Elect II—18 Spring Break, part 2 of 3

Come the morning, the Amzons helped with the horses as much as they could.  It still took a good hour after breakfast before they were ready.  Then Riverbend felt it was important to say something.

“I know you may be feeling rather stiff,” she spoke to the humans.  “But the cure is to ride some more, to loosen up the muscles.  We will be moving fast.  Please try hard to keep up.  We won’t leave anyone behind, but the faster we get in, the faster we get out to safety.”

Emily looked at her crew.  The head nods suggested they were as ready as they would ever be.  They started out at a walk, but soon were trotting and preparing to gallop.  Half of the human women were already bouncing like bobble-heads in the back window of a pick-up.  Emily would have been bouncing too if she did not have the strength in her legs to grip hard.  She doubted they would get far without someone falling off, but Riverbend leaned over and whispered.

ab-war-running-2“A little magic has them glued to their saddles.  Ready?”  Without warning they broke into a clearing and let the horses run flat out.

Emily kept her mouth closed when they slowed down for the next little set of woods.  She had bit her tongue, so contented herself with a look around.  These woods were more open to the sky than the ones they wound through at the beginning.  There was more room between trees, yet somehow these woods were darker.  Emily’s eyes went several times to the sky, but she saw no smoke to block the sun, much less rain clouds, yet there was an eerie darkness that surrounded them all.

They rode all out again before they began to climb up into some hills.  On the way, both elf and human alike turned up their noses at the sewer smell that came from a small stream.

“The land is changing,” Riverbend admitted.  “To suit the orcs that live here.”

“Alice?”  Emily asked.  She could say that much.

Riverbend nodded.  “Our Lady is good.  She bears no ill will.  She will let the orcs have it their way.”

Emily returned the nod as she began to see trees that were twisted and distorted like the orcs themselves.  “I might not be so gracious,” Emily said.

ab-war-rinning-1“None of us would,” Sara said, and Emily turned her head to see that Sara and her elf had pulled up to ride behind Emily.  Even as she looked, an arrow sank into Sara’s shepherd’s crook.

“Ride!” Emily reacted, and everyone kicked their horses to get up the hill as fast as they could while the two elves who served as rear guard turned in their saddles and fired several arrows in the general direction of the enemy.  Those who understood such things prayed it was only a hunting party, but when they topped the hill they saw they were surrounded by a hundred orcs.  The leader of the orcs had Jessica and Fiona trapped and held by the arms.  They were not going anywhere.  Emily turned in the saddle, saw the determination in the faces of her Amazons, and was proud of them, but she dismounted, and Captain Riverbend dismounted to walk with her.

Emily and Riverbend stopped some ten yards from the orc line, and Emily spoke.

“We are only here to retrieve the men.”

“And deprive me of my supper?”  The orc commander laughed and several orcs laughed with him.

“We might not kill you all, but we can certainly kill most of you,” Emily shouted.  She was banking on the orcs having some sense of self-preservation which might at least cause them to hesitate if it came to a fight.  But the orc leader just laughed louder, until an arrow appeared in his chest.  At the same time, arrows took out two of the orcs holding Fiona and Jessica.

Jessica did not hesitate to kick her other captor where he would feel it most.  As the orc went to his knees, she retrieved her WAK.

ab-war-elvesFiona was more deadly.  While her orc stared at his dead buddy, she whipped his own sword from its holder and raked it across the orc face.  Then she tapped Jessica and they ran for their horses that were nearby.  The orcs guarding the horses actually moved out of the way as they got busy.  Fifty fairies flew up and transformed into full sized warriors.

Emily stood transfixed, both fascinated and repulsed by the sudden barbaric gore that spilled out all around her.  Commander Falcon ran up and yelled for her attention.  “They did not buy our ruse.”  He fought off a brute and yelled again.  “Ride!”

Emily and Riverbend broke for their horses and both yelled the same word.  “Ride.”  The women grabbed their spears and held them like lances.  To be honest, it was mostly the elves who cut a clear path through the orc line.  Emily and Riverbend ended up in the rear, but they both pulled their swords and each took out one before they broke free.  Emily breathed.  She had been so scared and swung as she imagined so wildly, it was a wonder to her that she did not cut off her own horse’s head.  Riverbend breathed as well, but said nothing until they were all well clear of the battle.  Then she slid off her horse.  Her leg was badly cut and she was bleeding profusely.

