People, maybe a million souls, stretched out on the flat land beyond the tower. They dressed in ragged animal skins, or went naked, looked gaunt and starved, but for some reason, they kept working—gathering clay, whatever grass or bark they could to strengthen the bricks, baking the bricks, and adding them to the tower. Why they would continue to work while they starved to death, Mingus could not imagine. They were human, he concluded. They were crazy.
“We need glamours, an illusion so the people think we are one of them.”
“Father,” Alexis objected. “These people need help.”
“That may be, but we dare not stop among them.” He paused to look at his daughter. He dressed her in fairy weave for their first journey, a magical cloth that could be shaped, colored, and given texture as desired. Alexis shaped her fairy weave to give it the look of raged, animal-skin clothing. She added the glamour to appear too skinny, like a person half-starved, and she added a slightly bloated belly, but he made her adjust the look.
“You need to darken your hair so you don’t look so old. I suspect when the elderly collapse, they probably get eaten.”
“Father,” Alexis objected again, but she made the change.
“Now follow me,” Mingus said. “I believe we have jumped to the first days, before the human race got scattered and the language broke into a million forms. These people likely speak the universal tongue, which you should understand. But if they speak to you, do not answer them. Keep your head down, and do not meet them in the eyes. We are going to try to skirt the edge of this mass of people, and walk. Only walk. If we must run, I will tell you to run; but if we show these people our backs, I suspect they will be after us like a pack of dogs.”
“Father.” Alexis said it a third time, but she voiced no more objections.
The people grunted and moaned, but few talked. It seemed like talking would take too much energy, and that was energy they needed to use for brick making and building. No one moved, or stepped aside for the couple. Mingus and Alexis had to walk around people, fire pits, and bricks laid out to bake in the sun. It felt like they were weaving a thread through a tapestry.
The first portion of the journey went well. The people ignored them, but the mass of people stretched for several miles, up to the edge of a hill that looked a long way away.
“There is some powerful enchantment at work here,” Mingus said. Being an elf, he was able to direct his words to Alexis’ ears only.
Alexis felt unsure if she could still do that. She knew the little ones in the future could hear, understand, and respond to any human language, but Alexis knew she could no longer do that since she became human. Too bad, she thought. It would have helped when she and Benjamin traveled to France. Alexis contented herself with listening.
“It appears to be centered in the middle of this mass of people, and feels like some form of compulsion. No doubt that is why these starving people are continuing to work day and night. And here, I thought they were just expressing typical human insanity.”
Father! Alexis did not say the word out loud, but she thought it as hard as she could.
Two-thirds of the way along the edge of the camps, and Alexis could not hold her eyes to the ground. The distraction came in the form of a dozen naked, filthy children attempting to run and play. It looked like a game of tag, and for the most part, the adults around them ignored them. Sometimes the children got yelled at. Sometimes they got pushed to the ground or got hit. One brute picked up a little girl and threw her into the fire. He laughed as the girl scrambled to get out. She did not get badly injured, but Alexis could not help herself.
“Father. The children.” She watched a baby try to suckle a dry and shriveled breast. The mother had nothing to give. “The children,” Alexis repeated.
A man stood in their path and signaled for others to join him. “What about the children?” the man asked.
“They are making a nuisance of themselves,” Mingus quickly lied. “We can’t get any work done.”
“I’ve watched you,” the man said. “You haven’t been working. You are not staying in your place. I think you are trying to escape.”
The crowd that gathered began to make noises about taking them to Nimrod. More than one suggested eating them.
“We are going to collect plants for the bricks,” Mingus tried. “In the hills. It is the new place.” He pointed up the hill at the end of the camp. “We were sent to see what is there that may be useful.”
The man paused, rubbed his chin, and the crowd noise toned down. The man looked once up the hill before he decided. “No. That is the place from which destruction comes. No one goes into the hills.” The crowd noise started up again. Alexis pulled her wand. Mingus made a fist around which he formed a small fireball. Then everything stopped and became utterly silent. Everyone looked frozen in place, unable to move.
A woman appeared in that same instant. She looked young and seemed to be well fed, which made her stand out in the crowd. The man who blocked their way and the crowd did not appear to notice. In fact, after a moment, the people all went back to what they were doing as if nothing at all happened.
“Let me look at you,” the woman said, and grabbed Mingus by the chin. He squinted as she squeezed, but did not resist. “Elder elf. You two are leaking the future all over the place.” She let go and looked at Alexis. She smiled. “Former elf,” she said, correctly.
“Yes, ma’am,” Alexis offered, and felt it was only right to curtsey.
“Your Kairos. I see you belong to them. They are right now wending their way back to the tower. They are not in a position to draw attention to themselves by meeting up with you. Really. You must stop leaking the future. I have already been exposed to far more knowledge about the future than is safe. The Kairos is beginning to leak, badly. I had to put a hedge around them so the others could not find out about tomorrow.”
