Avalon 5.12 Bad Wine, part 5 of 5

The travelers got hauled in front of Solomon, no matter how much they insisted that they needed to see Korah.  They tied their horses out front, and armed up, just in case.  They left the Patton sabers wrapped at the back of their saddles, but they brought their gun belts, and Decker and Katie carried their rifles while Lockhart shouldered his shotgun.  Lockhart figured the locals might not even recognize the guns as weapons, though they said nothing about the knives the travelers carried on thier belts.

“Remember what the Kairos told us last time.”  Alexis spoke to everyone before they entered the audience chamber, and she focused especially on Lincoln and Katie.  “It would have been better to avoid seeing Solomon, but for Pete’s sake, keep you mouths shut.”  She shot the last at her husband who raised his hands in surrender.

The room looked overly large.  Solomon sat at the far end, in a comfortable looking chair, on a raised platform.  The travelers were used to that.  The unusual part was how many, mostly less comfortble chairs, sat up on the platform with him.  Most were empty, but a few were filled with what looked like advisors of a sort—or possibly close, personal friends, not one of whom looked under sixty.  To Solomon’s left hand, one chair got filled with a young girl, maybe fifteen or sixteen, and an Egyptian from her look.

The travelers looked around as they marched up front.  The guards and soldiers were inconspicuous.  Decker, Katie and Lockhart certainly noticed, and Decker probably counted them, but the others paid no attention, which was likely the idea.

Alexis saw one woman, an African looking woman, but with European features, which felt odd.  In fact, Alexis had an odd feeling overall, just to look at her.  The woman did not go about some duties.  She certainly scrutinized them with a knowing look, but Alexis had to move on before she could explore her feeling further, and when they reached the front, she forgot about the odd woman.

The travelers stopped several yards from the platform, and when Solomon waved his hand back and forth, they took the hint and spread out into a single line.

Solomon scrutinized the travelers, and spoke when he was ready.  “You are?”

“Robert and Katherine Lockhart.  Benjamin and Alexis Lincoln.  Elder Stow and his daughter, Sukki.  Mary Riley, that everyone call Boston, and Major Decker.  I assume you are Solomon, the Wise.  It is a pleasure to meet you.”

Solomon let out a slight grin.  “Some think not so wise, including sometimes your friend, Korah, who has been sent for.”  He stared at them again before he asked, “And where are you from?”

Lockhart looked at Katie, Lincoln and Alexis.  He figured if Solomon was half as wise as his reputation, he would see right through any lie he came up with.  So much for Alexis’ admonitiion, he thought, before he turned again to Solomon and answered, “The future.  And we are headed back there, slowly.”

Solomon smiled again.  “We are all headed slowly into the future.”

“But some more slowly than others.  And no, we cannot tell you about the future, and I probably should not have told you that much.”

“Sukki was born before the flood,” Boston blurted out.  “She is not technically from the future.”

The little Egyptian girl huffed.  “Suliman.  These people are boring.  Telling a strange tale that makes no sense does not make them less boring.”  Solomon looked at her, but let her ramble as she turned to the travelers.  “You see, in my hands I have Sekhmet, the lion, who is the real goddess.  I have seen her outside my window on the hot days when she has come into the shade of the wall.  She is my protector, and if you lie about things, and say you are from some imaginary place called the future, she will eat you.”

“She would not do that,” Kaie said.

The Egyptian girl huffed again, and spouted, “What do you know of the real gods?  How can you say that?”

“Sekhmet is our daughter,” Lockhart said, and with a glance at Solomon, added, “adopted, though I believe she adopted us as much as we adopted her.”

“We last saw her when we married,” Katie said, and took Lockhart’s hand.  “That was when the Philistines came from the sea and conqured the land you call Philistia.”

Solomon tipped his head, like he understood something.  “Both my father and King Saul before him struggled mightily to keep the Philistines from overrunning the whole country, and to make a lasting peace.”

“We could call her,” Lockhart suggested.

“But I am sure she won’t come here,” Katie interrupted.  “This place is given to worship the Most-High God—the God of the gods.  The old gods of this world have no place here.”

The Egyptian girl frowned.  “Liars.”

“I don’t think so,” Solomon responded.  “Even if they are not telling the whole truth.”  He scrutinized them once more before he said, “You should not hide yourselves behind such masks.”  He seemed to indicate Boston and Elder Stow, beside Sukki.

Boston looked briefly at Lockhart and Alexis before she removed her glamour of humanity.  The Egyptian girl shrieked and covered her eyes with her hands.  Elder stow looked only at Sukki and nodded.  They removed their glamours as well.  Even Solomon looked shocked at their appearance.

“We are of the elder race that once roamed these very lands,” Elder Stow said.

“Do not be afraid,” Alexis said.  “They are very nice people.”

“We all are,” Lincoln added.

“I am sure this is so,” Solomon said, as he watched the Egyptian girl slowly uncover her eyes, to stare.  “And you are traveling back to the future at a slighly faster rate?”

“Sorry,” Lockhart said, with a smile.  “Still can’t tell you about the future.”

“And you didn’t even say Back to the Future,” Katie said, and squeezed Lockhart’s hand.

“Lockhart,” a man’s voice sounded out from the back corner of the room.  “Have you been telling stories?”  The old man paused while he hobbled into the room, leaning heavily on a cane.  “Boston,” he said, and opened his arms for a hug.  Boston only glanced at Lockhart and Alexis before she raced into the hug.  Everyone smiled, except Lincoln, who asked.

“Korah?”

“Yes,” Solomon said, and he tried not to smile.  “And we haven’t had any stories yet.”

Boston whispered in Korah’s ear.  “You are old again.”

“Every lifetime,” he said, and leaned on her.

“We might tell something from the past,” Katie suggested.

“Like our encounter with Apophis,” Lincoln said.

The Egyptian girl shrieked.  “Please, no,” she said, and covered her eyes with her hands.

Solomon sat up and stroked the girl’s hair, like a doting grandfather, or maybe like a man might pet a faithful dog.  He asked a question while he pretended to be unconcerned.  “So, tell me about this black cloud that chased you into the city so you could not wait for the gate to be opened.  Why did you jump into the pool of Siloam?  Why is it waiting for you, even now, just outside the gate?”

The travelers hesitated, so the Kairos spoke up, now that Boston had helped him get to where he could sit down.  “Go ahead.  Tell us about the djin—the genie.”  He added that word for the men sitting there.

“My wife better explain,” Lockhart said, and he smiled at Katie while he slipped his arm around her.

