Jessica grabbed Melissa and took the recruits into Captain Driver’s office as soon as Emily ran out. She pointed at Captain Driver’s gun safe. “Open it,” she said, as the others piled into the room.
“Oh, I don’t know if I can,” Melissa said.
“Sure you can,” Jessica insisted.
“I’ve seen you do harder things,” Maria said.
“Here goes.” Melissa closed her eyes. After a moment, everyone heard three faint clicks, and the safe door swung open. No one was more surprised than Melissa, and that included Greta, Hilde and Natasha who until then had only heard rumors.
“I did it,” Melissa told Sara and Sara hugged her while the military retrieved their weapons. They loaded up plenty of ammunition.
“Sorry, Maria, but if Captain Driver complains I want to say only ROTC people used the rifles.”
“Wouldn’t touch one,” Maria said
“Me neither,” Sara added, but everyone figured that.
“I could try,” Melissa offered
“No,” Jessica responded. “You need to have your hands free.” She did not explain.
It was then that Diane came running in, yelling. “Weapons. I need a weapon.”
Jessica handed over her rifle and made a command decision. “Greta and Hilde go with her. Natasha, stay with me.”
“What? No.” Natasha wanted to complain, but Jessica interrupted.
“I need back-up. That’s an order soldier.”
Natasha straightened up. “Yes, Ma’am.”
Diane, Hilde and Greta ran out as Jessica got another rifle. Then the ones who remained went to the center of the gym. Jessica pulled over the pommel horse, Maria and Melissa, the vault. Sara and Natasha got the balance beam. They draped the floor mats over them all and in this way made a kind of fort in the center of the room.
“As long as orcs can’t come up through the ground, this is better than being against the wall,” Jessica said as she watched the doors. “Walls fall down.” Natasha and Melissa both got up on chairs.
“Better view,” Natasha said and pretended to look over the vault.
“Uh-huh.” Melissa agreed, but her eyes stared at the floor in search of orcs.
The door opposite the parade ground door began to shake. It was locked, but it only took a moment to rip it off the hinges. A monster of an orc came in first. He was four feet wide at the shoulders and his knuckles fell just short of dragging the ground. By contrast to the first one, the orcs that followed all looked like normal enough goblins, and some of them were no more than two or three feet tall.
Natasha got down from her chair and she and Jessica opened fire. Three of the orcs fell before a volley of arrows came in answer. The women all ducked, but Jessica caught one in her side. It was a lucky shot that slipped between a crack where two floor mats did not quite meet.
“Damn!” Jessica fell to the floor and Maria immediately hovered over her. A second volley of arrows came, but they all bounced and ricocheted away because of some unseen force. Melissa was still up on her chair and had her hands up.
“The wall can deflect some arrows,” Melissa said through a strained voice. “But I have no hope it will deflect a charge.”
“Help me up. Help me up,” Jessica complained, and Maria helped her sit and hold her rifle. The orcs looked ready to try that charge.
Sara, who had been silent in disbelief until then, was shaken back to reality by the sight of Jessica’s blood. She stood, shepherd’s crook in hand and hollered as loud as she could. “You hold it right there. Don’t you dare come any closer.”
The orcs paused. Sara glowed a little with a pure, white light. “Zoe protect us,” Sara added for good measure, and the orcs looked afraid to move forward.
The light that surrounded Sara appeared to spread as she spoke, but only to one side. Then it flashed brilliant for a second and when it went out, two dozen well-armed elves stood beside the small, makeshift fort. One ogre who seemed very eager for a fight, came with them. The elves ignored the women and the orcs quickly focused on the elves. The fight looked inevitable, as the monster that tore off the door, a distorted troll of some sort and the ogre charged each other. They would have torn the gym to shreds in moments, but something happened no one expected, least of all Sara. Zoe appeared between the two charging beasts, and she was dressed in the most ancient looking armor and decked out with a sword, a long knife across the small of her back and several other instruments of combat hanging here and there. Zoe threw her hands up and some force emanated from her hands that picked up the two combatants and flung them to crash into their respective walls, and she said one word.
