Avalon 2.2: Goddesses

 

            The sun was just rising when a man stepped out of the house next door and found six large and strange beasts in his barn and seven strange people sitting around a table out front having a breakfast fit for a king and a pleasant conversation besides.  He responded as anyone might.

            “Hey!  What the Hell are you doing on my property.  Who are you people?”

            AhnYani and KimKeri got up immediately and Roland ventured a comment.  “Don’t look.”

            The others were distracted, but only for a second as AhnYani and KimKeri began to glow with power and holiness.  The man fell to his knees as they neared, and he threw his hands to his trembling face to cover his eyes.  He looked afraid for his life, but all KimKeri did was bend down and kiss the man on his balding forehead.

            “Love your wife and be content,” she said.  “And stay away from the prostitutes.”

            “What’s wrong with the prostitutes?” AhnYani wondered.  KimKeri just grabbed AhnYani’s hand and brought her back to the table.  The man stood like one in a trance and went back inside his house.

            “That was very interesting,” Lincoln said.

            “I can’t eat another bite,” Lockhart suggested, and KimKeri looked at him and nodded to his wisdom.

            “We should go,” she agreed and the table and all vanished while the travelers readied their horses.

            The walk through town was uneventful.  There were times Katie imagined the goddesses made them invisible, but then there were times when they were clearly seen.  People gaped at them, jaws wide open, but no one imagined getting in their way, and probably would have let them pass without incident even if they were not being escorted by goddesses.

            When they reached the other side of the city, there were some small open fields, like public parks, and the architecture changed.  Most of the city was wood structures with thatch or clay and wood roofs that had a post-neolithic look about them.  Here, the houses were stone, and stone without mortar to hold them together, no less.  The stones looked to be fitted perfectly like they were machine crafted and surely nothing primitive.

            “These are Shemsu people, like Qito’s people,” Lincoln explained as he read from the database.

            “So they know how to work the stones,” Katie surmised.

            “And levitate them into place,” Lincoln nodded.

            “Probably built the city walls,” Boston suggested.

            “No doubt,” Lincoln agreed as they moved through a gate in that wall.  They had reached the other side of the city. 

            A small group of huts extended beyond the wall, well into the fields the people farmed like a hamlet.  “Just as well,” Lockhart verbalized his own thoughts as he looked back at the massive stones in that wall.  “I would rather have the wall between us and the city people.”  Katie, who walked beside him, nodded.

            In the very last house, as far from the city as one could go, they found two boys, seven-year-old twins   They were having a contest to see who could hold the stone in the air the longest, using only their minds, of course.  When the travelers became visible, the stone plummeted to the earth because the travelers were not all strangers.

            “KimKeri!” The boys shouted and ran up for hugs, and Kimkeri hugged them like a mother might hug her own.  They hugged her back with equal fervor before they turned to AhnYani.

            “AhnYani!”  They shouted her name in unison, too, and the goddess grabbed them and tossed them both up in the air – about twenty feet.  She caught them, of course, as they plummeted like their stone, screaming their joy and giggling like babies.  It had to be better than a roller coaster.

            “Ranna,” KimKeri called ahead toward the house.  A little girl of maybe five years came out first, and she ran as well as she could, her arms outstretched, but she caught her foot on a stone and fell.  She skinned her knee and looked up at KimKeri with tears in her eyes.  KimKeri was there and picked up the girl before the travelers could blink.  The girl’s skinned knee was instantly healed and, there is no other way to say it, KimKeri mothered all over the girl.

            A round but good looking woman came from the house with a two-year-old on her hip.  “Ladies,” she said with a slight, temporary lowering of her eyes.

            “You have company,” KimKeri pointed as she came up and exchanged kisses on the cheek.

            AhnYani bounced up with the two boys, one in each hand.  “They are Cophu’s friends from the future.”

            The woman looked at the travelers for the first time and gave them the same sort of reception she gave the goddesses.  She lowered her eyes for a moment and dipped her head ever so slightly before she spoke.

            “My husband is out retrieving some great thing, I know not.  It is outside the wall Chaos erected so he had to ask his little ones to bring it in.  He says he must fix it for the ones from far away.”  Ranna took her free hand and waved it at the sky.  “While we wait, you are welcome here.  We do not have much, but you are welcome to share in all that we have.”

            Lockhart and Katie stepped up and with a look at the side of the house, the others nodded and went to tie their horses off while Lockhart spoke.  “It seems to me if you have these two lovely ladies as friends you have everything a person could want.”

            Katie put her hand up to pat his shoulder, to encourage him.  She thought that was very well said.

            “But we see so little of our friends,” Ranna replied as she gave AhnYani the same sort of kiss on her cheek.

            “Chaos does keep us busy,” KimKeri admitted.  “El and his court can be very demanding.”

            AhnYani said nothing,  She was busy tickling the two-year-old while the five-year-old hid in KimKeri’s shoulder.

            “What are these wonderful beasts.” The boys were right there with Boston, Roland and Lincoln who looked trapped into answering.  The two boys had the three grown-ups surrounded.  Lockhart laughed at the sight as Katie spoke.

            “Chaos has threatened to use us as well, be we hope to move on in the morning.”  She looked at Lockhart to be sure and he nodded.

            “That may not be so easy,” Ranna said.  “Even Cophu is trapped by the wall outside the wall that Chaos has put up.”

            “You mean Tiamut?”  Lincoln escaped the boys and caught up with the conversation.  The two goddesses and Ranna looked at him and frowned.  Even Lockhart and Katie had avoided that name, even if just on principle. 

            “Best not to say her name,” KimKeri said.

            “She will hear you,” AhnYani whispered.

            “Ah, but here comes Cophu now,” KimKeri pointed toward a rise in the distance.  All the people could see was something was coming and it looked terribly big.

            “The ship we saw plummeting to the ground when we first arrived,” Katie said, and her hand went again to touch Lockhart’s upper arm as if vying for his attention.

            “Not a stick ship, nor Agdaline nor Balok,” Lockhart said and he looked at Katie who quickly removed her hand.

            “No, don’t you dare,” KimKeri said, firmly, but she was talking to AhnYani and did not explain what she was talking about.

            Lockhart, Katie and Lincoln watched for a moment before they turned to figure out overnight accommodations for the horses.  They pitched their tents, not wishing to crowd the home where six already crowded in.  They built a fire, and KimKeri and AhnYani provided a late afternoon feast before they said their good-byes.  It was actually several hours before Cophu arrived, and when he did he was not in a good mood at first.

 

Avalon 2.2:  The Wall … Next Time

Avalon 2.2: Chaos Inside and Out

            The travelers settled in for a bite to eat.  With Boston’s careful tending, the fire roared well for such a wet and dreary night.  The priest watched and tried the bread, but was non-committal about it all.  He stayed quiet and appeared content to listen while the travelers talked among themselves.  Roland and Boston sometimes whispered to each other.  Katie and Lockhart included Lincoln in their conversation. 

            The rain drifted away at sunset, though the cloudy night would take some time to clear.  Lincoln suggested they might see the stars by midnight, and Lockhart was ready to set the watch through the night when a group of twenty or more men arrived and Asspurbinal the priest stood to greet them.  This was what he had been waiting for.

