R6 Greta: The Road of Dreams, part 2 of 3

“Probably animistic.  I would guess they worship the spirits that inhabit the animals, the trees and the grasses and don’t think in terms of a larger picture that would include gods and such.”

“What?” Pincushion looked up from her cooking. “They worship the gnomes?”

“And others, more or less,” Greta felt uncomfortable with that thought, but Bogus, Vedix and Briana laughed.  “Rain is down to a drizzle,” Greta changed the subject. “We are going to have to put the fire out if the rain stops, even if it is in this sheltered spot.”

People objected to that idea until Hermes and Mavis returned from the horses.  “There are several campfires out on the steppes, two miles or so distant,” Mavis reported. “They are northeast, the way we have been heading.”  Mavis pointed, but of course no one could see anything but the shelter of the rocks and trees.  Besides, they were busy putting out the fire and preparing for another cold night.

They got up cold and hungry before the dawn and headed out into the dark. They saw no sign behind them of campfires, but they all guessed there were men out there, traveling to what end, no one knew.  They might have been friendly, but no one was going to stop and find out.  Vedix pointed out that hunting parties did not build more than one campfire, and Alesander reminded everyone that even the Gurt-groups, as they called them, were built around a single big fire at the center.

“This was definitely many fires,” Hermes said. “It looked like a small army. More than a raiding party.”

“I used to depend on Lucius for that sort of information,” Alesander said, with a frown.  Lucius had hardly been mentioned since the deserted village because Alesander became clearly upset with what he considered the betrayal of a friend. Alesander did not call Lucius a traitor, but that was what he meant and evidentially felt.

“Never fear,” Greta interjected.  “Lucius is out there, following.  He may not be right behind us, but he is out there, looking with the rest of them.”

As the sun came up, the group quickened their pace. It seemed the only way to shake off the cold, though the lack of good rest, the poor meals, and the exposure to the elements began to have an ill effect.  These were strong and hearty people.  Briana had the constitution of an elect.  Alesander and Hermes were soldiers, trained to hardship and long forced marches.  Bogus and Pincushion had the indomitable spirit of the dwarfs, and Vedix was a hunter, used to being in the wilderness at all times of the year, and for a week or more.  Mavis started wilting a little.  As a spirit, she could handle it, but she was an elf maid, not an ogre.  Greta was the one who suffered the most.  The thing that kept her going was believing that they were almost at the forest that marked the edge of the Land of the Lost.

The group stopped in a small copse of trees when the sun came fully up.  Vedix spoke as he shook his head.  “We spent two hours walking our horses in the rain northeast to angle away from the Road of Dreams.  Now, we have been about three hours riding northwest, and I see no sign of the road. Unless it curved to the west or came to a dead stop, I would say we lost it.”

“It was not much of a road anyway,” Bogus answered him.

“Quite right,” Greta spoke up.  “We just need to go north from here, and we should run right into the forest.  The rocks where we slept last night are on the edge of the change in the land.  The land here is rising and falling in little hills and showing rocks here and there like it previously showed trees here and there.   Soon enough, we should run into a great forest.  It surrounds the whole area where the rocks fall off and the River Muskva runs.  That forest is the Land of the Lost.  The great dome of the Ancient Master is just over a bend in the river.”

“The Wolv also live in that forest,” Briana pointed out.

Greta said nothing about that.  She mounted her horse and rode.  The others followed, and it seemed only a couple of hours before they reached the edge, like a hard line of unending trees that sprang suddenly out of the grasslands and stretched out to their left and right as far as they could see.  That whole area appeared to be still covered with snow because the rain apparently did not reach that far north.

Greta walked her horse along the edge of the tree line until she found an outcropping, where the rocks appeared to grow right up out of the grasslands.  The snow did not seem too deep in that area.  She dismounted, and the others followed her lead.

“It isn’t as nice as where we stayed last night, but it isn’t raining.  It will give you and the horses some shelter against the wind, and you can light a fire if you are careful.  I only need three days.  If I am not back by then, you must promise to return south, find Ulladon, and you will get home in about three weeks.  Do not stay here.  Do not follow, and if I don’t return in three days, promise me you won’t tell Darius or my family what happened.  They would only make a bad situation worse.”

Greta took a breath and everyone yelled at once in protest.  Greta chose to respond to Mavis.

“Not this time,” she said. “Mavis.  You must go back and be with your people.  You have been the best help and friend anyone could ask for.  Remember me.” Greta smiled for her, but Mavis began to weep.  Hermes stood right there to comfort her, and Greta thought she might never know what was between those two.

Alesander shook his head.  “I am pledged to follow you to the edge of the earth, even if it is round, like you say.”

“I’m going,” Bogus cut to the point and Greta nodded.

“Bogus and I will brave the land of the lost, alone. Berry and Fae are Bogus’ granddaughters, and Berry is still my ward, Hans is my brother and Fae and Hobknot are my special responsibility.  Alesander, I am counting on you to get everyone home, safe.  This is one time you must not follow me.”

“But you can’t ride right into the Wolv jaws,” Vedix protested and tried to sound reasonable.

“I don’t intend to ride in,” Greta said, but she would not explain.  “Pincushion, how about lunch?”

Pincushion shook her head sadly, but had a sudden change of mind and looked up with a smile that actually showed some of her elf mother’s beauty.  “Don’t worry. I’ll make your last meal a special one.” She set about gathering stones and wood for the fire, and reluctantly, the others helped.

R6 Greta: Jupiter, part 1 of 3

Late in the afternoon on the following day, the group came to the edge of the swamp.  From there, after a short bit of grassland, they saw the stone city wall, two stories high in most places.  Nudd called the city Samarvant, and he pointed off to their right where the road went up to a gate, the road they would have taken if they traveled the normal route, twenty-one days on the high road from the village of the Dragon Clan. Off to the left, they saw the river that Nudd called the Olevant.  The little ones called it the river Heartbreak, but Greta had another name for it.

“The Scythians own the Ukraine, but I hope we are beyond their area now,” she said.  “These great swamps and bogs and woods cover the border area, and they rest on higher ground where a thousand streams join together to form the river. The river on the future map that the Storyteller is looking at is called the Oka, it runs due north for a long way before it detours to the east where it runs straight into the Muskva River, and that is where we are going.”  Everyone looked at the river where it skirted the swampy area they were in and ran north along the edge of the city.  Everyone looked at the water since it was the route they would have to take, but the water was not the only thing they were looking for.

“Over there,” Alesander pointed toward the southeast side of the city where the wooden roof of a tower could just be made out. It looked burned.

“I see the scorch marks on the stones,” Mavis reported.  “But I see no one on the walls or around the gate and I hear nothing to indicate life.”

“Bogus?”  Greta turned to the dwarf.

Bogus shook his head.  “I smell trouble, but I cannot say what kind.  I think Wolv, but…” Bogus shrugged.  “Too much lime smell.”

“No cooking fires,” Pincushion added.  “This time of day I should smell cooking fires.”

“Briana?”  Greta turned again

“I sense danger.”  That seemed all she could say for sure.

“I recommend we wait until dark,” Ulladon said.

“Why wait?” Lucius spoke up. “No reason why we can’t find our way to the docks and grab a boat before they even know we are there.”

“Better after dark.  We can’t protect you until after the sun sets,” Lord Crag interrupted. “Rotwood,” he yelled in a voice that gave Nudd the willies.  “Run back and get the trolls and Bonebreaker, and hurry.”  Rotwood hurried, and Greta sat, so everyone found a spot and sat with her.

Pincushion, Ulladon, Hermes and Mavis set about building a fire to cook some supper.  Briana sat with Alesander and they looked at the city wall once in a while.  Lucius sat near them and stayed quiet except for the comment that he thought they ought to just go, now.  He said they would be all right and let the subject drop, but Greta wondered how he would know one way or the other, and surely caution would be called for.  She considered Lucius on this journey.  He had not betrayed them.  He had not done anything overtly to indicate he might be under the spell of Mithrasis, if she did not count almost being killed by his rockslide on the Rumbling Ridge; but there were subtle signs.  He urged them to return to Roman lands at the Dragon Village.  He went out all day from the elf village and Vedix said he and Lord Horns separated from him for a time, but that did not mean he met with anyone or set up any ambush.  Now, he urged a lack of caution, like he knew something but would not tell. There were probably other things as well, but her mind felt clouded.

