Lockhart spurred forward, but his horse would only get so close before it refused to go further. Lockhart had to shout, enunciating the alien Agdaline words as well as he could. “No fire. Do no harm. Friends. Friends. No fire.”
The worm had very stubby arms and legs. This kind looked more like a true worm, or serpent, and it still had plenty of asbestos-like feathers, like an infant dragon. It did not look like an infant.
“No fire. No harm. Friend.” Lockhart kept yelling, and the dragon paused to turn its head and look at the people and horses, as it were, upside-down. The head snapped back right-side-up, and the dragon made a very different sound. It almost sounded like the dragon repeated the word “friend”, before it looked up and let out a stream of fire at the sky.
“That can’t possibly be Puff.” Katie came up near to Lockhart. Her horse, Black Beauty, seemed even more leery of the dragon than Lockhart’s horse.
“I can’t imagine. Maybe a child or grandchild or something.” They met puff roughly two-thousand, five hundred years ago, back when people first started moving into the area that one day would become the Olmec civilization. That happened when they first met Maya and her children.
“Chac was the storm and Kuican, the wind,” Lockhart tried to name those children.
“And Ixchel, the rainbow after the storm,” Katie said. “I remember.”
“Ixchel.” Lockhart nodded. “I couldn’t remember the girl’s name.”
“And Puff poked her nose right between a Pendratti and a Gott-Druk shuttle and scared everyone half to death.”
In timing, such as the little ones had, they heard a woman’s voice. “There you are.” They looked up and saw a beautiful woman floating up by the dragon’s head, which lifted up near the tree tops to greet her. She appeared to scratch under the dragon’s chin. The dragon purred. The travelers could not imagine getting that close to the dragon’s jaw, though they had seen it done before.
“Friend,” the dragon said, and looked at Lockhart, and the rest who came up to stand behind Lockhart and Katie. The woman looked, squinted, and appeared curious, until Katie spoke
“Maya?” Katie asked, though she knew it was not.
“Quetzalcoatl,” the woman spouted through her smile, as she zoomed to the ground, to face them. “Maya said you were here, but I didn’t believe her. I am Ixchel.”
“You didn’t believe your own mother?” Boston sounded surprised.
“Yes, I suppose she is my mother. After going on three thousand years, since you were in this part of the world, some things blur. Other things don’t make sense at all. I mean, my father is a girl.”
“That must be interesting,” Decker said.
“I love her dearly,” Ixchel said, before Lincoln interrupted.
“I don’t suppose you can take us to the city the quick way.”
Ixchel took a moment to figure out what he asked, before she shook her head. “I am not really here. I came to collect Kuku. She got set out to guard the ways to the city. She can smell the disease, but not being native to earth, she cannot get the sickness. She wandered off.” Ixchel smiled a lovely smile. “But I will welcome you when you arrive…” she vanished, and reappeared straddling the dragon’s neck. She said something in Agdaline—the world from which dragons came. It sounded like, “Come along, baby.” And the dragon spread its wings and took to the sky.
Lockhart turned around and saw Ota on his knees, weeping. He breathed through his tears. “Kukulkan. Man of the dragon.”
Mister Crow returned from whatever safe perch he visited. “I guessed, you know.”
“You guessed?” Alexis asked.
“He said we were friends,” Katie spoke up.
Mister Crow appeared to nod. “Good choice of words,” he said.
“Man,” Lockhart said, as he got Ota to stand. “Man of the dragon, but the important word is man. I am as human as you are.”
Ota looked uncertain, but Mister Crow spoke again. “Not if you are three thousand years old. The great goddess, Ixchel herself said she knew you three thousand years ago.”
“More like twenty-five hundred years,” Lincoln responded, as he helped Ota get up on Cortez, his horse. “I’ll have to look it up.”
“That is a long story,” Alexis said.
“We need to ride. The way appears to be clearing,” Lockhart said.
Lockhart rode out front and avoided looking back at the local man and the crow. He heard Alexis and Lincoln trying to explain things, but tried not to overhear the actual conversation.
The travelers came out of the forest and found themselves in a meadow, the road clearly delineated by mud between fields of grasses and flowers. They saw a river, far in the distance, and a hint of pale green beyond, which everyone guessed might be the city. They traveled for nearly an hour before Boston had a thought.
“No,” Boston shouted, but it was already too late.
Lincoln and Katie both slipped from their seats at about the same time. Ota hung on to Cortez’s saddle, but he weaved in his seat, like one ready to fall. Boston looked back and saw Decker leaning forward, hanging on to his horse’s neck, trying not to fall, and trying to stay awake.
Boston looked at Sukki. The girl yawned, but did not appear to be in danger of falling asleep.
“No,” Boston said again, and looked to the front to see Lockhart and Alexis slip to the ground. The crow followed Alexis, and Boston’s hair felt like it stood on end. “Arm up,” she said. “Elder Stow. I think we are going to need your weapon, especially.”
“What is it?” Sukki asked.
Elder Stow checked his scanner. He stopped focusing on it after they got out in the open where they could see around with their own eyes. His eyes shot toward a small rise in the landscape. People began to come over the rise. Maybe a hundred or more, and they all looked insane with disease.
“I don’t think the dragon just wandered off,” Sukki said, as Boston handed over her Beretta. Boston pulled Decker’s super advanced military rifle she could turn to automatic fire. She didn’t wait. She sprayed the oncoming horde with bullets, even as Decker became the last to slip to the ground. Boston felt glad that the horses were magically tied to their riders and would not wander off. She also felt glad they got sent back from the American wild west, and would not be spooked by gunfire.
Boston tried to confine herself to bursts of five to seven bullets. The rifle would never run out of ammunition, thanks to the Kairos who set that up at the beginning, but it could overheat, and she could not afford for it to jam.
Sukki fired her pistol as she had been taught. She only paused, and dropped her jaw, when Elder Stow’s weapon let out a line of light that turned the ones in front to ash and the ones behind to charcoal.
Even with all that power, Elder Stow admitted, “Some are going to reach us.”
The people on the ground remained unaffected. The horses turned into the wind and lowered their heads to keep from being tipped over. Elder Stow and Sukki, with their strong and squat Neanderthal bodies, appeared to hold on to the earth. But across the way, the diseased people got lifted up and blown away, until they moved out of sight.
Boston, who eavesdropped on Katie and Lockhart when they talked about Maya’s children, thought to say something. “Thank you Kuican.”
Lightning, coming out of a perfectly blue sky, struck in the direction of the diseased people, and the thunder clapped loud. The cloudless sky instantly filled with deep gray clouds, and the rain came, pouring, turning the mud road into puddles and a little river, an inch or so deep.
Boston, Sukki, and Elder Stow ran to the others to get their heads above the water; but found them coming out of their sleep. People turned their fairy weave clothing into rain slickers, hats, and rain boots, though they got rather soaked at first. It took some time to shake off the effects of whatever got into their systems, but soon enough they got ready to move on to the city in the distance.