The travelers entered Babylon with their escort, and marveled at how the people went about their normal and ordinary business. It felt hard to believe they were a conquered city. Cyrus and his Persians only came into the city two days ago.
Lyscus and his second in command led the way. Katie and Lockhart followed. Evan, on Cortez, with Millie holding him, and Alexis on Misty Gray, with Lincoln behind her came next in line, and kept up a fine conversation. They pointed out any number of things they remembered from Labash’s day, and several things that appeared changed.
“So, you have been here before,” Lyscus commented to Lockhart, who heard the suspicion creep back into Lyscus’ words.
“Seventy-five years ago,” Lockhart responded. Lincoln figured it out. At twenty-five, Labash had another thirty-five years to live the Kairos’ typical sixty. Then, if Xanthia was forty, added to the thirty-five, meant they jumped seventy-five years coming through the time gate.
Harpatha turned his head, and with big eyes he said, “I almost believe you.”
“Lincoln’s estimate,” he said. “Of course, it is hard to tell. We spent most of our time here up on the Ziggurat. The hanging gardens were just drawings and not built yet.”
“I wonder if Ninlil is around,” Katie said, softly. “I wonder if she and Enlil ever reconciled.”
“I wonder if Marduk is still around,” Lockhart responded. “He did not look too good last time we came through.”
“I miss my friend Enki, and his glasses,” Boston shouted up from behind Alexis and Lincoln’s horse, where she and Sukki were not allowed to dawdle, being followed by Major Decker and Elder Stow, and a dozen of Persia’s finest horsemen.
Alexis scolded Boston for eavesdropping as they came to the palace and stopped. Lyscus got down from his horse with a word. “Stay here. I will announce you and see what the king says.”
Lockhart also got a word out before Lyscus ran up the steps between the guards. “Tell Xanthia it’s Lockhart and Boston needs a hug.” Lockhart figured he better add that before Boston shouted it and got into deeper trouble with Alexis.
They did not wait long before a woman with light brown hair and only a little gray came running out of the palace, followed by several other women and several more guards. She stopped at the top of the steps and threw her arms open.
Boston leapt down from her horse and ran, zig-zagging between the guards before they even knew what was happening. She flew into Xanthia’s arms.
“Are you kidding?” Xanthia laughed. “My youngest is ten, but my eldest has a child of her own. I’m grandma age.”
“Still pretty, though,” Boston said.
Xanthia laughed again and invited everyone inside. The travelers took their weapons with them, along with whatever things they did not want the Persian soldiers and servants to lose or break.
When the sun set, Muhamed watched while the man went to the gate and lied to the man’s nephew. “There is violence in the village,” he said, with just the right amount of fear and trepidation in his voice. “We thought to find help and food behind the city walls. We are hungry, having walked twelve hours. You see, we have children and crippled old ones.”
He told a masterful lie. If they sent one to the village to check, they would find plenty of signs of violence; dead bodies and blood splattered about. The guards could help by letting the people into the city, and could help further by becoming blood-food for the people, who were indeed hungry. The people did walk twelve hours as well, even if it was at night and they rested all day. Pointing out the children and crippled old lady just iced the cake, as people in the future say.
The gate opened.
“Of course. Old man. Uncle, come in.”
Within an hour, the guards all died; drained of blood, the shriveled corpses left where they lay. There would be no alarm until the morning soldiers came on duty. Only the nephew survived, temporarily. He would join them. He would eventually die, but only so a demon could take the immortalized flesh.
The young woman, who managed the crowd, looked to Muhamed to make the decision. They were strong, now. They did not need to drink the blood often. Their bodies would ordinarily be nourished by regular food, like any other flesh. But the blood was necessary, since their bodies could no longer make new cells. It was necessary to keep the elixir of life circulating to every cell in their bodies.
Muhamed did not take long deciding. “We go with the original plan. The people from the future are the only ones who pose a threat to us.”
The young farm wife pulled the flask of elixir from a pocket in her dress. “We don’t need this, now,” she said, and tossed it into the pool where the excess water from the cistern collected before it dribbled down into the canal. Muhamed looked at her like he had a contrary thought.
“We need to turn a few Persians,” he said.
She nodded. “But now that the elixir has gotten into our systems and infects the blood as soon as we ingest it, we can turn Persians without the need for more elixir.”
Muhamed shrugged. “This body remembers the formula. It needs a spark of magic to make it work, but that should not be too hard to obtain. We can make more, if necessary. Come here.”
She stepped up and smiled. “Do you want to have sex?”
He hit her hard enough to knock her to the ground and crack her jaw. She shook her head against the dizziness. Her jaw healed itself instantly, while she continued to smile up at him. It appeared an idiot’s smile, like she wanted to egg him to more violence, to hurt her again. He yelled at her.
“You don’t do the deciding,” he said, and gave her a look of deadly anger, which made her smile all the more. He glanced at the pool. Most of the lazy women filled their water jugs from the pool rather than using the bucket to bring up fresh water from down below. Fresher water, he scoffed. The whole system seemed ripe to spread all sorts of diseases.
“We may find a place to rest when the day returns,” the woman said, and lowered her eyes as she stood. She accepted her place in the hierarchy.
“Send two of the lesser ones when the nephew becomes one of us. He will know of a place.” He looked at her submissive position and thought how Muhamed had such a wonderful, twisted, wicked view of women. Women were less than second-class creatures, to be used and abused at will. “Gather the rest of the lesser ones. We will find the palace. If the enemies from the future are not there, the guards will know where they have gone.”