Avalon 6.5 Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem, part 5 of 6

“You were here,” Labash started, and looked around.  “Most of you were here with Ishtar when Babylon was founded.  Assur founded Assur—creative name—about two or three hundred years earlier, a small time in the life of the gods.  But you may recall Ishtar saying, in effect, that now that the boys each had their own place, they would have to take turns.  That was around 2000 BC.”

“I remember,” Boston said.

Assur raided southern Mesopotamia. Then Marduk raised up Hammurabi.”

“I remember Hammurabi,” Boston interrupted.  “What a dweeb.”

Labash smiled for her.  “Not to say they were the only players.  Hebat sort of cheated and her Hittites took two turns. But the Mitanni, the Hurrians, the Gutians, and others, all got a turn, all being supported and encouraged by various gods.  Enlil and Enki sort of supported the Elamites, who never went away until they got absorbed by the Medes and Persians.  Marduk did not mind.  He sort of held on to southern Mesopotamia and minded his own business.  Assur, though, got mad.  I think because he seemed closer to the front line, as Decker calls it.  About 1366 BC, he had enough.  He took a 300 year turn and shoved everyone back, taking on the Hurrians, Hittites, Mitanni, and the rest.  He messed with Babylon and southern Mesopotamia some, but not much.  Then it should have been Babylon’s turn, but Babylon had become occupied by Kassites.  You might call them the first Hippies.  Peace, man.”

“Far out.”  Lockhart couldn’t help himself.

“Groovy,” Lincoln countered.

“They were some serious vegetarians, well, meat got so expensive.  Marduk called it his mellow period.  They endured the pull and tug of Assyria and Elam, and for the most part lived quiet, peaceful lives.  Meanwhile, Assur went on a rampage, rearranging all his furniture.  The Assyrians again came out to play after a hundred and forty-some years of Babylonian do nothings.  This time, they overran everything in sight, including Egypt, but that is a different story.  Oh, I guess you met Tobaka.”

“Yes,” Katie said.  “He was Nubian, and his family ruled Egypt, but he said the Assyrians came in and threw his family out.  Killed most of them.”

“He wanted revenge,” Labash nodded. “But he never made it further than the Levant.  So, Assur made a big mistake when he burned Babylon to the ground.  That was about seventy years ago.  He got rid of that king and made sure the next one rebuilt the city and apologized to Marduk, personally.  But from then on, they would not be in the same room together, and I think Marduk plotted.”

“So now, we have two brothers fighting for the Assyrian throne,” Evan said.  “And I imagine Assur is behind the one in Nineveh, and Marduk is ready to support the other.”

“I became a frog,” Labash reminded them. “But, yes.  Marduk appeared in his temple and yelled.  He caused a small earthquake in the city.  He demanded Nabopolasser get off his rump and take the army out to support Sinsharishkun.  He said he wanted to see some Assyrian butt-whooping”

Decker laughed softly.  Boston spoke up.  “I wonder where he heard that term.”

“Yes, well, you know Sinsharishkun killed his brother, and I don’t know how it happened, exactly, but Marduk killed Assur at the same time.  By some trick, I am sure.  But the boys were pretty good at being able to read each other.  I don’t know, but the deed is done, and Marduk has suffered ever since.  I figure he will either come out of it, or in maybe fifty or less years, he will flip out entirely.  I dread dealing with a split personality, or worse, a multiple personality disorder.”

People waited while some especially loud screams reached their ears.  Several got up and stepped to the edge of the building to see how much of the city might be on fire.  Katie sort of regained their attention with her question.

“Nebuchadnezzar goes sort of loopy in his older years, do you think?”  She did not spell it out.

Labash frowned at her for talking about the future so flagrantly.  “Perhaps,” he said.  “But I don’t expect to be here by then.  In the new palace, I am building a wing for captive kings.  I said they can make it into a museum.  I have also built a great camp area for strays and captive people. Nabopolasser has already moved some Arameans and Suteans into the area.”  Labash appeared to enjoy shrugging.  “That is about all I can do; that and exert what influence I can on Nebuchadnezzar for the future.  I imagine I will be gone when Jerusalem falls. God, the source, seems content to let things work out that way.”

People nodded as they thought about it. Then Evan had another question.

“So, what is happening now?  How do things stand?”

Labash shrugged.  “Sinsharishkun is sitting on the Assyrian throne, but it is not exactly a safe seat.  Many of the provinces have rebelled during the civil war, and have thrown out or killed the Assyrian presence. They would need to be conquered all over again, but too many Assyrian officials see Sinsharishkun as a usurper, even if he is a son of the emperor.  And without Assur behind them, I think the Assyrian people are tired of war.” Labash shrugged again.

“Nabopolasser retook Nippur.  You know, the pro-Assyrian hotbed where Sinsharishkun planned his rebellion.  That did two things.  It put all the cities in southern Mesopotamia on notice that Babylon is back and ready to enforce the law, so they better cough up their tribute, and fighting men, and not be slow.  Babylon can just as soon flatten their cities as he did Nippur.  It also gave him a chance to throw the Assyrian army units out of his territory, which he did.

“So, now there is stalemate,” Katie suggested.

Labash shook his head this time. “Sinsharishkun fears the support of his generals is only lip service.  Right now, he doesn’t want to go there.  Nabopolasser honestly needs three to five years to build his forces before he can make a move.  Who will get there first?  Will Sinsharishkun find his courage, and his generals obey him, or will Nabopolasser have the time to build up his forces and take the war to the enemy with some chance of victory?  It’s exciting.  Like a three to five-year horse race, but that is about as exciting as it gets around here.”

“Lord,” one of the dwarf wives interrupted. She stepped up with a goblin in tow.  Labash and Boston recognized her as a female, but the others weren’t sure. She looked like a brute.

“Yes, Missus Hearthstone?” Labash asked what she wanted.

“This is Miss Thrasher.  You got company.  Tell ’em if they get hungry in the night, we left some meat and bread by the fire, there.  You tell ’em just be asking and Miss Thrasher will be getting.  There’s some vegetables there, too, and she is passable to cook them up if you want.”

“Thank you very much, Missus Hearthstone,” Labash said.  “Miss Thrasher,” he acknowledged his goblin, and smiled for her, which made her turn away and turn a bit red under the gray. “I am sure we will be fine. Personally, I intend to have a good night’s sleep.”