“Lady,” Bogus and Vedix interrupted her thoughts with an argument.  “I thought maybe Chobar and the Dog Clan came up before us, and maybe that is the dog smell we are sensing, but Vedix says even if Chobar brought every dog, there would not be enough to attack a city like this.”

“I wish it was something as simple as Chobar and his dogs, but no,” Greta said.  “This is a city of the Bastarne people, as Ulladon said, and that is a Germanic people. I thought one or more of the outlying Scythians types might have attacked the city, like maybe the Capri or Costoboci, but no.”

“Why not?”  Vedix wondered.

Greta pointed.  “That roof is still smoldering, so whatever happened, it happened in the past day or two at most.  And there are no dead bodies or equipment, broken or otherwise, to indicate an assault on the city.”

“Maybe it got taken by stealth and subterfuge,” Bogus suggested.

Greta shook her head, but said, “Maybe.”  She twirled her right-hand pigtail, considered how light her blond hair was, and wondered if she could get away with being ditzy and feigning ignorance about the world.  No way, she thought.  Not if she knew words like feigning.  She sighed and considered their predicament instead.  No one said the city got razed by Wolv, but it was what everyone thought. Greta was probably the only one who knew that it would not take more than a dozen Wolv to kill a thousand men, women and children.  The Wolv had shielding and advanced weapons, and true, the weapons were pretty old and worn out, but even with their claws and fangs, and speed alone, they were pretty unstoppable.

“Lady.”  Nudd interrupted Greta’s thoughts this time.  She looked at him, but still had her mind wandering through La-la land. Poor Nudd.  He had not left her side since just about Movan Mountain, and she could not be sure if he opened his eyes even once in the swamp.  “Lady,” he repeated, which got her to pay better attention.  “I’ve been thinking about Samarvant.  I was very young when I came here, but I remember some.  I remember they built big underground tunnels, drains they called them, to take away rain water and filth from the streets.  I remember because they scared me when I thought about getting lost down there.  I feared wandering around forever and never finding my way back up again.”  Nudd got lost in his own memories, and from the look on his face, they were probably memories of nightmares he had as a child about getting lost in a labyrinth of underground tunnels.  Greta paused while the information sank in.  Then she shouted.

“Alesander.  Bogus. Lord Crag.  There may be a way through the city.”  She softened her tone to speak again to Nudd.  “Do the drains empty out into the river?”

“Yes,” he said and shivered.  “And sometimes they flood the tunnels to clean them out.” He closed his eyes and turned away while the others came to listen.

It took almost no time to figure their route. Lord Crag’s people explored all the tunnels when they were first constructed, including their path through a couple of natural underground caverns.  Crag and his people wanted nothing to do with those caverns since they were so wet and full of stinky limestone, and since the townspeople sent flood waters through every now and then, but his people knew all about the tunnels, and several had maps in their heads and claimed they could take them right to the drain opening next to the docks on the river.

“The only problem is we will have to enter the city by the gate to get to a drain opening,” Lord Crag said.  “The ground beneath the city wall is solid, and you folks can’t walk through solid rock.”

“They will smell us,” Greta pointed out, though no one had yet said Wolv with certainty.

“If we move quick, we should make the drain, unless they are standing on it, and the underground smells only of limestone,” Lord Crag countered.

“Indeed,” Bogus spoke up.  “I can smell it from here.”

With that, they settled in for a good supper while they waited for the sun to go down.  Mavis, Ulladon and Briana made sure Nudd got more than enough to eat. They seemed determined to overstuff the poor boy.  Ulladon even called him the poor and needy son she never had.  Briana smiled at that description.  Mavis let out a true elf grin, and Greta smiled for them, even if she felt a bit left out.

Feeling left out felt like nothing unusual for Greta. She remembered when she turned ten and eleven-years-old and started to seriously study with Mother Hulda, the woman of the ways.  People treated her differently almost from the beginning, though her childhood friends hung on for a time.  She only turned sixteen when Mother Hulda died in a night, and the burden of the people fell on her shoulders.  She felt unprepared for that.  She felt like she hardly knew enough to come in from the rain, but the people had no one else.

Greta looked at Mavis, Ulladon and Briana. They were becoming good friends, but sadly, Briana thought of her as one who spoke to her goddess Rhiannon like Rhiannon was the child in need of instruction.  This did not make Mother Greta appear like a normal woman, like a person one could have as an ordinary friend.  As for Mavis and Ulladon, Greta was their goddess, and no doubt that had seeped into Briana’s thinking as well.  She could never be just friends with any of them. She remained the Kairos.  She had lived too many lifetimes over too many years if she added it up, though it did not honestly add up that way.

Greta paused to think through what it meant to be the Kairos, the goddess of history, though out loud she insisted on being called the Watcher over history.  She claimed only to watch history, but she admitted that sometimes it became a struggle to get it to turn out the way it was written.  It felt curious how that written history extended as much into the future in her mind as into the past.  As an ordinary human, she had no idea what tomorrow would bring.  The next hundred years or so always stayed a mystery. But through whatever future lives she currently remembered, she could understand how things turned out and look back to see what endangered the present.  Things were happening that could throw the whole of history out of whack if she did not act.  A Mithraic pantheon of gods ruling over Rome was not in the books.  Greta sighed and considered the future more closely.

R6 Greta: Movan Mountain, part 3 of 3

Portent looked up and looked worried for a second. “I was going to give you the tour, but I think we best get back to our families and move on.”

“But what is this place?” Hermes asked.

“Movan Mountain,” Portent said, as he picked up the pace and they started moving.  “It was a dwarf home ages ago, but abandoned when the gold and silver and copper finally gave out.  That was about two thousand years ago.”  Briana whistled, but Greta explained.

“That is only a few generations ago for dwarfs. Two thousand years is not that long when you live to be six to eight hundred.”  Greta paused when she heard Hermes whisper to Mavis.

“And how old are you?”

Portent picked up the story.  “About ten years ago, Piebottom got the notion that there has been a lot of earthshaking here in the last thousand years.  He thought maybe the goodies in Movan filled up again. I don’t know.  My great-great grandfather said they left because they struck water and the water got too deep to dig, but Redmold said that now that we know how to pump out the water, maybe there are more goodies, just underneath all that wet.  Then King Diggerclaw said the place where we were, over in the Alps, started running dry, and some already moved into Gaul and some all the way to Britannia, but me and mine figured we would check out old Movan to see what we could find.”

“Redmold?  Diggerclaw? Piebottom?” Briana asked.

“Nicknames, mostly.  But it is hard to translate dwarfish into a human tongue.  Some names are ludicrous, even hilarious to human ears, but the nicknames are easier to remember than Gleffondre, Porledwert and Ableminisco.”  Portent stopped and stared at Greta.  The dwarves stopped with Portent, so the others stopped as well.

“You must be the one,” Portent said.  “I never would have guessed.  You look like ordinary flesh and mud to me.”

“I am ordinary flesh and blood,” Greta responded. “And getting tired of these tunnels.”

“Just coming to that,” Portent said, with a grin, and led them into yet another great chamber, only this one still had some furniture, a stone table and stone chairs, and a big stone ring waiting for a cooking fire.

“How far do these tunnels go on?” Alesander wondered.

“Through the whole mountain.  We are half-way to the northeast door at the foot of the ogre’s pass.”

“You mean a real ogre,” Briana said.  It did not sound like a question.

Portent nodded.  “They used to charge a fee to go through,” he said, while the other dwarves and dwarf women magically found some lumber and started a fire.  No one saw where the food came from, but it soon smelled wonderful.

“It is mostly not magic,” Mavis explained to Hermes. “It is the design and ventilation that draws the smoke away from the chamber and into deep chimneys.”

Bogus explained to Vedix.  “It is pixies and Hobgoblins and such who live near the surface. They play the middle men between the light elves and dark.  Now, light elves prefer to work in simples, like wood and cloth.  Dark elves, what some call goblins dig deep, far below the scratches men put into the earth, and even below what the dwarves normally dig. Hobgobs make a good living keeping light elves and goblins on edge with each other, but dwarves, now they keep to themselves.  They hold on to their homes and mind their own business, mostly.”  He shrugged.  “But the concern is most times dwarves abandon their homes because they dug something up that isn’t so nice.  Goblins deal with that mostly, though they got a sense about it and know when to leave certain places alone.  Dwarves got no sense and sometimes don’t leave enough ceiling to keep it from collapsing.”

