The night stayed quiet until an hour or so before sunrise. Alexis regularly squinted across the river, and at the footbridge. Light elves, who could see in daylight far better than humans, did not have the best eyes in the dark; but their ears could not be fooled at any time. Alexis and Boston heard the shuffling across the bridge, and heard where the shuffling sound stopped.
Boston said she was glad for Elder Stow’s screens, several times
Alexis agreed, but made Boston concentrate on her lessons and learning.
Not long before the sun began to lighten the horizon, Huyak’s sons came out of the house and ran smack into the screens. They complained, startled at first, before the elder came to the camp to ask about getting out.
“We have jobs to attend,” he said. “How can we get there?”
Boston told them to wait a second. She stepped over beside Elder Stow’s tent and looked at the Screen device. It was linked to an Anazi device, like a battery of some kind that appeared to be keeping the screens charged. “Clever,” Boston said, and thought it was like a laptop plugged into the wall. At the end of the night, the screen device would still be fully charged, and it appeared as if the battery thing would charge up again in the sun.
“A-hem,” Alexis cleared her throat.
“Oh. Right.” Boston said, and turned off the screens. The young men ran down the road to town, and only then did Boston realize what she had done. Alexis caught the idea at the same time, and both sets of eyes and ears turned to the river and the footbridge, where they heard a zombie wail.
“Oh, Crap,” Boston said, and tried to turn the screens back on, but suddenly the device seemed dead, drained of all energy.
Alexis sent a fairy light into the sky to light the area. She pulled out her wand and made circles in the air in front of her. The wind came, and it was strong enough to blow several zombies off their feet and into the river, but there seemed too many of them.
“It won’t work,” Boston yelled, before she pulled out her wand and sent her own fairy light up toward the footbridge. Boston merely pointed her wand, and fire poured out of the tip, like a flamethrower, or dragon breath. The zombies began to burn, but they were slow to stop moving, and with so many on the bridge, they would soon overwhelm the camp.
“Aim for the bridge,” Alexis said. She touched Boston’s shoulder, and Boston’s flame thrower trebled in power, the fire being stoked by the added air.
Katie got up and grabbed her rifle. Lockhart grabbed his shotgun and whistled for the horses. The horses moved away from the flames and bunched up near Huyak’s house. Katie fired, and her bullet knocked a zombie down, but she had no illusions that it would stay down. Suddenly, from over her shoulder, Artie fired her weapon. It made a streak of yellow light in the dark. It burned zombies as easily as Boston’s flames.
Elder Stow came stumbling out of his tent because of all the noise, and saw the burning bridge, and so many zombies crossing the water. He ignored his own screen device and pulled his weapon. He practically cleaned the bridge with his first shot, as his hand weapon dwarfed Artie’s by many orders of magnitude.
Arinna floated out in front of everyone, and said, “Shut your eyes.” Everyone heard, and at least Katie thought Hannahannah helped make sure everyone had their eyes closed. The travelers saw a light as bright as the sun, even with their eyes closed, and they felt the heat, besides, but it was only for a moment.
When the travelers reopened their eyes, and managed to look through their teary, spot-filled vision, they saw small piles of ash where the zombies had been. They saw steam rising from the river, and later, when the sun came up, they saw the burn marks on the building across the way. Presently, under Alexis’ and Boston’s fairy lights, and a stronger light that they guessed Hannahannah put up, they saw a dark-haired woman appear who in a way looked much like Arinna, though Arinna had medium brown hair.
“Lelwani,” Hannahannah said the woman’s name in a tone of voice that sounded near a scold. Lelwani whined.
“Not fair. I never got a sleepover with a friend when I was her age. Grandmother, Arinna gets everything she wants, and she burned up all my undead guards. All my hard work.”
Hannahannah ignored the woman and spoke sweetly to Arinna. “Time to rise, dear.”
“Yes, Grandmother.” Arinna turned to the travelers. “It was lovely to meet you all. Artie, my friend, remember me,” she said, and faded away as the first wisps of light touched the east.
Four people appeared on the grass and looked around. One, a woman, stepped forward and spoke. “Lelwani, what have you been doing? You are over nine hundred-years-old, but you are sounding and acting like a child.”
The travelers recognized the woman, and Lincoln named her. “Hebat.”
Hebat turned briefly to the travelers and said, “Hello friends. Has my daughter been bothering you?”
Lelwani’s chin fell. She did not know these people were friends with her mother. She returned to her whine. “Mother, the man of the Masters said these people were dangerous and I should get rid of them.”
“We do not speak to such people, much less do we listen to them.” Hebat let out a touch of anger. “You know better. And these people are surrounded by a hedge of the gods, which you would have seen if you bothered to look.”
