Roland happily helped Boston into the woods. Lockhart, Captain Decker and Lieutenant Harper kept their eyes open in case any people escaped the trouble on the plains by wandering in among the trees. Lincoln kept thinking of things to jot down in his notebook and his wife made sure he did not walk into any trees. Mingus appeared to be thinking hard about something else and stayed quiet. Doctor Procter walked out front with his eyes glued to the amulet. He did walk into a couple of trees.
“A bit like walking into a goblin’s lair,” Mingus suggested. That did not help.
Lockhart figured they were far enough into the trees by then so it was safe to shoulder the shotgun. He offered to take a turn helping Boston. Roland seemed reluctant to let go of her and Boston hesitated as well. But after only a moment’s hesitation, Boston gladly let Lockhart help her, though she felt pretty sure she could have handled it on her own by then. As they walked, she thought about how she liked having Lockhart’s big arms wrapped around her. But then, she did not mind Roland’s arms, either. She felt confused. Lockhart was supposed to be a father figure—a grandfather figure. Lockhart did not help matters when he reminded her of his previous life.
“I was married once, you know, and I have a granddaughter that is not much younger than you.”
The forest continued to darken until there came a legitimate reason for the darkness. The sun got ready to set. Lockhart called a halt, and though he felt certain the elves and probably Doctor Procter could have continued without trouble in the dark, he thought it best to let everyone get some rest. Alexis showed signs of being tired, drained from the healing magic she performed on Boston, and Boston was not fully healed despite her playful attitude.
“So, what’s for supper?” Lincoln asked first.
“Bread-crackers and bread-crackers,” Alexis answered.
“Father, make a fire and give me an hour,” Roland said.
Mingus nodded. “My son has some talents, too.”
“Are you offended?” Alexis wondered.
“Not at all. I grew up with hunters. I love a good hunt. I can skin and cut up a deer and everything.”
“Redneck daughter,” Lockhart smiled. “Matches her red hair.”
“Good of you to notice.” Boston smiled right back at him.
When the tents were up and the cut-up deer roasted away, people wandered off for firewood and personal reasons, and perhaps to spend some time alone with their thoughts. Forty-five hundred BC was a long time ago. Sixty-five hundred years was a long time to travel.
Boston sat beside Doctor Procter and stared at the fire, her mind contemplating the impossible journey they faced. When she turned to the man, she imagined Doctor Procter had been unreasonably quiet so far. Her handheld database proved to be full of information about the various lives of the Kairos, but she imagined Doctor Procter knew a wealth of more intimate information, if she could just learn how to tap into it.
“So how far do we have to go?” she asked, casually. “Do you know who the next life of the Kairos we will meet?”
The doctor took out his amulet and answered her first question with a look. “We should easily be there by noon.” He shook the amulet and then repeated himself. “Yes, by noon.”
“May I see?” she asked, but when he held the amulet out for her, the first thing she saw was a blackening of his pointer finger. It looked black all the way to the palm. “What is that? It looks blood black. How did it happen?”
“Shouldn’t you let Alexis look at it? Maybe she can heal it.” Boston felt amazed at how Alexis had healed her.
“No, it is fine. Look.” He wiggled it. “It is not swollen or anything. I am sure it will clear up in a day or two. Besides, healing magic takes a great deal out of a person. We can’t expect her to heal every cut or scrape or bruised finger.”
“But it looks so dark. Is that blood?”
“No. It is fine, really. Now if you will excuse me, I have some personal business to attend to.” He got up, smiled, and waddled off. His old legs looked stiff.
Boston could hardly follow him, but she made a point later of mentioning it to Lockhart, privately. He also said to do nothing and not tell the others just yet. He said she should keep an eye on it, but when Doctor Procter came back to the fire, she noticed he made some fairy weave gloves that fit right up beneath his long sleeves.
“I thought I better protect it for a couple of days, just to give it a chance to heal,” he said.
That made sense. It was probably nothing, so Boston decided not to worry about it.
By four in the morning, a good hour before dawn, Boston heard the crack of a great tree. Someone yelled. “Everyone out of the tents, now. Hurry!” Boston jumped because the crack sounded very close. Lieutenant Harper, who shared her tent, helped her, and they ran as well as Boston could. The tree came down on their tent, and while Boston and the lieutenant were brushed back by some branches, they only got scrapes and cuts like Doctor Procter talked about.
“Boston?” Lockhart was the first one there.
“You shouted?” the lieutenant asked.
“Boston.” Alexis came running up. “What is it with you?” She began to tend their cuts.
“This is not accidental.” Mingus’ voice came from the far end of the tree. “The tree is old, but not dead, though what could have ripped it up, roots and all, is beyond me.”
“Is everyone all right?” Doctor Procter came up last of all. “What happened here?” No one answered him.
“Roland, Captain Decker, can you watch the perimeter while we break camp?” Lockhart asked, and the elf nodded and stepped out among the trees. The captain simply checked his weapon as Lockhart spoke. “Lincoln, can you get Boston’s tent out from under the trunk?”
“I’ll do it,” Mingus said. “It is fairy weave, but it will take some finesse in its present position.”
Lockhart nodded. “Lincoln, you get scullery. See what there is for breakfast and be sure the fire is out. Are you able to travel?” That last question got directed to the women. The lieutenant, Boston and Alexis all nodded.
“What about me?” Doctor Procter asked.
“Just get us to the gate before the tower falls and this whole time zone resets, whatever that means.” Doctor Procter nodded like the women and went to help take down the other tents.
“A face?” Mingus wondered what his daughter saw.
Alexis took a deep breath. “It startled me. A man’s face, I think.”
“Well whoever he was, he is gone now.” Captain Decker came in from behind the bushes.
“No, wait. I don’t mean a face like on a person. I mean the leaves shaped themselves into a face, and—and I sensed the presence of something alive.”
“I don’t see it.” Lincoln squinted.
“No, it is gone now.”
“A face in the leaves.” Mingus rubbed his chin. “A green man, do you think?”
Doctor Procter looked up. “It seems a good explanation, this far back.”
Mingus spoke to the others. “A bokarus, a spirit of what you humans call the pristine wilderness. They resent intrusion, particularly human intrusion, and fights against any environmental changes. That would explain the old tree torn up by the roots. The tree probably did not have long to live and it became a worthy sacrifice to kill us, or two of us anyway.”
“I read they are especially dangerous around water,” Doctor Procter said in his way, without explaining why.
“They like to drown people and feed off their souls—the life force.” Mingus did the explaining. “It is neat and clean, does no damage to the environment, and the dead body feeds those things that live in the river. But a bokarus can be dangerous on any ground.”
“I understand.” Boston touched the cut on her cheek. “But will it follow us through the time gate?”
“Not likely.” Lockhart said, and looked at Mingus who nodded to confirm that idea. “Probably native to this land.”
“Probably the reason these woods were considered off limits to the people back on the plains,” Lieutenant Harper suggested.
“No doubt,” Lockhart got everyone moving again, though they did not have very far to go to get to the gate. When they arrived, Doctor Procter held up the amulet, which glowed, slightly green, but he could not seem to locate the source.
“I guess he was right.” Lockhart said, and after only a second, Doctor Procter reappeared.
“Good to know the gates are two-way.”
“Good to know,” Lockhart agreed and he encouraged the doctor to go back through once more and everyone else to follow. They started to move when they heard a rumbling sound like thunder in the distance.
“The tower,” Lincoln said, as he took one last look around, and they all stepped through the gate into the next time zone.