R6 Festuscato: 6 The Witch of Balmoor, part 3 of 3

Patrick started down the rough path, which became a bit of a climb to reach the floor of the hollow.  Bran and Greta followed him, and Giolla came and pushed up to stay near the priest.  Lord Flahartagh followed reluctantly, and Fionn came last and looked like a man who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

“Come, come,” the old woman cackled.  “I have been expecting you, but tell me, druid, how did things turn?”

“You failed, old woman.  The priest lives, and I should take my money back.”

“Curious,” the old woman cackled.  “They were the most poisonous serpents in the world. But who can control serpents?”

“Patrick can,” Giolla shouted.  “He cast your serpents into the sea where they all drowned.”

“You paid her to attack the priest?”  Lord Flahartagh caught up with what was going on and he hit his druid and knocked him down.  “You know what happened last time,” he roared.

“What happened?” Greta asked.  She wanted the conversation to continue while she thought of what to do.  She felt sure any direct movement toward the hole in the world would be stopped by the witch.

Lord Flahartagh explained.  “My father’s grandfather got cheated by the MacNeills and the King of Leinster when the King ruled in favor of the MacNeills and they took possession of the whole of the fens.  He came to the witch and she called up the dragons who terrorized our lands as readily as they terrorized MacNeill and Leinster.”

“Who can control a dragon?” the witch asked in a gleeful voice.

“Festuscato can,” Bran said, and Greta looked up at the man.

“Hey, I healed the dragon.  Oh, okay.”  Greta threw up her hands and went away so Festuscato could fill his own boots.  The witch looked startled, and the Irish yelled again, though not as loud as the last time.  Festuscato returned in his white tunic with the dragon on the front, and sent the cloak of Athena away.  “Good to be back,” he said, and winked at Patrick, while he walked around as if seeing things for the first time, and in truth positioned himself to take a stab at the branches as soon as the opportunity arose.

“You are the dragon,” the witch said, and with the sound of respect in her voice.  “I have heard of you.”  Clearly, hearing and understanding what she heard were two different things.  No human witch, no matter how powerful, could probe the depths of the Kairos.

“So, what’s cooking?” Festuscato asked and leaned over as if to get a look.

“The soup of life in the cauldron of life.”

“That is never the cauldron of life,” Festuscato objected.  “Dagda’s Cauldron was big enough for a man to stand inside it.  Cauldron of life?”  Festuscato scoffed.

“Patrick’s words are the words of eternal life,” Giolla spoke up.

“Jesus is the giver of life,” Patrick said, and the witch screamed and covered her ears.  That told Festuscato that the witch was not just a sorceress, she was demon possessed, a complication, and no doubt the source of her knowledge.

“I control life here,” the witch insisted and she lifted her spoon to mumble incoherently and wave her hand above the bubbles.  Spiders began to crawl over the edge of the cauldron and several bats flew up into the sky, to dive bomb the people.

“Mousden!”  Festuscato called, and since Mirowen presently held the boy’s hand, she came with him.

Mousden took one look at the witch, reverted to his pixie form, screamed and raced to hide behind Patrick’s robes.

“Mousden, come here,” Mirowen scolded and Mousden looked up and took a breath long enough to mouth another word.

“Lunch.”  The bats flew for their lives.  The spiders were not so lucky.

By the time the witch closed her mouth at the unexpected turn of events, Festuscato had Wyrd out of his sheath.  One swipe of that sword, and the old branches got cut off. He punched the remains of the branches, hurt his hand, and the wood popped out the other side of the hole, somewhere on the other earth.  The hole itself snapped shut with an audible SNAP.

The witch screamed.  Mousden screamed again on principle.  Festuscato more accurately shouted his words.  “Get out of the hollow!”  He grabbed Patrick’s robe as Mirowen scooped up Mousden, and they began to climb.  Bran went right there with them, but the others were a bit behind.  When the witch collapsed, she began to decay rapidly. She had to be over ninety.  Maybe she was over a hundred-years-old.  Maybe she was already dead and just being propped up by the demons that inhabited her.  They would never know.  As they reached the ground level above, the walls all around the hollow gave way and the hollow filled rapidly with water.  They watched while in the end it became a pond in the wilderness, and when it overflowed in one spot, it became a little stream.

“There is some water worth avoiding,” Lord Flahartagh said.

“No,” Festuscato shook his head.  “What do you think, Springs?”

A little head popped up from the stream and spoke. Flahartagh got startled, but he did not yell this time.  “Lots of muck in the water from that blasted soup the witch was cooking.  Come back this time next year and we will get things nice and cleaned up for you.  That old witch kept us out for a long time, but I knew she could not keep us out forever.”

“Thank you, Springs,” Festuscato said.  “Good to see you.”

“My pleasure.”  Springs saluted, and broke apart into the water from whence he came.

“I see you have lots of friends,” Lord Flahartagh said, and Festuscato nodded.

“Like my housekeeper Mirowen, and her ward, Mousden.” Mousden went back to walking, looking again like a nine-year-old, and it would have been easy to forget his pixie appearance or blame it on the witch casting illusions, but Mousden chose that moment to let out a big belch, and Mirowen scolded him.  “He ate too much,” Festuscato suggested.  Lord Flahartagh’s eyes got big for a second before he began to laugh.

Patrick and Fionn the Druid kept up a lively debate all the way back to the road.  To be sure, Fionn did not want to crowd his lord and remind him he went to the witch in the first place.  No one really listened to the debate, unless Bran listened, but it did seem to the casual observers that Fionn kept losing.

By the time they reached the road, Fionn started reaching for arguments that were no more than thinly disguised insults, like a man who lost the debate, and knew it, but was damned if he would admit it. He started insulting Patrick when they reached the road and Patrick had enough.

“No one is forcing you to listen to the good news, but as young Giolla plainly told you, what I am bringing is the word of life.” Patrick slammed the butt of his shepherd’s crook on the ground for emphasis.  Unfortunately, the ground seemed extra soft on the side of the road and the staff sank into the muck.  A second later, Patrick had to let go as the staff got hot.  They all watched as the staff sprouted leaves, and they watched the roots grow.

“Dern,” Festuscato said.  “I liked that staff.”

Fionn got scared when they went to see the witch. He got frightened out of his mind when he saw the pixie, and then the water sprite, but he could pretend they did not exist.  This became too much.  The fear covered Fionn’s face and he yelled the last weapon in his arsenal.

“I will call upon the gods and tell them to strike you down.”

“I don’t think that will work,” Festuscato said. “The gods don’t appreciate being told what to do.”  He stepped aside and traded places through time with Danna.  She called sweetly, “Rhiannon.”

Rhiannon did not have to come, but she came because it is polite when Mother calls.  “What is it this time?”

“This druid wants you to strike down Patrick.”

“Oh no, I couldn’t.  He is such a nice man.”

“That’s what I thought.  I told him the gods did not like being told what to do.”

“Oh, don’t I know it.  Mannanon can be as stubborn as the sea.”

“He can’t help it.”

“Oh, I almost forgot.  Clugh ate a whole goat and slept for almost twenty-four hours.”

“He is growing up.  You did cook the goat.”

“Of course, He made the cutest little whine when I tried to give it to him raw, so I cooked it for him and he squealed.  He was so happy.”

“So, you’re not mad at me for giving you the dragon?”

“Oh, how could I ever be mad at you, Mother.” Rhiannon stepped up and kissed Danna on the cheek, waved to everyone and vanished.  Danna turned to the Druid who stared, mouth wide open.  She stuck her finger in his face.

“Listen to Patrick.  He is telling you the truth.  In the words of my good friend Yul Brenner, his god is God.  Now close your mouth, and if you are good, and I said if, mind you, you just might find something special in your stocking … no, wait … Frosty the Snowman.  Anyway.” Danna hugged Patrick, and then she gave him three pieces of gold and some advice.

“The women, especially rich women will give you gifts.  Remember in this culture, they will be insulted if you don’t accept them.  But on the other hand, men will accuse you of accepting gifts from women.  You will have to do your best to turn those gifts to the church to answer your critics, and otherwise, go with God.  Use the gold to buy a new shepherd’s crook.  It suits you.”  Danna stepped back.  “The old way has gone.”

“The new way has come,” Patrick said, and Danna vanished, and she took Bran, Mirowen and Mousden with her.

They appeared on the road just beyond MacNeill’s fort, and Danna changed back to Festuscato.  He let his armor and weapons go away in favor of his comfortable clothes, and he spoke.  “I believe I have tempted history here far enough.”

“So, explain how the shepherd’s crook sprouted and grew,” Bran wondered.

“Maybe if he had some natural magic in him,” Mirowen started, but Festuscato interrupted.

“Can’t be natural.  The source of the magic got cut off when the hole closed between this earth and the other earth.”

“But then, how?”  Now Mirowen was curious.

