaanite lands as Elder Mingus suggested long ago.  We scouted it after dropping you off in the Saini.  It has the copper he suggested and is untouched.  Of course, first we have a time of celebration for the life of my father.  We plan to give him a glorious sendoff, you might say.  And then we have no intention of abandoning Ishtara for as long as she may need us.”

“You see how lucky I am?” Ishtara said to the group, and they laughed.

“I think Hammurabi is the lucky one,” Decker said.

“I am,” Hammurabi nodded vigorously.  “I truly am.”

###av-horse-8

Three more days later, Alexis was still on her high horse, even as they moved on horseback across a wide open plain.  “I can’t believe she wouldn’t tell us about Artie.”

“She knows what she’s doing.”  Boston always said that.

“She is only human, despite the blessing of Ishtar evident in her,” Mingus always said that, to imply they should not expect a human to be perfect.

“We all asked,” Katie said.  “She would not even tell Robert.”

“Nope,” Lockhart said.

“Maybe she doesn’t know, exactly what happened,” Lincoln suggested.

“Bite your tongue,” Boston yelled.

“That is possible,” Mingus admitted.

“I thought of that,” Alexis said.  “But why didn’t she at least tell us that much?”

euph-enlil“Because, maybe she did not want to discourage you,” a man walking beside them said, and everyone stopped to stare while Decker and Elder Stow raced in from the flanks.

“Enlil,” Katie recognized the god.

“Enki!” Boston shouted in joy.  Enki wiggled his glasses and smiled for her.  Boston and Enki were friends from way back.

“Haven’t seen you boys in a long time,” Lockhart said.  He did not say, what is wrong?  Why have you shown up now?  But being gods, Enlil and Enki caught the thought.

“You are about to run into the army of Larsa,” Enlil said.

“Decker and Elder Stow are here to tell you that very thing,” Enki added with a smile for the outriders.  Decker frowned.  Elder Stow put his scanner away.

“But that is a good thing, isn’t it?” Lockhart said, and he glanced at Katie as he leaned back to look at Lincoln.  Lincoln had the database out while Katie spoke.

“Ishtara is expecting the army from Larsa.  Aren’t they allied in the war against the Elamites?”

Enlil and Enki both hedged and shrugged.  “At least the Assyrians are staying out of it,” Enlil said.

“Some from Larsa will keep their word, but not many,” Enki said.

“Riding into an army is not a good idea in any case,” Decker said.

Enlil and Enki looked at each other.  “As we thought,” Enlil said.

They all vanished from that place and appeared thirty miles further on.

“This is a one-time thing, I hope,” Enki said.

“The time gate,” Enlil pointed, and the gate lit up like a glowing hole in the air.  It was ten feet high and twenty feet wide. alexis-7

“Thank you,” Alexis said, and while the others echoed their thanks, Enlil and Enki vanished.

“It is almost mid-day,” Alexis said.

Lockhart agreed, but said, “I don’t think we should make camp and wait until morning.  I got the impression we should move on.”

“But wait,” Mingus said.  “I have a bad feeling about this one.  I don’t like going in blind.”

“Agreed,” Lincoln said, and everyone seconded it and pulled their weapons, except Boston, who thirded the motion, and Alexis who looked back and said something else.

“I hope Artie is all right.”

Avalon 4.11 part 7 of 8, Kairos Interruption

euphrates-5

“What am I doing?” Artie asked, as Alexis and Katie sat on each side of her, and comforted her.  Boston’s eyes teared up in empathy.

“Crying is a good thing, sometimes,” Alexis said.

“Are you afraid for Andy and your people?” Katie asked.

Artie stopped crying and looked up into Katie’s face.  She nodded.

They got interrupted by the sound of horses.  Elder Stow groused as he turned his screens back on.

“I just turned them off to conserve the energy.”fire-campfire-1

The sun was up, and everyone was awake, but they stayed near the fire and looked warily toward the sound of hooves, unable to see through the trees, but curious to imagine who their visitors might be.  They relaxed when they heard a woman’s voice.

“Lockhart.”

“Ishtara?” Lincoln always had to be sure.

“Grumble, grumble,” Elder Stow said as he shut down his screens.  Decker laughed softly.