“Not right a young man like you should spend so many nights alone.  If you wasn’t my god, I would do something about that.”

“I am sure you would,” Labash said, with a touch of fear on his face.

“Good night,” she said, and she and Thrasher walked off into the dark

“Good night,” several people said, only to be interrupted by Decker.

“Here they come.”  That was all he had to say.

Avalon 6.5 Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem, part 4 of 6

When the evening came, several dwarf wives appeared and cooked a wonderful meal.  A couple of goblins showed up, and Evan nearly screamed; but Millie calmed him with her words.

“It’s all right.  They are the night watch, and my friends.  They keep the fires burning through the night.” Evan looked at her with wonder, and Millie smiled.  “I screamed the whole first week,” she admitted.

Millie enjoyed the company, and made like hostess for everyone.  Ninlil stayed mostly quiet.  Alexis felt tired, but good in Lincoln’s arms.  Working in the garden all afternoon seemed something she might have done at home, on her day off.  She felt content, but a little homesick, though they still had a long way to go to get back to the twenty-first century.

“And we have mostly vegetables in the stew,” Alexis grinned for that. “And actual fruit.”

“Alexis gets tired of all the meat,” Lincoln admitted.  “Only eating what someone can shoot does get old.”

“I am thinking of going vegetarian when we got home,” Boston said.  “If Roland doesn’t mind.”  Boston looked sad for a minute.  That reminded Katie.

“Why was Marduk so sad?  He kept saying he was sorry,” she asked.

“Yeah,” Lockhart agreed.  “What was that all about?”

Labash frowned.  “Marduk killed his brother, Assur.  He hasn’t been the same since.  You know they were more deeply attached than just at the head when they were born.”

“You couldn’t do anything?” Boston asked.

Labash shook his head.  “I was a frog at the time.”

“Sounds like a story,” Lockhart said.

“A couple of good stories,” Lincoln agreed.

“What is that?” Evan stood.  Some others joined him.  They heard more screams coming up from down below.

Ninlil spoke up and caught everyone’s attention, and people settled back down to listen.  “I already apologized for the frog.  Building and working in this garden is penance.”

“But you said you loved working with the flowers,” Lincoln said.

“In neat rows, and pulling the weeds,” Sukki added.

“I do.  Penance does not have to be hard and difficult duty.  It requires commitment and a willing heart.  Besides, way back in the past, the Kairos Anenki suggested that someday he and I would make a garden, like I wanted.  Oh, how young I was.  I actually imagined the whole land domesticated, from the gulf right up through the land between the rivers to the Phoenician shore.  Clearly, not a realistic idea.  But on a scale of this artificial mountain, yes, and for the building Labash is building.  I am looking forward to it.”

“But what about the frog?” Boston asked, a worried sound in her sad voice.

“Yes, well…” Labash began.  “Nebuchadnezzar has an older sister, Kashshaya.  She is about twenty now, but back when she was sixteen and I was about twenty or twenty-one, she swore she cried every night for loving me.  I mean, she could be a sweet girl when she wanted to be, and fair to look at, but she got spoiled rotten.  I couldn’t stand to be around her for very long because of the constant demands she made.”

“I’ll tell this part,” Ninlil interrupted.  “I felt sorry for the girl.  Enlil and I just separated, and I knew she genuinely loved Labash, whoever he was. I blessed the girl, with the power to make things come out the way she wanted.  I only intended to help her with her love, and no, I did not know Labash was the Kairos.  Even the gods do not know unless he reveals himself.  It is part of what it means when they say the Kairos is counted among the gods.  It is one of the few things in this universe hidden from the gods.  Anyway, she went to him and professed her love, but he did not return her love, and the magic I gave her would have worked on any normal man, but she could not force the Kairos to love her.  So, she got mad and turned him into a frog.”

“I stayed that way for several months,” Labash interrupted.  “…Almost got eaten a couple of times…”

Ninlil continued.  “The heavens shook, and when I looked and saw Kishshaya abusing her blessing, I removed the gift and made her forget she ever had such a gift.  She showed no remorse over what she had done to Labash, so I noticed nothing about that.  I did not look close enough.  I felt embarrassed for having empowered the girl in the first place.  It was not until Marduk came to me, weeping in his sorrow, looking for the Kairos, that I found out what happened to him.”

“She kissed me, and I turned back into a gardener.  I apologized for not being a prince.”

Ninlil grinned, but only a little.

“So, where is Kishshaya now?” Boston asked.

“Happily making demands of her husband,” Labash answered.

“Forget Kishshaya,” Katie said. “What happened between Assur and Marduk?”

People paused again as they heard new screaming from down below.  They saw lines of torches, and there appeared to be a couple of buildings on fire down there.

“I must go,” Ninlil said.  “Marduk is in no condition to help.”

“With what?” Alexis asked.  She thought about hurt people and wondered if she might help as well.

“The recently dead have risen, or at least their demon infested bodies have risen.  You know, it is not the way of the gods to simply solve human problems, but I can help the living in their battle against the dead.”

She vanished, and Lockhart said, “The Necromancer.”  No one argued.  Millie said nothing, looking at Evan.  Evan looked afraid to ask.

“Marduk.”  Lincoln reminded everyone.  People settled to listen, but Elder Stow turned his scanner back on, and Decker slipped over to the stairs where he could keep his eyes open.

Decker’s one mumbled comment was, “Nice to not be in the front line for once.”

“When Ashurbanipal, the Assyrian emperor died, they had some infighting to claim the throne.  One Assyrian general tried to claim the throne while everyone was away.  The eldest son, Ashuretililani threw him out as soon as he got home.  Meanwhile, the Assyrian governor of Babylon got poisoned as soon as word came that the emperor was dead.  A second son, Sinsharishkun wanted the kingship but knew his brother would be difficult to dislodge from the throne.  So, he started by claiming the throne of Babylon.  Well, the Babylonians were tired of Assyrian control over their lives, so they revolted and threw Sinshariskun out. In the confusion, Nabopolasser seized the throne of Babylon, where he sits to this day.  Not deterred, Sinsharishkun moved his rebel headquarters to the old Sumerian city of Nippur, and after that, it became a fight between the two brothers.  Are you with me so far?”

“Mostly,” Boston said.

“Civil war, brother against brother,” Lincoln said.

