The early spring rain stopped pelting the earth with life-giving water, though the bubbling brooks, streams and rivers would run high and swift for a time. The wind stopped shaking the trees and crashing the sea against the cliffs in great angry-sounding roars. At the higher altitudes, the clouds cleared off to reveal the thousand-million stars of the heavens, but at ground level, the earth and sea becalmed, like a child falling into a quiet and restful sleep after the tantrum is done. The earth, all asleep, knew a few hours of peace.
Sometime after four, when the Artemis moon rose over the western hills, a thin mist rose from the sea to cover the land like a blanket. Four men in the temple awoke, though they said nothing in the dark. The priest Alesandros continued to sleep peacefully next to the Priestess Thalia, his wife, but the rest quietly rose to their feet and stumbled out into the dark. No one was there to notice Decker and Elder Stow, unless their dreams appreciated the quiet at the end of the snoring. Alexis might have turned to her side, but she was no stranger to Lincoln getting up in the night to use the bathroom. Katie, already tied more to Lockhart than she knew, mumbled briefly when Lockhart left the building. That woke Artie, who felt better, her energy returned after her illness earlier in the evening.
Artie listened to the silence. She thought about her people trapped in mindless slavery to the Anazi. She understood, she would not even have a people, and she herself would not even exist if the Anazi had not built them to fight the alien blobs. The Anazi, in a way, were her creator gods. But as Elder Stow explained it, androids were not robots with sophisticated programming. If built right, to rightly be called androids, they will, at some point, become self-aware, which is the hallmark of intelligent life. In order to keep such androids bound or suppressed, then becomes an ethical issue. Such oppression can be called cruelty. Elder Stow said that was why species more advanced than the Anazi did not bother building androids, even if they could build them infinitely better than Artie… no offence. Artie was not offended. She just wanted help to set her people free.
“Benjamin,” Artie heard Alexis call out softly for Lincoln. Alexis and Lincoln were given a bite of the apple of youth at the beginning of their journey, so they became like late twenty-year-olds who could withstand the rigors of their journey through time—and Lockhart also ate from the apple. But that did not change the fact that Alexis and Lincoln had been married for over thirty years. Alexis did not wake when Lincoln got up in the night to use the bathroom. He did that often enough after they turned sixty. But when he did not come back, she woke up, worried.
“Benjamin,” she called out a little louder, though still reluctant to wake the others. She prepared to get up herself to see where he might be when she heard Artie answer.
“He left the building. I don’t know why. All the men did.”
“What?” Katie sat up, and her word was not softly spoken.
“They left the building. They all did.”
“I saw them too,” the fairy spoke from the altar.
Boston, who stirred when Alexis called, came wide awake on Katie’s shout. She got up to check and report. “Lockhart, Decker and Elder Stow are not here. And look, Elder Stow left his bag of equipment.” She lifted something in the dark. “And Decker left his rifle.”
Katie jumped right up. “Okay,” she yelled. “Everybody up. Decker would never go anywhere without his rifle. Something is seriously wrong.”
“What is it?” a sleepy Thalia asked. She shook Alesandros who had a hard time rubbing the sleepies out of his eyes.
“Light,” Katie called, and Alesandros stumbled to light a torch out of the brazier where the coals were still red. Alexis put up a fairy light, and it lit the front of the temple like an overhead sixty-watt bulb.
“They all left together,” Artie said. “I did not know what to make of it.”
“I might,” Thalia said, as she came awake and appeared to sniff the air. She looked at Alesandros, but he sniffed and shrugged.
“I don’t smell anything.”
“I do,” Alexis said. “I smell lavender, pine, and maybe meth-amphetamines
Thalia pursed her lips. “Come. We must hurry.” She headed for the door, Alesandros on her tail, and Lilac the fairy rushing to her shoulder. Alexis came right behind, having grabbed her bag with the medical kit. Boston, Katie and Artie followed, all armed, not knowing what they might face. Artie had her Anazi handheld weapon, though she learned from Elder Stow and kept it for emergencies. Katie had her rifle, and Boston carried Decker’s Rifle. Boston might have been an electronic and technological whiz kid, but she was raised a Massachusetts redneck. There are such things. She not only rode rodeo, she hunted, mostly with her father and brothers, including at least one trip to Canada where she hunted bear. Decker’s rifle might be a sophisticated, super advanced military rifle, like Katie’s, but Boston knew how to point and shoot very well. Being an elf did not change that.
Thalia and Alesandros brought the women to where the grassy meadow met the rocky side of the hill. They climbed right in to a small cave there, and made fairy lights to light the way. Lilac sent her fairy light out front, Alexis raised hers to shine from overhead, and Boston made one and let it trail from behind. She did not want something unknown to creep up on them from the rear.
The small cave quickly opened-up into a broad and tall cavern, which looked like a crack in the earth. It made something like a giant staircase of boulders they could slowly climb down toward the sea.
