Kunlun Mountain was in fact a small mountain group that stood on the edge between the Tibetan plateau and the bigger Kunlun mountain range that blocked off the Taklimakan desert. Kunlun Mountain guarded the source of the two rivers. Already called the home of the gods, the Shang certainly wanted it, but they did not have the resources to take it. Yu-Huang went there to escape the horror that arose in the fall of the Xia dynasty and the rise of the Shang dynasty. He wanted some time alone to think what he should do.
Immediately, men and women began to gather to him, to disciple with the one they imagined was a holy man. When gods from all over the world came to talk with him, to seek his advice about the madness of the Shang-Di, his position in the eyes of the people became irrevocable. Now, when the pantheon of the Shang negotiated the withdraw of the foreign gods, the human Shang rulers thought they had a chance to take the mountain. But the demons moved in. Indeed, circumstances made it appeared as if a demon army invaded the mountain and drove off the gods.
“So it is up to you, alone, to drive out the demons,” Lockhart said, as he sipped his substitute morning coffee.
“But not alone. Nagi and Shengi have come to help.”
“Yes,” Katie spoke up. “Why are they here? Aren’t they part of the Chinese pantheon?”
Yu-Huang confirmed that with his nod. “But there is an understanding among the gods of China. That was part of the agreement, that the gods would withdraw on condition that the pantheon keep their king, the old titan Shang-Di, in line. Some were ready right then to invade, you know, war among the gods. Both Nagi and Shengi have plainly stated that they would rather give the crown to Tien, and would gladly serve him, his siblings and their children. They see that as reuniting the west and east. And the Brama and others would not mind that arrangement, since it would finally open up the silk road to real trade.”
“Trouble in the ranks,” Decker remarked.
Yu-Huang nodded again. “But Nagi and Shengi are not normal. I have some history with them. Most of the pantheon are not so blatant about it. Many are hidden because most remain supportive of the Shang-Di. That may be out of fear, but I believe in some cases it is because the gods are like minded, you know, insane.”
“It may be a bit late to bring it up,” Lincoln interrupted. “But what are we supposed to do about the genie? I assume the black cloud is still overhead. Won’t he warn the ghouls?”
“Let me take care of the marid,” Yu-Huang said. “The djin will not interrupt whatever you do.”
Yu-Huang looked like a man caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “Valiant was sent back to the 1870s in exchange for the horse that Elder Stow is now riding. I’m sorry, Boston. It was hidden from all of you so you did not realize it, but I thought it best so you did not have to drag around an extra horse, all the way through time.”
“But, I remember the horse being there at places. I swear. Don’t you remember?” She turned to Katie and Lockhart, and then to Lincoln.
“I sort of remember,” Alexis said.
“All part of the illusion,” Mingus spoke up. “I am sure the Lord meant it for the best.”
“But…” Boston found some tears. “It was my only connection to Roland.”
“You became an elf,” Alexis said. “I can’t think of a stronger connection than that.” She and Artie comforted Boston. Mingus watched. He was honestly not much good in the comforting department
“Arm up,” Decker added, and saw that Elder Stow was already on horseback and had his weapon in his hand.
As the dark elves took the north end of the trap, and the light elves took the east, so the travelers and roughly a hundred humans took the south. Some twenty of those humans had horses to ride, but the majority were there to hold the south end and keep any ghouls from breaking through the line. That left only the western side of the trap, which was the cliff of Kunlun itself. The dwarves went there with the lanterns the travelers carried. They had spotlights, and the dwarves were to turn them on all together, if the dwarves could be trusted to do that. While the dwarves climbed up into the rocks at the foot of the cliff and got their bows and arrows ready, a second hundred humans spread out in the bushes with torches, bows of their own, and some other weapon, like copper or stone tipped spears, copper knives, or wood or bone clubs with copper or sharp stones attached. The Rong did not have much in the way of bronze.
The men were as ready as they could be, and good thing, because as soon as they began to spread out along the base of the cliff with their torches, the ghouls attacked. The spotlights came on in a staggered fashion, not exactly all at once, but the dwarf arrows came quick enough. Every third human held a torch, while every third held tight to his spear, and the final third had bows of their own, and all those arrows were enough to prevent the battle lines from actually meeting. The ghouls were surprised, and a number of them fell, but soon enough they backed up to the trees and got out bows of their own.
The ghouls were hardly the mindless monsters they may have seemed at times. These had bows, spears, and knives of their own, as well as great wooden shields that saved a number of them in that initial charge.
