Avalon 5.10 Family Feud, part 2 of 4

“Howdy folks.  You got room at your fire for a cattle rustler and an old man?”

“Diomedes?” Lockhart asked.  Diomedes nodded, as Nestor interrupted.

“Who was that woman?”

“Athena,” Diomedes said to the side, before he spoke up.  “And you remember Nestor from Jason and the Argonauts.  The old man is eighty or so years old now.  You remember these people?”

Nestor looked around, caught sight of the horses, the tents, and the faces before he let out his surprise.  “Why, you have not aged one speck since the last time I saw you.  You swore you were not gods.”

“We aren’t,” Alexis said right away.  “We are time travelers.  The last time we saw you was hardly ten days ago for us.”

“I don’t understand.  I understand Diomedes, as the Kairos, he travels, as he says, through time.  He borrows a person from the past who shares his soul, so in this way time is not disturbed.  I know Althea did the same thing in her day, but…”  He did not know what to say.

“We move through the Heart of Time.  As far as we know, there is only one in all existence.”  Katie looked at Diomedes.

“On this genesis planet,” he said, then paused, as Boston raced into his arms.

Boston paused.  “You are Diomedes, aren’t you?”

Diomedes looked at Nestor.  “Yes, he is,” Nestor said.  “Though I would not mind a hug from a pretty young woman.  It has been a long time since I have seen my daughters, I should say, my granddaughters, if not my great-granddaughters.”

Boston obliged him with a hug and then stepped back.  “I remember you.  You used to make Iolaus jokes.”

“I was young and brash,” Nestor admitted.

“All right.”  Diomedes rubbed his hands together as Decker and Lincoln came into the light.  “Katie, Alexis, Boston, and Sukki.  You get to go with me to fetch what we can of the cow Decker shot.”  He traded places with Althea all grown up and continued speaking without an interruption.  “You men get to stay here.  You are not permitted to talk about the events at Troy or after Troy, but you can talk to your heart’s content about Jason and the Argonauts.  And Katie, you can ask all you want about Heracles, later.  Right now, we have a job.”

“Right,” Katie got up, with a quick kiss for Lockhart, and she was ready.

“Wow,” Boston said to Althea.  “You aged,”

“Hey, I’m not that old.  I’m just twenty-something, I think.  Anyway, I aged the normal way.  Want to know when I died?”

“You know that?” Alexis asked.

“Yes.  From this point in history, it has already happened.  I know how, why, when, and too many details like it is happening now.  I would rather not talk about it—oh look, we just came out of the trees and the herd of cattle is still there.”

“Sukki?” Boston asked what was the matter.  Sukki looked stressed.

“Why did you want me to come along?” she asked.

Althea stopped, so everyone stopped.  Althea faced the girl, put her hands on her very large shoulders that supported muscular arms, and spoke softly.  “Because this is now your family, and all the girls in the family are invited.”  Althea smiled.  Sukki looked at the ground.  “Do you understand?  You are part of the team.”  Sukki nodded, but did not look up, so Alexis and Katie got on either side of her and hugged her.  She started to cry, softly, and Boston started to cry softly with her, empathic elf that she was.

Althea turned.  “Penthesileia,” she called, and made herself heard.

Three women trudged down from the edge of the herd, as Althea and the travelers made their way up the small rise.  They met on level ground and one of the Amazons spoke.

“We did not expect to find women here,” she said as the others raised their spears to not be threatening.  “I am Alcibie.  My sisters are Antandre and Bremusa.”

“I am Althea from long ago, come with friends to apologize for shooting one of your aurochs.  They did not know you were herding the wild cattle and thought they were part of a wild herd.  They are ten hungry people, but a single aurochs is more than they can consume.  I am sure they will be glad to share it with the Amazons.”

“How can you be Althea from long ago?” Bremusa interrupted to ask.

Althea smiled for her.  “I visited your people in the last days of Otrera, when I was young aboard the Argo, and I yelled at Ares because he is supposed to stay away from my Amazons.”

Alcibie and Bremusa ducked and looked up for fear that such sacrilege might bring the wrath of Ares on them in an instant.  Althea continued.

“I came again with Heracles when Hippolyta gave her girdle to Heracles.”

“That was stolen,” Antandre said, sharply.

“The story changes over time, but I was there.”

“We have a right to our kill according to Amazon law,” Katie said.  “Even if it was accidentally shot from a herd of wild beasts.”

“Who are you to tell us what is Amazon law?” Alcibie demanded an answer.

“I am Katie.  The second elect in all the world after Zoe.”  Alcibie backed off, noticeably.  “If my friend Artemis was here, she would vouch for me.”

Alcibie and the others looked down in something like a head bow, and Alcibie spoke.  “I should have recognized you by your golden hair.”

“Company,” Boston reported.  People looked in the light of the newly risen moon.  Two women came, side by side, and a half-dozen more followed, keeping well back from the couple.  One of the women was in tears.  That was Penthesileia, the queen.  The other woman was Artemis, and she spoke as they arrived.

“And I do vouch for you, Katie.  And Little Fire, and Alexis, my friend.  And I see you have added a new friend to the family.

“This is Sukki,” Alexis said through her smile.  Being called a friend by a goddess is a powerful aphrodisiac.

“I think we can dispense with the glamours for now,” Artemis decided, and raised her hand to reveal Boston, the elf, and Sukki, the neanderthal.  Antandre and Bremusa shivered at the sight of the Gott-Druk, and at the sight of a little one, but in the presence of their goddess, they almost did not notice as they fell to their knees and covered their eyes.  The women who followed their queen from the camp were also on their knees in the mud, and Artemis spoke loud and clear.  “I think sharing the aurochs is a wonderful idea.  Boston, would you do the honors?”

Boston nodded.  “I could use help.  The women might want some of the innards that we normally waste.”

“Alcibie can help,” Artemis said, since the Amazon was the last one on her feet, with her mouth and eyes wide open, staring.  Boston turned her from the sight of Artemis, and accepted Katie’s knife, which she offered for Alcibie to use.  They went to work on the beast, and Althea finally spoke.

“You’re not mad at me, are you?”

Artemis looked at Althea for a long minute before she spoke.  “I don’t think I could be mad at my best friend forever, no matter what.  I don’t think I could hate you no matter what form you took.  I’m sorry you got stuck with Athena, and I think it is terrible what Aphrodite did to you.  I know you cut her, but I know you denied Athena and refused to finish her.  Dite is not mad at you, I think.  Anyway, it was the result of her own meddling.”

“You’re rambling.”

“I feel awkward.  I don’t do awkward.”

“I love you, no matter who I am.”

Artemis nodded.  “Even when you are a male.  I know.  It took me a while to figure that out.  I love you, too.  Without you, I would have no real friends at all.”

“Me too.  Not forever friends.  And you have always been so good to me.”

“You, that is, Nameless, warned me not to pay attention to any golden apples that had writing on them.  I am so glad I believed and trusted you.”

“Me too.  I’m sorry this time we are on opposite sides.”

“Me too.  But this won’t go on forever.”

Althea started to cry, and Artemis and Althea hugged like long-lost, broken-hearted friends.  Then Artemis said one more thing.  “I better go.  I feel like I am going to cry, too, and it would not be good for mortals to see a goddess cry.”  Althea nodded, and sniffed; and Artemis vanished.

Avalon 5.10 Family Feud, part 1 of 4

After 1116 BC Troy.  Kairos 69: Diomedes, the King

Recording…

Diomedes rolled in aurochs dung, and made the others apply it as well.  When he saw the Amazons ride in, driving a herd of some thirty wild cattle, he imagined cowgirls with whips and spears driving cattle along the trail.  He shouted, “Yee-haw,” and then had to explain to Odysseus what yee-haw meant.  Now, he figured if the women were cowgirls, the least he could do is be the Indian when he went to steal some of those beasts.

“You are disgusting,” Odysseus said as he scooted up and whispered.  “Old man Nestor says he will have to bathe the entire day tomorrow to get rid of the smell.

“Is that a threat or a promise?” Diomedes asked, as he pulled his cow hide further up on his shoulders.  “Thersites could use a bath.”

“Wash his mouth, maybe,” Odysseus whispered.

Nestor scooted up with Sthenelus’ help.  He giggled like a schoolgirl.

“Diomedes,” Thersites called out in his loudest whisper, before he saw them.