            “Now I think you will give me everything from the future,” the priest said.  “Including your clothes that you change with a word, as I have seen.”

            The travelers stood, their weapons ready.  The men were armed with spears and clubs and several held torches against the dark.  Roland pulled his sword, pointed it at the priest and let him feel how sharp it was while Lockhart spoke.

            “Don’t make us kill all these men,” Lockhart said.  “Because we would have to kill you first.”

            “The future is not for you to take,” Boston added as she pulled her Beretta and stood close to Roland’s side.

            The priest touched the sword, looked at the travelers and thought about it while the men in the street awaited orders.  In that moment of hesitation, a woman appeared in their midst.  She was seven feet tall and glowed in the dark with an awesome presence that made her hard to look at directly.  The men stepped back and several ran.  The priest trembled and fell to his face.  The travelers recognized her and growled, having met her before.  Katie named her.

            “Tiamut.”

            “Marine,” Tiamut responded and reached out her hand.  Lockhart’s shotgun broke free of his grip and flew to the woman.  She shouldered the weapon, not expertly, but well enough to turn it on the crowd of men.  She shot three of them before they scattered and vanished back into the darkness of the city.  “I have to get one of these,” Tiamut said and tossed the weapon back to Lockhart.

            “Do you expect our thanks?”  Boston asked.

            “Elf lover,” Tiamut turned her eyes on the redhead.  “What a disgusting thought.  I like it.” 

            “Mistress,” Asspurbinal the priest could barely manage the word through a throat constricted by fear.  Tiamut bent down to him as if to whisper, though her words were loud enough for all to hear.

            “These people are mine.  You leave them alone.  Now I suggest you run for your life.”  She backed up to watch.

            The priest looked up once at the travelers, dared not look at the goddess, leapt to his feet and ran off screaming into the night.

            “We are not yours,” Lockhart said.

            “But you are,” Tiamut turned on him.  “I have a mind to keep you for a time.  Maybe not the elf.  I have no use for such.”

            “But our journey,” Lincoln was afraid to protest too strongly.  He was learning that in the ancient days it was not wise to cross the gods.  They were all learning.

            Tiamut looked at him which caused him to look away.  “Yes, your human wife and her elf father.  They were wise enough to perceive my wall outside the wall and went around.  But no, you will never see them again, not the father you fear nor the abomination you married.”

            “But my wife,” Lincoln started to speak, but Tiamut interrupted.

            “My priest is unscrupulous, greedy, manipulative and full of many such admirable qualities, but do not worry, I will set a guard for the night.  Now you must sleep and rest while I decide how I will use you.”  She waved her hand and the travelers fell to the ground where they were.  As they fell into a fitful, nightmare-filled sleep they heard the laughter of Tiamut, goddess of chaos, float away on the wind.

            Katie was the first to wake, and she found herself very comfortable in Lockhart’s arms.  In a way, she hated to wake him.  After the rough start to the night, everyone slept wonderfully well, or at least she did.  Lockhart looked to be very comfortable as well.

            “Robert,” Katie backed up a bit and shook him.  With that sound, Roland sat up on the other side of the fire.  As Katie and Lockhart separated with looks of uncertainty, Boston pulled Roland back down so she could snuggle a bit more.  She wasn’t finished sleeping.

            Lincoln in the middle had his arms around two unknown women and both Katie and Lockhart were surprised to see such a smile on Lincoln’s face.  Everyone was fully dressed, but Lincoln was grinning as wide as his face could go.

            “He is dreaming about his wife,” the blond woman spoke up. 

            “She must be very nice,” the dark haired woman added, and since the two women were awake they both sat up and then stood up.

            “I’m KimKeri,” the blond intoned in a voice deep and filled with promise.

            “I’m AhnYani,” the dark haired, well tanned woman spoke in a devil-may-care tone.

            “Young goddesses of love,” Roland was up again, and this time he stood and bowed.

            “Of the lesser variety,” AhnYani sighed like a child who was not allowed out to play.

            “And just as trapped here as you,” KimKeri also sighed like a woman who only wanted to satisfy her man.  The men heard that, but so did the women.  Katie and Boston both stepped in front of Lockhart and Roland.

            “Don’t fret,” KimKeri continued.  “We have no interest in your men.  We were sent to guard you in the night.  That is all.”

            “But our mistress did not say anything about the day.”  AhnYani spoke with glee in her voice and a twinkle in her eye.  “If we happen to be going to visit our friend Cophu, I suppose we can’t help it if you happen to follow us.”

            “Give us a minute to get our horses saddled and ready,” Lockhart replied.  He had no doubt in his mind these lesser goddesses meant what they said.

            “More than a minute,” KimKeri said.  She waved her arm and a table full of food and all sorts of delicacies appeared.  “I would hardly be worthy of the name, goddess of satisfaction if I let you go hungry.”  She waved her other arm.  “And grain for the horses.  Let them enjoy the morning.”

            “And what are you goddess of?” Katie asked AhnYani as she stepped up beside Lockhart.  Without thinking, Katie slipped her arm around the man’s waist.  He let his fall across her shoulder.  They turned their heads to each other and let their lips touch.  Then at once they separated, though it was clear that they both needed to think about what just happened.

            “Wait a minute,” Boston shouted and turned Roland to face her.  She kissed him, she did not just touch his lips, and to be fair he kissed her right back.

            “Now, AhnYani that will be quite enough,” KimKeri scolded.  “Spontaneity.  She is spontaneous joy and love,” KimKeri described her friend as she looked down at Lincoln.  He was stirring, still dreaming before he bolted upright.

            “Alexis!”  He looked around and saw Roland and Boston, the two strange women, the table filled with breakfast and Lockhart and Katie Harper who seemed to have no eyes for anything but each other, but no Alexis.  “What is going on?”

 

Avalon 2.2:  Goddesses … Next Time

Avalon 2.2: Jericho

 

After 3852 BC in Jericho.  Kairos life 22: Cophu of the Shemsu

Recording… 

 

            The travelers paused at the edge of the rise despite the rain and looked across the fields to the city wall.  It was mammoth, built of standing stones, and the gates looked formidable as well.

            “Bigger than anything we have seen so far.”  Roland’s voice carried through the weather.  He had the ability to make himself heard, if necessary.

            “One of Anenki’s cities come to fruition?”  Boston asked.  Roland shook his head, but Lincoln who was on the other side of her spoke up.  He had the database and was trying to read it and keep it dry at the same time.  He was not entirely successful.

            “This is older.  I think it is Jericho.  If we entered Cophu’s life early on, it has to be Jericho.”

            “Well, wherever we are, we better move,” Lockhart shouted.  “This wind is picking up.  Huh?”  He looked at Katie who nudged him on the shoulder and pointed to the sky.  There was a ship of some kind and it looked to be in distress.  They all saw it.  It was coming down through the low clouds, probably hoping to land on the other side of the city.  A stroke of lightning flashed across the sky, and the ship was gone without even telltale smoke to mark its passage.

            Lockhart said nothing and nudged his horse down the rise.  The others followed and immediately they all felt like they were passing through a gate or invisible wall of some sort.  It was an electrical tingle that touched the edges of their skin and the smell of ozone was strong. 

            “Keep moving,” Lockhart said.  They would discuss it later. 