Katie returned the smile and began.  She told how they entered the time zone, and the djin tried to kill them with the sandstorm. They made it to the city, only to find Ashtaroth, who threatened to sacrifice them in the altar to Moloch.  Boston called to Moloch, and he sent the djin somewhere unknown, and after seeing that they were hedged about by the gods, he sent them to the other side of the Jordan River.  “We set out this morning, after very little sleep, and even so, we almost did not make it to Jerusalem.  We fell into the pool from exhaustion and thirst, after all that time in the heat and desert sands.”

“A djin?” Solomon confirmed.

“A marid,” Korah said.

“Oh, but that is easy,” Solomon responded.  “I have some rejuvination juice right here.”  He stood, slowly for an older man, and picked up a clay jar with a lid that was not exactly like a cork, but near enough.  He lifted the lid, took a sip, and then called to the Egyptian girl.  He leaned on her as he walked, even as Korah continued to lean on Boston.  He took them all to a door that lead out to a balcony right next to the wall.  The cloud floated there, and Solomon called to it.

“Marid, I am Solomon.  I am king of this city and all the land you can see around you.  I have many Marid who are friends in my court.  I wish you no ill will, and I tell you, no harm will come to you here, as long as you do no harm in this place.  Here.  I have rejuvanation juice to toast your health and life.  Come join me in the toast.”

The cloud wavered, but did nothing.

“Come. this will strengthen you after your long hunt.  I drink some every day, but only a little so I don’t become too powerful.  This is stong drink.  You know, I have seven-hundred wives, and three-hudred concubines, and you can imagine at my age how much I need rejuvination.  Even so, all I need is a little of this magic elixir.  They say it can fully restore a person and all of his abilities—even magical abilities, though I have no such talents.

The cloud still appeared to hesitate.

“I see.  You fear the drink may be poison or something.  Here, let me show you.” He took a small sip, waited a moment, and hauled the Egyptian girl to his chest and kissed her, hard.  All the while he held out the jar.  “I am a bull now, ready to mate.  But first I drink to frendship with all the djin.  Will you try some, of course just a little.  No telling how strong you may become if you were to drink it all, or something so foolish…”

The black cloud rushed in, creating a wind it came so fast.  It squeezed itself down into the jug without so much as taking human form.  Solomon put the lid on top and smiled.

“That should keep it.”

A man stepped up with wax and a flame, like he rushed to get them as soon as the king stood.  He melted wax all over the top of the jug and all along the edge of the lid, effectively sealing it tight.  Solomon took off his ring, and while the servant held the jug, he made an imprint of his ring in the top.

“So we don’t forget which jugs have the djin, and which have the fresh wine,” Solomon said.  “That wine had a poor aftertaste, anyway…”  He let the Egyptian girl help him back to his throne.

“We can make love now?” the girl asked.

“Maybe later,” Solomon smiled for her as well as he could.  “Later, if I can stay awake.”

“That’s it?” Lincoln asked.

Korah nodded.  “As long as no one is stupid enough to break the seal, the djin should be held indefinitely.  Even if the seal is broken at some point, the djin will have to return fully to the desert world made for the genies, and heal, before he can do anything else.  And even the powerful and mighty marid cannot return to earth without help from someone on earth, so I would say, yes, that is it.  I do not expect it will be able to bother you any more.”

“But, that is it?” Lincoln asked again.  “But that was so easy—so nothing.”

“Yes,” Korah said, and paused to think.  “You feel let down after all that build up?  You wanted a magical duel, buildings blowing up, sparkas flying everywhere, that sort of thing?”

Lincoln nodded as Alexis answered.  “All I feel is relief.”

“Tell you what,” Korah said.  “Come to my place.  You can eat and rest for a time.  Ignore the boys.  They have the first garage band in history, but at least it is not electric.”

“You don’t want us to move on right away?” Boston asked.

“Lockhart?” Korah looked for him.  He saw him and Katie, still out on the balcony, kissing.

“Still newlyweds,” Elder Stow explained.

Korah nodded.  Solomon spoke.  “You owe me a good story, or two.”

Korah said, “No reason you should not take the chance to rest a bit.  The twenty-first century is still a long way from here.  The gnomes have your horses.  Eat, rest and relax for a bit before you return to the road and your journey… Back to the Future…”

“You said it,” Decker did not sound pleased.

“I know.  If I’m not careful, I’ll get hit with a cease and desist order.  Good luck finding me a thousand years before Christ.”

END of Season Five.

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Special preview post tomorrow.

Please stop by, and Happy Reading

*

Avalon 5.12 Bad Wine, part 4 of 5

The travelers found themselves in a pleasant grove of trees beside a river.  The horses all appeared unharmed.  They also appeared to have their equipment.

“My guess is the Jordan River,” Lincoln said.  “It was the way we were headed.”

“Good guess,” Boston said as she checked her amulet.  “We are about a day from where the Kairos appears to be.  We got a whole lot closer without having to move ourselves.”

“Any idea where the djin might be?” Lockhart asked.  Everyone shook their heads, including Boston, who spoke.

“The amulet doesn’t show the djin.”

“The other side of the Jordan River,” Alexis said, and sighed her relief.  Everyone got it.  When Moloch threatened to send them over to the other side, the way the gods talk about the other side of death, he did not mean to kill them.

“We need to find the Kairos as soon as we can,” Lincoln said.  “Hopefully before the djin finds us.”

“Agreed,” Lockhart said.  “But we need to rest, and heal, and so do the horses.  We take eight hours.  Two for each pair on watch.”

“I could put the screens back up, just in case,” Elder Stow suggested.

“No,” Lockhart said.  “The djin might more easily find us that way.”

“I don’t suppose we could stay long enough to hunt,” Decker asked.

“Bread crackers,” Katie said, with a shake of her head.  “Be glad it is not cold.  I don’t think even a fire would be wise.”

Decker did not argue.  He was military, and knew better than most the trouble any delay might cause.  Tents were teken back from the horses and went up.  Horses got some extra care, then Lockhart started the eight-hour watch.  He knew they would be sleeping after the sun rose, but not for long after.

###

“Still no sign of the djin?” Lockhart asked, as he tried to wake up.

“No.  Nothing,” Boston answered.  “It has been quiet since Sukki and I got up to watch.”

“The sun is well up,” Katie said, as she checked her saddle.  “We still have time to get to where the Kairos is?”  Boston nodded.

“And we go around Jericho,” Lockhart said.  He underlined that for Lincoln.

“We have not been there since that first time, way early in our journey,” Lincoln said.  “I am curious to see how it has changed, that’s all.”

“It is where I joined the others,” Elder Stow explained for Sukki, who nodded, but held her tongue, as usual.

“We ready?” Decker asked.  The others mounted, and they set off through the wilderness.

The travelers found a village and a well-worn path to Jericho.  They asked the way to Jerusalem, and got shown the cut-off that went around the outside of the city and pointed straight at the capital.  Soon, they picked up a better path, almost a road between Jericho and Jerusalem, and they made very good time.