“Enough!” The elves all went to their knees and dropped their eyes, no longer concerned with the orcs in the least while Zoe first turned on the orcs. “You don’t belong here,” she said. “Begone.” And they all vanished. There were no flashy lights or trumpets, they just were not there anymore.
At that point, Emily and her troop piled into the gym, and Heinrich at least had the good sense to follow the lead of the elves and fall to his knees. Amina was a bit slower, but she soon joined him, and Mindy followed her example, though her eyes never looked down.
“Good,” Zoe said and turned on the women in the fort. She spoke matter of fact, like she was speaking about the weather. “My rebellious ones have no business coming here. They can drill a hole in the atmosphere of Avalon, but the only way they can make it a passage to Earth is if someone here, on this side opens the door.” Zoe turned to the new arrivals. “My queen,” she said, and in a way that was possessive, not submissive. There might be other queens in the world, but Emily somehow belonged to Zoe. “You must find out who opened the door here and where it is and close it.” She smiled and turned finally to the elves. “Captain Riverbend.” The name was sharply spoken.
An elf, a female scooted a bit forward but dared not look up. “My lady?”
Zoe paused in a kind of dramatic moment before she softened her tone. “Thank you for helping my friends, but you don’t belong here either. Please take your troop back to Avalon before Lady Alice finds out.”
The elf looked up, and she was a pretty creature, and looked young. “But you and lady Alice are—”
“Hush. No need to get into that. Things here are complicated enough. Go on, now. And be sure to take the big, frightening, ugly, smelly, boil-faced brute of an ogre with you.” The humans all looked, though perhaps only Emily and Heinrich could look at the beast for more than a second, but instead of anger at the insult, it appeared the brute beamed with pride.
One man’s insult… Emily thought.
“Yes, my Lady,” Captain Riverbend responded and an archway appeared in the air in the gym. That was the only way to describe it as the gym remained, but through the arch there was some other place altogether with green grass and trees still in bloom; and it was everyone’s idea of lovely. The elves stepped through and the ogre followed and then the archway slowly shrank and disappeared.
“You, too, Mister Schultz.” Zoe had moved on to talk to Heinrich. “No stories of the Kairos if you please. These women have enough on their plates for present.” Then she turned to Maria and Jessica. “Now Maria. You have to get that arrow shaft out of her side before it festers.”
“But the blood,” Maria protested. “I’m not a surgeon.”
Zoe shook her head. “Lay on hands,” she said. “The spirit of Eir has not left you without gifts. Sara can help you understand how to lay on hands, but you are the one who must do it.”
Last of all she turned to Sara. “Priestess, you were chosen by the source for your tasks before the foundation of the world. Perhaps we all are, only we don’t see it.” Zoe stepped up and put out her hand, and Sara took that hand to shake before she realized what she was doing. “Now, you can just talk to me. I will hear you. And call me sometime. Maybe we can do lunch when things quiet down a bit.”
Zoe stepped away from them all and headed toward the back wall. “Emily, find and close that door, and solve my mystery. Apples are missing from Avalon. Something to do with immortality.” Zoe paused for a moment. “Immortality? Fools.” She sighed. “So much to do.” Zoe shook her head and walked right through the wall, and was gone.
Maria’s hands glowed with a golden glow. She and Jessica watched as the hole in Jessica’s side closed up. “You have still lost some blood,” Maria said. “I don’t know how deep the healing will go.” Jessica looked up, but she was not complaining. The pain was gone. Meanwhile, Maria had something to say to Sara. “By the way, Priestess, the phrase is not “hold it right there, don’t come any closer.” It’s, “You shall not pass.” And you need to bang your staff.”
The following day, Julie Tam from the Medical Examiner’s office called Lisa. “Tell Latasha it was arsenic, or something like it. Her instincts were right. Janet did not die of the drug overdose, though they stuffed enough drugs into her system to kill an elephant. I will be running more tests and give you a more complete report in a few days.”
“But where would drug dealers get their hands on arsenic?” Lisa asked.
Julie had some thoughts. Lisa took notes, but after that she decided to call Latasha herself.
Ashish was right there. “Are you going to tell her about Carlos?”
“Not yet, but she needs to know what to look out for.”