It was high noon when they all stopped to eat and rest. Alexis and Boston needed the rest. Doctor Procter said he was better, but he did not look too well, and he kept his distance with the excuse that he did not want them to catch whatever he had. Lockhart stayed beside Boston the whole time. Her bones were completely restored, but her muscles were sore. She would need some recovery time. Alexis stayed beside Lincoln and hooked her arm through his but said nothing. She just smiled. Mingus watched them and frowned. Roland had his eyes on Lockhart and Boston who were laughing and having a good time.
“Wonders,” Coramel said. “This cooking, this bread, things flying through the sky, serpent people and stick people. The things I have seen.”
“The things you felt.” Saphira spoke in a voice of great concern. She sat down beside the hunter and pressed her hip to his. She took both of his once frostbitten hands in hers and drew them to her chest. She was in leather armor, but it was the thought that counted. “Are you feeling warm now?”
Coramel slowly grinned. How should he answer that question?
“You have no idea how grateful I am for your help.”
“I’m glad,” Coramel said as he took back his hands. His toes were still itching their way back to life.
“So boys.” Saphira turned on them. “How old are you, anyway?”
“Twenty-one summers,” one answered brightly. The other sounded glum.
Saphira thought for a minute before she decided. “This could work.” Everyone knew what she was thinking, but they all had the good sense not to say anything.
“Lieutenant.” Captain Decker pulled her aside to where they could speak in private. “Are you getting all this?”
“The recorder is working. My pin camera is working. I am sure it will all be there when we get back.”
Captain Decker gritted his teeth. “Any ideas how we can transmit the data we have already collected? There has to be some way out of this zoo.”
Lieutenant Harper just shook her head. His mind simply would not accept the truth. “I’ll keep working on it,” she promised. “Meanwhile, relax. We just saved the human race.”
“Just this time zone full of flakes,” he said.
“Yes sir,” Lieutenant Harper agreed and quickly stepped back to the others. She was not sure where she fit in with this group of travelers, misfits, explorers, adventurers and miracle workers, but she knew the marines were not it. She would never be the same, even if Captain Decker never changed.
Alexis looked again at the stick people. She saw such innocence and goodness in them. There was not one of them that had a hidden agenda. She was not sure if they knew how to lie. She wanted to be reconciled to them, to say we humans are not so bad. She wanted to wish them luck and say good-bye to the children, only she could not imagine a way to do that. They were withdrawn from the travelers and Alexis could not blame them.
Alexis was staring when the woman appeared. She had to be seven or eight feet tall and she stood between her and the stick people to block her vision. It was Tiamut, the goddess, and she did not look happy.
“You!” She pointed at the humans in the camp. Everyone stood and grabbed their weapons, not that they would have been effective against the goddess. “I could have made good use of those creatures, but you destroyed them all like you destroyed my servants.” She pointed her finger at Saphira but took them all in her gaze.
Tiamut paused. They watched her facial expression turn from anger to clever, and that was worse. “Come,” she said. Mingus, Roland, Doctor Procter and Alexis disappeared and reappeared a few feet from the goddess. Alexis was right in front of her, looking up into that terrible face and she felt the shiver travel all the way down her spine to her soul.
Tiamut walked once around Alexis to examine her like a person might examine a prize animal. The others either could not move or did not dare. “You did not begin as a human. How is it you came into this state?”
Alexis was compelled to answer. “My god changed me so I could be with my husband.”
Tiamut glanced briefly at Doctor Procter. “Better than making more half-breeds,” she said. “But I have a job for you spirits of the trees. I would have you back.” She waved her hand and Alexis transformed back into the elf she was born to be.
“No.” Saphira heard the word escape her lips and felt something surge out from her deepest insides. It was a force linked to the very forces by which all things were made. Alexis immediately changed back to a human woman and Tiamut’s anger returned.
“How did you do that?” She yelled. She was not really asking. She waved her hand again, but Alexis stubbornly refused to become an elf. “How are you doing that?” Tiamut’s words became mingled with astonishment.
The goddess Astarte chose that moment to appear at Saphira’s back. She was also tall, more than tall enough to look over Saphira’s head. She place both of her hands on Saphira’s shoulders in a sign of reassurance. Two young men also appeared with Astarte, one on each side. They were twins though the one to Astarte’s left looked like he might need glasses.
Tiamut paused. Her face became so distorted it was hard to make out her facial features. Her mouth opened wide and the travelers saw pin pricks of light in that deep darkness like people might see stars in the night sky. A roar of frustration came from that maw, loud enough to make everyone throw their hands to their ears. With a wave of Tiamut’s hand, the ship behind her, all of the stick people and their children turned instantly to dust. And Tiamut disappeared.
Astarte leaned forward and whispered in Saphira’s ear. “I’m sorry.” Then she and the twins vanished. Everyone could breathe again, but Alexis was the first to go to tears.
It took some time before they were ready to go. Saphira, Coramel and his sons stayed to help clean up, and Coramel had the lone comment that whole time.
“It is like they never were.”
At last, Saphira turned to Doctor Procter. “What is your direction?”
Doctor Procter’s hands were shaking and he kept shaking his head now and then like a man trying to throw off the rain, but he managed to get out the amulet and point. Saphira nodded. She was going the other direction.
“I’m sorry you won’t get a chance to see the future Sodom,” she said. “We are headed in the other direction.”
“Eh?” Lockhart wanted to know what she was thinking.
“We have to check the crash site to be sure there were no survivors.”
“I can’t imagine anything survived that crash,” Captain Decker offered, and Saphira nodded.
“Still –“ She started to speak but Boston interrupted.
Boston had gotten to her feet and was staring at the big pile of dust that the wind had not yet taken. “All that work for nothing,” she said.
“Not for nothing,” Lockhart assured her.
“Besides, you work for me, remember?” Saphira said.
“Yes, lady.” Boston turned and practiced the curtsey the way she had seen Mirowen the elf do it in her overalls. Boston knew she was not as graceful, but Roland at least smiled for her. It would be a while yet before anyone else could smile.
“So, that’s it?” Katie Harper looked to Lockhart who caught her eyes and nodded. Saphira was already moving off into the tall grass, flanked by her men. Katie yelled. “So who was that woman?”
Saphira turned to walk backwards and shouted. “Astarte.”
“And the young twins?”
“Enlil and Enki. Enki needs glasses.” Saphira smiled before she added a last thought. “At least I should sleep well tonight.” Then Saphira and her three men were swallowed up by the grasslands.