“Much better than the first time we came through here,” Lockhart said, when they paused to walk the horses, to rest them.  “Back then, Old Salem was ruled by the Kairos whats-his-name as an independant city.”

“Yadinel,” Katie told him.  “The Elohim people lived there, but the Jebusites were on the verge of overrunning the city.”

“Now, David might be king,” Lincoln spoke up from behind, his nose in the database.  “But I suspect we will deal with Solomon.  It says here that Nathan was the student of Samuel, and Korah was the student of Nathan.  Korah has two students, Shemaiah and Ahijah.”

“Elijah?” Boston asked from behind Lincoln.

“Ahijah,” Lincoln corrected her.  “Elijah comes further down on the list.”

“So, Korah is a prophet?” Lockhart wanted to get it straight.

“No, technically, he is a musician.  So was Nathan.  Apparently, with some other Korahites, not named after the Kairos, Korah… they composed and play most of the temple music that made the Psalms into songs.”

“Korahites?” Alexis asked.

“Yes…” Lincoln paused to read before he spoke.  “They are levites, the ones who specifically carried all the sacred items all those years in the wilderness, including…” he paused to read.  “Including the Arc of the Covenant.”

“So, now that there is a temple, he has turned to music?” Katie said, like a question.

“So, what do we call him?” Lockhart asked.

“Can’t be Elvis,” Boston spoke up.  “Because we aren’t in Memphis… Egypt.”

“Rabbi, I think,” Lincoln said, and read some more.

“There were Rabbi’s this far back in history?” Boston asked.

“No, I don’t think it’s that kind of Rabbi,” Alexis said.

“Rabbi just means teacher,” Katie shouted back as Lockhart stopped the column.

“Mount up,” he said.  “We have really pushed our luck.  We need to get to Jerusalem, and whatever the Kairos, Korah is doing, I hope he can help us with the djin.”

“I hope we get there before the djin finds us,” Lincoln agreed.

###

“I see the gate,” Boston shouted from the back.  At four in the afternoon, they would easily get there before dark.  Even with that encouragement, everyone dragged toward the gate.  They, and their horses, were exhausted from a whole day of fighting the wind and sand, and then getting very little sleep in the night, and then riding all day without a stop.  They dared not stop for lunch.  They all felt hungry, sick of plain bread crackers.  Mostly, they sweated and were thirsty.  The idea of food and water, and maybe rest kept them going, but they had no speed in them.  That changed when Sukki shouted from the rear.

“I see a black cloud following us.  It looks like it is catching up.”

Everyone looked.  Lockhart shouted, “Ride.”

The road they were on seemed better than most they had seen.  Even so, they probably rode faster than it was prudent.  The wind began to pick up around them and blow dust into their faces, but Alexis pulled out her wand, and the wind detoured around them.  She did not have the power to counter the djin, but she could divert the wind.

Fire came up from the ground, like a living thing.  It shot at them, but Boston had her wand out already.  She could not delete the fire, but she could cause it to bend away from them long enough to pass by.

Decker and Elder Stow came in from the wings to cover the rear.  As the cloud came closer, lighting began to shoot out and explode on the ground where it hit.  The lighting tried to hit them, but Elder Stow had prepared his screens in advance for just this possibility.  He flipped the switch, and the lightning struck the wall of screens he made come up behind them.  It struck the screen and dissipated.  Otherwise, the djin had to fire his lightining too far in front of the group, or too far to either side to be effective.

The travelers galloped flat out where they could, and near that speed in every other place.  They looked like they might make it, but Boston shouted, and made herself heard, as elves can.

“The gate is closed.”

Elder Stow touched something on his screen device and sprinted his horse to the front.  They all understood if they stopped to ask permission to enter the city, the djin would catch them.  Elder stow did not ask permission, or even think clearly of the consequences.  Somehow, they all imagined if they got inside the city they would be safe.  Elder Stow pulled his weapon, adjusted the setting on the run, and fired.  Whatever small part of the door around the edges that did not vanish, exploded and caught fire.

The travelers raced into the city, and the soldiers and watchers in the gate dared not stop them.  Dead ahead, they saw a pool of water.  They rode into it, and after a moment, they got down into the water.  It felt glorious.

They all looked, of course, and noticed that the cloud of the djin stopped outside the city.  It almost seemed as if the wall kept him out.  It made no sense, that a wall could stop a cloud that could easily fly over top.  But something kept the djin out.

As the travelers, and their horses reveled in the water, the guards in the gate pulled themselves together.  After only a minute or so, the soldiers came.

Avalon 5.12 Bad Wine, part 3 of 5

The travelers were not disappointed with the tantrum.  The ground began to shake, which Elder Stow said had to be below the screen.  He reminded them the screens formed a globe and projected below the ground as much as above the ground.  The travelers watched as the desert cracked.  Steam shot up from several cracks, like wild geysers.  Flame came up from others.  The Tornado slammed into the screens.  The whole landscape turned from the desert, to an image of Hell.

Boston saw one of the streams of fire waver, and curiosity made her go invisible.  She saw a big, vulture-like bird had fallen to the ground.  It smoked, like it had been burned, and it took a moment to get Alexis’ attention well enough to explain what she could see in the dark, lit up by the light of the flames.

“Of course,” Alexis said.  “It isn’t just us stuck between two worlds.  The whole area around us is shifted, like the real world and the sand world are being overlapped in our location.  We are mostly insubstantial to the real world, and the real world is mostly unsubstantial to us, but not entirely so.  We pass through the real world and the real world through us, but not entirely so.  We have substantial shadows, we might say.”

“Uh-huh,” Boston said, but it would take her some time thinking about it before she understood what Alexis understood.

The ground began to rise, beneath their feet, and while the rest of the people, and the horses, began to panic, Elder Stow smiled.

“Something like rock must be pushing us up from underneath,” Lincoln said.

“The ground won’t stay still,” Sukki complained.

“Why are you smiling?” Boston returned to visibility and asked Elder Stow. He played with the screens, and slowly let sand fall out of the screens from beneath the traveler’s feet as they rose.  The travelers began to sink in the globe or protection.  Elder Stow began to float so he, and his scanner and equipment, stayed in the center of the screen globe, even as the bottom half of the globe got pushed out of the ground from underneath.  Elder Stow left enough sand in the bottom part of the globe for the travelers and the horses to stand upon, but soon enough he floated well over their heads.  He seemed to know exactly when the screen globe broke free of the sand, and he moved without warning.

They flew.

The travelers, the horses, the sand beneath their feet, and Elder Stow overhead.  The whole screen globe flew toward the city, and the djin appeared stymied, like this was an option he had not considered.

