Once in Potaissa, the sergeant of the little group of soldiers said he knew a place they could go and be safe. “The old legion fort. Five, Macedonian. They built this place back when Trajan took the province. I heard after the trouble on the border those few years ago, the emperor is thinking about bringing them back. Meanwhile, we got stout walls, a place to stay, stables, and at no cost.”
The travelers did not argue. Lockhart spoke when they came to a halt by the stables. “Decker and Elder Stow, stay here and get the horses settled.” Decker pointed to the wagon and draft horse already in the barn. Lockhart nodded. “Katie, Lincoln, Alexis, and I will see who might be around.”
“Sukki, come with us,” Alexis said. “Boston, you might help Berry and Lavinia with the boys.”
“Hans and I got the wagons,” Tony said, and he started to take Ghost out of the harness.
“I can help,” Nanette added, and glanced at Decker.
Lockhart nodded and pulled his shotgun as Katie got her rifle. Katie whispered, “No telling what we will find.”
“Wait,” the sergeant said. He assigned three of the soldiers to go with the explorers, and Lockhart did not say no.
The group of explorers walked toward the main building, quickly turned a corner and got out of sight. The others began to strip the horses when Boston spoke up.
“I hear something scurrying around the ceiling.”
“I hear it too,” Lavinia said. “And slithering”
“No, no!” Tony yelled. “I won’t, I won’t.” Tony screamed and began to grow. He tried to look at the others, but his eyes did not appear to focus. He ran, away from the group in the direction the others went.
“Rats,” Boston yelled. They looked the size of Saint Bernard’s.
“And snakes,” Lavinia added. They appeared twenty feet long, and hungry.
Decker put holes in two serpents that got close.
Nanette threw her hands out and a half-dozen giant rats flew fifty yards back across the courtyard.
Boston laid down a line of flames across the cobblestones, which appeared to cause the rats and snakes to hesitate.
Elder Stow threw the switch on his screen device which he left primed, and the stables became encased in a particle screen the rats and snakes could not penetrate. Decker continued to blast the ones that tried. After a minute, Elder stow added fire from his weapon, and Boston fired her Beretta.
The soldiers, Berry, Hans, and Lavinia grabbed Javelins and bows with arrows, but Nanette stopped them. She was not sure and explained that their hand thrown spears and bowshot might not be strong enough to get through the screen. They might bounce back in their faces. She was not sure, but the people relaxed when they saw the rats and snakes stopped at the invisible barrier and could not get at them.
The others found an extended family group huddled around a small fire in the central square of the fort, beneath the overhang in front of the officer’s quarters. The people did not panic on being confronted, but the man got up right away and began to make excuses to the soldiers for their presence in the fort.
Alexis said the family would be welcome to join them for supper.
“If you don’t mind my cooking,” Sukki said, with a smile for the women and the children.
Katie yelled. “Danger!” She grabbed Lockhart and Sukki. They rushed inside and came right back with whatever furniture they could find to throw down to make a makeshift mini fort around the fire. Lincoln shot a giant rat, which made the women in the family group scream, and the men cower in fear. Alexis caused the wind to pick up a slithering snake and whip it against two more rats and another serpent.
The soldiers corralled the family in the doorway of the house, thinking they might have to fall back into the building, but at the same time they kept one eye on what they could see inside, in case some giant rats and snakes already got inside.
Katie and Lockhart added their fire to Lincoln’s, and Lockhart felt glad he brought his shotgun, though he could not say why he thought he needed it. Alexis continued to raise the wind, which kept most of the creatures at bay until they could be put down. Sukki pulled her big knife, thinking she would act if any got too close. Then she remembered her gifts.
Sukki rose up a few feet so she could see better around the central square. She seriously concentrated on her finger. She wanted to stop the rats and snakes—especially the snakes. She hated snakes and had a phobia about them. But she did not want to cook the creatures. She imagined the smell. She pointed at a snake and put a hole in the snake head. She smiled at herself before she gagged. The snake body kept whipping around, like the snake died, but the body kept involuntarily moving.