“Some mysteries are best left alone.  It is time that we go,” Festuscato said, but he paused when he saw a half-dozen wagons beside the fort where they blocked the view of the town and dock.  Festuscato made sure Mirowen had her glamour on and Mousden stayed in his big size. “I smell visitors, and something else.”

“Yourself,” Mirowen suggested.  “You need a bath.”

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MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: 7 Travelers: The tinkers bring spooks with them.  Don’t miss it.

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R5 Greta: The Lady’s Doom, part 3 of 3

“You see, my lady.  I am the Nameless god.  That is why your Mithras does not dare to show up and help you now.  I would kick his butt.”  He thought to Thorn.  “Now.”  And he unlocked the door for them and caused the guards to come and see the jackass in the making so there would be no risk and no one standing in the way of the escape of the others.

Nameless laughed a hearty, healthy laugh such as Brunhild could never imitate, and then changed back to Greta just as Brunhild let out her first “Hee-Haw!”.  Greta thought the woman recognized her for one instance, but then the light of understanding seemed to die in Brunhild’s eyes.  “Bragi, hold the Lady,” Greta said.

“Sister.” Bragi, free of Brunhild’s spell, acknowledged his sister and took hold of the donkey’s neck.  “Mother Greta, I should say.”  He gently stroked the donkey’s nose and spoke soothing words to keep it from panic.  Greta grabbed Eldegard’s good hand and Vasen’s hand as well.

“The rest of you have about ten minutes to grab your friends and get down the Temple Mount before the Temple is blown sky high by the explosion.  I mean it.” No one moved.  “All right then, stay here and die.”  That got them.  They tripped over each other as they ran in mass and rushed out just after Gregor, Finbear and Thorn.

“What about us?” Bragi asked as he struggled a bit to keep his new pet under control.  Greta sighed.  She would not make Brunhild suffer the final indignity by making a bit for her mouth. Let her have Avalon.  The Isles beyond the seven were innumerable, after all. Surely one could be found where she could live out her days without struggle or fear.

“We go the easy way,” Greta said, and against the same wall where Brunhild called up the pictures of the preparation for battle, Greta called up the door to Usgard.  As soon as she opened it, the donkey leapt toward the grass which looked greener than any grass ought to be, and the aroma became too much for the beast. In Avalon, all looked more vivid and more real than anything on Earth.  Bragi, of course, followed after the donkey almost heedless of where he headed. Greta brought Vasen and Eldegard more slowly.  “Like Dorothy going from black and while to color,” she said,

“Are you all right?”  She generally asked the men, but Eldegard stared around and wandered off without answering, and Vasen wept, so she expected no answer there, either. The door closed behind them and vanished.

“Hey!”  Greta yelled, dropped her hands and stepped forward.  “That’s my brother, and that’s my donkey, too.”

Two gnome-like creatures were about to throw a net over the donkey who was contentedly grazing and utterly ignoring them. Bragi was on his back looking up with fright at the horrifically shaped black cloud that hovered over him.

“Stop it.”  She turned to yell at the fire sprite who stuck his head out of the lantern which hung from the tree and the water sprite, who just started to rise from the bubbling stream.  “You two strike at the same time and you will just put each other out.”

“Sorry, Lady.”  The fire sprite spoke up.  “Foam was just going to slip your feet out from beneath.”

“Yeah,” Foam said.  “And Flick was going to fall on you from above.”

“Yeah,” Flick said.

“Exactly the plan,” Foam said.

“Exactly right,” Flick said.

“Yeah,” Foam said.

“Enough.”  Greta did not have time for this.  She introduced her companions.  “This is Eldegard.  This is Vasen the Priest.  That one is my brother, Bragi, and the donkey is Lady Brunhild.”  The two gnomes tipped their hats to the donkey while the cloud over Bragi took on a friendlier appearance and offered his hand.

“Sir Bragi,” he said.  “An honor to meet you.”

“Yes.”  Bragi looked unsure, but he accepted the hand and the help back to his feet.

“My name is Cloudhook, and my little friends are Noblink and Mrs. Weebles.  Of course, Flick and Foam have already named themselves.”

“That’s right,” Foam said.  “I named Flick.”

“And I named Foam,” Flick said.

“You might say we named each other,” Foam added

“Or, we said each other’s names,” Flick amended

“Yeah,” Foam said.

“Ahem.”  Cloudhook interrupted the perpetual “Yeah” with a cough which sounded a bit like distant thunder.  “Our job is to guard the door and be wary of strangers.  No hard feelings, I hope, Sir Bragi.”

“No,” Bragi said, very graciously.  “I would say you do your jobs very well.”  Then he rushed to Greta’s side.  “What is happening with Thissle?  Is she all right?”

“Quiet,” Greta said, and even the brook stopped bubbling for a minute.  She closed her eyes and reached out.  It seemed an easy thing to do from Usgard where all ways lead to her little ones. “Thissle is just fine, and she found Thorn and they are dancing.”

“I’m glad,” Bragi said.  “Good for her.”  Then he got quiet because clearly Greta had not finished.

All right, Madwick.  Burns, Scorch, Miss Spark, be careful.

She saw the sprites leap out of their safe havens like blow torches and touch the nearest barrels.  Madwick and Burns were close enough not to even vacate their safe havens entirely.  Scorch made it back, but Spark had a way to go.  The explosion came as she grabbed on to the dolphin for dear life.  She just sucked herself inside as the statue clunked to the ground in front of them, a smoking hulk.  There were lights headed their way, as odd as that sounded on a bright, cloudless day.  Eldegard pointed them out.  Vasen looked, though he clearly looked like a man, raptured with more delight and joy than his old frame could handle.

“That would be Lady Thumbelin, the fairy queen and her court come to collect the statue.”  Cloudhook said.  “Probably make a big deal out of the job and Madwick and Burns will have swelled heads for a hundred years.”

“Too late.”  Noblink mumbled.  “Already swelled.”  Weeble stomped on his toe and curtsied for Greta.

Madwick and Burns pulled themselves from the wreckage at that moment and took on human form.  They looked dizzy and appeared as if they had been through a war.  Then Scorch and Spark appeared together, talking and holding hands.  Scorch had grabbed her at the last second and pulled her to safety.  Madwick got ready to say how hard that was, but he was glad to make the sacrifice, when Spark beat him to the punch.

“That was fun!”  She yelled and ran to Greta’s side.  “Can we do that again?”  She appeared a very pretty sprite, and Greta saw that Scorch thought so, too.

“Yeah,” Scorch said, sounding very much like Flick. “Can we do that again.”

“Please, no,” Greta said.  “I hope we never have to do that again.”

They looked sad for a minute, but then Spark looked up with hope.  “I volunteer if you ever want to blowed something up again, though.  You will remember.  You won’t forget me.”

Greta touched Spark’s hot cheek, gently.  “I won’t forget you, Spark,” she said, and Spark smiled, shyly.

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

MONDAY

Brunhild has made an ass of herself… but there remains a battle raging on the earth.  Greta’s work is not yet done.  Don’t miss it, Monday.  Until then, Happy Reading.

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R5 Greta: The Lady’s Doom, part 2 of 3

Greta opened her eyes and saw lady Brunhild’s hand stretched toward her like one warming themselves at a fire.

“There is more in you than appears, but I perceive you cannot sustain it.  I do not know what you were trying to do, but it will not help you.”  She dropped her hand and curiosity crossed her face.  It happens when you can’t read minds.  “One thing puzzles me,” she said.  “What did you hope to gain by coming here?”

“I plan to destroy the weapons of Trajan,” Greta said, seeing no reason to disguise her intention at that point.  “They don’t belong here.  They should not even be invented for another thousand years.

Lady Brunhild laughed again, and it was becoming annoying.  “But be my guest,” she said.  “They are old and broken and mostly useless.  They do not matter.  I know the formula for the powder and how to fabricate the weapons.  That is my confidence that I will rule the world.”

“So Trajan thought,” Greta said, urged by Ali. “Does the name “Masters” mean anything to you?”

“Why, no.  Lord Mithras, bless him, is my only master.  Why?”

“No reason,” Greta said, and small consolation, she thought.

They were interrupted then by men who came in from the front of the Temple.  One man walked slowly, helped by another man, and there were two more with them.

“Ah!”  Lady Brunhild perked right up.  “My Lord Eldegard.  How good of you to come for this elegant occasion.”

“Lady Brunhild,” Eldegard said with a sideways glance at Greta.  “Kunther has taken the men to attack the outpost as you commanded.  But now that the battle is about to begin I must see to the defense of the Temple.  Why have you demanded that I attend you at this time?”

Greta could see that Eldegard was not bewitched. Bewitched men generally did not fight well.  Even so, Greta thought Eldegard would be a man very hard to bewitch and it gave her hope that Marcus might be in his right mind as well.  At the same time, she saw that Eldegard walked in very bad shape. His left leg looked like it had cracked and after a week, it did not heal very well.  He limped, badly, and his left arm hung at his side.  He was also missing his right eye, and it seemed a wonder that the man was still alive.

