Avalon 5.11 The River Circus, part 5 of 6

“So, tell me about these night creatures,” Gongming said.  Lockhart explained as well as he could.  Basically, he said honestly that they were faster, stronger and tougher than the tiger, and would tear the throat from the tiger without blinking.

“Without blinking?”

“Without a second thought,” Lockhart affirmed.  “And worse, they hunt in packs, like wolves.”

“Like wolves?”  Gongming pulled on his beard.  “And why have I not heard of such creatures before?”

“They are very rare,” Katie took up the explanation.  “They must be brought here from far away.”

“It is the genie,” Boston said to Feyan, so Katie also turned to Feyan.

“He got one of the gods to work with him in the last time zone, and has one of the Shang gods working with him here, as well.”

“No other explanation as to how the night creatures could stay up with us on the trail,” Lockhart finished.

Feyan pulled on her chin, in imitation of Gongming.  “I have to think.  I assume they are not far behind you, even now, but I have to think.”  She went to the far railing and looked out across the river.

Gongming gave her a hard look, to imagine the youngest, and a girl, should have anything to say about the matter, but Aunt Chen interrupted his thoughts.  “Let the princess think.  She also has the blood of the Shang-Di in her.  Maybe she can intercede with the gods on our behalf…”

Gongming nodded grumpily as Wang came up from the small boat for the third and final time, bringing the last of the almost stolen bronze, and he spoke.  “Mother is very careful about not offending any of the gods.”  He smiled for everyone, but he really wanted Boston’s attention.  “Are you really a benevolent spirit?”

“Yes,” Gongming let that distract him.  “How is it a spirit should even know a little girl.  She has been with us since she was five, and I have not seen any spirits before now.”  Both Wang and Aunt Chen looked like they may have seen something, but they said nothing.

“We worship her, like she is our goddess,” Boston said.  Both Katie and Lockhart thought it might not be a good idea to be so honest, but Boston ignored them.  Boston, like any little spirit, knew that the secret to good lies was knowing when to lie, or stretch the truth, or be completely honest.  The little ones seemed to have a sixth sense about that, especially some imps and dwarf types.

Gongming shook his head.  “A giant being the leader of others makes sense to me.  A yellow-hair woman being captain over men makes no sense to me.  But one who appears human, claiming to be a spirit of the sky, and claiming to worship a young girl sounds dangerous.”  He looked at Chen, his wife, knowing the great care she took to give all of the gods their due.  “The gods can be jealous.  They require our worship, and do not share our devotion.  I fear you may anger them with what you say.”

“No,” Katie protested to Boston, but Boston removed her glamour to reveal herself in all her elfish glory.  Wang gasped and Aunt Chen lowered her eyes.  Gongming returned to his shocked, unmoving look, as Boston caused a fire to rise in the palm of her hand, shaped it into a ball of light, called a fairy light, and let it float into the sky to just above the mast, so it could bathe the whole boat in light.

“I am a spirit of the earth,” Boston said.  “Though the littlest spirits of the sky, water, fire, metal and wood also worship Shang Feyan, since the earliest days.  Though she is presently a young girl, she has not always been so.  Have you not seen anything strange about her?  Have you not heard words come from her that seem to make sense, though you do not understand what she is saying?”

Gongming slowly nodded, and asked an odd question.  “What is a fortune cookie?”  Boston, Wang, Aunt Chen, and Katie all laughed.  Lockhart tried to explain.

“A cookie is a treat that a person has at the end of a meal. Inside the hollow cookie is a saying, words that are usually wise and encouraging, and may point to the future.  That is called your fortune.”

“Some fortunes are funny,” Boston said.

“They are a delight for people, and instructive.”

Gongming pulled his beard.  “One who can bring delight to people will surely have good fortune.”

“Fortune cookie,” Feyan yelled back from the other side of the deck.  Eyes turned to her as she took hold of her feelings and spoke in her most humble tones.  Clearly, she was not speaking to any of the people on board.  “Great Wei.  Please.  May your most humble servant speak with you?  I have a special request, unheard of in this broken world.” She added a last word, as softly as she could.  “Tien, my son, I have need of you.”

