Avalon 5.3 Perseverance, part 2 of 6

Earlier that same morning, Boston yelled.  “Keep still.”

“What?” Alexis asked, and tried to peek.  Boston had her amulet out to check on directions.

“There is a little red dot up ahead.  Probably a village.  The Kairos appeared to stop there for the night, and I thought we might catch him.  But now he has taken off from that place, and he is moving kind of fast.  Maybe on horseback?”

“Like chasing someone, or being chased,” Alexis suggested.

“Probably not horseback,” Katie spoke back to them.  “It is too early for that.  He might be driving a chariot, though.  Like Balor had back with the Hyksos.”

“I wouldn’t think a chariot would be much good over open country,” Alexis responded.

Katie shrugged.  “All I know is my prototype amulet can find the next time gate, but once the Kairos moved off the straight line between the gates, I lost track of where he might be.”

“Boston,” Lockhart shouted back.

“There should be a village about an hour from here, but the Kairos is moving again, away from us.”

“You don’t think we should just go on to the next gate, after screwing up the last place,” Lincoln said.

“Not smart,” Lockhart responded.  “We find him first, and try not to screw anything up between here and there.”  He got on his wristwatch communicator, being unable to see Decker.  “Look for a village, about an hour out, Boston says.”

“Roger.”  “Will do,” the responses came from Decker and Elder Stow, who also waved.

When the hour had passed, they indeed came to a village, but a strange looking village it was.  Cows and goats ruled the streets.  People rushed to the river to fill water jugs, and rushed home to hide behind their doors.  Lockhart imagined if he blinked, he would miss the whole thing.  The village was that small.  Then again, he felt glad to see the river, likely a tributary of the Ganges.  The horses needed to water.

“Hold up,” Lockhart said, and watched the only group of people in the street.  Seven men were walking in a tight circle, mumbling, or maybe chanting.  Seven women, he guessed their wives, were circling outside the men, going in the opposite direction.  Every time the wives and husbands met, the women reached out to touch the men, like trying to get their attention.  The men shrugged the women off and just kept walking and mumbling.

“I’m getting dizzy,” Decker said.

“To the river,” Lockhart said.  “At least the horses can take a break.”

While the horses watered, and rested, Alexis and Boston managed to catch one of the women.  She wanted to run away, but paused to face Artie.  Artie looked like a normal young woman of sixteen years.  She had normal enough dark brown hair and eyes, and her natural skin tone looked darker than the others, though she had European looking features.  She might have passed for a local under other circumstances.  So, the woman talked to Artie, and when the first woman talked, some of the other women came to join her.  They opened-up, though the stories they told were strange.

“The gods are fighting,” the first woman said, three times, and added, “What can we do?”

“We’ve been invaded,” another woman wailed numerous times.  “It isn’t safe out.”

A third woman cried a little, but made more sense.  “If the gods come to blows, it will be the end of the world.  New people have moved into the land and brought their gods with them, but the old gods are resisting.”  she paused in her tears to see who she was talking to.  “You are new people,” she screamed.  Several others screamed, and they all ran back to their homes.

“Indo-Aryans,” Katie suggested the obvious answer.  “The Aryans have come into the land.  Everything, right down to the structure of the language itself, is different.  These people are Dravidian connected, I would bet.”

“Not entirely,” Alexis countered.  “Tara’s mixed Shemsu and Sumarian people, and Zisudra’s Elamite and Jiroft people came at least as far as the Indus valley.”  She remembered, and Katie smiled for her.

“Glad someone listens.  But the Indo-Aryans are whitish, non-semetic types from up around the Caspian and Aral Seas in Siberia.  In the west, they become the Celts, Germanic people, the Italo-Greeks, the Slavs, and the Hittites, just to keep it all in the family.  Here, in the south and east of the seas, they become the Medes and Persians, and what we call Indians.”

“They are not all the same, are they?” Lincoln interrupted.

“All the same root, from the same stock people,” Katie said.

“I remember,” Boston shouted.  “Back when we were with Devya in the city of Sanctuary.  She said people would be moving down off the steppes and into the fertile land along the silk road.  She said, eventually some would invade India…the Brahmins.  Others would invade Iran, the invested people.”

“Avestan,” Katie said.

“I know, the Magi, the wise men at Christmas.”

“Christmas is not for a long time from now,” Alexis said.

“Still…” Boston thought about Christmas and smiled.

“Anyway,” Katie got the conversation back.  “We appear to be right on the cusp of the Indo-Aryan arrival in northern India, and things appear to be up in the air, even for the gods.”

Lincoln said, “I remember Varuna saying he was trying to prevent a war between the gods.”

“Looks like that may happen, unless someone can do something about that,” Katie said.

“Hey,” Boston followed her train of thought to its conclusion.  “Maybe those men walking in circles are Brahmins.”

“No,” Lockhart joined them.  “They are just crazy old coots.”  People looked at him, so he continued.  “We need to move several hours upriver, and away from people in this place.  This is one argument we don’t want to get involved in.”

When the travelers finally stopped for the night, Decker brought in a deer and they cooked in the quiet of the night until Lockhart sat down beside Katie and that appeared to open her mouth.

“They must find a way to make peace,” she said.  “India did not sink into the radioactive ocean fifteen-hundred-years before Christ.”

“I’ve been thinking, too.” Alexis said.  “I am sure the Kairos will have to get involved at some point.  As I recall, this very kind of circumstance is why Chronos worked so hard to get the Kairos born in the first place.”

“Hardly seems fair to him,” Lockhart said.

“He is only human in this life,” Lincoln said.  “Padrama, that is, Lord Pad of the Aryan people.  He is a noble, warrior class, not a Brahmin, but only human.”

“Lord Walker,” Katie tried a rough translation of the name, Padrama.  “Maybe King of the Road.”

“Hardly fair to him,” Boston agreed.

“But peace is what everyone wants, isn’t it?” Artie asked.

“Every right-thinking human,” Decker said, as he sat on the grass and put his feet toward the fire.  “The problem is most humans don’t think right, or have moments of temporary insanity.”  He looked at Elder Stow, but Elder stow waved him off.

“That is true of any kind of human,” he said.  “I will not argue that point.”

“Well, I want peace, only the Anazi won’t let my people be free.”  She got quiet as she realized the dilemma with her own people did not lend itself to an easy, peaceful solution.

“Hush,” Katie said, and she patted Artie on her hands.  Lockhart put his arm around Katie, and she smiled and enjoyed the quiet, looking up at the stars and the moon above the crackling fire.  At least they had peace and quiet.

Avalon 5.3 Perseverance, part 1 of 6

After 1526 BC, India, by the Ganges.  Kairos 62: Padrama the Aryan

Recording…

“Mohini.”  The call echoed through the hills.  It flowed down the river of life, like ripples on the surface of the water, and stopped behind the caller at the snow-covered peaks in the great beyond.  The mountains guarded the land of the dead and the Golden City of the gods.  Ravager, the demon servant of Shiva would not dare go there.  His life would be forfeit.  And Mohini would be lost.  “Sasha.”  The caller tried her other name, but he heard no response.

“Lord Padrama,” Raja got the lord’s attention as he got down from the chariot to check on the horses.  “Your faithful steed, Buhto, is finished for the day.  He cannot go further and live.”

Padrama did not want to stop, but he knew what his servant said was true.  He got down from the chariot.  “We will refresh here,” he said, while he loosened the harness on one side.  He led the other horse, Tata, down to the riverbank to drink.  The poor horse sweated, and breathed hard after its day of labor.  Padrama wiped some of the sweat off the horse’s neck, and the horse nodded.  “Tata.  You would ride to the end of the earth if I asked, and never complain.”  The horse appeared to nod again before it bent down to drink.

Padrama decided that might be a good idea.  He knelt, cupped his hand and pulled up some water to sip, while his eyes looked up at the distant mountains.  It looked like a heavy winter snow, and ice likely covered whatever passes might be there—places Padrama did not know, him being a stranger in the land.

Raja brought Buhto to drink, and Padrama spoke.  “We will sleep here and watch Chandra rise, and rest under the many watchful eyes of Varuna.”

“I do not know these gods you speak of, though my heart says I should,” Raja responded.  “Are these gods from the land your Princess comes from, or from this strange land we have entered into?”

“They are of this land,” Padrama said.  “The Princess not only comes from a far-away land, but from far in the future; much farther than three generations, as you count time.”

“So you have said.  But I do not understand.”

Padrama stood and reached out to that future.  He traded places with that very Greek Princess, and the armor of the Kairos, which Padrama rarely took off, instantly adjusted to perfectly fit her shape and size.  She pulled her bow and quiver of arrows from a pocket in Athena’s cape, and checked the ground beneath her feet for signs of passage.

“Princess,” Raja said, having learned that she did not answer to the name Lord Padrama.  “That backpack you made for me that fits so well on my back is empty of much food.”

The Princess smiled.  “We hardly had time in the village to gather any food,” she said.  She looked around.  She was in Padrama’s time and place, so she shared Padrama’s thoughts, felt Padrama’s concerns, and her tongue naturally conformed to Padrama’s language, though Raja said she spoke with a strange accent.  “I cannot believe we saw her there in Ravager’s clutches.  She screamed for me, for Mikos, as he dragged her away.  We got delayed by the crowd, but not by that much.  I can’t believe he eluded us again.”

“Did we lose the trail?”