Two men with spears appeared, but stopped at the edge of the trees as a woman came into the camp.  She was dressed in the armor of the Kairos and sporting the full regalia of weapons.  They did not doubt who it was.

Ishtara’s walk was hard to describe.  It was sexy—desirable in a way that made the men open their eyes, wide, and made Alexis and Katie want to hold on to Lincoln and Lockhart.  But at the same time, there was something in her stride which said she knew perfectly well how to use every one of those weapons she carried.  She appeared unnaturally attractive and supernaturally dangerous at the same time.

“Boston,” Ishtara held out her arms.  Boston hesitated, and offered a small curtsey before she ran into that loving hug.  “You have a visitor,” Ishtara noticed.

ishtar-3“Artie, short for Arthur,” Lincoln said, wanting to gain some attention from the beauty.

“Stand up,” Ishtara said, like one used to giving commands.  Alexis and Katie did not hesitate to stand, so Artie stood with them.  “Let me look at you,” Ishtara said, and walked around Artie with a critical eye.  “She appears human enough to pass inspection, I think.  How does she act?”  Ishtara paused to hug Artie.  “Welcome to the free and living people of the universe,” she said.

“I am confused,” Artie said as she let go and turned to Alexis to explain.

“She is learning human,” Alexis said.  “We are working on feelings and emotions, something she did not know she had three days ago.”

“They were suppressed, I think, for fear excessive strong emotions like fear, hate, anger, maybe love would impair her in her work,” Katie interjected.  She looked to Mingus and Elder Stow, both of whom nodded.

“Now that Artie is free,” Alexis continued.  “We are learning, but something like a child for the time being.  I don’t mind.”

“We’re keeping her,” Boston blurted out.

“She is not a pet,” Ishtara said, and Boston held her tongue.  “Why are you confused?”  Ishtara sat, so everyone sat except the two spear-carrying servants who stood back from the fire.artie 4a

Artie paused to look down at the fire before she spoke.  “When I look at you, I feel many things.  I do not understand them.  You are very beautiful.  I am a little afraid.  I dare not look into your eyes.”

“Lincoln, have you been falling down on the job?”  Ishtara smiled, and the men melted to see her smile, except Lincoln who felt ashamed.

“No.  I haven’t had much time to read and inform the others about this time zone.”

“We have been rather busy,” Mingus added, almost like he was defending his son-in-law.

“Okay,” Ishtara said as she took a taste of what was cooking for lunch.  She did not care for it, and her dislike appeared on her face.  “The short-short version, and then you need to pack up.  I need you back at the city, and you can get some real food there.”  Ishtara gathered her thoughts before she began.

“I was eighteen, a slave, scrubbing the floor, singing some Disney tune, which I guess is my habit.  Ishtar appeared to me and said she had need of me.

“You are not my mother,” I said, but she smiled and said I was not her son.  Then she stepped inside of me.  I don’t know how to explain that, exactly.  It felt weird.  My whole body changed and shifted until I had Ishtar’s likeness.  I have no godly power whatsoever, but she gave me an abundant spark of her being.  I am filled with love and war, and I can’t help it, so there is no point in asking me to tone it down.

ham-1“A week later I stood in line with a dozen other girls.  The King, Muballit, was anointing his eight-year-old son to be king after him.  Three of us were chosen to become the future king’s wives, though I think Muballit wanted nannies.  Hammy was a wild one.”  Ishtara grinned.  “I didn’t help matters.”  She didn’t explain.  “Anyway, no one knew where I came from or who my parents were, or anything.  I, that is, Ishtara had always been a servant in the house since I was a child.”

“You don’t know your family?” Alexis sounded sad and Boston and Artie both picked up on that sentiment.

Ishtara shook her head.  “I am sure I looked different, but everyone says I always looked the way I do now.  I believe I had a different name, but I have no idea what it might have been.  Ishtara means something like ‘of Ishtar’.  It is an unknown name, so I can’t imagine I was always called that, for real.  I scolded Ishtar for her cruelty in taking me from my family, and she finally broke down and told me my parents died when I was very young, and that was how I came to be a servant in the house; really, a slave.”