Briana took Nudd’s hand and made him let go of Greta’s cloak.  “You can open your eyes now,” she told him.  He blinked a few times, but mostly he did not want to see.

The food got ready at the same time they heard another boom.  It sounded very loud, but the roof of that cavern seemed solid enough.  Then there was another boom, and another, and every eye looked at Greta to explain.

“If they arrived in a troop shuttle or transport, there may be as many as a hundred Wolv, and they would have access to several smaller vehicles, like fighter-bombers.”  They did not understand, so she simplified it as much as she could.  “They can fly in a machine and shoot explosives at the rock and fire bigger and stronger heat rays than these little pistols you carry.  If they don’t break open the door, they could melt it.”

“Melt the rock?” Lucius had to think about that.

“One way or another they will get in, and soon,” Greta said.

“And we must be moving.”  Portent did not sound like he liked that idea.  “Eat up,” he hollered, while his fellow dwarves extinguished the fire.

A good hour, they heard a distant howl in the echo of the caves.  Only Mavis heard anything earlier with her good elf ears.  Portent stopped to sniff the air and announced that the Wolv had indeed gotten in, but they were a long way off.  Everyone wanted to panic, but held tight to their courage, until they heard a roar behind them, between them and the Wolv.  The roar sounded much deeper and more earth-shattering than any Wolv roar.

“Bogie beast, or worse,” Bogus mumbled, as Portent started to run.  Everyone else raced after him.  A couple of runners tried to pass him.

After an hour, they all huffed and puffed, and stopped in a grand hall where two dozen more dwarves were waiting patiently for Portent and his crew.  Mavis shivered, and her feet kept stomping, like she had not finished running, but Hermes stood right there to comfort her.  He turned her to poor Stinky who sweated and stunk up the whole place like only a mule can do.  Mavis hugged the mule in sympathy.

Alesander and Briana had their swords drawn and stared into the dark passage they just exited.  Lucius stood there to back them up, but he only fingered the hilt of his sword, like a man waiting to see the whites of his enemy’s eyes.  Nudd kept clinging to Greta’s cloak, his eyes closed and weeping.  Bogus once again explained to Vedix as the two huffed and puffed for air.

“Of course, after two thousand years or more, other things, dark things that avoid the light, tend to find their way in to abandoned Dwarf homes and set up housekeeping.”

“But what was that?” Vedix asked.  Bogus just shook his head since Portent started yelling.

“Ring around the May pole, make a right, sweet merry-go-round.”

The dwarves made a circle around the room and began a soft chant.  The chant rose in volume until it became a shout and something ghostly, like a wraith moving fast in the night, shot off down the ten corridors that emptied into the room.

“Our scent and signs of our passage will be found down each of these halls and tunnels.  Some go to living quarters, some to mining operations.  Four go to outside doors from this antechamber.  We take the second tunnel, to the northeast door that lets out at the foot of the mountains below the ogre’s pass.”

“But how will we get through the pass?” Hermes wondered.

“We won’t have to,” Greta said.  “We traveled to the other side of the mountain in a day.”

“Quite right,” Portent said.  “And we best move before we hear more roars in the distance.”

It still took an hour or more to the door, and then they had to wait another hour while Portent sent dwarves to the portholes and spy nooks to be sure nothing lurked just outside.  Once they opened the door, a string of wraith-like ghosts sped off in every direction.

“The scent and signs will give out in a mile or so, but at least if your enemies make it to this spot it will make them pause to decide which way you actually went.”

“Thank you, Portent.  Thanks to all of you,” Greta said, and waved and smiled for her dwarves.  They smiled back, but clearly, they had their own path to go.

“I think maybe the Roman side of the Alps.  I hear there are rich veins waiting to be discovered.”

“There is gold in them thar hills,” Greta said, and she took her people into the woods that covered the foothills on the north side of the Carpathian Mountains.  They walked for several miles, until dusk, and then had a cold supper before bed since they were not willing to light a fire.

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

MONDAY

Now on the trail, the next direction is to go through the forest of fire.  See you Monday.

*

R6 Greta: The Wolf and the Wolv, part 3 of 3

Stinky and the horses were taken by men who promised to tend them well while Greta looked around and asked if anyone else had wandered into the village in the last several days.  She felt determined to find the ones who were supposed to travel with her, but if they were not there, she thought she might have to leave without them.  She pulled her cloak tight against the rain and stepped up to join the argument.

Greta and her friends ended up by the wall and the front gate where the bonfire got built for the feast, if the rain should ever stop.  Dunova, Alesander and Briana tried to make the elders of the Dragon Clan understand the danger, which was difficult since they had only seen and heard the Wolv from a distance.  Hermes and Lucius both got up on the wall in different places and tried to make the same argument.  Sadly, the elders insisted that they had a good, solid wall and they did not grasp the urgency until a wolf topped the wall and shredded the watcher in that spot. It dropped to the ground by the gate, looking like a wet dog with matted fur, but it had death in its eyes.  One great whiff of air and its nostrils flared, and its teeth showed in a primeval growl.  It looked straight at Greta, but got distracted by Alesander, Dunova and an elder of the Dragon Clan.

All three men drew their swords, and Dunova and the elder charged what they saw as a beast.  The Wolv laughed a recognizable laugh.  It stayed covered with a personal energy shield.  Alesander paused on the laugh while Dunova and the elder’s swords received a strong enough electric shock to make the men stagger.

“My turn,” Festuscato spoke loud and clear in Greta’s head.  “The least I can do for your kindness to the wounded men who fought in Cornwall, and to Cador.”

“Be my guest,” Greta heard from Gerraint and she thought Gerraint’s imposing size would not impress the Wolv in any case.

The Wolv smiled a very doggy, toothy smile and pulled out its own weapon.  Everyone saw two red flashes of light and Dunova and the elder burst into flame with great holes in their middles.

“Go for the weapon,” Greta yelled, as she vanished from that place and Festuscato arrived in his armor and his own weapons in hand.  Alesander somehow understood the message, and he struck at the claw that held the fire pistol.  He got blown back by the electrical discharge from the personal shield, but the pistol cracked and fell with Alesander’s sword to the dirt.

The Wolv howled and looked again for Greta, but she was no longer there.  Festuscato and Briana managed to get close thanks to Alesander’s distraction. Festuscato struck first at the other claw where he saw the watch-like wristband that controlled the Wolv shielding. He cracked the watch, his sword being insulated against electro-magnetic discharges.  Festuscato struck just before Briana’s sword came against the Wolv neck.  Her sword half-severed the head, but still the Wolv managed a claw across Briana’s middle. Briana got cut, but not badly as her leather armor proved strong and her one in a million reflexes made her jump back.

Festuscato followed his first blow with a second that chopped off the main part of the Wolv arm, and Mavis sank an arrow into the Wolv chest where the heart ought to be.  Still, the Wolv refused to go down until Mavis sank a second arrow and Festuscato made a swing for the Wolv leg.  Then three men of the Dragon clan ran up and their two swords and an ax finally finished the job.

Alesander got up, groggy.  Briana held him and tried not to bleed on him.  Lucius shouted from the wall and Hermes jumped to the ground.  Three more Wolv came over the top, and Festuscato swallowed hard for everyone present. Three men died and it took four of them to defeat one Wolv.  Three Wolv seemed insurmountable, and worse, the Wolv knew it.  They were content to take their time and look for Greta; and Festuscato had no doubt who they were after.  The Wolv even talked among themselves in a language no one knew and with a tongue no human tongue could imitate.  They pulled out their weapons when the men of the Dragon Clan mustered the courage to attack.  But no shots were fired and the two sides never met as all three Wolv vanished. Rhiannon appeared next to Festuscato, and the first thing she did was make the clouds move off and the rain stop.

“Mother,” she started right in sounding defensive. “I know your rule about not killing alien people, but Wolv are hardly people.”

“If I had a copper for every time someone used that excuse.  Tsk, tsk,” Festuscato said and went away to let Greta return.  “They are near enough to being people, certainly smarter than dragons.”