Labash looked at the faces around the fire, and continued.  “The Assyrians were good administrators of their empire.  They divided it into provinces, ruled by governors out of the provincial capitals.  Sumer, that is southern Mesopotamia, got ruled out of Babylon.  All the cities, from Babylon to the gulf paid tribute to Babylon and sent men to fight for Babylon.  For this reason, Nabopolasser not only had claim over his own city, but some claim over the province as long as he sat on the Babylonian throne.  It did not mean much as long as Sinsharishkun sat in Nippur, one of Babylon’s chief cities.

Anyway, Sinsharishkun spent a couple of years building alliances, knowing he did not have the force to meet his brother and the whole, main Assyrian army.  He turned to the independent people who lived outside, on the edge of Mesopotamia.  I don’t know what lies he told them, or what he promised them, but he got a token of support from the Medes, Persians, Parthians, Scythians, and Cimmerians.  He also put pressure on the cities of southern Mesopotamia that would have normally been under Babylonian control.  They also sent token of help, but with all that, Sinsharishkun was not sure he had the strength to face down the main Assyrian army.  All the same, the die was cast.  Sinsharishkun’s brother had spent the time solidifying his position in Nineveh, and now he was coming.”

“Exciting,” Boston said, and Sukki nodded.

“That was when I became a frog.”

“Poor timing,” Decker said over his shoulder.  His eyes stayed on the crowds in the streets, and the torches, burning buildings, and regular screams that wafted up in his direction.

“I was going to say,” Elder Stow started to say something, but fell silent.  His eyes stayed glued to his scanner.

“Marduk and Assur,” Lockhart prompted.

Labash took a deep breath before he began again.

Avalon 6.5 Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem, part 2 of 6

When the travelers entered the Ishtar gate of Babylon, they discovered Nabopolasser sat on the throne.  Though still forced to pay lip service to Nineveh and the Assyrians, he had conquered Nippur in the last year.

“That makes it about 619 or 618 BC,” Katie said.

“Labash should be about twenty-four or twenty-five,” Lincoln said.

“Sinshariskun should be king in Assyria,” Katie added and fell silent.

Evan spoke up when the crowd in the streets offered a chance to be heard.  “That is very good.  I studied in the Greco-Roman world because I could never pronounce those Akkadian names. My Latin was good, and much better now, and my Greek was passable, but Akkadian and Ugaritic gave me nightmares, not to mention Egyptian.”

“Egyptian is easy,” Lockhart said, with a grin.  He explained when he had Evan and Katie’s attention.  “The little one gift of languages includes the written word. Even when I look at Hieroglyphs, my mind automatically reads it in English.”

“It covers the written word?”

“Yes,” Lincoln said.

“Writing a response in another language that the other person can read can be tricky,” Alexis admitted.  “But not impossible.”

The travelers had no trouble knowing where they were going in the city.  They saw Etemenank, the great ziggurat of Babylon from the city gate.  It looked like a giant hill in the city, covered with vines, fruit trees, flowers and flowering bushes.  The building rested underneath all that greenery, roughly twenty stories tall in a three to five story city.

After a short way, they came to a broad avenue that marched right up to the face of the ziggurat.  Katie looked back at one point and imagined the buildings that crowded the Ishtar gate would one day be cleared out so the view from the gate to the man-made mountain would be unobstructed, and people could walk straight from the gate to the place of the gods.  Lockhart kept his eyes forward.  They ran into soldiers, because absolutely no one was allowed to climb to the house of the gods.

“If you wish to offer sacrifice to Marduk, his temple, Esagila, is over there,” the chief soldier said, kindly enough, and pointed across the square between the ziggurat and an enormous building in its own right.  “The priests will be glad to help you.”

“Actually, we are looking for Labash, the gardener,” Lockhart said.  The soldier paused, but still pointed to the temple.

“Esagila.  Marduk,” he repeated.

“Fine,” Lockhart said.

“Just tell Labash his friends from the future came by, and we will wait for him,” Katie said.

“Esagila,” the chief soldier pointed.

The group turned toward the temple, and Lincoln spoke up.  “We haven’t seen Marduk since this city was first built.”

“That wall there only stood three feet high in places,” Decker remembered.

Lincoln nodded.  “The Ishtar gate was not even finished being built.”

“The time before that,” Boston raised he voice.  “Marduk and Assur were like teenagers.  I remember they wanted to be cowboys.”

“That was where you found me,” Alexis said.  People paused to dismount.  They would walk their horses across the square.  Lincoln hugged Alexis, as if to say he was glad they found her, but he did not say anything.  Her father, Mingus, had kidnapped her again, but then he got himself killed fighting against the ghouls, and no one wanted to remember that time.

“Eliyawe kept the boys in line,” Katie said.

“I had forgotten her name,” Lockhart confessed.

“She looked skinny as an elf,” Alexis said, with a look at Boston.  “And full of energy.”  Boston smiled at the description.

“When was that?” Sukki asked.

“Early” Elder Stow admitted.  “I was not with the group for very long.”

“Before 3300 BC,” Lincoln reported.

Evan’s eyes got big at the date, but his mouth had a question.  “What were the gods doing with the Kairos?”  He seems to have accepted the notion that the ancient gods were not just archetypes, and the Kairos tended to be in the middle of everything.”

Katie explained.  “Eliyawe, Marduk and Assur just killed Tiamut.  They recovered the body of Osiris and were returning it to Egypt.”

Evan swallowed.  His eyes got big and he looked at the dirt as they came to the temple and found a place to tie off their horses.  “The remarkable thing is, I believe you,” he mumbled, and Boston, with her good elf ears, heard, and gave him a pat on the back for reassurance, even as her mouth gave him pause.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

“Halt.”  The temple had their own guards.

“We have come to see Marduk,” Lockhart said.

“You carry weapons,” the guard pointed to the knives on their belts, things they had gotten so used to carrying, they forgot they had them on.  Fortunately, the Patton sabers stayed tied to their saddles, and the guns were not recognized as weapons; not even Decker’s rifle, which he rarely set down. “Weapons are not allowed in the place of the god.”

Lockhart, Katie, Decker, Lincoln and Sukki turned to leave their knives in their saddlebags.  Boston kept her knife in her personal slip, as they called the little interdimensional hole that followed her around.  She had her gun belt, her wand, and her bow and arrows in there, too, and she could pull them out at a moment’s notice.  Alexis had a knife, buried at the bottom of her pack, and rarely carried it.  Evan had no weapons, and Elder Stow had plenty of weapons, but no guard in ancient Babylon would ever recognize them as weapons.  They looked like little sticks and boxes attached to Elder Stow’s belt.