Immediately, the river began to boil.  People walked over to watch, but backed up a couple of steps as a true giant, a woman rose out of the water and leaned her arms on the rail.  People assumed the reason the whole boat did not tip in the giant’s direction was because she was made of water, and probably did not weigh much.  Katie and Lockhart knew water could be very heavy, but they were finally getting used to the gods ignoring the laws of physics.

“Wie We?” Feyan spoke to the woman like she knew the woman.  The travelers, at least, were not surprised.

“Father doesn’t want to get involved,” the woman said, with a smile for the travelers.  “I am one of the daughters of the river, a naiad, you might call me.”

“Wei We, my friends are being followed—”

“By night Creatures.  We know.”

“I thought, maybe a collapsible water bridge,” Feyan said.

Wei We liked the thought.  “Your water sprites are anxious to help.”

The boat rocked slightly and several water blobs popped up to the deck.  They looked like little gingerbread men made of water, and spoke in the sweetest, baby-like voices.  “We are ready.  We want to help.”

“Water babies,” Feyan yelled her joy just before Boston yelled the same thing.  Both struggled to keep themselves from bending down and hugging them, which would not have offended them, but might have broken them to pieces.

Wei We looked almost as pleased with the water babies as the others.  “I understand horses do not do well over running water.  I will bring up the sand to color the bridge, if that would work.”

“That and some sides,” Lockhart said, and showed with his arms.  “That would work great.”  Boston checked her amulet.

“The time gate appears to be south, on the other side of the river,” she said, and restored her glamour of humanity, though she left the fairy light overhead.

“What about the prisoners?” Katie asked.

“Here,” Gongming shook himself enough to say the one word.

“They are tied?” Wang sought assurance.

“Yes.”  Boston looked and saw that they were.

Wei We spoke after a moment of silence.  “Are we ready?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Lockhart responded

“Goodie,” the water sprites shouted and leapt back into the water.

“Ma’am?” Katie questioned.  Lockhart came from Michigan.  Decker was the one from North Carolina.

“It doesn’t hurt to be polite,” Lockhart responded

“Courtesy can often gain what demands cannot,” Gongming said.

All three travelers looked at each other and said, “Fortune cookie,” before they disappeared from the deck of the ship to be replaced by three frightened looking soldiers.  Bi chose that moment to come back up with Baby following.  Baby bounded to Feyan as Wei We appeared to break apart and return to the river.  They all watched from the railing.

Avalon Pilot part I-2: Thief, Kidnapper, Father.

Mingus stopped at the top of the stairs.  He heard voices in the lab.  He peeked through the glass in the door and saw old, white-bearded Doctor Procter leaning over a table, trying to concentrate.  Doctor Procter held a delicate piece of equipment in one hand, and held his wand in the other hand, ready to make whatever adjustment might be necessary.  The young elf doing all the talking and interrupting kept leaning into the light, like he might be trying to read over Doctor Procter’s shoulder.

“Roland.”  Mingus entered the room, the name of the young elf on his lips.  “Leave the man to his work.”

“Father,” Roland turned and stood tall.  A look of pride crossed his face.  “I guessed I would find you here.”

“Why?” Mingus sounded suspicious.

“Because I have not been able to find you anywhere since you came back from the past.  But you have always lived in this place… Oh, I guess you are asking…”  Roland straightened up.  “Because I want to give answer to your unasked question when you went away.”

“What question?  Maybe there was a reason it was unasked.”

“Father.”  Roland sounded serious.  “You said some terrible things about Alexis before you made the time jump, but I want you to know, I support my sister.  She freely chose to give up being an elf and became a human to marry a human, and I say, as long as she is happy, she will have my full support.”

“And you have told her this?”

“Not yet.”  Roland looked down at the table and at his feet. He worried his hands before he raised his head again.  “But I intend to.”  He spoke with conviction.

Mingus nodded and kept his sarcasm to a minimum.  “You better hurry up, son.  Your sister is sixty.  Her human husband is sixty-five.  They have children of their own.  They have grandchildren.  You know; humans don’t live very long.”  It irked Mingus every time he thought of Alexis getting old and dying, but he tried not to show it on his face.

“Like a breath,” Doctor Procter breathed.

“Roland.  Son.” Mingus stepped to the far side of the table to face the young elf.  “I am glad you support your sister.  Family is important.  But now, um…  You are over a hundred, aren’t you?”

