Iddin-Addad stood on the beach and took a long whiff of salt air. “One day those hill will be covered with grass and trees. All they need is several thousand years for the wind and rain to leach out all the salt in the soil.”
“How do you figure?” Clicker asked.
“Easy. The Caspian Sea is shrinking. Once, it covered those little hills and deposited plenty of salt. Now, it is drying up, and the sea will continue to get smaller over the next some thousand years.”
“You are a hobgoblin now, no longer stuck in the dark,” Iddin told her for the thousandth time.
“I know, and I can’t wait to have a handful of little hobgoblins.”
“Not with me you don’t,” Iddin said as he looked down the beach in the direction they had to travel.
Serpentelle smiled at him even if he did not notice, before she turned to the imp. “How about with you, Clicker.” She bent down to kiss the imp’s gray, bald forehead and gave him a good view of her scantily clad body. Iddin noticed a little reddening underneath Clicker’s gray skin.
Clicker coughed when Serpentelle stood up straight again and looked once more at the sea. “We best keep moving on,” Clicker said.
“I don’t think we can,” Iddin responded. Nine riders, warriors by the look of them, were blocking their path.
The three witches floated in the air and let their eyes look all around the village, like they were calculating something. “Move village.” The one in the center spoke in the local tongue.
“We bring the three serpents of the deep,” the one on the left spoke. It was in a language unknown to the locals, but thanks to the translation gift of the Kairos, the travelers understood perfectly what the witch said.
“Serpents, come!” The one on the right shouted.
“Move village,” the center one repeated and the three witches flew off down the beach that the travelers had just come up.
“Congratulations Major,” Lockhart said. “We managed that whole exchange without you taking a potshot at one of the witches.”
“Some kind of robotics,” Elder Stow reported what they already guessed.
“The serpents?” Katie got their attention and they followed her down to the sea which was already beginning to bubble with activity. Of course, it turned out there was only one serpent left, and it squealed when it saw the travelers, like it recognized them and did not want to be there. But it could not help itself. It was still bleeding from several bullet holes it received earlier in the day, but it dutifully began to reach for boats and nets, to tear them up.
“Allow me,” Elder Stow said, and he fired his weapon. The energy beam sliced perfectly through the neck, and like the last time, the head fell before the body joined it “Mercifully quick,” Elder Stow added even as Andovar and some thirty men armed with spears and bows came to the beach.
There were several moments of silence and dropped jaws before spontaneous joy erupted from the men on the beach. It was quickly joined by shouts and cheers from the people around the village. Boston took Roland’s hand and said they had to check on Alexis. The others and Andovar abruptly paused the celebration when they saw the witches returning. It was hard to tell on those unexpressive faces, but the travelers imagined the witches were not too happy
The witches moved again to the edge of the village and the center one spoke once more. “Move village”
“We bring the Giant of the Transvaak,” the one on the left said.
“Giant, come!” The one on the right shouted.
“You got a stun setting on that thing?” Lockhart asked.
Elder Stow fiddled with something on his weapon, but shook his head at the same time. “I don’t know about robots as you call them, or giants,” he said as the witches once again flew off down the beach to the south.
“We may have a wait,” Andovar said “The giant lives some distance from here.”
“Good to know,” Lincoln said
“How big?” Elder Stow asked.
“Which direction?” Major Decker asked.
“Hold up!” Katie yelled and pointed. There were twelve horses riding toward the village, eleven with riders, though one horse appeared to have two figures on it. Andovar quickly gathered his men into some semblance of a defensive formation, and they waited.
The riders were mostly women, as it turned out. One man and one of the women dismounted immediately on arrival. “Hey, Lockhart,” Iddin got that much out before he was surrounded by spears. The woman drew her sword. The other women appeared to have bows already strung and ready for battle.
“No, no,” Lockhart spoke quickly. “Andovar. That would be most unwise.”
There was serious tension in the air until they heard a squeak from the back of the horse that appeared to be wandering off down toward the beach.
“Help.” It was a pitiful sound.
“Get your paws off of me.” The response came in a woman’s strong voice.
Iddin rolled his eyes. “Clicker! Serpentelle!” he yelled and pointed at the small space in front of where he stood. The little ones appeared as out of nowhere. Clicker breathed. Serpentelle brushed off her little bit of clothes and remarked.
“Normally I don’t mind hands all over me, but you were preventing me from getting down.”
The men with the spears backed up. It was hard to say what was more frightening, the imp or the hobgoblin, or maybe the fact that this man just called them to appear out of thin air. Iddin signaled to the woman beside him and she lowered her sword. She turned to her troop and shouted, “Lower your weapons.”
“Borsi, put down the spears,” Andovar shouted as soon as he found his breath. The spears were lowered, but Iddin was already on another track.
“Hey, Katie. I brought some friends of yours.” The woman beside Iddin opened her mouth and her eyes, wide. She rushed to Katie and two of the women in the troop leapt from their horses and joined her. All three went to their knees.
“Elect,” the first woman said. “The second in all the world. Zoe is gracious to her humble servants.”
“Yeah.” Iddin was still speaking. “The Amazon seer said I was going to face a terrible monster and she sent help all the way from the Black Sea. They have been chasing me for weeks, and finally caught me just up the beach here. Say, where is Little Fire?”
“You? Facing a terrible monster? Hard to believe,” Lockhart said and Decker almost smiled.
“Here I am,” Boston said as she and Roland came back out of the house. “What’s up?”
“Iddin-Addad,” Lincoln pointed at the newcomer.
“Just Iddin,” Iddin said. “Addad is a reference to our family god, if you follow me. Nice guy, by the way. I met him.”
“Come on Alia.” Katie was already giving orders. “Let’s get your horses rubbed down and put up for the night.”
“Can someone explain what is happening?” Andovar shouted to the sky. Lincoln and Lockhart decided to try to explain the inexplicable.
Boston and Roland came close and Serpentelle became very animated. “An elf. A light elf Well, well. I could have fun with this one”
Boston grabbed Roland’s hand. “Not a chance. He is taken.” The fire danced in her eyes.
“I don’t traffic much with hobgoblins,” Roland said, honestly.
“I could show you how,” Serpentelle batted her eyes and wiggled her fine figure in an enticing way.
Boston found the fire down in the palms of her hands and Roland had to let go quickly to keep from being burned.
“Hold it” Iddin bravely stepped between the women. “Boston. You have no claim until you and Roland make a decision.” That stopped Boston cold and she looked at Roland, but he deliberately kept his eyes on the Kairos whom he hoped was not finished speaking “And Serpentelle. You keep your wiggles to yourself. You can practice on Clicker, but that is it.” Serpentelle pouted.
“Incoming,” Major Decker interrupted everyone. At least he was still keeping watch.
“He is bigger than I thought.” Elder Stow shook his head again.
The giant began to throw stones into the village that were more nearly the size of small boulders.