“But Mother.”

“Hush.  And the technology?”

“Here.”  Rhiannon held out a leather bag.  It contained five pistols and five wrist bands for personal shields.  “There were six on Celtic land.  This was all they had.  I don’t know what you want to do with the broken ones.”

“It was all they would need for a hunt,” Greta said and accepted the bag.  “You can send the broken ones to Avalon.”  Greta stepped up and kissed Rhiannon on the cheek.  “I don’t blame you.  I thank you for saving many lives.”

“But Mother.  I won’t be able to help you once you leave these lands.  Mithrasis has twisted the minds of the Wolv and they won’t rest until they eat you.”

“Hush,” Greta said a second time.  “I have already told you.  The day for Celtic lands in this part of the world is long gone.  You need to unravel these lands and go over to the other side.  You say you still have work to do, and I won’t argue about it, only you need to stay in the Celtic homeland, in Gaul or Amorica or even Ireland if you have a mind.”

“I will,” Rhiannon said with conviction, but Greta knew it would be done when Rhiannon got good and ready.  “For Mother,” Rhiannon said and returned the kiss to Greta’s cheek, and she vanished along with the cracked pistol and broken wrist watch.

Greta watched Lucius and Hermes run up.  Mavis stood by her side as always.  Alesander and Briana stood in awe of the way Greta and the goddess were so familiar, and they kept silent and waited to hear what Greta had to say.

“We can sleep safely tonight.  Enjoy it while you can.  We leave at dawn, no horses.”

“Mother Greta.”  Someone called from a distance.  Greta turned and nodded, like it was about who she expected.  One tall and one short man came up.  The tall one was Vedix, the hunter from the Bear Clan who once kicked Greta before Danna herself put the fear of the gods in him. The short one wore a glamour that could never fool Greta.  He was Bogus the Skin, a full blood little one who lived up to his stereotype, which was an imp.  But he was also Fae and Berry’s grandfather, so his presence came as no surprise.

“Introduce yourselves to the rest of the crew and then get a good night’s sleep.  We leave when the sun breaks.”  Greta took Mavis and Briana with her to the place set aside for her.  Briana’s scratches needed tending and then Greta planned to follow her own advice and sleep while she could.

Briana remained quiet while Greta applied the bandages.  The scratches were not deep, but they had to guard against infection.  Normally, an elect would heal quickly from such a wound, but no telling what alien microbes might be lurking beneath the surface.

When Greta curled up beneath her blanket, she wondered if Festuscato ever got Patrick to Ireland, or if he found some new pirates to fend off first.  She imagined Mousden screaming about pirates and smiled.  She wondered how Gerraint’s marriage might be working out.  She thought with luck she might dream about them in the night and for one night escape her own troubles.  No telling what she thought about next because she put her hand to her belly and fell asleep.

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

MONDAY

The crew finds the only path safe from the Wolv, not over or around, but through Movan Mountain.  Until next time, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: The Wolf and the Wolv, part 2 of 3

In the morning, Greta found herself in the bed while Mavis, Briana and Eofach had apparently pulled up spots on the floor. Receiving special treatment happened now and then in a number of her lifetimes, but it felt like something Greta would never get used to.  Greta decided the least she could do for the use of the bed was help fix breakfast, bad a cook as she was.

Greta, as a young mom, had long since given up the idea of sleeping in.  Eofach was an older woman who likely did not need the sleep of the young, so she was awake. Mavis came instantly awake as soon as Greta sat up in bed.  Only Briana looked comfortable, but Greta judged from the look on Briana’s face that she either snuck off to visit Alesander at some point after Greta fell asleep, or she was having wonderful dreams, or both.

“We have to move on today.”  Greta spoke over her warm day-old bread and water, that is, once her eyes opened and her brain started to function.

“Why the rush?” Briana asked

“You only just arrived,” Eofach added.

“Rhiannon’s warning.  Chobar of the Dog Clan has given himself to Mithrasis, and he is coming with a large group of armed men to stop us from continuing on our quest.  I assume they plan to kill us if necessary.”

“But the Dog Clan is many days from here,” Eofach said.

“Rhiannon said they were two days behind us.  And she said there are friends planning to meet us in the village of the Dragon Clan for the next leg of the journey.  We need to be there so we can move on as soon as they arrive.”

“I’ll get the men up and ready,” Briana volunteered.

“I’ll get the horses and Stinky,” Mavis said, and they both looked at Greta who yawned before speaking.

“I have to tell the elders of the Raven Clan not to resist Chobar and his men.  There is no need for bloodshed.”

“What can I do?” Eofach wondered.

“You can come with me,” Greta said.  “I may need your help to convince a bunch of stubborn old men not to make a fuss.  You and Gwydden don’t need practice bandaging bloody arms and legs.”

“Oh, I understand that,” Eofach said with conviction. The woman could just imagine.

###

The travelers left before noon, about as well as could be expected, but now Dunova and his men from the Wolf Clan became doubly determined to see they reached their destination safely.  Greta tried to ignore them all, but as a result, she ended up riding beside Lucius so Mavis could ride beside Hermes and Briana could ride beside Alesander.  Lucius made Greta uncomfortable, but she figured that maybe he was just a soldier with a sour disposition after all.  She tried hard over four days to convince herself it was just a personality thing.

On the very first evening, Greta took Mavis and Briana apart, and she quizzed Briana on all that Rhiannon taught her.  Briana was skilled in many forms of combat, but after only a short while, Greta realized one thing was missing.

“Let go of your thoughts,” Greta said.  “Let your feelings settle down and let your mind wander back along the trail we just took.  Let it go back step by step to the village of the Raven Clan.  Tell me what you feel, more than what you see.  Tell me what you sense. As an elect, you should be able to sense an enemy on the horizon if you know what to look for.”

Greta quieted, and Briana closed her eyes, but after only a moment, she shook her head.  “I’m not sensing anything.  Maybe I’m not doing it right.”

“I am sure you are doing it just fine.  Every woman is to some degree intuitive, but the senses of an elect are directed and focused on potential threats and danger. Trust your intuition.  I imagine Chobar and the Dog Clan are not yet in range. We will try again tomorrow night.

The party moved as quick as they could through the foothills, but it did not seem very fast.  Dunova had the idea that the women needed regular stops and plenty of time to rest.  Greta wanted to hit the man for being a sexist moron, but she held her tongue and simply tried to move things along as well as she could.  Greta knew Briana, with the constitution of an elect, could travel three days to the Dragon village without stopping, and Mavis, being an elf, would be right there with her.  Only Greta had to stop now and then, though not nearly as often as Dunova supposed.

They found no more Lazyges on the path, but that did not mean they were not being watched.  The farms and little hamlets they passed by looked the same as before, but on the third day they began to move up into the mountains, and that slowed them considerably.

On the third night, as the clouds moved in and it began to drizzle, Briana caught the sense that they were being followed.  She got excited before she felt sure she was doing it wrong.

“Trust your intuition,” Greta said as she estimated that the Dog men were a full day or more behind.  That was acceptable since they would make it to the Dragon Clan village by late afternoon.  Greta just hoped that whoever might be coming to join them would already be there waiting. She wanted to get out at dawn and be gone before Chobar arrived.

Mavis woke Greta in the dark of the night before dawn.  The rain had finished for the time being and though it felt cold, people were able to wrap up and sleep.  Briana got up, having suffered a nightmare.  Alesander was there to comfort her, and Lucius and Hermes were sleepy but curious. Only Dunova and the men of the Wolf Clan remained asleep.

“It was awful.”  Briana recounted her nightmare and wept a little.  “It felt like the Were people you were telling me about, and how they always took the form of the wolf to hunt under the full moon.  I got so frightened.”

“Hush,” Alesander prompted.  “Greta has assured us the Were people died out long ago.”

“She mentioned werewolves,” Lucius said, not being at all helpful, but Hermes countered him quickly.

“Not a full moon.”  He pointed to the sky even if the moon stayed hidden by the clouds.

“But it is worse now that I am awake.  I can still sense them, more than ever.” Briana raised her eyes to look at the clouds and shivered.  Alesander held her but quickly let go when Greta appeared at the tent door, like he was a teenager caught by Mother Greta.