“Father.”  Roland let out a deep breath of exasperation.  “I will be one-hundred-twenty-seven next winter solstice.”

“Good, good.”  Mingus waved off his own ignorance.  “I heard certain elf maidens have a bonfire and dance planned in the three-circle court of Giovani.  An elf your age should be out enjoying himself.”

“No good.  You spoiled him by activating his brain cells,” Doctor Procter said, with a small grin beneath his long white, unkempt beard.

“Father.  Those elf maids are not exactly well educated,” Roland admitted.

“It isn’t their education you should be looking at, at your age.  Go have some fun.  You remember fun?”

“But father—”

“Get out,” Mingus yelled.  Roland flushed red and made a fist.  He stomped his way to the door.  Mingus and Doctor Procter watched until the door closed.

“No need to yell,” Doctor Procter said.

“That is what children are for,” Mingus responded.  “They are for yelling at when they don’t get the message.”

“Um,” Doctor Procter made a sound, shook his head slightly, and returned to his work.

“So,” Mingus said, casually, taking a deep breath to calm himself.  “Is that the new amulet?  The prototype worked well enough, but it did not give much detail in terms of the surrounding area.  We—I came to a cliff in the Rockies in 1875 and had to backtrack a long way to go around.”

Doctor Procter nodded.  “See any Indians?”

“Native-Americans.  No.  Is it ready?”

Doctor Procter paused in his work.  “We have added some basic scanner technology to the amulet so it will get a reading on the area, cities, towns, forests, mountains, and so on.  But the screen is so small, it will take very good eyes, preferably elf eyes to see it.  It took some real coordination with the technology and IT departments, not to mention—”

“Doctor.”  Mingus cut the man off before he went into a half-hour unintelligible explanation.  “Is the amulet ready?”

“This?  No.  It needs further adjustments, and then testing.”


“Additional work.  I’m afraid it would not work at all in its present condition.”

Mingus nodded.  “The prototype still around?”

“On the wall there,” Doctor Procter pointed over his shoulder without turning from the table.  Mingus walked to find it in the mess by the filing cabinets.  Doctor Procter paid no attention.

“The prototype worked well enough,” Mingus said, in his friendly voice.

“Yes, yes,” Doctor Procter responded as he leaned over his work and squinted at the amulet in his hand.

“It got me home in one piece, through the time gates.”

“And we are all glad.  Welcome home,” Doctor Procter mumbled and he leaned further into his work.  Mingus found the prototype under some papers and slipped it into his pocket.  Doctor Procter paused and turned to Mingus.  “We are glad you are home, but this time, don’t expect to steal the new amulet and leave me a note about going to test it.  The new one is shielded.  If you so much as touch it, alarms will go off and all of Avalon will know.”

Mingus looked down and nodded like a child, properly scolded.  “I understand.  It was just the first one.  I am the only one in all of Avalon who knows the history; maybe the only one who had a reasonable chance of making such a journey, and getting home in one piece.  I might have died at the outset, entering into the crystal.  I felt I was the only one who ought to take that risk.  An expedition of young elves without the proper knowledge would have been a disaster.”

“That is debatable,” Doctor Procter said.  “But you stole the amulet and went before anyone could stop you.  You won’t be stealing this one.”

“Fair enough,” Mingus said.  “I’ll leave you to your work.  You have had enough interruption for this evening.”  He headed toward the door, and paused only briefly when Doctor Procter had one more thing to say.

“Glad you made it back.  The history department would not be the same without you.”

Mingus stepped through the door and hurried down the stairs.

Now that it had become a fully dark night, he needed to get Alexis before she broke free of her enchantment.  They needed to be gone before anyone found out.  He looked once again to be sure the naiad was not in her spring.  He looked again at the tower, now pitch dark, like a giant finger pointing to the stars.  There were various opinions on just which finger the tower represented.

Mingus found his daughter in the closet where he left her.  He paused to note her gray hair, wrinkles, and pale human skin.  At least she didn’t get chunky like some human women got when they turned sixty, he thought.  He made sure her hands were still bound and the magical gag remained in place.  He made her stand and walk.  He had to lighten the trance so she could stagger.  He had to help her, but he dared not let her come to full consciousness, even bound and gagged.  She retained her elf magic when she became human.  She was hardly powerless, and might yet find some way to break free from his control.  She was his daughter, after all.

