In the dark of night, the wraith got frustrated by Elder Stows screens. She bounced off and could find no way around them—even by going underground. They seemed to make a complete bubble around the people, to protect them. If she had a brain, she might have realized they had to let air and such inside the screens, and being a lesser spirit, she could shape herself like the wind. In fact, Boston, only being a little spirit, could phase through the screens. Certainly, the wraith could do the same, if she could figure out how. To be clear, sophisticated screen technology, in manipulating natural forces, made even the gods pause, and some never did master it. But in this case, the wraith got frustrated, so she flew off to the next time gate, thinking, if she got a few days ahead of the travelers, she might set something up.
Not long after the wraith left, a lone gunman, the sole survivor, slammed his foot into the screens and fell forward on to the screens. He planned to get one of the horses and go hide in Hatra, but there seemed to be an invisible wall between himself and the horses. He paused to think about what he was doing.
The gun makers in Damascus were long put out of business. He and his group had to be one of the last gun groups. He could not be certain. There might still be others. He vaguely recalled his captain saying something about the gun merchants meeting up with Master Lajani in Hatra. In any case, his captain insisted on tracking and killing the one responsible for destroying the gun factory. That did not work out too well. The man figured he had some shot left, and a rifle, for all the good it did him. He frankly ran out of range and hid when the others got killed by the strangers with real guns.
“Guns to put my rifle to shame,” he mumbled, as his hands felt out the invisible wall he ran into. He figured it went all the way around the enemy camp, and maybe underground, too, for all he knew. He decided he would not be getting a horse, so he turned and began to walk. With luck, he might be half-way to Hatra by morning.
When the morning came, Elder Stow got up early to check his screen device. No one came down the road in the night. That felt understandable. In that day and age, only armies moved at night, and only if they were headed to a battle. Elder Stow said good morning to Boston and Sukki, who had taken the early morning watch so they could rate the sunrise. That morning got a seven, whatever that meant.
“Shouldn’t you be building up the fire and setting the water to boil for Lockhart’s fake coffee, as he calls it?” he asked.
“Yes, father,” Sukki responded.
Boston asked, “Why are you up so early? What are you doing?” She looked over Elder Stow’s shoulder.
“I was curious to see why we didn’t have any night visitors, but it seems we did. Both appeared to stay away from the road, which is why the watchers did not see them. Here. See? One came in about twenty feet above ground. Checked around to the back and underground. It must have been the wraith.”
“Can you track her?”
“Yes, I believe I can.” He fiddled with the settings on his scanner. “See? The signature plays out about a half-mile away, but I believe I can set the scanner to give us warning when she gets within range.”
Boston’s big elf eyes got extra big. “Oh, she is not going to like that surprise.”
Elder Stow nodded. “There is another, a human. He did not stay long and headed off towards that city we came through.”
“Hatra,” Boston said, and when she explained it a couple of hours later, Xalazar responded.
“No, you can’t come with us. This is one situation I have to deal with myself.”
“I don’t understand,” Tony said. “How is it we keep running into people with guns. They should not be invented yet, should they?”
“Damascus,” Xalazar said, and nodded. “They tried twice before Jesus was born—the obvious target if you intend to change all of history, and for the worse. Bodanagus destroyed one factory and wouldn’t let Caesar have any guns. You destroyed the factory and got the gun maker in Candace’s day. They have tried twice since. They gave Trajan guns, and that almost ruined everything. Fortunately, in Ali’s day, the last of the guns got used to help fight off an invasion of Wolv, as you know. Now, this time, they are trying a new tactic. Instead of making weapons for the purposes of murder and assassination, or giving them to one power, like the Romans or Sassanids, who have taken over the old Parthian empire, they seem to be giving them randomly to merchants and traders on both sides. It is like they are deliberately spreading them out to cause as much chaos as possible. It is a headache.”
“We have been up and down the Tigris and the Euphrates,” young Arman said, with some excitement in his voice. “We’ve been as far away as Antioch.”
“We barely stopped a shipment from going to Rome,” Sarkis, the Armenian said, and Marona, the old Assyrian soldier, nodded his agreement and lifted his eyebrows; like that was a story worth telling.
“The point…” Xalazar took the conversation back. “We have narrowed it down to three merchants, three Magi still living, that I happen to know, personally. They are meeting up in Hatra. The thing is, the leader of the group is a young magus named Ramin Lajani, and I am ninety percent sure he is working for the Masters. In which case, he has a life in the future, and if I can’t stop him, he may start to make more guns.”
The travelers all reacted, but Lockhart held up his hand and responded for them all. “We saw Lajani in Hatra, last night, at the inn. Katie and I were both bothered just to look at the man. Now, what you say makes sense.”
Xalazar nodded. “Good to have that confirmed by human eyes. We will head that way.”
“We sent the caravan on ahead when we tried to ambush the group that was following us,” Sarkis said.
“That did not go too well,” Marona, the old soldier, admitted.
“Lucky you folks came along,” Sarkis agreed.
“The point is…” Xalazar tried again, and gave his companions hard looks to be sure they had finished interrupting. “The point is, we sent the caravan ahead. We will disguise ourselves and sneak into the town. Hopefully, we will be able to find the guns, the merchants, and Lajani secretly, before they realize we are on to them. You folks would probably put the magi on high alert. They might all slip out of town and go who knows where, and we would be back to square one.”
The travelers understood well enough. Even doing all they could to disguise themselves, like using Roman-style saddles and shaping their fairy weave clothes to imitate the local dress, they were a strange crew wherever they went. Boston could cover her red hair with a glamour, but Katie’s blonde locks stood out in most places. Decker and Nanette’s dark skin often stood out as well. Decker and Lockhart were intimidatingly big. Their horses were also bigger than normal and would be until the Middle Ages when people started breeding horses for size and strength—to carry those medieval knights. Most of all, with six or seven on horseback, and one little wagon, they did not appear much like a merchant caravan, no matter how much they claimed to be.
“Our job is to get home in one piece,” Lockhart responded to Xalazar, and no one objected.
Five days later, in the morning, less than a day from the time gate, Boston squawked. “It moved! The whole gate moved, right off my screen.”
“What?” Lincoln shouted. He whipped out the database for a quick look to see where it might have moved to.
“Let me see,” Katie said, and pulled out her proto-type amulet as they heard from Elder Stow.
“The time gate has disappeared from my scanner. Have we lost it?” He rode in from the wing.
“Setting it to maximum range,” Boston said. “Wait. Zeroing in. It is back where it was.”
“Yes,” Elder Stow said when he arrived. “It has reappeared.”
“I wonder what could have happened,” Katie said.
“It blinked,” Boston said.
“Keep moving,” Lockhart decided. “Before it blinks again.”
Avalon 7.8 will again be a four part episode and be posted in a single week. Yes. Again there will be posts on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, AND Thursday, so don’t miss it. The travelers go through the time gate and come out in the same place, except 20-25 years later. Perhaps at the end of episode 7.7 I should have said To Be Continued… Avalon7.8 Ambush begins on Monday. Until then, Happy Reading