“Mavis,” Greta said, as she stepped out beside the fire, Mavis on her heels.  Mavis knew what she wanted and spoke right up.

“Yes, Lady.  I sense a great evil, but it is strange, like nothing I have sensed before.”

“That is because they are not of this world.” Greta got that much out before they heard a great howl echo through the hills.  Lucius and Hermes both looked up and all around, their eyes open at last. Briana and Alesander grabbed hands. Several of the men of the Wolf Clan shifted in their sleep.  “I also had a vision, or a dream.  I saw a streak through the sky in my mind’s eye.  It struck the earth hard and the grass and trees were set aflame.  Let us hope it is an escape pod with no more than six, or at worst a scout ship of ten or twelve.  God help us all if it is a transport of fifty or more.”

The howl came again and seemed closer than before. The men of the Wolf Clan began to stir. “But what is it?” Alesander asked.

“On this world, they have been called Wolv.” Greta looked as frightened as the rest and that did not help the others one bit.   “They were the front-line troops of what I called the Humanoid Empire, an empire in space ruled by people who look much like us.  Let me say the Lords of the Hachari rarely had to send in the second line.  But the Wolv rebelled more than a century ago.  They stole many ships to fly between the stars, and since that time they have eaten and torn their way across many worlds, shredding civilizations, even hunting some people to extinction.  They are not intelligent to repair the technology when it brakes, or in this case crashes to earth, but they are clever enough to use the technology, and to be disciplined, and to eat.  Pray they have not come here in force.”

Greta quieted while the howl came again, this time from a different direction.  She began to rouse the men of the Wolf Clan, and the others helped without asking any more questions.  They had to ride fast and hard to get behind the walls of the Dragon village before they were cut off or pulled down from behind.  Greta prayed for the rain to return, believing it would help disguise their scent and signs of passage.  The rain waited, but the skies opened up when they got near the village.

The village of the Dragon Clan rested in the middle of a cliff with the majority of the village built inside a great cavern carved out of the cliff side.   Eyes on the wall looked out from under the overhang of rock that continued to rise straight up above the stockade wall.  They saw a narrow path that zig-zagged up the side of the cliff.  They reached the base of that path and felt safe before they saw their first Wolv.  It stood on its hind legs at the edge of the forest, beyond a harvested field, on a hill at a distance where it could just be made out in the rain against the trees. It watched them in return.  Hermes could not quite see it, but he had no doubt it was there when the thing reared its head back and let out a chilling howl that echoed up to the gate.  That got followed by several bark-like sounds and something of a roar.

The travelers and their escort scurried up to the village as fast as was safe on the slippery path.  They got the gate shut tight, but then had to convince the Dragon Clan that they were in danger of immanent attack.

R6 Greta: The Elect and Her Cousins, part 2 of 3

Greta felt pleased with the way things turned out, and would have said so if she had not been interrupted by a scream in the distance.  The men on the wall were turned toward the bonfire and clapping along with the music instead of watching for the enemy.  As feared, the Lazyges did gather reinforcements and brought them up into the hills.  One wall watcher fell off the wall inside the stockade and another yelled, “Plainsmen,” even as everyone could see the plainsmen perfectly well, scrambling over the wall in that spot, and sporting swords and long knives, ready to do battle as they came to the ground.

Greta sent her dress and red cloak away again as she recalled her armor, this time with all of her weapons.  Then she vanished as Gerraint, son of Erbin, a six-foot virtual giant for that day and age stepped into Greta’s place and immediately drew that big sword from his back.  Even as people were screaming and running away, some of the men searched for a weapon, and Mavis let loose three arrows from a bow that no one knew she had. Three Lazyges went down before Gerraint waded into the invaders.  He put three more down almost before Gwen could draw a breath and the boys could close their mouths.  Then the Lazyges made some mistakes.  One fired an arrow back at Mavis, not that he had any chance of hitting her.  One got a good right fist into the eye of Briana and knocked her head to the side.  Briana got mad, struck him back and the man went straight to the ground.  And one Lazyges let out a pirate worthy laugh as he cornered three young women against a wagon.  Gerraint went away, and the Nameless god stepped into his shoes.

“Enough,” Nameless shouted a shout that reverberated all through those hills.  Every Lazyges inside or outside the wall froze in place and could not move. Nameless let his godly senses search the area and found the leader of this raiding party still outside, sitting comfortably on his horse, waiting for his expendable men to make it safe for him to enter the village.  “You.” The Lazyges leader instantly found himself inside the compound, suspended a foot off the ground, Nameless’ hand wrapped around his throat.  For only a second, Nameless let the man glimpse the deepest pits of Hella’s domain and experience the hopelessness of Tartarus.  The man caught the idea that Nameless could leave him there, and he came back to the compound without the same degree of sanity he had a second earlier.

“You.”  Nameless’ own word was turned on him as there came a flash of light and the sound of thunder beside the bonfire.  A woman appeared, tall and beautiful with a haughty, arrogant look on her face and fire in her moonlit eyes.

Nameless tossed the Lazyges leader twenty feet away and marched straight at the woman.  She lifted her chin and tried to show courage in the face of this man, but it did not look like he was going to stop.  When he got real close, she staggered back a step, but he caught her around the waist, pulled her in close and planted his lips on hers.  Her eyes got big for a moment before Nameless heard something go click in the woman’s mind.  Nameless was, after all, the son of Vrya, the Aesgard goddess of love, and he poured all that love into the woman’s heart before he let the woman go.  The woman took a couple of steps back and stared at him in silence.  This time, her eyes showed a layer of deep confusion over the fire of deep desire. She wiped her lips with the back of her hand and slowly faded from sight.

“Go,” Nameless said and waved his hand.  The Lazyges found themselves back outside the wall, seated on their horses.  Their leader screamed a scream that sounded only slightly sane, and he rode as fast as his horse would ride in the dark, certainly faster than would be safe, but his men followed without complaint

The man of the Wolf Clan that had been stabbed and thrown off the wall got tended to by Gwen, and the boys were right there, helping. Nameless smiled.  They were honestly good people.  He went away with that thought and took his weapons with him. Greta came back, but she kept the armor because it felt safe.

“Lady?”  Mavis came right to her elbow, her bow long since vanished, because people did not bring weapons to a feast.

“Come,” Greta said.  “We have to praise Briana for the effort, even if she gets a black eye, and then we need to find where Alesander, Lucius and Hermes are hiding.”

“Lady!”  Mavis scolded Greta for her thoughts.

###

In the morning, Elder Dunova had ten men of the Wolf Clan, all volunteers, ready to escort the party, first to the village of the Raven Clan, and then to the Dragon Clan.  The men were all on horseback and had two mules of their own because Alesander assured them his group would not be going on foot.

“So, it’s the low road.  That is mostly safe.  The Lazyges would have to be stupid to attack a party of fighters.  Even against merchants and simple farmers, they always lose men whenever they come up on to the low road.  Of course, no one ever said the Lazyges were smart.”  Dunova grinned, and Alesander returned an honest smile.

“As long as the lady is safe.  My men and I and Briana have pledged to take her safely to her destination, wherever that may be.”

“So, you think she will not stay with the Dragons?” Dunova asked, but Mavis with her good ears reported curiosity in the question, not probing.

“Druids do not stay long in one place,” Alesander said honestly enough.  “She did mention wanting to visit her brother at Porolissum.”

“Back into Roman lands,” Dunova nodded.

“At least he did not say that like a swear word,” Mavis reported.

“Good,” Greta responded, and made Mavis ride beside her all that day.  Mavis stayed good, and only looked back now and then to where Hermes and Lucius followed. Alesander and Briana rode in front of them and seemed to be getting along well.  Greta imagined if it had just been the six of them, they might do well enough, but to be sure, she felt safer surrounded by the men of the Wolf Clan.

Greta spent the day observing the hamlets and many farms they passed along the road.  The west side of the mountains and the foothills were hardly the unpopulated wilderness it might appear to an outsider.  It really was a bulwark against the wild Lazyges, the plainsmen that rode the steppes that started where the hills petered out and stretched to the horizon.  She remembered there were some two thousand Celts that came through the forest to aid the defenders of Ravenshold against an invasion of the Germanic Quadi.  She wondered how many of Dunova’s ten men of the Wolf Clan might have been there.  It only happened seven years ago.