“My little flotation device is not designed for all this weight,” Elder Stow shouted down.  “It may give out after a short way.  I do not know how we may hit the earth.  I hope we don’t roll.  I hope the horses are not damaged, or worse, roll on top of you and damage you, but for now, we might as well take advantage of the djin’s mistake.”

“He is flying,” Sukki gasped.

“It is how he got around at first, when he followed us,” Boston told her.  “He went invisible and flew after us.  Nothing we could do about that, until he decided of his own free will, that it was safer and better to join us on the journey, since we were headed in the same direction he was headed.”

They did not fly fast, but some time passed before the djin figured out to raise the wind and sand again and try to blow them back.  Too late.  They reached the city, and Elder Stow just had to figure out how to set them down, safely.  He found a market square, deserted in the night, but big enough if he trimmed the size of the screens.  He went for it, though it took some fast and delicate manipulation of the screen and floatation controlers.

As the screens sank back into the sand, and Elder Stow returned to set his feet again, on the ground with the travelers and the horses, he flipped the invisibility disc back on to show them where they were in relation to the town.  He imagined it was a market.  Katie knew better.

“We must be in Rabbah, and this is the temple complex.”  Katie pointed toward the three-story tall bronze looking statue of a man with a bull head which took up one whole side of the square.  “That is the altar of Moloch.  He eats the sacrifice of human children.”

“Ashtaroth land,” Lincoln read, before he explained the Sukki.  “The one with the basilisk, who ate your entire expedition.”

“No,” Sukki whispered, and hid her face in her hands.  Boston and Alexis comforted her, while Lockhart kept Katie from getting closer, to examine the altar.

Something swirled in the square.  It became a little tornado before it began to form, outside the screen.  The travelers feared the djin, but it turned out to be a woman.  She came dressed in a plain, pull-over dress that fell around her like a shapeless tent.  She did not appear a bad looking woman, though it would have stretched the truth to call her pretty.  Mostly, she looked haggard, or cruel, or broken in some way; and angry, which did nothing for her looks—that, and the two big horns, like bull’s horns, that grew out or her forehead.  Still, she looked human-like despite the horns, but from the way the travelers trembled, they knew she had to be the goddess.

“Let me see you,” she demanded, and Elder Stow wisely turned off his screens.  It seemed better than her breaking them. The woman squinted, growled, and waved her hands.  The travelers felt themselves drawn back into the real world.  The only thing missing was the thump! when they landed.  They watched as Ashteroth grinned a wicked grin.  “The two ancient ones from the before time,” she said.  “And six ohers that do not belong here.  How nice.  What fun we will have.”  She looked up at the black cloud that appeared to hover in the sky and defy the wind.  No one had to guess who that black cloud represented.  “I might even let you live for bringing them to me,” she spoke to the sky.

“Who should we call?” Lockhart whispered.

Katie shook her head.  “In this place, only Moloch, her husband.”  Katie pointed at the altar, the big, bronze bull-headed man.

“Yes,” Ashtaroth said.  “And my husband will be very pleased with your sacrifices.  We have seven chambers in image.  We will cook you, and eat you, and I will relish your spirits.  One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…” she stopped when she pointed at Boston.

“Eight,” Boston prompted, in case the goddess forgot what came next.

Ashtaroth shrugged.  “I have no need for a spirit one.”

“Moloch,” Boston called.  “Moloch…”

“No,” Ashtaroth said, but it was too late.  The god appeared, eight feet tall, muscular, naked, bull head and all.

“You have trespassed on my place,” he said.  “I claim your children.”

“We have no children,” Katie responded.

The bull head looked up at the black cloud and yelled.  “I said no.”  He clenched his fist and the cloud disappeared, leaving a night sky full of stars.  “I claim you,” he said, and Ashtaroth smiled.

“We are hedged by the gods,” Boston said.  “By Enlil, Enki, Marduk, Ishtar, Hebat, Arinna, Hannahannah and Astarte.”

Katie found courage in the names and added to the list.  “By Odin, Zeus, Amon Ra, Tien Shang-Di, by Ameratsu, Leto, Artemis, Apollo and Ares.”

“By Hathor and Horus,” Boston continued.  “By Varuna and Brahma.”

“By Maya, and the Great Spirit over the sea.  By Poseidon, Feya, Bast and Anubis, Sekhmet and the Kairos, and many others.”

“Are you prepared to bring the wrath of the gods down upon you?” Boston asked.

“Harm us at the risk of your life,” Lockhart added.

“The gods will send you to the other side,” Lincoln said, using the words the gods used for death.

“You will be cast into the outer darkness,” Alexis added.

“Even into the lake of fire,” Boston said with a shiver, her head lowered that whole time.

Moloch did not appear to be a bright person.  He held his unclenched hand out to the travelers, like he felt for something.  He seemed to sense something.  He roared loud enough to shake the nearby buildings.  Then he spoke.

“You should not be here.  You should go to the other side.”

Moloch unclenched his fist even as Ashtaroth shouted, “No.”  The travelers vanished from that place.

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MONDAY

Go to the other side…of what?

Be sure to return for the second half of episode 5.12, and the end of Season Five

Until then… Happy Reading

*

Avalon 5.12 Bad Wine, part 2 of 5

The sandstorm kept up for several hours, but with a couple of hours to work, Elder Stow made something like a window, high up on the back side of the screens.  He even bent one section of the screen dome above the window so the sand slid off it, like rain off a roof, and did not come in the window.  Boston, the engineer, asked how he did that.  Elder Stow grinned his best Neanderthal grin and answered the question with a question.

“And how did your father Mingus make a window so only I could see you, though you remained invisible to the rest of the world?”

Boston, who had become visible right away, because staying invisible was too draining, wrinkled her nose as she spoke.  “That is very complicated magic,” she said.  Elder Stow nodded, but said no more.

“How long do you think he will keep this up?” Decker asked.  He chewed on some beef jerkey that had to be at least sixty-years-old after coming through the time gate.  He handed some to Sukki with a word.  “I don’t swallow it.  I just chew it for a while and spit it out.  I don’t have any gum or tobacco.”

Sukki understood.  She tried a piece for something to do, but she did not care for it much.  Gott-Druk, in general, were not big meat eaters.

After Elder Stow set the window, and made sure the screens were functioning properly, he joined the others and had a request for Boston.  “The sand appears to be covering the front end of the screens very nicely.  Boston, would you mind going invisible again and tell me what you see.”

“Okay,” she said, and it took a minute of concentration before they heard her voice.  “I see the field, the trees and the big rock, like no sandstorm ever happened.”

