Ruan sat everyone around her on a little platform in the center of the village. She sat in front of a copper bell that was tied to keep from ringing in every breeze. As the sun began to set, a dozen women, mostly the older women, came to the platform with plates of food and cups of something like rice wine. They set it before the group and bowed to Ruan Zee.
“Don’t make that into more than it is.” Ruan said quickly. “They treat me like a needy widow because my husband is almost always away, at sea. Yet they fear my husband and don’t want to get on his bad side.”
Ruan nodded as she nibbled. “But I sent all my Shemsu inland to escape the destruction. They will hide in the jungles, build the occasional temples, all aligned to the star systems for the Agdaline to find their way home, of course. Their last gasp will be to build Angkor Wat almost three thousand years from now.”
“Really?” Katie was fascinated. Lockhart looked like he wondered what an Angkor Wat was.
Ruan nodded. “But queen is a flexible term. A better translation might be she who decides things.”
“Nice bird,” Decker pointed up and everyone looked.
“The roc of the gods,” Ruan said. “It is much bigger and further away than you think. It comes around now and then, like a guardian of the coast. I think it follows the coastline from Myanmar all the way around to the Vietnamese border with China.”
“Indonesia?” Boston asked.
Ruan shook her head. “Other gods own Indonesia, New Guinea, the Philippines, and all the islands of Melanesia, all different gods, but the sea demons have some unity in the midst of all that. It makes it hard on the sky gods to keep life prospering on the land when the waters rage. Right now I suspect Bangkok and Singapore are both underwater.”
“Out to sea,” she said. “I don’t want to talk about him. Why don’t you people tell me about your time in Vietnam and Cambodia.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Lockhart said.
“Classified,” Lincoln smiled.
Ruan sat up in the dark before dawn and found Katie already sitting up and wide eyed.
“Danger,” Katie said, and they moved. Ruan ran out and untied the bell. She rang it as hard as she could and yelled at the people who came running up.
Katie got the others up and they saddled and packed in no time, being well practiced. They picked up several of the elderly and several with babies to bring them up the hillside at a slightly faster pace, though not much faster because the hill was steep.
Boston got to the top fist, where she stopped and let down her young mom with her baby. There was a short downhill on the other side, a narrow opening before a taller, rockier hill rose up beyond, but Boston paused to look when the bell stopped ringing. She saw Ruan, the last to begin the climb, but she still saw no reason for the panic until she saw something like a mountain rise up in the delta. Then a second mountain rose up behind the first. She could not grasp what she was seeing until a serpent head rose up in the river beside the village. It reached as high as she was standing on the hilltop, and it looked big enough to swallow the whole village in a single bite. The sound it made was remarkably like Godzilla, but not as pleasant.
The head bobbed for a minute and then moved on the climbers. Boston saw Ruan stand and throw her arms out as if she could protect the people by offering her little self as a snack. The serpent head paused and made a sound that sounded like a protest. It avoided Ruan, but grabbed a chunk of hill, trees and all. Boston could not say if there were any people eaten, or not.
“We need to keep going and get further up,” Mingus said as he rode past and moved carefully down the other side into the narrow space between the hills. Boston turned as the serpent appeared to spy her and her horse.
Boston had to move carefully down the dip in the land. That side of the hill was extra steep, making the place between the hills like a gully, almost a canyon. Her horse could not avoid sliding a little on the loose dirt and sent the dirt cascading down. There were plenty of people and the travelers down there, but some had found the narrow and dangerous path around the side of the hill that also went gradually toward the top.
“There is an upland meadow in the direction opposite the path. If we can get the horses up there we may be all right.” Decker had noticed the terrain.
“Boston, look out!” Katie was watching something else. The serpent head crashed into the top of the hill and tried to reach down into the gully, but it was too big to fit between the hills. Boston was lucky to be low enough to not be snatched right off her horse. The serpent sounded frustrated and smashed several times into the hills, trying to reach the horses in the gully. It looked to be in slow motion as it hit the hills again and again, but it only succeeded in knocking loose rocks and dirt to the bottom.
Several locals became buried. A couple were injured by the rocks. But the other people from the village dug them out and helped them to the path.
“No way we can get to that upland meadow without becoming sea serpent food,” Katie countered.
“That beast keeps knocking dirt and rocks down the hills and we have to get up on top of it to keep from being buried, we will eventually get to the meadow, like it or not,” Decker mumbled.
“Now would be a good time to have a secret troop of dwarves open a door in the hillside,” Alexis also mumbled, but her father Mingus heard with his elf ears and responded.
“I’m sorry, but I sense no little ones close to this place.”
“That serpent has to be stretched pretty far from the water,” Lincoln surmised. “I assume it has to stay damp to avoid drying up in the sun.”
Mingus nodded. “Probably a sea serpent of the deep. It is out of it’s element and stretched so it can’t get a solid hit on the rocks, or dig us out.”
“Look,” Boston shouted and pointed. Everyone looked up. There was a dot in the sky and it was growing.
“The roc,” Mingus named it before Katie could get out her binoculars.
“Whoa!” Decker and Lockhart rushed back down and just avoided being eaten. They were inching up the side of the big hill, checking out the path to the upper meadow. and the mouth came close before it grabbed a chunk of rock.
“I would say that bird is the size of a two or three story house,” Katie guessed.
“That is hardly bigger than the serpent head by itself,” Lincoln said and reached for the binoculars to take a look.
“Yeah,” Boston piped up. “But the big bird is going after the worm.” That was how she saw it.