Avalon 3.7: part 5 of 5, Day of Transformation

Boston woke up early. She felt young and strong, and very happy, and did not think even once about it being that time of the month. She was twenty five, but tasted enough of the apple of youth to be more like nineteen or eighteen again and thought maybe that was the cause of her good feelings. Then again, she was in love, and maybe it was hard to feel bad when she was in love. She took that love out from its place in her brain and examined it from every angle. It was real, she understood, and she put it back where it belonged. Roland was her heart, as a fairy would say. She stood and went to Honey, her horse, to be sure he was all right.

“And you have a place in my heart, too,” she told Honey, and kissed the horse on the nose

“Hello demon,” someone spoke and Boston spun around to face a hooper. Her jaw dropped, because it was the first time she heard a hooper say anything other than “hoop, hoop.” The hooper continued. “Nuwa said we are supposed to follow around you until you reach the next time gate, whatever that is.”

“Yes. Thank you.” Boston did not know what else to say. Then as the hooper bounced off, she wondered why the hooper called her a demon. “Wait,” she said, but not loud enough to stop the hooper. She wondered why the hooper told her what Nuwa said. Wasn’t Nuwa still with them. She paused. The thought of Nuwa leaving them made her want to cry.cooking meat 3

Boston rushed to where Nuwa was sleeping and saw that she was gone. “Roland,” she called.

“What?” Elder Stow looked at her, and looked surprised.

“Thank goodness,” Alexis said. The others were all up as well, but they just stared at her.

“Where did Nuwa go?” Boston said in a sad, almost weepy voice.

“She was gone when we got up,” Lockhart said. “She must have snuck off in the night.”

“Why are you all staring at me?” Boston asked.

“You’ve changed,” Roland said as he walked up. “Alexis.” He looked at his sister and Alexis focused and waved her hand. A full length mirror appeared in front of Boston, and Boston’s hand immediately went to touch her own pointed ears. Then she made a comment.

“Wow, I have really lost weight.” That was followed by, “I still look like me. I like the ears. Won’t my mother be surprised,” and to Roland, “What do you think?” The mirror faded, while Roland could only grin. “Okay,” Boston said with a grin to match. She grabbed Roland’s hand and made him run back down the road. They ran at about sixty or seventy miles per hour.

“Pack up,” Lockhart said, and everyone else packed their things and got the horses ready to travel.

Avalon TravelersBoston spent the morning riding beside Roland, hearing all about elf life and about Avalon, a place that made her heart jump to think about it. “But it made my heart jump before,” she said. “So that’s not different.” She was comparing what was different about elf life from human life, and concluded that there was not much that was different, “Only elf life feels a lot cleaner. I don’t know if that is the right word.”

Boston spent the afternoon riding beside Alexis and heard all about life for an elf maid, which Boston was, though she said, “Not for long.” Alexis judged that Boston in her present age was about a hundred, maybe a hundred and ten or twenty, but no older. She also suggested Boston was acting like a fifty-year-old.

“But I suspect things will settle down soon enough.” Then she went on to tell Boston all about elf magic. “But you might not pick up any or much because you already have magic in your blood.”

“Oh.” Boston sounded disappointed.

“It takes practice, that’s all, and experience to see what you can really do.”

“That’s what Roland says,” Boston frowned and she looked very cute, as elf maidens do, and also zipped on to a new topic which removed the frown, in the blink of an eye, the way young elves do. “So my mind seems so clear, I can’t believe it. It is like I have these compartments in my brain, and every thought, and every memory has its place, and my memory is much better.”desert 4

“Yes. That took some getting used to,” Alexis admitted. “When I became human, everything in my mind jumbled together and got mixed up with everything else. I could not think anything without emotions creeping in and my feelings colored the whole world. It was strange for me, but after a while, I saw where that helped humans. Every decision had to be thorough and thought through on many levels. It made life much more complicated, but it made me much more careful in what I said and what I did.”

“I know a few women who have managed to disconnect that thoughtful part,” Boston said.