Everyone dismounted for a rest.  “Only a moment,” Riverbend said through teeth closed tight against the pain.  Maria and Linnea were right there to lay on hands.  They stopped the bleeding, closed up the wound and relieved the pain, but neither could heal Riverbend completely, and she had lost a good bit of blood.

ab-war-river-2“Can you ride?”  Emily asked.  Riverbend looked uncertain.  “For David?”  Riverbend smiled and nodded.  She could do it for David.  “Good,” Emily said as she helped the elf to her feet and set her on her horse.  “I don’t want to lose you.  David would never forgive me.”  Riverbend smiled a bit more and they rode, slowly.  They were near their destination.

They arrived on the ledge of a tall hill where they could overlook the distant valley.  At the back of the ledge there was a cave.  Mindy suggested that it was likely the cave that lead to the door to the archives.  Jessica found Sergeant Valenko and two other men hanging upside down from the ceiling of the cave.  They were dead, their blood drained and hanging, no doubt, to tenderize the meat.

“No guards,” Riverbend noted as she slipped off her horse to sit for a minute in the cave entrance.

“Not true,” Mindy shouted as two dozen orcs came up the rise.  The women were cut off from escape and only had a short cliff with a cave at their backs.

“Form ranks!”  Emily commanded, and the Amazons grabbed their spears and began to form a line.  The Women of the Watch caught on quickly and added their spears to the line.  “Forward march!”  Emily shouted, and as the wall of spears began to move forward in unison, Sara raised her shepherds crook and yelled.  A blinding white light emanated from her being and caused the orcs to blink and back away.  Most of the orcs changed their minds about the fight.  They turned to rush back down the hill, but one big ogre, likely the one Emily kicked in the Archive room burst through the line.  It was badly cut and had two broken spears in its middle which it tore out.  It was far from dead, and several orcs followed it through the hole in the line before the women could close up ranks.

Jessica and Fiona had their bows and took out two of the orcs.  Riverbend pulled her sword again, but she could hardly lift it.  Emily faced the ogre and made her sword move left and right to distract and confuse the beast before she shoved the sword deep into the ogre’s chest.  It howled, but sheer anger and hatred kept it standing.  It looked paralyzed in its right arm, but it could still roar and reach for Riverbend.

ac-j-j-orcEmily slapped the ogre’s hand away from the elf and the ogre looked surprised that he felt the slap.  Then Emily punched the ogre in the eye while he was bending down toward the elf.  She knocked the ogre to the ground, but immediately regretted the decision.  It felt like her hand was broken.  “Damn!”  She got angry and jumped over the flailing beast.  Her knife finished the ogre, but when she stood she said again, “Damn!”

Maria came after a moment, and Linnea joined her after the two finished treating the others.  One elf had a broken arm.  Arwen and Mindy would have bruised faces for some time, and Mindy would have a bad black eye.  Amina might have a concussion and her elf had a deep cut on her arm from defending Amina.

It turned out Emily’s hand was not broken, but Maria said there were probably several cracks in the bones.  It took some effort to heal the hand, and then Maria was spent.  Linnea did not look too steady either.  “I hope we don’t run into any more,” Maria said as she put her hand to her forehead to wipe away the sweat.

“Hey, Emily,” Jessica called from the cave.

ac-j-j-orc-2“Majesty,” Fiona added her voice, and the two came out with a big bucket of apples.  One of the orcs was not quite dead.  It saw and it spoke even as it spit blood.

“Go ahead, elf.  Touch the apples.  Don’t you want to?  Human, try one.  They are delicious.”  Riverbend, Arwen, Mindy, Sara and Emily all shouted, “No!” at the same time.

“To so much as touch the apple, for a little one is death,” Linnea said.

“It is the apple of youth.  Jessica, it will make you young,” Mindy spoke at about the same time.

“But I am young,” Jessica said before she said, “oh.”  She remembered the apples might make her young enough to where she ceased to exist altogether.

The orc laughed like it was his last breath.  “We want no god over us, but we remember the rules,” it said and closed its eyes.

“How did you come to get these apples,” Fiona shouted at the orc.

The orc just laughed again and stopped moving.

“The goddess who will not show herself,” Amina said.  She threw her hands over her eyes as if she saw something she did not want to see.

Riverbend took a piece of fairy weave from her own clothes and laid it over top of the apples.  She attached it to the bucket and made it as thick as possible as a guard against temptation.  “But who can take this?” Riverbend asked.  “For elves it is impossible, and for humans it is irresistible.

ab-war-elf-1“Let me see,” Melissa stepped up.  She pulled her wand and focused on the bucket with the fairy weave cover, waved her wand over top, and shortly the whole thing smelled like the sewer stream they passed earlier.