“No,” the Princess said.  “I checked it personally, several times.”  She put one arrow on the string and looked along the edge of the river for more signs of passage.  “I cannot believe he has gone closer to the mountains.  If the rocks, cliffs and crevasses don’t kill him, the snow, ice and wind certainly will.”

“Ravager is a man without a mind,” Raja said.  “He is the worst sort of demon, to make war on a woman.  But I believe he thinks Shiva will save him if he should get in trouble to lose his life.”

The Princess shook her head.  “Shiva is not in the saving business,” she said, before she added, “Keep the camp and make a fire.  I will see if there is something I can hunt for supper.”  She started up along the riverbank, and Raja shouted after her.

“My pot is full, ready to boil the water.  My pan will be ready and hot on the fire when you return.”

The Princess quickly got out of earshot, and just as quickly picked up the trail of the deer that had been to the river earlier to water.  The small herd had moved on, a good half-hour into the wilderness, as the signs said.  It took the Princess forty minutes to cover the exact same distance, and she fired her arrow, a perfect shot, even as the edge of the setting sun first touched the horizon.

The Princess dug out her arrow.  It was one of her good ones, with a barbed, bronze point.  She checked to be sure the shaft remained straight and un-cracked, before she cleaned it and slipped it back into her quiver in the pocket of her cape.  She considered how best to carry back her prize when someone spoke.

“Food,” A little man spoke, and drooled, but just a little.  “Pardon.”  The man tipped his hat.  “I haven’t had a bite to eat all day in this wilderness.”

“So, you ate before you came into this wilderness?” the Princess teased.

The man paused, startled.  “Not what I meant.”

“Well, Bobo,” the Princess said, knowing the dwarf’s name, as was to be expected of the Kairos, god, or in this case, goddess of all the little spirits of the earth.  “When I get this prize back to the camp, and Raja cooks it so he and I can eat our fill, I am sure you can enjoy what remains.”

“Yes, well, yes.”  Bobo struggled, but could not find a way around what she said, even to twist the words more to his liking.  Finally, he tried, “I might enjoy it if I ate with you, too.”  The Princess shook her head, so he tried the next best thing.  “But there is my wife, and family.  They are hungry, too.  And I figure you are such an expert with that bow of yours, you can surely find another, and maybe share this with a poor old man.”  He tried the poor, pitiful face dwarfs and imps are so famous for.

The Princess calculated in her head how many mouths that would be.  She saw another deer lazily grazing in the distance, not scared nearly far enough away after the death of this first one.  She took her arrow back out, and hardly aimed.  The arrow flew all that distance and struck the deer in just the right place.  The deer stood for a very long second before it fell to its side, stiff-legged and stone dead.

“Holy Ganesh elephant farts,” Bobo swore, and whipped off his hat.  “I’ve never seen shooting like that in my whole life, and I’ve lived for a very long time, let me tell you.”

“Artemis is my best friend in the whole world.  Did I mention that.”

“No, bejeebers, you didn’t.  That explains the some of it, maybe.”

The Princess put her fingers to her lips and whistled.  Two boys as tall as the Princess’ five foot-seven appeared along with their mother, who looked like she had some ogre in her, and a little girl who looked to be working on the beginnings of a beard.  The princess looked the boys over like they were prize hogs.  She told one to pick up the deer at their feet, and told the other to follow her.  The other looked back at his brother and father, and made a face, like he was the lucky one.

The boy the Princess left behind picked up the deer and asked, “So, do we run for it?”

“Not this time,” Bobo rubbed his chin.  “I don’t think that would be wise at all.”  He looked at his wife, but she was busy staring at the Princess and did not know what to say.

The little girl looked up at the both of them and announced, “I like her.”

The Princess leaned down to examine her arrow and felt a hand on her butt.  She also felt the electrical discharge that picked up the boy and sent him six feet through the air, to land on his back, dazed and bruised.  The Princess dug out her arrow, snapped off the cracked shaft, cleaned and kept the arrow head.  She turned to the boy.

“Well, pick it up.”  The boy moaned.  “Come on,” she said.  “The meat won’t keep all day and it will be dark soon.”

The boy opened his eyes wide, jumped up, mumbled something like “Yes, mum,” and put the deer on his shoulders.  Then he hustled after the Princess, because she had already started walking back toward the others.

“Come,” she said, when she arrived at where the family stared at her.  She did not stop walking, but they caught up soon enough.  Bobo, with his quick, short steps, came up beside her, hat in hand, and asked a question.

“Are you one of those new gods I heard tell about?”

“Nope,” she said.  “I’ve been around a long time.”  Bobo walked before he came up with another guess.

“Are you an Olympian come over here to try and keep the peace?”

The Princess thought about that before she said, “Nope.”

“Well,” Bobo explained.  “You said Artemis was your best friend and all.”

The Princess nodded.  “But I won’t even be born for another thirteen-hundred-years or so.”

Bobo whistled.  He had to think real hard, and the Princess did not want him to get a headache.  She thought she would give him a clue, now that she reached a point where Padrama could find the camp on his own.  She smiled, and traded places with the young man so he could return to his own time and stand in his own shoes, and the armor of the Kairos adjusted to fit him.  Good thing, he thought.  The Princess has about a twenty-two-inch waist.  That would hurt.

The boys stumbled.  Bobo gasped.  His wife, Rinna, fainted.  The little girl, Rita, took the change in stride and said, “Hello.”

“Hello,” Padrama answered.  “I like you, too,” he smiled before he turned and shouted.  “Don’t worry, Raja.  It is just me, and I found some friends, and the wife knows how to cook.”

“Good thing,” Raja said, as they came into the camp and saw him holding Padrama’s spear and shield.  “I’ve been hearing noises, like big cat noises.  I don’t want the horses eaten by some lion.”

Padrama shook his head.  “In this part of the world, it was probably a tiger.

Avalon for Free

 

 

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A Gift

 

 

 

 

Avalon, Season Five is humming along for free on the website.  The travelers keep finding new and unusual ways to get in trouble, and there always seem to be new people and creatures following them, or hunting them.

 

 

Now, all for free… that is FREE… The Pilot Episode is available on Smashwords and whatever associate sites (Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, etc) which are willing to make free an option.  Amazon will also match the FREE price, if you complain loud enough that it is already free elsewhere.

 

ALSO… Also… also, The Avalon Prequel, Invasion of Memories, as well as Avalon Seasons One, Two and Three will remain in all outlets at the low price of $1.99 until the new year.  That means a low price for anyone who might enjoy a good e-read for Christmas.

Happy Thanksgiving, and at the risk of setting some people off before the season… Merry Christmas — MGK

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Avalon 5.2 Palace Intrigue, part 5 of 5

When the travelers reached the place where they thought to find the Kairos, Lincoln began to have second thoughts.  “Maybe we overstepped our bounds,” he said.

Lockhart disagreed.  “Even if we did not kill the servant of the Masters, we ruined the mustard gas production for a good long time, I think.  Now, I suspect the Kairos will be able to track the materials needed for the rebuilding process, and pinpoint who all is involved.  That should be a win.  Of course, if we got the servant of the Masters, that would be a win as well.  I don’t see how our little intervention could be a bad thing.”

“Lockhart.” Boston called from the front.  Lockhart and Lincoln rode to the front and stopped.  They had come to an army camp in the middle of the wilderness.  Katie guessed.

“Hittite,” she said, and a large number of men came out carrying spears and not looking all that friendly.

“Notere,” Lincoln said, quickly.  “We are looking for Notere.”  That at least made the men pause.

“What do you wish with Notere?” one of the front men asked.

“We are old friends,” Lockhart tried, but Lincoln pulled a name out of the database.

“Is General Sapsulinita here?”  The Hittites began to talk among themselves while Lincoln explained, quietly.  “He is Notere’s husband.”

“Good thing you read that,” Decker said.  They thought he meant to praise Lincoln for finding the name of the general, until he added, “Because my tongue would not survive many names like that.”

“Come,” the Hittite speaker said.  “You may speak with Captain Andorinili.”

The captain looked young, but wary, and more so when they said they were old friends.  “She is young as a fresh cut flower,” the captain said.  “She has no old friends.”

Alexis took a chance.  “We have known the Kairos for centuries, though we have not met the Kairos, Notere.  It would be a great kindness if you would take us to her and let her decide.”

The captain’s eyes got big on the word, ’Kairos’.  He hushed the travelers and sent away the guard.  “Follow,” he said, and they walked their horses to a big tent, one worthy of a queen.  The captain stepped inside for a few minutes, and the travelers waited.

“Was that wise?” Lockhart wondered, without pointing at Alexis.  People could only shrug.

The captain came out after a bit and invited them in.  As they stepped into the tent, they heard a woman call out, “Boston.”  Boston ran, but the woman had a two-year-old on her knee.  Notere smiled and handed the boy to a nurse who took the boy out a back door, and she stood and hugged Boston properly.

“Wow,” Boston said.  “You’re my age.”

“I’m twenty-two,” Notere said and turned to hug Artie.

“And beautiful,” Artie said, innocently.

“Sit.” Notere invited her friends to relax and added, “You, too, Captain.”  Andorinili sat to listen, and watch the strangers.

“What have you been up to?” Notere asked, sweetly, and sat, also to listen, but near to the young captain’s hand.

Lockhart confessed.  He talked around Artie saying she had a sleepover.  And he confessed everything they did and how they suspected Huyak and his boys.  He left nothing out, and the others offered no corrections.  But Notere looked horrified.