R6 Greta: The Elect and Her Cousins, part 1 of 3

They walked their horses the rest of the day, surrounded by men of the Wolf Clan.  Greta felt comfortable enough to send her armor away and recall her plain dress and red cloak.  The elder of the Wolf Clan saw and blinked before Hermes interrupted.  He sounded Greta’s note and said when he first saw the men of the Wolf, he thought of Greta’s story about the Were people changing into animals.  Greta assured him the Were people were all gone, but if he happened to come across a human werewolf, he could unfortunately blame that on the Were people.

Like the other villages of the Celts, the village of the Wolf Clan had been surrounded by a strong stockade.  This one had six feet of stone at the base into which whole trees had been set and bonded with some kind of mortar.  This time, their big guide, an elder among the Wolves named Dunova, volunteered to bed the men for the night.  He took the women to Briana’s cousins.  Briana’s grandmother belonged to the Wolf Clan.

“Lynnux is gone, taken by a Lazyges arrow, but Gwen, the lady of the house keeps a good home, and she has three strong sons to fetch whatever you might be needing.”  With that, Greta, Mavis and Briana were left alone, and Greta stepped up to the doorway to offer a word.

“Blessings be upon this house and all who dwell herein.”

Gwen welcomed Greta warmly, and her three sons, Devon, Hyfer and Nudd fawned over Mavis even as they made sure Greta stayed between them and Briana.  Poor Mavis hid her head in Greta’s shoulder, embarrassed at such attention.  Curiously, Gwen ignored Briana, and Greta felt the snub right away.

She felt the ill will in the air, but Briana kept her thoughts to herself as she removed her sword and set down her bow and arrows. They all felt the cold quiet in the house apart from Gwen’s prattling on about being so honored to have a true druid in her home, and a woman besides.

“So, when are you going to give your niece a hug and welcome her to your home?” Greta interrupted in a voice that almost sounded rude.  Gwen frowned before she pasted on a fake smile and reached for Briana. Briana shared the hug.  Briana seemed willing, but uncomfortable.

“Please explain,” Greta insisted as she sat at the table.  Mavis looked up to listen even as Gwen looked down at her feet.

“It is my sons,” Gwen confessed.  Devon, Hyfer and Nudd wisely let their mother speak first. “They are all fine boys and any one of them would make a fine husband, but Briana has refused them all.”

“She said she would marry the one who bested her,” Devon spoke up.  “And she offered the sword, the bow, or just to wrestle.”

“We all tried,” Hyfer added.  “She broke poor Nudd’s arm.”

“I can’t lift it higher than this,” Nudd said as he lifted his right arm as high as his head but no further.

“She hurt my boys, her own kin.”  Gwen said, stiffly.

“You mean she hurt you,” Greta countered and reached out to gently pat Gwen’s hand.  “Your boys should be married, and you know it.  But you are stubborn and punishing them because Briana turned them down. You know Briana is not for your boys, and you have known that for some time now.  You need to let her go and let them go.”

Gwen turned red and angry, but Greta’s words were so kindly spoken and so evidently true, there seemed nothing she could say in protest.  She began to cry, softy.

“Mother.” Devon reached for her, but Mavis got there first.  As an empathetic elf, she had a magical touch in the comfort she offered as well as the tears she shared.

“Boys,” Greta got their attention.  “Find a nice young woman and be faithful to her.  Don’t let anyone prevent you from the pursuit of happiness.”  And Greta judged from their expressions that Devon and Hyfer already had nice young girls in mind.

“I could—” Briana began to speak, but Greta hushed her.

“You have always been more like a sister to these boys,” Greta said, and she saw in the faces of the boys where her words rang true.  “Now if you boys will excuse us; I need to have a talk with your sister.”  She stood, took Briana by the elbow and escorted her outside.

“But I know a couple of young women,” Briana said, with a look back.

“I think Devon and Hyfer have already been selected by a couple of young women, and I doubt they had much to say about it. Nudd is the only one that might need help.”

“Oh, but he is the hard one,” Briana thought.  “Not too bright,” she explained.

“But faithful and honest, I bet.  And stubborn like his mother.  He does not give up easily which is why you had to break his arm.”

Briana looked down just like Gwen.  “I am sorry about that.  I’ve said I am sorry a thousand times.”

“A gazillion times,” Greta said, as she factored in inflation.  It became a distraction that allowed Greta to reach out and catch Briana’s face in her hands. She looked into her eyes.  Greta emptied her own thoughts to see what she might perceive.  She caught sight of a man, and caught something of the training Briana received, and from a woman, a goddess, but before the pictures became clear, someone in her future blurted out, “Vulcan mind meld.”  Greta responded. “Not funny,” and let go of Briana’s face as she framed her thoughts.

“There is a man for you, and you know him.  I offer no advice on that.  But you also know that you are an elect, a one-in-a-million warrior woman, and as such you are faster and stronger and better with a sword and bow than any farm boy.  You are like Atalanta, but you are not Atalanta.  You played a silly game with an unfair advantage, and I feel you need to apologize.”

“Me apologize?”  Briana did not imagine she did anything wrong.

“Yes,” Greta said in her most firm and certain voice. “You need to apologize to your Aunt Gwen for not being honest with her from the beginning.”

“I tried, but she would not hear it.”

“So, you needed to try some more and try harder, but even so, her hearing you or not is no excuse for not being honest about your feelings.  You dragged the boys into your game, and now she has berated them to no end, and they are miserable.”

“But what can I do about that now?”

“Apologize and just tell the truth.”  Greta smiled and headed back to the door.  Briana followed one step behind.  As they came in, Gwen paused in her tears and looked up. Briana took a deep breath and spoke from the heart.

“Aunt Gwen, I’m sorry for not being honest with you from the beginning.  I love your boys very much, but like brothers, not like husbands, and no amount of time is going to change that.  I played a silly game which I see now gave you hope that something might be worked out.  I am sorry.”

Gwen got right up and grabbed Briana for a big, genuine hug.  “It’s all right.  It’s all right,” she said it twice.  “You are like the daughter I never had, and I love you very much.  All I want is for you and my sons to be happy.”  The tears were still leaking from the corners of Gwen’s eyes, and now they appeared in Briana’s eyes as well.  All the boys could do was smile.  This was what they had been praying for.  The tense atmosphere in the room deflated and everyone relaxed whether they realized it or not.  Mavis grinned ear to ear, almost too much for a human face, but then she got serious again as she spoke.

“Oh, but lady, we have a feast to attend.”

“Quite right.”  Greta hardly felt immune from the good feelings that now filled the room. “Boys, please escort you mother and sister.  We need to celebrate.”  She turned and lead the way back to the open ground just inside the front gate where the bonfire had already been lit and the sound of laughter could already be heard. She only stalled her progress to get a last word to Devon and Hyfer.

“Listen well, your mother will soon fall back into the bad habit of berating you and preventing you from spending time with your young women in any way she can.  You must not let that stop you.  Marry those women, and your mother may soften some when she has grandchildren.” They appeared to understand.

Elect II—22 Temptation, part 3 of 3

Emily was seriously trying to study when Jessica slammed her book on the coffee table and plopped down in the chair next to her.  Maria looked up from the couch and Melissa looked over from the kitchenette where she was pouring a cup of orange soda.

ac-jessica-a2“It isn’t fair,” Jessica complained.  “Lady Alice says we can’t go to Avalon this summer.  I had plans, but she says since the door is closed and we are orc and ghoul free, even the elf maidens have been recalled.  I was going to take Fiona shopping.”

“It’s for the best,” Maria said.

“I never understood,” Melissa said as she came over to sit on the couch beside Maria.  “Why do they call them elf maidens.  That seems an archaic term.”

“Linnea explained it,” Maria said.  “Being a virgin is one of the requirements.”

Jessica put her feet up on her book, on the table.  “That lets me out.”

“No.”  Amina and Mindy came out of their room.  Amina had her eyes closed, her back turned and was waving a hand back at Mindy.  “I don’t want to see any Kahili death goddesses.”

“But look at all those arms,” Mindy argued.

ac-jessica-a3“Give it a rest.” Jessica shouted and got up to get some orange soda for herself.  Emily looked up from her book when Jessica shouted and moved.  She was thinking about her studies but staring at Jessica, so Jessica spoke to her.  “I’m going to sign up for a time of service.  ROTC.  I’m going to do time in the army.”