“Hush,” Diomedes hushed him.  “No scare-um buffalo.”  He turned back to Odysseus and Nestor.  “Aurochs have a bad temperament.  Spook them, and they will run, but startle them, and they will just get angry and charge.”

###

Two sets of eyes tried to pierce the darkness.  One looked back and spoke softly.  “Where is that girl.”  She turned to the one still beside her.  “Now that the sun has set, we need all eyes on the herd.”

“Lady.  I don’t see anything but mud and cattle.  Not much for the cattle to eat.  We best get them in to the city in the morning and to the butchers before they become too skinny to bother cutting up.”

“Quiet Bremusa.  Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth closed.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Alcibie.”  The call came from behind, and it sounded nice and loud.  “What is the problem?”

The girl ran up, followed by the queen.  Alcibe spoke softly after she removed the palm from her face, an affectation the Amazons learned from a young woman who visited them in the days of the queen’s grandmother.  “Antandre.  You move that way.  Bremusa, move slowly the opposite way.  Keep quiet, and keep your eyes and ears open.”  Alcibie turned to the queen and deliberately whispered.  “Penthesileia.”  She nodded her head.  “I sense something in the cattle.  Something is not right.  Maybe, for all our precautions, the Achaeans have come up into our midst.”

The queen put her own hand over her own mouth.  She should have known better than to shout ahead.  She looked intently, but saw no movement but among the cattle.  Alcibie had her bow out and strung.  She fingered her arrows.  The Amazons were hard to see in the dark of night, but they were not the only ones who mastered that skill.

###

Diomedes and his crew stood together and wailed like banshees.  They waved their cow hide cloaks like they were the dead cows, returned from the dead.  The wild cattle were certainly startled, but they were not spooked to run until everyone heard a loud crack in the distance, and one of the cows fell to the ground, mysteriously dead.  Everyone imagined Zeus and a thunderbolt, except Diomedes, who knew the sound all too well.

Ten of the herd, the group Diomedes and Odysseus agreed would likely split off the easiest, ran in the expected direction.  The Greeks saw the torches lit, which formed a nice tunnel to the sea.  Diomedes and his crew did not wait around to be caught, but they kept yelling, giving their position away at every step.  One of Diomedes’ men got an arrow in the thigh.  It was a good and lucky shot, and Diomedes almost turned back to confront the shooter, but Odysseus turned him to pick up the man and help get him to safety.

Antandre and Bremusa realized too late that they could do nothing with their spears.  Alcibie shot three arrows, but two missed and the third only wounded one who still got away.  Antandre and Bremusa had to quickly turn to keep the rest of the herd from running, and other Amazons came up to help.  The women were well trained and disciplined, so they succeeded without anyone getting hurt, but Alcibie yelled, “I knew it,” and Penthesileia growled and felt like kicking herself.

As soon as Diomedes got the wounded man to where he could hand him off to Sthenelus and his men, he grabbed old Nestor, who was still giggling, and pulled him aside.  He practically dragged poor Nestor to the edge of a stream and together, they got in to wash.  All that while, Diomedes did his best to think to Boston.  Don’t let Decker go out on that field.  Stop him.  Tell Katie to get ready to join me.  I’ll be there quick as I can.

Boston had to run to stop Decker and Lincoln, though the two had stopped.  With the night goggles, they saw what was happening better than any Greeks, Amazons or Trojans could hope to see, and while they might not have understood the full dynamics of what they saw, they decided not to interfere.

“I only looked at the beef,” Decker admitted.  “I assumed these were wild cattle.”

“They are,” Lincoln said.  “Aurochs are a wild breed.”  He wilted a little under Decker’s stare.  “It is too far to tell, even with the goggles, but I am guessing we are closer to Troy than we thought.  I was trying to make out the city and missed the people completely.”

Decker nodded as Boston ran up at super elf speed.  “I guess we both need to be more careful from here on out.”

“That, or we need to stop before dark, no matter how much someone wants to see the fabled walls of Troy.”

“Can’t see the walls in the dark, anyway,” Boston said, as she caught her breath.  “Amazons,” she added.  “We’re supposed to wait for Diomedes, and then Katie is going to fetch the beef.”

Decker and Lincoln said nothing as they turned to head back to the camp they had set up in the woods.

###

Diomedes crawled out of the water and saw the love of his life standing on the shore, waiting patiently.  How unlike her, he thought, and he stepped up to her and kissed her passionately.  She responded with her whole heart, but when they parted, she stepped back and spouted.

“Now I’m soaking wet.  Thanks a lot.”  she waved her arms, and all the water that covered her vacated her clothes and went back into the river.

“I just wanted to give you something from my heart and ask you to remember later where we left off.  Sadly, I have work to do that just came up.”

“I know.  I’ve been watching them for the last couple of days.  This is not a good time for them to show up.”

“I understand.  And there is a crisis here, already.  I was thinking I may have to trade places with Althea and let her handle it.”

The woman turned up her nose at the thought.  “And you drag the sweet old man with you?”

“Ah, yes.  They met Nestor on the Argo, if you recall.  Volcano day.”

The woman nodded.  “Well, you can start out as yourself.  Who you become is your business.  You have your own work as we have our work, even as you said.”

The woman waved her hand again and Diomedes and Nestor disappeared from that place and reappeared beside a nice, cozy campfire.  Diomedes thought, don’t forget where we were.  He heard the answer, Never.

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

Remember:

4 posts in this episode.  Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and THURSDAY.

Don’t miss it…

Elect II—20 Underground, part 1 of 3

Emily was still in bed three days later when Jessica and Fiona the hunter joined forces and found Carlos in an unused warehouse meat locker.  He was completely drained of blood and stank.  Fiona guessed he had been hanging for two or three days.  They all kept quiet as they looked around the main room for Mama spider.  Officer Dickenson spoke first.

“I imagine the big spider is long gone,” he said.  He knew it was wishful thinking when the others contradicted him.

aa-warehouse-dock-1“She is near,” Jessica said.

“I can sense something, not far,” Latasha agreed.

Harmony called her troop for backup with a word.  “There may be more babies as well.”

“Not what I want to hear,” Dickenson said.  “But if there are more, we get out, call Schromer and get extra back-up.”  It took some convincing, but eventually the women agreed.

###

At that same time, Sara was in the city hall, waiting outside the courthouse for Paul.  She had come to realize if she did not go see him at work, she might never see him at all.

Lisa came out from testifying against one of the drug dealers Latasha got her mixed up with.  “Off with time served,” she said as she sat beside Sara on the bench outside the courtroom.  She expected Sara to say something about the lack of justice and how the streets will never be safe if the bad guys keep getting off so easy, but that was not what she heard.

“How do you do it?”  Sara looked at Lisa with questions written all over her face.  “With Josh and the kids, I mean.  The only place I see Paul these days is here or over in City Hall where he is working in the Mayor’s office.”

Sara got quiet and Lisa paused for a moment to think.

“I got lucky.  Josh knew what he was getting, police and all.  He knew about my election, not all the details, but that my life would never be normal.  He sent me flowers anyway.  He said his programming job was the kind he could work from home most of the time, and he did not mind being a house husband and doing child care if we should have children.  He said he would always a-trenton-court-hallbe there for me.  How could I say no?”  Lisa smiled and then added a serious note.  “Honestly, I don’t do it very well.  I struggle with guilt the way most women do these days, I suppose.  The days of wife and mother staying home with the kids are pretty much over.  Women work these days because they have to, and the idea that a woman can have it all is a croc.  Either work or Josh and the children are always getting gypped.”

“Not so,” Ashish said.  He had come out of the courtroom in the middle of the conversation, but heard enough of it.  “I think Lisa does a remarkable job of balancing things.”

Lisa gave her partner a brief smile but turned straight back to Sara who looked so serious. Lisa’s intuition was acting up.  “You haven’t told Paul about you and the girls, have you?”

“I have, but not in detail, and I haven’t taken him to meet them yet.  I’m afraid.”

Lisa reached for her hand.  “Complete honesty.  That is the only way to know if he is right.  You don’t have the luxury of picking just any old husband.”

Sara opened her mouth and shut it just as quick.  “When I met the girls I thought I stumbled into a band of superheroes, like the X-Men.  I discovered it isn’t just Emily, you and Latasha.  Each of the girls, in her own way, can do things no human being ought to be able to do.”  Sara stopped and Lisa encouraged her.

“And then?”