“Don’t name them. See? You were about to name them without thinking that maybe it would be best if I didn’t know. I mean, we will some day get home and I will have to work around those women.”

“Me, too.” Boston said, and tried to be thoughtful. “Roland too. Maybe I should not talk for a while. I can listen. My hearing is really good now. I can even hear the insects crawling around the nearby rocks, which I suppose is kind of creepy. And my eyes are great, I bet ten-ten vision, or better. And Roland was a good kisser before, but now I kind of taste him, if you know what I mean. He makes my toes curl up to my knees.”

“You are right,” Alexis interrupted. “You should listen and hold your tongue for a while.”

Boston stuck out her tongue and pinched it with her finger and thumb. She turned to Alexis and said, “Thust kidding.”

That afternoon, the travelers went up a steep trail as directed by the hoopers to a path along the top of the ridge. Decker and Elder Stow had to move in, and it was single file in places, but as Lockhart said, “At least they won’t be able to drop the ridge on us up here.”

“No,” Lincoln countered. “Just pull it out from beneath our feet.”

Nuwa silk road 1It was an hour before sundown, and they got word that they were being followed. They were not surprised, since they had to move so slowly all day. The hoopers said there were three hands worth of men behind them and one was in front of the others rushing to catch up.

“Sounds like Qinjong, and a scout sent ahead to pinpoint our location,” Lockhart suggested.

Lincoln disagreed. “Nuwa said the Qinjong were new to this business, just in the last few years. I would not imagine they have figured out things like scouts and such.”

Decker pointed at Lincoln. “What he said.”

“The one out front might be running away from the Qinjong,” Katie suggested, and she stared hard at Lockhart, so he put up no struggle.

“All right. We can wait, but he better hurry. It is going to be dark in an hour and this is not a good place to make camp.”

The travelers did not see anyone until sundown, and then they were sorry they waited.

“It’s Bob,” Katie said, and they all saw the naked, insane man howling and growling, running to catch them.

“And Qinjong on the lower road,” Alexis pointed.

“Where?” Lincoln asked, and several others looked and pointed.werewolf 1

Bob paused, and seemed to follow where they were pointing. He started down the ridge, and they caught a vague glimpse of his transformation to the wolf. No one doubted he was the full wolf by the time he arrived at the bottom. They heard the Qinjong and their ponies screaming as they rode off.

Lockhart kept them riding most of the night, and only let them walk their horses a few times. With sunrise, he let everyone sleep a few hours, but he knew the full moon functioned for three nights as far as the werewolf was concerned, and he wanted out of that time zone before the wolf caught them.

They found the time gate right near sunset. Boston and Roland lingered as the others went through. Boston was testing her senses, several of which she did not have as a human. She thought thank you to the hoopers, and knew her message was received. She searched back the way they had come, but sensed no trace of Mingus, so she spoke.

“Father Mingus, please hurry. Now that we have settled things, I want to marry your son.” She turned to Roland. “Will he get the message?”

Roland shrugged. “The message will linger for about a day before it fades, but he may be too far behind. Then again, he may have snuck around us at some point and be ahead of us. There is no way to tell as long as he keeps himself hidden.”

Boston nodded, and thought about being an elf, and smiled. “Let’s go home,” she said. “I hope the rest of your family likes me.”

Roland raised his eyebrows at a different thought. “I hope your mother likes me.” They went thought the gate, side by side.

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

Beginning next Monday, Avalon episode 3.8, where Boston learns a hard lesson about distrust between goblins and elves, and the travelers confront the human version of distrust when they visit the original “Pirate Cove.”

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Avalon 3.7: part 4 of 5, Day of the Moon

“Ambush,” Decker pulled his rifle as Roland came back from the front and Elder Stow came in from the other side.

“How do you know?” Lockhart asked, while he pulled the shotgun and Katie got her own rifle.

Decker looked at Nuwa. “One of your guys came up and said, “hoop, hoop,” and pointed.”

