Five people climbed the rocks to where Lysimachus slept. From there, they had the best view of the fortification that blocked the pass, and the field that sat between the rocks and the fort. Katie and Decker carried their rifles and had their military-issue night goggles. Elder Stow had no doubt much more sophisticated goggles of a sort for night vision. Bogramus, of course, could see perfectly fine in the dark as might be expected for dwarfs. Lockhart was the only one who couldn’t see anything but dark, and Lysimachus the same when he awoke. Katie had to describe the scene.
“A group of men are kneeling by some bushes off to your left, there. Three have come up to Elder Stow’s screen and look puzzled. They appear to be trying to find the edge of the obstruction, or find a way through. That must be frustrating.”
“Can they get through?” Lysimachus asked.
“No,” Katie said, and handed the night goggles to Lysimachus to take a look.
“The screens are like a globe or a ball completely around us,” Lockhart explained.
“They even project under the earth,” Elder Stow added, just before an arrow struck where the three Thebans stood outside the screens. The arrow did not penetrate from inside the screens, so it bounced back to the rocks.
“Hold your arrows,” Lysimachus shouted.
“Not single-sided?” Decker asked.
Elder Stow grunted. “Bullets can go through. Arrows are too slow moving and do not have enough force driving them.”
“Don’t get any ideas,” Lockhart said, when Decker raised his rifle to look through his scope.
“My mother and father,” Elder Stow said. “Shall I send out a blast of light?”
Decker immediately pushed his night goggles up on his forehead. Katie got hers back and held them with a look at Lockhart. “Go ahead,” Lockhart said, and closed his eyes. “Maybe it will scare them off without having to kill them.”
Elder Stow nodded and took two sticks from an inner pocket of his shirt. One was his sonic device with which the travelers were all familiar. The other stick looked like an enlarged toothpick. He appeared to squeeze the toothpick, and a stream of light shot into the sky where it formed a small globe like a miniature sun. It would only last a few minutes, but in that time, the whole area became bathed in light.
The Theban soldiers became easily visible, no matter how hard they tried to hide in the bushes. The enemy officer recognized they were caught, and quickly hurried his men back to the fortification.
An orange light snaked out from the fortification and touched Elder Stow’s blast of light. The light flared and went out. The travelers and Lysimachus blinked. Bogramus spoke.
“Powerful witch, that one.”
“I feel like we’ve fallen into a sword and sorcery novel,” Katie said.
“More like science and sorcery,” Lockhart countered.
“Equipment and enchantment. Maybe machines and magic,” Decker suggested.
“Maybe we should get some sleep,” Katie said, and took Lockhart by the arm.
“Knowledge and necromancy?” Bogramus spoke up.
“No,” Decker shook his head as they prepared to follow Katie and Lockhart back down the rocks. “It has to start with the same letter.”
“I will stay here for a while to keep watch,” Elder Stow volunteered. Lysimachus nodded, and went back to lie down.
When Boston came to the lookout at four, to relieve Elder Stow, she suggested, “Elves and engineers.” Lysimachus had gone back to sleep, but Harpalus sat there keeping Elder Stow company. He asked what she was talking about.
“I have no idea,” Elder Stow admitted. “Is Decker still on with that?”
Boston nodded. “Bogramus likes dwarves and devices, but Decker says it should be technology and something magical that begins with a “T”. He says he will have to wait for Lincoln to get up and search the thesaurus in the database.”
“What are elves?” Harpalus asked.
“I am,” Boston said, before she could stop her mouth. Of course, then she felt she had to show the man. She lifted her glamour of humanity, but only briefly before she put it right back on again. Harpalus smiled and almost applauded. He turned to Elder Stow.
“And are you an elf?”
“Certainly not. I am a Gott-Druk, and my people used to own all this land before you humans came here. We lived in peace for a-hundred-thousand years before the stupid Agdaline ruined everything.”
“Gott-Druk?” Harpalus asked.
Elder Stow lifted his own glamour for a second before he restored it. Harpalus looked shocked by Elder Stow’s appearance.
“Are you human?”
“Genus homo, yes. I am human enough, only not sapiens like yourself. Homo-neaderthalensis.”
Harpalus did not understand.
“Where is Sukki?” Elder Stow asked. “We have father-daughter things to do.”
“I’ll get her,” Boston said.
An hour later, Lysimachus was up and ready to lead the Macedonian cavalry against the gate. Erigyius agreed to lead the men on foot, provided he did not have to have contact with the dwarves or fairies. That would not be a problem. Bogramus already took his dwarves around to the other side of the fortification where they could fall on the enemy in the rear. He left the camp saying, “Dwarves do damage.”
Katie, Lincoln, and Evan with Katie’s handgun went with the men on foot. Katie kept her rifle. Lockhart lent Lincoln the shotgun in case he got close. Lockhart, Decker, Sukki with Boston’s handgun, and Boston, wand in hand, rode their own horses with the cavalry. Boston said she would burn a hole in the fortification wall if necessary. Wallace also insisted on going, to Evan and Millie’s surprise. He borrowed Elder Stow’s horse. He got Decker’s handgun at Decker’s insistence. He said he had no intention of hurting anyone. He just wanted to be there for Nanette. He imagined she needed him to come and save her, and no one could tell him otherwise.
A few Macedonians got assigned to hold the rocks and protect Alexis and Millie who stayed with the wounded in the grassy area. The rocks would be the fallback position in case the assault did not go well. Elder Stow stayed with Harpalus in the lookout spot. In daylight, they could see most of the fortification that blocked the pass. Harpalus had Decker’s binoculars, and repeated the notion that the gunpowder with which the Thebans mined the road had to be in the barrels in that makeshift shed.
