“So, tell me about these night creatures,” Gongming said. Lockhart explained as well as he could. Basically, he said honestly that they were faster, stronger and tougher than the tiger, and would tear the throat from the tiger without blinking.
“Without a second thought,” Lockhart affirmed. “And worse, they hunt in packs, like wolves.”
“Like wolves?” Gongming pulled on his beard. “And why have I not heard of such creatures before?”
“It is the genie,” Boston said to Feyan, so Katie also turned to Feyan.
“He got one of the gods to work with him in the last time zone, and has one of the Shang gods working with him here, as well.”
“No other explanation as to how the night creatures could stay up with us on the trail,” Lockhart finished.
Feyan pulled on her chin, in imitation of Gongming. “I have to think. I assume they are not far behind you, even now, but I have to think.” She went to the far railing and looked out across the river.
Gongming gave her a hard look, to imagine the youngest, and a girl, should have anything to say about the matter, but Aunt Chen interrupted his thoughts. “Let the princess think. She also has the blood of the Shang-Di in her. Maybe she can intercede with the gods on our behalf…”
Gongming nodded grumpily as Wang came up from the small boat for the third and final time, bringing the last of the almost stolen bronze, and he spoke. “Mother is very careful about not offending any of the gods.” He smiled for everyone, but he really wanted Boston’s attention. “Are you really a benevolent spirit?”
“Yes,” Gongming let that distract him. “How is it a spirit should even know a little girl. She has been with us since she was five, and I have not seen any spirits before now.” Both Wang and Aunt Chen looked like they may have seen something, but they said nothing.
“We worship her, like she is our goddess,” Boston said. Both Katie and Lockhart thought it might not be a good idea to be so honest, but Boston ignored them. Boston, like any little spirit, knew that the secret to good lies was knowing when to lie, or stretch the truth, or be completely honest. The little ones seemed to have a sixth sense about that, especially some imps and dwarf types.
Gongming shook his head. “A giant being the leader of others makes sense to me. A yellow-hair woman being captain over men makes no sense to me. But one who appears human, claiming to be a spirit of the sky, and claiming to worship a young girl sounds dangerous.” He looked at Chen, his wife, knowing the great care she took to give all of the gods their due. “The gods can be jealous. They require our worship, and do not share our devotion. I fear you may anger them with what you say.”
“No,” Katie protested to Boston, but Boston removed her glamour to reveal herself in all her elfish glory. Wang gasped and Aunt Chen lowered her eyes. Gongming returned to his shocked, unmoving look, as Boston caused a fire to rise in the palm of her hand, shaped it into a ball of light, called a fairy light, and let it float into the sky to just above the mast, so it could bathe the whole boat in light.
“I am a spirit of the earth,” Boston said. “Though the littlest spirits of the sky, water, fire, metal and wood also worship Shang Feyan, since the earliest days. Though she is presently a young girl, she has not always been so. Have you not seen anything strange about her? Have you not heard words come from her that seem to make sense, though you do not understand what she is saying?”
Gongming slowly nodded, and asked an odd question. “What is a fortune cookie?” Boston, Wang, Aunt Chen, and Katie all laughed. Lockhart tried to explain.
“A cookie is a treat that a person has at the end of a meal. Inside the hollow cookie is a saying, words that are usually wise and encouraging, and may point to the future. That is called your fortune.”
“Some fortunes are funny,” Boston said.
“They are a delight for people, and instructive.”
Gongming pulled his beard. “One who can bring delight to people will surely have good fortune.”
“Fortune cookie,” Feyan yelled back from the other side of the deck. Eyes turned to her as she took hold of her feelings and spoke in her most humble tones. Clearly, she was not speaking to any of the people on board. “Great Wei. Please. May your most humble servant speak with you? I have a special request, unheard of in this broken world.” She added a last word, as softly as she could. “Tien, my son, I have need of you.”
Immediately, the river began to boil. People walked over to watch, but backed up a couple of steps as a true giant, a woman rose out of the water and leaned her arms on the rail. People assumed the reason the whole boat did not tip in the giant’s direction was because she was made of water, and probably did not weigh much. Katie and Lockhart knew water could be very heavy, but they were finally getting used to the gods ignoring the laws of physics.
“Wie We?” Feyan spoke to the woman like she knew the woman. The travelers, at least, were not surprised.
“Wei We, my friends are being followed—”
“By night Creatures. We know.”
“I thought, maybe a collapsible water bridge,” Feyan said.
Wei We liked the thought. “Your water sprites are anxious to help.”
The boat rocked slightly and several water blobs popped up to the deck. They looked like little gingerbread men made of water, and spoke in the sweetest, baby-like voices. “We are ready. We want to help.”
“Water babies,” Feyan yelled her joy just before Boston yelled the same thing. Both struggled to keep themselves from bending down and hugging them, which would not have offended them, but might have broken them to pieces.
Wei We looked almost as pleased with the water babies as the others. “I understand horses do not do well over running water. I will bring up the sand to color the bridge, if that would work.”
“That and some sides,” Lockhart said, and showed with his arms. “That would work great.” Boston checked her amulet.
“The time gate appears to be south, on the other side of the river,” she said, and restored her glamour of humanity, though she left the fairy light overhead.
“Here,” Gongming shook himself enough to say the one word.
“They are tied?” Wang sought assurance.
“Yes.” Boston looked and saw that they were.
Wei We spoke after a moment of silence. “Are we ready?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Lockhart responded
“Goodie,” the water sprites shouted and leapt back into the water.
“Ma’am?” Katie questioned. Lockhart came from Michigan. Decker was the one from North Carolina.
“It doesn’t hurt to be polite,” Lockhart responded
“Courtesy can often gain what demands cannot,” Gongming said.
All three travelers looked at each other and said, “Fortune cookie,” before they disappeared from the deck of the ship to be replaced by three frightened looking soldiers. Bi chose that moment to come back up with Baby following. Baby bounded to Feyan as Wei We appeared to break apart and return to the river. They all watched from the railing.