Katie and Lockhart walked up to the group holding hands. Decker followed, and it appeared as if he put his rifle in the holster for once, not expecting trouble in this peaceful village of good people. He looked naked without it, but no one said anything. Instead, Decker found a reason to say something. It came out in swear words, and he ran to retrieve the weapon.
Four humans, three men and one woman, came crashing through the bushes and into the village square. They looked bruised and bloodied from a thousand cuts. Alexis thought to help them, but the look in their eyes spoke of insanity. The drool from their snarling mouths made them appear hungry, and not particular about what they ate. They screamed unintelligible sounds. The little people just screamed and scattered to hide.
Two of the mad men rushed at the group around the bonfire. Boston, Alexis and Sukki screamed well enough. Lockhart, the former policeman, still had his police special by his side, and drew it quickly. Katie slipped the knife from the sheath that rested on Lockhart’s other hip. Lockhart shot one man. Katie cut the other across the hand and face. That man barely paused, but long enough for Elder Stow to reach up from behind, grab the man’s head and snap his neck.
The third man got distracted by Decker’s movement, and followed him. The major had enough of a head start to reach his horse, pull his handgun, spin and fire three times. As the man fell, dead, Decker grabbed his top-of-the-line marine rifle, the one the Kairos assured him would never run out of bullets.
The insane woman rushed to the back-side of the bonfire, where a deer roasted, half-cooked. She ripped off a chunk of the deer tartar, fell to her knees and began to chew, not unlike an animal. The travelers watched, uncertain about what to do. They once unwittingly helped a werewolf in the daytime. He appeared as a broken, cut and bruised man who left sanity so far behind, he could no longer form words. Of course, they did not know he was a werewolf, and he escaped. He got their scent. He then followed them through a couple of dozen time zones, often enough in wolf form, trying to kill and eat them.
“We have to help her, if we can.” Alexis finally spoke.
“I don’t know if we can,” Lincoln said, as he ran up from the other side.
The naked, bleeding woman grunted a couple of times, but mostly she howled, not like an animal, but like a person subject to constant, terrible, stabbing pain. She hit her head several times. She began to weep.
No one dared approach her.
She chewed until she screamed, dropped the deer meat and put both hands to her head. Her tears turned red with blood. Her ears began to bleed, and she fell over. People still feared to touch her. Decker and Alexis checked. She definitely died.
“This man’s ears are bleeding,” Katie and Elder Stow watched the blood drip, though the man already died.
“Don’t touch him,” Alexis said, nice and loud.
“Don’t worry,” Katie responded, and pulled her hand back a little further, though she realized both she and Elder Stow touched one of them.
“Incoming,” Decker shouted, and everyone looked up as a man with a long monkey tail appeared near the horses. The man lifted a hand toward the horses, like he tested something with his senses and needed to concentrate. He stepped toward the wary travelers, pausing only briefly at the four dead people. He lifted his hand toward the travelers, again, seeming to test something he had to think about. Then he spoke.
“There is an aura of protection in this cursed place that spares you from the virus. Do not think it will spare you from the infected ones, though I can do nothing to harm you. Since you wear the protection of the gods, I would not dream of doing such a thing. But I take no responsibility for what the mad humans may do.” The man grinned, his monkey tail whipped back and forth, and he vanished, and mercifully took the four dead bodies with him.
The little people began to make sounds of relief all around, before they shouted “She is here. She is here…” The travelers watched a woman float through the air and come gently to the ground, only to be surrounded by happy, cheering little people.
“Ozma?” Boston ran, but stopped when she saw who it was. “Maya.” She remembered the name of the Corn Woman, the goddess she met in Otapec’s day, and then again at Katie and Lockhart’s wedding.”
Maya pushed through the little ones to give Boston a hug. “You have certainly changed since the last time you were in my area.”
“Katie married,” Boston said, as if the goddess needed reminding. Like a true little one, she showed utter joy at marriage before she dropped her head, sadly, and spoke. “But I lost Roland. He got taken to the future. But I know he is alive. He has to be alive.”
Maya gave Boston a second hug and an encouraging word. “I have every good hope that you will see him again.” She turned to Katie. “So, now you are married, and to Quetzalcoatl. I had little time to do this at your wedding.” She hugged Katie and looked at Lockhart. “You are a very lucky man, to marry an elect.” She apologized to Katie. “I really am glad I could be there for you.”
“Me too,” Katie said through her smile. Being hugged by a goddess is a remarkably wonderful thing.
“And Lincoln,” Maya said. “I see you found your wife. The first time I met you, she went missing. Dear Alexis.” Alexis lowered her eyes and curtsied, but Maya hugged her as well. “And Elder Stow, I see you found a daughter of your own.”
Maya hugged her, too, and whispered in the girl’s ear. “I saw you at the wedding. Now, you just take care of that old man, and all of your friends.”
Sukki looked again at Elder Stow, and the others with a genuine smile and a word out loud, because Gott-Druk were not good at whispering. “I will.”
“And finally, Major Decker, man of the eagle. You will be pleased to know that the Olmec representations of your head have become so stylized, they hardly look like you anymore.”
Decker grunted, but seemed pleased. He thought to speak. “We had four visitors attack us when we arrived, and a god with a monkey tail that came to fetch them. I don’t suppose you would care to explain what is going on.”
Maya frowned, took a couple of steps to where she could address them all, though she already had their full attention. “The monkey god,” she said. “When my friend, the Kairos Kartesh, in the ancient times, reworked her Shemsu people to give them their unique telekinetic abilities as well as the math and engineering skill along with the Agdaline symbols and stellar coordinates, the monkey god got the idea that life was something to play with. Among his experiments, he designed this virus. My friend, the Kairos Ozma calls it monkey brain fever. It is deadly in over ninety percent of the cases.”
“Have we been infected?” Alexis had to ask.
“No,” Maya insisted. “The hedge of the gods protects you, and also I have made this place a protected area, just to be sure. However, it cannot stop infected people from coming into this place, and though they cannot spread the disease here, it cannot cure them by coming here. It has been five years. The disease has spread.” Maya stepped up to Katie and asked to touch her thoughts, which felt very odd, to hear a goddess ask anything.
“I don’t mind,” Katie said, and shut her eyes while Maya touched her head.
“I see,” Maya said. “I see.” And the others got the idea that she somehow bypassed the hedge of the gods to retrieve some information. Then she spoke. “The disease has spread from what will be Mexico City to El Salvador. It is virulent, and more than half of the human population will die in agony. But Ozma tells me the disease will eventually settle in the monkey population where it will remain dormant for many centuries. Pray that it be soon.”
“I cannot,” Maya responded, with a shake of her head. “I am not really here. To do that, I would leave the City of Jade unprotected, even if only for a few brief moments. But I have made a way. There is a wide path, a protected road, between here and La Venta Island, where Ozma and her people remain trapped, but safe. Stay on the path. Beware those you meet along the way. They are infected, or they are dead, and doubly wrong. Beware the necromancer who carries the elixir of life. Stay on the path. It runs between the fields of maize. Do not put one foot to the left or right, lest the monkey god find a way to infect you.” The image of Maya began to fade.
“Wait.” Boston reached out.
“I will see you in the city,” Maya said, and disappeared altogether.