Roland was happy to help Boston into the woods. Lockhart Captain Decker and Lieutenant Harper kept their eyes open in case any people escaped the trouble on the plains by wandering in among the trees. Lincoln kept thinking of things to jot down in his notebook and his wife made sure he did not walk into any trees. Mingus appeared to be thinking hard about something else and stayed quiet. Doctor Procter walked out front with his eyes glued to the amulet. He did walk into a couple of trees.
After a stop for a snack and a chance for Boston to rest, they entered a section of the forest that somehow felt darker and more oppressive than before.
“A bit like walking into a goblin’s lair,” Mingus suggested. That did not help.
Lockhart figured they were far enough into the trees by then so it was safe to shoulder the shotgun. He offered to take a turn helping Boston. Roland was reluctant to let go of her and Boston hesitated. But after only a moment’s hesitation Boston was glad to let Lockhart help her, though she was pretty sure she could have handled it on her own by then. She was thinking she liked the idea of having Lockhart’s big arms wrapped around her, but then she did not mind Roland’s arms, either. It was confusing. Lockhart did not help when he reminded her of his previous life.
“I was married once, you know, and I have a granddaughter that is not much younger than you.”
The forest continued to darken until there was a legitimate reason for the darkness. The sun was ready to set. Lockhart called a halt, and though he was certain the elves and probably Doctor Procter could have continued without trouble in the dark, it was best to let everyone get some rest. Alexis was showing she was tired, drained from the healing magic she used on Boston, and Boston was not fully healed despite her playful attitude.
“So, what’s for supper?” Lincoln was the first to ask.
“Bread-crackers and bread-crackers,” Alexis answered.
“Father, make a fire and give me an hour,” Roland said.
Mingus nodded. “My son has some talents, too.”
“A hunter?” Boston asked as Roland disappeared into the dusk of the forest. Mingus nodded.
“Are you offended?” Alexis wondered.
“Not at all. I grew up with hunters. I love a good hunt. I can skin and cut up a deer and everything.”
“Redneck daughter,” Lockhart smiled. “Matches her red hair.”
“Good of you to notice.” Boston smiled right back at him.
When the tents were up, the cut-up deer was roasting away and people wandered off for firewood and personal reasons and perhaps to spend some time alone with their thoughts, Boston sat beside Doctor Procter and stared at the fire. She felt the man had been unreasonably quiet so far. Her handheld database was full of information about the various lives of the Kairos, but she imagined Doctor Procter was a wealth of more intimate information if she could just learn how to tap into it.
“So how far do we have to go?” She asked, casually.
The doctor took out the amulet and answered with a look. “We should easily be there by noon.” He shook the amulet and then repeated himself. “Yes, by noon.”
“May I see?” She asked, but when he held the amulet out for her, the first thing she saw was a blackening of his pointer finger. It was black all the way to the palm. “What is that? It looks blood black. How did it happen?”
Doctor Procter pulled his hand back, quickly. “It’s just a bruise. It will be fine. It must have happened when we were escaping the fight back on the plains of Shinar. I think someone jammed it.”
“Shouldn’t you let Alexis look at it? Maybe she can heal it.” Boston was amazed at how Alexis had healed her.
“No, it’s fine. Look.” He wiggled it. “It is not swollen or anything. I am sure it will clear up in a day or two. Besides, healing magic takes a great deal out of a person. We can’t expect her to heal every cut or scrape or bruised finger.”
“But it looks so dark. Is that blood?”
“No. It is fine, really. Now if you will excuse me, I have some personal business to attend to.” He got up, smiled and waddled off. His old legs were stiff.
Boston could hardly follow him, but she made a point later of mentioning it to Lockhart, privately. He also said to do nothing and not tell the others just yet. He said she should keep an eye on it, but when Doctor Procter came back to the fire, she noticed he made some fairy weave gloves that fit right up beneath his long sleeves.
“I thought I better protect it for a couple of days, just to give it a chance to heal,” he said.
That made sense. It was probably nothing so Boston decided not to worry about it.