Sara stepped up and held her nose as she picked up the bucket.  “I will take the bucket.  I am least likely to be tempted.  The last thing I want is to risk being a teenager again.”

No one argued as the priestess strapped the bucket to the back of her horse’s saddle.  Her elf helped and had one thing to say.  “My lady is very brave.”

“One more thing,” Melissa said, and she let her magic surround the group and float in and out between them.  “There.”  She took a deep breath.  “Now if there are orcs within bowshot, an alarm should sound.”  But then she was as worn out as Maria and feared she would be no help if the alarm went off.

“The valley below looks clear,” Riverbend spoke to Emily who came back out from the cave, still nursing her hand.  “We did not come that way for fear they would see us coming.”

Emily also tied a small satchel to the back of her horse’s saddle and nodded.  “But we skirt the edge and ride hard.”

“Second tree to the right and straight on until evening,” Riverbend nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All clear,” Bill said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Catch.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes?”  Riverbend did not understand.

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

“I’ll pay,” Sara quickly spoke up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elect II—14 Creatures Strike Back, part 2 of 3

Jessica found three different sets of tracks in the slush and mud of mid-winter before the week was out.  She remained unconvinced that she was much of a hunter, but she was willing to let Artemis guide her eyes, just in case.

The first set of tracks were too small for a student.  She found it where it crossed a plowed and paved campus path.  It did not follow the paved paths that snaked from building to building, but walked across country instead.  She lost it somewhere between the science building and the library and guessed it followed the paved path after that.  She considered looking to see if it left the main path again, but it got late and dark, and she had studying to do.

ab-footprints-in-snowThe second tracks were a group of prints.  It looked like three orcs.  This time she felt fairly certain they were orc prints because one was barefoot and the print looked more like a monkey print than a human print.  She followed these orcs to the walkway that circled the library, and lost them between the library front doors and a small stairwell that went down to a basement door.  She checked.  The basement door had no outside handle and had words on it that said, “Emergency exit only.  Do not enter.”  She put her hand to the door and felt there might be some connection there, but she could not say what, and there was certainly no way in.

Her third chance came just after sundown on Friday when she was hurrying home to change.  Jack wanted to go out.  He promised to take her to the Hive for a night of dancing and general carousing.  But as she hustled past the library, she smelled something.  Something felt wrong.  She froze and turned her eyes slowly to that basement door—what she could see down the well.  It looked like a creature as big as the door, and it looked strong enough to rip the door off its hinges.  Instead, it appeared to walk right through the door, which was a bit of a shock for Jessica.

As soon as it was gone, Jessica rushed down the well.  The door was still solid.  She already knew that.  The door had no way of being opened except from the inside.  She knew that, too.  She imagined it had one of those bars on the inside that would set off the fire alarm.  But this big and ugly ogre of an orc went in from the outside all the same, and Jessica stepped back and spoke to herself.

ab-emergency-exit“No, it can’t be that easy.”  A moment later, she had Mindy on the phone and found her, as she suspected, still down in the sub-basement with the archives and missing dinner.

“I’ll be right up,” Mindy promised and very few minutes later they found their way inside to the door.  It turned out to be located in a dark hallway at the back of the building, behind the circulation desk and near the library offices.  It also stood near the loading dock and the freight elevator.

ab-library-elev-1“I didn’t know we had one of these,” Jessica said, as she put her hand to the elevator doors.  They also had words written on them that said, “Restricted access.  Key needed for use.”

“Of course, we had to get the big stuff down to the archive room somehow.”

“Of course.”  Jessica said, but her eyes and mind followed some path, backwards.  She got back to the hall and wondered if there was more light.  Mindy found the light switch, but then she had a question.

“You say it went through the door.  Do you think it was a ghost?”

Jessica shook her head as she got back to that emergency exit.  “It was substantial enough to drag some snow and mud in on its feet.”  She knelt to examine the floor.  “In fact I would say any number of feet have come in this way and gone straight to your freight elevator.  See here, and here.”  Jessica pointed out some things and Mindy saw enough of it to be convinced.

“But from all I have studied, any opening to Avalon would have to be focused on something that has been to Avalon.  Something that came from there and, in a sense, wanted to return would be even better.  I doubt this freight elevator has been to Avalon.”

ac-jessica-2“No,” Jessica agreed.  “But your archives are two flights down.  Don’t you think one of your artifacts might have been there or come from there?”