“Because I know your heart, my dear Eldegard.  You are beginning to doubt and that troubles me.” She cozied up to Eldegard like a woman who cozies up to a man with whom she has been intimate.  Eldegard stayed reserved.  Whatever may have happened in the past, Brunhild was now a beautiful young woman, younger than his daughter, and Greta could see that Eldegard did not entirely feel comfortable with that.  She remembered that Papa had chosen Eldegard because the man straddled the fence.  Apparently, having fallen off one side, he now got back up on the fence again.

“You must see with your own eyes and be witness to the righteousness of our cause,” Lady Brunhild said.

“The way you talk, aren’t you afraid of angering the gods?”  Greta asked.

Lady Brunhild looked surprised.  “My dear Greta.  And from you?”  It came as a question.  “You know for certain that the gods have all gone away.  Only my dearest Lord Mithras has stayed to begin anew.  Don’t you see?  After I have brought the whole world under the divine god Mithras, and after I have given Marcus sons to rule after him, I shall become a goddess and bear the children of Mithras.  Do you not see?  I shall be the divine Mother of the new gods.”

“Now I know the gods are angry for your arrogance and presumption.”  Greta said, and she saw that Eldegard felt the same way.

Lady Brunhild shook her head.  “I told you.  The old gods have all gone away.” she said, and she made a show for Eldegard. “I invoke the mighty Zalmoxis.  Great Zeus, come and bring your wisdom to this council.  Do you see? The statue has not moved.  It is merely stone.”  She laughed and went on.  “I invoke mighty Dayus the horseman to bring judgment to this gathering.” She looked at Greta.  “I invoke your Nameless god.  Come now, O Light of Heroes, Lord of the Valkyra.  Strengthen our arms for battle in the name of Selvanus, Lord of the Forest, and strengthen our hearts in purity and nobility under the name Epona and Bendi the Huntress.  Come, Nameless one.  Even now, come.”  Lady Brunhild laughed aloud one last time, but Greta heard a word.

“Don’t mind if I do.”

Greta vanished from that place, but no one knew, because as Nameless came to take her place, he made a glamour far stronger than the one Thissle could make.  It showed an illusion of Greta that Brunhild could have no hope of penetrating.

“Stand there.”  Brunhild turned on what she thought was Greta and commanded her. “Stand there.  Don’t move.  Don’t speak.” Braggi and Vasen let go, and Nameless played the part well, but of course, he felt nothing.  It would have been easier if Brunhild had tried to tell the galaxy to stop spinning.

“You see.”  The Lady spoke to Eldegard again.  “No one has come.  The gods have all gone away.  That is why we must give our allegiance to the one living god, Mithras, bless his name, who died and was raised to rule the world.”

“How about Abraxas?”  Nameless said in Greta’s voice, and then he thought, “Oops!” as he remembered that he was not supposed to be able to speak.

“Silence!”  Lady Brunhild yelled, her face turned ugly and distorted.  “Even if he should turn half the world to hags, that pretender will not survive the onslaught of the one, true god,” she said, and let her steam dissipate, slowly.  “But now, I take too long.  Enough of this foolishness.”  Her voice sounded cruelly wicked.  All semblance of girlish playfulness had gone.  Indeed, she sounded very much like the Lady Brunhild that Greta first knew and despised.

“At first I thought you would make a good lap dog, only now I think a jackass would be more appropriate.  You can bear my burdens for the rest of your days, but do not fret, you will never know it.  You will never remember being human at all.  Your transformation will be thorough and complete.”  Brunhild waved her hand, but it all appeared to be in slow motion to the nameless god.  Nameless could actually see the magic form and leave Brunhild’s fingers like so many sparkles of light or specks of gold dust.  Of course, the magic would have had no effect on him, but all the same, he put up a magic mirror, which let Brunhild pass judgment on herself.  It was actually a very easy thing to do, even if he had not been a god.

“Let this woman who would lead the people in the wrong direction be shown for the jackass she really is.”  Brunhild spoke for Eldegard, but in fact, Brunhild pronounced her own fate.

“Now, Thissle, now,” Nameless thought with ease while Brunhild’s magic struck the mirror and bounced back into her own face.

“Yes, Lord.”  Thissle said, and took only a moment to curtsy out of respect for one of the true gods of the little ones.

“Good girl,” Nameless said.  “Stay invisible and be careful.”

Lady Brunhild’s own magic hit her squarely and immediately her ears began to grow and her hands began to turn into hooves. Poetic justice, Nameless thought, and he dropped the guise of Greta.

R5 Greta: The Lady’s Doom, part 1 of 3

The morning came quicker than Greta imagined. When they opened the door, the sun looked ready to rise, and even though the light remained very dim, it took Greta a moment to adjust.

“Come out,” Lady Brunhild commanded, and Greta stumbled out to see a girl barely older than herself.  Instead of attacking her, though, the Lady surprised Greta by twirling around in her dress like an excited school girl, and asked, “How do I look?”

Greta frowned.  The young Brunhild looked very beautiful, and Greta, by contrast, felt rather ordinary and plain looking.  Then Thissle’s words came back about the need to outshine, and she could not help herself. “You have a zit.”  Greta said.  “On your nose there.”  Greta pointed.

“What?”  Brunhild went into an absolute panic.  “Bring me a mirror,” she demanded.  “Hurry!” Her finger went along her nose to try to feel it.  When the brass came, Greta started snickering.  Then the Lady surprised Greta again by genuinely laughing when she saw her clear skin.  It seemed a pleasant laugh, too, and she did not appear to be mad at Greta at all.

“Too bad,” she said.  “Under other circumstances, you with Darius and me with Marcus, I think we might have been friends.  I reminded myself last night that you are no fool, and I would dearly love a friend who has a semblance of a brain, not to mention someone who knows what I am talking about when I mention India or China.”

“Too bad?”  Greta asked, thinking she would no more be friends with this woman than she would with a succubus.

Brunhild nodded.  “Too bad I have to kill you,” she said, sweetly.

“So, what shall we do?”  Greta asked.  “Pistols at ten paces?”

Brunhild genuinely laughed again.  “A sense of humor, too,” she said.  “It really is too bad.”  She walked toward the back of the temple near the altar and statue of Odin, but where the wall looked clear and uncluttered.  Everyone else followed.  “First we see what is happening down below.”  She waved her hand against the wall.  A picture formed on the wall like a movie or a television picture, but it appeared like they looked from the Goodyear blimp.  They zoomed down to the road where they could hear the noises and see the fortifications.  Greta noted with glee that a morning attack would force the Quadi to ride near enough into the morning sun.

“Such a pitiful few horses the Romans have,” Brunhild said.

Greta did not think it looked that pitiful, but then she realized that Brunhild could not see the knights of the lance, though the way they gleamed at sunrise, they became almost all that Greta could see. And it looked like more than a hundred! Greta began to count, but before she could send a stern word to Sunstone, the scene shifted.

“But see?”  Brunhild said as they zoomed over to the Quadi line.  “Three thousand men in the first wave.  They are expendables, really, designed only to break your lines.” The picture zoomed further back behind the first wave.  “You see? Ten thousand warriors ready to ride in the second wave.”

“I see.”  Greta said, and she thought Yin-mo saw as well, though she could not be sure. Brunhild looked at Greta as if sensing the subliminal message, but before she could speak they got distracted by the sound of drums.  The Quadi also heard the drums, and their front line had a hard time holding their horses in check.

“What is this?”  Lady Brunhild looked genuinely surprised.  She zoomed over to the forest and tried to peer down between the trees. The drums, so many drums, sounded as if they were getting louder and louder.  “I see.”  The Lady said as she must have seen something.  “Very clever. Outflank the Quadi.  Who will win?  But then, who cares.  I will win.” She laughed, and this time Greta heard no pleasantry in her laughter.  “All the same, it is exciting, isn’t it?”  Brunhild touched Greta’s hand in girlish excitement, but Greta pulled her hand away, feeling that she might have to scrub her hand with a Brillo pad.

“It is not exciting,” Greta returned.  She knew war too well.  “What if Darius gets killed?” she asked.

“That should hardly matter to you at this point.” Brunhild shot at her, taking Greta’s snub, personally.  Then she appeared to soften, like a snake.  “But if it is any consolation, I will find someone nice for Darius’ bed.  He will not be unhappy.”

“Aren’t you afraid Marcus may be killed?”  Greta asked.

“Oh, no,” Brunhild said.  “Marcus will not be fighting.  I have seen him already, and he has promised to stay out of it.”

“No!”  Greta leapt forward to get her hands around the woman’s throat.  She wanted to break Brunhild’s neck before this went any further. Unfortunately, two men grabbed her and held her by the arms like the night before.  They could do this easily enough because they were going after Greta, not her armor.  Even so, Brunhild took no chances.  One who grabbed her was Vasen the Priest.  The other was Bragi, her brother.  Both were deeply enchanted and Greta almost wondered how they could even see out of eyes so glazed.