While the others slipped their knives in their saddle bags, Boston had a thought.  “Elder Stow.  My personal slip.  Do you think the fauns, in a similar way, slip their entire selves into their other dimension?”

Elder Stow nodded.  He did not respond with a bunch of technical data, even for Boston who had her PhD in electrical engineering.  She would not have understood the theoretical math. But he did say, “Something similar, like that,” and Boston nodded.

“We’re ready,” Lockhart said upon his return.

“But, where is your sacrifice? What did you bring to offer the god?” The guard got harsh, since he and the other guards he called to back him up appeared to have the only weapons.

“We bring good wishes for an old friend,” Katie said.

“I wonder if Ishtar is around,” Lincoln whispered.

“And thanks for saving me from the cave and the servants of the masters,” Alexis added.

“Maybe Hebat,” Lockhart returned the whisper and grinned at some memories.

“I’m sorry I don’t have a cowboy hat to give him,” Boston said.

The guards stood for a second, looking at each other, before the rude guard went back to the beginning.  “Where is your sacrifice?”

An older man came to the front of the temple.  He appeared to be shivering, and afraid, but he spoke up loud and clear.  “Let them pass.  Let them enter.”  They pushed past the guards and looked curiously at the old man, obviously a priest, if not the high priest.

The man shook and spoke softly as he walked and led the travelers into the temple.  “I have seen him twice in my lifetime.  I do not think my master ever saw him.  I have been twice graced, and I pray there is not a third time.  My heart would not survive that.”

“Who?” Lockhart had to ask.

“Marduk, the inexorable,” the old man said.  “Several years ago, the whole city shook from an earthquake.  The anger of the god.  He appeared in the temple, and told the Babylonian army to go in support of Sinsharishkun against his brother, Ashuretiliani, King of Assyria.  I fell to my face and remained unmoving for three days.  It scared me so.”

“He is here?”  Katie asked.

“He is crying,” the priest said. “That is almost worse, but he says he has to see you.”  The priest clearly did not understand, but he acted faithfully and dedicated himself to do what the god required.

They found Marduk, a much older looking Marduk, sitting heavily on a bench beside his own altar.  Something smoked in the sea.  The burnt offering smelled like lamb.  The travelers stopped just in front of the priests who mostly knelt with their eyes lowered, though some prostrated themselves.  They cried with their god.

“Why so sad?” Katie asked.

“Can we help?” Alexis wondered, even as the eyes of the travelers teared up.  When the god cried, everyone cried.  Finally, Marduk spoke.

“I am so sorry,” he said, which sounded so unusual.  The gods never apologized for anything.  “Ishtar is not talking to me.  I think Hebat hates me.  Ninlil is the only one who will talk to me, and she always has scolding in her voice.”

“But, we had some good times, defending the city,” Elder Stow said.

“And saving me,” Alexis added, and Lincoln had to step in because Alexis’ voice became shaky with tears.

“Eliyawe and her husband.  And you and Assur were having such a good time.”

Marduk wailed.  He began to weep and repeated, “I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry…”  Of course, when the god wept, everyone wept, until they heard a sound.

“Lockhart,” someone shouted, and Marduk vanished.

Avalon 4.4 part 5 of 6, Fire of the Gods

Boston stared out of the gate at the distant enemy.  “What are they waiting for?” she asked.  Alexis raised her hand to shade her eyes, and was sorry she did not have good elf eyes.  Elf eyes were far better than human eyes.

“Father?”

“What?” he responded in a surly voice.

“Can you see what they are doing?” Alexis asked, in her calming voice.

“Do I care what they are doing?”

Alexis stopped and turned on him.  “You sound like Elder Stow.”

Mingus frowned and walked away, while Boston spoke to Alexis.  “He is mad at you.  I’m sorry.  I Katie 3hope it wasn’t anything I did.”

Katie stepped up and lowered her binoculars for a minute.  “Lockhart has the wall,” she explained when the women turned to look at her.  When they continued to look at her, she said something more.  “Mingus claims he has one good daughter and one bad one.  Sorry.  Not my words.  Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”

“It’s okay,” Alexis said.  “I thought it was something like that.”

“I’m sorry,” Boston got weepy.  “I would never want to get between you and your father.”

Alexis nodded and looked at her Father who was climbing to the top of the gate pillar.  He certainly heard what they were saying with his good elf ears.  “I understand, and Boston, it is not your fault if he wants to behave like a three-year-old.  We only have to work together to get home in one piece.  After that, he can take his fat body as far away from me as he wants.”  She reached out and hugged Boston because Boston looked ready to cry. In the way of young little ones, Boston’s mood switched in a blink.

“He does look like he is putting on weight,” she said with a grin.

“Elf metabolism slows with too much meat protein. Most elves don’t eat so much meat, but we have been on the deer, deer, elk, deer diet, Atkins gone wild, you know,” Alexis said.

Boston 3a“The Paleo diet, but without all the fruits and nuts,” Katie agreed.

“I hope I don’t start putting on weight,” Boston said.  “I just got elf skinny.”

“I wouldn’t worry.  You are young.  Your system can handle it.” Alexis said, and hugged Boston again, just to say she held no grudge against her.

“We got company,” Katie said and pointed to the gate.  Three dwarves came in the gate, and men backed up to make room for them.  They were armored after a fashion.  One even had some chain over his leather.  One dwarf had a sword and shield, one had a more traditional dwarf-like axe, and Pluckman, in front, carried a spear, but he had a shield on his back and a sword at his side.

Ulrik was right there to hear Pluckman speak.  “Reporting for duty, sir.”  Pluckman and the dwarves turned and offered a bow and words to Channa.  “And the lady is looking lovely today.”

Channa turned her head to Boston, Alexis and Katie.  “My Ulrik has the most interesting friends.”  She turned to the dwarf.  “Thank you Pluckman, you dear little thing.”

Alexis looked at Boston, and Boston spoke.  “I feel it too,” she said and stepped up to speak to Channa.  “You know; the little ones only pay that kind of attention to a person that their Lord has a special relationship with.  In this case, I would say Ulrik loves you.”kissing 1

Channa’s eyes got big and Boston almost caught a glimpse of the wedding dress in Channa’s mind as she grabbed Ulrik for a big, very sexy kiss.  When Ulrik could breathe again, he turned first on Boston. “I wasn’t going to tell her that,” he said, before he turned on Pluckman.  “You know what I said.  This is not your fight.”  He raised his voice, but by then a man appeared beside him, and the appearance of the man, more than Ulrik’s displeasure, made Boston humbly lower her head.

