The travelers and the imps arrived together at the place of the Kairos. The sun was ready to set which gave the travelers hope that they might get a break from the oppressive heat. They found the Kairos, Junior, sitting cross legged by the fire staring at the sand and grass in front of him, or maybe meditating. He had something like a backpack behind him, but no sign of a tent. He also made no indication that he was aware of their presence.
“Make camp,” Lockhart suggested, and everyone turned to tend to the horses first. Magpie and her sons pulled up a seat behind Junior and acted like they were waiting for supper to be ready. Decker came up to Lockhart with a question.
“Should we expect to use the fire that is made or make our own?” Lockhart did not get to answer because Lincoln wandered to the other side of Junior’s fire, before it got dark, to get a look at the land they expected to cross in the morning, and Junior reacted.
“No, no. Lincoln, you don’t want to stand there,” he shouted.
The ground began to shake, but only under Lincoln’s feet. He ran and made it to safety before a perfectly round hole opened up and revealed steps winding their way down into the pit.
“What is it?” Katie asked, having noticed the imps scooted further back from that place and always kept Junior between them and the hole. Junior answered without turning around.
“That is the entrance to the underworld, the land of the dead, where Erishkegal rules and Namtar is her henchman who does all her dirty work.”
“Wow!” Lincoln sounded surprised and impressed, but mostly like he realized what a close call he had.
Junior turned and scooted around without getting up. “Are we all here?” He counted heads as they approached. The imps backed up further to make way for the travelers. “This was probably the worst possible time for you to come.”
“Why?” Alexis asked. “What are you doing here?”
“Alexis,” Roland interjected. “I’m surprised you have forgotten. Father told me the story and I had nightmares for years after.”
Junior squinted at the elf, like maybe Roland did not need to say that much. All the same he opened up. “My mother’s father.” Junior paused to think it through and started again. “My grandfather had a mistress who had my mother. The mistress is gone now, I mean dead, not recently, and by cause unknown, or at least nothing proved. But that was why my mother grew up in Egypt, where she could be safe until she matured sufficiently to handle herself.”
“Your mother?” Boston was the one who asked, but Junior waved off the question.
“When my mother came back, my grandfather’s wife tricked her, actually challenged her to take a trip down into the land of the dead.” Junior paused and shook his head. “She and Erishkegal must have planned this whole thing ages ago.”
“But who is your mother?” Boston wanted to know.
Katie bit her tongue. She did not want to say, “The goddess?” again.
“So your mother is dead?” Alexis asked.
“No. That’s the thing. She knew enough to not eat the food of the dead, but she is a prisoner and can’t come back to the world. The gods have insisted that I figure out some way to set her free, and that is what I want to do, so I’m figuring.”
Now Katie could ask her question. “Why do the gods want her free so badly?”
“Because Ishtar is the goddess of love, love and war, but love is the operative part. As long as she is a prisoner in the underground, there is no love in the world, even among the gods.”
The travelers took a moment to look at each other and Lockhart responded. “We can all vouch for the lack of love since we came into this time zone.”
“But it isn’t so bad right now,” Katie added with a look at Lockhart.
“I am my mother’s son,” Junior said. “But it isn’t so strong in me, and the gods know they won’t have me around but maybe sixty years or so.”
Lincoln asked a different question. He was suspicious. “Who was your grandfather’s mistress—your real grandmother.”
“Innan,” Junior said. “And I don’t want to talk about it. I wasn’t here when she went over to the other side.”
Lincoln nodded. They met Innan, and liked her, the one the Kairos called the goddess of desire. With Innan gone and her daughter trapped in the land of the dead there truly was no love in the world. Junior sighed in memory of his grandmother, and then changed the subject.
“Decker and Harper,” he called them forward, and they came, but with one short, curious glance at each other. “Captain Decker. I have these for you.” Junior held out two gold leafs. “It was supposed to be Major Decker when you started this assignment, but Colonel Weber, the dipstick withheld the promotion. I’ve held on to these for about ten years. Glad to finally get rid of them.”
“Sir.” Decker said as Junior removed the Captain’s bars and pinned on the leafs.
“Lieutenant Harper,” Junior continued. “Your promotion has been long overdue.” He took her single bar and had Decker pin on her Captain’s bars. He let her keep the lieutenant’s insignia in her hand and stepped back to offer a salute. “Belated congratulations to both of you. I understand Bobbi and my Alice self are leaning on the Pentagon to offer another upgrade, assuming you make it back to the twenty-first century in one piece.”
“Thank you sir,” Katie said and turned first of all to Lockhart who offered a sloppy salute of his own.
“Captain Harper,” Lockhart said and smiled, and Katie returned his smile and spoke sweet words with her eyes.
“Excuse me.” Junior whistled and yelled. “Magpie, Snot and Puss.” The three imps appeared out of thin air, standing in the fire with their feet on the hot coals. They jumped for their life, but away from the hole in the earth. Junior explained. “They were getting ready to go for a horse.”
“What?” Several of the travelers reacted, and it was strong enough to inspire Magpie to answer.
“But we been all day and haven’t had nothing to eat.” That was not a lie, but only the truth in the way little spirits tell the truth. They didn’t have nothing all day. They actually had an overly large breakfast before they snuck off.
“Donkey bacon is even better.”
“Yes, but just remember, you go near the horses and you will get a lot worse than singed toes.
“Yes Lord, yes,” they all said as they dragged the beast off to slaughter.
“Sacrifice right over the pit of Hell,” Lockhart quipped.
Katie shook her head and Junior offered a correction. “Hellas’ place is up where the Black Sea and the Aegean meet, but I get your point. Erishkegal thinks all sacrifices belong to her. But I don’t believe that is the way to get to her. I’m thinking about what Decker said. Sometimes even ghosts gotta party.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for part 3 of 4, Gollum