“I must say, this does not look like the silk road to me,” Lincoln said. “Are you sure we didn’t stumble on to the rock road?” They had to walk the horses all day because the terrain was rock strewn and the footing too uncertain.
“Well,” Nuwa responded. “We are pretty far away from home. I am sure you imagined taking a leisurely stroll along the He River.”
“It would have been nice,” Lincoln agreed
“Well, in this case, either we skirt the mountains—Tibet, where I believe the Pendratti are hold up in some underground lair, or we cross the Taklimakan desert. I suppose we could have looked in the Tian Shan, the mountains north of the desert, but the Di of the land do not fully control that area. The Tibet area also has much autonomy, but it is closer to home and the likely suspect.”
“Did you consider the Pendratti might have landed in the desert?” Katie asked. “They are reptilian, are they not?”
“Not enough flora and fauna to research, and too far from people other than the Qinjong, and they seemed to have made a pact with the Qinjong to supply people for their needs. The desert does have some strips and places where springs and winter melt allow for some surface water, but they will be my third choice for looking.”
“Tian Shan Mountains?” Lincoln asked. He was trying to work the database with one hand so he could keep the other hand on his horses reigns.
“The desert is minimally under control of the Di, and the Tian Shan are least under their control, sort of like Aesgard exerting some control over Russia, but less and less as you move out into Siberia. Siberia, in many places, is a bit like a no-man’s land. So it is with Tibet, the Taklimakan Desert in the Tarim Basin and the Tian Shan. The Shang-Di claims more than he can handle. The Tian Shan are mountains that really belong to Tien or Tian and his siblings, along with a chunk of Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Uzbekistan and other Stans.”
“No. At that point down the silk road you are getting into Brahmin territory, and he keeps edging toward the Indus Valley. It’s complicated.”
“Look out!” Roland yelled from the front. It appeared as if the whole side of the mountain was headed toward them. Conversation stopped abruptly as they mounted and road, dangerous footing for the horses or not. Katie grabbed Nuwa and hauled her up behind as she kicked Beauty into high gear. All of that loose rock was going to catch them, but at once it stopped, utterly and completely, like it ran into a damn.
Nuwa got right down. “Tuti. Thank you.”
The rocks rumbled in answer and the ones out front crumbled into sand.
“I assume the Taklimakan has plenty of sand,” Lincoln said as he got back down, breathing hard, almost as if he had run that distance.
“Buckets full,” Nuwa said, but she was not paying attention. She was scanning the ridge.
“There,” Katie pointed and handed down her binoculars. Nuwa watched a small Pendratti ship take to the sky while a dozen or more Qinjong rode off on their ponies. She followed the Pendratti ship before she handed back the binoculars.
“I would say we are headed in the right direction,” Nuwa said, before she called. “Decker, Roland, Elder Stow! From here on you need to keep your eyes open for some kind of ambush. Hoopers!” One hopped up to receive instructions. “Set your people around the group at a distance to give us warning if the Qinjong, Pendratti or others are coming near, or if we are going to come near them. Send your swiftest in the direction taken by the Pendratti craft. We may be near enough now that maybe they can long-sight where it lands.”
The hooper bowed and bounced off at a remarkably rapid pace. “I made them shortly after I made Friend, the first Hobgoblin, I mean Xiang me made them,” Nuwa mused. “It was like I made Friend carefully, like a fine sculpture, but for these I was sort of doing my laundry and threw the wet dirt at them.” Nuwa shrugged. “I think I had a bad marriage. I don’t recall, exactly. Then again, I wasn’t married to Fuxi the fish brained.”
“Why do you call him that? He has a good reputation in the myths,” Katie said.
Nuwa raised her eyebrows. “So I do something worth remembering and he gets the credit? It figures.”
“Not so, or not entirely,” Katie said. “You have quite a reputation yourself, and for more than just being a wife and mother.”
“I do? Well, don’t tell me about it because even if the legends are wrong, I don’t want to change it. I live in fear of knowing how history is supposed to turn out and then screwing it up. It is the law, you know. You aren’t supposed to tell the Kairos about things she hasn’t experienced. If anyone remembers me …” Nuwa laughed at the thought of being remembered in history.
“So where are we going?” Boston asked over supper. “Because as long as we are traveling with you, we certainly aren’t getting closer to the next time gate.”
“We are in a valley of sorts between the Kunlun Mountains and the Tibetan Plateau,” Lincoln tried to explain.
“No, we are actually on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau,” Nuwa corrected him. “The further we go, the more up we go. I will admit, though, in this place it now looks like a valley. But it will get difficult the further we go, which I suppose is why the silk road, once it got started for real, went around north of the desert by Tian’s Mountains.” Nuwa chewed. “One thing about Fuxi. He is a good cook.”
“You mean we aren’t on the actual silk road?” Katie sounded disappointed.
“Not technically, but there is a way through, I think. Or Brama makes a way at some point. Anyway, it doesn’t start with silk and not much silk actually makes its way to Rome and Greece in the way far future. Not much, relatively speaking. I suppose more gets to India, but let’s be honest. Mostly the road is used to move slaves and drugs and sometimes armies.” Nuwa shrugged, like humanity could not help itself.