            There was no neat path through the farmland, but they went single file through the wheat to minimize the damage.  When they arrived at the actual double-door gate in that massive stone wall, they found it shut fast.  There did not appear to be anyone around.

            “No lock to shoot,” Lockhart commented and watched as Roland got down from his horse.  Boston held the reigns while Roland studied the situation.  Lincoln and Katie tried to fend off the rain, Lincoln to keep the database dry and Katie to keep her weapon dry.  Captain Decker’s horse pranced nervously every time the lightning struck, but Lincoln kept it under control.  Lockhart sat like a stone in the saddle, but inside he felt like Decker’s horse.

            Roland raised his hands and thrust them at the door three times, hard.  They all heard the boom, boom, boom.  “Open up.”  Roland shouted.  He could make himself heard.

            They waited.

            Finally, Roland picked up some mud and spread it horizontally across both doors of the gate.  When he was satisfied with his work, he paused to concentrate.  Suddenly, he lifted his hands straight up and shoved, like he was lifting something terribly heavy and throwing it away.  Then he threw his shoulder into the place where the doors met.  Lockhart leapt to help, and in a few seconds, they had the doors open wide enough to squeeze through.  The big piece of lumber that had kept the doors locked was a few feet away.

            Roland grabbed one door and tugged as hard as he could while Lockhart tugged on the other.  Lincoln pushed his horse in and brought Decker’s horse along.  Boston followed with Roland’s horse in tow.  Katie came last.  She had taken a moment to stow her rifle and get out her pistol, just in case.  There were men in the plaza beyond the gate, and they looked afraid.  Fear, she knew, could sometimes cause people to react foolishly.

            “Friend, friend.”  Katie shouted, not sure if she was heard through the rain or understood.  Lockhart understood something.

            “Roland, you need to appear more human here.”  He turned to the group while Roland turned his back on the men in the plaza in order to affect a glamour to give himself the right look.  “Dismount.  We need to walk the horses.”  He took the reins for his horse and Captain Decker’s horse.  “Lincoln, search the database for any relevant information on this city.”

            “We go through it, I think,”  Boston spoke up after she examined the amulet.  “We might have gone around.”  Boston looked at the men while the others looked around the plaza.  “Excuse me.”  Boston handed her reins to Roland and stepped up to the men who huddled together.  Lockhart almost stopped her, but at the last second turned to Lincoln.

            “Got to get out of this rain,” he said, and that was what Boston asked the men.  One of the men reached out and touched Boston’s red hair.  Katie raised her pistol and the motion caused two other men to look in her direction.  Her blond hair was probably not a whole lot better.  But then one of the elder men stepped forward.

            “This way,” he said, and the group followed that man through a back street to what appeared to be a barn.  There was room for the horses and the group immediately began to strip them and brush them free of the wet.  The older man and one other stayed to watch.  The rest probably went back to the gate.

            “Thank you.”  Katie spoke to the men while Roland found some hay for the horses to chew.  Lincoln pulled out a fairy weave tent and made it into an awning that extended out from the barn door.  He had in mind to make a fire right there, but away from the barn if possible.

            “You are of the gods?”  The elderly man asked.  Clearly he did not understand everything he saw, but began to doubt that these people were divine.  They were soaking wet and behaved like anyone who stood for too long out in the rain.

            “No,” Boston started to answer but Lockhart hushed her with a wave of his hand.

            “We are ordinary people but we come from tomorrow.  We have accidentally fallen back into today.  We are trying to get back to tomorrow.”  Lockhart spent a long time figuring out how to say that in a way a post-Neolithic copper and soft metals civilization might understand.

            “You are from the future?”  The old man understood very well.

            “Yes,” Lockhart affirmed, though he hated the idea of saying they were trying to get back to the future.

            The old man turned to the man beside him and whispered.  That man ran off into the rain.  Then he turned to the group.  “Welcome to Jericho.  May I see the future?”

            Lockhart shook his head.  “Not advisable.”

            Lincoln spoke up.  “Keep your eyes open.  I am sure you will see some things.”  The man nodded and watched while the travelers cared for their animals, found a dry wood pile  in the back of the barn and started Lincoln’s fire out front.  They also found some lumber to sit on to keep their pants dry and off the wet ground.

            “I would recommend staying the night here near the horses,” Katie said as she sat down beside Lockhart.

            Lockhart was studying the old man but Katie’s words shook him awake.  “My name is Lockhart, and these are my companions.  Katie Harper, Lincoln, Boston and Roland.”

            “I am Asspurbinal, priest of Tiamut.”

            On the word, Tiamut, Lincoln and Katie retrieved their high powered rifles and Lockhart drew and cradled his shotgun.  Roland checked his blades, including his sword, and Boston spoke.

            “I second the idea that we stay here near the horses tonight.”

 ###

Avalon 2.2:  Chaos Inside and Out … Next Time

Avalon 2.1: Intervention

 

            When the lioness finished destroying the last night creature, it turned and everyone watched in horror as it began a slow walk directly toward Phoenix.  But then it slowly transformed into a woman with short black hair and golden eyes.  By the time she reached Phoenix, the final box that separated them vanished and she caught Phoenix to keep her from falling.  Then she embraced Phoenix and kissed her lip to lip in a true lover’s kiss.  It was hard to say what Phoenix thought of that kiss since she did not even have the strength to stand on her own; but it was easy to see she did not exactly struggle against the idea.  When they separated, Phoenix said the woman’s name.

            “Wadjet.”

            Wadjet simply smiled and spoke with some volume.  “I always wanted to do that.”

            Then a man appeared out of nowhere, an older man who looked wise with experience.  “Enough,” he spoke from Wadjt’s elbow.  Wadjt bowed her head to the man and stepped back so the man could catch Phoenix.  He kissed Phoenix on her head like a doting father, and again Phoenix identified the person.

            “Papi Amun.”

            “And her husband right here.”  Amun scolded Wadjet who did not look the least bit embarrassed.  Amun leaned over Phoenix’ shoulder and waved to Baran.  Baran said nothing, but he took his hand from his ribs and smiled up at the man.

            All this while, the big housecat sat and watched.  It did not so much as wash itself.

            At once everyone could move again and two lovely women came into the clearing escorting a man who was tall and lean and yellow skinned and looked crooked.  He protested.  “It isn’t fair.”  But no one listened.

            There was a brilliant flash of light reminiscent of Phoenix’ fire and four more men appeared to face the crooked man.  One burned like fire.  One had the head of a long beaked bird.  The normal one had a skull cap and a square trimmed beard.  The last had the head of a jackal.  The latter three stepped back as the one that was shining and full of light stepped forward.

            The crooked one whined one more word.  “Father?”

            The shining one offered no preliminaries.  “The Kairos has served her term, and honorably.  The rest of her days are her own and to be respected.  You stay away.  I will be watching all the day long.”

            “And I will watch in the night.”  A new voice entered the clearing, but this man never became fully present as if he did not belong there.  He could be seen well enough and identified.  Indeed, Boston blurted out the man’s name since the travelers had met him before.  “Varuna.”

            Anubis of the Jackal head stepped forward, but stopped on the word of the bearded one. 

            “The Kairos was counted among all the gods by an act of all the gods.  The presence and pledge of this one simply affirms her place.”

