The travelers caught up with the thieves when the thieves stopped for a good, long lunch. Lockhart, Decker, Avi, Devya, and four men of the city guard circled around to cut off the way to Merv. Katie, Lincoln, Elder Stow and six more guards held the road to Sanctuary. The groups kept in touch with the wrist-watch communicators, and Lockhart gave what he thought were some simple instructions.
“Patton sabers, everyone. Last time, the guns failed to fire near the amulet. I don’t know if the sabers will be any more effective, but I figure it does not interfere with Devya cutting her meat at the table. Hopefully we won’t have to find out. Keep back and let Devya and Avi negotiate. Tell Elder Stow he might want to cover you with his screen, just in case. Katie, disengage and return to Sanctuary if it gets hostile. Avi says we can get help in Merv.”
Lockhart did a double take as Nuwa walked up beside him. He looked at Devya and back at Nuwa as she spoke.
“I am a greater spirit. I can take any form I wish.”
Lockhart nodded. “This one is not so frightening, though I would imagine the little ones might not think so.”
“You mean like these?” Nuwa said with a smile and a wave of her hand. Lockhart caught a glimpse of a dozen gnomes in the grass, prepared with bows, arrows and long knives to do battle. He had no doubt there were another dozen on the other side, and who all knew what else.
“You mean this?” Archamenis grinned an awful grin and held up a necklace with a bright, red ruby on the end. The ruby looked as big as Lockhart’s fist, or at least the size of Boston’s fist. “But with this I can defeat all my enemies and my people will always prosper.”
“If you were a good Magi your people would prosper because you would not have any enemies,” Avi shouted back.
Archamenis’ grin turned to a frown as a man came up and whispered to him. He looked around and saw Katie and the others behind him. When he turned back, he looked for Devya, but could not find her. Vanu had slipped through time to stand in her place, and he clothed himself with the armor and weapons of the Kairos.
“That is my blood stone,” Vanu hollered and stuck out his hand. The necklace nearly vacated Archamenis’ hand, but he grabbed it tight and the man beside him helped.
“No! I will keep it for my people.” Archamenis yelled.
“As you future people say,” Nuwa smiled again for Lockhart. “Showtime.” She vanished, even as Vanu went away to be replace by Mikos. Mikos stuck his hand out and the ground rumbled. He was a demigod, after all, the son of Ares, god of war.
Water pressed up from beneath and burst through the surface in a number of places, shooting toward the sky like an oil gusher. Nuwa, the dragon, let out a roar and burst of flame over everyones head at the same time. The earth shook like an earthquake, and Archamenis and his men shouted and screamed, and fell to their knees and faces. Archamenis dropped the amulet.
Lockhart just stood there, staring. He wondered where the gnomes went. Decker and Avi said nothing. Neither one looked surprised, until Decker pointed. Katie came riding out from the other side. The big black horse she called Beauty could not be mistaken, even if their view of her was clouded by the water and the steam. No one attempted to stop her as she rode up to Archamenis, got down, grabbed the amulet, and let Beauty finish the trip to the other side.
“Katie!” Mikos yelled at her one second before Lockhart yelled.
Katie handed the amulet to Avi as Lockhart grabbed her and pulled her aside for a real yelling. Meanwhile, the water settled down, Nuwa settled down, and Devya came back to receive the necklace from her husband and put it around her neck.
“Archamenis. You and your men need to go. Now.” Devya yelled. Some of the men began to peal themselves off the ground and collect their things. “I did not say get your things and go. I just said, go.”
“But—” Archamenis did not know what to say, as dozens of gnomes and others appeared suddenly and urged the men to move off. Some ran and some screamed, but most walked with their heads down.
“Archamenis. you can have your horses and things back when you come to Sanctuary and ask my forgiveness and promise not to steal again.” Devya said, and turned to say something to Nuwa, but the dragon was focused on the distance.
Boston had chills in the night, but she slept. Alexis stopped crying around midnight, but she refused to speak to either of the others before she also slept. Father Mingus kept his mouth closed all night, and kept to himself. No one could say that he slept. And the rain continued all night long.
It was still raining in the morning when the servants brought as warm a meal as they could prepare. At least it was not waterlogged. Alexis and Mingus ate in silence, while Boston wept softly and looked back and forth between the two. Alexis had let it all out, and no doubt regretted it. Mingus had nothing to say, because however slanted he might call her words, they were essentially true. After the meal, Alexis and Mingus went their separate ways. Boston put her head down on the table and moped.
Lunch was much of the same, and the tableau might have continued into the afternoon if a city guard, one of the few left in the city, had not come running up, yelling. “The Afridi have broken into the city. They have come in the south gate and they have weapons and plan to take the city.”
The servants screamed as one older man grabbed the city guard. “You know this?”
“Why else would they come with weapons?”
Mingus interrupted. “Obviously they do not mean good.”
The old man began to shout orders to the servants and guardsmen who were coming up the palace steps. Men and women started pushing furniture to the terrace to hide behind, and the old man turned to their guests.
“You have horses. You should ride out while you can.”
Mingus looked up and for the first time caught the whiff of something familiar. “All the same, I think we stay. Boston. Alexis.” He began to give some order of his own.
By the time the first Afridi came rushing up the street, Boston had her bow out and never ending arrows. Mingus had treated a number of the arrows, as he had before, and she began to shoot them at the oncoming horde. They exploded. Some in front of the crowd, but some within the crowd. A couple exploded on the stone and wood was of the nearby houses and showered the enemy with stone shards and deadly splinters. The Afridi backed off, even as Boston shot another arrow and it did nothing.
“I don’t get it. Why didn’t it explode?” Boston asked.
Mingus pointed up, and they all heard a laugh and saw the face of the djin in the cloud.
Mingus had a different idea. “Nuwa. Fuxi. We need you to defend Sanctuary.” Being an elder elf, he knew his words would carry, that is, if the djin did not catch them and cut them off.
Alexis had a third idea. Even as the Nuwa dragon and Devya were looking up, and Lincoln and elder Stow were joining the group, a word came across the wrist-watch communicators. It was faint and crackling with interference, but they heard Alexis.
“Benjamin. Help. It is the djin.” Then the sound cut off.