“What have you done?”  Notere sighed and reached for her captain’s hand, who gladly gave it to her in a sign of support.  She told a story in return, and the travelers listened closely.

“In the first day, Hattusili became king after Labarna.  He was a great king, filled with power and strength.  He conquered the Hurrians, the Hatti, and all the peoples around, but when he came up against the Yamhad, and the city of Aleppo, he was humiliated. He lost his army, and people said he came home to die.  Many wished to rule after that, but finally, his grandson, young Mursili rose to the top.  Though not yet of age, he showed the same spirit as his grandfather.  He quelled the uprisings in the east and west, and thought to avenge his family honor on Aleppo.”

“Mursili succeeded where his grandfather failed so miserably.  He overran the city, and over threw the great men there.  He planned to raze the city to the ground, but the people of Aleppo bought him off with a great weapon of power.  Things got strange after that.  I do not know exactly what influenced him to do some of what he did, except the Masters may have twisted his ear and his thinking.  Mursili got caught up in conquest, but the weapon of power remained unused.  My husband, who was ten at the time, came with the weapon, to care for it.  And he waited.”

“The day came when Mursili found himself far from home, in an unfortunate alliance with the Kassite people, who were at war with mighty Babylon.  Mursili reluctantly entered the war, and fought his way right up to the gates of Babylon, where he prepared himself to turn around and go home.  The spirit of his youthful fervor had left him.  But my husband prevailed upon Mursili to use the weapon, at last.  And he, who wished to see no more bloodshed, agreed, if it would bring things to a swift conclusion.”

“My husband was responsible for lobbing globe after globe of mustard gas into the streets of Babylon.  The population was decimated, and many of those who survived were horribly disfigured and scarred for life.  Mursili was horrified.  He left Babylon to the Kassites and returned home, ashamed of what he had done.  He hardly dared to show his face again in public.”

“Now, at that time, my grandfather was the cup bearer to the king.  That meant he was like second in the kingdom.  He was married to the king’s sister.  He had a daughter, my aunt Arinita, who married a man named Zidanta.  And he had a son, my father.  When Mursili came home, my ambitious uncle, Zidanta arranged to have the king killed.  He then prevailed upon my grandfather to become king, and said, after all, he was married to the king’s sister.  Hattusa of the Hittites stayed at peace then for a time.  My grandfather kept the kingdom and empire together.”

“Eventually, though, being son-in-law of the king was not good enough for Zidanta.  As my grandfather aged, and lost sense of what was happening around him, Zidanta first had my father killed, the legitimate heir to the throne.  Zidanta had my whole family killed, my mother, my brothers and sisters, and he thought to spare only me, for General Sapsulinita., who had now become the chief general in the realm.  It seems the general had been spying on me since I was thirteen, or younger, and now that I was seventeen, the General needed to be appeased.  My family was murdered, and at seventeen, I was forced to marry a man of fifty-five years.  But what Zidanta and my husband do not know is I saved my youngest baby brother, Ammuna, from the massacre.  My brother will come of age in three years, and then I will kill Zidanta with my own hand.”

Notere took a deep breath and squeezed her captain’s hand before she continued.  “I have the suggestion of evidence that my husband was the one who killed my father and my family, even if he was under Zidanta’s orders.  I also have certain knowledge that my husband serves the Masters.  I only await finding out who else is in the loop so I can kill them all at once.  The knowledge of the making of the gas must be removed from the human mind for millennia.  The factory must be no more.”

“I saw the gas turned on the Egyptians, but I, Balor, would not let them destroy Memphis.  Mursili turned it on Babylon, and I do not doubt the plan was to have him turn it also on Assur and Ninevah.  But Mursili would not do the bidding of the Masters, and the plan went bust, for now.  I have no doubt that the complete destruction of Egypt, Babylon and Assyria would change the history of the world in ways too horrible to imagine.”

Notere took another deep breath.  “After the knowledge of that gas is no more, Zidanta the traitor and usurper will be no more.  Sadly, my baby brother Ammuna is not a man of strength and power.  The east and west will mostly rule themselves, even if they pay Ammuna lip service.  The south, the cities on the trade routes, will break free—from Aleppo to Kadesh.  Ugarit on the sea and Carchemish toward the Tigris will rule themselves.  My brother will hold the Hittite land, and the city of Hattusa, but not much more.”

Notere sighed again.  “Then Andor and I will find a nice home and live happily ever after, do you think?”  Notere dropped her face into her hands and began to weep.  Andorinili was right there for her, and the women all crowded around to comfort her.

“I thought she was going to yell at us for interfering,” Decker whispered.

“I thought we screwed everything up,” Lincoln said.

“I expected to get scolded for taking such a risk instead of doing my job of getting everyone home, alive,” Lockhart said.

Elder Stow looked at Decker, Lincoln, and Lockhart and said, “Me too, and I would guess that is what just happened.”

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***** Don’t miss tomorrow’s post for a special announcement *****

Monday

The travelers arrive near the Ganges River in Avalon 5.3, Perseverance.  Varuna’s feared war among the gods may be ready to start… Until then… Happy Reading

Avalon 5.2 Palace Intrigue, part 4 of 5

Artie, Lincoln and Alexis kept the horses.  They had left the open ground where they camped, giving the appearance that they intended to leave by the gate and continue their journey.  Huyak’s wife and daughters even came out to wave good-bye, along with Huyak’s married son, the chief gate guard, who eyed them suspiciously.

“The city has several gates,” Lincoln told them, having looked it up in the database.  “No reason Huyak’s son should expect us to leave the city by the same gate we entered.”

Lockhart understood, and when they crossed the main road bridge, it did appear like they were headed for one of the other gates.  They paused on the other side of the river, at the base of the bridge, where some stalls, no doubt dependent on river traffic, had some items of interest.  But in fact, they were looking to see if perhaps they were being followed or spied upon.

Katie pointed out that sending poor men to slink around the city and spy on enemies for the price of a small loaf of bread or a fish was not unheard of, even as far in the past as they were.  But soon enough, they decided the way was safe, so they cut off the main road and on to the back roads and alleys.

Elder Stow’s scanner pulled up a three-dimensional map of the streets.  It showed a red dot where there were people.  He saved a bright yellow dot for zombies.  “Yellow being the sign of stop, danger.”

“We use red,” Alexis said.  Elder Stow did not understand.  “Humans use red for stop and for danger,” Alexis corrected herself about the ‘we’.

“That is nonsense,” Eder Stow responded.  “Red is not a good color in the dark.  Yellow is a bright color that can be seen, even on the darkest night.”

Alexis shrugged as Boston spoke.  “Humans use red for danger.”

“Homo sapiens do everything backwards,” Elder Stow grumped.  “On my sensible map, red dots are people.  Yellow is reserved for the undead.”

“Some of those red dots may be dangerous,” Decker said, and to their unspoken questions, he said, “Daytime guards.”

Elder Stow guided them to a secluded place in the shadow between two buildings.  The warehouse and manufacturing place could be seen on the other side of a grassy area.  It appeared that the building had an open area all around and was isolated from the rest of the city.

“Ripe for making WMDs,” Decker said.

Lockhart got everyone to turn their horses around so they would be pointed away from the building for a possible quick getaway.  They still did not know what they might find, but they all had begun to strongly suspect gas canisters, probably glass balls like they had a hundred years ago, in Balor’s day, and gas making equipment.

“The formula for mustard gas is not hard,” Boston repeated herself.  “All it takes is for someone to discover it.”

“Sulfur is one thing,” Lockhart said.  “Worse would be if they combined it with charcoal and salt-peter.”

“The Masters try that,” Lincoln admitted.  “Several times throughout history.”

Alexis suggested she and Boston could become invisible and go to the building, unseen.  They could open a window to let the others in, but Lockhart nixed that idea.  He was not risking their healer.  She might be needed.  He said nothing about Boston, because he knew she would come, especially if he said she should stay behind.

“Besides,” he said.  “If the goddess is still around and watching, I don’t imagine you will stay invisible for long.”  Alexis did not argue.

“I could go invisible,” Elder Stow suggested.

“No.  We need you to be ready to put a wall screen up,” Lockhart said.  “Mustard gas is a slow creeper, but if there is gas in there, and it gets free, we should be able to get out, but it will probably be right behind us.  We will need the wall to keep it contained until we can ride free.

So, Artie and Alexis kept the horses, with Lincoln presumably watching over the women, and Elder Stow stayed behind to work on his screen device.

The wall in the building that faced the travelers had no windows.  The other three walls had several.  Decker and Boston crept along one side of the building to a window that would let them into a small room.  The shutters were closed and barred from the inside.  Boston got to pull her wand and magically lift the bar to let them in.  It was an outhouse room, but they held their breath.  Decker thought it smelled worse than the mustard gas, but he didn’t say anything.

Lockhart and Katie crept down the other side of the building.  They had to crawl under one window that was open, before they could get to the small room on their side of the building.  They also found the shutters closed, but not barred.  The hinges, no more than strips of leather, made no sound.  Katie got in easily, but Lockhart got half-way through the window when a man came into the room.  The man immediately shouted, but the shout got drowned out by the sound of Katie’s handgun.  The man collapsed, and Katie and Lockhart took a moment to ready Katie’s rifle and Lockhart’s shotgun.  They pulled back the curtain and Katie pointed her weapon to the left while Lockhart pointed to the right.