            There was yet another gruffer and hearty voice.  “And I will watch both day and night.”  The man who appeared, this one fully, was a giant, being eight feet tall.  He wore a simple robe and carried a simple staff, but there was something about the eyes that made him hard to look at, like they penetrated too deep.

            The bearded one spoke again.  “The far seeing of Heimdahl is legendary even among the gods.”

            “So be it,” the shining one said, though he did not sound happy with all the outsiders.  He waved his hand and they all vanished with the words of the crooked one wafting on the wind.

            “It isn’t fair.”

            Wadjet turned her eyes once more to Phoenix and smiled before she transformed into the biggest cobra any had ever seen.  She slithered off back into the delta, and Katie was hardly able to keep from screaming.

            Papi Amun kissed Phoenix once again on the forehead and restored some of her strength.  “Be good,” he whispered and vanished.

            Last of all the big cat moved.  She came up to the Phoenix and, big as she was, she acted like a true housecat.  She purred and rubbed Phoenix’ legs before she changed into the most beautiful woman of all.  When she kissed Phoenix on the cheek, she faded from sight.  That left only Baran, Phoenix and the travelers at the house.  Even the carcasses of the night creatures had vanished.

            “Would someone explain to me what just happened?” Lockhart said with a look at Lincoln and at Katie.

            Phoenix rattled off names.  “Bast, Amun, Wadjet, Isis, Nephthys, Ptah, Thoth, Anubis the Ra, Aton, and Set in the middle, with Varuna and Heimdahl attending.”

            “Wow.”  Boston leaned into Roland.  He had his arm around her shoulder.

            “Quite a collection,” Lincoln said as he pulled out the database.

            “You don’t know the half of it,” Baran confided to Lincoln.

            Katie shrugged as Lockhart spoke again.  “Would someone explain to me what just happened?”

###

Next Time:  Avalon 2.2:  Jericho …

 

Avalon 2.1 Defense of the Phoenix

 

            Everyone heard the baby cry in the wilderness and eyes went wide when that cry dropped to a guttural, thunderous roar.  It was only moments before Roland’s elf eyes spied the night creatures on the road.  There were three of them.  They came to the edge of the clearing in front of Phoenix’ house and paused in the face of the barricade.       

            Phoenix let three globes of fire and light escape her hands.  They drifted slowly into the sky and acted like flares, suddenly setting the whole scene to light.  The night creatures spread out as if to approach the barricade on all three sides, but Katie and Lincoln did not wait.  They opened up with their high powered rifles, set to multi-shot.  They saw the bullets strike home, but it hardly slowed the night creatures as they charged.

            Lincoln kept up continuous fire until the creature leapt over the boxes.  It knocked two aside and crushed one and headed straight for Phoenix.  But when the creature came down from the top of the barricade, it felt Baran’s spear penetrate its throat and pop out the back of its head.  Alone, Baran might not have penetrated the skin, but the creature’s own weight killed it.  It collapsed, even as Baran’s shaft snapped and Baran was knocked to the ground with a broken rib.

            Katie also kept up her fire, but when the second night creature leapt the barricade, Lockhart managed two slugs from his shotgun.  It was not as effective as the big spear point, but it caused the night creature to stop and shake its head when it hit the dirt.  Katie spun and finished the work with six rapid-fire shots to the back of the creature’s head.

            Boston only had her Beretta, but she kept up a continual stream of fire as Roland beside her fired Lockhart’s police pistol.  The third creature was leaking blood from multiple holes when it leapt over the barrels.  Roland added his knife which he shoved deep into the creature’s hide.  The creature hardly slowed as it bumped the elf out of the way.  Roland fell back into Boston before he turned and covered her.

            Phoenix rose up and the fire danced in her eyes.  It focused in her hands, shot fire straight to the night creature’s head and turned the head to a charcoal cinder in a flash.  Everyone had to look away from the light.  Everyone felt the heat, and Baran, Roland and Lincoln all sustained first degree burns just being near.  But then it was over.

            Phoenix collapsed and had a hard time catching her breath.  Baran dragged himself to her, one hand holding his rib cage.  Boston and Katie met where Phoenix gasped and tried to help her to her feet, but Phoenix was too drained.  Then they heard the growl and every eye turned to see the rear guard.  Night creatures always sent a scout out front on a hunt and always had one in reserve.

            Katie, Lincoln, Lockhart and Boston all lifted their guns, but that was where they stopped.  No one could move, or take their eyes from the creature who sat and seemed to have gotten the message that there was no hurry.  Even Baran was stuck to the ground and only Phoenix could drag herself to the barricade for a good look.  The creature saw her, but paused to lick its paw like a disinterested cat.

            Curiously, in that moment a cat came to the edge of the clearing.  It was much bigger than a housecat – more bobcat size – but it had the look of a housecat.  It sat, front legs straight to the ground to watch the show and otherwise it remained still, apart from a small twitch in the tail.

            The night creature took note, but ignored the cat.  It looked ready to charge, but first that lioness they all heard earlier in the night came bounding right past the watching cat and headed straight for the night creature.  The creature ignored the lion.  Either it was unaware of the danger or it had dealt with lions before and found them inconsequential.  That was a mistake.

            The lioness roared as it sank its fangs into the back of the night creature’s neck.  The night creature looked surprised, if it can be said a creature can look that way.  It tried to bite off the lioness’ front paw, but its terrible jaw simply passed through the paw like it might have chomped down on smoke.  The lioness’ back legs reached from underneath and took the night creature to its back.  The lioness ripped out a huge chunk of the back of the creature’s neck in the process.  Then it tore out the night creature’s throat.

### 

Avalon 2.1:  Intervention … Next Time …

 

Avalon 2.1: Phoenix

 

            “People.”  Roland reigned back to the others and everyone came to a halt.  The trail was not much of a trail.  It was more of a bank along a stream tributary of the Nile with a few broken branches and trampled ferns.  There were no wagons yet to speak of, and hardly the cattle and oxen to keep a clear path between villages, much less out to the outlying farms.  These were still stick farmers, punching holes in the silt deposited after the regular floods and gently planting their seed.

            Lockhart moved up to the front and Katie came up alongside Boston.  The walkers were two men and a woman in between.  The woman waved to the travelers, but Lockhart held his tongue.  It was Lincoln who spoke.

            “Phoenix?” he shouted.

            The woman nodded and when they were near enough, the old man yelled out, “Patmas!”

            “Thomen!”  One of the men waved and yelled back and named the elderly man who was barely on his horse.

            “You’re going the wrong way,” Phoenix said as she stopped in front of the group.

            “No, you are,” Lockhart responded.  “As near as we can figure, the night creatures are on the way to your house.”

            Somehow, Thomen had gotten down from Captain Decker’s horse and run to his old friend.  “Patmas, did you see me up on that great beast?”

            “How do you figure?”  Phoenix asked, and Roland explained what they saw in Thomen’s house.

            “Katie thinks Set may be involved,” Boston shouted from behind.

            “He wouldn’t dare,” Phoenix said with a sideways look at the young man beside her.  Then she added an unexpected word in English.  “Shit!”  She grabbed the young man’s hand, got up on the back of Captain Decker’s horse and dragged the young man up behind her.  He did not look too happy, but he clearly trusted Phoenix completely.