“Bragi.  What are you doing?”  Greta asked and put what little she had into the question.  Bragi did pause, but then answered firmly.

“I do what the Lady wants,” he said, and Lady Brunhild laughed again and made no effort to disguise the wickedness in her laughter.

Greta had to close her eyes for a minute.  She found Thissle safe but not sure what to do. The rocket was already sticking straight up at the ready, where Bragi had set it the night before.  Thissle, Greta thought.  You will have to light the fuse when I tell you.  Then run straight to Berry.  Stay away from the fighting and horses, and stay invisible.”

“Yes, Lady,” Thissle said, and Greta felt sure this time that the little one heard her.

R5 Greta: Confrontation, part 3 of 3

Immediately, the two men who held Greta’s arms jumped back. This proved good, because Greta needed to collapse to the floor and take a moment to herself, to recover from the brink of death, and fortunately, Lady Brunhild gave her that moment.  The woman stared at her and seemed to be recovering a bit of her own strength as well, but outwardly she appeared to be examining the armor as if deciding what to do.

“I must tell you.”  Greta breathed as she struggled to her feet.  She would have appreciated the opportunity to pass out, but she was not about to stay prostrate before the woman.  “The armor belongs to the Nameless god.”  She spoke of the one with whom Brunhild and the men with her were most familiar.  “Defender and the sword, Salvation, have a mind of their own.  I do not want you to be hurt.”

Even as Greta finally got to her feet, Lady Brunhild spit in her face.  “Strip her.” She ordered.  The two who had been holding her arms stepped up and touched her.  Greta cried out.  She felt the power surge through her.  It struck the two men like lightening and shot them twenty feet through the air where they crumpled, unconscious, if not dead.

Greta caught her breath again, but found it much easier this time, as if the armor protected her from more than just arrows. Lady Brunhild stared hard at her and began to pace, once again to decide what to do.

“Ruby slippers,” Greta said, and Brunhild squinted at her, not understanding.

“I saw these weapons and this armor in a dream.” Brunhild began to speak.  “It was before Boarshag and it may be why you startled me so at the time.  The great God, Mithras, bless his name, revealed to me that if I could take them from the one wearing them I would receive riches and power beyond counting.” She stopped in front of Greta’s face and Greta tried to smile for her, and it would have been a truly obnoxious smile if her cheeks were not hurting.  “Give it to me, now!”  The Lady said and threw her every ounce of compulsion behind the words.

This time, Greta hardly felt it, though she knew it had to be very draining for the Lady.  She knew Lady Brunhild would sleep well that night, but for Greta, she merely smiled more broadly.  The Lady, however, did not attack Greta.  Greta remained as vulnerable and human as ever.  But the Lady went after the armor of the Kairos, and as such she had zero chance of success.  Greta watched the Lady’s face flush and she could almost taste the anger that rose up in the woman’s veins.  By contrast, Greta stood very calm and resolute, and smiled as much as her cheeks allowed.  Finally, the Lady grabbed the hilt of Salvation which stuck up over Greta’s shoulder. This time, the charge appeared sufficient to glue the Lady’s hands to the sword.  The more the Lady tried to pull, the more she got drained, until a small surge kicked her free before she killed herself.

“I told you, you cannot have it,” Greta said, and something rose up in her from all the days in the ancient past.  “And your Mithras will not help you.  He has no given authority in this region, and he knows if he shows his face he will be killed for real, and this time I will not be there to bring him back.”  Nameless got tired of the game, and he was a master game player, arguably second only to Loki among the northern gods of old.  Indeed, some of the men thought they were hearing directly from the Nameless god, the reported owner of the armor, and they would not have been wrong in that assumption even though Greta remained where she stood.

Meanwhile, Lady Brunhild fainted in Kunther’s arms. “Watch her tonight,” she said and promptly passed out.  They took Greta away at sword point because no one would touch her.  To Greta’s disappointment, however, they did not return her to the room with the others.  Instead, she got driven into a real storage closet which did not even have a window.  When they shut the door, she sat in utter darkness.

The state of grace Greta had felt, left her with the light.  She tried to reach out to Yin-mo.  She tried to tell him it would be all right to plan for the morning attack, as he thought best, but please limit his and the knight’s contact with humans as much as possible.  She felt he acknowledged her, but she could not be sure.

She searched for Thorn in her mind’s eye, but he seemed to be asleep.  Thissle, on the other hand, seemed awake and curious.  She and Bragi were half-way down the Mount on night watch.  They had been busy.  Thissle left the glamour that Lady Brunhild found.  She left it to fool the guards when Bragi stole the real statue and took it to the diggings.  After hiding the statue beside the powder, they talked to any number of men. Thissle tired from all of that. More than once she had to step up and break the spell Lady Brunhild had set like a glaze over the men’s eyes. That seemed the only way they could be sure about the men, and then Bragi went on duty with a rocket-like flare which would be the signal for all of the men to vacate the Temple.

All at once, Greta seemed to be seeing out of Thissle’s eyes and hearing with her ears.  Thissle yawned and Greta yawned with her.

“But in reality,” Bragi said.  “I think Karina is so very beautiful, it has made her shy. She is shy around men and shy about outshining all of the women around her.”

“Silly boy.”  Thissle yawned again.  “Human women live to outshine each other.  Why, for some, if they can’t outshine their neighbors, life is hardly worth living.”

Greta jumped back into her own skin.  That felt like a strange experience, and now Greta had a monster headache on top of her hunger and all of her other pains.  She did not expect to sleep.

She tried to reach out to Berry, to see how she was.  She imagined her and Hans, Fae and Hobknot all sitting in Fae’s tent worrying about her. It seemed a sweet thought, but then, Greta felt sure it was only her imagination.  Greta smiled at the thought and got struck with a vision, like the opening of a curtain on a scene that looked all too real.

She saw a young woman, screaming and terrified. She looked about Greta’s age, perhaps seventeen, but absolutely beautiful.  Greta well understood her terror.  A worm, a dragon hovered over her, looking at her like a tasty morsel.

Bragi stood there, yelling at the monster. Greta could not hear the words. But no, it was not Bragi.  She heard the young woman.

“No, father.  Please!  Hans, help me!”

It was Hans, but Bragi’s age.

“Berry!”  Greta snapped out of it, shouted the word out loud.  But how did she age so much in her big form?  She should have still looked thirteen, even if Hans looked eighteen or nineteen.  It seemed a mystery.  She would have to puzzle it out somehow, but even as she began to think, she fell fast asleep.

Elect II—20 Underground, part 3 of 3

Roland rubbed his hands together and something like fire appeared in his hands.  He dropped the flame and it illuminated the shaft all the way down, about twenty feet,

“Here’s a rope,” Jessica said and brought one end to Latasha.  She went back and tied the other end to a steel column that held up the ceiling.

“Me first,” Roland said and grabbed the rope from Latasha.

Officer Dickenson spoke while Roland went down, slowly and quietly.  “Science teacher?”

“Biology,” Boston said.  “I’m thinking of letting Latasha do her project on arachnids.”

ac-jessica-2Officer Dickenson nodded.  Jessica had a comment.

“I never had cool teachers like you.  My science teachers in high school were all dorks.”

Roland directed his speech up as he got some kind of lights in place that stayed on.  “Come down quietly.”

Fiona came next, but she looked first at Jessica and spoke to Harmony.  “You did say these were not spiritual creatures.”   Boston made Harmony call her troop so they could guard the opening while they went exploring.

Boston was the last to reach the bottom of the hole.  She saw a cavern made of natural limestone and granite.  There was an old cot along a wall with a couple of moldy woolen blankets folded on top.  Several boxes held World War II ration packs and there was a rifle and a rusty revolver in one corner.

“Fallout shelter,” Harmony named the place.

“Nineteen-fifties, I would guess,” Boston agreed.

“Wow,” Latasha was curious about it all.  “People used to think they were going to get bombs dropped on their heads?”  She did not understand the thinking behind bomb shelters in America.  Boston at least understood the history.

ac-roland“Over here,” Roland called, and he showed them an opening at the back of the cavern.  It was a perfect archway, like a door, framed in metal.  “Looks like someone uncovered this more recently.”  He pointed to the rocks and rubble pushed aside.

“Or some slight earthquake revealed it, and someone recently dug it out,” Jessica, the California girl suggested.

“Possible,” Boston agreed.  She stood in the opening, tried to pierce the darkness of the long hallway and made a decision.  “Roland and I.  The rest of you wait here.  Latasha, you have to guard our escape hatch.”

“But I—.”  Latasha saw the look in her teacher’s eye and amended her words.  “Yes Ma’am.”