Emily continued to be focused elsewhere, but everyone else said congratulations and best of luck.  Emily said, “Huh?”

“ROTC.  I’m signing up for the army, and they better not think about keeping me from combat.”

“Good,” Emily seemed to hear that time but her eyes went back to her book.  “I signed up a week ago.  I had special forces interested, but I’m going to be a nurse if I can pass these exams.”

“I heard Major Driver said if you chose the navy he would throw himself off the bridge into the Delaware River.”  Emily was back to not listening.

“Major Driver?”  Mindy had scooted everyone down to take the end seat on the couch.  Amina was in the seat Jessica had abandoned, so Jessica sat on the rug at the end of the coffee table, by the door.

“He got promoted,” Jessica said.

ac-riverbend-8Emily’s phone rang.  She touched it, paused to read another sentence while it rang again, then pulled it out to see who it was.  She hoped it wasn’t Lisa or Latasha and trouble.  The number was unfamiliar, so curiosity caused her to say, “Hello?”

“Emily?”

“Yes.”

“Detective Lisa gave me your number.  I hope I’m not interrupting something.  I just called to see how you were doing.”

“Fine.  Who is this?”

“Sebastian Scott.”

Emily opened her eyes.  “I should ask how you are doing.”

“Fine.”

“How’s Maggie?”

“Fine.  Changed with all that happened and all.”  Sebastian’s voice trailed off into a moment of silence before he started again.

“Emily.”

ab-nj-state-police“Yes?”

“I was wondering if you would like to go out, like on a date, like without monsters.”

Emily was not sure how she felt about that, but her mouth said, “Yes.  I’d like that.”

“Great.  I was thinking there is a restaurant right by the campus there.  It’s called the Hive.  Do you know it?”

“Yes, I’ve been there.”

“Great.  I know you have finals.  How about you pick a day and time.”

“Thursday at six?”  That came out without thought.

“Great.”

“You should know, I had to kill my last boyfriend.”  That also came out without a thought, but she knew she should not have said it the moment it was aired.  “The one before that, he turned vampire so I had to kill him too.”  Emily shut up.  The girls were waving at her and she realized she wasn’t making anything better.  There was a long moment of drawn out silence before Sebastian spoke again.

“Great.  It will give us something to talk about.”

“Great,” Emily mirrored his word.

ac-emily-a5“Meet you at the Hive, Thursday at six.”

“Great.”

“Great.”

They hung up.  Emily looked up.  “I have a date.  Sebastian Scott, State Trooper.”

“Great.”  Everyone said the word except Jessica.  Jessica waited for the prime moment.

“Try not to kill this one.”

“Hey!” Amina interrupted and looked at the faces around her.  “I want to go out on another date.”

Jessica sipped her orange soda before she quipped.  “Got anyone in mind?”

END

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

Starting on Monday, March 13, 2017

The story of two lost souls who find each other in the midst of trillions of other earths.

Guardian Angel  is science fiction, alternate history, and the struggle to build a civilization where life is worth living… In fact, there are some dangerous and horrifying ideas presented here, so maybe you should consider this your “trigger warning.”

Guardian Angel will follow the same pattern of posts this blog has been following:

Each chapter is divided into three part and will be posted on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of each week at 8 AM.  That is one whole chapter per week, for those who might be slow at math.  You are welcome to read them as daily posts, or wait until Thursday or the weekend to read all three posts in one sitting by clicking on the listings under “Recent Posts” on the right side of the blog (one at a time, of course).

Beginning on Monday, Guardian Angel will post 23 chapters, so you can follow through August and enjoy a nice summer read.  It will eventually be put up for sale at your favorite e-retailer, so I say enjoy it now while it is free… unless it upsets you or terrifies you.  The author will not be held responsible for bad thoughts and dreams.  I suggest several deep breaths and wait to see how it turns out…

That’s beginning Monday, March 13, 2017

Don’t miss it, and Happy Reading.

a-a-happy-read-7

 

Elect II—22 Temptation, part 2 of 3

Emily watched as Ferdinand Franco stepped up to President Batiste’s door.    “Batiste, we got your package,” he said.  He waved one of his people to open the big double doors while he hid.  That suggested to Emily that Franco was certainly not stupid.

The man opened both of the doors wide thinking his group had the upper hand, and he took a bullet in his chest and collapsed.  Heinrich immediately knocked over a table with his feet, to act as a shield.  He made them scoot behind a well cushioned chair for added protection, even as the ac-emily-b1bullets started flying.   But Emily first saw Batiste’s head was on his desk and there was plenty of blood flowing from the hole in his head.  The man was already dead and Emily guessed it was Captain Gouldos.

While men were killing each other, Emily sat on her hands.  She hurt her wrists terribly, but inch by inch her hands came forward.  She figured when she got them all the way down around her feet she could at least have her hands in front and might be able to grab something to fight.

Heinrich was fascinated by the battle.  His eyes poked up, dangerous as it was, and he counted the dead.  Secretary Nancy hid behind her desk.  The man with the limp and the hot pads hid around the back of the desk and trembled with his hands over his ears and his eyes shut tight.

The battle ended when Franco killed Captain Gouldos.   It was touch and go at the end as to which one would kill the other, but they were the last two combatants, so Franco ended up with the prize.  He ran into the President’s office and frisked Batiste’s body before he dumped it on the floor.  He began to tear the desk apart.

“Where is it?” Franco said before he had a second thought.  He frisked the Captain’s body and then frisked the two security lieutenants who were there and also corpses.  “Where is it?”  He roared and came to the door to accuse Nancy.

Nancy stood calmly behind the desk, one hand behind her back and the other hand held up a key.  She jingled it.  “Looking for this?” she said.

ac-nancy-1“Give it here.  Quick.”  Franco lifted his gun and put out his free hand to grab the key, but Nancy raised her hidden hand which also held a gun and she killed Franco with a perfect shot to the heart.

The man with the limp and hot pads tried to run to the stairs, but Nancy killed him also with one shot.  She was clearly an expert marksman.

Nancy turned her gun on the two behind the table.  Heinrich was obviously still cuffed, and Emily appeared to be also, from what Nancy could see.  In fact, Emily had just taken off her shoes to get her cuffed hand around her feet, but that was hidden from Nancy’s sight.

Nancy smiled.  “I can be gracious, I think.”  She set down her gun and unlocked the metal box.  “Yes.  It is important to start things on a positive foot.”  She took the lid off the box and the room filled with the aroma of apples and cinnamon.  “Goddess Nancy,” she said.  “It has a nice ring to it.” And she stuffed the apples into her mouth.

Emily moved out of desperation.  She got her hands in front and broke off a leg from the table to use as a club, but then she did not know what do to.  Forty-year-old Nancy now looked closer to thirty, going on twenty, and she was still smiling when she began to gag.

ac-nancy-3“What?”  Nancy got that word out as her body began to convulse in uncontrollable motions.  She fell to her knees and threw up, a mixture of apples and blood.  Her fifteen-year-old mouth tried to yell, “No,” but it was too late.  She convulsed even when her eyes closed and she became unconscious.  By the time she was five, she was dead, and while she stopped getting younger, she began to both decay and her skin began to harden and mummify at a rapid pace.

Heinrich stood up next to Emily.  “I would guess they did not get the recipe right.”

“It smelled good,” Emily said as she touched Nancy’s child hand with her club and watched it crumble to dust.  They stopped when there was commotion behind them on the stairs.  Emily raised her club.  Heinrich went for Nancy’s gun, but it was Riverbend and one of her elves who burst in, decked out in armor and arrows ready.  Sebastian Scott followed.  Maggie Holmes came last with a little huffing and puffing.  They all had to stop for a moment to take in the bloody battle scene.

Emily had a strange thought, but followed her inkling while Heinrich went to the man who had the key to the cuffs.  “Zoe.”  Emily had not said that word in some time and she never called to the goddess.  “Zoe.”  She called.