Sara took a deep breath.  “And then I found out I could do things that defied nature.  Not big things, but subtle things.”  She looked up at Lisa and let out the smallest grin.  “I can glow in the dark.”

ac-riverbend-3Lisa patted Sara’s hand and stood.  “My pastor says we all have our crosses to bear.”  She returned the slight grin and added the word, “Priestess.”  Then she raised her voice.  “Aurora.”

A young girl stepped around the corner, or more likely appeared from somewhere else.  Sara was not fooled.  She knew this was an elf in disguise.  It was confirmed when Aurora stopped at the bench, looked at Sara, gave a little bow and said, “Priestess,” in echo of Lisa’s word.  She turned to Lisa, nodded her head again and said, “Lady.”

“Anything?” Lisa asked.

“There have been ghouls here, but not here now.”

“Ha,” Ashish interrupted.  “She hasn’t seen the lawyers.”

###

It was on a Saturday, around sundown, two weeks’ shy of finals, when Jessica and Fiona found their way back to that same warehouse.  Latasha, Harmony and Officer Dickenson followed, and all said they knew the trails would return to this place.

“I about have this old warehouse memorized,” Officer Dickenson said while his eyes continued to search every corner for signs of spiders.

“We have been over this place,” Harmony admitted.

“And we found nothing,” Fiona agreed.

“But all the signs point here,” Jessica looked frustrated.

“Maybe we missed something.”  Fiona began to second guess.

boston-5“At least the place is not full of webbing this time,” Officer Dickenson remarked.

“In here.”  Latasha was by the door and everyone looked in her direction.  A young man and a young woman came in.  “That is why I asked for a second set of eyes.  This is my science teacher, Ms. Riley.”

Jessica opened her mouth but said nothing.  The absurdity of Latasha asking her high school science teacher for help was beyond even Jessica’s ability for quick remarks.  Harmony and Fiona were not fooled by the glamours.  Both heads dipped and Harmony spoke.

“Lord Roland.  Lady Boston.”

Boston responded while Roland took a long look around the big room.  “From the way Latasha described things, I am guessing a secret door.”  Boston sat down in the middle of the floor and opened her purse.  She took out a Jar of dust and a stick, which was her wand.

“Your wife is sitting down to find a secret door?”  Officer Dickenson thought they should be tapping the walls and looking for signs on the floor, but in part he wanted to know who these strangers were.  It was police curiosity.

“Yes,” Roland spoke openly to the police officer.  “My wife was a witch before she became an elf.”  Officer Dickerson just shut his mouth like it served him right for asking.  “Like your Melissa,” Roland added for Jessica who nodded that she understood and stepped back to let the woman work.

Boston chanted very softly and waved her wand several times in between her chants.  Jessica could see the orange colored swirl of the magic that surrounded Boston like a fine mist of fire.  Every time she swirled the wand, the mist expanded to cover more of the warehouse floor.  Officer Dickenson asked his question before it reached the walls.

“What is happening?” he whispered.  “I don’t see anything.”

“Hush,” Latasha quieted him.  “It is like a red-orange mist, and it looks like she found something.”

boston-1The mist began to pull together over one round spot on the floor.  Boston got up slowly and brought her jar of dust to the spot.  She sprinkled the dust and spoke, and the round spot glowed with a sparkling golden tint that everyone could see.  Then she spoke.

“This is not a magical door.  It seems mechanical in some way and that may be why our elves did not find it, because they were not looking with the right set of eyes.”

“You did say at first they were not spiritual creatures,” Fiona reminded Latasha who simply nodded and unwrapped her ax.

“Here, give me a hand with this,” Roland said to Officer Dickenson.  Latasha also got down to apply her strength to what for all practical purposes was like a manhole cover cut smoothly out of the concrete floor.  When it was open, all they could see was down into the dark.

Elect II—11 No Earthly Creatures, part 2 of 3

Emily paused in her reading.  Maria was in her spot on the couch with papers and books spread all over the coffee table.  Amina was in her chair with a book, but she looked ready to take a nap.  Melissa had a math book out and was taking notes.  Emily could not imagine why anyone would ever take notes out of a math book, but then she probably would not understand the math in that book, so it hardly mattered.

ac-melissa-pencil“Anyone find any extra doors around campus that might be open?” she asked.

“No,” Maria answered without looking up.  “No doors to Avalon.  And no apples from Avalon either.”

“Where is Avalon?” Melissa asked.  She put the pencil in her mouth for a good chew.

“Long way,” Amina said.

“But we may never find the creatures that have escaped if we don’t find the door and close it,” Melissa said.

“Yes, I know,” Emily responded.  “There’s trouble in the ranks, whatever that means.”

“Zoe’s Mystery,” Maria said.  “It means the world is going mad.”

All four women spoke in unison.  “Blah, blah, blah.”  They went back to their studies.

###

ac-mindy-a1Early on the last Tuesday morning before Christmas break, Mindy went down to the library sub-basement for her shift.  She was feeling more frustrated than any of them.  Every chance they got was spent looking for apples, looking for a door, and in Mindy’s case not finding anything about the circle with three squiggly lines.  They did not talk about it.  Days went by without mentioning it.  Thanksgiving came and went and now it was nearly time for finals, the semester was almost over and they found nothing.

“How does Zoe expect us to find things that may be invisible or insubstantial?”  Mindy complained.

“I don’t know.”  Bill looked up from the desk opposite hers and shook his head; but Mindy was not finished.

“I mean, what good is a wise woman who doesn’t know anything?  Really?”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Bill responded.  He stared at her, and at any other time Mindy would not have minded, but at the moment she was not in a good mood.  She returned a mean stare and he opened up just a little.  “I am the graduate student, but you are so far ahead of me on so many things, and you are just a sophomore.  I mean, you eat ancient languages for breakfast.”

“I’ve always been good with languages.  That doesn’t mean anything.”

ac-owen-1“That means everything!”  He shouted as much as a scholar can shout.  “In two years you know more languages than I know in six, plus high school where I studied Latin, Greek and Hebrew because I was supposed to be the genius kid.  And worse, you remember it all.  It’s like we are all looking at the tapestry of life and enjoying the picture on the cloth.  You can see the stitching and know just where one color ties off and the next begins.  You are the most remarkable woman I have ever known.”

Mindy could not respond right away.  She was too busy reveling in the fact that a young man called her a woman.  She was short and perky and everyone else just referred to her as a girl.  When she did respond, it was with sharp words.  “Bill, quick.  This way.  Hurry.”  She grabbed Bill’s hand and dragged him through several twists and turns around stacks and cases until she got to a spot on the wall where the pieces of a cabinet lay unassembled.  She grabbed a six-foot dowel as Bill caught sight of what was following them.  To his credit, he managed to maintain enough control of his tongue to ask, quietly.

“What the hell is that?”

“Orc,” Mindy answered as she shoved Bill behind her and held the dowel like a staff.

The orc paused at the end of the aisle.  It stared at them through intelligent, malevolent eyes.

ac-j-j-orcMindy spoke in a language Bill never heard before, and she shifted her hands on the staff to show she knew how to use it without threatening the beast at the same time.  The beast simply barred his teeth, his many sharp looking teeth, and growled in guttural sounds before it turned and walked off.  Mindy was for going down the aisle to see if she could catch a glimpse of where it went, but Bill grabbed her by the shoulder.

“Listen first,” he said.  “Maybe it is waiting for us.”

It sounded wise, but Mindy shook her head.  “It had us cornered here.  If it wanted us it would have taken us, or tried already.”

Bill nodded even if he did not quite believe it.  “So what was that language you spoke?  I didn’t recognize it.”

“Akkadian.”

“What?”  Bill backed up a little.  “No one knows how Akkadian is spoken.  That is a matter for scholars to debate.”

“Well, that was Akkadian all the same,” Mindy said.  “How do you think I learn all these languages?  I hear it in my head as I read it.  If I read enough, non-stop, I start to think in the language and have to make myself think again in English.  I spoke Akkadian, and correctly since the orc understood me.”

ac-mindy-5“What?”

“The original language of the Amazons.  I told the orc I belonged to Zoe and you belonged to me.  I said if he harmed us he would have to answer to Zoe.  He answered that he would go.”

“He answered?”

“Yeah, that growl and stuff.  He answered in orc.”

“I belong to you?  Bill took Mindy by the shoulders and turned her so she would face him.  All Mindy could do was nod her head.  “Wait a minute.  He answered in orc?”