“Any Pendratti?” Nuwa asked. Decker shook his head.

“Not that I saw.”

“Options?” Lockhart looked at the two marines, but Elder Stow spoke first.

“I could set a screen to the side that arrows and such cannot penetrate, that is, if we can ride past them.”

“Can you make it one sided so we can shoot them?” Decker asked. Elder Stow nodded, and Decker explained. “We need to hurt them so they don’t try again, further down the road.”

Lockhart frowned, but he did not say no.Nuwa 4

When the were ready, they did not move very far before the arrow barrage came from the rocks. The arrows all fell short when they hit Elder Stow’s screen. Decker and Katie returned fire, but Katie stopped after a moment. Lockhart had to tell Decker to stop and follow, since he was falling behind. Elder Stow left a parting shot with his sonic device. He loosened some rocks overhead and started a bit of an avalanche. He said something to the group about it.

“It was a good idea when they tried it.”

Nuwa got down from behind Katie once the were in the clear. Katie and Boston walked their horses, with Lockhart near. Roland went back out to the point and Decker and Eder Stow went again to the wings. Lincoln and Alexis appeared to take up where the left off the day before. No one knew what the were talking about, but it felt like a private conversation.

Boston started the questions this time. “So who are these Qinjong?”

“Western people. The live in the Qinghai and the Kunlun Mountains around the headwaters of the He, and they are not Longshan people. They were a quiet, peaceful people all my life until recently. If they were migrating, moving in, becoming part of the people, that would be one thing, but I know of no reason, drought or pestilence or disease or anything to make them change their ways or move out of their place. But in these last few years they have come into our land like a bunch of Saxon raiders, burning whole villages and carting people off as slaves. You don’t understand. They are hunters and gatherers. They have no use for slaves. That is just another mouth to feed. So I thought to find out where the people are going, and I actually did check the mountains first. That is where I found Tien. And now I am checking the south side, on the edge of Tibet.”

Nuwa silk road 2“I think we are close,” Katie said. “If you were off base, they would not be trying so hard to stop you.”

“Not much room here, all things considered. We cross the highland peaks to our right and we end up in the Tarim basin, where the desert is. Go far enough to our left and we run into the Himalayan Mountains.”

“What will you do when you find the Pendratti?” Boston asked.

“I can’t say,” Nuwa answered. “You never know who might be listening in.”

###

That evening, as people relaxed around the fire, Nuwa thought to talk to the couples present. Lockhart was telling old jokes, and Katie was laughing at them like they were brand new. Nuwa thought there was something to be said for the generation gap between those two, but she knew they were simmering and hardly cooked at all, so she moved to the old couple. Alexis and Lincoln were married longer than their present ages. After nibbling on the apple of life, Lincoln turned twenty-nine or so. Alexis could not be older than twenty-five.

“We’ve been married thirty-five years,” Alexis said. “I know it is hard to think this way, especially for Benjamin, but I would like to have another baby.”

“Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad,” Lincoln said, softly, and Nuwa knew she had to intervene.

“I hope you can hold off until you get home,” she said. “Now is not the time to be having a baby. Alexis, you will never make it through your last trimester the way you are moving through time, not if you face any trouble, and more importantly, when the baby is born, it will be time locked in that place. You won’t be able to bring it into the future with you.”Moon 2

Alexis and Lincoln looked at each other like this was something they never considered. then they all looked up at the sound of a distant howl. Lincoln looked for the moon, but Alexis did not doubt it was their werewolf, the one Katie called Bob.

“The sound might travel for miles in this scrub and rocky land,” Lincoln suggested.

“It might,” Nuwa said, and she excused herself to talk to the young lovers.

Roland and Boston were being very quiet. “I thought you two would have walked side by side these last couple of days. What gives?” Nuwa took a seat by the fire where she could eye the both of them

“We’ve been arguing,” Boston admitted. Nuwa said nothing, so Boston looked at Roland and he explained.