“I hear you.”  Zoe appeared out of nowhere.  She lifted her hand to examine things with her mind or her spirit.  “They got the recipe almost right, but only used part of one golden apple.  The rest was ordinary apple and not exactly baked to the temperature of the surface of the sun.  I’m glad they included the cinnamon sugar.  I told Hera it had to be in there.  It makes it edible, but…”  Zoe stepped up to the box which still had crumbs in it.  She licked her finger, touched an apple crumb and touched that to her tongue to taste it, to identify some substance.  When she got it, her face lit up.

“Arsenic.  A couple of other virulent and quick acting poisons, but the whole thing must have been saturated in arsenic.”

“That shipment to the science department,” Emily said.  Zoe turned to stare at her while Emily continued to think out loud.  “But that means the apples are still out there.”

zoe-1Zoe smiled that Emily understood.  “Yes, but it should be a while to figure out how to cook it properly, if ever.”

Heinrich stood with the keys in his teeth.  “She got younger because the apple was not cooked properly?”  It was hard to understand his words, but not impossible.

Zoe repeated the thought and nodded. “She got younger because the apple was not properly cooked.  She might have gotten younger than her birth, but the poison took over.  No goddess, I’m afraid.  Just a shriveled child, and too bad about the rug.”  She stepped around the vomit, took the keys from Heinrichs mouth and unlocked the handcuffs.  “It is good to do things in a natural way, sometimes.”  Heinrich rubbed his raw wrists and Zoe spoke again when she unlocked Emily.  “My queen.  When you return in September you still have apples to find and work to do, but that can wait.  Right now, don’t you have finals?”  Zoe grinned and vanished.

“Thanks for reminding me,” Emily groused.

Everyone heard the answer, “You’re welcome.”

Emily had one final thought.  She tore the sleeve on Nancy’s dress and before that arm turned to dust she saw the tattoo.  It was a circle with three squiggly lines up top.

Elect II—22 Temptation, part 1 of 3

Riverbend made her warriors dress for battle and hid them around the entrance.  Maggie Holmes quipped to Trooper Scott.  “I don’t know why she said I was in charge.”  They were just inside the main door of the administration building which Riverbend cracked open to speak to them.

“Now a little elf magic,” she said, and gave the signal.  The security people were coming to the door down one side of the building.  The other men were coming from the other direction.  There were trees and bushes that lined the walk on both sides and Riverbend could not help a giggle thinking about it.

ab-war-elf-aThe State Troopers heard one of the elves shout with what Riverbend called directed sounds.  It sounded male and only went where it was intended.  “Quick, there are men trying to block off the entrance.”  This was followed by the sound of gunfire.

The words in the other direction were, “Quick.  Security people are trying to block off the entrance.”  More gunfire sounds, and the elves made sure they stayed hidden, but with their bows ready.

Exactly on schedule, both groups of men reached the walkway at the same time.  Guns blared and men fell while most backed up to the trees and bushes. There was a veritable rain of bullets across the brick walk at first

Maggie looked at her phone and shook it.  “Come on, Carmine,” she said.

“Better to call Ms Nicholas,” Sebastian said.  He had his gun ready but was content to watch the fight and not inclined to get into it.

“I called Nicholas, but Troopers are harder to get in off the highways.  Carmine is the local.”

“But you called before the fight started,” Riverbend pointed out.

“Just as soon as I knew what was up,” Maggie admitted.

The fire rate slackened after a short while.  One of the drug dealers tried to sneak up along the side of the steps.  He took an arrow and fell, but that was just before a ton of local police came roaring up the back street, lights and sirens blasting.

a-trenton-police-a1“Idiots,” Maggie called them as the fight abruptly ended and men scattered to escape.  Sebastian called on his radio.  There were a couple of State Troopers on the street.  “Make for the library parking lot.  The drug dealers have a car and a van parked there.  And hide if you plan to catch them, you light and siren freaks.”  He saw Maggie smiling at him.

“I believe my rookie is learning.”

“Given the company I figure I better learn fast.”  He pointed at Riverbend.

All they could see were the eyes beneath the helmet, but they were expressive.  “What?” Riverbend asked, suggesting she had no idea what they were talking about.

###

Maria and Linnea were very busy with the wounded and Melissa and her and Amina’s elf friends helped as much as they could.  Amina herself was kept back in case they needed her particular skills later on.  She tried not to see what was going on, but she couldn’t help anticipate the casualties as they came in.

ac-amina-3“A broken leg on the elevator.  Missing fingers coming down the stairwell from the top floor,” she said, and every time she said something, she closed her eyes and shook her head.

Mindy and Arwen were guarding the front hall, but it seemed more like they were arguing about Alexander the Great.  There were others, including Sara’s friend who was berating herself for not being up there with Aurora.  “I should have stayed with the priestess,” she kept saying.

Officer Dickenson pulled in front of City Hall and turned off his lights and siren.  He was surprised that Ms Riley, who drove her own car, somehow got there first.  In fact, Roland was already in a conversation with the two police officers outside the main door.  They kept repeating that City Hall was temporarily closed.  They said it was electrical problems until the lights came on.  Then they said it was a gas leak.

Jessica, Fiona and Harmony got to the argument first as Latasha waited for Officer Dickenson to get a shotgun out of his trunk.  Jessica interrupted the argument with a finger pointed at the police officers.  “If you two shoot the ogre you are going to be in big trouble.”

Harmony paused to call her troop in battle ready armor, and now that the front lights were on, the police officers saw everything.  Harmony changed her fairy weave clothes to armor, picked up her helmet, grabbed the spear and shield the others brought for her and marched her troop inside.

“Now?” Fiona asked.  She had opted to remain in hunter’s garb.

“Now,” Jessica agreed, and they each grabbed one of Roland’s hands and dragged him through the opening to Avalon before it closed.

Boston put her hands to her hips.  “Hey!  That’s my husband.”  Officer Dickenson headed for the front door, dragged by an impatient Latasha.  Latasha was not about to miss a chance to get a ghoul, but Boston used the opening to follow.  “My student,” she said, pointed and hustled.

ab-war-eelfOut front, the two police officers stood quietly until one asked, “What did she mean, ogre?”.

Once on Avalon, Jessica felt the queasiness in her stomach so it was up to Fiona to act when Roland protested being dragged off against his will.  They were in a big room with enough tables and chairs to double for a high school lunch room.  Roland slammed his hand down on a table.

“But Commander Falcon will listen to you,” Fiona said, and Jessica moaned either because her stomach was churning or Fiona said the wrong thing.

“Commander Falcon?”

“Over here, Roland.”  The Commander was sitting at one of the back tables.  “I was beginning to wonder if the women were ever going to ask for my help.”  He whistled and the wall of the building vanished to reveal some three hundred spirits of all shapes and sizes fitted out for war.  They were spaced out across a great lawn, and they were looking impatient.

###

Back in City Hall, Latasha was not content to wait for the elevator.  She was moving up the stairwell with abandon when Officer Dickenson stopped suddenly and raised his pistol.  He looked ready to kill Latasha, but the ghoul that reached for his mind made a big mistake going after the big man rather than the women.

Boston’s orange magic snaked out rapidly into the stairwell.  It froze Officer Dickenson in place so he couldn’t shoot anyone or anything, and it showed two ghoul feet and the nappy hair on top of the ghoul head.  That was all Latasha needed.  One great leap and one swing of her ax and they heard the clunk, clunk, clunk of a ghoul head rolling down the stairs.

“I got one,” Latasha said when she landed on her feet and watched the ghoul shrink down to a purple spot.  She had been afraid she was going to miss all the fun, but then some twenty dwarfs, elves and other assorted people pushed up past them, some tipping their hats as they went, and Roland caught up to them.

“They filled the basement first so the ghouls couldn’t go to ground.  Now they are clearing out floor by floor to the roof.”

boston-a2“What do you mean go to ground?” Latasha asked as she nudged Officer Dickenson to help him clear his head.

Boston explained.  “Most creatures that have low or no tolerance for the sun can dematerialize at dawn and sink into the earth.  Many can then move through the earth until they get to a cavern or cave or place they can wait safely until sunset.”

“Like a basement?” Officer Dickenson asked.

“Yes, I suppose,” Roland answered.

“So every little kid who is afraid to go down into the basement may have a good reason.  Maybe there is a ghoul or ogre hiding in the corner.”

“Troll,” Boston corrected him.  “Ogres don’t entirely mind the sun.  It would be a troll in the corner, or a goblin.”