“Yeah.  It’s sort of like Klingon but not as friendly.”

Elect II—7 Orcs on Parade, Part 2 of 3

Once outside, Diane did not have to take them far.  There were a dozen nasty looking brutes a hundred yards off across the parade ground.  Fortunately, there were no people between them and the orcs.

“We may need to run,” Heinrich whispered.

“Diane, go back to the others,” Emily said.

ac-em-diana-2“I’m not afraid,” Diane said, though her voice shook a little.

“Not the point.  You are unarmed.  I said go back.”

“Yes Ma’am, Majesty.”  Diane started out Army and turned Amazon.  Mindy and Amina thought that was great.

“Arrows ready,” Heinrich said as the two parties stopped twenty yards apart.  The orcs were hard to look at, not because they were especially frightening or ugly, but because they looked unstable.  They were on earth, on the parade ground that doubled as a ball field in the summer, but they appeared to still have a foot in some other realm.  Besides that, whatever they once were, elves, dwarfs, imps of one sort or another no one could say.  They all appeared to share the same distorted, mean and pained expression.

“Why are you here?”  Heinrich asked.  “You do not belong here.”

One orc, no doubt the leader, took a step forward.  “We were sent to find the called one and her coven of evil.”  The voice was distorted as well as the face, and hard to hear without feeling the chill of death.

“And what will you do with her?”  Emily had to ask.

“We will kill her and crush her bones and have her for our meat.”

“That doesn’t leave much negotiating room,” Mindy said quietly while Amina spoke over her head.

“The others.  There are two groups.”

“Return to the Second Heavens while you can.  You cannot survive here,” Heinrich ordered the orcs, not that they were likely to listen.

goblin-kingThe orcs laughed, and Emily took that occasion to speak softly to her group.  “Back away slowly, like from a wild dog.”  She was anxious about the others.  She chided herself for jumping before she had all the facts.  She swore once again that it was a mistake she would not repeat, assuming she survived this encounter.

The orc laughter stopped as suddenly as it started.  Diane, Hilde and Greta ran up from behind with military issue rifles.  They must have busted into Captain Driver’s gun locker and ammunition box.

“Armed and ready, Ma’am.” Diane was all military that time.

Emily raised her sword.  “Aim!”  She skipped right over ready.  “One warning.”  She looked squarely at the orc leader.  “Run,” she suggested.

At sight of the rifles, several of the orcs at the back began to move away.  But the orc leader chose to be stupid and charged as Emily said “Fire!”

Of the orcs who braved the guns, five were struck immediately.  One took two arrows dead center and went down, but the others continued on.  The guns fired again.  Mindy and Amina pulled their small knives, but counted on their bows to fend off any attacker until help could arrive.  Heinrich took down two with his sword and without a sweat, but one went for the rifles and the other went after the archers.

The orc leader was the one who was miraculously untouched by arrows or bullets.  He went straight for Emily. And he had a wicked looking sword with a jagged edge.  Emily and the orc went thrust and parry for a good ten seconds, and Emily dropped her shoulder twice when she went for the orc’s legs.  She remembered what Heinrich told her and scolded herself.  When she dropped her shoulder the third time, the orc dropped his weapon to parry, only instead of aiming at the orc’s legs, this time Emily went for the arm.  She sliced through the orc’s arm without even pausing at the bone.  The orc dropped its sword with the arm and looked up, dumbly, as Emily followed up with a slice through the orc’s neck.

Greta and Hilde both shot the orc that attacked Diane.  It collapsed before it reached the girl.  Mindy and Amina double-teamed their assailant.  While Amina blocked the orc’s big club with her bow, held like a staff, Mindy, the short one, slipped under and stuck her knife in the orc’s heart—or at least where a heart would have been in a human.  The orc staggered and Amina jumped up and thrust her knife into the orc’s ear.  Whatever hesitation Amina had with killing, apparently it did not include orcs.

“Quickly!” Amina shouted.  “They are attacking the gym from the other side.”  And they ran.

###

Latasha and Keisha walked to Janet’s house, Keisha happy to have her friends together again, Latasha with some trepidation, but she didn’t say anything.  There was an ambulance out front.  When they rang the bell, Janet’s mother looked to be in shock.  Janet came home from an outing barely an hour ago, and now she was dead.  Keisha burst into tears.  Latasha called Detective Lisa.  She would cry in a minute.

Elect II—6 Secrets, part 1 of 3

Emily came out from her room and saw everyone sitting in their usual places.  She got her chair and joined them with a casual word.  “So I think I saw Pierce’s brother today.  I’m not sure because he ran off before I could ask him any questions.”  Emily felt the sudden tension in the room and looked at everyone in turn.  Jessica spoke first.

“We saw him the other day, during midterms.”  Jessica tried to keep the same casual tone to her voice, but Maria thought it necessary to apologize.

“We didn’t say anything because we didn’t want to upset you.”

Emily looked around and Melissa nodded and looked into her orange soda while Mindy nodded and looked at Jessica.  Amina had her hand up.

ac-emily-a5“I wasn’t there, but I knew he was around.  I did not say anything because he did not feel like a threat.”  Emily frowned at her and she looked away.  “I am sorry.  I am still learning what to say and what not to say of what I see.  I am sorry.”

“It’s all right,” Emily assured her.  “But this is just the sort of information we need to share.  We need to not keep secrets from each other.  And while I think of it,” she looked again at Amina.  “If you want to go out with Joel, you don’t need my permission.  I’m not your mom. You keep saying we are Amazons, start acting like one.”

“Saved by the knock,” Amina said, and then there was a knock on the door.  It was Sara, the Priestess, and she brought a copy of the picture Jessica drew.

“I got this from Lisa.  She got it from Latasha who showed it to her science teacher who is apparently a very mysterious person.  She says it was an ogre or troll, but turned orc.  That means an earth spirit in rebellion.”

“I said ogre or troll,” Mindy piped up.

“And I would guess where there is one, there are probably others,” Emily said.  Amina nodded.

“Lisa said she may have seen one skulking around her house,” Sara added.

“Zoe’s mystery, do you think?” Maria suggested.  “Like maybe some escaped from wherever it is they belong.”

Jessica had a different thought.  “I never had cool teachers like that back in high school.”.

###

ab-lecture-hall-1Jessica sat quietly in her environmental science class and looked around.  The lecture hall was half empty.  She thought it might be Professor Maynard’s teaching style.  The woman was more boring than a drill.  Then she thought it might be the subject matter.  Emily had the class freshman year and described it perfectly.  It did not matter what the book said, Maynard blamed the human race for every ill on the planet.  It did not matter how twisted and tortured the logic, Maynard made it clear she thought the earth would be better off without people.

Emily warned her not to take the class, but she needed a science class and figured this would be an easy “A.”  All she had to do was blame humanity for everything in her tests and papers and move on.  Apparently a number of other students figured it out as well, but she was still surprised they were not in class.  Attendance counted as part of the grade.

“All right.”  Maynard put down her chalk and stopped lecturing.  That caused Jessica and others to start paying attention, at least temporarily.  “Professor Orlov and I are still in need of additional volunteers.  We have plenty of Center for Disease Control money so we can pay you for your time.  We are mapping the relationship between the brain and immune system in combination with certain environmental factors.  We need samples only, and no, I don’t mean brain samples, and it won’t hurt.  Please consider volunteering.”  Professor Maynard smiled, but it was a pitiful thing.  “Class dismissed.”

Jessica stepped out of the building and saw Mindy, Melissa and Amina walking toward the campus center.  She thought she might join them, but then she might not.  She felt frustrated, pointless, unworthy…  She could not find the right word.

The Priestess was right.  All of the other girls were seriously talented and special in some way, and Sara, the Priestess, was just as talented in her own way, even if she did not see it in herself.  Jessica wondered, what a hunter was, anyway?  Did that mean she had to become a redneck and take her bow and arrows out in deer season?  Fat chance of that happening in Beverly Hills.  She felt useless.

Okay, she said to herself.  Emily and the others expected her to be in charge when Emily was not around, but what did that mean, really?  Okay, she joined ROTC because she discovered she could do things she never imagined, like all the physical stuff and fighting and weapons.  Oddly enough she found the course work interesting as well, unlike Maynard’s stupid class.  But what did that really mean?

Jessica shook her head and thought of Jack.  She thought, Jessica Brinkman and wondered if every woman thought such things at the beginning of a relationship, just to see how the name fit.  He was nice.  She really liked him, not the least because they shared so many interests, including the army.