“I am now one hundred and twenty-seven years old, if estimates are correct on how long we have been traveling in the time zones, and I have spent months in the company of humans—ordinary humans, an unheard of thing for an elf. What is more, I have had a chance to observe humans and human ways up close, even in these days long before my time, and I have come to appreciate how complex and diverse the human—the homo sapiens race really is, and how fragile it is in the face of a hostile universe. What is more, I am in love with a human and I can’t seem to help it, great sin though it is for my kind.”

“I am ready to become an elf, if you can do that,” Boston interrupted.

“No,” Roland started to protest, but paused when Nuwa held up her hand.

Boston 3b“Very elfishly spoken,” Nuwa said with a smile for Boston. “To interrupt a Bean in the midst of a heart-felt confession.” Nuwa grinned, and Boston grinned with her. “But it is never wrong to be content with who you are. Much of the evil and confusion in the human race is due to people who are unwilling to be who they were born to be.”

“My parents and brothers already think I’m an elf, or a fairy, but I never had a desire to fly. Even Alexis says I have more elf in me than she has.”

Nuwa shook her head. “That is not how you were born.”

“No. I am prepared to become human, and work for Lockhart and the Men in Black,” Roland responded, mostly to Boston. “And no matter how long or short my life, I don’t mind as long as I get to live it with you.” Boston just shook her head and gave Roland an elf grin.

“I’m not going to be responsible for killing your father,” Boston said. “I like him.”

Nuwa held her hand up again to speak. “I accept your application to work for the Men in Black. Report to Lockhart in the morning.” Roland smiled, because he thought she was going to grant his request and make him human. “And Boston, The Almighty, my God will never abandon you, but you are asking for another layer in between your life and Heaven. Are you prepared to have an ordinary human being as your goddess, or god as the case may be, to love you and care about you, and in my own stumbling, fallible human way, to watch over you and direct your steps. You know, I am not Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. I am not always in a good mood.”

Boston nodded. “But I have never met you in any life where I was not drawn to you, and cared about you, and anyway, you are Lockhart’s boss, so I figure most of it won’t change. As for heaven, I trust in the Lord, and I trust in you too, already, so again, I don’t see much changing. And sometimes you scare me already, so that probably won’t change.”

“Everything will be different,” Roland objected. “You have no idea.”

“I’m willing and ready,” Boston said.Alexis 3

“I’m the one to change. I know what I am getting into.”

“You don’t. You can’t” Alexis interrupted her brother. “You have no idea, either one of you.”

Boston and Roland heard, but ran out of things to say, so they stared at Nuwa to make a decision. Nuwa simply stared back before she decided something. “Sleep on it,” she said. “Things may clear up in the morning. Wait until daylight.” She rolled over to sleep, and said nothing more.

Avalon 3.7: part 3 of 5, The History of China

“But what about you?” Katie asked. “You are a long way from home. What is home like?”

“The doctor in ancient cultures and technologies speaks,” Lockhart teased, but no one begrudged the question.

“Longshan culture is what it is called in the future. Of course, we just call it everyday living. We live all around the Wei and the He Rivers, and trade and grow our grain and fish, and now that I’ve given Fuxi a fishing net, the fish can no longer outsmart him. Not really any soft metals yet, but I have tried some pictograph writing that even Fuxi can understand. Got to make it simple, you know.”

“Do you live in a village, a town, a city?” Katie asked.

“Village is the limit. We have some primitive, what is the word, irrigation?”

Nuwa Longshan village“Yes, that’s right.”

“Mostly we have floods, so life is hard, but there is not much we can do about that until just about Yu’s time, ages from now.”

“Yu?”

“Yes. Let me think.” Nuwa was quiet for a moment. “Shao Lin—no wisecracks. I live in Xi’an and marry Chin Lo.”

“So you get to be Lin Chin?” Boston asked.