“Good,” Elder Stow responded, and he touched something on his belt and went invisible.  Sukki shrieked before she covered her mouth, and they heard Elder Stow’s voice.  “I see the same, trees, open field, and rocky hillside.”  Elder Stow became visible again, and Boston became visible a moment later.  “Now, let’s see what happens.”  He reattached the invsibility disc to the screens, and when he turned it on, everyone saw the native area.  Dog and Cortez let out sounds of surprise.  Misty Gray and Honey came up to stand beside Alexis and Boston.

“Question.” Lockhart spoke.  “Can you move us with the screen around us, like you did back in Althea’s day when the volcano went off?”

Elder Stow had to think about that.  “I can, but I would have to let solid items pass through the screen, like sand.  Perhaps we can move out from beneath the piled-up sand first before adjusting the screens for easier movement.”

“I don’t believe we have moved back into our world,” Alexis said.  “By becoming invisible, we have made the world visible, but in reality, I suspect we still have one foot in that other world.”

Lockhart understood, as well as he could understand.  Everyone mounted, and did their best to cover themselves and their horses against a blast of invisible sand.  They moved a small way, and could not move any further, like the sreens got stuck or caught on something immovable.

“Okay,” Lockhart said, and Elder Stow switched the screen settings, and they felt the wind, and the sting in the wind, though they did manage to get out from under the collapsing sand hill, which they could no longer see.

“We may have to take this bit by bit,” Katie shouted against the wind.

Lockhart nodded and started them in the direction they needed to go.  They got about a quarter mile before they had to stop and Elder Stow had to restore the screens to their previous condition.  He turned off the invisibility disc.

Everyone saw the sandstorm still raging, and Lincoln asked this time how long this could continue.

“A true duststorm can last from several minutes to several days,” Katie said, having dug up the relevant information from somewhere in her memory.  “It depends on a number of factors that I have no way of knowing right now.”

“Well, we have passed the few minutes part,” Lockhart said.  “We will see how long the djin keeps it up.”

“Hush,” Alexis told Lockhart.  “Let me see your eyes.”  She found some petroleum jelly in the medical kit and made them aply some to the insides of the nostrils, while she explained.  “This storm will dry you out worse than making your breathing heavy.  Your nose and mouth can dry.  We should keep the masks moist.  Your eyes can become dry enough to cause blindness, even permanent blindness. Best not to look up, and not into the wind at all.”

“We should probably cover our horse’s faces completely, and keep their face covering moist as well,” Lincon added.  He read in the database.

“Hey,” Boston got their attention.  “Why don’t we completely cover the horses with our tents, like we do in the snow, like medieval blankets, you know.”

Lockhart nodded and looked at Decker.  Decker appeared to be thinking, but in fact he was meditating and letting his eagle spirit haul him up above the screens to see what he could.  Sukki spoke up.

“Why are we heading straight into the wind?” she asked, innocently.  “Could we go to the side and go around the storm?”

“I imagine the djin wants to blast us head on,” Lockhart said.

Lincoln said, “Tacking,” and Alexis said, “A sailboat,” at almost the same time.

“We would be hit on the side,” Alexis explained.  “But we would not be hit in the face, and could better see where we are going.  With the blanket-covered horses, it would not be so bad.  And when the djin swings the storm to hit us in the face again, we swing to angle in the other direction, to be hit on the other side.”

“At a forty-five-degree angle, our forward motion would be about cut in half,” Lincoln said.  “But it should be more bearable.”

Elder Stow spoke.  “I have to assume the djin is subject to the same laws as anyone.  He can’t hit us from more than one direction at a time with wind and sand.”

“Keep the masks moist,” Alexis said.  “We brought plenty of water, so for a couple of days, if need be, should not be a problem.”

Decker came back and reported.  “The storm in about half-a-mile high and roughly half-a-mile in front, but from the way it dies instantly behind us, I would guess it is being artificially created.  I bet he can keep this up as long as there is sand.”

Lockhart stood.  “We are going to tack to the city, like a sailboat.  Get your tents and get the horses covered.”

###

The crew stopped for about the tenth time, well after dark.  Stopping proved no problem, but if they stopped for too long a period of time, the sand built up again against the screens, and then they had to backtrack before they could move forward again; and progress came painfully slow as it was.  People and horses got as much rest as they could, and they turned off all the lanterns but one to conserve power each time they stopped, but there was not much rest to be had.  Alexis checked people’s eyes and noses every time.  Boston and Katie took on the task of checking the horses.  It did not help matters when Boston said the horses should not go out again.  She said that the last two stops, but this time Katie agreed with her.

“Quite all right,” Elder Stow said.  “It appears our djin is tired of the game as well.”  He threw a switch on his scanner and the screens solidified, even as they had been at first.  He also turned off the invisibility disc so everyone could watch.  The storm ended, suddenly, and a tornado took its place.  It slammed into the screen, but it could not penetrate.  Elder Stow spoke calmly.

“Over our various stops, I tinkered with the scanner.  I managed to see what was going on in the desert world through or around the invisibility disc.  I expect a temper tantrum.”

Avalon 5.12 Bad Wine, part 1 of 5

After 999 BC Jerusalem.  Kairos 71: Korah, Musician and Prophet

Recording…

The travelers came prepared.  Too bad for the djin.  They took their blankets and their horse blankets and shaped them into water carriers, where the water would evaporate slowly over the next four days to a week, depending on how much of it they drank in that time.  They draped one carrier just behind their saddles where it would cool the horse’s rear, and the other, just in front of their saddles, where it would drape down and cool the horse’s neck.  They separated a piece of fairy weave from their clothes to make a mask for the horses to protect them from the sand.  They protected themselves with sold clothes where they could sweat, and masks and hats of their own.

“Tien said desert,” Alexis reminded everyone several times, before she finally asked, “Are we ready?”  Their canteens were full, and the horses had a long drink.

Katie looked at Lockhart before she nodded, and they left China behind.  They came out on a plain where they saw only sand for as far as they could see, and it felt like it would be a hundred degrees in the shade, if they ever found any shade.

“I don’t like it,” Katie said.  “It feels unnatural.”

“About what I expected,” Lokhart said, and with a glance at Katie, who checked her amulet and pointed, they started right out at a slow, walking pace.

“Looks like nothing but bread crackers for a while,” Lincoln said.  “Unless Decker or Elder Stow can find something.”

“How can we eat bread crackers without hot water to make the bread?” Sukki asked Boston.  Alexis heard and leaned back to answer.

“We may have to just eat the crackers.  Don’t worry. They won’t expand into full loaves of bread in your stomach, though they will fill you more than you would normally expect from crackers.”

“It will be fine,” Boston assured her.  “We have eaten the crackers before.”