            “Lincoln and Lockhart,” Phoenix started giving orders.  “Get the old men up behind you.  We have to ride.”  Phoenix did not look too steady in the saddle, but she knew how it worked. And once the old men were up and holding on, she brought her animal to a quick trot.  The others easily kept up having ridden by then for a number of days.

            Half-way to their destination they passed the charred corpse of a night creature.  It was burnt so badly, it was almost unrecognizable.  “Yesterday.”  Phoenix shouted over her shoulder but said no more as she had to pay attention to stay in the saddle.  Patmas picked up the story and whispered in Lockhart’s ear.

            “We were headed back to the village, and though it was just dark, the moon made good light.  The creature surprised us.  Phoenix used the fires of Aton such as I have never seen.  The side of my face is red and I still see spots.”  Lockhart nodded.  Sunburn did not surprise him given the charred condition of the creature.  “But she collapsed,” Patmas said.  “We might have lost her if that kind woman and that elf had not stopped to help.”

            “Elf and kind woman?”  Lockhart glanced at Lincoln, but Lincoln was preoccupied trying to keep Thomen from falling.  The man was leaning precipitously. 

            “Yes,”  Patmas concluded.  “But they left before Phoenix could wake up and thank them.”

            Lockhart just nodded again and glanced once more in Lincoln’s direction.  Lincoln had not heard.

            When they arrived at the farm house, Phoenix got straight down and ran into the house.  The sun was setting.  By the time she came out with children in tow, Thomen and Patmas were back on firm ground, Lincoln and Boston lead the horses to tie them off in the trees where they hoped they would not become night creature appetizers.  Phoenix put the children in the hands of the old men.

            “Take them to Soteri’s,” she said, glanced at the sun and added, “Run.”  She turned then at last and introduced her young man.  “My husband, Baran.”

            “Good to meet you,” Katie responded for them all.  Lockhart and Roland were already trying to figure some way to set up a barricade at the front of the house.  They had no illusions that any barricade would stop a night creature, but they hoped to slow them enough to get off a good shot.

            “Here you go,” Lincoln and Boston came up with arms full of wood from the wood pile.  It was around the back, carefully quartered so it stacked well.  They just had to move it to the front.  With boxes, barrels and most of the furniture from the inside, they built something of a fort outside the front door.  Then, with the windows and doors open in case the creatures broke into the house to get at them from the rear, they were as ready as they could be.

            Roland hovered over Boston, but she had her pistol out and her eyes and ears open against the encroaching dark.  Lincoln, with Captain Decker’s rifle took the middle with Phoenix and Baran, who clutched his hunting spear.  Lincoln wanted to hear about this woman and her elf.

            Lockhart was inclined to pace.  Katie tried to get him to sit still, but gave up after a while.  “How long will we keep watch?”  she wondered.

            “All of us.  All night if necessary,” he responded.

            The night passed slowly.  The sounds of the Nile delta made more than one of them uncomfortable, but they had to stay awake and aware and they had to depend on their ears in the dark.  They had built several small fires out away from their fort, but the light from them was not great, and they tended to burn down quickly.  Roland was swift enough to keep the fires fed.  He was not fairy fast, but far faster than any human or presumed night creature.  Still, the waiting by contrast felt extra slow.  Everyone’s nerves began to tighten, and more than once Lincoln rubbed that tightening out of his stress stiff neck.

            Katie was never so aware that she was a complete stranger in this world, and utterly alone apart from her traveling companions.  Lincoln and Lockhart may have had some experience with these sorts of things in the past.  Certainly the Kairos knew them well enough.  And Boston, sweet girl that she was, probably dreamed about having such an adventure.  But Roland was an elf.  A month ago, if anyone said elves were real, she would have had them committed.   And more important than that, she was six thousand years from home.  She looked again at Lockhart and was glad he was there.  For the first time she also truly missed Decker.  With that thought, she put the rifle to her shoulder and strained her eyes and ears in the dark. 

            A distant roar made them all jump.  Baran said it was a lion.  Phoenix stayed quiet.  She was worried about the children.

            “I wish they would just get here,” Boston whispered.

            “I don’t,” Roland was honest about it.

 

Avalon 2.1  Defense of the Phoenix … Next Time …

Avalon 2.1 Puzzle Pieces

 

            The night was long.  The night creatures came close, but never close enough to see.  They seemed content to pass by the travelers and their horses which suggested to Lincoln, according to the database, that they were on the hunt.  Night creatures had a single minded obsession about the hunt.  If they were hungry, they would eat whatever was convenient, and of course the sun was death and deep water as well, but otherwise they would not stop or rest until they caught what they were hunting, and ate it.

            “I would hate to be on the receiving end of that hunt,” Katie suggested in the morning.  “That night creature took out five crocodiles without a sweat, and it looked like it only got bitten because it didn’t know crocodiles had teeth.  Even the monster croc got shredded, and the only reason the night creature died was because it couldn’t swim.”   Lockhart only got to shrug as Lincoln interrupted their packing.

            “Please hurry.  Alexis is only two days ahead of us.  We might be able to catch her at the gate.”

            Roland looked over Lincoln’s shoulder so Lincoln could not see.  He shook his head, and Lockhart understood.  The group was not getting closer.  They appeared to be falling further behind, by at least a day.  Still, he wanted to be encouraging.

            “We will catch them.  If not this time, maybe the next.”  No one argued the point.  They saddled up and rode off with the sunrise at their backs.

            The travelers were quiet through the day apart from Lincoln’s incessant calls for them to hurry up.  It did not help.  Travel through the Nile Delta was slow going with a lot of backtracking around swampy places and trying to find safe places to cross the broken river.  There were not many people, just a few small villages, and those people stared and gaped plenty, but offered little information about a safe path to Bubastis – which Lincoln had calculated as their destination but which most of the locals never heard of.

            By the time they arrived in Bubastis, the sun was ready to set.  Roland was relieved, Boston was grumpy, Katie was exhausted and tired of fingering her rifle, Lockhart was stoic and silent and even Lincoln had closed his mouth for a long time, needing to conserve his strength to bring along Captain Decker’s horse.

            They dismounted near the center of Bubastis where there was a crude stone carving of a housecat.  Katie called it the luck goddess.  This village was a slightly larger small village of the same type and construction they had seen during the day, but no one seemed to be around..  The travelers thought nothing of it.  They were well experienced by then in the mixed receptions they got, so they set about caring for their horses and ignored the people until the expected delegation arrived.

            “Bast,” Lincoln read from the database at that moment.  “Also named Anu, sister to Anubis.”  He paused when the men arrived.

            “Strangers, who ride upon great and strange beasts,” the man bowed, and the delegation assented to the bow.  “You are clearly a great and powerful people.  How may we serve you.”  The man bowed again, and so did most of the others.  Lockhart spoke to the elder who did not bow very much at all.

            “We are seeking a friend.”

            Lincoln stepped up and ventured a guess that these people had heard the story.  “We are seeking Phoenix, the one reborn to her youth by the flames.”

            “Ahh,” Several faces lit up with smiles.  “The fire of glorious Aton, herself.”  One man spoke and pointed to the setting sun.  “The friend of the gods.  She is to be found down the long path where her family resides.  They farm when the flood rises.”