“Chin Lin, but I said no wisecracks. Well, I recall Lin was having trouble with nomads in her day, and did something about it. The result was the beginning of the Hsian Dynasty. That did not take hold until her son, or grandson Huang Di came to power. She was gone by then, but I remember, somehow, the Shang dragged him into a war with the budding states along the Yangtze, probably hoping he would lose. The result was he ended up with a good chunk of China to rule, covering the He and Yangtze Rivers.”

“You are talking about the Yellow Emperor.”Nuwa Yellow Emperor

“Yeah, but it wasn’t a compliment in the south. It was because he ruled the Yellow River and they thought he should go back there. But let’s see, Yu was his grandson—no, great-grandson. Yu the Great, and he took the empire and first divided it into the nine provinces, and he started keeping some kind of records, carving on bones, as my poor pictographs had become stylized, even back then, or by then. Yu also built causeways, built up the riverbanks in places, and built the first canals, all to drain off the flood waters when the rivers overflowed their banks. It was far from a perfect solution, but it helped.

“Things went down hill and the Shang eventually took over. They lived in their Shang city, sort of like Washington, and they made everyone pay them tribute like taxes so they could live in rich luxury while the people suffered. That went on for way too long, but eventually they got overthrown by the Zhou. I was a woman then, too, during the overthrow, I think.”

“You know the impossible exam question, tell the history of China in ten minutes? I think you could do that.”

“Not really, but to be honest, I shouldn’t be saying all that out loud. You never know who might be listening in. Besides, you will meet Lin some day. Say hi when you do, but don’t tell her about anything I just said about her future children.”

“I will, I mean I won’t” Katie said, as Nuwa laid down and put her back to the fire.

###

Nuwa Yak 2In the morning, Nuwa instructed her hoopers. “You need to go back out and around the group to give us warning if we get near anyone, or they get near us. Now, scat.”

Katie and Boston came up, and Boston watched the hoopers bounce off. A few even said “hoop, hoop” as they bounced. Katie had the next question.

“So how did you and Fuxi get together? History is kind of vague on that. It talks about a flood, and you being brother and sister.”

“The He floods all the time,” Nuwa said. “My father died hunting. Fuxi’s mother died in childbirth, both common events in this day. So my mother and Fuxi’s father got together, and we became step-brother and step-sister—but in this age we were simply called brother and sister, and you know brothers and sisters don’t marry. But the big flood came. Fuxi was about sixteen. I was thirteen, and everyone died or got swept off, downriver.” Nuwa paused to sniff before she shrugged. It was the normal way of things, not some terrible tragedy like it would be in other times and places. People grieved their losses, but not for long. They could not afford to be children about it, even at the age of thirteen.

“So you two—weren’t there more people that survived the flood, just not from your village?” Katie asked as they began to walk and follow the crowd

“There were plenty of people around, but miles away. We were alone. I thought we might climb the mountainside to see further in the distance and try and catch sight of where there might be people. Fuxi Nuwa and Fuxikept crying and said that we were the last two people in all the earth. We came to a shrine in the wilderness, and he fell on his face and cried out to the Di, and the Di came and told him that we should marry and replenish the earth. Not what I had in mind.”

“What do you mean the Di?” Boston asked.

“Di or Ti means exalted ruler, or power, or god on high,” Katie offered

“Shorthand for the gods of the east,” Nuwa said. “I don’t know who decided we should marry, but probably the Shang-Di, the god king himself. He once told me I could take my turns in his jurisdiction, but he would not make it easy for me. I think making me marry Fuxi the dimwit was his way of sticking it to me. I mean, I sort of gave myself away in the flood. I was thirteen and just opening up to the Kairos in me. It was the hoopers that saved me and Fuxi from the waters.”

“And he saw, and took advantage of that, you think?” Katie said. Before Nuwa could respond, Decker came riding in from the flank.

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

Be sure to return next Monday and Tuesday for the second half of episode 3.7  Roland and Boston have to decide between elf and human, and the wolf has to run extra fast to catch up.

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Avalon 3.7: part 2 of 5, The Geography Lesson

“I must say, this does not look like the silk road to me,” Lincoln said. “Are you sure we didn’t stumble on to the rock road?” They had to walk the horses all day because the terrain was rock strewn and the footing too uncertain.