The most dangerous part came when they went out into the open to cross the green, and particularly when they crossed the little bridge over the stream.  Mingus’ mind wandered.  Doctor Procter was wrong.  The history department on Avalon would get along just fine without him.  Some fifty years ago, the dark elves learned to extract information directly from the Heart of Time and put it on computers.  The history department on Avalon started slowly filling up with computer geeks.  Elves should not be nerds, he thought.  Mingus knew he was old fashioned, like someone out of the stone age.  But he still believed in things that mattered.  He still believed in family.  He believed a daughter should not die before her father, and Alexis, now human, was ageing rapidly right before his eyes.

Mingus got them to the tower door.  He took one last look around the green before he slipped them inside.

“Uh,” Alexis made a sound and wiggled in the light, like a sleeper trying to wake.  Mingus held her until she settled down again into her enchanted sleep.  He looked around.

The ground floor was the only floor in that great hollow finger.  The walls stretched up high enough so Mingus imagined the cathedral roof might have been designed not only to keep out the rain, but to keep the stars from falling in.  No fire gave light to that room.  No torches lined the wall.  No electric lights were allowed near the place.  Only the Heart of Time throbbed with its own internal light, and somehow, the wood out of which the tower got built retained enough of the light to light up the entire inside, even to the ceiling.

There were theories about the wood.  Recently, an ancient theory had come back to the surface—that it was some alien wood Lady Alice snatched off some impossibly distant planet.  Another theory suggested that the tower had actually been planted, like a tree, and the wood was alive, and still growing.  Mingus shook his head.  Some people will believe anything.

He helped Alexis come inside the circle painted on the floor.  They faced the stand in which the crystal rested, silently pulsing with light.  Mingus reached into his right-hand pocket to make sure he still had the amulet.  He reached into his left-hand pocket where he had a handful of gold dust.

“Mister Barrie called this fairy dust,” Mingus whispered to himself—some distant memory.  He sprinkled it on Alexis and himself, three times, and mumbled a long series of unintelligible syllables.  Alexis sneezed.  Mingus reached down to scoop Alexis up in his arms when he caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eye.  Lady Alice was in the room.  Mingus panicked and jumped right into the crystal.  Alexis snapped out of her trance as they jumped into the light.  She yelled, a muffled “No,” before the sound cut off.

Alice and the naiad stepped up to the crystal.

“I think he saw you,” the naiad said.

“He needed to see me,” Alice responded.  “Hopefully, he won’t put up a struggle when the rescue party arrives.  Now, let us see where they went.”

Avalon Pilot Part I: Various Nefarious

Present day, Between Avalon and Earth.  Kairos 121:  Glen, the Storyteller.


Mingus, a well-respected elder elf, nearly eight-hundred years old, a true academic and head of the Avalon history department for the last three-hundred years, a peace-loving scholar by reputation, dragged the elderly human woman to an obscure closet on the campus in the castle of the Kairos.  She struggled, but her hands were bound behind her back and her lips were magically sealed so she could not cry out.  Her eyes got big when Mingus opened the closet door and a cloud of dust greeted them.

You wouldn’t, she thought.  Mingus, a master of mind magic, caught her thought because she directed it at him.  You can’t do this.  Lady Alice will find out.  She will know.

“Hush,” Mingus said out loud, as he forced her to sit on the closet floor beside a broom and dustpan that hardly looked used.  He raised his hand, and the woman widened her eyes.

You wouldn’t, she repeated her thought.  Father!  Her mind cried out and her whole being objected when he touched her forehead.  Her eyes rolled up and closed as she fell into a trance.

“Alexis.  I am just trying to save you from yourself,” Mingus whispered.  He left the light on when he gently closed the door.  He paused to make sure the light did not leak out the bottom or around the edges of the door frame.  Satisfied with his work, he stepped out of the first-floor door and headed across the green toward the history building.

The great, wooden tower on his right reached for the clouds.  He understood it was the first building in Avalon.  The rest of the castle got built around that ancient structure.  It housed the Heart of Time, the glowing crystal that beat with light like the beat of a living heart.  The Heart of Time held a record of all human history.  It got created when the old god, Cronos and the Kairos, Alice, held hands, the angel presiding.  Alice made a three-pronged stand to hold the great crystal, built the tower to house it, and there it rested through the ages, beating from its own internal light, capturing a record of everything that happened on the earth.

