Mingus and Alexis landed somewhere in the woods. Alexis spent the first ten minutes yelling, and occasionally hitting her father in the arm. Mingus took it, but as she began to run out of steam, he said they had to move on from there.
“Why?” Alexis asked. “Why should I go anywhere with you?”
“Because I am moving on, and I don’t believe you want to be left alone here in the wilderness, in the dark.”
Alexis looked around for the first time. The woods appeared like a jungle, even if the trees and bushes were the sort that might be found anywhere in the temperate zone. All the same, there was no telling what might inhabit such woods—wherever they were. She had one more thing to say. “Cheater.” They began to walk. Alexis added another word. “Kidnapper.” After a time, she added, “Selfish.”
Mingus checked the amulet once, set his direction, and otherwise kept the instrument hidden in his pocket. “An unspoiled wilderness, probably untouched by human hands,” Mingus said, after a while. “I thought you were into all that environmental stuff, save the planet and all that.”
Mingus shrugged. He picked up the pace where he could. He felt spooked, and wanted to get out of the woods as soon as possible. Something unnatural permeated the air.
After a while, Alexis said, “Wait a minute.” Mingus stopped, assuming she needed a break. She was an old woman, after all. He knew he could not expect her to walk all night, but he wanted to get out of the woods.
In fact, all Alexis wanted to do was snap a thin branch off an oak tree. She used a little magic to clean off the bark and sand it smooth. “I need to use this wand to break it in,” she said. Mingus said nothing. He looked around and feared she might get to use it sooner than expected. He walked.
Alexis was a real trooper. She walked a long way for someone her age. She thanked the gym membership, which she did not use often enough, and the Y, where she regularly swam. She kept in reasonable shape, but at last she said she had to stop.
“I can’t do an all-nighter like some college kid. I need to rest. I need some sleep.”
They came to a small clearing and Mingus did not argue. Only then did he think about how unprepared they were for such a journey. They had no tents or blankets, though it felt hot enough, the ground was dry, and it did not feel like rain. They did not have so much as a knife, which meant it would be hard to hunt or fish. If they arrived anywhere near his intended destination, he knew they could not count on human help.
Alexis did not worry about any of that. She just needed to sleep. She curled up in the grass and let her father watch over her.
Mingus remembered Alexis as a little elf with a big heart. A good spirit, with a good will, she was always kind to the animals and to all the people she met—even human people, which might have told him something. He did not need to think about that.
He remembered how everyone praised her gentle heart. She practically raised her baby brother when their mother took a turn on the earth before she retired to Mirroway. Of course, Roland would take her side. He would support Alexis in whatever she wanted to do. She was loved. Mingus, on the other hand, might have been…perhaps…not a very good father. He spent all his time in the history department and had little time for his daughter, Alexis. He named her after Alexander the Great, and his son Roland, he named after the best friend of Charles Martel. He spent so little time with his children, he admitted to himself. Even when he did, he made everyone feel like they were a burden and disturbing him. He did not need to think that way.
Mingus found some stones and built a small circle in the clearing. He gathered some dead wood and piled it inside the circle. He held his hand over the pile, and the fire jumped from his fingers to the wood. It gave him a small campfire to cut through the dark of night. He could do that much.
After mind magic, Mingus’ element was fire. Alexis, a healer, a reflection of her internal goodness, could manipulate the air, like her mother. Roland, a hunter, had a little of both wind and fire. Mingus wondered where Roland might have gone off to in the night. He hoped the boy would find a nice elf maid and settle down. He prayed that he not make the same mistake his sister made.
Mingus cried to think of losing Alexis to death. Once she went over to the other side, even the Kairos would not be able to save her. Mingus was not a man to pray, but his heart cried out to the Kairos, the god of the elves, light and dark, and all the dwarfs in between. The Kairos became their god at the beginning of time—at the beginning of history. All the ancient gods on the earth gathered, agreed, and anointed him and her for the task.
Over one hundred and twenty-one lifetimes, the Kairos did take turns being male or female, more or less. The Kairos did have double the normal DNA, and the capacity to be him and her at the same time, but… Mingus understood being one person in two bodies at the same time would be very hard to pull off.
In any case, the ancient gods wanted a god for the little ones, and not just the little spirits of the earth, but the sprites of the fire, air and water as well. The gods wanted someone to watch over the little ones and, more to the point, be held responsible when they screwed up. But they were not about to put that much power into the hands of one of their own. So instead, the elves got a person who moved on every fifty or sixty years and started all over again from scratch as a newborn baby.
Mingus laughed at the memory of an expression old Fangs the goblin used to say. “Just our luck. We get a god who dies.” Of course, the little ones rarely followed the rules the Kairos gave them, even if they knew the rules, like not lying, not stealing, being good, and doing good for others, and stuff. Then they got a break every sixty or so years when the Kairos started over again as a baby. It seemed a good arrangement, overall.
Mingus prayed. He knew little ones prayed to the Kairos all the time, but like humans, their normal prayers asked for things people had no business asking for. Most would be scared witless if the Kairos actually showed up. Mingus shrugged and figured he fit that category. He had no right to ask for a solution to his problem, and he knew, deep down, Alexis was a problem of his own making.
Mingus chided himself for spending so many years in study. He missed so much of his own children’s childhood. He sighed, but realized it was too much to ask the Kairos to turn Alexis back into an elf. The Kairos, in the form of Lady Alice, was the one who made her human in the first place. It was too much to expect the Kairos Glen to change his mind.
Mingus stirred the fire for the next several hours and worried about what he could do. Alice stood there, in the tower on Avalon. She saw him escaping with Alexis held captive. Surely, she would send a rescue party. Old Doctor Procter might get that new amulet working, and then they would be after him. Mingus figured his only chance was to get beyond the range of the Heart of Time. He had to somehow take Alexis back to a time before history began. He had no idea how he might do that.
Something shuffled among the leaves. Mingus looked to the sky. It would be daylight in another hour. Something wailed nearby. Mingus woke Alexis gently.
“We have to go,” he said. “We have intruded and made the spirit of this wilderness angry. I have been feeling the anger building, ever since you snapped off that twig from the oak tree. We have to get out of the woods while we still can.”
“Father?” Alexis asked. She did not quite grasp what he said. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes to better focus.
“Father, the fire.” Alexis saw the fire and objected.
“Give the wilderness spirit something to do while we run for it,” he said, and picked up the pace. Alexis had a hard time keeping up.
They reached the edge of the woods when the sun topped the horizon. They tumbled out from the bushes and paused to stare. The plain before them had been stripped clean of vegetation. It had become a great mud flat, like it might have looked after a devastating flood. A great, three-story sized mound of dirt, like a small hill, stood to their left. On the top of the mound, an enormous brick-built tower stood and reached up toward the clouds.
“The bricks won’t hold that much weight. It will come down,” Mingus said.
“Father! Do you know what that is?” Alexis looked, awe-struck.
Mingus turned from the tower to look back at the trees. He saw the unmistakable face among the green. It looked like a face full of rage, tempered only by a touch of cruelty. Death glinted in the eyes; but it also looked like it had no intention of setting one foot beyond the edge of the forest. Clearly, it despised the human race that stripped the flatland bare. Mingus had no doubt the spirit would attack the humans if it could. He imagined some agreement had been reached. The edge of the forest looked like the DMZ. Mingus sighed his relief to be out of it.