“Well,” Nuwa responded. “We are pretty far away from home. I am sure you imagined taking a leisurely stroll along the He River.”

“It would have been nice,” Lincoln agreed

“Well, in this case, either we skirt the mountains—Tibet, where I believe the Pendratti are hold up in some underground lair, or we cross the Taklimakan desert. I suppose we could have looked in the Tian Shan, the mountains north of the desert, but the Di of the land do not fully control that area. The Tibet area also has much autonomy, but it is closer to home and the likely suspect.”Nuwa silk road 3

“Did you consider the Pendratti might have landed in the desert?” Katie asked. “They are reptilian, are they not?”

“Not enough flora and fauna to research, and too far from people other than the Qinjong, and they seemed to have made a pact with the Qinjong to supply people for their needs. The desert does have some strips and places where springs and winter melt allow for some surface water, but they will be my third choice for looking.”

“Tian Shan Mountains?” Lincoln asked. He was trying to work the database with one hand so he could keep the other hand on his horses reigns.

“The desert is minimally under control of the Di, and the Tian Shan are least under their control, sort of like Aesgard exerting some control over Russia, but less and less as you move out into Siberia. Siberia, in many places, is a bit like a no-man’s land. So it is with Tibet, the Taklimakan Desert in the Tarim Basin and the Tian Shan. The Shang-Di claims more than he can handle. The Tian Shan are mountains that really belong to Tien or Tian and his siblings, along with a chunk of Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Uzbekistan and other Stans.”

“Afghanistan?”

“No. At that point down the silk road you are getting into Brahmin territory, and he keeps edging toward the Indus Valley. It’s complicated.”

“Look out!” Roland yelled from the front. It appeared as if the whole side of the mountain was headed toward them. Conversation stopped abruptly as they mounted and road, dangerous footing for the horses or not. Katie grabbed Nuwa and hauled her up behind as she kicked Beauty into high gear. All of that loose rock was going to catch them, but at once it stopped, utterly and completely, like it ran into a damn.

Nuwa silk road 6Everyone looked at Elder Stow, but he shrugged. “I couldn’t get a screen up in time, and I have no screen strong enough to stop that.”

Nuwa got right down. “Tuti. Thank you.”

The rocks rumbled in answer and the ones out front crumbled into sand.

“I assume the Taklimakan has plenty of sand,” Lincoln said as he got back down, breathing hard, almost as if he had run that distance.

“Buckets full,” Nuwa said, but she was not paying attention. She was scanning the ridge.

“There,” Katie pointed and handed down her binoculars. Nuwa watched a small Pendratti ship take to the sky while a dozen or more Qinjong rode off on their ponies. She followed the Pendratti ship before she handed back the binoculars.

“I would say we are headed in the right direction,” Nuwa said, before she called. “Decker, Roland, Elder Stow! From here on you need to keep your eyes open for some kind of ambush.   Hoopers!” One hopped up to receive instructions. “Set your people around the group at a distance to give us warning if the Qinjong, Pendratti or others are coming near, or if we are going to come near them. Send your swiftest in the direction taken by the Pendratti craft. We may be near enough now that maybe they can long-sight where it lands.”

The hooper bowed and bounced off at a remarkably rapid pace. “I made them shortly after I made Friend, the first Hobgoblin, I mean Xiang me made them,” Nuwa mused. “It was like I made Friend carefully, like a fine sculpture, but for these I was sort of doing my laundry and threw the wet dirt at them.” Nuwa shrugged. “I think I had a bad marriage. I don’t recall, exactly. Then again, I wasn’t married to Fuxi the fish brained.”Nuwa fuxi fishing 2

“Why do you call him that? He has a good reputation in the myths,” Katie said.

Nuwa raised her eyebrows. “So I do something worth remembering and he gets the credit? It figures.”

