The travelers came through the time gate first thing in the morning, beside a river that rushed off to the north. They stopped there to take in the lay of the land before they moved on. The trees they stood by included pine and fir among the oak, spruce, and beech. The meadow appeared covered in crocus, fuchsia, and daisies. At first glance, it looked similar to the land they traveled in Syria, but the change in trees, flowers, and meadow grasses proved they landed somewhere else on the planet.
“Dacia,” Lincoln guessed. “Modern day Romania.”
“We go south.” Katie looked at her amulet.
“Late summer,” Boston announced as she pulled out her own amulet to confirm the direction. “South,” she said, and pointed.
“Good thing it is not winter,” Katie said. “We look headed into the mountains.”
Lockhart interrupted. “Lincoln. Help us get the wagon through. This tree is right in the way.”
They had to coax Ghost the mule to pull to the right immediately on entering the new time zone. Lincoln feared a corner of the wagon might not have enough room between the tree and the edge of the time gate, but apparently, the time gate had enough flexibility to let through whatever needed to come through. Tony held the reigns, but Lockhart and Lincoln, on their horses, flanked the mule to guide it.
The travelers had decided to let Tony guide the wagon in the morning through the time gates. He grew up driving wagons in the eighteen-nineties and early nineteen-hundreds, so by far, he had the most experience.
Once they were all present and accounted for, Sukki pushed off to the west, Decker scouted the east, and Boston headed south, their expected direction. They looked mostly for a road, or at least a well-used path that would not be too hard on the wagon. Lincoln looked around for a landmark that he could set in his mind. He still remembered the landmark he saw when they traveled through the very first time gate, back in the days of the Tower of Babel. Of course, he since learned that the time gates moved when the Kairos moved, but by then, he had developed the habit to look.
“Just wilderness,” Elder Stow spoke up. “I see what looks like a road and habitations, but some distance from here.” He studied his scanner and shook it once to be sure.
“Okay,” Lockhart responded, but he, Tony, and Katie focused on getting the wagon ready for cross country travel. Alexis and Nanette stayed on their horses and kept their eyes open, but kind of supervised the work. They did not pay much attention to the woods around them.
Sukki returned and reported nothing in her direction. Decker stayed out, but Boston came racing back, screaming, “Bear. Bear.”
People grinned, and a couple almost laughed until they heard a roar that sounded more like a monster than an ordinary bear. The bear stopped shy of the group and stood. They got a good look when the bear towered twenty feet over them all, reaching for the tops of the trees. People scrambled for their guns.
Lockhart took the first shot, but he imagined his shotgun slug would not be worse on that monster than a bee sting on a normal sized bear. Katie and Sukki followed. Katie aimed at the bear’s face and tried to put out an eye. Sukki, afraid of the power within her, nevertheless shot her handgun twice at the bear’s middle, before she turned to help Lincoln and Tony get the horses, mule and wagon away from there.
The bear responded by taking a step forward. It roared again when it had trouble moving the other foot. Alexis magically called up the wind to press against the bear, to keep it back. Nanette concentrated to lift the monstrosity a smidgen off the ground, heavy as it was. It clawed at the ground and tore up the grass and bushes at its feet but could not get any traction. It roared in protest and scratched at the air but could not move forward.
Boston put her Beretta away and slipped out her wand. She sent a ball of fire into the face of the bear but realized that was a good way to set the whole forest on fire. She put her wand away and went for her bow and arrows.
Decker came riding out from the trees, firing his rifle. He had to get down when his horse balked against getting too close. They all got to their feet. Lincoln, Tony, and Sukki had their hands full keeping the horses together and trying to keep them from running off.
Boston fired her best arrow. She put as much magic as she had into the point. Decker and Katie shot for the head. Lockhart pumped shotgun slugs into the middle of the beast. A dozen arrows came from the trees and riddled the beast, even as Elder Stow shouted.
Lockhart and Katie separated. Elder Stow stepped between them. He fired his weapon once and put a hole the size of a basketball through the center of the beast, about where the heart should be. Boston’s arrow landed just below the neck and exploded, tearing out most of the muscles in the neck. The head tilted to the side, and the bear body followed in that direction as Alexis stopped her wind and Nanette could not hold the beast up any longer. The bear bounced once on the meadow before it stopped moving.
“Twenty feet, at least,” Katie said, as she, Lockhart, and Elder Stow walked up to look at the head and jaw.
“Maybe thirty feet,” Decker said, as he and Boston stepped up to examine the big hole in the middle of the beast.
“How did it get so big?” a young boy’s voice said.
“I smell a power at work,” a man’s voice murmured. “Doing something not natural. Something stolen.”
“We got company,” Lincoln shouted. He had rushed up from the horses when Alexis and Nanette collapsed to the ground. They sat on the grass to catch their breath. They would be all right in a minute. Meanwhile, they stared at any number of little lights dancing around their heads.
“Fairies,” Nanette named the lights in a delighted tone of voice.
“Like seeing stars,” Alexis said, and when Nanette and Lincoln did not understand, she said, “Cartoon-like.” At least Lincoln understood.
“My name is Willow,” a fairy woman spoke softly to the group.
“And I’m Snowflake,” a young fairy girl added, rather loudly.
“Yes, dear,” Willow said. “And I think it is a good thing Lady Greta sent us out to find you.”
“Name’s Reed,” a fairy man told Lockhart, Katie, and Elder Stow. “Icechip, here, was the one who thought we might find you along the Samus River. Good thinking for one so young.”
“I’m not that young,” Icechip protested, but the travelers all heard the teenage tone in the protest.
“But what do you mean power?” Boston asked. Decker followed her to join the group around the jaw of the beast.
“What do you mean, something stolen?” Katie asked as well.
“Young elf,” Reed said, turning to Boston. He seemed most comfortable talking to her. “I mean a power, much greater than us. Someone that should have gone over to the other side at the time of the dissolution of the gods. Only the food of the gods could make giants out of the ordinary, and that was a closely guarded secret of the gods. If it isn’t one of the gods still here, then some power has learned that secret, though what they have against you folks I cannot imagine.”
“There are still a few gods around,” Willow explained to Alexis, Nanette, and Lincoln as they went to check on the horses. Sukki looked delighted with the fairies. Tony simply stared with his mouth open.
“Rhiannon is around,” Snowflake interrupted. “She is Celtic.”
“And Mithras. And the great sea god of the Celts,” Willow agreed. “But I know of none that are not friendly with our lady, so I can think of none that would have anything against you travelers.”
“So, we are talking about a greater or lesser spirit,” Alexis concluded. She stopped walking, so Willow hovered in front of her.
“Not a greater spirit, surely,” Willow decided. “They are too tied to the earth and the natural order of life. The lesser spirits sometimes interact with the human world, and some of them can be quite nasty, but I can’t think of any capable of stealing the secret of the gods.”
“Unless some nasty god gave him the secret before going over to the other side,” Lincoln suggested.
“Or her,” Willow said, and she and Alexis thought and shivered a bit on imagining some nasty lesser spirit getting their hands on the food of the gods.