Captain Decker, Roland and the boys were surprised when the Balok rose up in front of them. The boys got excited and rushed forward to throw their spears. The Balok easily avoided the stone tips and pulled out a hand and a weapon. To be sure, the hand was more like seven skinny tentacles than a human hand, and the weapon looked like a small disc but Captain Decker and Roland both saw it.
Roland had his bow out, but he could not get off a shot because of the boys. The Balok clearly recognized the bow as a danger and shot Roland first. Roland froze in place even as Decker yelled.
“Boys! Lie down on the ground. Now!”
One went straight to the dirt. The other knelt and bent down, but looked at the Captain with questions on his face. It was enough. Captain Dekcer peeled off three bullets before the Balok shot him and he fell. It is likely the Balok would have died shortly. It may have already been dead, but to be sure, Roland shook himself free of his frozen state. He pulled his sword and beheaded the serpent before he turned to see to Decker.
Lockhart stepped over to where Boston lay on the ground. She was sitting up, breathing better, but Saphira thought her ribs were cracked if a couple were not broken.
“Coramel is fine, but frozen,” Lincoln reported. “His fingers and toes look frostbitten.”
“Frozen?” Lieutenant Harper asked.
“Think like a reptile,” Saphira answered. “A heat ray would not be as effective.”
“Lincoln. We need a stretcher,” Lockhart shouted.
“Coramel will be fine in a moment,” Lincoln said. “Oh, you mean –“ He patted a groaning, shivering Coramel on the shoulder and got up to search a small stand of nearby trees.
Saphira headed straight for the Balok ship, Katie Harper on her heels.
“Don’t wander off,” Lockhart shouted. Saphira waved, but they ended up closer to the ship than she imagined they would. It was too much to ask her not to take a look. When they arrived at the door to the ship, they heard three shots fired not too far away.
“Decker,” Katie said.
“Let’s hope that’s it,” Saphira responded while she examined the outside of the door. It took three hands with pinky fingers and three little sticks to press on the six holes that would have fit a Balok hand very well. The door opened and they could look in if they held their breath. The whole thing smelled like rotten cabbage and decayed meat. Saphira did not have to look for more than a moment before she let out a stream of invectives for the third time. She spun and ran, Katie beside her.
“Three,” Saphira said.
Alexis spent her time cleaning up the camp and getting things ready to move out. She confessed to herself that being twenty-five again did not necessarily change things. She might be Boston’s age, but she was not wild and free like that girl. She had been a mom too long, and now she was a grandmother. That was what she liked, and she was good at it, and maybe there was nothing wrong with that. At the same time, though, maybe she did need to let Benjamin get adjusted. She smiled. Poor little Billy, her grandson. He would always be older than his uncle, or maybe his aunt. She had two boys. She decided this time she wanted a girl.
“Daughter.” Alexis was startled.
“Father? How is Doctor Procter?”
“Shivering from fever,” Mingus said. “But he won’t let me so much as touch him. He growls at me every time I try.”
“He is an old man, far older than his human half should be. Old men growl, haven’t you noticed.”
Alexis looked up into her father’s face. She was serious at first but quickly smiled. She reached for his hand. “You don’t growl, you just get grumpy now and then.”
Mingus returned her smile. “I am sorry about the stick people.”
Alexis shifted her gaze to where the stick people were gathering, still repairing their ship, and keeping their distance from the mad humans. “They would rather die than take life,” she said. “What can the human race offer to compare with that?”
Mingus took back his hand and began to take down a tent. “The Kairos was wise all these millennia to keep us from interacting with the human race. Look at me. I have studied human history for centuries and have been corrupted. I sometimes think I must be more human now than elf.”
Alexis said nothing. She screamed. The Balok rose up from the grass only a dozen yards away. It splayed both hands and each held an instrument of some kind. The first was a freeze ray it shot at Mingus, but Mingus easily shrugged it off because of the fires inside of him. He shot back with a ball of flame, and while the Balok backed away from the actual fire, the heat and warmth of the flames appeared to strengthen it.
Alexis had her wand by then and barely responded in time before the Balok tried the other weapon. Alexis put up a magical shield and while it deflected the heat ray, the ray was powerful enough to knock her back on her rump. She screamed again while Mingus searched frantically for a weapon that might be effective. He found a big stone.
The Balok pulled in its legs and began to slither forward. It was fast, but Doctor Procter was faster. He had his wand out and managed a magical freeze ray of his own. The Balok shrieked in pain and fell to the ground where it began to whip about. Mingus struggled, mumbled something about the beast keeping still, but finally managed to bring his rock down on the Balok head. It was a glancing blow at first, but the second and third strikes were more accurate. The Balok head became mush from blow after blow as Mingus pounded it into the dirt. Alexis looked away.
It was only moments later when Saphira and Katie ran up. The marine went immediately to make sure the Balok was dead while Saphira put her hands on her knees and caught her breath.
“I’m older than I look,” Saphira said.
Alexis looked. Alexis was twenty-five or so and Katie Harper could not have been older. Saphira was what? Maybe thirty?
“In my day, thirty is old. I should be fat with a dozen kids to do the running for me.”
“Do you have any children?” Alexis asked.
Saphira nodded, but said nothing as they saw Captain Decker in the distance. He was leaning on Coramel’s sons, and Roland was walking quietly beside him. He had some frostbite, but nothing serious. Lincoln, Lockhart and Croamel came last, carrying Boston on a stretcher made from two tree branches and fairy weave. Boston was complaining and giggling.
“Ouch. Stop wiggling. Lockhart, I’m supposed to be pushing you around in a wheelchair, you old man. Ouch, it hurts when I laugh. This is embarrassing.”
Alexis went immediately to her, and they put her down on the edge of the camp where Alexis could spend considerable time healing and knitting Boston’s bones.