Mingus shifted his eyes to the spring beside the tower.  The spring and the stream that came from it supplied all the fresh water in the castle.  People called it the spring of life.  Fortunately, the naiad of the spring was not present.   Rumor said she was still in recovery from the time, several years earlier, when the goddess Ashtoreth invaded Avalon and enslaved the people.  The naiad was the last defender of the tower and the Heart of Time.  The goddess overcame her in the cruelest way imaginable, and then Ashtoreth had access to all of human history.

Mingus paused.  He stopped walking and looked again at the spring and the tower.

In the end, the children of the Kairos overcame the demon-goddess with the help of the Knights of the Lance, but in the meanwhile, Ashtoreth discovered some interesting things about the Heart of Time.

First, she found that gateways, something like invisible time gates, bracketed the many lives of the Kairos throughout history—like bookends.  The gates gave real access to the lives before and after whatever life the Kairos presently lived.  If one knew how to find the gates and work them, and could cross safely through each time zone, they made something like a time-travel highway through history, from the beginning of history, when the Kairos was first conceived to live lives number one and two, up to the present one hundred and twenty-first lifetime of the Kairos.

Mingus started to walk again.  The second discovery showed a person could enter the Heart of Time and travel to anywhere in the timeline of history to begin the journey.  Jumping into the past through the Heart of Time displaced a person from his or her normal time stream.  Mingus supposed a person would continue to age according to their own internal time clock, but at that point they could travel through the gates into the future and not fear prematurely ageing, or into the past without suddenly getting younger than their birth.

No one knew this before Ashtoreth.  Maybe the Kairos knew it, but no one previously guessed.  Ashtoreth proved the fact by sending all sorts of terrible persons and monsters into the past, in her effort to disrupt history.  “Unsavories,” as Doctor Procter called them.  Mingus smiled.  That quick access to any point in history was the discovery he counted on, dangerous as it might be.

After Ashtoreth got overcome, the brains and powers around Avalon got together and built a prototype amulet that would lead a person from one time gate to the next.  Mingus volunteered to test it, in the dead of night, without telling anyone.  He took his daughter to the days of her youth, not that anyone knew he kidnapped Alexis.  They jumped to the year 1776, but Alexis remained stupid and stubborn.  She refused to come home to the Long March of Elfenheim.  She insisted on staying married to that human—on remaining human.  There appeared to be no way he could get through to her.  Mingus got angry to think about it.  He ended up dragging her back to the present through the time gates, which proved their worth.  It took him half a year to do that.  He felt prepared then to let her go.  But when they got back to the present, she made him angry, again, and he thought what he had thought a thousand times before.  No daughter should die before her father.

He stepped into the history building and walked up the stairs to the lab.


Lady Alice stood on the wall that surrounded the tower and the campus.  She watched Mingus enter the history building before she turned to the lovely naiad that stood beside her.  “You understand.  This one time I want you to stay away from your spring and let Mingus enter the tower of the heart.  He will run.  I will send others to chase him, and when they have him, I will bring them all back through the heart.”

“Aren’t you afraid they will get lost in time or mess up something in history and set the whole course of human life off track?” the naiad asked.

“There is a risk, but it is the only way to test the Heart.  When Ashtoreth broke it, I feared time itself might unravel.  Some said history would come to an end.  Some thought the whole of creation might roll up like a scroll and be finished.  Glen’s children were able to collect the broken pieces of the Heart, and I managed to make it whole again.  It is continuing to record the events on earth, but it needs to be thoroughly tested before I can pronounce it fully healed.”

“But what if you can’t bring them back all at once from the past?”

“Mingus and his captive daughter, that is one elf and one human, tested the time gates between my Michelle Marie’s lifetime and the present; even if Mingus did not realize that was what he was doing.  If something goes wrong, it may take a long time, but we know the people will be able to get home using the time gates.”

“It just seems a big risk.”

“Relax.  Have some faith.  Everything will work out in the end, one way or another.”

“Oh, I know,” the naiad said.  “I love the conspiracy of it, except it makes my waters churn.”