“My mother.  My father,” Elder Stow interrupted and moved up beside Lockhart.  He had his scanner out and shook his head.  “I do not understand what I am seeing.  I am picking up a hot and dry land, but there are bushes and some trees.  I would guess olive and fig trees, among others.  I see a farm and a village that we should be able to see from here.”  He pointed off to their right.  “But my eyes see nothing.”

“Boston?” Lockhart shouted back, though Boston’s elf ears would have heard his whisper.

“Sorry, Boss,” Boston responded.  “All I see is sand.”  She got out her amulet, which offered more information about the location of cities and towns, and the general terrain than Katie’s prototype amulet.

“An illusion?” Alexis asked.

“Boss,” Boston raised her voice for Lockhart’s attention.  “I don’t see the village in the amulet, but we should reach a city by the end of the day, or a bit less.”

“We’ll look for it,” he said and turned to those around him.  “I want to keep Elder Stow with the main group to keep an eye on the terrain, in case we come to a cliff or something.  Katie, would you mind taking the wing with Decker?”

“Really?” Katie asked, and appeared to smile about it.  It could be dangerous by herself out on the wing, but previously, Robert would not let her get in a dangerous position.  It almost separated them at one point.  She thought, maybe he was growing, willing to let her be the elect she was.

“If you don’t mind,” Lockhart said.  “Lincoln needs to use the database to figure out where we are.  Alexis and Boston are trying to figure out how to pierce this illusion, or whatever it is.  Sukki is too new at all this, and not military trained, and as I said, Elder Stow needs to keep a watch on the terrain.”

“Oh.”  Katie lost a bit of her enthusiasm.  “So I am the only choice?”

“Not exactly,” Lockhart admitted.  “You have elect senses.  You might sense something that none of us can see.”

That helped.  Katie rode off to one side, and Decker rode off to the other.  Lockhart watched them to make sure they did not disappear in the sand.  Then he spoke into his wrist communcator.  “Testing, testing.  Don’t get out of range in case we need to pull you back quickly.”

“Roger.”

“Yes, Dear.”

Lincoln looked at Lockhart, who turned slightly red but did not turn his head.  Lincoln kindly changed the subject as he pulled out the database.  “I would guess our equipment has been taken out of the djin’s hands.  He had to teach the men in Sinon’s day to fire the weapons, and Elder Stow’s radiation detector still worked.”

“Zoe took away his ability to control our minds, way back when,” Lockhart responded.

“Looks like he still figured out a way to control our senses, though.” Lincoln said and turned to read.

“This way,” Elder Stow said.

“Why?” Lockhart asked.

“Trees.  A grove,” Elder Stow replied.

Lockhart shook his head.  “I don’t see them.  Let’s see if they are there.”  He kept them moving straight ahead.

Elder Stow grunted, raised his eyebrows and grunted again before he spoke.  “You…We appear to have walked right through them.”

“That doesn’t mean if we come to a cliff or crevasse we won’t fall off or fall in,” Lockhart said and turned his head.  “Alexis.”

“We seem to be partly out of sync with the environment,” Alexis responded.  “Like we have one foot in another world.  Boston.”  Boston looked at her.  “Try to go invisible.”

Boston had to concentrate, but she eventually succeeded, and though they did not see her, just Honey, her horse, plodding along in the heat, they heard her well enough.  “I’m in regular land,” she said, and everyone knew what she meant.

Sukki had a question, after she got over her shock of seeing Boston disappear.  “Is it as hot there?  I’m melting.”

“Still hot, but not as bad,” Boston said.

“The benefits of a green environment,” Alexis said.

“Elder Stow.  Want to try it?” Lockhart asked.  Elder Stow had a disc with which he could simulate invisibility.

“Wait until we stop for lunch,” he said.  “It is still tied to the screen device.”

Lincoln looked up.  “Hey, I was wondering.  Can your screens cut the glare of the sun, like sunglasses—or those glasses that darken out in the sun.”

“Like shade,” Alexis said.

Elder Stow looked up and thought about it.  “I believe so, but I may need to take extra time at lunch to work on the program.”

“Sandstorm.”  Katie’s word came from every wrist communicator.  Lockhart looked up and saw Decker, and then Katie riding hard.  Behind them, he saw a wall, like a giant cloud pursuing them.

“No time like the present,” Lincoln said.

“Over here,” Boston spoke.  “Follow Honey.”  Honey wandered to a spot that looked, to the others, no different than anywhere else.  But they followed, and Decker and Katie angled in to join them.  Elder Stow got down and worked feverishly on his scanner and screen device.

“Why here?” Lockhart asked to Boston’s horse.  He heard an answer over his head.

“We are behind a hill and great rock outcropping.  I can kind of see the desert, if I concentrate, and I don’t know if the natural barrier will help, but I thought it was worth a try.”

“Everyone, get out your tents,” Lockhart shouted.  “See if it will expand enough to cover yourself and your horse.”

“Wait, wait,” Elder Stow said, and he judged where Katie and Decker rode in the distance.  He hit a button with a word, “Now.”  Suddenly, the sound of the wind that they hardly noticed cut off.  Elder Stow continued.  “I made the screens as big as I could and still keep out the sand and dust.”

“Why make it so big?” Sukki wondered.

“Because, I would not put it past the djin to try and bury us in sand, at which point the only air we will have to breathe will be the air inside the screens, until we dig ourselves out.”

“Well, if he buries us, it should cut the glare from the sun,” Lockhart said.

“And bake us, like in an oven,” Alexis responded.

“Cheery thought,” Decker said, as he dismounted.

Katie got down to stand beside Lockhart as they watched the sand strike and begin to build a wall of sand on the outside of the screen dome.

Avalon 5.11 The River Circus, part 1 of 6

After 1057 BC The Wei River.  Kairos 70: Shang Feyan

Recording…

Katie waited by the time gate, her rifle at the ready.  Decker and Elder Stow came through last, and Lockhart yelled for them to ride.  No one moved.  Decker and Elder Stow swung around, so Decker and Katie could get the night creature in a crossfire.  The creature came through.  The marksmen did not miss.  The creature roared and jiggled back and forth, slammed by the bullets, but it did not stop until Elder Stow fried it with his energy weapon.

“Now,” Decker yelled.

“That was the scout,” Katie also yelled, and they started to ride.

They rode, but slowly.  The sun touched the horizon and looked ready to rise, but presently, it remained dark enough to require care.  It also felt dark enough so when the main body of night creatures reached that point, they could come right through the gate before they needed to go to ground.

“Damn,” Lincoln said, as they rode into a ravine.

“Who are you thinking?” Alexis asked.  Clearly, the night creatures had help from one of the Greek gods to catch up with them.  Thrace was a long way from Troy, and across the Bosporus besides.  They covered that distance instantly with Aphrodite’s help.  No way the night creatures covered that same distance, and crossed the water, without help.  So she asked who her husband thought the traitor god might be, without spelling it out.