On one side, there were tables, equipment, and a very sophisticated looking furnace with a chimney that went straight to the roof.  Great glass and metal vats of various chemicals lined the wall, and several catapult-sized empty glass balls looked ready to be filled with a hand pump.  One man worked there at present.  He looked covered, head to toe, in something like burlap.

On the other side, where the big front doors stood at the actual front of the building, a whole rack of filled glass balls looked ready for shipment.  Katie could hardly guess where they might be used.  She imagined the gas would devastate some walled city, with narrow streets that would trap the gas at ground level, and take a long time to dissipate.  Men, maybe a dozen guards armed with big spears, came into the building from that side.

Decker’s and Boston’s heads peeked out from a curtain on the other side.  Decker fired at the men, so Katie added her fire from the other side.  The guards fell rapidly, though the two did not fire long.  Some of the guards survived by ducking behind the mustard gas glass balls.  Not smart.

The man by the work table picked up a small glass ball, but Boston had her Beretta out and shot the man just before Lockhart blasted him with his shotgun.  The little glass ball fell and broke, and no one doubted what the sickly green gas was that seeped out.

One moment of silence followed, and Decker filled it with his shout.  “Get out.  Grenades.”  Boston’s head disappeared.  Katie and Lockhart ran to the window, and did not stop until they reached the horses.  Decker lobbed one grende toward the work area, and the other toward the balls ready for shipment, balls that were probably already cracked by the bullets.  He dove out of the window, and joined Boston, who deliberately ran slow so Decker could keep up.

They all heard the explosions, one, then the other.  The end of the building facing the group collapsed, and they all imagined the gas seeping out and chasing them down the road.  But they mounted and rode.  Elder Stow never had to activate his screen.

When they reached the gate, they found Huyak’s eldest son there with many guards, prepared to block the way.  Katie, up front, raised her rifle and fired several five-shot bursts of bullets as she rode.  The guards either fell or jumped out of the way of the galloping horses.  The travelers burst into the open, but Huyak’s son had men on the walls.  Fortunately, Elder Stow came at the back of the pack, and he switched on the wall screen as they exited the city.  The men on the walls fired on the travelers, but the arrows bounced off Elder Stows screens.  Then they got in the clear.

“The Kairos?” Lockhart asked.  He knew they would have to confess what they had done before they left that time zone.

“My prototype amulet is no good for that,” Katie said.

“That way,” Boston pointed.  “And he appears to be coming our way.”

“She,” Lincoln said quietly.

Boston and Alexis went out front for the time being.  Lockhart and Lincoln switched places with Katie and Artie so they could bring up the rear while Katie and Artie stayed in the center.  Of course, Decker and Elder Stow still had the wings.

Artie talked as they rode.  “That was exciting, and scary, and dangerous…” she thought of every way she could describe the events, and Katie just smiled.  Lockhart smiled, too, but he tried not to show it.  Lincoln went back to reading in the database.

Avalon 5.2 Palace Intrigue, part 3 of 5

The night stayed quiet until an hour or so before sunrise.  Alexis regularly squinted across the river, and at the footbridge.  Light elves, who could see in daylight far better than humans, did not have the best eyes in the dark; but their ears could not be fooled at any time.  Alexis and Boston heard the shuffling across the bridge, and heard where the shuffling sound stopped.

Boston said she was glad for Elder Stow’s screens, several times

Alexis agreed, but made Boston concentrate on her lessons and learning.

Not long before the sun began to lighten the horizon, Huyak’s sons came out of the house and ran smack into the screens.  They complained, startled at first, before the elder came to the camp to ask about getting out.

“We have jobs to attend,” he said.  “How can we get there?”

Boston told them to wait a second.  She stepped over beside Elder Stow’s tent and looked at the Screen device.  It was linked to an Anazi device, like a battery of some kind that appeared to be keeping the screens charged.  “Clever,” Boston said, and thought it was like a laptop plugged into the wall.  At the end of the night, the screen device would still be fully charged, and it appeared as if the battery thing would charge up again in the sun.

“A-hem,” Alexis cleared her throat.

“Oh.  Right.” Boston said, and turned off the screens.  The young men ran down the road to town, and only then did Boston realize what she had done.  Alexis caught the idea at the same time, and both sets of eyes and ears turned to the river and the footbridge, where they heard a zombie wail.

“Oh, Crap,” Boston said, and tried to turn the screens back on, but suddenly the device seemed dead, drained of all energy.

Alexis sent a fairy light into the sky to light the area.  She pulled out her wand and made circles in the air in front of her.  The wind came, and it was strong enough to blow several zombies off their feet and into the river, but there seemed too many of them.

“It won’t work,” Boston yelled, before she pulled out her wand and sent her own fairy light up toward the footbridge.  Boston merely pointed her wand, and fire poured out of the tip, like a flamethrower, or dragon breath.  The zombies began to burn, but they were slow to stop moving, and with so many on the bridge, they would soon overwhelm the camp.

“Aim for the bridge,” Alexis said.  She touched Boston’s shoulder, and Boston’s flame thrower trebled in power, the fire being stoked by the added air.

Katie got up and grabbed her rifle.  Lockhart grabbed his shotgun and whistled for the horses.  The horses moved away from the flames and bunched up near Huyak’s house.  Katie fired, and her bullet knocked a zombie down, but she had no illusions that it would stay down.  Suddenly, from over her shoulder, Artie fired her weapon.  It made a streak of yellow light in the dark.  It burned zombies as easily as Boston’s flames.

Elder Stow came stumbling out of his tent because of all the noise, and saw the burning bridge, and so many zombies crossing the water.  He ignored his own screen device and pulled his weapon.  He practically cleaned the bridge with his first shot, as his hand weapon dwarfed Artie’s by many orders of magnitude.

Still they came, and Katie heard Hannahannah say, “Go on child.  You can do it.”

Arinna floated out in front of everyone, and said, “Shut your eyes.”  Everyone heard, and at least Katie thought Hannahannah helped make sure everyone had their eyes closed.  The travelers saw a light as bright as the sun, even with their eyes closed, and they felt the heat, besides, but it was only for a moment.

When the travelers reopened their eyes, and managed to look through their teary, spot-filled vision, they saw small piles of ash where the zombies had been.  They saw steam rising from the river, and later, when the sun came up, they saw the burn marks on the building across the way.  Presently, under Alexis’ and Boston’s fairy lights, and a stronger light that they guessed Hannahannah put up, they saw a dark-haired woman appear who in a way looked much like Arinna, though Arinna had medium brown hair.

“Lelwani,” Hannahannah said the woman’s name in a tone of voice that sounded near a scold.  Lelwani whined.

“Not fair.  I never got a sleepover with a friend when I was her age.  Grandmother, Arinna gets everything she wants, and she burned up all my undead guards.  All my hard work.”

Hannahannah ignored the woman and spoke sweetly to Arinna.  “Time to rise, dear.”

“Yes, Grandmother.”  Arinna turned to the travelers.  “It was lovely to meet you all.  Artie, my friend, remember me,” she said, and faded away as the first wisps of light touched the east.

Four people appeared on the grass and looked around.  One, a woman, stepped forward and spoke.  “Lelwani, what have you been doing?  You are over nine hundred-years-old, but you are sounding and acting like a child.”

Lelwani raised her chin.  “Mother.” she called the new arrival.

The travelers recognized the woman, and Lincoln named her.  “Hebat.”

Hebat turned briefly to the travelers and said, “Hello friends.  Has my daughter been bothering you?”

Lelwani’s chin fell.  She did not know these people were friends with her mother.  She returned to her whine.  “Mother, the man of the Masters said these people were dangerous and I should get rid of them.”

“We do not speak to such people, much less do we listen to them.”  Hebat let out a touch of anger.  “You know better.  And these people are surrounded by a hedge of the gods, which you would have seen if you bothered to look.”

Lelwani looked defeated, and something nearer to the truth came out.  “But mother, I have worked so hard, and my land is still so empty.  The gas the masters are making can fill my land.”

“That is not what you should wish for,” Hebat said, as the three who came with her stepped into the light.  One of the gods spoke; the one with the glasses.

“Your land will fill soon enough until you wonder if there will be room to contain them all.  Then you will weep for those whose days are only a breath, and who, like the flowers of the earth, grow in beauty and fade away so fast.”

The travelers recognized at least two out of three.  Boston called to the one who spoke.  “Enki!”  Enki looked and smiled for her, and pushed up his glasses.

“Enlil,” Lincoln named the other god, but only Katie remembered the third, a goddess.

“Shivishwa.  But you are a cathartic goddess, yourself.”

“In my fashion,” the woman answered.  “But here we are named A’as the wise, Ellil of the sky, and I am Sauska, and I have added healing, not just war to my name.”

“Congratulations,” Katie said, not sure if congratulations were in order.

“Mother.”  Lelwani wanted to get their attention back.

“No more.”  Hebat shook her finger.  “You have no business guarding anything, especially for the Masters.  Forcing spirits to take rotting, decaying flesh is cruel.  You were raised better than that.”

“Mother!” Lelwani vanished in a puff of smoke, and Hebat apologized to the travelers before she and her friends vanished, and they took Hannahannah with them.

“So, the sun is coming up,” Decker said in a flat voice, and looked to put something on the fire to burn for breakfast.

“Why did you switch off the screens, and why didn’t you switch them back on?” Elder Stow asked.

“The boys wanted out,” Alexis said, but she got drowned out by Boston.

“They wouldn’t go back on.  They got drained of all their power.”

