The travelers were not disappointed with the tantrum. The ground began to shake, which Elder Stow said had to be below the screen. He reminded them the screens formed a globe and projected below the ground as much as above the ground. The travelers watched as the desert cracked. Steam shot up from several cracks, like wild geysers. Flame came up from others. The Tornado slammed into the screens. The whole landscape turned from the desert, to an image of Hell.
Boston saw one of the streams of fire waver, and curiosity made her go invisible. She saw a big, vulture-like bird had fallen to the ground. It smoked, like it had been burned, and it took a moment to get Alexis’ attention well enough to explain what she could see in the dark, lit up by the light of the flames.
“Of course,” Alexis said. “It isn’t just us stuck between two worlds. The whole area around us is shifted, like the real world and the sand world are being overlapped in our location. We are mostly insubstantial to the real world, and the real world is mostly unsubstantial to us, but not entirely so. We pass through the real world and the real world through us, but not entirely so. We have substantial shadows, we might say.”
“Uh-huh,” Boston said, but it would take her some time thinking about it before she understood what Alexis understood.
The ground began to rise, beneath their feet, and while the rest of the people, and the horses, began to panic, Elder Stow smiled.
“Something like rock must be pushing us up from underneath,” Lincoln said.
“The ground won’t stay still,” Sukki complained.
“Why are you smiling?” Boston returned to visibility and asked Elder Stow. He played with the screens, and slowly let sand fall out of the screens from beneath the traveler’s feet as they rose. The travelers began to sink in the globe or protection. Elder Stow began to float so he, and his scanner and equipment, stayed in the center of the screen globe, even as the bottom half of the globe got pushed out of the ground from underneath. Elder Stow left enough sand in the bottom part of the globe for the travelers and the horses to stand upon, but soon enough he floated well over their heads. He seemed to know exactly when the screen globe broke free of the sand, and he moved without warning.
The travelers, the horses, the sand beneath their feet, and Elder Stow overhead. The whole screen globe flew toward the city, and the djin appeared stymied, like this was an option he had not considered.
“My little flotation device is not designed for all this weight,” Elder Stow shouted down. “It may give out after a short way. I do not know how we may hit the earth. I hope we don’t roll. I hope the horses are not damaged, or worse, roll on top of you and damage you, but for now, we might as well take advantage of the djin’s mistake.”
“He is flying,” Sukki gasped.
“It is how he got around at first, when he followed us,” Boston told her. “He went invisible and flew after us. Nothing we could do about that, until he decided of his own free will, that it was safer and better to join us on the journey, since we were headed in the same direction he was headed.”
They did not fly fast, but some time passed before the djin figured out to raise the wind and sand again and try to blow them back. Too late. They reached the city, and Elder Stow just had to figure out how to set them down, safely. He found a market square, deserted in the night, but big enough if he trimmed the size of the screens. He went for it, though it took some fast and delicate manipulation of the screen and floatation controlers.
As the screens sank back into the sand, and Elder Stow returned to set his feet again, on the ground with the travelers and the horses, he flipped the invisibility disc back on to show them where they were in relation to the town. He imagined it was a market. Katie knew better.
“We must be in Rabbah, and this is the temple complex.” Katie pointed toward the three-story tall bronze looking statue of a man with a bull head which took up one whole side of the square. “That is the altar of Moloch. He eats the sacrifice of human children.”
“Ashtaroth land,” Lincoln read, before he explained the Sukki. “The one with the basilisk, who ate your entire expedition.”
“No,” Sukki whispered, and hid her face in her hands. Boston and Alexis comforted her, while Lockhart kept Katie from getting closer, to examine the altar.
Something swirled in the square. It became a little tornado before it began to form, outside the screen. The travelers feared the djin, but it turned out to be a woman. She came dressed in a plain, pull-over dress that fell around her like a shapeless tent. She did not appear a bad looking woman, though it would have stretched the truth to call her pretty. Mostly, she looked haggard, or cruel, or broken in some way; and angry, which did nothing for her looks—that, and the two big horns, like bull’s horns, that grew out or her forehead. Still, she looked human-like despite the horns, but from the way the travelers trembled, they knew she had to be the goddess.
“Let me see you,” she demanded, and Elder Stow wisely turned off his screens. It seemed better than her breaking them. The woman squinted, growled, and waved her hands. The travelers felt themselves drawn back into the real world. The only thing missing was the thump! when they landed. They watched as Ashteroth grinned a wicked grin. “The two ancient ones from the before time,” she said. “And six ohers that do not belong here. How nice. What fun we will have.” She looked up at the black cloud that appeared to hover in the sky and defy the wind. No one had to guess who that black cloud represented. “I might even let you live for bringing them to me,” she spoke to the sky.
“Who should we call?” Lockhart whispered.
Katie shook her head. “In this place, only Moloch, her husband.” Katie pointed at the altar, the big, bronze bull-headed man.
“Yes,” Ashtaroth said. “And my husband will be very pleased with your sacrifices. We have seven chambers in image. We will cook you, and eat you, and I will relish your spirits. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…” she stopped when she pointed at Boston.
“Eight,” Boston prompted, in case the goddess forgot what came next.
Ashtaroth shrugged. “I have no need for a spirit one.”
“Moloch,” Boston called. “Moloch…”
“No,” Ashtaroth said, but it was too late. The god appeared, eight feet tall, muscular, naked, bull head and all.
“You have trespassed on my place,” he said. “I claim your children.”
“We have no children,” Katie responded.
The bull head looked up at the black cloud and yelled. “I said no.” He clenched his fist and the cloud disappeared, leaving a night sky full of stars. “I claim you,” he said, and Ashtaroth smiled.
“We are hedged by the gods,” Boston said. “By Enlil, Enki, Marduk, Ishtar, Hebat, Arinna, Hannahannah and Astarte.”
Katie found courage in the names and added to the list. “By Odin, Zeus, Amon Ra, Tien Shang-Di, by Ameratsu, Leto, Artemis, Apollo and Ares.”
“By Hathor and Horus,” Boston continued. “By Varuna and Brahma.”
“By Maya, and the Great Spirit over the sea. By Poseidon, Feya, Bast and Anubis, Sekhmet and the Kairos, and many others.”
“Are you prepared to bring the wrath of the gods down upon you?” Boston asked.
“Harm us at the risk of your life,” Lockhart added.
“The gods will send you to the other side,” Lincoln said, using the words the gods used for death.
“You will be cast into the outer darkness,” Alexis added.
“Even into the lake of fire,” Boston said with a shiver, her head lowered that whole time.
Moloch did not appear to be a bright person. He held his unclenched hand out to the travelers, like he felt for something. He seemed to sense something. He roared loud enough to shake the nearby buildings. Then he spoke.
“You should not be here. You should go to the other side.”
Moloch unclenched his fist even as Ashtaroth shouted, “No.” The travelers vanished from that place.
Go to the other side…of what?
Be sure to return for the second half of episode 5.12, and the end of Season Five
Until then… Happy Reading