The men found themselves too exposed, with little to hide behind other than bushes, and with torches that the ghouls could target with their arrows. They soon backed up to the rocks with the dwarfs, and after that, it looked like it might be a stand-off. The travelers with their guns and the twenty locals on their local horses were then supposed to hit the southern flank of the ghouls to get all of the ghoul attention while the elves, dark and light, slowly pulled in to tighten the circle. The people on horseback were then supposed to rapidly withdraw to the southern line, to reinforce the wall of men in the only direction the ghouls had left to try to escape.
The plan was actually very simple. It sounded more complicated than it was, but even being simple, it did not exactly go as planned. The charge of the travelers and local horsemen did relieve some pressure on the cliff side. It also made the work of the elves tightening the circle much easier, and a surprise to the ghouls, who suddenly found enemies at their back. But the horses did not exactly strike and withdraw very well. Both Artie and Alexis got knocked off their horses, and that made everyone stop.
Artie fell when a bear rose up in front of her horse and the horse bucked. She lost her hold on her weapon and fell into a bush. She took an arrow in her arm and wailed when the bear turned on her. The wail was as close to a human scream as possible, and not at all a metallic whine. Katie paused to unload bullets into the bear, but then lost her rifle and her seat when a tiger leapt at her from a bush. She hit the ground hard and moaned for a moment. Fortunately for her, the tiger turned toward Artie, who was on her hands and knees, searching for her weapon and not looking up.
Several ghouls came out of the woods to attack the women with their spears, and an ifrit, a creature of flame, swooped down on the scene, its wings flapping hard. It laughed.
“No!” Katie yelled. She pulled her saber and knife and charged the tiger. The tiger paused. It appeared shocked that a human would do such a thing. Then it leapt, as Katie leapt.
The sound of thunder cracked the forest. The skull of the ifrit got split open by two shotgun slugs, and the fire inside began to leak out of the top of the creature. Buckshot shattered the wings, while rapid fire from Decker’s gun took down several ghouls and convinced the others to run.
Katie pushed the white robe off of her, as the tiger had turned back into the iblis in death. She was badly scratched and bitten, but alive when Lockhart got down beside her and started yelling at her. “You don’t charge a tiger!” Decker watched the woods. Artie looked up with a big smile.
“I found it.” She had her weapon in her hand.
In another part of the forest, Alexis got thrown from the back of Misty Gray when three ghouls got in front of her, roared, and brandished their spears. They would have killed her if Boston and Lincoln had not been right there with their handguns. The 9mm handguns were not the best option against such large creatures, but several bullets did the trick, and the ghouls certainly wailed enough. They felt the bullets and bled enough.
Lincoln took an arrow in his leg as he and Boston dragged a semi-conscious Alexis behind a tree. Mingus arrived and got down right away, letting his horse follow the other horses away from the fighting. He only gave Alexis a quick look to be sure she would be all right. His eyes appeared to be focused on a smiling ghoul at the edge of the trees. That ghoul looked to be gathering a number of ghouls to charge the travelers.
Mingus knew, in the way of those rare little ones that have mind magic, that this particular ghoul was the controller, and not just any controller, but the one from the future. He reasoned that even if the travelers killed every other ghoul from the future, this one could still follow and gather local ghouls to attack the group. This one had to die or the travelers would never be safe. He pulled a knife from somewhere and charged the ghoul, and at elf speed, it did not take long to cross the distance.
“Alexis, care for and teach Boston,” he yelled.
“Father,” Alexis responded.
“Father Mingus,” Boston cried out much louder, but then got busy. The ghouls the controller had gathered, attacked. A great flash of light disintegrated the group of ghouls all at once. Elder Stow was still on his horse, and he shouted.
“You will not kill my children again.”
A second great flash of light came from the direction where Mingus met the ghoul controller. It was bright enough to make everyone blink. Then everyone shook and Boston let out a scream as a stroke of lightning went up from the ground into the darkness overhead.
“Zoe?” Lincoln asked, as the darkness cleared off to reveal the sunrise. Lincoln remembered the migrant camp in Beltain’s time zone, how Zoe, a lesser goddess, made her displeasure with the djin known, and drove him off.
“Just me,” Yu-Huang appeared and reported. “We need to get all of you brave souls up to the cavern where you can heal from your work.” The fighting was over.
“Father Mingus?” Boston asked, but Yu-Huang did not answer her.