Elder Stow examined things closely.  “They are working now, and fully charged.”

Artie came up to Katie and Lockhart, with wide eyes and shaking.  “Arinna is a goddess,” she said.

“Yes, dear,” Katie answered and hugged her.

“Goddess of the sun, I would guess,” Lockhart said, and offered a hug of his own before he retrieved his blanket and went into his tent.  Katie and Lockhart said nothing to each other, but neither complained about the night’s sleeping arrangement.

“What?” Boston came up with a question.

“I had a sleepover,” Artie said, happy again.  “That is what Katie called it.”

“And I missed it?”  Boston turned to Alexis.

“You’re not that young,” Alexis said, as she paused to give Lincoln a good-morning kiss.

An hour later, as the temperature began to rise, Decker had another comment.  “I haven’t seen Huyak, his wife or daughters come out of the house.”

People looked, and Elder stow spoke.  “It has been bothering me,” he said.  “Huyak seemed very interested in my things, and asked a lot of questions, which in hindsight, suggests he knew more about things than he said.”

“How could he have known anything at all about your gadgets?” Lockhart asked.

Katie agreed.  “Your equipment should have appeared magical and incomprehensible to someone in this day and age.”

“The sons came conveniently to get the screens turned off before dawn, when two women were the only watchers and everyone else was sleeping,” Boston said.

“Early morning does not prove anything,” Alexis countered.  “Nor does the fact that the zombies were just outside the screens at that point, ready to attack.”

“Suspicious,” Decker said.

“Convenient, as Boston said,” Lockhart did not disagree.  “But all circumstantial evidence.  Coincidence.”

“Well, someone is the man of the Masters,” Lincoln said.

“And making the gas that can fill the land of the dead,” Katie added.  “Mustard gas?  Where was it Balor said they were making the mustard gas in his day?”

“Somewhere up this way,” Lincoln said.

“Maybe we should cross the river and look in the building over there that the Zombies were guarding in the dark of night,” Katie said, as she turned to Lockhart to get his approval.  Lockhart said nothing for the moment and looked at Decker, Lincoln, and Elder Stow, the ones most likely to object to getting involved for one reason or another.  The rest waited quietly.

“It isn’t our job,” Lockhart said.  “Our job is to get back to the twenty-first century, and the Kairos often makes us move on before we get in the middle of whatever is happening.”

“We moved on before we found out what happened to my people,” Artie said.  People looked at her, but she seemed okay with it.  “I trusted Balor,” she said.  “I knew he would do better and more than I could even think to ask.”

Alexis patted her hand.  “Sometimes the Kairos does too much and works too hard.”

“Amphitrite would not let us near the trouble in her day,” Lincoln agreed with Lockhart.

“Not counting the pirates who tried to steal all our things,” Alexis countered with a true elf grin for her husband.

“We should just ride on to get to the next gate,” Lockhart said, as a suggestion, not a decision.

“I say we go look and do what we can,” Decker said.

“Mine is not that kind of scanner,” Eder Stow admitted, as he had been staring at the device for some time.  “I cannot analyze the material they are making inside the building without a sample, but I can tell you, they are definitely manufacturing something.  And I can pinpoint exactly how many and where there are people in and around the building.”

“We go look?” Katie asked.

Lockhart agreed.  “But we need to decide in advance what we will do if they are making the mustard gas.”

Avalon 5.2 Palace Intrigue, part 2 of 5

“Can I see the zombie?” Artie asked, sweetly.  Her eyes were trained on the river where Major Decker shot the one that collapsed back into the water.

Katie raised her eyebrows.  “Teenage curiosity,” she called it.  “Don’t go bloodthirsty on me.”

Artie paused to consider what bloodthirsty meant.  Katie kept her elect senses flared, not only toward the river, but all around the camp, in case the zombies should come from the town, or along the shore in either direction.

Huyak hovered over Elder Stow’s shoulder, having sent his wife, sons and daughters back to the house.  Elder Stow worked on his screen device, preparing to set a particle screen around the camp that the zombies could not pass through.  In order to keep it up all night, though, he needed to charge the batteries, as he said.  He mostly worked with the pieces of equipment he gathered from the crashed Anazi fighter ship in the time zone before the last.  Huyak seemed fascinated.

Katie turned to look at the one girl Huyak left in camp.  She looked to be about Artie’s age of sixteen, and the thought crossed Katie’s mind to wonder why Huyak had not sent her to bed with the others.  The girl spoke to Katie, like she was reading Katie’s mind.

“Oh, I’m not Huyak’s daughter.”  She smiled and sat closer to Artie, as Artie continued her own thought.

“Because I have seen dead people before, but not with my human eyes.  It was different back then.  I wasn’t one of them.”  She turned to the girl and explained.  “I only just found out that death is not the end of everything.  My goddess, Anath-Rama has made a place for me and my people, and I thank her and praise her every day.”

The girl nodded.  “Anath-Rama is very nice, though a generation or two older than I am.”

“I am sure the place is wonderful,” Artie continued, wistfully.  “Edward is with her now.”

“Was he your boyfriend?” the girl asked.

“I’m not sure,” Artie answered, honestly.  “He might have been.  We didn’t get the chance to find out.”

“I’m going to have a boyfriend,” the girl said.  “I just have to figure out who it is going to be.”

“That would be interesting.  I had not thought of that.  Maybe I should get one.”

The girl nodded and looked up at Katie.  “My name is Arinna.”  She immediately looked down, like she got scolded.  Katie said the words after the fact.

“It is not polite to read people’s minds and answer before they have a chance to ask the question.”

“Yes,” Arinna said.  “But that is why I came to see you.  I can’t read your minds very well at all, and I got…curious?”

The hedge of the gods, Katie thought.

“That’s right,” Artie said.  “I can’t read minds at all, but I would be curious.  I am curious about a lot of things, since I became human.”

“What do you mean, became human?”

“I was born an android,” Artie said, with some pride.  “That is what Elder Stow calls us.”

“A machine,” Katie said, to Arinna’s curious face.  The word machine did not help much, either.

“You became human?”

“The goddess, Amphitrite changed me from a machine to a human.  I got like real hair and everything.”

“Wow, I didn’t know the gods could do that.”

“It felt strange, but good, like I was waiting my whole life to become human.  Like I should have been human my whole life.”

“Wow.  That must have taken great skill and ability.  I can’t do anything like that.”

“Can my friend stay with us tonight…mom?” Artie asked, with a hopeful look.

“It would be all right.  My…mom would not mind,” Arinna said, with the same hope written all over her face.

“A sleepover,” Katie said, and to Arinna she added, “And I am not asking who your mom is.”  She paused, a dramatic effect, but she needed a second to imagine this happening some day with her own daughter, and wondered what Dad-Lockhart might say.  “I suppose it would be all right.”

“Yea!” the girls shouted, and held hands, truly more like six-year-olds than sixteen-year-olds.

“Maybe I can help.”  An older woman stepped into the fire light, and Arinna jumped up to hug her.  “Hannahannah,” she called the woman, before she turned and introduced her.  “This is my grandmother.”

“Don’t worry, Katie, I will watch them,” Hannahannah said.  “Come along, Artie.  A growing young girl needs her rest.”  Artie popped up, took Arinna’s hand again, and the two went into the tent, both talking at the same time.  “Not that I expect to get any rest,” Hannahannah added, as she followed them.

“There.”  Elder stow announced, and Katie turned her attention to the Gott-Druk and Huyak.

“And nothing will be able to penetrate these invisible screens?”  Huyak sounded fascinated.

“Correct,” Elder stow said.

“Will I be able to get back to my house?  My wife will be missing me.”

“Of course,” Elder Stow said, and smiled.  “I included your house in the screen area of protection.  You will have to see us if you or your sons want to go out before dawn, but that should not be a problem.”

Huyak nodded and waddled off to his house.  Lockhart came out of his tent and said, “A nice one hour nap and I’m ready to go.”

“Nine o’clock?” Katie asked, surprised.

“You can get some sleep,” he said.

Katie harrumphed, stepped into Lockhart’s tent and stole his blanket, then went to lie down beside the fire.

“What?” he asked.

“Our little girl is having a sleepover,” Katie said, and Lockhart quickly looked at Artie and Katie’s tent.  “The girl’s name is Arinna.”  Lockhart looked again at Katie.  “I would guess she is a young goddess, but I would guess it will be okay.  The girl’s grandmother is with them.”

“Oh, okay,” Lockhart looked once more at the tent.  “If you think it will be okay.”

Katie grinned as she lay down and imagined her and Lockhart having a daughter, and him having that same silly, uncomprehending look on his face.

Lockhart sat quietly, watched Katie sleep, and kept the fire fed.  Elder Stow joined him, and they enjoyed the quiet of the night for over an hour.  When the moon rose, so did the sounds.  They came from the footbridge, and from across the river.  Zombies wailed and moaned, like ghosts in the dark.

“They are protesting, I imagine,” Elder Stow said.

“Yes,” Lockhart agreed.  “But I was thinking, they could only have been raised and activated by one of the gods.  If the god wants them on this side of the river, I can’t imagine your strongest screens will keep them out.”

“You might be surprised,” Elder Stow said.  “According to Yu-Huang, there is almost nothing the gods cannot do, but that does not mean everything is easy.  Some things are easy as breathing.  Some require learning, like learning to ride a bicycle or learning to read.  Young gods and goddesses don’t automatically know how to do everything.  Far from it.  They have to learn, like any children.  And then, some things are like scholarly tomes or higher mathematics.  There are some things that some, maybe many gods will never learn how to do.”

