The travelers stayed with Yu-Huang and his people for a month. They needed the recovery time.
Elder Stow’s horse took a ghoul arrow that was not life threatening. All the same, Elder Stow pampered the horse like a man who almost lost his best friend.
Lockhart got his leg sliced by a ghoul spear. He hurt, took time to heal, and commented that the Gaian healing chits which once filled his body must have finally died off and passed out of his system.
Decker got burnt by an ifrit fireball just before Lockhart split the ifrit skull with shotgun blasts. He ignored it, but kept the aloe handy.
Alexis cracked a rib when she got thrown from Misty Gray’s back. It was the same one she cracked when she was attacked by the lion in the previous time zone. Yu-Huang suggested it had not fully healed. She commented that she was lucky that she did not crack her head. Then she yelled at Benjamin for taking an arrow to the leg. Lincoln said he was just glad she was all right, even if she did not feel all right.
Alexis cried a lot for her father, and Boston cried with her. Boston, who pointed out that for the first time in ever, she was not the wounded one, nevertheless felt wounded by the loss of Mingus. No one knew what happened. Even Yu-Huang could not tell them anything. Mingus and the ghoul controller simply vanished in a massive flash of light. Whether it was something generated by Mingus, the ghoul, both in their meeting, or some outside force, no one could say. Alexis imagined Nagi or Shengi-god might know, but they were not around to ask.
Katie was by far in the worst shape. She killed the tiger, even as it tore her up. Any normal person would have had a slim chance for survival. Katie knew, as an elect, she would not only live, but she would heal, and without so much as a scar. But it took the whole month. It was that bad.
Artie got the arrow out of her arm and took a day to heal over her flesh. Elder Stow opened the arm to make sure she did not cut or fray any of her wiring. After that, she stayed at Katie’s side, once she realized, and had explained to her what happened.
“You are one of us,” Katie said, all month.
Artie kept responding with tears, and, “I’m so sorry.”
“Of course,” Yu-Huang confessed one evening over supper. The travelers actually saw very little of the Kairos as he tended to his disciples and to the natural ordering of the wilderness; but sometimes he appeared and answered some questions. “You don’t think all those gods from all over the world gathered here and agreed to leave without leaving a hedge against betrayal, do you?”
“I can’t imagine,” Lockhart said as he tried not to scratch the scab on his leg.
“I explained. North is the Gobi and the land of frost. Giants—titans still roam there, and the land is not kind to strangers. East is the sea, and as I told you, the sea is not exactly friendly to the Shang. South is the whirlwind. Nagi and Shengi and their children hold the south alongside the Himalayas, which are impassable in this age. But west… the steppes reach all the way from western Siberia to Germany, an easy way for armies of horsemen. Also, a road has been made through central Asia, the Silk Road as you know, which leads straight to India and Mesopotamia. The many gods were determined to leave someone in the west to hold the line.”
“You?” Lincoln asked.
Yu-Huang nodded. “Me, with Tien and the children to back me up. They made me a lesser god, but honestly they do not expect any more than for me to sound the alarm if the Shang break out of their place and prepare to invade the west.”
Later, on another day, Lincoln started things with a thought. “I suppose it makes sense, having disciples, you being a lesser god and all.”
Yu-Huang did not look pleased. “I actually have three strikes against me. First, I took up residence in the mountain of the gods. I did not know it when I came here. I just found the old Sevarese cavern and decided it was as good a place as any.”
“Yes. I imagine it comes from the stories and ancient tales from when the Sevarese were here. You know they ran roughshod over humans, and with their technology, I am sure they appeared god-like to the Qinyong that filled these hills in those days. The Xi-Rong are mostly their descendants.”
“So you lived with the gods?”
“No. I lived in the place of the gods and did not get blasted out of existence for my impertinence. But then the people discovered that the spirits of nature answered to me in some way. They began to come, seeking holiness, I guess. Little did they know…but they came with many questions, and I thought I might share some basic things, like the essence of right and wrong, what some call natural law, and some natural science and so on. I tried to confine myself to things Nuwa and Lin knew in their day, but I am sure some other things slipped in there. You know; I cannot exactly give them the ten commandments, but I can talk about family, and the human family, and grace and mercy, forgiveness and love.”
Yes, well. When Artie showed up out of nowhere—out of a hole in the air that many saw, and she ran to hug me and fell to her knees, I was in trouble. But then the gods began to show up from all over the world, and there was no disguising the fact that they were seeking whatever wisdom or counsel I might have concerning the Shang-Di situation. That was it. I suppose it is just as well they made me a lesser god, since everyone started treating me that way. And you know, the little spirits did nothing to talk the people out of it.”
Another time on another day, Yu-Huang explained why the people feared the ghouls, that they called demons, and yet revered the earth spirits, elves, dwarfs, and even the dark elves. “Demon is a term ingrained in Chinese consciousness since the days of Xiang,” he said. “You may remember, some of the people back then were demon possessed, as they would say in the west. Anything that tries to take the mind—to control a person from ghoul illusion and shaytan shape shifting or iblis invisible whispering, on up to outright possession is called a demon. Some of the little ones may be terrible tricksters, but at least they are not trying to eat the people. You would be surprised how easy it is to distinguish those spirit and powers that want to eat you from those that don’t want to eat you.”
