Lockhart, Katie, and Decker took an hour to ride out of their way. When they cut towards the back end of the wadi, they watched the enemy through their binoculars. Fortunately, the same ridge that kept the horsemen from being seen by the defenders on the road, also quickly cut off sight of the travelers. Some of the men sneaking up on the roadblock with their rifles might have seen them, but they figured those men were far enough away to make the picture unclear to the naked eye, and by the time the riflemen reported back, they would be among the trees, sparse as they were. As long as Elder Stow and Boston kept the men on horseback busy, so if they were seen, the men could not give chase, they should make it to the roadblock in one piece.
Lockhart felt the creep climb up his back as they moved. He kept nearly seeing something—movement of a sort in the corner of his eye. From the beginning of their journey, he felt uncomfortable around the nature spirits, including fairies, dwarfs, elves, and especially dark elves, a name he preferred over goblins. He could not describe it well, except to say these purely natural spirits felt unnatural. Alexis had been one who became human to marry Lincoln. She still showed some creepy attributes now and then, though the others insisted that was not the case. Boston became one. What was wrong with that girl? She was starting to get regularly creepy. That probably just meant she was starting to fit in with her elf kind.
“We got company,” Katie said, clearly having noticed the same movement Lockhart noticed.
“Invisible, mostly,” Decker said.
Invisible. Lockhart felt the chill in his spine. He couldn’t help it. Oddly enough, he had no problem with Elder Stow going invisible. Traveling with a Neanderthal did not bother him. And if the man had access to technologies well beyond his understanding; he could accept that. The man had a device that let him go invisible. Okay. Boston, on the other hand, had no device. She just went invisible on a whim. She went creepy invisible, like by magic.
“They seem to be gathering,” Decker noticed.
Magic was another thing, and both Boston and Alexis had that, and Nanette would have magic when they came to a time period where the other earth came close. He tried to remember. The other earth, in another dimension, had an energy of sorts the Earth, his Earth—universe, did not have. They called it creative and variable energy. He understood it as magic energy, which empowered a rare number of individuals. But the other earth, for some reason, cycled closer and further away, like the cycles of the moon went from full to dark and back again. For three hundred years, the other earth leaked magic energy into his world. For three hundred years, it moved too far away. Lockhart checked with Lincoln in the database. The other earth was presently out of phase, as Lincoln said. It would be out in the next time zone as well. It would come into phase in the zone after that. Then Nanette would discover she could do magic. That seemed scary.
“I think we need to stop,” Katie said. They stopped, and Lockhart felt glad Katie was paying attention.
The clone of Nanette, the one Minerva-Athena made, became a monster once she discovered she could do magic. They said it was because in the spiritual world identical twins sometimes produced a good twin and a bad twin. The clone Nanette had been the bad one, so logically, that said the real Nanette should be the good one. Lockhart was not so sure. He imagined that kind of power would corrupt absolutely.
“Howdy folks,” a little one manifested in front of the group, and he had a dozen more like him in attendance. Lockhart guessed they were desert imps, or gnomes, or maybe dwarfs come down from the hills. He could not call them elves, but he was not sure. To his eyes, they all looked alike, and they all looked unique at the same time, which did not make sense. Mainly, they did not fit well into neat categories.
“Howdy,” Katie returned the greeting. And she smiled. Katie smiled! Lockhart pulled himself together.
“We are trying to get to the roadblock to reinforce the defenders,” he said. “Any chance you can help?” Lockhart bit his tongue the minute the words escaped his mouth.
“We are going to find Candace,” Katie interrupted. “How much should I tell her you asked for your services?”
“Er…” the imps smiled, and two even removed their hats. “A token. Just a token to feed our poor families, mind you. Not for us, personally. No.”
Katie did not mind. She had a small purse. They all carried one since they entered the days when money mattered. “Here are three gold pieces for us, and five silver for the horses.”
The imps looked pleased, but the speaker for the group had to say something. Lockhart figured it was an instinctive compulsion. “Mind you, we have very big families.”
“Don’t push it,” Decker said, and every head turned as they heard several explosions back behind the ridge. The smoke poured high into the sky.
Boston and Elder Stow easily snuck up to the back of the horsemen. The gunmen were arguing. Several wanted to ride right over the Romans, and they got loud. They did not look behind and would not have seen two invisible people if they did.
Elder Stow stopped them when there was still some distance between them and the horsemen. He did not want Boston trampled by panicked horses. Each of the horsemen had the reigns of at least one other horse, so there were twenty-five or so horses, but only twelve with riders.
“I thought you were working on letting me see you,” Elder Stow whispered.
“I will,” Boston said. “Maybe not right now.” She got busy turning her magic on three arrows, the way her husband showed her. She thought she was getting good at making explosive arrows. She paused. Maybe she was getting too good at it.
“Are you ready?” Elder Stow sounded impatient.
Boston put the first arrow on her string and said, “Ready.”
Elder Stow had his sonic device on the right frequency. He let it rip, and the horses bucked. Some threw their riders. Other riders held on for their life. The free horses broke free of their handlers and bolted to get away from that sound. Boston fired her three arrows. They exploded on contact. Men got tossed. Horses staggered from the concussive blast. Boston felt she did a good job, but found her hand grabbed by Elder Stow. Maybe he could not see her, but the arrows became visible as soon as they left her person, and he could guess.
Elder Stow lifted the two of them ten feet in the air, and just in time. Three horses, in their panic, raced right at the source of the squealing sound that scared them so much. They would have run over Boston without realizing it, her being invisible and all. She did not notice, concentrating as she was on making her explosions.
“That is quite enough,” Elder Stow said, with his gruff voice. Boston did not argue as he flew her invisible self to the roadblock.
Lockhart, Katie, and Decker walked their horses behind the imps for an hour, until the imps vanished, and the travelers found themselves surrounded by Roman soldiers.
“We have come to help defend the road,” Lockhart said, quickly.
“Where did that gnome go?” Decker asked.
“Is that what it was—he was? I guessed imp,” Lockhart said.
“Or dwarf,” Katie said, and shrugged. “But cute.”
Lockhart made a disgusted face as the imp came back with a centurion. “And I am cute,” the imp said. “Lord Gaius will take it from here. I got work to do.” He walked off and vanished among the trees.
“Come,” Lord Gaius said. “Boston and Elder Stow flew into the road camp some time ago. They appeared out of nowhere, like the gods, though they claim to not be gods. They are strange ones, though. Your Boston I know to be one of the little ones of my lady Candace. The elder. I don’t know what he is. He is a strange one. When he appeared out of nowhere, I know he scared the skirt off Tiberius here.”
“Did not,” Tiberius protested, but several soldiers around him heard and chuckled.
“You seem informed of something,” Lockhart responded. “But I hardly know what to say. I don’t know what they told you.”
“Not them,” Gaius said. “We expected you, if you got here in time.
“What?” Katie asked.
“The goddess, Astarte. She came to the camp of the children. She said she wanted to say goodbye to her friend, Princess Candace. She brought your fellow travelers. No. Don’t tell me. Lincoln, Alexis, Anthony, Nanette, and that big girl… Sukki. They warned us what was coming.”
“We barely got the road blocked in time,” one man said.
Gaius continued. “Marcus here says that Sukki looks very strong. He would not want to wrestle her, but Tiberius said he would not mind a tussle with the girl.”
“Lord,” Tiberius complained. The man turned red, obviously thinking about it.
“I’m surprised Lincoln did not come with you,” Lockhart said.
“Oh, he did,” Gaius said. “He is at the road, and so are we.”