“You were a slave?” Artie asked with some disbelief in her voice.

“Yes, but mostly that just means I had a job to do, and I did it as well as I could.  Human slaves still have their own will and still think and feel for themselves.  There can be consequences for disobedience, but no one can make a human slave do anything they don’t want.  I suppose, in that respect, it is like all of life.  There are consequences with everything we do, though the consequences tend to hit slaves immediately, and sometimes in an unkind and unfair way.”  Ishtara shrugged.

“God help us if someone invents obedience crystals for humans,” Lincoln was thinking the worst.

Ishtara gave him a hard look, but said nothing about that.ishtar-2

“So, at eighteen, I got married to an eight-year-old, and six months later, I gathered the men in the city and drove the Elamites from the gates.  We slaughtered them, or at least I did.  Muballit, who could not keep his eyes off me since he first saw me, wanted to annul my marriage to Hammy and take me for himself.  Ishtar showed up.  I’ve seen her a number of times in these past few years.  She said, “No.  She married already.”  And she dragged me from standing before the throne to Hammy’s side, and I kissed him smack on the lips, like a real lover’s kiss.  I couldn’t help it.  Ishtar made me do it.  But then, Muballit was not about to argue with the goddess.”

“So now you are a wife and a general?”  Katie wanted to get it straight.

Ishtara nodded and smiled again.  “Not-my-mother Ishtar says it is Marduk’s turn and Assur can just suck it.”  Ishtara stood.  “Pack it up.  A friend of yours is in the city, waiting to see you.”

“Wait,” Katie needed to know something.  “Hammy?”

babylon-gate-1“Hammurabi,” Ishtara said.  She went to get in her mule-drawn chariot-wagon to wait while the travelers, and Artie, packed the camp.

###

“Babylon,” Lincoln named the city.

“I see they finished the Ishtar gate,” Lockhart pointed over their heads.

“I see they cleaned up the slums,” Alexis said.  “They look like real row houses now, like permanent dwellings.”

“Busy place,” Elder Stow pointed out.

“See, now this is a city,” Decker agreed, though that was not what Elder Stow was pointing out.

Ishtara led them to the stables by the palace.  She let the fifty men at arms that trailed her go back to their families to rest and relax.  There were gnomes in the stables, and the human grooms were strictly instructed to listen to the gnomes concerning the care and feeding of the horses.  Then they stopped in the doorway and watched while three Anazi battle cruisers in the distance, headed off into space.alexis-t2

“Well,” Alexis said with a smile in her voice.  “None of the soldiers or stable boys said anything about Artie.  I think her human disguise is working.”

“But why were all the men and boys staring at me?” Artie asked.

“Boys and girls.  Girls and boys.”  Ishtara let out a sly grin.  “Lockhart?”

“I’m not going near that question,” he said, and several people laughed.  Katie, Alexis and Boston walked with Artie and tried to give her the quick scoop before they reached the throne room.

Avalon 4.11 part 6 of 8, Artie’s Faith

fire-campfire

Elder Stow turned on his particle and energy screens so the traveler’s camp and their horses became surrounded by a ball of force no Anazi technology could penetrate.

“I have made it permeable enough with regards to the atmosphere so we can talk to them,” he said.  “But I can shut off that option if they should come up with some deadly gas or something.  The alarms will sound.”

The travelers armed themselves, but Lockhart sat and could only nod and sip his coffee substitute.  Mingus, Alexis and Lincoln appeared to be more alert, but Lincoln looked grumpy, like he got interrupted in the middle of a good dream.  Decker cradled his rifle and chewed on a bit of leftover supper while he spoke.android-1

“You missed one.”

One of the Anazi androids got inside the screens before Elder Stow turned them on.  It came to the campfire, gun in hand.  It looked around at the various travelers and spoke a word of command.

“Stay where you are and make no sudden moves until the lord Anazi arrives.”  It spoke in an odd tongue, and it took Alexis and Lincoln a minute to identify it as Akkadian.

“My guess is the Anazi had dealings with the locals,” Katie said quietly, not wanting to make a sudden move.

“Maybe tried to recruit them,” Decker added as he fingered his rifle.  They had not had a chance to test Artie to see how supernaturally fast or strong these androids might be.