“Not so, or not entirely,” Katie said. “You have quite a reputation yourself, and for more than just being a wife and mother.”

“I do? Well, don’t tell me about it because even if the legends are wrong, I don’t want to change it. I live in fear of knowing how history is supposed to turn out and then screwing it up. It is the law, you know. You aren’t supposed to tell the Kairos about things she hasn’t experienced. If anyone remembers me …” Nuwa laughed at the thought of being remembered in history.

###

“So where are we going?” Boston asked over supper. “Because as long as we are traveling with you, we certainly aren’t getting closer to the next time gate.”

“We are in a valley of sorts between the Kunlun Mountains and the Tibetan Plateau,” Lincoln tried to explain.

Nuwa silk road 4“No, we are actually on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau,” Nuwa corrected him. “The further we go, the more up we go. I will admit, though, in this place it now looks like a valley. But it will get difficult the further we go, which I suppose is why the silk road, once it got started for real, went around north of the desert by Tian’s Mountains.”  Nuwa chewed.  “One thing about Fuxi.  He is a good cook.”

“You mean we aren’t on the actual silk road?” Katie sounded disappointed.

“Not technically, but there is a way through, I think. Or Brama makes a way at some point. Anyway, it doesn’t start with silk and not much silk actually makes its way to Rome and Greece in the way far future. Not much, relatively speaking. I suppose more gets to India, but let’s be honest. Mostly the road is used to move slaves and drugs and sometimes armies.” Nuwa shrugged, like humanity could not help itself.

Avalon 3.7: The Sulk Road, part 1 of 5

After 2797 BC on the Silk Road. Kairos lifetime 40: Nuwa, Sage (with a little thyme)

Recording …

Lockhart stared through the binoculars and frowned at his thoughts. “I see them,” he said. “I just don’t know if we are allowed to interfere.” He handed the binoculars back to Katie.

Katie took them and objected. “Those people are not going willingly, wherever they are going. We have to do something.”

“No we don’t,” Decker said, and he put his binoculars away.

“There are eleven men on ponies, as you call them, and twenty-seven males, females and young ones that appear to be prisoners,” Elder Stow said, without looking up from his equipment.

“Lead to the slaughter,” Decker nodded, which was perhaps a poor choice of words for someone who did not want to get involved. It was hard to tell at times what Major Decker thought about things apart from his focus on his mission of getting everyone back to the twenty-first century alive. Clearly, he saw most situations through military eyes, and sometime he said thing that made it appear like he had no heart, but everyone suspected that was not true.Nuwa trees

“Here’s the thing,” Lockhart tried to sound decisive. “We are not being threatened. We do not have to defend ourselves. We have been told that as long as we have to work our way through time to get back to our own century, we should try to minimize our impact on history. No matter how terrible it is, we don’t interfere unless we have to.”

“Those are slave traders, or worse,” Katie said. “How can we just turn our backs on them?”

“Indeed,” Elder Stow said in an unexpected voice of support. Then again, he may have been thinking of his crew members killed by the group all those time zones ago. That certainly seemed a case of intervening, unnecessarily. Even if the elder was the one trying to change history, a decision he now regretted, these travelers at the time had no way of knowing that fact.

Elder Stow turned his lips down in a sign of unhappiness. The frown was apparently a universal sign among genus-homo, in this case, homo-Neanderthal. Katie also frowned. She understood the thinking, and even agreed with it to a point, but it did not make her happy. Lockhart frowned, and for the first time he almost felt mad at the Kairos for putting him in this position. Decker was the only one who appeared satisfied with the decision, until there was movement down below.

Arrows came from the rocks and two pony men went down. A moment later, Lincoln, Alexis, Roland, and Boston came riding out from the trees, whooping and yelling, guns blasting and wands shooting off fireworks. The pony men did not stick around, and in a moment, they were riding for their lives. The people who were their prisoners mostly went to their knees and faces, and looked more afraid of this new threat than they were of the slavers.

“Damn,” Lockhart said. They went down the back of the hill and found their horses neatly tied off, waiting patiently.