Lockhart slowly nodded, but then he said, “I don’t suppose any screen can prevent a god from appearing wherever he wants.  If he can’t figure out how to get the zombies through your defenses, no reason he could not appear here and simply turn the screens off.”

“If he thinks to do that,” Elder Stow said, but he went back to sit beside his equipment.

When the end of the shift came at midnight, and Decker and Lincoln got up for the wee hours, Elder Stow felt more confident that his screen defense would make it to morning.  He told Lincoln what was necessary and went to bed.

Lockhart looked at the tent he shared with Lincoln, but remembered Katie had his blanket.  He looked once more at the tent where Artie was, and all seemed quiet.  He took a deep breath, and lied down beside Katie.  Katie slung the blanket over him.  He put his arms around her.  Katie wondered in her sleep filled mind why they were not together every night.  Lockhart wondered what he did or said that caused them to separate.  He could not remember.  He didn’t want to be separated.  He loved this woman.  He feared for a moment that he might not be able to sleep for thinking about it, but soon enough he began to breathe long, slow breaths, and Katie snuggled into his arms.

Avalon 5.2 Palace Intrigue, part 1 of 5

After 1583 BC Syria, by the Euphrates.  Kairos 61: Notere of the Hittites

Recording…

“Carchemish,” Lincoln announced the name of the town. before he added, “I’m pretty sure.”

“Good to know,” Lockhart said, as he guided the group down a steep path and up to the gate.

Katie rolled her eyes, but Artie spoke.  “Carchemish.”  She got her horse over a rough spot, and continued.  “That reminds me.  I had the strangest dream last night.”  Katie showed she was listening.  “I dreamed I was flying, without a ship or parachute, like a fairy, but without the wings.  Then I started to fall, and it got frightening.  I woke up.”

“I had a flying dream once,” Lincoln said.  “No idea why.”

“Do you know what it means?” Artie looked to Katie, who shook her head.

“Ask the nurse,” she said, and pointed behind her.

Artie turned to face Alexis, but Alexis spoke first while Artie remembered that Alexis had become an elf again, for a time.  She looked the same, but different.

“When I took my nursing courses, I had not been human very long,” Alexis said.  “I thought it was not right for me to be analyzing humans, since my father told me they are all crazy.  I still think he was right, sometimes.”

“I hear that,” Decker mumbled from the back where he and Elder Stow had pulled in to join the column.

“I like flying dreams,” Boston said, and Artie nodded.

“But not the falling part.”

They came to the gate and had to stop.  The gate guards were checking everyone, for something.

“Got anything to declare?” Lockhart whispered, as he got down.  The guards looked up at him, so he added, “How can I help you?”

“Stick out your hands,” the man ordered.  Lockhart did, and the man turned one hand palm up, pressed on the ball of the thumb and watched it push back into place.  He turned the hand over and rubbed the back to see what came off.  Then he looked hard into Lockhart’s eyes to make sure someone was home.  Three other guards checked Lincoln, Katie and Artie.

“You see?” Artie said.  “I’m human.  I have human hands.”  She sounded so happy, but then the young man checking her reached out to squeeze her breast.  He had a big grin, but Artie shouted.  “Hey!”

“Hey,” Katie shouted the same, and Lockhart turned, grabbed the man by the shoulder and threw him to the ground.

“What is this all about?” Lockhart demanded.  The travelers looked angry, and the guards hesitated, not prepared to start a fight in the gate.

The chief guard gave his young man a hard look before answering.  “We have had dead people getting up and walking around.”  He said that with a straight face.  “I saw one.  There is nothing behind the eyes, and they fall apart in the hands and feet.  I’m not likely to make you take your shoes off.”

“Zombies,” Alexis said.

The walking dead,” Boston corrected her.

“Lelwani is angry,” one of the guards said, and nodded.

The chief guard looked at the four not checked, the two women, who wore glamours to appear like ordinary humans, the Gott-Druk, who also disguised himself with an illusion, and the big African who looked ready to growl.  The chief guard could not see through the illusion, but he saw something.

“These are clean,” he announced, and the other guards backed off.  “So, what is your business in Allepo?”

“Darn,” Lincoln interrupted.  “I was close,” he insisted.

“Trade,” Lockhart said.  “And a chance to sleep the night out of the wilderness.  We will see how good your hospitality is.”

The guard nodded.  They were on the main trade route.  “Go down this way to the square and ask for a man named Huyak.  He will know where you can room, or set your tents if you would rather.”

“Thank you,” Lockhart said, and the travelers walked their horses into the city to the sound of Artie’s voice.

“How can dead people walk around?”

“Very powerful magic,” Alexis said.  “Or in this age, a cathartic god with an agenda, or one that is being lazy.”

“She,” Katie said.  “Lelwani is a goddess of the dead.”

“I wonder if she is friends with Anath-Rama,” Boston asked.  They did not know, but Artie smiled at the mention of her own, personal goddess.

Huyak turned out to be an old man who solved one riddle right away.  “My eldest son sent you from the gate,” he said.  He took them to an open field beside the river and beside his own house where they could pitch their tents and light a fire.  The place for the fire was already marked out with a circle of big stones.  “You are here to trade, but you have no wagons or camels and donkeys to carry your goods.”  He sounded curious.

“Decker,” Lockhart said, but Decker had already started to unwrap the deer tied to the back of his horse.  The man stroked his beard and called for two others.  The travelers guessed he had more sons.

“And in return?”

“A chance to stay here for a couple of nights, undisturbed.”  They would likely move on in the morning, but it was better to have some wiggle room, and not specify exactly what a couple of nights amounted to.

“And some vegetables,” Alexis spoke up.  “And not all onions.”  She turned to Boston.  “I would kill for some greens.”

“I believe we have a bargain,” Huyak said, and he waved to the boys to pick up the beast.  They had a wagon handy, and hauled it off to disappear down the street.  “You camp, and I will be back with things to eat, and my own brew.  It is very good.”

“Good thing,” Katie said.  “I am beginning to mistrust the water.”

As soon as Huyak got out of sight, Decker and Elder Stow got the other deer down from the back of Elder Stow’s horse.  They took a moment to set their tents in a circle around the fireplace; not that they needed the fire for warmth, but it was safer to watch each other and not spread out too far.  That did not take long.  The tents were balls of fairy weave that set themselves up on voice command.  Alexis set up a tent for her and Boston, without having to speak out loud to get it to take shape.  She began to teach Boston how to do that.

They had wood in satchels on other horses, and Boston started the fire.  Her magic was fire based, so it was easy for her.  Then they tended the horses and let them wander down to the river, to drink.  By the time Huyak returned, Alexis and Katie had deer roasting and hot water ready for tea.  They used a little hot water for bread crackers, which became loaves of bread.  They shared some with Huyak and his sons when they returned from the market, and eventually with Huyak’s whole household, and Huyak kept them well supplied in fruits and vegetables, such as he had, and beer that Lincoln said was not terrible.

As the sun set, a ghostly wail came up from the river.  “They are out tonight,” Huyak said, and his eyes went to the rickety wooden footbridge someone had built across the slow-moving water.  “They stay on the other side around the place where the ground stinks of garlic.  They appear to avoid the water.”

“That would make them decay and fall apart faster,” Alexis said, and Artie looked at her with questions on her face.  “Zombies, sweetheart.”  Artie shivered, as did Boston and Lincoln.

“So, we should be safe in this side of the river.” Lincoln said, but it was honestly a question.

“I didn’t say that,” Huyak said, as his wife, two sons and two daughters came from the house to hear what stories these strangers might have to tell.  Storytelling was once the height of the entertainment business.  Sadly, like getting an important phone call during the last few minutes of a television movie, sometimes life got in the way.

They heard gunfire, and the locals jumped. Decker had pulled the trigger.  They heard a body plop back into the river.  “I wouldn’t have shot, but his left arm was nothing but bone.”

“Oh,” Lockhart said.  “Watch tonight.  Katie and Artie first.  Elder Stow, you are with me.  Decker, you get Lincoln…”

“Boston and I will take sunrise,” Alexis agreed, and then squinted because it appeared Huyak now had three daughters instead of two.

Avalon 5.1 Sirens Are for Emergencies, part 6 of 6

Thalia, Alesandros and the travelers could not get Mother Evadne to calm down and speak.  Fortunately, old Mother Delphine came in, neither running nor screaming, and she explained.

“Lord Andipas and his Akoshian sailors came just before dawn.  They locked us in the orphanage, and scared the children, terribly.  They hitched the mule to the wagon and filled it with things taken from the barn.  They went into the temple and brought some more things, but they did not get the horses.  I believe they were afraid of the big horses.  But they left for the village when the light of Apollo first touched the horizon.”

Everything belonging to the travelers got taken from the temple, except Boston’s blanket, which they must have missed.  The travelers rushed outside, and found the horses grazing peacefully on the spring grass fed by the rain.  They called, and the horses trotted right up.

“We have to go after them,” Katie said to Lockhart, who nodded and held his head, like he was getting a headache in the sunlight.

“Bareback?” Lincoln did not object too loud.