“I am sorry,” Alexis said, feeling the need to apologize out of her confusion. She did not understand why this woman referred to the Kairos as they and them.
“We don’t know how to stop leaking,” Mingus admitted. He imagined this woman had to be a goddess and she unconsciously read their minds.
“I can see your limitations. I am a titan. The gods have not begun yet, though young Zeus has been born and he is coming to kill his father.” She raised her hands, one to each of them. “There. I have placed a hedge also around you, and I will ask others to strengthen it. I have also scrambled your words, so when you speak of future things, no one may hear unless they are standing with you and hear by normal hearing. The gods to be do not need to know what will be.”
“But what if I inadvertently say something in the wrong ears?” Alexis felt concerned.
“Then you will give the Kairos in the future many headaches.”
Mingus understood what confused Alexis. The Kairos in this day had to be the twins, Zadok and Amri, if the history was correct. He looked at his daughter with his expressionless look, but the woman read the elder elf’s true insides.
“You love your daughter well. That is the only reason I did not give you to the bokarus of the woods. And yes, the Kairos is Amri and Zadok. And yes, I can still read your thoughts. It is my hedge, but it is too late for me. I have already been tainted by the future, even beyond the day of the dissolution of the gods, though most of the gods have not yet been born.” The woman raised her hand and the three of them vanished from that place and reappeared on the distant hilltop, the one before the mountain that still had grass and trees upon it. A fire had already been made, and a beast of some sort, well cooked, roasted slowly over the flames.
“But who are you?” Alexis asked.
“Leto,” the woman said, and she had two things to add. “I will also put a hedge around your friends when they arrive, so you may have to explain it to them. Now I go to mourn. I know Zeus will bring an end to the days of Cronos. That is as it must be. Time being the mere counting of days will come to an end. Time will now be vested in the Kairos. Everything will get complicated and confusing. It will be counted by events and the rise and fall of great civilizations. Now, we begin event time, and I know the tower will fall.” She vanished.
Alexis turned to her father. “What friends?”
Mingus shrugged. “All I know is the way to get home is to go back to the beginning of time. Once we break through the last barrier, we should automatically go back to our own time.” He lied.
“So why did you kidnap me if you were just going to bring me right back?” she asked in her sharpest voice.
Mingus shrugged. “I realized when we got here that it was not fair to you. What I want doesn’t matter.” He looked sad, but elves could fake that look very well.
Alexis did not buy it. “Change of heart?” She scoffed.
Mingus shook his head and offered another lie. “Actually, in the forest, I realized I was putting you in far more danger bringing you here than leaving you back home. I never could fool you, or your mother. Here. Have some lunch. Then you can lie down for a while and get some rest.”
Alexis did not trust her own father, but that did not prevent her from eating and lying down. She trusted enough to know her father would watch over her while she slept.
Alexis woke up around four in the afternoon, as near as she could tell. It appeared to be summer, so the sun was still well up in the sky. Mingus had the campsite cleaned up, so all they had to do was walk.
“You wouldn’t have liked the climb earlier, in the heat of the day.” Mingus tried to sound like he cared.
Again, Alexis did not exactly buy it, but she went along because she had no choice. And it felt all uphill. After a short way, it seemed like they left the hill and started to climb a mountain. The sun eventually set off to their left hand, but Mingus did not want to stop. He made a fire into a small floating globe of light to trail them in the dark. Alexis used her wand to make a fairy light, to light their steps and shed some light on the way ahead.
Alexis had to stop about every hour to catch her breath, but Mingus seemed kind to her, even brushing off logs and boulders to let her sit and rest her legs. Near midnight, they finally came to a dark entrance to a cave.
“No,” Alexis objected. “I’m not going in there.”
“I’m sorry, but this is the way. Trust me. We are almost there. Besides, I don’t want to risk sleeping again out in the open. Trust me. Another hour and we will be home.”
Alexis screwed up her face and tried to shove her fairy light into the cave. It immediately went out. She took out her wand and tried again. The second light fared no better than the first.
“Wait, let me show you.” Mingus said. He stepped through the opening and made a fire light that lit up the way for a short distance.
“A tunnel?” Alexis asked.
“That is how I know we are in the right place, now come on.”
Alexis stepped forward and felt her whole-body tingle as she stepped through the opening. She watched her wand rapidly shrink. The oak stick became covered with bark before it sprouted a leaf, became a twig, and vanished altogether. “What?”
“Proof we are on the right road,” Mingus said. “You don’t need the wand to make a light.”
“It helps. I’m tired, already. The wand helps me maintain focus so I don’t have to do it all in my head. That is very draining.”
“But only one more gate and we will reach the last point,” Mingus assured her. “When we pass the last point, we will be home.”
“Is that what that was, a gate?”
“Like an invisible door,” Mingus said. He knew she did not remember much from their journey home from the eighteenth century. He made sure she did not remember.
“It felt like spider webs.”
“So only one more web, and after that we will come to our destination.”
“I don’t like spiders,” Alexis said, and shivered, but she walked.