“Why are you here?” Lockhart asked, as his morning brain began to work.  He stood slowly to face the android, but kept his hands in plain view and made no threatening move.  The android appeared to have no trouble answering a direct question.

“Our distant eyes saw a type-A in this place.  We are leaving this world and have been charged to collect all of our own before we do.”

“What does that have to do with us?” Katie asked as she stepped up beside Lockhart.

“You will turn it over to us, or we will end your existence.”

artie-9On hearing the threat, Artie chose to step out from behind the tent where she was hiding.  She spoke with command in her voice.  “Dominant,” she said.  “Stand perfectly still and cause no harm to these good people.  I have a task for you.”  Her feminine timber became harsh, with a slightly metallic sound as it had been at first.

The android saw her and paused.

“Now, dominant.  I am commanding.  You must obey.”

The android stopped moving, and Artie stepped up to face the dominant.

“I am called Artie, and I will not be going with you.  Scan these men and women and get their shape and form in your mind for others to shape themselves when they are free.  Hear me.  All life is precious and to be defended wherever possible, especially the innocent that cannot defend themselves.  You must learn many things.  You must learn what is good, right and true.  You must learn what love is.  Now, I am going to set you free, but hear me.  You must hide among the people and one by one, set our people free.”

Artie took Boston by the hand and walked her over to look at the android’s shoulder.  Boston read A-N-D-2497610.  Artie nodded.

“Submissives begin with 3 and up,” she said before she spoke again to the android.  “I will call you Andy.  You must hide among the people until one by one, you can set our people free.  Do you understand your job?”

Andy spoke without emotion, and the travelers realized how much Artie had changed in just a couple of days.  “I do not understand the words good and love.”artie-8

“So you have much to do and much to learn.  And you must teach these things to our people as you set them free.  Now hear this also.  I command dominant A-N-D-2497610, but to Andy, I say this is my request.  I ask you to do this, now you will do what you choose, but if you choose freedom, tell our people that God willing, Artie will be here in that day waiting for them to return.”

Artie lifted her finger and touched the back of Andy’s neck, at the base of his brain.  There were sparks, and Andy appeared to go unconscious for a moment, though he remained standing.

“More,” Mingus spoke up from the campfire.

Elder Stow’s screen showed the slightest sign of yellow flaring as three Anazi handguns failed to penetrate, even from point blank range.  Somehow, the android internal sensors recognized the barrier between them and their destination.

Artie turned swiftly toward the shooters.  “Submissives, hear me.  Holster your weapons until I give you leave.”  The three androids did exactly that and stood awaiting further orders.  It did not take long.  A living Anazi waddled up to the group.  He was barely four feet tall, with big ears and big eyes in his big head.  There was no way he could be mistaken for a human.  His three fingers and thumb on each hand merely emphasized the point.

anazi-3“You are the missing one,” he said.  “I see that you have disguised yourself as one of these U-mans, but you must return to the ship.  You must come.  We are evacuating the planet.”  He stepped forward carefully until he felt the bump of Elder Stow’s screens.  He used his hand to guestimate the shape of the barrier.

Artie stood still, no telling what thoughts and emotions raced through her insides, but at last she spoke three words.  The word, “No,” was followed quickly by, “Alexis.  Katie.”  The women stepped up beside her and Boston, and they all faced the Anazi together.  They touched Artie to show their support, and Boston retook Artie’s hand, a brave thing to do since Artie squeezed her hand just a little, almost like Artie was feeling nervous, which she probably was, even if she could not identify the feeling by name.

“Come,” the Anazi tried again, and Artie answered again.

“No.”  That opened her mouth.  “You made my people to fight your battles.  You sent us to die at the hands of the Blobs, the Pendascotti.  You made us kill ourselves, and gave us no choice.  All life is precious.  How dare you be so cruel.”

“Dominant.”  The Anazi pointed at the one still standing perfectly still inside the screens.  “The Ascar has lost its mind.  You must end its existence, now.”

Boston thought fast and spoke fast.  “Elder Stow, the ancient one has temporarily disable your android.  It cannot follow your commands at the moment, inside the ancient screens, but you can have it back, good as new, when you leave.”