Jessica made up her mind.  She was going to sign up for a time of service.  The upper class of ROTC, the junior and senior class was only for those who signed up for service after college.  And she might marry Brinkman, or someone like him, and be an army wife.  That would not be bad.  And then she could put all this Amazon stuff behind her and not feel useless anymore.

ac-jessica-8Jessica stepped down to the walkway and made another decision.  She was going to change her major to political science.  She really did not like business.  She knew her CEO father would not be happy, but he could not be more upset than he was when she told him she was going into ROTC.

She paused.

Jessica’s nose went up into the air to get a good whiff.  Something did not smell right.  There was a fire somewhere.  She stepped around the corner toward the faculty parking lot and found a small campfire made mostly of twigs.  Three students, two boys and a girl were bouncing around it, excited, touching it and pulling their hand back to lick with their tongue and stick their fingers in their mouth.  It was like they never saw fire before.  Jessica recognized the girl.

“Megan, you missed Maynard’s class.”

The girl looked up and Jessica saw nothing behind those eyes.  The girl shrieked and the boys echoed the sound, and they all ran off toward the distant woods.

“Hey, your fire.  Hey!”  Jessica yelled, but they did not respond.  Jessica stomped out the stick fire and commented out loud.  “That was weird.”

Elect II—4 Venus de Jekyll and Hyde, part 2 of 3

Emily made the women march in formation.  Jessica and Emily marched out front.  Amina and Mindy brought up the rear with Heinrich behind them all.  A number of students saw them, but since they were all still in uniform and walking with a history professor, they thought it was some ROTC or history thing and raised no alarm.

Emily stopped them before they reached the street.  There were houses across the way where a number of faculty and grad students lived.  Granger’s house was one lot in from Harbor road.  She and Jessica went up to the curb across the street, just the two of them, and spotted several men in gas masks on their side of the street watching the perimeter.  There was also a line of men outside Granger’s door, but Emily did not want to think about that.  They snuck back to the group.  Brinkman was there with several of the juniors and seniors from the upper class, and they were all armed.  Emily immediately made a speech.

ac-rotc-1“Don’t cross the street no matter what, and don’t go near Granger’s house.  You will just get sucked into the web and we might not be able to get you out.  This has to be military, covert.  There are men around the perimeter wearing gas masks.  They are heavily armed.  Silence and surprise are your best weapons.  Bring them back here, especially the gas masks.”

Brinkman signaled the men, divided them two by two and sent them out.  Emily called Lisa and explained the situation.  “And for God’s sake, keep Ashish and the other men back from the house.  It looks strong enough so even being a woman might not help.”  Then they waited.

“Heinrich?”  Emily asked.

“He went with Brinkman.  They had an odd number.” Jessica answered.

Emily nodded, and they waited some more.

Maria and Melissa came up to where they were standing, within sight of the house, but back from the street behind some bushes and trees.  “Melissa calculated the straight path from the gym to Granger’s house, thinking to catch you on the way.”

“Good thinking.  We don’t know how bad it might be over there.”

A shot was fired some distance down the road.

“Do you have the vials?”  Emily finished her thought.

“Hey, hey!”  Jessica got their attention.  They saw a man in what looked like a radiation suit come to the door.  He looked around the line and went back in.

“Right here.”  Melissa held out a leather bag.  There were two vials strapped to the inside.

ab-granger-1Maria pointed to each as she talked.  “The pinkish one is probably not a cure, but at a guess it might tone her down enough to save her life.  If not, the red one should produce the Hilde effect.”

“What’s the Hilde effect?”  Hilde asked.

“Not you, Hilde.  Professor Jack Hilde.  He invented the endocrine formula that Granger has abused.  He died in a ball of flame from overdosing.”

“Spontaneous internal combustion,” Maria explained.

“Good thing that wasn’t you.” Greta nudged her friend.

Emily tied the leather bag to her belt and spoke to the girls that were leaning in to look.  “Assignments,” she said, and outlined what she expected them to do to the best of their abilities.  “No guns.  If you are fired on, get out of there.  The police will have the whole area cordoned off.  We can lay siege if we have to and starve them out.  Jessica, you and I go inside.  No one else.”

When Brinkman and his men slowly straggled back, they had nine gas masks and eight prisoners.  They left the dead one, minus his mask, but brought the man Heinrich had only wounded with one of his knives.

“Greta.”  Emily made a quick decision.  “Take my phone.  Get in touch with Lisa and tell her you need a gas mask when she gets here.  Then wave to us from here when the circle of police is complete.”

“Oh, but—.”

“Soldier.”  Lieutenant Brinkman spoke harshly.

“Yes, ma’am.”  Greta took her position.

ab-granger-3“Brinkman,” Emily spoke up so the prisoners could hear.  “If any of these men try to escape before the police can take custody, shoot to kill.”

“Don’t have to take their heads off this time?”  One of the seniors looked at her and smiled.  He fought the zombies last year.

“Not this time,” Heinrich spoke in answer.  “But you can if you want to.”

Emily said nothing.  When her girls had their masks all in place, they rushed to their positions.  Melissa and Maria started down one side of the house.  They used their staffs to break the windows as they went.  Amina and Mindy started down the other side.  Mindy used Greta’s spear.  Amina used her staff and was ready when a man in a radiation suit stuck his head out the upper floor window she just busted.  Amina thrust up with her staff and caught the man in the neck.  The man was pushed back into the house and did not stick his head out again.

Natasha, Hilde and Diane guarded the men who were in line to be sure they made no hostile move.  Emily calculated that trying to force them to back up might have provoked them.  It was enough to be sure they did not interfere as Emily and Jessica cut ahead and burst into the house.

Emily was in front and leapt to the guard on the far side.  Two men were dressed in radiation suits, but like space suits with an independent oxygen supply.  Both had machine guns, but when Emily shoved the one’s gun into his belly, his finger inadvertently squeezed the trigger.  His fellow guard got gunned down.

Emily kneed the man and ripped his protective headgear right off.  The man tried to fight back, but ab-granger-2Emily’s fist soon stopped him.  “Jessica.”  Emily shouted through her gas mask.  “Go back out.  It is too strong in here.”

Jessica was carefully watching the dozen or so men inside the house.  They were naked and enjoying being so close to the sex goddess.  “Out!”  Emily commanded, “And get the troops away from this house.”  Jessica went when she saw Emily put on the man’s headgear with oxygen attached.  When Emily saw that Jessica got out and got the door closed without letting in a flood of men, she slowly opened the sliding doors.

There were any number of men around the room in various degrees of death and unconsciousness.  No man was built for that level of unending stimulation.  There was also a woman on the floor rolling around, making sounds of ecstatic pleasure.  There were bills everywhere, hundreds and thousands of dollars.  Emily guessed the woman was collecting the fees until she became overwhelmed herself.  Emily felt whatever it was in the air.  Her breasts began to throb, and she was becoming wet and ready for unending sexual pleasure while her mind turned to thoughts of orgasms.  She knew this had to be quick.

The only piece of furniture in the room was a bed, and Granger was tied to it, spread eagle and unmoving.  Emily touched the pink liquid and looked again at the dead and dying around the room.  She looked at Granger, but there was no recognition in Granger’s eyes—eyes that never blinked.  She risked touching the woman, but found no pulse.  If the woman was still alive, it was not likely enough to save.    She pulled out the red vial and forced it down the woman’s throat.  She stood back to watch.

ac-hilde-endNothing happened for a few seconds which felt like an eternity.  Then the fire sprang up in the woman’s belly.  It slowly spread up and down the woman’s body while Emily leapt out the broken window.  She staggered away.  She told herself it was an act of mercy.  Even if Granger could have been saved, the woman would have had to remember being raped over and over.

Lisa caught her at the edge of the street.  “It’s all right.  I’ve got you.”

“I think Granger was already dead,” Emily said as she whipped off her mask and coughed.  “Even so I would not fetch her remains until the morning.  The house needs to air out and the pheromones need to dissipate.”

Lisa looked at the house.  “Maybe the house will burn down.”

“That would be a mercy,” a woman said.  Emily looked up from where she was on her knees.  It was Sara who spoke, and she had the shepherd’s crook Heinrich picked out for her.  Emily smiled before she spotted someone else.  It was Courtney Chase, Channel 5, Eyewitness News followed by her ever faithful cameraman.