Sukki shut her eyes for a moment and swallowed the bile. When she opened them again, determined to act, a twenty-foot-tall Tony came rushing around the corner, screaming, “No, no, no.”
Sukki flew out to meet him, yelling “No, Tony.”
Tony raised his foot and pushed Sukki to the ground, like he intended to squish her. But Sukki had pressure resistant skin, and inhuman strength. She shoved on his sandaled foot, and the giant Tony tipped over and fell on his back, several yards away.
A viper lunged at her, but Katie’s bullets spoiled the viper’s aim. Lockhart’s shotgun turned the viper head to mush as Sukki got up and, with Katie and Lockhart, rushed back to the mini fort.
“That is one step too far.” Everyone heard the words in their bellies. Two soldiers and several family members shook their heads and stared. The rats and serpents stopped where they were, returned to normal size, and while the rats scurried away to their holes, the vipers vanished altogether. Tony shrank to his normal size and moaned, not like anything broke, but like a man bruised everywhere.
A beautiful goddess appeared in the central square, her back to the travelers. The wraith appeared facing the woman, and the wraith looked like she had no choice. She seemed unable to move.
“You are no longer permitted to have the food of the gods, or any such thing,” the woman shouted, a fire in her voice. She waved a hand before she placed her hands on her hips.
The travelers could only later say that the wraith appeared to shrink or become less in some way. They could also only imagine the expression on the face of the goddess, but they felt glad it did not point at them.
The wraith wailed, a bone chilling sound. “It is not fair. I waited and moved into the days to come, almost four thousand years, until the day that the gods went away. You should not be here. You should be gone.” She wailed again.
“Enough,” the goddess in the square said, waved her hand again as the wraith vanished.
“Rhiannon,” another goddess appeared in the square, but she sounded more annoyed than angry. “Where have you been?”
“Mother?” The goddess Rhiannon turned to face the newcomer. She also turned in her attitude from avenging goddess to humble daughter who feared she might be scolded for doing something wrong.
“I have been calling you.”
“I heard,” Rhiannon said, humbly. “But I thought it best to keep an eye on your friends.”
“And what have you done?”
“I nudged them a little, to get them to pay better attention. …No, I have taken away the wraith’s ability to have even a little sway over them. And I took away her gift of the gods to make the animals unnaturally big.”
“But you did not stop her.”
Rhiannon looked at the ground. “I sent her to the next time gate. I wasn’t authorized to send her over to the other side.”
The mother goddess stepped up and kissed her daughter on the cheek. “Next time,” she said, and turned to the travelers. She went away, and Greta came to stand in her place, so the travelers knew it was the Kairos.
“Yes, Lincoln,” she said before he could ask. “Boston,” she opened her arms, and Boston, who had been coming up the road with Nanette and Decker, raced into the hug.
When the evening came and people settle down, Darius, Mavis and their escort arrived. The extended family got to complain to the former governor of the province about how a Roman threw them out of their house and stole their land. Darius said he would look into it.
Boston sat with Mavis and Lavinia and saw how they appeared perfectly comfortable around humans. She decided her discomfort had been Rhiannon’s fault, warning her, and Boston had been too preoccupied with herself to understand the message.
Alexis, Sukki, and Nanette had their first disagreement about how to cook the roast, and Berry got right in there with them. She just said, “As long as Mother Greta doesn’t start making suggestions. She can’t cook.”
“Or Boston,” Alexis nodded. “Or Katie.”
“Decker is getting better at it,” Nanette said, and only turned a little red.
“Lincoln and Lockhart don’t do too bad a job,” Sukki agreed.
“The men take a turn cooking?” Berry sounded surprised.
“Yes,” Alexis said. “But not often. I like to eat something worth eating.”
“And with some flavor,” Sukki agreed.
After supper, everyone pulled up what they had to sleep, and curled up around the fire. Greta whispered, “Watch out for the rats in the night.”
“Ha, ha,” Boston heard, and said it out loud, without laughing.
Episode 7.7, a four part episode, will be posted in a single week. Yes. There will be posts on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, AND Thursday, so don’t miss it. The travelers return to Syria and find Guns Between the Rivers. Until Monday, Happy Reading.