            A second man shoved his way to the front.  It was the elder who did not bow to the strangers, the one to whom Lockhart spoke, and he spoke back to Lockhart.  “We have sent for her, but she has not come.  And our goddess has abandoned us to the creatures of Set.  They came just before the sun and chased me from my house.”  He dropped his face into his hands and did not hesitate to let his tears flow.  “My family.”  His voice trailed off, but his neighbors were there to touch him, hold him and offer their comfort.

            Lockhart said nothing.  He simply retrieved the shotgun from his saddle holster.  Katie checked her rifle for the umpteenth time that day.  Roland looked at his dwindling supply of arrows while Lincoln went for Captain Decker’s gun.  Lockhart decided some instructions were appropriate.

            “Lincoln and Boston, stay with the horses.  Roland, take the Captain’s rifle.  No arguments.”  He turned to the men.  “Show us where.”

            They moved as a group, afraid that the creatures of Set might come bounding out and attack them at any moment.  They stopped several yards from the house and pointed.  Lockhart let his hands do the talking and he, Roland and Katie quickly got in position. 

            When they were ready, Lockhart kicked in the flimsy door.  It broke free from its moorings and crashed to the floor, but he was busy, pointing his shotgun to the back left of the  room while a kneeling Katie beside him had her rifle trained on the back right corner.  Roland jumped through the window at the same time and covered the center.  There were no night creatures to be seen, but there was a big hole in the center of the floor and pieces of shredded humans scattered everywhere.  Lockhart, the former police officer was trained to stuff his feelings down at the grisly scene.  No one knew what the elf might be thinking, but Katie, the marine had to turn away.

            The elderly man who owned the house came up and tried to go inside, but Katie caught him.  “Don’t go in there.”  She shouted over the man’s shoulder.  “Burn the house.”  At least a couple of the others nodded like they understood.

            Inside, Roland slipped down into the hole while Lockhart watched.  “They appear to have dug their way out.  The hole is filled with loose dirt with only a small hole at the top for air.”

            “Which direction?”  Lockhart wondered out loud.  When Roland pointed he brought them quickly back to the others.  “Which way to the house of Phoenix?”  The men also pointed and Lockhart nodded.  It was the same direction.

            Katie still held the elderly man and Lockhart went to help.  They forced him to mount Captain Decker’s horse and told him to hold tight to the saddle horn.  Then they mounted and Lockhart hoped Phoenix’ farm was not too distant.

            Lincoln rode out front with the old man so the old man could lead the way.  Roland scouted ahead and Boston stayed between Lincoln and Lockhart with an eye open to make sure the old man stayed in the saddle.  Lockhart and Katie brought up the rear, but their eyes, and Roland’s eyes looked for signs in the ground of underground digging.

            “No telling how fast they dig or how far they have gotten,” Lockhart said.

            “I bet they have help,” Katie added and to Lockhart’s curious stare she said, “this is water and swampland.  They drown.  They can’t afford to run into any water that might flood the tunnel.”

            “Who do you figure?”  Lockhart asked.

            “Set,” Boston answered.  She had been listening in.

            “The god?”  Katie was still having trouble with that whole concept, but Boston and Lockhart both nodded.

            “The god.”

 

Avalon 2.1:  Phoenix … next time …

Avalon 2.1: Creatures in the Night

 

After 3910BC.  The Nile Delta.  Kairos life 21: Phoenix

Recording…

            The sun set, but the moon was already up and full enough to cast shadows across their path.  Boston rode in front of the column with the amulet that kept them headed in the right direction.  Roland rode beside her most of the time, his elf senses stretched into the dark places.  Lockhart and Katie brought up the rear.  Both fingered their guns and said little, but were comfortable riding side by side.  Lincoln rode in the center, Captain Decker’s empty horse tied to his saddle while Lincoln filled his hands with the database and read about their location.

            “The Nile should be full of tributary channels.   If we find one big enough, we ought to find some fresh water.  I don’t believe we are close enough to the sea for it to be brackish.”

            “How do you figure?”  Lockhart asked without really asking.

            “No salt in the air,” Katie told him, softly, and he nodded.

            Lincoln continued.  “The only problem is I don’t know whether we are headed for Heliopolis or Bubastis.  It depends at what point we are in Phoenix’ life.”

            “I can’t imagine that would matter,” Boston said.

            Lincoln shrugged.  “It says here after she escaped her service as High Priestess of the Temple of the Sun she lived a relatively quiet and happy life.”

            “Relatively,” Lockhart and Roland spoke together.  That word did not mean much when it came to the lives of the Kairos.

            After a short way, Roland turned them off their path.  “I can smell the water,” he said.  Soon enough they saw it, shimmering in the moonlight.  It was just beyond a muddy beach devoid of the expected reeds, trees and bushes.  They might have blundered straight for the water if Roland had not snatched Boston’s reigns and brought them all to a halt with the words, “Something is moving.”

            Lincoln brought himself and Captain Decker’s horse up alongside Roland.  Lockhart and Katie came up beside Boston as Boston spoke.  “Alligators.”

            “Crocodiles,” Katie and Lincoln both corrected.  There appeared to be four of them, the biggest easily being twelve feet long, and as the sun just set, everyone assumed they were still fairly active. 

            “Over there.”  Katie spoke up and pointed, though only Lockhart and Boston, and Roland with his elf eyes could see where she was pointing in the dim light.  Something was coming through the bushes.  It made the sound of a baby cry, and Lockhart immediately named it.

            “Night creature.”  They had heard them before but had never actually seen one.  It came out of the bushes near the water and ignored the crocodiles as it went to the edge of the river for a careful drink.  When it turned, they all got a good look at it in the moonlight and Katie gave it another name.

            “A Set animal,” she said.  “Associated with the god of the desert, of storms and infertility.”  It had a pointed, slightly curved jaw, square ears, and yellow eyes.  Altogether it did not look like it belonged on earth.  They could not tell if it looked like a cat, a dog, a bear or perhaps a donkey the way it tromped so carefully by the water and raised its head to swallow.  When it turned and growled at them, they did not need an interpreter.

            Katie raised her rifle.  Lockhart readied his shotgun.  Lincoln had inherited Captain Decker’s rifle and took a second to retrieve it from its case while Katie spoke.

            “No bones or any part of the Set animal has ever been found.  The only place it is known is in hieroglyphs.”

            “And some Neolithic paintings in Europe and Asia,” Lincoln added.

            The beast walked toward them, right over the back of the twelve-footer and without the least concern.  Maybe it did not know.  As it’s front claw came down beside the crock, the crocodile snapped out with its terrible jaw and took off a piece of that foot.  The night creature made no noise, but whirled too fast to follow and tore half of the twelve footer’s neck out with its own terrible jaw.

            An eight-footer shuffled forward while the big one was dying and snapped off a back foot of the night creature.  Again the night creature whirled and decapitated the crocodile in two quick bites.  Then, before the others could respond, the night creature killed them.  But to catch the last before it escaped into the river, the creature had to come close again to the water.  It did not appear to like the water, and maybe that was justified.  Even as he killed the nine-foot crocodile, a crock whose head suggested it was twice as big as the dead one, or about eighteen feet, grabbed the night creature by the foot and dragged it into the water.