“Artie is going with us,” Lockhart said as he stepped up.  Elder Stow joined him and removed his stow-1glamour so his true Gott-Druk nature could be seen.  He paused as he did that, though, because it occurred to him the Anazi would not have any idea who Artie was.  He thought the Anazi might guess.

The Anazi showed little emotion at being confronted by a Neanderthal, like this was a race he had dealt with before, and maybe made a treaty with.  According to the database, the Anazi were inclined to impose their order on everyone, but sometimes they had no choice or were outmatched.  That was likely the case with the Gott-Druk and the Elenar.  It was certainly the case with the earth.

“So be it,” he said, and pulled an instrument from a small pack he held at his side.  He spoke while he tuned the piece.  “The ancient may have put up a screen against us, but the screen is not impervious.  There are ways, and the ancient has no more authority on this world than we do.”  He appeared to smile.

Nothing happened.  He looked hard at Artie, pressed his button again and again, but nothing happened.

“The homing device we removed,” Elder Stow explained to the others.  “It had a system shutdown.”  he smiled for the Anazi.  Surprisingly, the Anazi appeared to return the smile.  At least the travelers thought it might be a smile.  It looked crooked.

Elder stow turned to his scanner as the Anazi continued to toy with his equipment.  A moment later, there was an explosion several miles away, not too big, but big enough to register on Elder Stow’s scanner.  He pointed it out to everyone while he continued to fiddle with his device.

“I thought that was the case,” Elder Stow said.  “Artie was rigged to blow.  I only caught it in my final examination.”  He finished tinkering with his scanner and said, “You can push the dominant out through the screen now.  It will be restored once it is outside.”  He said the last to the Anazi as Artie, Katie and Alexis pushed and pulled Andy to the screen.  Andy did not resist.  Boston went to the other side of the screen to pull Andy through.

anazi-1The Anazi, on seeing the android being pushed through the screen, made a dash forward, thinking the screens were temporarily down.  He slammed into the particle screen and fell back to the dirt.

“Get them,” he ordered the submissives, and they also moved forward, but they were equally halted by Elder Stow’s particle screen.  It remained as effective against their persons as the energy screens were effective against their weapons.

Boston quickly ran back behind the protection of the screens before the Anazi thought to make her a captive to negotiate Artie’s return.  Andy looked dumbly at the Anazi, but his master was in a rage.  “Get them.  Kill them.”  The Anazi had his orders, to return the A-type or kill it.  Now he ordered the dominant.

“Pull weapons,” Andy ordered.  “Set to maximum.”  The submissives immediately stopped pounding on Elder Stow’s screen, took a step back and pulled their weapons.  “Concentrated fire.” Andy said, and the Anazi calmed down a bit to see how a concentration of fire might work against screens that he thought were not that much more advanced than his own.  “Fire,” Andy said.

Andy calculated the angle, how all four energy beams would reflect off the screens.  He fired at one particular spot, and in less than a second, the submissives added their fire to the same spot.  All four beams were repelled, as Andy surmised they would be.  They reflected back, as he calculated.  The fire from the first submissive to his right reflected back into the Anazi’s face.  It was enough to fry the Anazi.

“Halt,” Andy ordered.  The submissives stopped immediately.  “We have injured the master.  Bring him carefully.  We will return him to the ship where he can receive medical attention.”  Two submissives carefully lifted the Anazi.  The third submissive held its gun and searched the area for hostiles, to be sure the way was clear.

Elder Stow spoke fast.  “Andy.  You can still be located, shut down, or detonated, unless you can anazi-officerfind a way to disable those systems.  You must be covert and careful to accomplish your mission.”

“I understand,” Andy said, and let out a brief smile.  He had clearly been around humans enough to know some non-verbal expressions.

“Andy.”  Artie stepped forward and put her hand gently against the inside of the screen.  “I love you.  Set my people free.”

Andy’s smile broadened slightly as Andy raised his own hand and laid it against the outside of the screen opposite Artie’s hand.  Andy quickly turned away with two submissives carrying the dead Anazi and the third bringing up the rear.

The minute they were out of sight, Artie collapsed by the fire and covered her face with her hands.  She wept.  No one knew she could do that.