“How did you get through the police line?” Emily asked.

“Power of the press.”  Lisa looked back toward the police line and it was not a kind look on her face.  Courtney continued.  “Joe.  Get the camera from that angle.  Joe?”  The camera fell to the ground and Joe stumbled across the road like a man in a trance.  “Joe!”

ac-news-2“Does he have a last name?” Sara asked.

Courtney shrugged.  “Joe the camera guy.  Say, where is he going?”

“Bad drugs,” Emily said, and Lisa grabbed the reporter’s hand to keep her from stumbling off in the same direction.

“Maybe you could work the camera,” Sara suggested with a smile.

Courtney looked at the camera and again at Joe.  “I have no idea how that gizmo works.”

“I hope it didn’t break when he dropped it,” Emily said in a not totally insincere voice.

Elect II—3 Antiques, part 1 of 3

Emily came in late and snuck passed the two professors that were talking quietly in the front.  She slipped into her seat and nudged Maria who had to remove her ear buds to listen.

“What is Maynard doing here?” Emily whispered.

Maria shrugged, but before she could verbalize her thought, Professor Maynard left and she had to put her ear buds away.

“Class.”  Professor Orlov said that word every time he wanted their full attention.  “If you have wondered about my day job, Evelyn Maynard and I were enticed by money from the Center for Disease Control.  We have been working on the immune system in relation to the brain, something that will come up in this course in a future chapter.  In the meanwhile, we have agreed that our work is ready for some serious testing.  If you wish to help in this work, I assure you it will not be dangerous, but we would appreciate any volunteers.  There will be a small payment for your time.  No reason we should keep all the CDC money for ourselves.”

ac-emily-a1Emily’s instincts made her squirm in her seat.  There was something about brain research and Maynard, knowing how she professed to hate all people, that made her uncomfortable.  She looked at Maria, but Maria was looking forward and did not notice.  She looked over at Joel, the boy who sometimes joined them in the library for study-time.  He looked back and looked uncertain, like it was something he might consider.

“You can stay and see me after class if you are interested,” Orlov concluded.  “Now you see, with a real day job I can’t be a vampire.  Besides, I would think life as a vampire would really suck.”  He thought he was funny.  A couple of students groaned, quietly, as Orlov continued.  “Turn in your books…”

Maria wanted some evening library time before it got too late, but Emily begged off.  Heinrich gave her a real workout that afternoon.  Even with Heinrich un-empowered, Emily could barely keep up.  The man’s skill with a sword was amazing.  Four hundred and seventy years of practice, she reminded herself.

 

***

 

Emily walked back to the dorm and slowly climbed up the stairs, thinking, Professor Orlov would not know a vampire if it bit him.

“Emily?”  It was Sara Michaels standing outside her door.

“Priestess?”  Emily responded with the same question in her voice.

ac-sarah-4“Sara, please,” the woman said.  “I am sure you don’t want me referring to you as your majesty out in public.  Besides, that is something I am still getting used to.”

“It suits you,” Emily decided as she unlocked her suite door and dropped her back pack in her room.  “But what brings you here?”

“We have an invitation,” Sara said.  “And we will be late if we don’t hurry.”

Emily went into the bathroom to the mirror.  It was automatic if she was going out.  “No time for a shower?”  She knew there was not time if they were nearly late.  “Where are we going?”

“President’s house.  I was invited with the instruction that I bring you along.”

Emily nodded.  Henri Batiste probably had no idea who she was last year, but no doubt he spent his summer reading.  She could only imagine what the man intended to say to her.  “Mostly faculty?”  Emily asked.

Sara shook her head.  “This is the beginning of the year staff gathering.  You know, the pep talk and all.”

Emily nodded.  She was only a side note and probably would not be expected to stay for the party.  They left the suite to walk across the campus to the President’s house.  Emily felt it was just as well they take their time.  She needed to spend the time with Sara and get to know her a bit.  All she really knew about the woman was Sara was Zoe’s selection.

Sara sensed Emily’s curiosity.  “I’m twenty-seven.  I came here out of seminary, but after last year I realized I was not the best student counselor.  My father used to accuse me of being too mature, even in junior high.  I put in for a nice associate position in a big church, but apparently I am stuck here for the next three years.”

“Not stuck.  You have a definite job here, and the maturity is probably what we need.”

“Not stuck,” Sara agreed.  “But I don’t know what help I can be.  It may take me three years just to adjust the way I view the world.”  She looked at Emily.  “I’ve been meeting with Mindy.  She is keeping a journal, and some of the things she has told me.  I mean, bogymen?”

“I know,” Emily felt like she hardly believed it herself.

“Truth is, I have met with all the girls, except you.  I was beginning to think you were avoiding me.”

a-n-campus-2“No,” Emily said.  “I didn’t realize.  I’ve just been concentrating hard on my classes, trying to get ahead of the game, because…you never know.”

“I understand.”  Sara fell silent for a minute.  In that moment, Emily lifted her head and stopped moving.  She scanned the area that was shrouded in the dark.  Something was there and it didn’t feel human.  Sara saw it first and pointed

“What is that?”

Emily shrugged.  It was generally human in shape, except it was too big and it had upper and lower tusks in a mouth that was much too large.  Emily pulled the knife she kept strapped and hidden beneath her pant leg, down by her ankle.  The thing had to see the glint of light on the metal and stepped for a second onto the campus path beneath the streetlight.  It was an enormous beast.  It was far bigger and looked far stronger than any NFL linebacker might ever hope to be.  It just stood there and stared back at them before it faded and vanished, like it went invisible.  They both heard it push through the bushes and head toward the science building and the library.

“What the hell was that?”  Sara said, and added, “Sorry.”

Emily could only shrug.  Last year, she would have chased the thing, but now she knew running off would have left Sara alone and exposed.  She was learning.  She had resources and generally it was better to know what she was facing before she jumped in.   “Jessica is a bit of an artist.  We make sketches and let Mindy do the research.”

Sara nodded.  “You are all so talented.”

Emily shook her head.  “Not me.  I’m going to be a nurse.”

They stopped in the dark before they stepped up to the front door of the President’s house.  Emily put her knife away as Sara spoke.  “I’ve been thinking and praying about all of you and all of this.  I have come to understand that you six are the most remarkably gifted women I have ever known.”

“I don’t—.”

“Even the ones less obvious now, like Maria, Mindy and Jessica.” Sara interrupted to get out the thought she felt was vital.  “But I think the admonition you gave to Melissa needs to apply to you all.  You must all be careful never to use your gifts for selfish or self-serving reasons.  That way leads to darkness.”

Emily nodded.  She had realized the same thing.  They stepped up to the door and found Bernie the campus cop hanging out on the porch.  He stood up in front of the door, like he was blocking their way.

“Bernie, do you know Reverend Michaels from the Chaplain’s office?”

“We’ve met,” Bernie gave a sloppy little salute.

“How are your new bosses?”  Sara asked, and Bernie explained for Emily.

“After what happened last year, President Batiste fired and replaced the whole senior security staff.”

ac-bernie-1“That’s not fair,” Emily objected.  “It wasn’t their fault.  There wasn’t anything they could have done about it.”

Bernie bit his lip.  “I don’t know the new people well, yet.  They are different, but they all want to meet you.  I’m supposed to tell them when you arrive.”  Sara and Emily said nothing.  They looked at each other and followed Bernie inside where he passed them off to Sergeant Valenko, a security guard with stripes.

“Emily.”  It was a voice Emily did not want to hear.  She did the introductions.

“Courtney Chase, Channel 5, Eyewitness News, meet Sara Michaels, Campus Chaplain.”

Courtney barely let the fake smile touch her lips before she turned to Emily.  “Have you thought any more about the interview?  I would be willing to let you look at the questions first.”

Emily shook her head.  “Nothing to interview.  I am hoping to do well in my classes this year.  That’s it.”

“Sorry mam, no cameras, please.”  The sergeant stepped between them.  “This is a private meeting.”  He put his hand up to the cameraman who dutifully trailed behind the reporter and filmed everything.  When another security officer came up and began to move the cameraman back to the main room, Courtney naturally followed the camera.

“Call me,” she said to Emily, and shoved her way back enough to hand Emily a card before she scooted off in search of some other hapless interview.

Sergeant Valenko said, “Ladies,” and he pointed down a hall away from the sounds of the gathering.

“That was Courtney Chase,” Sara said, like a fan of the evening news.