“Eris or Hecate.  Probably not Ares.”

They came to a place where they could gallop, so talking got put on hold.

“Sukki,” Boston reached a hand out toward the Gott-Druk.  As an elf, Boston could make herself heard even over the thunder of the horses.

“I’ve got her,” Elder Stow responded, though it was not exactly clear in what way he had her.

When the travelers came up out of the ravine, the sun broke above the horizon and bathed them in light.  Lockhart did not let them stop, though they had to slow to a trot.  Lockhart merely looked at Katie, and she got out the prototype amulet, and pointed.  They weren’t too far off, but adjusted their trajectory accordingly.  They headed toward a forest where they finally had to walk the horses.

“Down,” Lockhart said, and the travelers grabbed the reins and led their horses through the brush and into the shadows.  Most kept their ears open for sounds of a baby crying in the dark places.

“So, Eris or Hecate?” Alexis asked.

Lincoln nodded, and took a couple of minutes to get out the database.  Alexis took the reins to Cortez, Lincoln’s horse, so he could use both hands to access the relevant data.  Then he spoke.

“We are in China,” he said, to begin.

“Hecate,” Alexis reminded him of what she asked, as the others listened in.

“I just wanted to be sure we were out of range of the Greek gods,” Lincoln said.  “Yes, Hecate.  She has no love for the Kairos after Althea beat up Madea, her pupil.  Then Eris is discord.  She was the one with the golden apple that began the family argument that started the whole Trojan war.”

“Diomedes said it was a political thing,” Alexis reminded him.

“I am sure it was, on a human level,” Lincoln agreed.  “The database suggests the Hellene invaded Greece just after the war, when so many of the Dorian Greek heroes were dead, and their sons were not yet grown.  It also says the iron made a bloody mess of everything.”

“You said probably not Ares?” Alexis asked.

Lincoln shook his head.  “The Amazon queen was his granddaughter, and Diomedes wounded Ares on the same day he cut Aphrodite, but Ares is in the thick of the war and Zeus is too likely watching him, especially, since he is the god of war and on the Trojan side, which as you know, was decreed to lose the war.  Ares would not dare.  Besides, Ares knows the gods have set a hedge around us, and he has nothing against us, personally.”

“Neither do the others,” Boston spoke up.

“No,” Lincoln agreed.  “But Eris is discord, and proved she would not hesitate to do something that would cause the gods themselves to be at odds with each other.  And Hecate is just ornery.  Think Tiamut.”

People understood, and stopped, because Katie stopped.  Something roared.  No one saw it, but everyone recognized the sound, and Lockhart yelled.  “Ride,” though they were still among the trees.

The travelers rode, and kept riding until noon, when Katie finally got them to try walking the horses again.  She had a thought that no one wanted to think.

“Maybe one of the Chinese gods is also working with the djin.”

Lincoln got the database out again and read before he spoke.

“The Shang-Di went demonic-crazy, and Nameless had to kill him.  I won’t read the details, but the hierarchy of the Shang gods over the people collapsed.  Tien is now the king of this jurisdiction.  Many are calling him Tien Shang-Di.  You may remember back in Yu-Huang’s day, the Shang-Di was already threatening the west and south, and Tien, with his brothers and sisters, and some rebellious Shang gods set up a hedge to prevent the Shang-Di from breaking out of his place.”

“I remember Nagi and Shengi-god were on the side of the Kairos, and they said some others were secretly ready to rebel, and declare back then for Tien.” Alexis said.

“Yes,” Lincoln said.  “Well, Tien Shang-Di is now in charge, and I am sure his brothers and sisters, as well as some others are giving their full support, but you know any such transition has got to have rough spots. I’m thinking there may be some old Shang gods that may be willing to gum up the works in a passive-aggressive way.”

“Or maybe rebel indirectly by assisting the djin against us,” Boston said, before Alexis got ready to say the same thing.

The travelers did stop for some lunch, but then rode through much of the afternoon.  They stopped near sundown, but only to eat a meal.  The moon had come up, nearly full, so they rode through most of the night, until moon set.  Even then, they walked their horses until the sun began to glimmer again on the horizon.

All along the way, they passed houses, farms, and villages, but they never stopped until daylight.  A village lay up ahead, and though they were tired, they thought shelter, like a barn, would be preferable to being out in the open.  The sky had clouded over, and it looked like rain.

The travelers got the usual slack-jawed, staring reception in the village.  They had shaped their fairy weave to imitate the local dress for men and women.  There was not much they could do to disguise the big horses, the saddles, or their equipment, but they did what they could.  Boston and Alexis could put up a glamour to make themselves appear Chinese, but there was nothing they could do about the others.  Katie’s blond hair stood out, and Lincoln remarked that at least Sukki and Elder Stow had glamours to make them appear human.

Some of the locals ran away when they approached.  Some of the men grabbed old spears and farm implements, and kept a wary eye on the travelers.  It took three tries before they were able to explain that they rode in the night, all day, and all night again, and all they wanted was a roof and a chance to rest during the day.  One old man finally agreed that they could stay at his farm, but it was some distance from the village.  From the looks of the locals, everyone imagined that was for the best.  They walked the old man home.

“This is not a good time.  These are dangerous days,” the old man explained to the group as they walked.  “The king, Di Xin, and his consort Daji play in their palace in Yin.  They care nothing for the people, and it is said they kill and eat those who displease them.”

“Human sacrifice,” Katie mumbled, with a nod to the others.

“Lord Wen?” Lincoln asked, without actually asking anything specific, but the old man shook his head.

“It once looked like Wen of the Zhou might rebel against the Shang, but he died, mysteriously, about three years ago.  His son, Lord Wu is raising an army, and the Zhou are strong in battle, but the Shang have ruled forever.  They claim to rule by right, being descended from the gods, and no one has ever successfully escaped their hand.

Lincoln nodded and said to the others, “I’ll tell you later.”

Avalon 5.7 Little Lost Lamb part 5 of 6

Three hours after meeting with the village elders, Artie, Naman, Hatisuli, and three of those elders met the Mitanni just outside of the village.  Artie did the talking, and she got straight to the point.

“Are you trying to start a war?  Does your king know you are doing this?  Do you think he will be happy when he has to pay compensation to the Hittites for attacking a Hittite village?”

The Mitanni commander smiled and kept looking over his shoulder at the man in the corner.  Artie felt something about the man that rubbed Artie in an odd way.  She felt it as soon as she saw him, and finally put it together in her mind that she felt the same way around Alexis and Boston.  She figured it might be that intuition thing Mother Katie talked about, and she felt thrilled to think she had it.  Then she understood she would only be guessing.