“No cheating,” the man said.

Men were still coming for Lincoln to direct.  Lockhart and Decker were on the walls.  Mingus was up the pillar, and Elder Stow was playing with some piece of equipment, but the women were right there, and it was Alexis who recognized the man first.

“Marduk.”

Katie spoke up.  “I didn’t recognize you without your other half.  Where is Assur?”

Etana warriorMarduk growled.  Katie and Alexis shrank back, and Boston let out a small shriek.

“I am not cheating,” Ulrik said.  “I was just about to yell at the dwarves, if you waited a minute.”  Marduk growled again, and Ulrik was afraid some of the men in the gate might die from fear.  Channa hid her face in Ulrik’s chest when Ulrik traded places through time.  He changed to Doctor Mishka and she clothed herself in the armor and weapons of the Kairos.  She had something more direct to say to Marduk.

“Sit.  Keep your thoughts to yourself, and tone down the awesome nature.  You are scaring the men.”  Marduk sat and quieted, and he did so without question.  Mishka went away so Ulrik could come back.  He kept the armor and weapons.  “Man that gate,” he yelled at the men, and the men turned away from him and toward the enemy, except for the three that ran away.

A light showed up on the other side of the field.  It was a fireball some six feet across, and it headed straight toward the gate.  People panicked.  There was no time to do anything.  But all at once, the fireball stopped.  It spread out and dissipated twenty yards out.  Elder Stow stepped up.

“Setting a single sided screen like a wall is difficult on equipment not designed for that purpose,” he said.

Boston had something else in mind.  “Dwarves, hold on.”  They grabbed each other and Pluckman grabbed Boston’s leg, and grinned, but stayed good.  “Alexis, I need your wind to get there.”  Alexis looked reluctant, but took Boston’s hand.  Boston’s other hand held her wand, and an equally large fireball started out across the field.  One small fireball came from Mingus up on the pillar and blended into the large fire that raced across the field.  The Gutians had no screen and were not prepared for return fire.  When the fireball reached their line, they were running away.  It struck and exploded, a far more devastating fire than just fire alone.

“Good,” a woman said.  No one knew where she came from, or who she was, but the travelers at least had the same sort of feeling they got when any of the gods showed up.  No telling what the men in the gate felt.ishtar 2

The woman stopped to bow briefly to Marduk.  “King,” she said.  She stepped to King Belusis and said, “Not my king.”  She moved on to Channa who appeared to be frozen, awe struck, and she took Channa by the chin and gave a good looking over.  “Princess,” she said, before she threw her hands up.  “My gate?”

“Everyone who comes in and out of the city will think of you,” Ulrik said, even as the travelers were figuring out that this was Ishtar.

The woman raced up and grabbed Ulrik by the chin.  She stared at him and into his eyes, which made him flinch.  It always did.  “Not my son,” she said, and let him go.

“Not my mother,” he responded, and the woman almost smiled.

“No,” she said before anyone else could say a thing.  “No temple.  No help.”

“Okay,” Ulrik threw his hands down, and Channa grabbed one hand.  She appeared to need the support.  “Yours will be the next temple built, I promise.”

ishtar 5“Okay,” she repeated the word, and threw something over her shoulder.  It was a fireball, but much larger than the first two, being a hundred feet in diameter.  When it hit, the explosion shook the ground.  The woman pointed at Channa and Ulrik, holding hands.  “You marry.  No more discussion.”  She pointed briefly at King Belusis before she finished.  “Make new temple, good one.  I tell witch, go to another city.  Not Nippur.  Maybe I send her.”  The woman vanished in front of everyone.  Only a few men made sounds of shock.

“Marduk,” Ulrik waved the god to come over, and he did.  “So you get to be king of the gods of Babylon, gateway of the gods.”

“I am not going to argue with Ishtar,” Marduk said.

“You mean not his mother,” Katie suggested.

“Does that mean there isn’t going to be a fight? Pluckman asked, and sounded sincerely unhappy.

Marduk smiled and looked down at the dwarf.  “I am so glad that is one burden that is not mine,” he said and vanished.  He let a little sound of thunder follow in his wake.Ulrik 2

Channa stared at Ulrik and thought wicked thoughts.  “We can marry tonight,” she said.

“No!” both Ulrik and King Belusis shouted at the same time.  The king stepped up.

“So, the next temple we build will be for Ishtar, goddess of love and war,” Ulrik said.

The king nodded.  “And without delay,” he agreed.

“Hold that thought,” Ulrik responded as another woman appeared.  This one pushed out of her dress in several places, and was not at all embarrassed by it.  She marched up to Urlik, butted between him and Channa, and locked her lips to his.  Ulrik pulled back as soon as he was able, but the woman did not let him go.

“Some of my Amonites are coming here,” she said in her low and sexy voice.  “I guess that means you need to build a temple for me, too.”

goddess Hebat 1Ulrik frowned.  “Turn around,” he said.  The woman raised an eyebrow, but Urlik insisted.  She turned, slowly, and looked back until she was completely turned.  He whacked her hard enough on her butt to leave a burn mark.  She squealed and spun quickly around, but by then Ulrik had Channa in his arms.

“Do that again,” the woman said with a mighty grin.

Ulrik rolled his eyes.  “Now, what would your husband say?” he asked.

“Oh, putz,” the woman said and vanished.

“Hebat,” the man in the strange clothes was there.  He named the goddess and he had a few tears.  He fell to his knees and declared, “Truly Babylon is the home of the gods and Belusis will be our king too.”

“So it is agreed,” the king said, not about to miss the opportunity, besides, Ulrik was busy kissing his wife-to-be.

Avalon 2.10: Retrieval

            Tiamut is dead.  Osiris is in the coffin headed back to Egypt.  Assur and Marduk are present, very young and inclined to argue without Eliyawe’s intervention.  It was an interesting lunch, but now it is time to retrieve their friends.

###

            They left the horses with the Nymphs to guard them and walked across the field.  There were boulders scattered around the base of a hill, and a cave a short way up the hillside.  Roland reported that they were in the cave.

