Avalon 1.6: Freedom

After 4320 BC in the Mountains of Southern China.  Kairos:  Xiang


            The rain was hard and pelted them like a flood.  The travelers had to stop and take time to adjust their fairy weave clothing to make slickers with hoods and boots to resist the water.  Then they trudged forward only to have Lockhart drag them to the nearby cliffs.  It was close enough to sundown that he felt it was not worth forcing them through that downpour.  In fact, he decided the sooner they found some shelter, the better.

            Lockhart was thrilled to find that there was a cave in the side of the cliffs as he had hoped.  An overhang would not have served nearly as well the way the wind was whipping around.  What made him pause, and made them all pause was the fact that there was already a campfire burning in the cave.  They could see the light and smell the meat that was cooking.

            “Our path is this way.”  Doctor Procter pointed away from the cave.

            “Forget that,” Boston said, and she walked boldly into the light.  The others followed and were only a bit surprised to find a single man sitting there.  A whole deer was roasting away and it smelled delicious.

            “Come in.  Come in.”  The man said, and they all thought he was a very young man.  “Get yourselves dry and warm by the fire.

            “Thank you.”  Lockhart said it before Alexis could.  “It is pretty rough out there.”

            “Well,” the man grinned at some internal thought.  “The rain was overdue and there is a place of soft dirt some five days march from here.  With luck it may come loose and slide to the bottom, and maybe bring some boulders with it.”

            “That’s an odd thought,” Lieutenant Harper noted while she checked her rifle.

            “When can we expect the rest of your group?”  Captain Decker wondered.

            “Just me,” the young man said.  “This deer is for you.  We were expecting you, and when you came through I rushed here.  I hope you don’t mind.”

            “No.  Not at all.  Great.”  They said.

            “Thank you very much.”  Alexis got to say it after all.  “I’m Alexis.”

            “I know who you are,” the young man interrupted.  “I am Shengi, god of the mountain or I should say mountains.”

            They all paused at various points in disrobing and did not know what to say until Boston spoke.  “You’re not a hundred yet, are you?”

            Shengi looked up at her.  He could have easily been offended, but instead he smiled.  “Is it that obvious young Mary Riley but everyone calls me Boston?”

            “No.”  Boston shook her head and returned his smile.  Then she turned to the others and explained.  “A god isn’t considered fully mature until he is at least a hundred.”

            “Oh.”  People went back to taking off their wet things and inching toward the fire.  It was not only raining torrents, it was a cold rain on the mountain.  Then Lincoln had a thought.

            “What did you mean when you said “we” were expecting you?”

            Shengi stood and invited Lockhart and Lieutenant Harper to take his place.  “Xiang,” he said.  “She said you had not come in her whole life and had to come soon.”

            “The Kairos,” Boston said.

            Shengi nodded.  “But not official for several more lifetimes.”

            “Why soon?”  Lincoln was still suspicious.

            “Because she is dying,”  Shengi turned his back on them, but it took no insight to know he was fighting tears at the thought.  When he turned back, he had a word for Alexis.  “And you are not permitted to heal her.”

            Alexis looked down at the fire.

            “And why is she dying?”  Lockhart thought to ask.

            “Because I screwed up,” Shengi said and Roland gasped at the thought.  “Do not be surprised, good elf.  It is more common than you think.  But here, I am responsible for events.”  He knelt by the fire and began to cut pieces of the deer and passed them out.  There were vegetables as well, roasted, but not burnt, and Alexis quickly made some bread to complete the meal while Shengi explained.

            “My cousin and I devised a plan to advance the people in civilization.  Her land is good land by the river, the one Xiang calls the Yangtze.  We started by devising a competition between the people.  It escalated to a struggle.  We helped our own far more than we should.  At last, we became the ones in competition and I would not lose to her.”  Shengi clearly stiffened his upper lip before he finished.  “Xiang is leading two thirds of her people to safety over the mountain.  They will enter the safe lands of the Whirlwind that she calls Laos.  One third of the people are demon possessed and hungry for blood, to steal, kill and destroy.”

            “That is what demons do,” Alexis said.  She went to church regularly since becoming human.

            Shengi sighed.  “I am responsible for the infestation of demons, and once the matter with Xiang is settled I will spend the next several hundred years cleaning up my mess.”

            “We are responsible.”  They heard another voice, and a woman stepped out of the dark.  She was beautiful beyond word and because of that they all knew she was a goddess.  “I am not going to let you take all the fallout from this.”  Shengi looked up at the woman with gratitude.  She bent down and kissed him gently, smack on the lips.  “We have to stick together, we do.”  Shengi just nodded, and then Lockhart, Lincoln and Roland all spoke at more or less the same time.

            “Nagi.”  They had met the woman back in the days of Keng.

            Nagi looked around for the first time and then turned her back on them all, the way Shengi had.  “What is this feeling?”  She asked.  Everyone stayed quiet as Nagi let out a little gasp.  “It is shame.  I feel ashamed of what I did.  I have never felt that feeling before.”  She spun around, but instead of the anger they feared, she also sported a look of gratitude as Shengi had shown just moments before.

            “You have done nothing to be ashamed of,” Shengi said.

            “But you don’t know all I have done,” Nagi responded.  “These people do not know the details, but I feel ashamed in any case.”  She paused and lowered her eyes.  “I would say I am sorry, but the gods are not supposed to say that, if you follow me.”

            “If I thought it was safe I would give you a hug,” Boston said, and Nagi gladly stepped over and hugged her. 

            “But now, Shengi and I must go.”

            “I think you make a fine couple.” Alexis said, having read the look Nagi gave to the young man.  “Don’t you think so, father?”

            “Lovely,” Mingus said.

            Nagi returned a knowing smile to Alexis.  “But then, you are older than I am.  You should know about such things.”

            “Wait,” Captain Decker got their attention since he was sure their interview was over.  “This looks more like a tunnel than a cave.  May I ask what is back there?”

            “Trolls,” Shengi admitted.  “But I have set a hedge for the night.  They will not bother you.”

            “Great.”  Lincoln said, but he said no more as Shengi and Nagi vanished before their eyes.

            “What is great about trolls?”  Roland asked.  Clearly he did not like having trolls around.

            “I was being sarcastic,” Lincoln admitted.  “With trolls behind us and demon possessed people ahead of us I doubt I’ll get much sleep.”

            “Poor baby,” Alexis slipped her arm around Lincoln’s waist.  “I’ll protect you.”

            Doctor Procter chose that moment to come in out of the rain and dark.  “It is really coming down out there and no sign of a let-up,” he said as he took off his wet things.

            The others just stared at him since none of them realized he was not in the cave.  Mingus was the one who finally spoke.

            “And you were where?”

            “Just checking the distance and direction for the morning.  I wasn’t getting a good reading inside the cave for some reason.”

            “But you just got over being sick,” Alexis worried.

            “But I am over,”  Doctor Procter said as he came up to the fire.  “Dead animal.  Good, I’m starving.”  No one said a word in response.

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