“We don’t need the publicity,” Emily shook her head, but placed the card in her pocket.

“No, I suppose not.”

Sergeant Valenko escorted them to a back room and asked them to wait.  He was a short, barrel-chested man, like one who was determined to make up for his height by lifting weights day and night.  He had fuzzy blond hair and marched rather than walked.

“A bit too military,” Emily commented quietly.  “But then lots of security people are former military, I suppose.”

ab-pres-studyThey did not have to wait long.  The three top security men on campus, two Lieutenants and their Captain, came in.  They said nothing.  They did not even introduce themselves.  Sara decided to sit.  Emily found her feet pacing, just like Detective Lisa.

Henri Batiste came in with a smile, and the two lieutenants left.  He shook Emily’s and Sara’s hands and introduced Captain Gouldos.  The Captain neither smiled nor offered his hand.  “Now, the reason I wanted to see you is simple.  You have probably guessed.  I would like a quiet school year this year.  I am sure you understand.”  The man never lost his smile.

“I would like a quiet year, too,” Emily agreed.  It was pointless to explain to the man that she was not the cause of any of the trouble last year.  All she did was save the lives of everyone on campus several times.

“Splendid.  But now, the reason I invited you here tonight is so you could meet my security staff.  You can see they are a very competent crew.  I want you to trust them and let them do their job.  I am asking, if you should become aware of something unusual this year, please call them and let them take care of it.  That is what we are paying them for after all, you see?”

Emily nodded.  “Campus security was called all the time last year.”  Bernie the campus cop was the only one who ever showed up, she thought.

“Splendid.  Now the other reason I wanted you to come was to meet Ms. Michaels from the Chaplain’s office.  She is here to help and counsel whatever the need.  And if it is something she cannot handle, she has the resources to recommend, competent professionals to help whatever might be troubling you.  I am not saying anything is troubling you, but I urge you to get to know her well.  She can help you enjoy the full college experience.”

“I can assure you, Sara and I will spend plenty of time together over the next three years.”

President Batiste looked at them both with eyes that wondered why all this went so easily.

“Henri?”  A woman called down the hall.

“Un moment, mon petite.”  Batiste called back before he turned again to the women.  “My wife.  My guests.  Please excuse me.  You are welcome to stay.”  He left.  Captain Gouldos glared at them before he followed the president.  Sara looked at Emily.  Emily frowned and took the priestess out to the porch.  She grabbed Bernie by his loose tie and dragged him with them off into the dark beyond the house and beyond any snoopy reporters.

“The new security staff is into something up to their necks and Batiste is their leader.” Emily spoke without any preliminaries.  “I need to know what your new bosses are up to.  I don’t trust them.”

a-n-campus-5Bernie let out his breath like he was holding it in for a long time.  “I don’t trust them either,” he said softly, and they looked at the Chaplain.

Sara hedged.  “I caught the body language and tone of voice, but I’m in the love and forgiveness business.  I think hanging out with you might make me paranoid.”

“I was thinking that just the other day,” Emily admitted with a grin.

“I live in paranoid,” Bernie said with a glance at Emily.

Emily shook her head.  “I don’t live there, I just commute.”  When the others stared at her with big questions in their faces, she explained.  “Well, Jessica wasn’t here so I said it for her.”  Both Sara and Bernie nodded that they understood.

Elect II—2 Amazons, part 3 of 3

“Are you looking forward to school?” Maria asked, kindly.

Melissa, who walked with her eyes turned down to the sidewalk like she was thinking deep thoughts, nodded before she thought to say something.  “A little scared, considering, you know, last year.”  She took a breath and added, “Summer school helped, but there weren’t so many people around.

Maria understood and offered what she had.  “But this year you have a safe room and a suite full of friends to watch out for you.”

ac-melissa-7“A whole Amazon tribe,” Melissa said with a smile.  “That is what Mindy and Amina call us.”  She opened the door to the dorm and walked up the stairs with her roommate.  When they stepped inside, they found Mindy and Amina unpacking.  Jessica came in a moment later, followed by a boy.  She must have been right behind Maria and Melissa.

“Everyone, this is Phillip, a sophomore transfer into ROTC.”

“Jessica!” Amina turned red.

“We haven’t finished unpacking,” Mindy explained, without explaining.

“Hey.”  Jessica turned to a bewildered looking Phillip.  “I found him wandering around the campus center.  I may keep him.”

“What?”  Maria asked while Melissa joined Amina in turning red.

“You keep saying we are supposed to be like the Amazons of old,” Jessica said as she ran her hand through Phillips hair.  “I’m willing to do my part.”

###

Emily got to the top of the stairs, thinking hard, and slowly opened the heavy door.  It was dark when she stepped into the lounge area of her suite.  She flicked the light on when she shut the door, and everyone jumped up and yelled, “Surprise.”  It was not really a surprise, but it warmed Emily’s heart to see it.  Unfortunately, Emily’s mind was preoccupied, so she said nothing in return.  The others stopped and watched as Emily shifted one chair to face the end of the couch, by the door, and scooted the other tight beside it.  She went into her room and grabbed her desk chair and Jessica’s chair and plopped them down side by side.  The chairs and couch made a U shape around the cheap coffee table and faced the door with the open end.  Emily sat in her own desk chair at the head of the table, so to speak.

ac-emily-8“Meeting first,” Emily said, and she waited for their response.

“What happened to your ribs?” Jessica wondered how she could carry those chairs from the other room.  She sat in her own chair beside Emily.

“I thought your leg was broken?” Maria looked more concerned than curious as she went around to sit on the middle of the couch.

“All healed,” Emily said, and she waited while everyone sat in the correct order without having to be told and only left the seat empty at the end of the couch nearest the door.  “I met Zoe,” Emily said and Amina’s eyes got wide and her mouth opened as she certainly saw something in that statement.

“Zoe who?”  Jessica wondered.

“The queen goddess of the Amazons?”  Mindy wondered.  “But she almost never shows up in the record.  Are you sure it wasn’t Artemis or one of the others?”

Emily looked at Mindy.  The girl was in danger of believing everything she read.  Of course, given some of their encounters Emily could hardly blame her, though Emily was planning to remain uncommitted on the divinity of her visitor.  She stood, retrieved her sword from her room and sat again with the sword across her lap.  Then she began to speak.

“Zoe said an Amazon queen never acts alone.  She always depends on and listens to her council.  The three on her left hand face the darkness and the three on her right face the light.”

“Wait a minute,” Maria interrupted.  “There are only two of us on the right.”

“There are three on my right,” Emily said.  “The third is our priestess who always stands a little apart from the rest of us.  Zoe said she would be provided,” and there was a knock on the door.

Melissa was closest, but Amina was already out of her seat.  She looked back at the others and ended with a stare at Emily.  Then she grinned impishly and opened the door.  There was a woman just shy of thirty-years-old who started to speak.

ac-sarah-7“I’m Sara Michaels from the chaplain’s office.”

“Yes, Sara,” Amina interrupted.  “We have been expecting you.  Your seat is waiting for you,” and she pointed to the end of the couch.  Maria kind of ruined the spell by shifting over and patting the cushion beside her.

The woman came in and sat but looked and sounded rather confused.  “I got a message that I needed to be here.  I don’t understand.  I never make night calls unless someone dies.  Did someone die?”

“Only my denial,” Emily said, and without any preliminaries she began.  “We have Zoe’s permission to be an Amazon tribe, but she has a message for each of us.  You have already heard mine, that an Amazon queen always listens to her council.”  Then she began on her left side and talked about the ones facing the darkness.  She talked to each one personally; Jessica the hunter, Amina the Sybil and Melissa the spell caster.

“Spell caster?” Sara asked.

“Witch,” Melissa said the word and wiggled her finger.  Her cup of orange soda lifted into the air and floated in her direction.  It did not look too stable and Melissa looked like she was seriously concentrating.  When she grabbed the drink, she spilled a little and immediately looked at the newcomer.  “Sorry,” she said.  “I’m just learning and I am not a very powerful witch.”

“Spell caster,” Jessica corrected.

“We are all just learning,” Maria encouraged her roommate.

Sara turned her eyes to Emily and said something that surprised no one.  “Emily Hudson.  We talked about you last year.”