It was nearly four, a good hour before dawn, when Boston heard the crack of a great tree. Someone yelled. “Everyone out of the tents, now. Hurry!” Boston jumped because the crack sounded very close. Lieutenant Harper who shared her tent helped her and they ran. The tree came down on their tent, and while Boston and the Lieutenant got brushed back by some branches, it was only scrapes and cuts like Doctor Procter talked about.
“Boston?” Lockhart was the first one there.
“You shouted?” The Lieutenant asked.
“I woke up early, uncomfortable. I felt someone needed to be on watch and found Captain Decker had the same feelings.”
“Boston.” Alexis came running up. “What is it with you?” She began to tend their cuts.
“This is not accidental.” Mingus’ voice came from the far end of the tree. “The tree is old, but not dead, though what could have ripped it up, roots and all is beyond me.”
“Is everyone alright?” Doctor Procter came up last of all. “What happened here?” No one answered him.
“Roland, Captain Decker, can you watch the perimeter while we break camp?” Lockhart asked and the elf nodded and stepped out among the trees. The Captain simply checked his weapon. “Lincoln, can you get Boston’s tent out from under the trunk?”
“I’ll do it,” Mingus said. “It is fairy weave, but it will take some finesse in its present position.”
Lockhart nodded. “Lincoln, you get scullery. See what there is for breakfast and be sure the fire is out. Are you able to travel?” That last question was directed to the women. The Lieutenant, Boston and Alexis all nodded.
“What about me?” Doctor Procter asked.
“Just get us to the gate before the tower falls and this whole time zone resets, whatever that means.” Doctor Procter nodded like the women and went to help take down the other tents.
It was two hours after sunrise when Alexis screamed. “A face.” She pointed. “There was a face, there, among the leaves.” Everyone looked, Lockhart and Roland extra close, but they saw no one.
“A face?” Mingus wondered what his daughter saw.
Alexis took a deep breath. “It startled me. A man’s face, I think.”
“Well whoever he was, he is gone now.” Captain Decker came in from behind the bushes.
“No, wait. I don’t mean a face like on a person. I mean the leaves shaped themselves into a face, and – and I sensed a presence of something alive.”
“I don’t see it.” Lincoln squinted.
“No, it is gone now.”
“A face in the leaves.” Mingus rubbed his chin. “A green man, do you think?”
Doctor Procter looked up. “It seems a good explanation, this far back.”
Mingus spoke to the others. “A Bokarus, a spirit of what you humans call the pristine wilderness. They resent intrusion, particularly human intrusion and fight against any environmental changes. That would explain the old tree torn up by the roots. The tree probably did not have long to live and it was a worthy sacrifice to kill us, or two of us anyway.”
“I read they are especially dangerous around water.” Doctor Procter said in his way without explaining why.
“They like to drown people and feed off their souls – the life force.” Mingus did the explaining. “It is neat, clean, does no damage to the environment and the dead body feeds those things that live in the river. But Bokarus can be dangerous on any ground.”
“I understand.” Boston touched the cut on her cheek. “But will it follow us through the gate?”
“Not likely.” Lockhart said and looked at Mingus who nodded to confirm that idea. “Probably native to this land.”
“Probably the reason these woods were considered sacred and off limits to the people back on the plains,” Lieutenant Harper suggested.
“No doubt,” Lockhart got everyone moving again, though it was not very far to the gate. When they arrived, Doctor Procter held up the amulet which glowed slightly green, but he could not seem to locate the source.
“It is here, I tell you.” Doctor Procter insisted, but no one could see the shimmering air. “But it must be here.” He stepped forward and disappeared.
“I guess he was right.” Lockhart said, and after only a second, Doctor Procter reappeared.
“Good to know the gates are two-way.”
“Good to know,” Lockhart agreed and he encouraged the doctor to go back through once more and everyone else to follow. They started to move when they heard a rumbling sound like thunder in the distance.
“The tower,” Lincoln said as they all stepped through the gate and into the next time zone.