After 3910BC. The Nile Delta. Kairos life 21: Phoenix
The sun set, but the moon was already up and full enough to cast shadows across their path. Boston rode in front of the column with the amulet that kept them headed in the right direction. Roland rode beside her most of the time, his elf senses stretched into the dark places. Lockhart and Katie brought up the rear. Both fingered their guns and said little, but were comfortable riding side by side. Lincoln rode in the center, Captain Decker’s empty horse tied to his saddle while Lincoln filled his hands with the database and read about their location.
“The Nile should be full of tributary channels. If we find one big enough, we ought to find some fresh water. I don’t believe we are close enough to the sea for it to be brackish.”
“How do you figure?” Lockhart asked without really asking.
“No salt in the air,” Katie told him, softly, and he nodded.
Lincoln continued. “The only problem is I don’t know whether we are headed for Heliopolis or Bubastis. It depends at what point we are in Phoenix’ life.”
“I can’t imagine that would matter,” Boston said.
Lincoln shrugged. “It says here after she escaped her service as High Priestess of the Temple of the Sun she lived a relatively quiet and happy life.”
“Relatively,” Lockhart and Roland spoke together. That word did not mean much when it came to the lives of the Kairos.
After a short way, Roland turned them off their path. “I can smell the water,” he said. Soon enough they saw it, shimmering in the moonlight. It was just beyond a muddy beach devoid of the expected reeds, trees and bushes. They might have blundered straight for the water if Roland had not snatched Boston’s reigns and brought them all to a halt with the words, “Something is moving.”
Lincoln brought himself and Captain Decker’s horse up alongside Roland. Lockhart and Katie came up beside Boston as Boston spoke. “Alligators.”
“Crocodiles,” Katie and Lincoln both corrected. There appeared to be four of them, the biggest easily being twelve feet long, and as the sun just set, everyone assumed they were still fairly active.
“Over there.” Katie spoke up and pointed, though only Lockhart and Boston, and Roland with his elf eyes could see where she was pointing in the dim light. Something was coming through the bushes. It made the sound of a baby cry, and Lockhart immediately named it.
“Night creature.” They had heard them before but had never actually seen one. It came out of the bushes near the water and ignored the crocodiles as it went to the edge of the river for a careful drink. When it turned, they all got a good look at it in the moonlight and Katie gave it another name.
“A Set animal,” she said. “Associated with the god of the desert, of storms and infertility.” It had a pointed, slightly curved jaw, square ears, and yellow eyes. Altogether it did not look like it belonged on earth. They could not tell if it looked like a cat, a dog, a bear or perhaps a donkey the way it tromped so carefully by the water and raised its head to swallow. When it turned and growled at them, they did not need an interpreter.
Katie raised her rifle. Lockhart readied his shotgun. Lincoln had inherited Captain Decker’s rifle and took a second to retrieve it from its case while Katie spoke.
“No bones or any part of the Set animal has ever been found. The only place it is known is in hieroglyphs.”
“And some Neolithic paintings in Europe and Asia,” Lincoln added.
The beast walked toward them, right over the back of the twelve-footer and without the least concern. Maybe it did not know. As it’s front claw came down beside the crock, the crocodile snapped out with its terrible jaw and took off a piece of that foot. The night creature made no noise, but whirled too fast to follow and tore half of the twelve footer’s neck out with its own terrible jaw.
An eight-footer shuffled forward while the big one was dying and snapped off a back foot of the night creature. Again the night creature whirled and decapitated the crocodile in two quick bites. Then, before the others could respond, the night creature killed them. But to catch the last before it escaped into the river, the creature had to come close again to the water. It did not appear to like the water, and maybe that was justified. Even as he killed the nine-foot crocodile, a crock whose head suggested it was twice as big as the dead one, or about eighteen feet, grabbed the night creature by the foot and dragged it into the water.
The water boiled for a full minute before the tremendous bulk of that great, dead crocodile floated to the surface. The night creature never reappeared, and Lincoln read from the database. “They sink.” He looked up as they all turned away from that place. “They can’t swim and they drown.” No one commented in return. They would find some high ground and water in the morning.
“That will work,” Lockhart pointed. Roland did not look back to see the direction, but he did not have to. They got to their rise and dismounted, and Boston remarked,
“Someone camped here before.” There was a ring of rocks around the ashes of a fire. Lincoln rushed forward though he had no reason to hope. Roland went with him and sniffed the ash to sense what might have cooked there. He looked at Lincoln before he looked up at everyone and made his pronouncement.
“Alexis and father,” he said. “Not two days ahead of us.” Everyone would have responded with joy and words of encouragement for Lincoln if at the same time they were not hushed to hear the distant sound of babies crying.
“We watch tonight,” Lockhart said and Katie sat to check her rifle to be sure she was ready.