“This ends in a grotto in the cliffside, facing the bay.” Alesandros said.
“Hush,” Katie scolded him. “We are not here for a guided tour. It would be best if whoever is down there did not know we are coming.”
Alesandros put out his torch so he could use both hands and help Thalia as they labored slowly down the rocks to get to the bottom. Boston found her balance and agility greatly enhanced as an elf, but she yawned several times, being a light elf, and it was still night in the outside world. Katie, an elect, had no trouble at all. Alesandros and Thalia appear to have been down here before and knew where to step. Alexis was the slow one, though she stayed right with Alesandros and Thalia, and Artie lost her footing a couple of times, but Katie was right there to catch her.
When they got to the bottom, the women all heard the song, sweet, sad, and literally enchanting. To the men, it had been irresistible. The women resisted it, but some eyes turned to Alesandros. He tried to whisper.
“Amphitrite immunized me, and the people in the village. She told the sirens if they started interfering with the normal course of life along this coast, they would be in big trouble.”
Katie nodded, and the group broke into the cavern which was lit from overhead like light from several chandeliers. “We having fun?” Katie asked, and she looked to be sure the men had not been harmed. The men were slow to respond, but the sirens noticed the intruders right away. They probably knew they were coming, but did nothing, thinking their intrusion would be inconsequential.
The five sirens, women, beautiful almost to the point of hurting the eyes, and with their wings, looked angelic. Boston recognized them as lesser goddesses. She smelled the river god, and maybe the earth in them. That would account for their draw to the water and their bird-wings, not to say that there was no such thing as sea birds. Seagulls, though, they were not. They felt more like vultures.
“Katie,” Lockhart finally noticed. “We found these angels. I was coming to get you in a moment.” He took a handful of grapes and enjoyed them.
“Silenus come by? Maybe Pan himself?” Alexis asked. “I can smell the fermented grapes from here.”
“Bacchus, and maybe Dionysus,” Katie said, softly.
“No,” one of the sirens said. “We got them for our guests.”
“But we are on a journey, and we need the men to take us there,” Artie said, innocently.
“I know,” one of the sirens said, and stuck her head up from beside Lincoln who looked to be lounging on a bed of straw. “Benjamin has told me some of your wonderful adventures.”
“My Benjamin,” Alexis said. “He sometimes says things he should not say.”
“If you have heard,” Katie said. “Then you know we are travelers from Avalon and belong to the Kairos. The hedge of the gods has been placed around us and around all of our things.”
One of the sirens lifted herself with her wings and came to a soft landing in front of the other sirens in order to face the women. “I know,” she said, and her hands became claws and scratched at the air.
“I am sure you would not want to anger the gods,” Boston said.
“Oh no,” one of the sirens in the back spoke up. “Cousin Medusa once angered Apollo, and he gave her snakes for hair. Now any mortal that sees her, she turns to stone so her face is the last thing they ever see.”
“She hides herself in a cave and cries all the time,” another said.
Thalia found the courage to step forward and speak. “You know our lady, Amphitrite, has said you must not interfere with the men of the coast, or any of the Akoshian merchants who come to trade here.”
“But these are not men of the coast, or Akoshian merchants,” the siren said. “They should be fair game. We did not know they were hedged about by the gods…”
“Until you tried to eat them?” Katie asked.
“What? No. Never,” the sirens protested, but it got drowned out by a crack of thunder in the room. Amphitrite appeared, frowning, hands on hips, tapping her foot on the rock.
“If you knew they were hedged by the gods and not yours to have, you should have let them go right away.”
The one in front had hands again instead of claws. “But majesty,” she protested. “We have no men of our own.”
“No man will have us,” one siren said from the back.
“Black widow spiders,” Amphitrite mumbled, before she spoke plainly. “All the same, playtime is over. The storm is passed, for the present. You can return to the sky and go to your own island now.”
The sirens stood and turned away from everyone. They looked like scolded children, but put up no argument. “Good-bye,” they said. The one at the back even said, “Good-bye, Thalia.”
“Good-bye Meliope,” Thalia returned the word.
Amphitrite turned toward the women and said what the Kairos so often said. “You came at a bad time.” She raised her hand, and everyone reappeared in the temple to see the sun had already come up. While the men shook their heads and struggled to come out of their drunken stupor, Amphitrite stepped to the window. The curtains pulled themselves back so she could gaze out on the sea. Thalia stepped up beside her.
The women, at least, watched the two together. Thalia was a mature woman, not many years from the beginning of old age. Amphitrite looked to be about twenty-four, at the most, and would likely stay that age until she moved on to her next life. Yet, no one doubted that the two had been close friends when they were young, and in real terms, the same age. They watched the sun and the sea side by side, and then kissed like the best of sisters before Amphitrite vanished.
One of the mothers from the orphanage, dressed surprisingly like a nun, raced into the temple screaming, “Thieves. Thieves.”