            The water boiled for a full minute before the tremendous bulk of that great, dead crocodile floated to the surface.  The night creature never reappeared, and Lincoln read from the database.  “They sink.”  He looked up as they all turned away from that place.  “They can’t swim and they drown.”  No one commented in return.  They would find some high ground and water in the morning.

            “That will work,” Lockhart pointed.  Roland did not look back to see the direction, but he did not have to.  They got to their rise and dismounted, and Boston remarked,

            “Someone camped here before.”  There was a ring of rocks around the ashes of a fire.  Lincoln rushed forward though he had no reason to hope.  Roland went with him and sniffed the ash to sense what might have cooked there.  He looked at Lincoln before he looked up at everyone and made his pronouncement.

            “Alexis and father,” he said.  “Not two days ahead of us.”  Everyone would have responded with joy and words of encouragement for Lincoln if at the same time they were not hushed to hear the distant sound of babies crying.

            “We watch tonight,” Lockhart said and Katie sat to check her rifle to be sure she was ready.

Avalon 2.0: Time to Fly

 

            The travelers were escorted to the center of the ten ships where there was an open space for them to pitch their tents and build a campfire.  Gogo made it clear they were to stay there for the night.  Obviously the space had been used before.  There were signs where the grass had been pressed by sleepers and signs of campfires.  It was probably where Qito stayed.

            By the time they settled in, word had gone around among the Agdaline about who they were and the help they gave in defeating the Balok on the ground.  Curiously, they saw no young Agdaline in contrast to the Stick People they once met.  It seemed to them that the children, if any, were being kept back, and the flying serpents were not much in evidence, either.  At least none approached the travelers.

            Several adults wandered by and asked innocuous questions now and then.  The travelers did their best to affirm friendship with the Agdaline people and assure them that they were no threat.  When Gogo finally returned, they had questions.

            “We are not the most trusting people,” Gogo admitted.  “Especially when it comes to the intentions of primitives like yourselves.”

            “Primitives?”  Katie Harper jumped on the word.

            Gogo looked momentarily stunned by the strength of her reaction.  Humannss,” he said in Qito’s language.  “I did forget you are from the future.  You speak Agdaline words and are friends with the female of the gods.”

            “Qito,” Lockhart spoke softly to Katie who nodded.

            “Look, why are we here?”  Lincoln interrupted.  “Alexis has clearly moved on from this place.”

            “We are here to help,” Boston said.

            “I don’t know if we are allowed to help,” Roland countered, but before they could argue about it, they were interrupted by the sound of Captain Decker clicking the scope to his rifle.  He looked up.  He had everyone’s attention.

            “They are coming,” he said.  “Just trust me.”  Katie Harper said nothing.  She picked up her rifle and Lockhart picked up his shotgun.

            “Who is coming?”  Lincoln asked.

            “Air support,” Captain Decker answered.

            “But we wiped out the ground troops,” Katie objected.  “There is nothing left to support.”  

            “All the same,” Captain Decker said as he raised his rife to his eye.

            “What is this?”  Gogo looked confused.

            “Warn your people,” Lockhart told him.  “The Balok are coming by air.”  Gogo paused for only a moment before he shrieked and waddled off as quickly as the heavier earth gravity allowed.  It was seconds before the first craft topped the ridge.  It was a single-snake craft that opened fire on the Agdaline ships which were woefully unprepared.  It was followed by five other single-snake ships, and three bigger craft that looked like the three-snake ships the travelers had seen before.

            When the first craft raced over their heads, it fired intermittently as its guns allowed, Captain Decker wheeled and returned fire.  He must have hit something as the craft immediately let out a stream of black smoke and spun out of control.  It crashed, became a ball of flame and just missed an Agdaline ship.  “Go for the rear vents,” the Captain said.

            “Hit the muffler,” Lockhart nodded as he pulled his pistol.  The shotgun was useless at that range and he was much more accurate with the handgun thanks to his years on that Michigan police force, though at their speed, he doubted he would hit anything.

            It appeared that three of the Agdaline ships had an energy screen up and working.  When the Balok weapons hit, the screen became visible as it flared yellow, orange and then red, but it held.  The other seven ships were open game, however, and they quickly took a beating.

            The travelers managed to bring down two more of the small ships, but appeared to have no effect on the bigger, three-snake fighters.  They could not find a vulnerable spot until Lockhart looked at Katie Harper and said, “Go for the eyes.” 

            There was a small slit of what looked like glass on top at the front and it became visible whenever a ship dove to attack.  The big ships were currently at various points of recovery, but when the first straightened out and began a new dive, both Captain Decker and Lieutenant Harper brought their weapons to bear.  No one heard or saw any glass break, but the ship never pulled up from the dive.  It crashed into an Agdaline ship and became a much bigger ball of flame.  Everyone had to duck.

            One of the Balok three-snake fighters wheeled around and pinpointed their location.  It dove straight for them.  Weapons fired from both sides before the people on the ground had to duck.  There was an explosion.  People held on.  A couple of them were tossed.  As the three-snake fighter rose up again, the Agdaline weapons at last came on line.  First one ship and then several others fired, and with surprising accuracy they made short work of the remaining Balok fighters.

            “They must have their main guns tied to their computers,” Boston said, but Roland hushed her.  Lockhart was by Katie Harper who was badly stunned, but otherwise unhurt.  Lincoln scooted over next to Captain Decker who did not fare nearly so well.  All he could do was swear, but the others ignored him.  They did what they could for his wounds, but suspected the real damage was internal and they could do nothing for that.  He passed out.

            Somehow, the Agdaline saw the trouble and several came with Gogo.  They brought a box on wheels.  It was hard getting the unconscious Captain into that small space, but once they did, the Agdaline activated the machine.

            “It is a sleep chamber,” Gogo explained.  “We rest in these through the long dark night in the sky while we wind our way among the stars.  He will be comfortable and his condition will not become worse as long as he sleeps.  Sadly we know little of your insides or how you may be made.  But we will take him to the female of the gods.  It may be she can heal him.”  The others nodded, but even as they looked up they saw Qito, Tec’huanu and several others coming down the hill.  They had seen the Balok pass over their village and came running.

            Qito shook her head when she arrived and got the news.  “There is nothing I can do right now.  The gods and spirits of this new world have a geis on me that prevents me from taking extraordinary actions.  They call it a test.  I call it unfair, but it is what it is.  Meanwhile, they have informed me that you must move on.  I will see that the Captain does not end up in space with the Agdaline.  I will keep him here and I suppose he will have to move into the future the slow way until I can come and heal him properly.”

            “But Qito –“ Boston started to object.

            “No.  The powers in this world are right about one thing.  This is my world and my time and my problem, not yours.  There is nothing we can do for Captain Decker right now except keep him alive. And there is nothing you can do about this trouble with the Balok.  Meanwhile, you must go, and clearly you cannot take Captain Decker with you at present,”

            “But—“ Katie wanted to object.

            “No.  You need to understand you will not be able to solve every situation as you travel through time.  Sometimes there will be things that I will just have to deal with after you have gone.  Your main job is to get back to the twenty-first century in one piece.  These Balok will not follow you through the time gate so they are not your concern.  Please, Lockhart.”