Roland had another globe in a hidden pocket which glowed with a silver light that he could increase or dim with a word.  It was like the three globes he left floating around the cavern with no visual means of support.  Roland went first and Boston followed with a hand on his back.  She immediately spoke.

“I have to call Lockhart.”  They had entered a hallway of some kind of ship—no doubt an alien ship.  There were small chambers on either side of the hall that glowed ever so slightly with a sickly green light.  Each one held a spider, unmoving, and the hall looked like it led to a huge central room that gave off a green glow from hundreds if not thousands of such chambers.

“They appear to be in suspension, some kind of cryogenics,” Roland said, touching the outside of one of the chambers.

“I wonder how long,” Boston thought out loud.

boston-4b“No telling.  I don’t recognize the writing.”  Roland pointed at the scribbles over each chamber which appeared to be a numbering system

“So wait.”  Boston tapped her head and paced in the hallway while she talked.  “Latasha’s enemy, Carlos the drug dealer finds this place to hide out from the police.  He finds a partially uncovered door and manages to open it.  After a time, he manages to revive a spider.  A stupid thing to do, but it turns out to be a not so smart male with whom he can make a deal to kill off his rival drug dealers.  All is well but he does not know that secretly the male has revived a female which he keeps hidden while she is busy laying eggs.  When the babies are born, Carlos finds through the male he can have some control over the babies.  He thinks this is even better, but when he meets Mama, he has to make a new deal, especially after Jessica and Latasha slice up the male.  Mama goes along with it while she gets the lay of the land, but terminates Carlos as soon as she realizes she will do better without him.”

“That is correct.”  Roland and Boston heard the voice.  The big spider was clinging to the ceiling of the hallway looking down at them with multi-faceted eyes and snapping jaws.  Roland and Boston wore a glamour that made them appear human, but they were not human.  The spider shot her web to trap them, but they vanished at elf speed and were already in the cavern yelling by the time the webbing struck the empty hallway floor.

“Get out!  Get out!”

ab-spider-web-5A strand of webbing shot from the darkened hole before the Mama appeared.  It wrapped around Latasha’s leg and yanked her feet from beneath her.  A whip of the spider’s head and Latasha shot across the room to crash into the cavern wall.  That hurt, but mostly it made Latasha angry, and she still had her ax gripped tightly in her hand.

Harmony rushed up the rope first to prepare her troop for what she expected might be an invasion of spiders.  Officer Dickenson was right behind her, but not elf fast.  He stopped at the hole.  He swore mightily, turned, pulled his revolver and fired on the giant spider.  Jessica and Fiona both fired their arrows as well.  Officer Dickenson did not have the best aim, but both arrows struck the spider.  The spider did not seem bothered by two arrows.  Jessica and Fiona escaped up the rope without a word.

Mama spider tried to fire her webbing several times, but Boston had her wand up and the webbing went astray.  Officer Dickenson ran out of bullets as Roland had his bow out and fired a flaming arrow.  It struck the back end of the spider and exploded even as Latasha arrived.  The spider was already leaking guts from the back when Latasha brought her ax down on the head and ended it.  And there was silence for a moment before they heard the clickity-clack sound of spider feet in the hallway.

“Babies!” Officer Dickenson shouted.  He about had his revolver reloaded.

“Get out!” Roland said again and Boston repeated it as she held her hands and her wand up.

ac-ash-dickersonDickenson grabbed Latasha by the arm and also repeated the words, but softly, “Get out.”  Latasha looked like she wanted to argue, but she did not.  She went ahead of the police officer and jumped almost the entire way to the top.  Dickenson followed more slowly.

Roland grabbed Boston around the middle and brought her to the base of the hole, even as the babies came pouring into the room and stopped at the magical barrier Boston put up.  Roland tied the bottom of the rope in a harness around Boston so she could be pulled up, then he raced to the top.

Boston was straining against the pressure of the spiders trying to break through when the rope tightened and she began to move.  Immediately, she pulled her barrier back to cover only the bottom of the hole, and then she tried to do something she did not know if she could do.  As she went up, she sucked the air out of the hole to create a vacuum.  The rocks around the hole collapsed into the vacuum to seal the exit.  No doubt some babies were crushed at the bottom when the rocks settled, but it was more magic than Boston could handle and she arrived at the top of the sealed hole, dizzy and incoherent.

Roland kissed her quickly and stole her phone.  “I have to call Lockhart,” he said without explaining for the uninformed.  But even as he started through Boston’s interminable contact list, Jessica interrupted.

ac-jessica-2“Wait,” Jessica turned off her phone.  “The ghouls have taken over city hall.  Sara is trapped.  We have to go.”

“Ghouls?” Officer Dickenson asked in a shaky voice.  Latasha could only nod

Jessica stared for a second at her phone before she asked.  “Ghouls in city hall?  Why is that unusual?”

Elect II—17 Closing the Door, part 2 of 3

Everyone gathered at the library at five-thirty.  They were all armed, taking no chances in case the door was guarded.  Some feared that any attempt to close the door might trigger some alarm.

“Mindy,” Sara spoke up when the elevator arrived.  “Are you sure it will be all right?  You know, my position with the chaplain’s office will not cover invading a restricted area.”

Jessica grinned her little grin.  “I still say we should have borrowed some pest control uniforms.”

ac-mindy-5No one wants Mindy to get in trouble,” Emily said.

Mindy shrugged off the worry and got everyone on the elevator.  “Some orcs will be stranded here if we are successful,” she changed the subject.

“Yes,” Amina agreed.  “But at least no more should get in.”

“It is not going to be easy hunting down the ones stranded here,” Jessica admitted, seriously.

“We may have help with that,” Emily said, but she did not explain as the elevator stopped and the doors opened.  Amina stuck her head out first.  Bill was there, but she ignored him.

“All clear,” Bill said.

“All clear,” Amina confirmed and the women poured out of the elevator.  Only Mindy paused to offer Bill a quick kiss.  Melissa and Maria went straight to their places and Maria began to sprinkle the liquid they had prepared around the door.  Melissa opened her book and began to chant, throwing occasional bits of powder at the door, while Sara stood beside her and called on what she imagined might be a different power.  She prayed.

Emily set Diane, Greta, Hilde and Natasha at the four corners around the work.  She kept herself and Jessica in the middle to watch the door.  They stood beside Mindy and Amina.  Mindy was there to make sure no part of the ritual was forgotten, and Amina kept her senses flared.

As the ritual progressed, Amina shook her head.  She was getting nothing.  That was not right.  When it came time to turn the dragon and open the door to complete the ritual, Mindy paused with her hand on the statue.  “Wait a minute,” she said.  “Bill?”  The kiss caught up with her and it did not feel right.  Besides, Bill still stood by the elevator, like he was waiting for new arrivals.  Her Bill would have been in the middle of the action asking annoying questions.

ac-amina-3Amina shook her head once more at that same time.  Her words sounded out over Mindy’s question.  “It’s a trap!”

Amina pointed and Diane and Natasha left their corners to join Greta and Hilde and make a wall of spears.

Mindy turned the dragon and turned it back with the words, “Keep working.”  Then she grabbed her bow and stood beside Jessica and Emily.  Three bows lifted as orcs poured out from the stacks of books and artifacts.  They lined up to charge and only hesitated a second in the face of the spears.  The girls at least looked like they knew what they were doing, even if they had only been learning to use them since the Granger incident last semester.

Emily did not hesitate.  Three arrows killed three orcs.  Three more orcs fell from three spears, spears which were pulled from the hands of the girls.  The fourth freshman, Natasha, pinned her orc to the side of a book case.  But then, the spears were out of action and the freshmen only had their staffs.  And there were still a half-dozen orcs to contend with.

Emily waded forward and temporarily drove back three of the orcs, her sword flashing in the dim light of the sub-basement.  Then the big one knocked her into a rack of artifacts, many of which fell and broke.  That just made Emily mad.

Natasha and Greta double-teamed one orc.  Diane and Hilde took another.  Amina and Mindy backed up the third.  Emily, Jessica and Sara each took one, as one of the orcs ran around the wall of spears to get at the ritual from the back side, and only Sara stood there.

ac-j-j-orc-2The orc hesitated on sight of the Priestess, as if he knew who she was and her place in the tribe.  She seemed much more frightening to the orc than even the witch might have been.  He overcame his fear enough to make a half-hearted stab at her, but Sara shouted, “You shall not.”  She easily blocked the sword with her shepherd’s crook and promptly clocked the orc on the head.  She followed up by lifting the base of her crook between the orc’s legs, and the orc felt it.  The third hit cracked the side of the orc’s head and sent him sprawling to the floor.  The sword clattered away and Sara stood over the orc with the base of her crook against the orc’s temple.  She could not finish it, and the orc sensed this.  He made a grab for her leg and growled.  Sara cried as she rammed her crook three times into the orc’s temple.  The blood burst forth.  The orc let go of her leg.  The orc died, and Sara wept.