“No,” Decker said. “I get it.” He spread some aloe on his arm. The blisters were healed, but unlike Katie, he would have a couple of scars from his burns.
“But that doesn’t explain why the people revere and respect your little ones the way they do,” Alexis said. “I saw a couple setting out an offering for the fairies of the woods.”
“People are drawn to defer to spirits, and to worship, to some extent, whatever has power over the natural world in things the people cannot control,” Lincoln tried to explain, but looked to Yu-Huang to see if he got it right.
“Essentially,” Yu-Huang agreed. “These people clearly distinguish between demons, like the ghouls, and nature spirits, like the elves, light and dark, and middle ones, including the dwarfs, gnomes and such. I have explained it to the people in as simple terms as I can. I suppose in the future, the terms become more interchangeable. Nature spirits get called unhappy or angry spirits or demons when they are blamed for eating the field of grain, or a flood, or taking a child with a fever. The people do try to stay on the good side of the spirits, but mostly it is not known or understood exactly how much or how little the spirits may be involved in personal or natural disaster type events. I think the offerings are a matter of better to be safe than sorry.”
At yet another time, Yu-Huang explained a little of what he taught the people. “The people in these mountains understand earth, water and fire well enough,” he said. “I have simply added two additional elements to their thinking.
“The light elves, that is wood elves and fee, are wood, or the trees. They are associated with the early spring, new life and the budding intensity of birth and first growth. The fee do cause the flowers to bloom, you know.
“The fire comes in late spring and early summer. It is a time of passion, but in the process, the old is burned away so the new can be planted. I confess, I am not a fan of slash and burn agriculture, but we go with the times in which we live.
“The center belongs to the earth spirits, the dwarfs and gnomes and such. The earth element is the long summer. Sometimes anxious. Sometimes full of joy. But I believe patience is the operative word for those little ones, just like you were patient with Pluckman and his people over all of those years. I know for you it was a matter of months, but you know what I mean.
“The fall is the time of metal. It belongs to the dark elves as the sun marches toward the winter solstice when the nighttime is longer than the time of daylight. Metal, mostly what the dark elves work with, is not just used, or primarily used for war. Metal is primarily used to cut and harvest the crops, and it is not just copper, brass, bronze, or in the future, iron, but also gold and silver, and the gems which are taken from the earth, like diamonds, rubies and jade. Metal can be a time of beauty, not just a hard time of death.
“Then water is the winter. It snows well enough in these mountains. Water wears everything down, but it also nourishes the earth so the spring can come again, do you see? The fire sprites get the fire time all to themselves, but the sprites of the air and water are both counted in the water time. When the air sprites take form, they come as little cloud people, which is made up of water, so it is not unfair.”
People nodded, and Lincoln said the elements to better remember them. “Wood, fire, earth, metal and water.”
“Why not air?” Lockhart asked. “I understood the element were earth, fire, water, and air.”
“And sometimes ether, whatever that is,” Lincoln said.
“Space,” Alexis explained quietly. “Emptiness. The vacuum.” She tried some other words to describe ether.
“No,” Yu-Huang shook his head that time. “Air is the element in which we live, like the fish lives in the water. The fish may not even be aware of the water until the fisherman pulls him out. Air is important to life, but it is necessary through all the seasons. Without air, we would all die. When the mine collapses and men are trapped, they may live for days, but only until they run out of air.”
“No,” Yu-Huang agreed. “But true enough.”
Finally, Yu-Huang confessed that he did not finish the djin. “I was not authorized to end the days of the marid that has been following you through time. It is reduced in stature and power, but then I drove it off. You will have to watch for it, still.”
Lockhart said nothing. He looked to the horizon, then he caught Katie’s eyes for a moment before they both looked away.
When the end of the month came, Yu-Huang gave Artie Mingus’ horse. He had already given Artie basic horse knowledge, so all he had to do was tune the horse to her, so it would respond to her.
“I understand Mingus only called his horse, Horse. You might give your horse a better name,” he said, and kissed her forehead to say good-bye.
Artie rode beside Katie, as they took the point and kept their senses open to see what dangers might lie ahead on the trail. Decker and Elder Stow took the flanks as usual, while Alexis and Boston rode in the middle, side by side, and sometimes cried in their grief. Lincoln dropped back to ride beside Lockhart in the rear guard position. Lockhart and Katie were talking to each other, but it was stiff, cordial and formal. That made Boston cry doubly hard, and everyone felt that was a terrible turn of events, but there was nothing anyone could do. Katie and Lockhart refused to talk about it, and they still had a long road to travel to get back to the twenty-first century.
End of Avalon, season 4. I hope you enjoyed the read.
Sorry for the commercial interruption, but I want to remind you that the Pilot Episode along with seasons one, two and three are all available at your favorite e-retailer (Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony, Kobo, Etc.). You can find them under my author name, M G Kizzia.
The Pilot Episode in particular has been revised and expanded to make an easier introduction to the characters, and the circumstances that gets these travelers stuck in the past in the first place. Take a look.
Tomorrow’s post will introduce a new story, a contemporary bit of fantasy with a bit of science fiction thrown in. It will be posted chapter by chapter into the new year. The Elect, Book II, Sophomore Year. I am looking forward to sharing the story, and I wish you all Happy Reading.