The rest of the crew got up slowly. Just being near Ameratsu, even dampened as she was, it was like sitting before a roaring fire with sub-zero temperatures behind them.
Everyone went for the horses. Lincoln brought up two and Elder Stow, temporarily finished with his cry, mounted without having to be told.
“But what are these magnificent beasts?” Ameratsu looked to Kim for the answer, but Katie spoke.
“And you ride upon them?” Katie nodded, and Ameratsu turned to Kim in earnest. “May I have a horse? Please, may I?”
Kim took a deep breath and spoke to his beloved. “My love, as hard as it may be for you, you must understand that sometimes the answer will be no.”
Ameratsu lost her radiant smile and it broke everyone’s heart to see it, though they also saw her lift determination to her face. She faced Kim and lowered her eyes. “You are my husband. I understand.” The words were heart wrenching to hear. Any one of the travelers would have gladly given their horse then and there. They all wondered how Kim could be so heartless. Then Kim spoke.
“But in this case, I think maybe a pony, yes? Would you like a pony?”
“Oh, yes, yes!” Ameratsu clearly grabbed the notion of a pony out of someone’s mind, and she practically tackled Kim and almost smothered him with kisses. Everyone had to wait, but no one really minded.
“But first we get to safety,” Kim spoke again when he could, and Ameratsu pulled herself together and nodded.
“Better if we had some light for the journey, Lord.” Roland spoke up.
“I believe we do,” Boston said. She pointed to the unicorn in the distance who appeared to be waiting, patiently.
“Good-bye, friends,” Ameratsu shouted back from some distance. “I will remember you.”
“And you,” they all returned the sentiment, though by then they were already too far away to be heard. They followed the unicorn which went perfectly the way Boston’s amulet pointed, and without any prompting.
The journey in the dark was as quiet as it was cold, but their way was safe and unwavering as the unicorn led them by a true and easy path. By the time they stopped for supper, the snow had started to fall once again, and this time it came with ice. Breath from people and horses came in great white puffs which by then were seen in the lamplight. Katie spoke quietly as they dismounted and started a fire, Elder Stow’s sonic device being an excellent tool for that job.
“Will they make it?” Katie looked back as she talked to Lockhart.
“They must,” he answered. “I don’t recall the far east in our day being shrouded in eternal darkness.”
Katie nodded. She had to work on putting two and two together.
As they mounted, Lincoln had a thought about Elder Stow. The Gott-Druk was still dressed only in his orange jumpsuit, but did not complain.
“Are you warm enough?” Lincoln asked. He was thinking the Neanderthal probably had a higher tolerance for the cold.
Elder Stow patted his jumpsuit. “With a helmet and gloves, this suit is designed to take the sub-zero temperatures of space.” Lincoln nodded and thought of course, he should have guessed. Elder Stow just added one more thought. “I wouldn’t mind having the helmet and gloves though.”
They traveled all through the night and did not stop again until it was after five in the morning. The horses were exhausted and needed the stop. The people were exhausted as well, and Lockhart feared they might have to find a shelter or a cave to survive. The cold was becoming dangerous, even with their fairy weave clothes as thick and warm and they could be.
Boston was the one who noticed. “Turn off the lamps. Please.” She sounded excited, and though the others thought various forms of wishful thinking, they obliged. They were wishing for the same thing. To everyone’s surprise, they could see each other better than expected. They looked back the way they had come. There was the least perceptible lightening on the horizon. Boston checked. The unicorn was nowhere to be seen. The sun was going to rise.
“Thank God they made it,” Katie said.
“They had to,” Lockhart agreed.
It was less than an hour from their encampment to the time gate. Sun or no sun, it was still bitter cold and would take hours if not days to warm up again. Moving into the next time zone was the only real option, and they did that with the hope that the next place would be warm and they could find a place to pitch a camp. Lockhart knew they all needed a day off. They would rest that day and night and start out the following morning, if they could.
Katie and Lockhart were the last in line and Katie only ventured one brief look back before they left that world.
“I hope the Bokarus froze its butt off,” Lockhart quipped.
“I hope Bob is alright,” Katie said.
“You named the werewolf?” and they went through the gate.