“It is what we got,” Decker said, as he shouldered his rifle and helped Elder Stow mount without stirrups to place his feet.  Lincoln helped Alexis, and then climbed up on Cortez, who stayed remarkably patient for a horse.  Rodeo Boston jumped right up, no problem, and held her hand down to pull Thalia up behind her.  Decker almost fell getting Alesandros up behind him, but then they started down the hill toward the village.  Boston and Katie rode out front, and the other horses followed, which was a good thing since none of them had reins to direct the horses.

They stopped their slow progress when they got to the bay.  They saw men working on the small dock that got torn up in the storm tide.  They saw that the fishing boats had mostly gone to sea.  They also saw the Akoshians had managed to get to their big boat, anchored off shore, and at least Decker cursed.  No doubt, they had all the traveler’s things, and they looked ready to set out.

The Akoshians saw them dismount and stand there, staring, wondering what to do.  The Akoshian Captain’s man shouted to them.  “Lord Andipas laughs in your faces.  He has all of your things of magic and he will become greatness on Akoshia.  He has your bread makers, and he knows how to make the magic.  You are now small.”  He laughed, but apparently had to get to an oar.  They did not get far.

Amphitrite appeared floating above the bow, twenty feet tall, hands still on hips, foot still tapping, and making a tap-tap sound though she was standing on air.  The ship stopped when the oars all disappeared and reappeared on the shore, and Amphitrite spoke in a way that convinced everyone that the anger of the gods would be a terrible, frightening thing.

“You stole from my friends,” Amphitrite said, and all of the travelers things appeared in their proper places.  The horses were saddled with bit and reins.  The packs were all tied on perfectly with all their things neatly packed away.  The side packs they carried reappeared on the side of the people, and suddenly Lockhart’s head did not hurt, though he did not know if that happened because she did something to sober him up, or his fear in the face of an angry god did that all on its own.

“You stole from my people.”  The dock miraculously repaired itself while everything in the ship that was not tied down—sails, ropes, buckets and brooms appeared, stacked in a great stack on the dock.

“You frightened my mothers and children half to death,” Amphitrite yelled, risked a few heart-attacks, and everything else, mostly food and the very clothes from the sailors backs vanished and no doubt appeared at the orphanage.

“Most of all.”  She stopped yelling, and spoke in cold, clear tones that felt much worse than the yelling.  The travelers could hear the sailors wailing for mercy.  “You desecrated my temple and insulted me, and I take that personally.”  The ship that floated at the mercy of the waves, with no means to move otherwise, full of stark naked men, vanished, though Amphitrite finished her thought.  “You should learn respect.”

The travelers caught a glimpse of the island of the sirens, so they could have some men of their own, however briefly.

Amphitrite turned to the travelers and smiled, and it felt like the sun just came out.  She made a translucent, golden ball around herself and floated slowly toward the travelers, shrinking as she came so when her feet touched down on shore, she was back to her normal height.  The bubble burst, and she said, “I always wanted to do the good witch of the north, but no one in this age would have understood it.”  She smiled again.

Boston shuffled her feet and looked down at her shoes until Amphitrite opened her arms and yelled, “Boston.”  The elf flew into the hug.  After which she turned to Lincoln and said yes before he asked if she was Amphitrite.  Then she walked around the group and examined them carefully.  Finally, she spoke again.

“I heard Boston’s prayer.  I checked with Alexis and Lincoln, and apologize for violating your minds and hearts, and privacy; but here is what I have decided.  It will only be temporary, but for now…” she touched Alexis, and Alexis became the elf she had been when she was born.  She looked to Lincoln to be the same age she was when he first met her, and just as beautiful.  Alexis bent toward him, and he touched her pointy ears to see that they were real.

“See?” Alexis grinned.  “You did not even have to pay me a dollar this time to do that.”

Lincoln smiled at the memory, and Alexis grabbed him.  He grabbed her right back, and they kissed in a way that made Katie look at Lockhart and Thalia sigh.  Then Alexis went to stand beside Boston, and took her hand.  Alexis still looked twenty-six or twenty-seven, and that made Boston look like she was; like someone just out of her teen years.

“Hey, you’re breaking up the combo.”  Everyone heard the woman’s voice and watched as she walked up to stand beside Amphitrite.  For the men, watching the woman walk felt worse than the sirens, but this time, the women did not respond with jealous, protective eyes.  All they longed for was a touch of whatever the woman had.

“Just temporary,” Amphitrite said, and turned to Elder Stow.  “Artie?” she asked.  Elder Stow glanced at Katie, but he knew he would have to tell the absolute truth.

“She has developed a small gap in her flesh—miniscule, but she is taking on water in the rain.  It might kill her to cross a river.  I don’t know.”

Amphitrite folded her arms and put a finger to her temple.  “Of course, I can fix it, but I think I would like to try something else first.”  She waved her finger and Artie changed.  It looked like a much more complicated and extensive change.  “This may also be only temporary, but there is much to learn on the road.  I call this the Pinocchio solution.”  She stood back, and the woman beside her eyed the change and added her comment.

“I like it.  I can work with this one.”

“That is not what I made her for,” Amphitrite said.

The woman looked at Decker.  “And you are still on my list.”  The woman squinted, and pointed a sharp finger at Decker.

“Aphrodite,” Decker named the woman.  “Please, no,” he said, and Aphrodite laughed.

“What happened to me?” Artie said.  “I feel so different.  Wow.  Wow…” that was all she could say for a while.  Katie hugged her and Amphitrite spoke.

“As an android, she may have been six-years-old, but as a human, she is sixteen.  Katie.  You need to be like her mother.  Lockhart.  You need to be like her father.  End of discussion.”

Aphrodite whispered to Amphitrite, “Good job.”

Elder Stow smiled.  “They are the mother and father of the group.”

Aphrodite did not understand, but Amphitrite returned the whisper.  “I’ll explain it later.”

“I’m a real girl,” Artie said the inevitable line, and everyone congratulated her.

“Now, what?” Aphrodite turned to Amphitrite and asked what she wanted.

“I need your help,” Amphitrite admitted.

This time, Aphrodite put her hands on her hips and gave Amphitrite a hard stare as she spoke.  “Are you asking as my Aunt Amphitrite, Queen of the sea, or just between friends.”

“Just Trite to Dite,” Amphitrite said, pensively.

Aphrodite continued her hard stare for a few seconds before she laughed out loud, a most glorious sound.  “I love it when she says that.”

“People,” Amphitrite clapped her hands to regain everyone’s attention.  “Get mounted and ready to ride.  Sadly, this is not a good time for a visit, as I said.  In fact, it may not be safe for you to be here at all right now.”  Amphitrite gave Thalia another sisterly kiss and flipped her hand.  Thalia and Alesandros disappeared, and presumably reappeared back in the temple, overlooking the sea.

Aphrodite sighed to see them go.  “That recipe turned out great, and I hardly had to do a thing.” she sighed.

“Here is the scoop, everyone.”  Amphitrite added the last to regain Aphrodite’s attention.  Then she paused to think, and lifted herself up about five feet in the air, before she spoke.  “In simplest terms, our sun and earth formed about five billion years ago.  However, the first stars and planets in the universe formed about ten billion years ago.  After five billion years, human civilization reached the point that you are all familiar with.  Likewise, after five billion years, the people on that first planet reached a comparable level of civilization, only now they have had an additional five billion years to progress, or evolve if you insist.  No, in your wildest imagination, you cannot even imagine what they are capable of.  And no, Lincoln.”  She stayed Lincoln’s hand from his pocket in which he carried the database.  “You will not find information to read in the database.  There may be a few cryptic notes, but that is all.”

“What are they planning.”

“They don’t plan.  They don’t do things the way you and I do things.  I can’t explain. They will be rearranging the nature of creation.”

“Can they do that?” Katie asked.

“What do you need me for?” Aphrodite asked.  “I’m not sure I want to go there.”

“It will be all right,” Amphitrite said, and the travelers vanished to reappear in some totally new location.  Even the horses, who had done that before, hardly batted an eye.”

“Boston?” Lockhart called from the front, where he landed next to Lincoln.  Katie and Artie rode in the middle, while Alexis and Boston brought up the rear.  Decker and Elder Stow still had the sides.

“It looks like the time gate is right in front of us,” Boston shouted back.  Lockhart looked at Katie who nodded and held up her amulet.  It glowed green.

“We best go,” Lockhart said and let his horse walk through the gate.

“Wow.  I never felt excitement like this before,” Artie said as she and Katie came next.  Artie would say that sort of thing often over the next few weeks.

Decker and Elder Stow squeezed in to follow, Decker still worried, thinking about what it meant to be on Aphrodite’s list.

“Tell me more about Mirroway and Elfhome,” Boston asked, sounding almost child-like.  Alexis remembered a particularly juicy experience she had as a young elf.  Her head nodded, but as they were the last through the gate, she grinned a true elfish grin.

************************

Monday

The travelers from Avalon stick their nose where it doesn’t belong in episode 5.2, Palace Intrigue

Don’t miss it, and Happy Reading.

Avalon 5.1 Sirens Are for Emergencies, part 5 of 6

The early spring rain stopped pelting the earth with life-giving water, though the bubbling brooks, streams and rivers would run high and swift for a time.  The wind stopped shaking the trees and crashing the sea against the cliffs in great angry-sounding roars.  At the higher altitudes, the clouds cleared off to reveal the thousand-million stars of the heavens, but at ground level, the earth and sea becalmed, like a child falling into a quiet and restful sleep after the tantrum is done.  The earth, all asleep, knew a few hours of peace.