            Roland and Boston walked carefully toward one of the boulders, uncertain as to what to expect.  Marduk and Assur came a step behind them with their eyes wide.  Lockhart knew of no way to confront whoever they might be except directly.   Captain Decker spoke first.

            “Lieutenant Harper,” he said, and Katie looked up.  Decker signaled with one hand and Katie nodded. 

            “What language was that?”  Lockhart asked.

            Katie smiled for him, then spoke with a straight face.  “Marine language.”  The two marines separated and went to where they could draw a bead on the cave, each from a different angle.  Lockhart kept Lincoln with him to prevent the man from running out or doing something stupid.

            Eliyawe, Elias, Jonas and Atonas walked up in the open.  They figured they were out of bowshot range, so they did not worry.  They were talking and laughing and having a good time.  They only paused when Lockhart stood and shouted toward the cave.

            “Alexis!”

            The answer came back at once.  “I’m here, Robert.”  Lockhart stepped on Lincoln’s foot so he would not go running out.

            “You get one chance,” Lockhart shouted.  “Return Alexis unharmed and we will let you live.”

            They were answered with gunfire.  They had Alexis’ pistol.  Lockhart took the first in his shoulder.  Eliyawe swore and shoved Atonas and Jonas behind a boulder.  Elias followed as Eliyawe called out and her clothes were instantly replaced with fine chain armor over leather.  The suit came complete with boots to the knees, gloves to the elbows, a long white cape that fluttered in the wind and a helmet that made the face hard to see.  She had weapons at her back, including a long sword.

            “Hey,” Elias said.  “You got your sword back.”

            “What, this old thing?”  It was not Eliyawe’s voice.  “Zoe,” the woman gave her name as she stepped out from behind the boulder.  Three bullets came straight to her, but they did not appear to touch her.  Zoe lifted her hand and the pistol came flying out of the cave and landed in her hand.  Then something else came from the cave.  It was dark and faceless and looked like strips of black cloth flying in the wind.  It was a wraith, and Zoe shouted to Boston.

            “Little Fire, make a lasso.”

            “What?”

            “Rodeo queen, make a lasso from your fire.”

            A whole bunch of western, rodeo images flashed through Boston’s mind, but she was not sure she could make a lasso from fire.  She looked at Roland and heard a sound over her shoulder.

            “Eee-ha!”  It was Marduk, dressed in cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, and he was twirling a lasso of light and shouting.  He caught the wraith by the head and yanked it to the ground.

              “Hog tie it,” Boston yelled, and Assur flew forward while Marduk kept the rope taught, and in the blink of an eye had the wraith tied, arms behind and one foot with them.  He even stood and raised his arms.  Too bad there was no crowd to cheer.  Boston applauded and Roland joined her.

            Meanwhile, Zoe stepped up to the cave.  The giant was just inside the light, afraid to come out.  It was not connected to the Masters, but a useful tool.  Zoe knew this one was not entirely a fool, just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Several arrows came in her direction, but never touched her as she thought things through.

            Alexis was not beaten badly, and through use of her magic and her fairy weave, which covered her again every time a piece was  taken off her, she was not raped.  Zoe waved her hand and the frightened giant became a little person, just three and a half feet tall.  He vanished from the cave entrance and appeared in the midst of Jonas, Atonas and Elias who sat on him to keep him quiet.

            “Alexis!”  Lincoln came running up at that point.  Lockhart could not hold him.  Katie had abandoned her post and was presently holding Lockhart up and they were watching the Gaian chits in his system push the bullet out of the wound.  It fell to the dirt and the wound began to close up and heal.

            “Benjamin!”  Alexis shouted back.  There were two men determined to carry out the rape, but Zoe got there first and brought Lincoln along.  He and Alexis hugged and kissed while the Queen of the Amazon pantheon get very angry, again.  Zoe made sure those two men would never rape anyone again, ever.  Then she waved her hand again and all six men and three women were tied like the wraith. 

            It was Eliyawe who shouted from the cave entrance.  Zoe was still too angry.  “You can come up now.  Alexis is alright.  No Mingus.  Lockhart?”

            “Here,” Katie answered.  “We are fine.”

            “What are we supposed to do with this little one?”  Elias yelled.

            “Stay where you are for now,” Eliyawe answered.

            Elias looked at the little one he was sitting on.  “You heard my wife.  I try not to argue with my wife.”

            “Wise,” Jonas said and Atonas nodded.

            “Get off me, you elephant,” the former giant complained.

            “Boys, bring the wraith.”

            “Yes, Mam.  Glad to oblige. Shuckins, ‘twern’t nothing.””

            Lincoln walked a weeping Alexis out of the cave.  She had enough fairy weave left to cover her private parts and her breasts, but that was it.  Roland and Boston met her at the cave entrance and Roland handed back all the fairy weave cloth he picked up along the trail.  It merged back into the rest of her cloth and quickly formed a proper dress and shoes.  And the twins only whistled once as they marched by with the screaming wraith in tow.  The wraith was not hurt or mad at being tied.  It was screaming because it realized just who had tied it and the wrath of the gods was a terrible thing to behold, even in those two.

            “Toss her in here,” Eliyawe said.  “Now make sure they are all tied tight.”  She took Marduk’s and Assur’s hands and changed to Junior.  They were in the dark where no one would see them.  He left a message from the three of them when the signal he set up was followed by the gods of El’s court.  “These serve the Masters, not you.  If they are left to live, they will try some new horror.  We leave them for your pleasure to do with them as you will.”

            Then Eliyawe returned and brought the boys back out into the light.  They were looking at her with wide eyes.

            “That was amazing, how you did that.”

            “That was so sophisticated.”

            “Hush,” Eliyawe quieted them.  “We have about three or four days before the LSD is fully broken down and the gods should awake, and we have a long way to go to reach Egypt.  Seal the cave, but leave a small air pocket so they don’t suffocate.”

            “Really?  Can we?  Is it okay?  Yeee-ha!”

            “Boys,” Eliyawe rolled her eyes and grinned at Boston and Alexis as they all ran down the hill to the safety of the plains.  The earth began to shake, and all at once the front of the cave collapsed.  It formed a perfect seal with only a small hole here and there for air.