On the opposite side of the room, Natasha got knocked to the floor and Greta’s block of the orc’s back-swing was not entirely successful.  Her arm got cut, but Natasha managed to pick up a fallen orc sword and rammed it into the orc’s chest.  The orc collapsed and Greta, bleeding though she was, did not hesitate to finish the job.

Emily killed her big orc in time to see Jessica ram an arrow into the eye of her assailant.  Jessica’s staff broke in two, but with half a staff she kept the orc’s sword at bay while she snatched up her wicked army knife from the floor and shoved it up under the orc’s chin.

Amina and Mindy had finished their enemy quick enough for Mindy to hover over an unconscious Bill.  They had teamed up in close quarters combat with orcs before and were far better trained than the freshman.  Hilde had a cut in her leg, but Diane was in one piece and standing over their orc growling and sweating.

ac-j-j-orcEveryone survived, and Emily breathed her relief until she heard a rumbling at the door.  The tile doorway was open, and again Emily did not hesitate.  The ritual Maria and Melissa were performing was seconds from completion, but they could not wait.  A monster of an orc showed itself at the door.  Emily picked up the dragon statue and threw it.

“Catch.”

The big brute caught it and looked at it dumbly as Emily leapt and let out a war cry.  Her feet bounced off the chest of the beast, but it was enough to make the beast stumble back through the door.  At once there was a great flash of light, like when the elves arrived in the world, but this light came with a great wind.  Everything not tied down got blown to the back wall before something of an implosion sucked everything back toward the tile door.  Some artifacts were lost in the other world.  Some cracked against the old Spanish tile floor as the door closed.  People laid out flat and grabbed anything nailed down to keep from being sucked in themselves.  And after all that drama, there was a small pop sound, and the door was closed.

Melissa looked up at Emily as Emily stood and brushed herself off.  “I finished just in time,” Melissa said.

“But will the door stay closed?” Emily asked.

Melissa looked at Mindy who was cradling Bill’s head.  “It will,” Mindy said.  “As long as the artifact stays on the other side.”  She paused before she added, “Of course, that doesn’t prevent the person who opened the door from opening another if they find another artifact from Avalon.”  Bill moaned and Mindy became lost to the conversation.

emily-a2Emily looked around.  Jessica and Natasha were tending Greta’s cut arm, and Greta was trying not to cry.  Maria was already laying hands on Hilde’s leg.  She kept saying, “She won’t lose the leg,” but Diane leaned over the two on the ground and kept repeating, “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.”  Amina hugged Sara who cried softly.  Emily stepped over, said nothing, hugged the Priestess briefly, and turned to the wall.

“Riverbend,” she called, not knowing if the elf would hear her.  “Captain Riverbend,” she called again, and the wall began to shimmer with light.  Everyone paid attention when Captain Riverbend stepped from the light.  She came in her disguise of blue jeans and T, fancy cloak and glasses which she straightened, even as Maria straightened her glasses to get a better look at this newcomer.

“Emily?”  Riverbend could not help looking around the room at the devastation.

Emily scrunched her face and snapped her fingers until her face brightened.  “Picker.  I need Picker, Bluetooth and, I forget.”  Riverbend just looked curious.  “Restorations.  Isn’t that what they do?”

“Yes?”  Riverbend did not understand.

Emily sighed.  “I need the archives room here restored and cleaned up, including getting rid of all the bodies and signs of struggle.  I don’t know what they charge, but it is not right that Mindy should be expelled or barred from her work here.”

“I’ll pay,” Sara quickly spoke up.

“My dad has money,” Jessica spoke from the other side of the room.

ac-riverbend-a8“No,’ Emily held up her hand.  “Maybe my friends can help me, but I pay.”

Riverbend looked again around the room.  “It is an honor meeting you all.  You have no idea.”  She returned her eyes to Emily.  “Majesty, I will fetch him right away.”  She dipped her head and stepped back into the light as the light vanished.

“Get your things,” Emily ordered.  “We have people who need a doctor, no offense Maria.”

“None taken.  I was about to say that.”

“You don’t want us here when Picker, Bluetooth and whoever show up?” Natasha asked.

“Block,” Emily responded as she led the way to the freight elevator.  They had the regular elevator stuck at the bottom and the freight elevator rigged to break once they got back up to the top.  “Picker, Block and Bluetooth I think.  I have their card somewhere back at the suite.”

“They won’t have much time to work,” Melissa suggested and she carried arms full of magical things.  “It won’t take long to get an elevator repairman here, even at this time of night.”

“Hopefully enough time,” Mindy said as she helped Bill walk and took one last look around at the devastation.

Elect II—10 Green People, part 2 of 3

Monday morning, Doctor Singh met with the new hire in the biology department.

“Doctor Assur, it is good to have you on the staff at last,” Professor Singh was clearly delighted.  Doctor Assur merely looked around the small office and saw that it was at least a corner office.

“Who had this office?”

a-science-hall-1Professor Singh knew the question would come up.  “Doctor Hilde, Biochemistry.  He got involved in the Pentagon project last year and is no longer with us.”

“Is there money?”

“Well, yes, some.  The school has a research reputation.  There is some NSF money.  Orlov and Maynard have some CDC money,” Professor Singh paused and understood.  “Oh, there is a small budget.  You can give me the expenses for furniture and such, and as long as it is not extravagant, I am sure the university will reimburse you.

“What about quiet?”

“Oh yes.  This year all is quiet.  Orlov, Maynard, myself and the others are very quiet people.”

“Good.  Now if only we could get the students to shut-up, right?”

Professor Singh tried to smile.

a-a-orlov###

Monday evening, Maria and Emily cornered Professor Orlov.  He seemed in a hurry, but they handed him the papers before he could escape.  They had discussed it and determined that Orlov and Maynard were the most obvious suspects, and maybe the only suspects.

“From the coroner’s office,” Maria said.

“Apparently there are a number of mindless young people rampaging around the woods behind the parade ground,” Emily added.

“The baseball field?”  Professor Orlov wanted to be sure he knew where she was talking about.  “What do you mean, mindless?”

Maria pointed to the papers, and the professor took a minute to read.  He said only one thing while he was reading, and it was softly spoken, like he was not aware he said it out loud.  “No,” he said.  “That’s not right.”  He looked up at the girls and waved the papers.  “Mind if I keep these.  I need to examine the findings closely and check out a couple of things.”

“No, fine.  We were hoping you might help us track down what might be happening.”  The professor grabbed his briefcase and shot out of the room in a hurry and without another word.

“I would say we got his attention,” Maria said.  Emily just nodded.  The janitor was there and he wanted to close up the science building for the night.

###

As the light broke above the horizon on Tuesday morning, Amina brought a troop of police armed with dart guns into the forest behind the parade ground.  Melissa went with her, as she said, for moral support.

“No one is making a record of this?” Melissa had to ask.  Her magic would not show up on camera except in the effects, but Melissa was mostly shy when it came to magic in public.

Millsaps answered.  “Any blabbing to reporters is grounds for dismissal.”  He moved several yards away from the girls.  It was not really what Melissa was asking, but it was good to know.

“Jessica would be better at this,” Amina was not keen on the idea of getting too close to the mindless ones.

Melissa shook her head.  “We know where they are, just not exactly where or how many.”

ac-rob-parker-1“You can’t catch it if they bite you, can you?”  Officer Rob Parker asked.  He was assigned to stay with the girls.

“No, they are not zombies, I mean like in the movies,” Melissa answered.  “Julie and Maria have ruled out any danger to us all, unless one of us is tempted to eat one of their brains, we can’t get contaminated.”  Melissa picked her boots way up against the grass which was still tall despite the winter.  She watched her steps and so she did not see the look of disgust that crossed Officer Parker’s face at the idea of eating someone’s brains.  She also bumped into Amina when Amina stopped suddenly.

Amina shook her head.  “I cannot see them well.  It is like they are an empty space in the world that should not be there, like they are absent and that makes a hole.”

“What?”  Millsaps stepped over to hear.  The whole line of police had stopped.

“The space is behind those trees and up in the trees.  They are becoming active with the light.  Please.  I don’t want to look anymore.”

Millsaps nodded.  “Stay here.”  He waved to both sides of the police line and pointed to the trees and also pointed up in the trees.  They started forward.  Amina, Melissa and officer Parker watched, and listened.

Very quickly there were screams and screeches and howls like howler monkeys defending their territory.  Amina knew a few would break through the police line and she dreaded finding her way to those last mindless souls.  Their very existence scratched against her senses like coarse sandpaper.  She feared if she examined them too closely she might start to weep and not be able to stop.  She could not identify them, who they once were, and that, at least, was a blessing.

kac-melissa-magicHer thoughts were interrupted when two of them came rushing out from the trees and headed straight toward them.  Officer Parker got to one knee to be sure he struck his targets.  He squeezed the trigger twice, slowly, and the mindless ones staggered, stumbled, and went down like the tranquilized beasts they had become.