Sometime after four, when the Artemis moon rose over the western hills, a thin mist rose from the sea to cover the land like a blanket.  Four men in the temple awoke, though they said nothing in the dark.  The priest Alesandros continued to sleep peacefully next to the Priestess Thalia, his wife, but the rest quietly rose to their feet and stumbled out into the dark.  No one was there to notice Decker and Elder Stow, unless their dreams appreciated the quiet at the end of the snoring.  Alexis might have turned to her side, but she was no stranger to Lincoln getting up in the night to use the bathroom.  Katie, already tied more to Lockhart than she knew, mumbled briefly when Lockhart left the building.  That woke Artie, who felt better, her energy returned after her illness earlier in the evening.

Artie listened to the silence.  She thought about her people trapped in mindless slavery to the Anazi.  She understood, she would not even have a people, and she herself would not even exist if the Anazi had not built them to fight the alien blobs.  The Anazi, in a way, were her creator gods.  But as Elder Stow explained it, androids were not robots with sophisticated programming.  If built right, to rightly be called androids, they will, at some point, become self-aware, which is the hallmark of intelligent life.  In order to keep such androids bound or suppressed, then becomes an ethical issue.  Such oppression can be called cruelty.  Elder Stow said that was why species more advanced than the Anazi did not bother building androids, even if they could build them infinitely better than Artie… no offence.  Artie was not offended.  She just wanted help to set her people free.

“Benjamin,” Artie heard Alexis call out softly for Lincoln.  Alexis and Lincoln were given a bite of the apple of youth at the beginning of their journey, so they became like late twenty-year-olds who could withstand the rigors of their journey through time—and Lockhart also ate from the apple.  But that did not change the fact that Alexis and Lincoln had been married for over thirty years.  Alexis did not wake when Lincoln got up in the night to use the bathroom.  He did that often enough after they turned sixty.  But when he did not come back, she woke up, worried.

“Benjamin,” she called out a little louder, though still reluctant to wake the others.  She prepared to get up herself to see where he might be when she heard Artie answer.

“He left the building.  I don’t know why.  All the men did.”

“What?” Katie sat up, and her word was not softly spoken.

“They left the building.  They all did.”

“I saw them too,” the fairy spoke from the altar.

Boston, who stirred when Alexis called, came wide awake on Katie’s shout.  She got up to check and report.  “Lockhart, Decker and Elder Stow are not here.  And look, Elder Stow left his bag of equipment.”  She lifted something in the dark.  “And Decker left his rifle.”

Katie jumped right up.  “Okay,” she yelled.  “Everybody up.  Decker would never go anywhere without his rifle.  Something is seriously wrong.”

“What is it?” a sleepy Thalia asked.  She shook Alesandros who had a hard time rubbing the sleepies out of his eyes.

“Light,” Katie called, and Alesandros stumbled to light a torch out of the brazier where the coals were still red.  Alexis put up a fairy light, and it lit the front of the temple like an overhead sixty-watt bulb.

“They all left together,” Artie said.  “I did not know what to make of it.”

“I might,” Thalia said, as she came awake and appeared to sniff the air.  She looked at Alesandros, but he sniffed and shrugged.

“I don’t smell anything.”

“I do,” Alexis said.  “I smell lavender, pine, and maybe meth-amphetamines

Thalia pursed her lips.  “Come.  We must hurry.”  She headed for the door, Alesandros on her tail, and Lilac the fairy rushing to her shoulder.  Alexis came right behind, having grabbed her bag with the medical kit.  Boston, Katie and Artie followed, all armed, not knowing what they might face.  Artie had her Anazi handheld weapon, though she learned from Elder Stow and kept it for emergencies.  Katie had her rifle, and Boston carried Decker’s Rifle.  Boston might have been an electronic and technological whiz kid, but she was raised a Massachusetts redneck.  There are such things.  She not only rode rodeo, she hunted, mostly with her father and brothers, including at least one trip to Canada where she hunted bear.  Decker’s rifle might be a sophisticated, super advanced military rifle, like Katie’s, but Boston knew how to point and shoot very well.  Being an elf did not change that.

Thalia and Alesandros brought the women to where the grassy meadow met the rocky side of the hill.  They climbed right in to a small cave there, and made fairy lights to light the way.  Lilac sent her fairy light out front, Alexis raised hers to shine from overhead, and Boston made one and let it trail from behind.  She did not want something unknown to creep up on them from the rear.

The small cave quickly opened-up into a broad and tall cavern, which looked like a crack in the earth.  It made something like a giant staircase of boulders they could slowly climb down toward the sea.

“This ends in a grotto in the cliffside, facing the bay.” Alesandros said.

“Hush,” Katie scolded him.  “We are not here for a guided tour.  It would be best if whoever is down there did not know we are coming.”

Alesandros put out his torch so he could use both hands and help Thalia as they labored slowly down the rocks to get to the bottom.  Boston found her balance and agility greatly enhanced as an elf, but she yawned several times, being a light elf, and it was still night in the outside world.  Katie, an elect, had no trouble at all.  Alesandros and Thalia appear to have been down here before and knew where to step.  Alexis was the slow one, though she stayed right with Alesandros and Thalia, and Artie lost her footing a couple of times, but Katie was right there to catch her.

When they got to the bottom, the women all heard the song, sweet, sad, and literally enchanting.  To the men, it had been irresistible.  The women resisted it, but some eyes turned to Alesandros.  He tried to whisper.

“Amphitrite immunized me, and the people in the village.  She told the sirens if they started interfering with the normal course of life along this coast, they would be in big trouble.”

Katie nodded, and the group broke into the cavern which was lit from overhead like light from several chandeliers.  “We having fun?” Katie asked, and she looked to be sure the men had not been harmed.  The men were slow to respond, but the sirens noticed the intruders right away.  They probably knew they were coming, but did nothing, thinking their intrusion would be inconsequential.

The five sirens, women, beautiful almost to the point of hurting the eyes, and with their wings, looked angelic.  Boston recognized them as lesser goddesses.  She smelled the river god, and maybe the earth in them.  That would account for their draw to the water and their bird-wings, not to say that there was no such thing as sea birds.  Seagulls, though, they were not.  They felt more like vultures.

“Katie,” Lockhart finally noticed.  “We found these angels.  I was coming to get you in a moment.”  He took a handful of grapes and enjoyed them.

“Silenus come by?  Maybe Pan himself?” Alexis asked.  “I can smell the fermented grapes from here.”

“Bacchus, and maybe Dionysus,” Katie said, softly.

“No,” one of the sirens said.  “We got them for our guests.”

“But we are on a journey, and we need the men to take us there,” Artie said, innocently.

“I know,” one of the sirens said, and stuck her head up from beside Lincoln who looked to be lounging on a bed of straw.  “Benjamin has told me some of your wonderful adventures.”

“My Benjamin,” Alexis said.  “He sometimes says things he should not say.”

“If you have heard,” Katie said.  “Then you know we are travelers from Avalon and belong to the Kairos.  The hedge of the gods has been placed around us and around all of our things.”

One of the sirens lifted herself with her wings and came to a soft landing in front of the other sirens in order to face the women.  “I know,” she said, and her hands became claws and scratched at the air.

“I am sure you would not want to anger the gods,” Boston said.

“Oh no,” one of the sirens in the back spoke up.  “Cousin Medusa once angered Apollo, and he gave her snakes for hair.  Now any mortal that sees her, she turns to stone so her face is the last thing they ever see.”

“She hides herself in a cave and cries all the time,” another said.

Thalia found the courage to step forward and speak.  “You know our lady, Amphitrite, has said you must not interfere with the men of the coast, or any of the Akoshian merchants who come to trade here.”

“But these are not men of the coast, or Akoshian merchants,” the siren said.  “They should be fair game.  We did not know they were hedged about by the gods…”

“Until you tried to eat them?” Katie asked.

“What?  No.  Never,” the sirens protested, but it got drowned out by a crack of thunder in the room.  Amphitrite appeared, frowning, hands on hips, tapping her foot on the rock.

“If you knew they were hedged by the gods and not yours to have, you should have let them go right away.”

The one in front had hands again instead of claws.  “But majesty,” she protested.  “We have no men of our own.”

“No man will have us,” one siren said from the back.

“Black widow spiders,” Amphitrite mumbled, before she spoke plainly.  “All the same, playtime is over.  The storm is passed, for the present.  You can return to the sky and go to your own island now.”

The sirens stood and turned away from everyone.  They looked like scolded children, but put up no argument.  “Good-bye,” they said.  The one at the back even said, “Good-bye, Thalia.”

“Good-bye Meliope,” Thalia returned the word.

Amphitrite turned toward the women and said what the Kairos so often said.  “You came at a bad time.”  She raised her hand, and everyone reappeared in the temple to see the sun had already come up.  While the men shook their heads and struggled to come out of their drunken stupor, Amphitrite stepped to the window.  The curtains pulled themselves back so she could gaze out on the sea.  Thalia stepped up beside her.

The women, at least, watched the two together.  Thalia was a mature woman, not many years from the beginning of old age.  Amphitrite looked to be about twenty-four, at the most, and would likely stay that age until she moved on to her next life.  Yet, no one doubted that the two had been close friends when they were young, and in real terms, the same age.  They watched the sun and the sea side by side, and then kissed like the best of sisters before Amphitrite vanished.

One of the mothers from the orphanage, dressed surprisingly like a nun, raced into the temple screaming, “Thieves.  Thieves.”