 ###

Avalon 2.10:  Loose Ends … Next Time

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Avalon 2.10: Lunch and Stories

            While on the trail for Alexis and Mingus, the travelers first found the Kairos, Eliyawe, a skinny young girl in a mini skirt with nice long legs that she obviously liked to show off, who seemed to be suffering from ADHD, at the least.  She had several men and women with her, as well as a floating coffin, but had yet to get through the introductions without interrupting herself.

###

            “Boys,”  Eliyawe’s voice grabbed their attention again.  “Leave the fisherman alone.  I want you to meet Roland, the hunter.”

            “Hello,” they said before they ran to the horses.  “What are these?  Where did you get them?  Which is the fastest?  Can I have one?”

            “Children, come and sit.”  Eliyawe made them sit down where Elder Stow was building a fire.  “Now behave so we can have a nice lunch.”  Eliyawe turned to Boston and rolled her eyes in a very Boston-like manner.  “Boys,” she said with a liberal dose of sarcasm.

            “I understand,” Boston said and rolled her eyes in return.

            Roland provided a deer, but it took time to cook.  Elder Stow made a small force field around them so they could let the horses out to graze without worrying about them watering.  Katie and Boston argued a bit about the cooking.  Lincoln sounded morose when he talked.

            “Alexis is a great cook.”

            “And I am sure we will enjoy her cooking when we get her back,” Lockhart said.  And he explained to Eliyawe and the others what they were doing.  They expected to catch up, soon.  Lincoln threw the grass he had yanked out of the ground, but he said nothing.

            “Maybe we could help them?” Elias suggested with a look at his wife.  Eliyawe squinted at him. 

            “I thought you were my husband,” she said.  He nodded.

            “So how far ahead of you do you figure,”  Elias spoke to Lockhart and Eliyawe grinned and took her husband’s arm.

            “Sometime this afternoon.”  Lockhart said, but he looked at Roland for confirmation.

            “Sooner than that,” Roland said.  “I think they saw the Kairos coming from in front of them and with us following they scooted out between us and are hold up somewhere in the rocks there where the hills really start to rise.”

            “What?”  Lincoln sat straight up to look.

            “Relax,” Lockhart held him back.

            “So who is in the box?”  Decker changed the subject when he could not suppress his curiosity any longer.  He slept in an Agdaline box for 500 years, so he was curious.

            “Osiris,” Elias answered and Eliyawe nodded.

            “We are returning him to Egypt,” she said.  “The nymphs of the swamps of Lebanon are doing penance and carrying the coffin.

            “Nymphs?”  The men reacted.  Jonas and Elias looked embarrassed for some reason.

            “Osiris?” Katie also reacted.  “You mean, the Osiris?”

            “Hey.” Lincoln looked at Elyawe with sudden curiosity.  “Which ding dong the Witch is dead?”

            “Tiamut,” Eliyawe said.  “Set planned the whole thing so Osiris would snuff it away from Egypt.  The Masters are working for Tiamut, more or less.  They seeded the streams with the drug.  Tiamut was hoping the gods would go crazy, but it just put them all to sleep for a time.  Some universal default or something would be my guess.”

            Atonas could not contain himself any longer.  “You slew Chaos?  You killed the great and terrible goddess?”  He fell at Eliyawe’s feet and dared not lift his eyes. 

            “Not me,” Eliyawe said.  “All I did was stab her in her big toe.  Broke my best sword, too, and dern, it was my new one.”  Eliyawe shrugged.  “You want the slayer of Tiamut, look to Marduk and Assur.”

            “The Marduk and Assur?” Katie started again but several people yelled at her in case she said something about the future that was best not to mention.

            “I like that phrase, “The” Marduk and Assur,” Assur said.  “But it would be better to say “The” Assur and Marduk.”

            “Yes,” Marduk ignored his brother and spoke in feigned humility.  “I slew chaos for all time.”

            “Ha!  I slew Chaos.”  Assur countered, but Marduk had already jumped to his feet.

            “There she was, a true titan, terrible to behold, but I found the courage to rise up into her face, the very face of death.  I brought my great sword down upon her head and cut her in two so her brains leaked out.  And by the fire in my loins, I set her mind ablaze until it became but ash to blow away on the wind.”

            “Ha!”  Assur had a counter story.  “I rose up to her great maw that was swallowing the light itself and looked big and dark enough to swallow the very sun.  I smote her breast and cut off the paps that fed the world with destruction.  I bore a great hole in her chest and tore out her heart.  This I crushed with my bare hands.”

            “Her heart was only about this big,” Marduk pinched his fingers together to show how small it was.

            “It was not.”

            “It was too.”

            Eliyawe whistled and Marduk and Assur  fell silent.  “Actually, Tiamut was about to step on me and squish me like a bug, and my boys found the courage to finish the job.  Thanks for saving my life, boys.”

            “Aw, hush.  Think nothing of it.  You are more than welcome.  The least we could do.”

            “Twins,” Lincoln said.  “Identical.”

            “So which is older?”

            “Hey!”  Eliyawe intervened before the argument started.  “They were both born at exactly the same time, joined together at the top of their heads.  Doctor Mishka had a hard time separating them.  She had to re-grow the skulls and do some dermal regeneration and stimulate the hair follicles and voila!  Better then a plate in their heads.”  Eliyawe smiled until she saw Marduk open his mouth.  “And they both got an equal number of brain cells down to the micro-nano level, so there.”  Eliyawe stuck her tongue out at the boys.

            Elias got Atonas back up and sat him between himself and Jonas.  Jonas had to lean over to speak.  “You know, I still only understand about one in three words your wife says.  Very disturbing.”

            “Ha!”  Elias said in imitation of Assur.  “What is really disturbing is I am starting to understand the most of it.”  Eliyawe tightened her grip on Elias’ arm and robbed her head against his shoulder like a kitty  All that was missing was the purr.

            They all heard a click.  Captain Decker had his rifle at hand.  “Lunch is over,” he said.  “Time to get our missing travelers.”

            “Thank you.”  Lincoln stood straight up.

### 

Avalon 2.10:  Retrieval … Next Time

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Avalon 2.10: Eliyawe and Company

            Lincoln has great hopes of finding his wife, Alexis, and Roland has equally high hopes of finding both her, and their father Mingus, but the place where they expected to find them turned out to be a ruined camp.  They determined from the lack of bodies that they are likely still alive, they have been taken by someone, but they are on foot.  The travelers believe it should not be too hard to catch them on horseback.  What they will find as to who took them is the question. 