            Lockhart paused to look at the devastation to the Agdaline ships.  He looked at Gogo and the others who had remained.  He looked at Qito and Tec’huanu, and finally at the sleep chamber that looked so much like a coffin for Captain Decker.  Then he spoke.

            “I more or less promised the Captain that we would move on when it was time, no questions asked.”  He looked at Lincoln.  “Besides, our chief job right now is to rescue Alexis, again.  We will go in the morning.  We will keep Decker’s horse for him if we should ever see him again.  No arguments.”  No one argued.

            Qito’s people raised the sleep chamber as they had the great stones of the ruined temple on the ridge.  They did not touch it, but by placing their hands near it lifted a foot off the ground all by itself.  They walked it back to the village and Qito and Tec’huanu followed.

            The travelers went the next day through the hills and dips in the Andes and came at last to the next time gate about sundown.  Boston, Katie, Roland and Lockhart all took a long look back, though they were well out of sight of everything they left behind.

            “Now we are five,” Lincoln said.

            “Until we find Alexis and her father,” Lockhart countered and Lincoln nodded.

            “Until we find Alexis.”

 

Avalon 2.0: After the Show

 

            There was wailing in the camp for the lost warriors of the Teschkul.  It was instructive to see the Shemsu comforting their Teschkul neighbors.  “It will not be long before these people are one people,” Katie Harper remarked.

            Lockhart pointed.  “Not if Qito doesn’t surrender.”  She was sitting with the rest of the travelers and Tec’huanu was beside her.  The young man kept trying to take her hand but she was resisting.  Meanwhile, the two elders in the group that represented the two peoples in the village were speaking.  The Shemsu was Qito’s father.  The Teschkul was Tec’huanu’s uncle.  Tec’huanu’s father, the high chief was conspicuously absent from the whole proceeding.  Gogo was there as well representing the Agdaline, though it was hard to tell if it was actually Gogo since the Agdaline tended to all look alike.

            “When the Teschkul first came, brandishing their spears, most of our people fled to the south and the north.  They are lost to us now.”  Qito’s father explained and the other man nodded and added his thoughts.

            “And we have no reason to chase them.  We did not come to rule.  We came looking to escape the war-like peoples on the coasts of the great water.”

            “The Pacific,” Lincoln translated.

            “But it has been rough,” Qito’s father admitted.  “Some on both sides are less willing to be joined than others.”

            “It has not been easy.”

            “Your brother is not an easy man.”  Qito’s father turned to Tec’huanu’s uncle who shrugged and responded quietly.

            “He suffered great losses,” he said.

            “My mother and sister,’ Tec’huanu spoke up as he temporarily turned his attention from Qito.  It was a breach of etiquette for the young man to speak over his elders, but no one minded, even when Qito used that interruption to speak as well.

            “Lockhart, you must go.  This is not your war.  The Agdaline must deal with the Balok and I must climb the mountain.”  She looked up at the heights and many eyes followed her gaze.  The mountain cast a great shadow on the land and contained several cliff faces that might only serve for eagles.

            “But we can help,” Captain Decker spoke up in uncharacteristic fashion.

            Qito shook her head.  “Man of the eagle,” she called him.  “You have a job, to keep the travelers alive.  Roland, Lincoln.”  She turned from the Captain for one more word.  “Alice has managed to close the gates behind you.  Mingus cannot have circled back and returned to the past.”  Qito shook her head.  “There is no more I can do.  My storyteller is still missing.”  She stood, and her father looked for a second like he was going to speak, but held his tongue.  As she walked off, Tec’huanu followed, a couple of steps behind.  He would not leave her to face her trials alone.

            “Come,” Gogo said, but Lincoln had a question.

            “Tell me about the stones on the ridge.”

            “Those?”  Qito’s father turned his eyes from his daughter to take in the travelers.  “We planned to build a temple there for our great goddess, Kartesh.  But one night she appeared in a vision to all of the elders and said we were not to build a place for her.  We had to learn the gods of this place and give our devotion to them.”

            “We remember the bear, the wolf, the jaguar and the eagle,” Tec’huanu’s uncle’s words were still quiet.  “And the serpent who is the destroyer.”

            “And our friends,” Qito’s father nodded at the Agdaline.  “These are the ones from the sky we have dreamed of all our lives, though the Teschkul did not know them.  Now we will help them.  In the night we will show the way through the stars so they can find their way home.”

            “Come,” Gogo insisted, and the others gathered their things and paused only long enough to say good-bye.

            As the party rode back behind the village and climbed the next ridge, Katie turned to Lincoln and asked her question.  “How can the Shemsu know the home of the Agdaline among the stars?”

            Lincoln nodded.  “I’ve been reading up on that.  It seems Kartesh was the one who genetically altered her own Shemsu people.  She implanted the Agdaline needs, the astronomical information and their telekinetic abilities.  You see, the Agdaline destroyed their own world and used earth as a meeting place as they went in search of a new home.  They found such a world, but could not wait for all the Agdaline to return here.  That might take a thousand years or more.  So the Shemsu were gifted to build markers, like Agdaline road signs to show the way.”

            “Like what, for example?”

            “Like the great pyramids in Egypt,” Lincoln responded.  “Like the ones the Shemsu will one day build here in the Americas.”

            “Stonehenge?”

            “That, too,” Lincoln nodded as he was interrupted.

            “Good god!”  It was Boston who swore.  They topped the ridge and turned the corner and saw ten ships laid out on a great plateau.  Each ship was bigger than an aircraft carrier, and the Agdaline looked countless in number.

            “They normally travel in fleets of twelve,” Lincoln said.  “My guess would be the Balok caught them napping out in space and destroyed two ships.”

            “Yes,” Gogo confirmed.  “And they damaged many.  Now repairs are nearly complete, only the Balok have two warships and my people fear to resume the journey.”

            Down among the Agdaline, the travelers felt very out-of-place, not the least because the Agdaline stared at them and their beasts.  They stared doubly hard when they spied Gogo riding with Boston.  To be honest, the travelers did plenty of staring in return, especially when they caught sight of the flying, feathered serpents that appeared to behave something like pets.

            One flying serpent came chittering up to Gogo and he obliged by sticking out his arm.  “Friends,” he said.  “Friends, friends.”  Then he said something else.  “Wrap.”  The serpent let out a delighted chirp and placed its tail on Gogo’s shoulder.  It wrapped itself around and around his arm until its head poked out from his wrist. 

            “It understood your word,” Boston was astonished.

            “They are bred to follow simple commands, but they do not always listen when they get big.”  Gogo waved his arm gently back and forth and the creature appeared to enjoy the ride.  “Fly,” Gogo said, and the serpent carefully uncoiled itself and raced off to be lost among the ships.

            “What are they?”  Katie Harper asked.

            “Andasmasgora,” Gogo replied.

            “Phantasmagoria,” Lockhart suggested.

            “Shh!”  Lincoln was looking it up in the database.

            “What do you mean they do not always listen when they get big?”  Boston asked.

            “They protect us in our ships while we sleep between the stars,” Gogo said.  “But when they get big and lose their feathers, they sometimes grow minds of their own and ignore our commands.”

            “But what are they?”  Katie was determined.

            Lincoln looked up.  “Dragons.”

            “And they breathe fire too, when they get big.” Gogo said.