Avalon 5.12 Bad Wine, part 2 of 5

The sandstorm kept up for several hours, but with a couple of hours to work, Elder Stow made something like a window, high up on the back side of the screens.  He even bent one section of the screen dome above the window so the sand slid off it, like rain off a roof, and did not come in the window.  Boston, the engineer, asked how he did that.  Elder Stow grinned his best Neanderthal grin and answered the question with a question.

“And how did your father Mingus make a window so only I could see you, though you remained invisible to the rest of the world?”

Boston, who had become visible right away, because staying invisible was too draining, wrinkled her nose as she spoke.  “That is very complicated magic,” she said.  Elder Stow nodded, but said no more.

“How long do you think he will keep this up?” Decker asked.  He chewed on some beef jerkey that had to be at least sixty-years-old after coming through the time gate.  He handed some to Sukki with a word.  “I don’t swallow it.  I just chew it for a while and spit it out.  I don’t have any gum or tobacco.”

Sukki understood.  She tried a piece for something to do, but she did not care for it much.  Gott-Druk, in general, were not big meat eaters.

After Elder Stow set the window, and made sure the screens were functioning properly, he joined the others and had a request for Boston.  “The sand appears to be covering the front end of the screens very nicely.  Boston, would you mind going invisible again and tell me what you see.”

“Okay,” she said, and it took a minute of concentration before they heard her voice.  “I see the field, the trees and the big rock, like no sandstorm ever happened.”

“Good,” Elder Stow responded, and he touched something on his belt and went invisible.  Sukki shrieked before she covered her mouth, and they heard Elder Stow’s voice.  “I see the same, trees, open field, and rocky hillside.”  Elder Stow became visible again, and Boston became visible a moment later.  “Now, let’s see what happens.”  He reattached the invsibility disc to the screens, and when he turned it on, everyone saw the native area.  Dog and Cortez let out sounds of surprise.  Misty Gray and Honey came up to stand beside Alexis and Boston.

“Question.” Lockhart spoke.  “Can you move us with the screen around us, like you did back in Althea’s day when the volcano went off?”

Elder Stow had to think about that.  “I can, but I would have to let solid items pass through the screen, like sand.  Perhaps we can move out from beneath the piled-up sand first before adjusting the screens for easier movement.”

“I don’t believe we have moved back into our world,” Alexis said.  “By becoming invisible, we have made the world visible, but in reality, I suspect we still have one foot in that other world.”

Lockhart understood, as well as he could understand.  Everyone mounted, and did their best to cover themselves and their horses against a blast of invisible sand.  They moved a small way, and could not move any further, like the sreens got stuck or caught on something immovable.

“Okay,” Lockhart said, and Elder Stow switched the screen settings, and they felt the wind, and the sting in the wind, though they did manage to get out from under the collapsing sand hill, which they could no longer see.

“We may have to take this bit by bit,” Katie shouted against the wind.

Lockhart nodded and started them in the direction they needed to go.  They got about a quarter mile before they had to stop and Elder Stow had to restore the screens to their previous condition.  He turned off the invisibility disc.

Everyone saw the sandstorm still raging, and Lincoln asked this time how long this could continue.

“A true duststorm can last from several minutes to several days,” Katie said, having dug up the relevant information from somewhere in her memory.  “It depends on a number of factors that I have no way of knowing right now.”

“Well, we have passed the few minutes part,” Lockhart said.  “We will see how long the djin keeps it up.”

“Hush,” Alexis told Lockhart.  “Let me see your eyes.”  She found some petroleum jelly in the medical kit and made them aply some to the insides of the nostrils, while she explained.  “This storm will dry you out worse than making your breathing heavy.  Your nose and mouth can dry.  We should keep the masks moist.  Your eyes can become dry enough to cause blindness, even permanent blindness. Best not to look up, and not into the wind at all.”

“We should probably cover our horse’s faces completely, and keep their face covering moist as well,” Lincon added.  He read in the database.

“Hey,” Boston got their attention.  “Why don’t we completely cover the horses with our tents, like we do in the snow, like medieval blankets, you know.”

Lockhart nodded and looked at Decker.  Decker appeared to be thinking, but in fact he was meditating and letting his eagle spirit haul him up above the screens to see what he could.  Sukki spoke up.

“Why are we heading straight into the wind?” she asked, innocently.  “Could we go to the side and go around the storm?”

“I imagine the djin wants to blast us head on,” Lockhart said.

Lincoln said, “Tacking,” and Alexis said, “A sailboat,” at almost the same time.

“We would be hit on the side,” Alexis explained.  “But we would not be hit in the face, and could better see where we are going.  With the blanket-covered horses, it would not be so bad.  And when the djin swings the storm to hit us in the face again, we swing to angle in the other direction, to be hit on the other side.”

“At a forty-five-degree angle, our forward motion would be about cut in half,” Lincoln said.  “But it should be more bearable.”

Elder Stow spoke.  “I have to assume the djin is subject to the same laws as anyone.  He can’t hit us from more than one direction at a time with wind and sand.”

“Keep the masks moist,” Alexis said.  “We brought plenty of water, so for a couple of days, if need be, should not be a problem.”

Decker came back and reported.  “The storm in about half-a-mile high and roughly half-a-mile in front, but from the way it dies instantly behind us, I would guess it is being artificially created.  I bet he can keep this up as long as there is sand.”

Lockhart stood.  “We are going to tack to the city, like a sailboat.  Get your tents and get the horses covered.”

###

The crew stopped for about the tenth time, well after dark.  Stopping proved no problem, but if they stopped for too long a period of time, the sand built up again against the screens, and then they had to backtrack before they could move forward again; and progress came painfully slow as it was.  People and horses got as much rest as they could, and they turned off all the lanterns but one to conserve power each time they stopped, but there was not much rest to be had.  Alexis checked people’s eyes and noses every time.  Boston and Katie took on the task of checking the horses.  It did not help matters when Boston said the horses should not go out again.  She said that the last two stops, but this time Katie agreed with her.

“Quite all right,” Elder Stow said.  “It appears our djin is tired of the game as well.”  He threw a switch on his scanner and the screens solidified, even as they had been at first.  He also turned off the invisibility disc so everyone could watch.  The storm ended, suddenly, and a tornado took its place.  It slammed into the screen, but it could not penetrate.  Elder Stow spoke calmly.

“Over our various stops, I tinkered with the scanner.  I managed to see what was going on in the desert world through or around the invisibility disc.  I expect a temper tantrum.”

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