###

            The travelers followed the trail as far as they could into the night, but eventually had to pitch a light camp, eat, and give their horses a rest.  They were up with the sun and moving again, headed to the north and west toward Lebanon and the coast

            Decker took the flank.  Lincoln and Elder Stow stayed in the middle as usual, with Lockhart and Katie watching all of their backs.  Roland and Boston, and that meant Atonas who knew something about the land were out front.  Roland, to be sure they stayed on course, and Boston, to be sure they did not get too far off course as far as the next time gate was concerned,

            Every now and then Roland would ride ahead to a place where he could stop and check the signs of passage.  Once, he came back to Boston and whispered.  “They are not alone.”  Boston looked up and he explained.  “I don’t want to say anything yet because I am not certain, but they are traveling with a ghoul, perhaps, or a wraith and a giant, I would guess about ten feet tall.”

            Boston nodded and looked back to be sure the others did not hear.  Atonis spoke up.

            “I knew a giant once,” Atonas spoke loud and clear.  “Not an Amalakite.  I have to say that back home because everyone in Caana hears giant and automatically thinks Amalakite.”

            Boston rolled her eyes.  Lincoln, Katie and Lockhart were all staring at her.  “Roland thinks they may have a giant with them.  Not confirmed.”

            “Yes, he was taller than me on this beast.  Nice fellow.  Drank too much.”

            “Thank you for your insight,” Lincoln quipped from behind and did nothing to disguise the sarcasm.

            “Glad to help,” Atonas responded.  “Of course you have to be careful with giants.  Some are quite bright, but even the dumb ones can be very clever.  Not a good idea to make them mad either.”

            Lincoln joined Boston in eye rolling.  Elder Stow found the whole thing quite amusing.

            “Hold up.” Decker rode in from the flank and the party stopped moving to hear the news.  “People approaching.  Four men and five women, and they have a box with them that looks like a coffin.”

            Katie got out her rifle.  Lincoln, Boston and Lockhart all checked their side arms.  They started forward again at a slow walk until Decker had them dismount at the base of a ridge which was barely more than a long lump in the ground.  There were trees where they tied off the horses, still afraid the horses might wander to the nearest stream.  Roland and Boston agreed to watch the horses while the rest climbed the ridge to have a look.

            “No Alexis or Mingus,” Elder Stow stated the obvious.

            “No giant or other spookies either,” Katie added as she handed her binoculars to an overly anxious Lincoln.

            “A strange crew,” Decker said.  The casket was floating along without anyone touching it.  Even the telekinetic Shemsu needed to raise their hands and focus on such an object to move it.  But here, four rather scantily clad women merely walked at each of the four corners.  Two young men walked side by side, and the fat one sweating like they had been walking for some time.  The skinny young girl in the super short miniskirt and the other two young men, identical twins, appeared to be dancing along.  The young girl was singing, though it took a few minutes before they were within range to hear the song.

            “Ding, dong, the witch is dead.  Which old witch?  The wicked witch.”

            “Eliyawe,” Katie said through her grin.  It could not possibly be anyone else.  Lockhart stood and waved and instantly found himself frozen in place. Everyone was frozen, including Roland, Boston and the horses who were out-of-sight.

            “Marduk!”  Eliyawe used her scolding voice as she huffed and puffed her way up the ridge.  “Let these people go.  These are friends of mine.”

            “Blame me?  Assur must have done it.”

            “I did not,” Assur protested.

            “Well it wasn’t me,” Marduk responded.

            “Well it wasn’t me either.”

            “Hey!”  Eliyawe put her fingers to her lips and let out a shrill whistle.  “Would you boys please set them free.  I don’t care which one.”

            Marduk and Assur looked properly scolded and the travelers could move again.

            “Eliyawe!” Lockhart shouted and finished his wave before he realized what happened and Eliyawe was now in front of his face.  Eliyawe played along.  She took two steps back, waved and shouted.

            “Lockhart!”  She grinned.

            The two other men then joined them, the fat one huffing and puffing.  The women surrounding the casket also started up the ridge and they all noticed the women at the back levitated in order to keep the casket level.

            Eliyawe immediately went into the introductions.  “This strapping, handsome young man is Elias, my husband.  His wild and crazy friend is Jonas.”

            “Not anymore,” Jonas spoke up as he shook hands with everyone.  “I have given up my wild and crazy.  Eliyawe owns the wild and crazy country and I can’t compete.  Sorry, Elias, but she is all yours.”  He tapped his friend on the shoulder as every eye turned to stare at the young man.  He was not put off.

            “And she is all I want,” he said.  Eliyawe shrieked and tackled him.  She landed on top of him and he grinned the whole time, especially when she wiggled a little.

            “They’ve been married, what, twenty days?,” Jonas said.  No one else said anything, especially the women.  They were too busy smiling, including Boston who climbed up from below to see what was happening.

            Eliyawe turned her head and tossed it to get her hair out of her eyes.  She stared at Jonas through big, brown eyes and said, “A whole month if you don’t mind.”  Then she saw Boston and abandoned her husband to shout, “Boston!”  And she ran to give her a hug.  Then she hugged all the women.  Then she kissed Lockhart on the cheek and got to Lincoln where she stopped.  “Okay,” she said.  “What is going on?”

            “Down below,” Lockhart pointed.  “We build a fire, have lunch and figure out our next move.”

            “But Alexis,” Lincoln protested.

            “That’s an order,” Lockhart said as he took Katie’s hand to help her down the hill, not that she needed help.

            “Order?  You’re resorting to orders?”  Lincoln stomped past and grumbled the whole way.

            “My father,” Elder Stow stepped up to Lockhart.  “He should treat you with more respect.”

            Lockhart looked at the Gott-Druk.  “I know where his heart is.  I trust him implicitly.  No need to make a scene.  He will get over it.”

            The Gott-Druk paused to think and later was surprised to see Lockhart’s wisdom.  “I did not know humans could be so wise,” he said.

            Poor Atonas had to walk sandwiched between Marduk and Assur.  He knew who they were even if the others did not.  He was terrified to the point of being ready to wet his pants at any moment.  “I think I will claim this one,” Marduk said.

            “Atonas the fisherman?  What, are you going to have fish in your temple every day?”

            “Maybe.”

            “Too bad you don’t have a temple.”

            “You don’t either.”

            “Neither do you.”

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Avalon 2.10:  Lunch and Stories … Next Time

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