Lelwani looked defeated, and something nearer to the truth came out. “But mother, I have worked so hard, and my land is still so empty. The gas the masters are making can fill my land.”
“That is not what you should wish for,” Hebat said, as the three who came with her stepped into the light. One of the gods spoke; the one with the glasses.
“Your land will fill soon enough until you wonder if there will be room to contain them all. Then you will weep for those whose days are only a breath, and who, like the flowers of the earth, grow in beauty and fade away so fast.”
The travelers recognized at least two out of three. Boston called to the one who spoke. “Enki!” Enki looked and smiled for her, and pushed up his glasses.
“Shivishwa. But you are a cathartic goddess, yourself.”
“In my fashion,” the woman answered. “But here we are named A’as the wise, Ellil of the sky, and I am Sauska, and I have added healing, not just war to my name.”
“Congratulations,” Katie said, not sure if congratulations were in order.
“Mother.” Lelwani wanted to get their attention back.
“No more.” Hebat shook her finger. “You have no business guarding anything, especially for the Masters. Forcing spirits to take rotting, decaying flesh is cruel. You were raised better than that.”
“Mother!” Lelwani vanished in a puff of smoke, and Hebat apologized to the travelers before she and her friends vanished, and they took Hannahannah with them.
“So, the sun is coming up,” Decker said in a flat voice, and looked to put something on the fire to burn for breakfast.
“Why did you switch off the screens, and why didn’t you switch them back on?” Elder Stow asked.
“The boys wanted out,” Alexis said, but she got drowned out by Boston.
“They wouldn’t go back on. They got drained of all their power.”
Elder Stow examined things closely. “They are working now, and fully charged.”
“Yes, dear,” Katie answered and hugged her.
“Goddess of the sun, I would guess,” Lockhart said, and offered a hug of his own before he retrieved his blanket and went into his tent. Katie and Lockhart said nothing to each other, but neither complained about the night’s sleeping arrangement.
“What?” Boston came up with a question.
“I had a sleepover,” Artie said, happy again. “That is what Katie called it.”
“And I missed it?” Boston turned to Alexis.
“You’re not that young,” Alexis said, as she paused to give Lincoln a good-morning kiss.
An hour later, as the temperature began to rise, Decker had another comment. “I haven’t seen Huyak, his wife or daughters come out of the house.”
People looked, and Elder stow spoke. “It has been bothering me,” he said. “Huyak seemed very interested in my things, and asked a lot of questions, which in hindsight, suggests he knew more about things than he said.”
“How could he have known anything at all about your gadgets?” Lockhart asked.
Katie agreed. “Your equipment should have appeared magical and incomprehensible to someone in this day and age.”
“The sons came conveniently to get the screens turned off before dawn, when two women were the only watchers and everyone else was sleeping,” Boston said.
“Early morning does not prove anything,” Alexis countered. “Nor does the fact that the zombies were just outside the screens at that point, ready to attack.”
“Suspicious,” Decker said.
“Convenient, as Boston said,” Lockhart did not disagree. “But all circumstantial evidence. Coincidence.”
“Well, someone is the man of the Masters,” Lincoln said.
“Somewhere up this way,” Lincoln said.
“Maybe we should cross the river and look in the building over there that the Zombies were guarding in the dark of night,” Katie said, as she turned to Lockhart to get his approval. Lockhart said nothing for the moment and looked at Decker, Lincoln, and Elder Stow, the ones most likely to object to getting involved for one reason or another. The rest waited quietly.
“It isn’t our job,” Lockhart said. “Our job is to get back to the twenty-first century, and the Kairos often makes us move on before we get in the middle of whatever is happening.”
“We moved on before we found out what happened to my people,” Artie said. People looked at her, but she seemed okay with it. “I trusted Balor,” she said. “I knew he would do better and more than I could even think to ask.”
Alexis patted her hand. “Sometimes the Kairos does too much and works too hard.”
“Amphitrite would not let us near the trouble in her day,” Lincoln agreed with Lockhart.
“Not counting the pirates who tried to steal all our things,” Alexis countered with a true elf grin for her husband.
“We should just ride on to get to the next gate,” Lockhart said, as a suggestion, not a decision.
“I say we go look and do what we can,” Decker said.
“Mine is not that kind of scanner,” Eder Stow admitted, as he had been staring at the device for some time. “I cannot analyze the material they are making inside the building without a sample, but I can tell you, they are definitely manufacturing something. And I can pinpoint exactly how many and where there are people in and around the building.”
“We go look?” Katie asked.
Lockhart agreed. “But we need to decide in advance what we will do if they are making the mustard gas.”