Amina drew in her breath and looked to the side as she felt another one.  Melissa had him.  She had her hands up and one hand sweated around her wand.  The young man looked frozen in place and would remain that way as long as Melissa’s strength held out.  Rob Parker squeezed off another shot and the young man’s eyes rolled up and he fell to the grass even as Amina screamed.

“Joel!”

Elect II—1 Summer Fun, part 2 of 3

Maria and Melissa got the twin beds in Tyler’s room.  Mom apologized, but both of them had brothers and said they understood.  Amina and Mindy got the twins in David’s room.  David was in the National Guard and currently deployed oversees in some place he could not talk about.  Jessica got the other twin in Emily’s room.

“Just like at school,” Jessica commented as she unpacked.  “This is a preview.”

“Except at school we won’t have Mom downstairs in the kitchen cooking way too much food.”  Emily yawned.  Now that the gang was there, her exhaustion started catching up with her.  She felt safe, whether she was or not.  Melissa freaked her out a bit when she sat cross-legged on the floor in Emily’s room, chanted and sprinkled what looked like dust all around.

“Mom’s going to get out the vacuum if you keep it up,” she commented.

Melissa also smeared some oil in a corner of every window and door in the house, and secretly to keep the window cleaner from coming out.  Melissa was satisfied that she had done all she could, until Jessica pointed out the heating and air conditioning ducts.

“It might get in through the roof and come down through the ductwork,” so Melissa applied some oil there, too.  It was odorless in the air conditioning of August, but it might have smelled in the winter with the heat turned on.  Once that was done, there was nothing else to do but go down to the living room where Dad had the Yankee game on.  He was an old time Clippers fan and offered to treat them all to a game at the stadium, hot dogs and all.  The Mud Hens were coming to town on Monday, he said, but the girls declined.

“I could go,” Tyler offered, and his dad agreed.  They had a date.

“And there are always some tickets at the box office if you girls change your minds,” he said.

ac-emily-5aPoor Tyler, Emily thought.  He was sleeping in the basement, but he could hardly complain about having his house invaded by all these young and good looking women.  He mostly sat and watched, and it was not the Yankee game he watched.  But he said little, like he was suddenly shy.  Then again, Emily did not have the strength at the moment to tease him, so maybe he got off lucky.

After supper, which Emily struggled through, the girls made various excuses to go up to bed early.  It was the plane trip and the drag waiting at the airports and a busy day of travel, and the family understood, even if Tyler was disappointed to see them disappear up the stairs.  Once up, Maria got out her concoction of anti-dream juice and then they had a schedule of sitting up through the night to watch over Emily.

“I feel like the helpless one for a change,” Emily said with a big yawn.

“You are,” Jessica responded.  “We’re a team.  Go to sleep.”

Emily nodded and had no trouble doing that very thing.

 

###

 

The banging started around midnight.  There was banging all around the outside of the house.  Mindy sat on watch and Jessica was asleep but sat straight up when there was a tap-tap on Emily’s window.  Mindy jumped out of her chair and switched on the overhead light.

ab-bogyman-5“Turn it off,” Jessica ordered, and when she did, Jessica peered out the window to see if she could glimpse something in the night.  There was nothing to be seen, so Mindy turned the light back on when Melissa came to the doorway.  She was sweating and trembling.

“I don’t have very much magic,” Melissa said.  “I won’t be able to keep it out.  I’m sorry.”  She collapsed in the doorway and Jessica and Mindy got her into Jessica’s bed.

Amina and Maria came last to the door and Amina spoke quickly.  “It has not gotten in.”  Emily’s mom came out of her room.

“I don’t mind the slumber party, but I would appreciate if you would keep it down a little.”

“Sorry to wake you.”

“Did we wake Mister Hudson?”

Emily’s mom shook her head.  “He could snore through a hurricane.”  She turned and went back to her room.

After that, Jessica found Emily’s old sleeping bag in the closet beside the bed Melissa was now occupying.  Jessica was not leaving the room.  Emily, and now Melissa were both asleep and unharmed as far as Maria could tell, but Jessica would not abandon them.  Maria took Mindy back to the other room, but Mindy swore she would not be able to sleep.  It was Amina’s turn to watch, but before she turned off the light, Jessica got out the army knife her dad bought her when she announced she was going into ROTC.  Then she found Emily’s sword, the one made by hand by the four hundred and seventy-year-old Heinrich Schultz.  Jessica had no idea if the sword had any magical properties, but she felt safer when she curled up beside it.

ab-bogyman-1The wind picked up at two in the morning.  It rapidly reached dangerous proportions around the house.  The windows shook.  Every door rattled, and if the women had been aware to notice, the doors rattled one at a time.

Melissa became a bucket of sweat and began to whimper in her sleep.  Jessica could not wake her enough to get a word out of her.  Maria came in and managed to get Melissa to swallow some liquid.

“A mild sedative,” Maria said.  “I would rather she sleep than be injured.”

The wind stopped.  Amina who was in the corner made her announcement.  “It has not gotten in.”

“Good thing,” Maria and Jessica spoke together.

Oddly, this time Mindy slept through the noise.  Emily’s mom also did not make an appearance.  Tyler did come up from the basement.  He decided to finish the night on the living room couch, with the kitchen light on, but the women upstairs did not know this.

ab-bogyman-4Four in the morning is when everything happened, only this time there was silence.  Maria was on watch.  Maria turned on the small light beside the bed to act like a night light.  Melissa and Emily were both asleep, and Maria felt like nodding herself.  Jessica’s eyes popped open, not because she had some sixth sense, she imagined, but because Emily’s closet door was slowly opening and pushing up against the bottom of the sleeping bag.

Jessica could feel the presence in the room and it frightened her, terribly.  She felt it pause over Melissa before it rounded the bed to Emily’s side of the room.  Emily had said that when she was little she took the bed farthest away from the closet door, and now Jessica knew why.

When she had her chance, Jessica leapt up and switched on the light.  Both Jessica and Maria caught a glimpse of the creature before it went invisible.  It did not look at all like the man in the movie.  This creature had absolutely no humanity about it.

As soon as it vanished, Jessica got grabbed by her hair, tossed to the ground, and the light got put out.  Maria’s chair got knocked to the floor, and the small light between the beds also went out.  Jessica grabbed Emily’s sword, and when Maria crawled to the door and switched the overhead light back on, she was ready.  She saw the indent in the rug where the creature stood, hovering over Emily, and she swung the sword as hard as she could.  The creature howled.

ab-bogeyman-2Emily and Melissa both sat straight up at that sound.  Emily punched, and connected with something that doubled over.  Melissa raised her hands, though it seemed to the others that Melissa was still mostly asleep.  There was a small gust like wind and they heard something crash into the upper corner of the room.  The howl came again from there, and they saw a purple smear, like bogy-blood spread across the wall.

Something ran between Maria and Jessica, shoved them out of the way and dove out the window.  The glass shattered and everyone in the house came running, except Mister Hudson who continued to snore.

“It is gone,” Amina announced.

“Where?”  Emily got up and avoided the broken glass

Amina shook her head.  “It is too powerful,” she said as she and Maria helped Melissa to her feet and carried her away from the broken glass.

“I never thought my little spell would stop it,” Melissa confessed in a sleepy mumble.

“A simple lock might confuse an ogre for a second,” Mindy said.  “But eventually the ogre will just rip the door off the hinges and without breaking a sweat.”

“I like that analogy,” Melissa said with a bit more strength.

Mindy screamed, “Don’t touch it!”  Emily and Jessica were staring at the smear of bogy blood up by the ceiling.  Emily at five-six would have had to jump to touch it, but Jessica at five-nine had her hand poised.  “Don’t touch it,” Mindy said more calmly, but with a strict to-be-obeyed voice.  “Unless you want to be haunted by nightmares for the rest of your life.”  She finished the sentence and Jessica snatched her hand back.

“What on earth happened here?”  Emily’s mom was aghast at the destruction.

“Maybe it was that big wind,” Tyler spoke over his mother’s shoulder.  “I bet it was that wind.”

Emily’s mom looked hard at the girls in the room, but none of them denied it so what could she say?

“Shoes,” Jessica said, and Emily echoed, “Shoes everyone,” while she slipped her feet in her sneakers which were by the door.  Emily was thinking about the glass, but Jessica was worried about the bogy blood in case someone accidentally stepped in it.

“Go back to bed, mom,” Emily said.  “We will clean up.”

“You think I can sleep?  Now I’ll have to call the window people first thing Monday morning, and that is going to cost,” she said.  “And your father is going to have to get some plywood in the morning.  He is not going to like that.  Sunday is his sleep day.”  She closed the door to her room.

“Your mom doesn’t know anything, does she?”  Jessica noticed.

Emily shook her head.  “She doesn’t want to know.”

“You’re welcome for the wind thing,” Tyler said, quick to point out that he lied for them.  “So what was it?”