“To keep it dry and out of the rain,” Elder Stow had agreed. It should not matter to the sonic device. He had the correct frequency to set off the black powder. The question was whether he could project it far enough and direct it on a narrow band with enough strength to reach the powder. He only had small devices such as a ship’s officer would carry, including his handgun. They were trinkets, really, and not designed for constant use, much less designed to do so many of the things he made them do. Their power sources remained limited, and needed to be recharged on a regular basis.
Elder Stow spent his time on watch and Sukki and Boston’s watch time as well, working on the sonic device. He attached it to whatever power sources remained, and imagined after this, his equipment would be useless. Once again, he wished young Garron survived the sudden and utterly unexpected trip into the deep past. Garron knew the equipment—the hardware, and the programing. Garron might have easily done all those things Elder Stow had to struggle with and figure out for himself. Garron might have known how to more easily recharge his power sources, or maybe how to use those Reichgo batteries that Katie and Decker still carried around. Elder Stow felt glad he was able to make the equipment do things they were not designed to do. He felt glad that he had not broken the whole lot of them. Trinkets, he thought of them and waited.
“Are we ready?” Harpalus asked, with a small touch of excitement in his voice.
“Not yet,” Elder Stow said. He heard Lockhart’s voice in his communicator. Harpalus jumped at the voice and stared at the communication device. Katie chimed in a moment later.
“Just need to keep Erigyius back a bit. Don’t want to get too close. We don’t know how big the explosion may be.”
“Mother. I appreciate the confidence you have in me,” Elder Stow answered. “As the father might say, let’s hope this works.”
Elder Stow picked up the sonic device and switched it on. Elder Stow and Harpalus stood for a good fifteen seconds, before the distant powder exploded, all at once. It sent up a great plume of smoke and fire. It loosened the face of the cliff that edged the fortress, and sent boulders crashing into the camp. The blast shattered the little shack to splinters and sent men flying and broken. It knocked down the nearby palisade, where the Macedonians from one side and dwarves from the other hoped to attack the Thebans on foot, while the cavalry kept the rest busy on the remaining wall. To be honest, the plan might have worked, once the Macedonians and dwarves closed their mouths and got moving; but instead, they all stopped moving altogether. The travelers did not freeze in their tracks, but they got transported with all of their horses and equipment to the other side of the pass.
“What?” Lincoln asked, but no one else said anything.
Athena stood before them, sadly shaking her head. “I see why the stupid Kairos says it is too soon for guns and gunpowder,” she said. “I think for once I agree with him. I know where it is being made, and I will remove it, and the knowledge of it from my jurisdiction.”
“Thank you,” Lockhart said, as he and the other riders got down from their horses.
“Nanette?” Wallace had to ask.
“Your witch and your cowboy rushed to the time gate, and with the twister of the witch, they are even now moving into the next time zone.”
“But she is not our witch,” Alexis spoke quickly before the goddess vanished. “She is your witch. You make her in the future. When Evan and Millie, and Wallace too, decide to explore the past, Nanette, the real Nanette asks for some way to go with them, to help them. You make a duplicate Nanette, like an identical twin. As I understand sometimes happens with identicals, the real Nanette is the good one, and this Nanette has become the evil twin. I suppose you will have to make her when the time comes. This one has made a mark on history that should not be erased, but we would appreciate it if you dealt with this duplicate Nanette before she does any further damage.”
Athena stared, stone faced. “I noticed my fingerprint and wondered,” she slowly nodded. “I will think on it.”
“Athena,” Katie stepped up. “May I talk to you?” Katie looked back at the others. “In private.”
Since Athena was prevented from reading Katie’s mind by an act of all the gods, she got curious, a rare treat for the gods. Katie and Athena disappeared and reappeared up the way, well out of earshot, even for Boston, the elf.
Athena said nothing
“It is about Justitia,” Katie said, and found the courage to add, “She seems a wonderful girl.”
Athena looked genuinely surprised for all of a second before she looked to the side and confessed, without explaining.
“Apollo once privately prophesied that I would have a child wiser than myself. I denied him. I was the virgin goddess for a reason. Then Troy. Almost a thousand years later, and I still love him. The Kairos, of all people. I know Aphrodite and I were on opposite sides, but… I don’t know if I will ever forgive her.” Athena found a tear and Katie dared not interrupt.
“I denied the baby for seven hundred years. Apollo and Artemis tricked me into delivering the girl. I tried to blind the girl.” Athena sniffed. “Artemis hurried her away, and took her to her father, though the present life of the Kairos was that woman in Rome. I let it go. I watched, sometimes. She is a lovely girl.” Athena sniffed again, and wiped an eye. “I often stand in for Zeus and Hera, you know, Jupiter and Juno in Rome.” She smiled slightly. “It was Cronos who confined his father to the Roman peninsula, but Zeus who gave him the name, Saturn. He reciprocated by insisting everyone else have different names in his part of the world… Except Apollo. He liked Apollo for some reason.”
“You know, the girl will never be wiser than her mother unless you love her and teach her,” Katie said, softly.
Athena turned her stone face to Katie. She gave the same look as when she said she would think about dealing with the witch. She might have nodded a little. Katie was not sure, but instantly, she found herself back where she stood with the Macedonians, ready to assault the fortification. It was not much of an assault. The Thebans and Athenians immediately surrendered. Bogramus said his two-dozen dwarves were very disappointed.
“Maybe next time,” Katie said.
Shipwreck. The travers head for Sicily, but first, they have to navigate a water gate, and that is never easy. Plus, the witch has not given up, but now the gods are on notice. Who will get there first, and in one piece?
Until next time, Happy Reading