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campfire“Do they eat?” Lockhart asked as he picked up a stick and stirred the fire. He finished yelling as loud as he could at Lincoln, Alexis, Roland, and Boston, and as sometimes happens, he felt guilty afterwards. Pointing at the little ones was changing the subject. He stared where the little ones had their own fire, sat around it in a circle, and did not seem to move or talk or anything. Roland shrugged.

“The people call them goblins, but that isn’t right,” Roland said with a look to the other side of the camp where the humans had a fire of their own and seemed very animated, now that they knew these newcomers were not going to eat them.

“They were out in the daytime, but hobgoblin doesn’t seem right either,” Alexis said.

“They have some elf in them,” Roland agreed. But they have more of a goblin look than elf—I should say, dark elf.”

“But at their height, wouldn’t they have to be gnomes, or dwarfs?” Boston asked.

“Imps maybe,” Roland answered. “They don’t have the domestic instincts of the gnomes.”

“Or the hair of the dwarves,” Alexis added. “And four to five feet tall is honestly too tall, even for imps.”

“I call them hoopers,” A woman’s voice spoke up from the bushes and the startled travelers all turned their heads to look. She was about five-three, had velvety black hair and average brown eyes, which meant she looked indistinguishable from the women in the group they saved, but the travelers all knew there was something different about this one. “I was going to call them dufflepuds, but they have two feet.” A young man stepped out of the dark and took a seat on a log by the fire that the others had not noticed was there. The woman stepped up to the fire and put her finger to the half eaten deer still roasting away. She took a taste and made a face that said it might not be bad to eat.Nuwa 3

Lincoln had to ask. “Nuwa?” The woman nodded as Boston interrupted.

“Lockhart already yelled at us.”

“We couldn’t let them just be carted off into slavery,” Alexis added softly, almost apologetic.

Nuwa looked at Katie, and Katie spoke as honestly as she could. “They were wrong, and they know why, and we are going to have to watch them because they might do it again in other circumstances.” Nuwa nodded again, like she was satisfied. She pulled a knife and cut some deer for herself and her young man. Then she spoke.

“I was hoping for the first time ever the hoopers might actually do what they were told. I told them to follow the people and stay hidden to find out where they were being taken.”

“Who were those men?” Lockhart asked.

“There are only nine of them left whoever they are,” Decker interjected.

“Wrong. The Qinjong are as numerous as the stars. This small raiding party is just a sampling of what we are dealing with. What is more, the pillars have been removed so the sky has fallen, and my people are suffering.”

“Chicken little,” Lockhart said. “What do you mean the sky has fallen?”

Nuwa smiled for him. He used to be a police man and did not miss much. “Contrary to the contract of all the gods, the Shang-Di has allowed the Pendratti to come to the edge of his land and experiment on the human race. They are hidden, by divine decree, but I have the backing to send them away if I can find them and face them down. My hoopers were going to find them for me.” She paused to glare at the other campfire where the hoopers were sitting in a circle being as absolutely good as they could be. Now it made sense.

“We really screwed up,” Boston admitted.

“Are you going to introduce us?” Alexis asked, to change the subject.

Nuwa pointed to the young man who had yet to say a word. “This is my son, Tien.”

Nuwa bonfire“Son?” Lincoln interjected. “I wouldn’t have thought you were old enough to have a grown son.”

Nuwa smiled. “Compliments won’t help you.”

“I thought maybe he was your husband,” Alexis finished.

Nuwa and Tien both laughed at that thought, and Tien looked a little uncomfortable. “Actually, he is Nameless’ son.” People looked and it took time for them to remember that Nameless was one of the godly lives of the Kairos.

“And who might your mother be?” Alexis asked, innocently enough.

“Eir, healer of Aesgard,” the young man said politely, and then everyone knew that Tien was a god and they all sat up a little straighter.

“My husband and stepbrother, Fuxi the Moron is home fishing. It is one thing he is good at,” Nuwa said.