“A bogyman.”  Emily spoke honestly.

“It came out of the closet,” Jessica added.

“Awesome!  You had a boogyman in the closet.”  They did not feel the need to correct him since that was essentially correct.  Instead, they went to get gloves and the strongest cleaners they could find.

“I like my closet,” Jessica said.  “Of course it is about as big as Emily’s room.”

“Beverly Hills,” Emily told her staring brother.  She looked up at the corner of her room and did not doubt that by the time they finished cleaning, the corner of her room would have to be repainted.

Avalon 4.0: part 4 of 7, Run for Cover

“I’m not making myself look like a man,” Boston protested.

“I’m not worried about that,” Mingus responded.  “You can make yourself appear human easily enough, as I have seen, but in this case, you need to show oriental features and change your red head to dark brown.”

“Like this,” Alexis showed her own features.  She still looked like Alexis, but the Chinese version.  Boston tried to copy her work, and also came out looking like a Chinese version of Alexis.

“I don’t have a mirror,” Boston complained, as Alexis put her hand over her mouth to hold back asian twins 1her laugh.

“It will do,” MIngus said.  “Now the clothes.”  That was easy enough, since they were all wearing fairy weave which they could shape and color with a thought.  Alexis, being human, had to speak out loud to get her fairy weave to change, but it all came out fine since they could see what they were doing.  “And now the horses,” Mingus added.

“I don’t have that kind of power,” Boston protested, as she turned her robe to a light blue, just to be different.

“None of us do, alone,” Alexis said, and took her father’s hand.  Boston touched his shoulder so they could both give him their magic.  He took it and immediately cast his hand over the horses, flinging a bit of sand in their direction to make the magic work.  At once, all three horses looked like shaggy Black Sea ponies, with blankets and small packs in place of their saddles.  Honey and Horse did not bat an eye at the change, but Alexis’ horse, Misty Gray, bucked a little, once.

“We are ready,” Mingus turned to Shanjo, who again stared, dumbfounded at what just happened.

“Close your mouth,” Boston repeated her earlier statement along with her laugh.

Shanjo shook his head.  “I recognize the fire headed voice, but you do not look like the woman.”

“Still me,” Boston said as she stepped over and grabbed Alexis’ arm.  “But now I look more like my sister,” she said.

“Sisters?” Shanjo was curious.  “I see, like twins.”

“And I am the father of two daughters,” Mingus interrupted.  “Who plans to get them safely to the protection of the army camp as soon as possible.  Can we go?”

donkey 5“Of course, of course,” Shanjo said, “Shuz, shuz,” and they started walking.

They stopped early that evening, well before the ghoul ambush, so they did not get very far that day.  Alexis and Boston shared a tent while Mingus slept out by the fire.  The women did not get much sleep as they stayed up late, talking about being an elf and growing up an elf maid.

“I haven’t practiced much with my bow and arrows,” Boston admitted.  “I mean, I practiced with a hunting bow when I was growing up.  It was part of my redneck training.”  She grinned.  “I know where it is, in my own personal slip.  I mean I haven’t gotten it out to practice since I became an elf.”

“Don’t let father push you into learning to kill,” Alexis said.  “Some elf maids are bloodthirsty, warriors, who can fire two or three arrows with deadly accuracy in the time it takes a human to fire one, but most are not.  Some are weavers, true artists, like the makers of this fairy weave.  Some care for the spiritual creatures left in the world.  In our day, in the future, there are elf maids that care for the remaining unicorns of the world.  Mirowen, Doctor Robert’s mate back home, was a hundred years a unicorn maid before she got tangled up with Emile.  I, actually worked for the science department on Avalon.  I had my hands on a laptop computer almost fifty years before they appeared in the human world.”

“I know,” Boston said.  “I’m impressed.”

“Don’t be.  I was a secretary and file clerk, about what I still do to this day for the Men in Black, truth be told.”

“Still.  Who would have thought the elves of Avalon would even have a science department.  I mean, we are spiritual creatures, are we not?”

Alexis nodded.  “Spiritual people, but not necessarily ignorant ones.  Swords and knives and bows alexis momand arrows in our day are an affectation, you know.”

Boston nodded and said, “Tell me about growing up, about Father Mingus and about your and Roland’s mother, please.  I never hear about your mother, much.”

alexis and RAlexis did, but it quickly became stories of her childhood and youth, covering the first hundred to hundred and fifty years or so of her life, and mostly humorous stories, the way such memories go.  So the dawn came without much sleep, but in human terms, Boston was maybe twenty and Alexis was at most twenty-five, so it did not bother them so much, having the strength of their youth.

That day would tell what the ghouls were after.  Ideally, Lockhart and the others got behind the ghouls on the previous afternoon, and would open up even as the ghouls were distracted and watching the caravan travel beneath their noses, as Mingus said.  They had no reason to suppose the ghouls had any interest in the merchants, or the opium they carried.  Everyone assumed they would only be looking for the travelers.  As it was, things did not work exactly that way.

Mingus rushed everyone, so the caravan moved by the ghouls in the early light before Lockhart and company could see well enough to get a clear shot.  It was not the plan, but Mingus was anxious to get his two daughters to the safety of the army camp, as he saw it, and he wanted to reach there by that evening.  That meant hurry, hurry.  He had no intention of spending another night out in the unprotected wilderness.

While Lockhart and the others were ready by dawn, having found a large clump of rocks on the edge of the desert that they could hide behind, and more importantly, keep their horses from giving away their position.  Mingus already drove the caravan beyond the narrow point.  He did not let them stop often to rest, and he hardly let them stop for lunch.  He felt justified when he caught a glimpse of the brigands attempting to cut them off before they reached the army camp.

This time, there were twice the number, or about sixty men that came off the hillside.  Mingus actually wondered why so few, unless the brigand chief had in mind to save most of his men to take on the army group.  As an elf, Mingus knew the mind of the brigand chief was calculating the odds, and decided sixty men was more than enough for a merchant caravan, now that those people on their horses were nowhere to be seen.  Normally, the chief would have been correct, but Mingus had something else in mind.pep battle fight

“Alexis.  Miss Riley.  Split the herd,” he said.  Alexis understood right away.  Boston remembered when Alexis and Roland did it, but she was not sure of herself.

“I’ll direct it,” Alexis said as she grabbed Boston’s hand.  They swung their hands as Alexis counted.  “On three.  One, two, three.”  Boston felt the power surge out of her.  It struck the brigands in the center of their charge, knocking down about ten to mumble, shake their heads, and crawl away.  Of the rest, about twenty-five headed to the left where there were trees and brambles.  They would be busy for a while until they figured out they were headed in the wrong direction.  Then it would take some time to get back through the bramble bushes.

The other twenty-five headed for the front of the caravan, and were more inclined to notice right away.  Fortunately, Shanjo and his twenty men had the numbers to meet such a force and started right away with a devastating barrage of arrows.  Clearly, the men were practiced at fending off bandits, and in fact, Shanjo had told the group that they began the journey a year earlier with a full company of fifty men.  They were all that was left.

“But every one a real fighter at this point,” Shanjo said to compliment the men before he confided more softly, “If not, they would be as dead as the others.”

By the time it came to hand to hand, Shanjo’s hardened men had the numbers reversed and met the enemy two to one in Shanjo’s favor.

A half dozen of Shanjo’s men came to Mingus’ side, at the back of the caravan, by the time the other half of the brigands made it out of the briars.  Mingus started the fireworks as he lobbed several fireballs toward the enemy.  A number of bushes, a couple of trees, and a couple of men caught fire.  Then the half dozen of Shanjo’s men fired their bows, and Boston belatedly reached explosion 1for her own bow.  Alexis pulled her wand, but then they stood there for a minute, not sure of what to do.

Boston and Alexis moved together, but in opposite directions.  Boston pulled out an arrow and fired it, not imagining to hit anything, but she remembered how Roland used to fire his arrows.  When it reached the front of the charging enemy, it exploded right on cue.  She grinned and fired two more, even as Alexis said, in the time it took Shanjo’s men to fire a second arrow.

Alexis turned toward the men they had knocked down when they split the herd.  They were getting up and looked angry.  She waved her wand and lifted her arms, and a great wind rose up.  It picked up pebbles, twigs, leaves, and plenty of insects and slapped the men in the face.  Those men had to cover up, and backed up to get away from the howling wind.  By then, Boston turned and fired two more exploding arrows.  Mingus also did not let up with his fireballs, and the rest of the brigands had enough and headed back up the hill.

Shanjo lost two men, but he did not complain.  With sixty against his twenty, he should have lost all his men and his cargo besides.

decker

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If you have come late to the episode, don’t panic.  Parts 1-3 are here on the blog under ‘recent posts’ and you can read them in order you wish.  Be sure and stick with the blog on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to get the complete episode, Avalon 4.0, The Impossible Journey.