“Elf.  Show yourself,” she said.  The man looked around with the others, like he did not know who she was talking to.  “Elf, in the name of the Kairos, you have no business leading these men into war.  If you are being coerced, then in the Kairos’ name I command that you be free.”

The man stared this time, and began to weep.

“What is this?”  The Mitanni commander demanded an answer.  “Lugos is the one who told me about the gold hidden away in your village.  He is a fine and honest man.”  The commander wanted that gold.  “I will not attack you if you hand it over.”

“Elf, show yourself, or when I see the Kairos, I will accuse you, and the Kairos will know.”

“No.  Please.”  The man transformed into a four-foot creature that looked more like an imp than an elf.  He might have been a gnome of sorts.  Artie honestly was not sure.  The Mitanni and village elders alike took several steps back.  Only Naman smiled, and he kept Hatisuli steady.

“I don’t know what I am doing.  I do not deal with mortal humans.  My place is in the wilderness.”  He looked directly at the Mitanni commander.  “There is no gold in this village.  You have been lied to.”  That was as close as he could come to admitting that he lied.  “May I go?”  He looked at Artie.

“Who told you to bring the Mitanni here?” Artie asked, kindly.

“I…”  The gnome took off his hat and twisted it.  “That big fellow.  The Marid.”

“The Djin?” Artie asked to clarify.

The gnome nodded.  “I think so.”

Artie smiled.  “You can go, my friend.”  The gnome smiled for her, and vanished as Artie turned to the Mitanni commander.  “So, you have been lied to.  There is no gold.  Now, unless you intend to start a war and make your king boiling mad at you, I suggest you take your troop back to the trade road and go home.”

“The gold?” one of the sub-commanders asked.  The commander hit him and started yelling at his men to get moving back to the road.

Artie turned, and Naman grabbed her and hugged her.  Hatisuli and the elders were very pleased.  Artie felt the excitement and pleasure in Naman’s arms.  She just had to kiss him, but it was all too brief before she said.  “I wonder if the Hittite commander got told about the gold.  They would find out.

###

That evening, the whole village threw a celebration.  They knew what a battle woould have done to them, not to mention the soldiers that would have rampaged through the town, looking for gold that was not there.  Artie became the guest of honor, and got tired of saying, “No, thank you,” and “Your welcome,” and “I’m glad everything worked out.”

As the night wore on, people tired.  They began to go home about nine o’clock, and Naman explained.  “It is true.  We are poor dirt farmers not used to late hours, no matter the occasion.  But we are the backbone of the countryside.  All of the kings and nobles would not survive without us.”

After a while, when Naman and Hatisuli wandered off to talk with the young men, Sharina waddled up and took Artie to meet Larsa.  Larsa looked a little afraid.  She heard about the thieves and the lion, and Artie got the credit for driving off two whole armies, even if they barely made up two companies between them.  Artie hugged the girl, which made the girl’s whole face express surprise.  Then Artie asked a question Larsa did not expect.

“Do you love him?”

Sharina encouraged Larsa to speak.  “Oh yes.  He is all I dream about.”

Artie nodded.  “Then you should marry him,” and she explained what only Naman knew.  “My seven companions on their seven big horses will find me.  I am certain.  And then I will go with them on our journey, and be gone from this place.  I thank you for letting me borrow Naman for a few days.  It is very scary to be on your own, lost and alone.  His friendly face has helped me more than I can say.”  She gave Larsa and Sharina both hugs, hugging Sharina carefully around the baby, before she finished her thought.  “I may be here a week or so.  My friends may come for me tomorrow.  I do not know.  But if Naman loves you, then you can marry him, and be happy, and I will not be here to get in your way.”

Larsa began to cry and Artie asked.  “Are you happy to hear that I am going away?”  Larsa nodded, and Artie wondered out loud.  “Why do women cry when they are happy?”  And all three laughed.

As the party wound down, Naman said they should go, and Artie agreed, but because she had to check on Freedom.  He took her hand as they walked to the barn.  She gave Freedom a good brushing and plenty of tender care.  Then she got out her own brush and sat down beside Naman while she brushed her own hair.  They did not say much.

“Do you love Larsa?”

Naman looked away and admitted, “Yes.  I think I do.”

Artie nodded.  Then they kissed.  And then they did everything men and women are designed to do.

As the moon came up, the clouds also moved in.  The rain came suddenly, and it came hard.  Anat crawled down from the barn loft, and she screamed once when the lightning struck.  The wind came up, and the whole barn rattled.  Even Naman looked scared in the face of the storm.

“Twister,” Naman yelled.  They moved to the back of the barn where Freedom looked ready to Panic.  Naman and Artie held Anat between them and made themselves as small as they could.  They expected the barn to be blown away any minute, but the tornado stopped.  It stood in the doorway, and they heard laughter.

Artie was the first to move.  Naman kept two steps back and held Anat so she could not run away.  Artie got suspicious.  Her intuition acted up, and she yelled against the wind.

“What is so funny?”

A face formed on the outside of the tornado and laughed.  “You are despoiled.  You have given yourself to a man.  You can never get your innocence back, or your purity.  Now, no man will ever want you for wife.  You have ruined yourself.”

“What do you mean?” Artie shot back.  “I had a wonderful experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

The face seemed stuck on its own way of thinking.  “All of this went according to plan.”  He laughed again.  “The thieves.  The lion.  The soldiers.  It was nothing more than a ruse to bring you two together.  It worked better than I ever hoped.  Now, your life is over and you may as well give yourself to the brothel and to depravity.”

“Are you not listening?  What Naman and I have and did is special, and I will remember it fondly my whole life.  Mother Katie, Boston and Alexis have told me much about the future.  I am sixteen, and that is more than old enough for hot, steamy sex.”

“But…”

“You made me sick, and now I know what it is like to be ill.  You gave me a boyfriend, and I am grateful for that, too.  We got to sleep together, and it was wonderful.  I am not afraid of you, and I am not angry with you.  You pushed me to experience things I never would have experienced as an android.  I thank you, most deeply.”

The face twisted, and let out a scream.  The roof on the barn began to lift before the tornado vanished and the clouds pushed off.  An older woman stood in the moonlight, and Artie recognized her.

“Hannahannah,” Artie named her, and ran to hug her.  The old woman smiled and turned her right around. She led Artie right back to the barn where Artie saw Naman and Anat sleeping, peacefully.

“You must lie down,” Hannahannah said, and guided Artie to lie so Anat stayed between her and Naman.  “Like your own little family.”  Hannahannah smiled.  “And you have a busy day tomorrow.”

Artie felt warm and content, and she quickly joined her little family in sleep.