Emily ignored the comment, turned to her right hand and talked to Mindy the wise woman and Maria the healer.  When she told Sara that she was to be their priestess, Sara’s eyes got wide, but she said nothing.  Then Emily went on to share that Zoe gave them an assignment.  There was a mystery on campus and they needed to solve it.  “She said, somewhere there is a door open to Avalon.  Creatures have escaped.  You met one.  The world is in danger of going mad.  Blah, blah, blah.”

“Blah, blah, blah?”  Jessica had to ask.  Emily hushed her and looked at Sara.  They all waited in silence for Sara to speak.  Sara understood the stares.

“But what if I don’t want to be your priestess?”

“No one will force you, but you are the one Zoe selected,” Emily said.  “Your request for transfer has been or will be denied.  You will be here with us for the next three years.”

Maria added a thought.  “I suppose if you don’t want to be our priestess you will leave us spiritually empty and morally bankrupt.  But the choice is yours.”  She looked around the room and saw the looks of agreement on the other faces.

ac-sarah-6Sara sat for a time and looked at her hands in her lap before she spoke again.  “I think I need to have a talk with this Zoe of yours.”

“Oh, I am sure you will,” Amina said cheerfully.  “And soon I imagine.”

“Somehow, that does not encourage me.”  Sara just sat for a minute and worried her hands.  The others were mercifully quiet and patient until the woman finally looked up.  “There is one thing.  I am not really a priestess.  I’m a Methodist minister.”

“That’s alright,” Maria responded and reached over to pat the woman’s hands. “Amina and I are Catholic.”

“Southern Baptist.”  Mindy raised her hand and her voice.

“U. C. C.,” Melissa said softly.

“Presbyterian,” Emily said and looked at Jessica.  They all stared at Jessica until she spoke.

“My mother used to like to go to the Crystal Cathedral.”

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

Monday, be sure to come back for the Elect II-3 Antiques.

Until then, Happy Reading.

Elect II—2 Amazons, part 2 of 3

As Emily limped to her suite, her thoughts turned to Ms Maynard, her Earth Science teacher from last spring.  The woman was not like the other Professors.  She did not just hate the students.  She hated the whole human race and acted like she would not mind if everyone just died.  Emily wondered briefly why the woman came to mind.  She was trying very hard to forget that class.

Emily shook her head to clear her mind, but thoughts about her destiny kept bubbling up to the surface.  She decided that given the chance, this whole being elect business could make her paranoid.  She was seeing shadows around eye-witless news, professors Granger, Maynard and this new professor Orlov.  There might not be any shadows at all.  She took a deep breath even as something occurred to her that she had forgotten.  Pierce once mentioned that he had a younger brother.  And Doctor Zimmer, his maker was still missing.  Please, she prayed, don’t let them come back here.

zenobia-3“And why do you not want them to come back here?” A woman asked.  The woman was pacing Emily, and Emily did not even know it until the woman spoke.  It startled her, but in her mind she responded, because she did not want that kind of fight if she could help it.

“Yes, it is wise not to fight unless you must,” the woman agreed.  “But I thought you were afraid he would remind you too much of Pierce.”

“Yes,” Emily whispered her admission, but her mind mostly thought that she just wanted a quiet semester.  As far as it went, she told the reporter the truth.

“And I wish you could have a quiet semester too.”  The woman smiled and Emily stopped cold.  This woman was reading her mind.  “Sit,” the woman said, and Emily saw two chairs around a small table where there had been only grass.  She suddenly realized they were just outside her new dorm, but she knew she did not limp nearly that far.  She sat slowly because of her ribs, and saw a tall to-go cup on her side of the table.  “Chai Latte.”  The woman pointed to the cup and picked up a bottle of water for herself.

“Who are you?” Emily asked.

“Zoe,” the woman said, and added, “Yes I am real, and yes we are really here, not dreaming, and no I am not an angel.”  Zoe gave the answers even as Emily framed the questions in her mind.  “Honestly!” Zoe sipped her water and rolled her eyes just like Emily.  “Angels are sexless.  I can’t imagine it.”

Emily sipped her Chai Latte and examined the woman, and Zoe was all woman.  She was dressed in what looked like a toga, but more like a mini-skirt version.  The sleeves barely went beyond the shoulder and the neckline plunged more than necessary.  It was pure white besides, and clean, which at the least said something about the woman’s choice of detergent.  Zoe’s sandals tied up to her knees, and they were brown, a match for her light brown hair.  She also wore a choker with a small stone that Emily guessed was supposed to be an emerald.  The green stone matched the woman’s green, deep set eyes which were so piercing, Emily had to look away.  All the same, Emily put out her finger to touch the woman’s shoulder, just to be sure.

“There, feel better?” Zoe asked.

Emily nodded and got a question all the way out.  “So what do you want with me?”

“Here’s the thing.”  Zoe shifted in her seat so she could face Emily better.  “With all I have on my plate right now, what with the Kargill-Reichgo war starting up,” Zoe paused to point at the sky so Emily might guess that was something outer spacey. “And earth politics and international relations bottoming out.  Don’t get me started.  And Melanie fighting off dimensional interlopers, and poor Lockhart trying to take over after Bobbie retired.  And my little ones.  There is trouble in the ranks!  Who would have thought it in this late day and age?”  Zoe clicked her tongue.  “Well, it is more than a lot.  You see, I am not sure I can handle the revival of a real Amazon tribe right now.”

“I’m not sure I can either,” Emily admitted.

“But here is the thing,” Zoe repeated.  “There is something about this place, this campus that is hidden even from my sight.  If I had the time I would never let such a mystery go.  Alas, as my elect, you will have to figure it out.  You and your tribe will have three years to do it.”

“Your elect?”

“Of course, silly.  Who do you think elected you?”

“I thought it was all the ancient goddesses and stuff.”

zoe-1Zoe just looked at Emily and smiled before she spoke again.  “As my elect, you must be queen of the tribe, but you must learn that an Amazon queen never acts alone.  She listens to her counsel.  There are three to her left that face the darkness and three to her right that face the light.  On your left is the hunter, that is Jessica.  The spirit of Artemis is in her though she hardly knows it.  Beside her is the Sybil, your seer Amina.  She must learn it is not always wise to say everything she sees.  Closest to the darkness is your spell caster, Melissa.  I know her power is small, but she is the one always in most danger of falling into the dark.  Her rules are simple.  First, she should not practice her art against those who have no such power to defend themselves.  Second, she must never practice her art for selfish ends, not ever.”  Zoe shook her finger at Emily.  “All of you must do you own homework the old fashioned way and get a good education.  Am I clear?”  Emily felt the scolding in her gut, and nodded as Zoe sighed.  “Just like instructing my children, but then that was five thousand years ago.”

Emily swallowed.  “And what of the three that face the light?”

“To your right hand is your wise woman, Mindy.  She knows the lore, the legends and the ancient ways.  When you face something inexplicable, she is the one who can find a way to explain it.  Her stories are instructive as well.  Let her whisper in your ear.  Beside her is Maria, your healer, filled with the spirit of Eir, though she does not know it.  Every Amazon tribe needs a healer, and Maria has the drive and the smarts to become a great one.  And the last is your priestess, set a bit apart.  She is your Liaison with the source of all things, with the light, with me, and with the universe.  She will not only keep you morally grounded, but spiritually grounded as well if you let her.”

“But wait.”  Emily held up her left hand and counted.  “Jessica the hunter, Amina the Sybil, Melissa the witch.”

“Spell caster,” Zoe corrected.  “A much nicer term than witch, don’t you think?’

“Spell caster,” Emily repeated and held up her right hand.  “Then Mindy the wise and Maria the healer, but that is everyone.  Who is this priestess?”

“I will send her.  I got her reassignment rescinded.  She will be here for three more years with you.  Now I must go.”

“Go?”

ac-emily-7“Lead your tribe.  Solve my mystery.  Somewhere there is a door open to Avalon.  Creatures have escaped.  You met one.  The world is in danger of going mad, blah, blah, blah…”  Zoe disappeared.  She literally vanished and took the two chairs, the drinks and little table with her.  Emily fell hard on her butt in the grass.

“Hey!”  Emily instinctively reached for her broken ribs before she paused.  She stood and ran in place for a second.  She jumped up and down several times.  She Planted her feet and twisted her trunk to the left and right.  There was zero pain.  She was completely healed.  She could not help looking up to the sky and mouth her thoughts.  “Thank you.”

She only felt slightly surprised, and maybe a little disturbed, when she heard the words plain as day, “You’re welcome.”