“Likely, but which one?”  Mindy wondered and added a thought.  “Of course, if it was a small thing it might be moved from place to place and the door might move with it.  That could make it very hard to find unless you know what you are looking for.”

“Something more for you to do.  It is circumstantial evidence, but the signs suggest the door is somewhere in your underground.”

“I hope Bill isn’t the one moving the artifact around.”

“What?  Where did that thought come from?”

ac-mindy-5“Well, Amina lost Joel, Maria lost Owen, Emily had to kill Pierce.  Our record with boys has not been good.”

“Things not going well with Bill?”

“No, I mean we are going well enough, he is just so slow.”

“I like it when they are slow.”

“Jessica!”

Elect II—7 Orcs on Parade, Part 3 of 3

Jessica grabbed Melissa and took the recruits into Captain Driver’s office as soon as Emily ran out.   She pointed at Captain Driver’s gun safe.  “Open it,” she said, as the others piled into the room.

“Oh, I don’t know if I can,” Melissa said.

“Sure you can,” Jessica insisted.

“I’ve seen you do harder things,” Maria said.

“Just to borrow?”  Sara asked.  When Jessica nodded she turned to Melissa.  “I believe in you and it ac-melissa-8can’t hurt to try.”  Melissa looked at Sara and nodded slowly.

“Here goes.”  Melissa closed her eyes.  After a moment, everyone heard three faint clicks, and the safe door swung open.  No one was more surprised than Melissa, and that included Greta, Hilde and Natasha who until then had only heard rumors.

“I did it,” Melissa told Sara and Sara hugged her while the military retrieved their weapons.  They loaded up plenty of ammunition.

“Sorry, Maria, but if Captain Driver complains I want to say only ROTC people used the rifles.”

“Wouldn’t touch one,” Maria said

“Me neither,” Sara added, but everyone figured that.

“I could try,” Melissa offered

“No,” Jessica responded.  “You need to have your hands free.”  She did not explain.

It was then that Diane came running in, yelling.  “Weapons.  I need a weapon.”

Jessica handed over her rifle and made a command decision.  “Greta and Hilde go with her.  Natasha, stay with me.”

“What?  No.”  Natasha wanted to complain, but Jessica interrupted.

“I need back-up.  That’s an order soldier.”

Natasha straightened up.  “Yes, Ma’am.”

ac-jessica-1Jessica smiled at Sara and Maria.  “I always wanted to say that.”

Diane, Hilde and Greta ran out as Jessica got another rifle.  Then the ones who remained went to the center of the gym.  Jessica pulled over the pommel horse, Maria and Melissa, the vault.  Sara and Natasha got the balance beam.  They draped the floor mats over them all and in this way made a kind of fort in the center of the room.

“As long as orcs can’t come up through the ground, this is better than being against the wall,” Jessica said as she watched the doors.  “Walls fall down.”  Natasha and Melissa both got up on chairs.

“Better view,” Natasha said and pretended to look over the vault.

“Uh-huh.”  Melissa agreed, but her eyes stared at the floor in search of orcs.

The door opposite the parade ground door began to shake.  It was locked, but it only took a moment to rip it off the hinges. A monster of an orc came in first.  He was four feet wide at the shoulders and his knuckles fell just short of dragging the ground.  By contrast to the first one, the orcs that followed all looked like normal enough goblins, and some of them were no more than two or three feet tall.

Natasha got down from her chair and she and Jessica opened fire.  Three of the orcs fell before a volley of arrows came in answer.  The women all ducked, but Jessica caught one in her side.  It was a lucky shot that slipped between a crack where two floor mats did not quite meet.

“Damn!”  Jessica fell to the floor and Maria immediately hovered over her.  A second volley of arrows came, but they all bounced and ricocheted away because of some unseen force.  Melissa was still up on her chair and had her hands up.

“The wall can deflect some arrows,” Melissa said through a strained voice.  “But I have no hope it will deflect a charge.”

“Help me up.  Help me up,” Jessica complained, and Maria helped her sit and hold her rifle.  The orcs looked ready to try that charge.

ac-sarah-9Sara, who had been silent in disbelief until then, was shaken back to reality by the sight of Jessica’s blood.  She stood, shepherd’s crook in hand and hollered as loud as she could.  “You hold it right there.  Don’t you dare come any closer.”

The orcs paused.  Sara glowed a little with a pure, white light.  “Zoe protect us,” Sara added for good measure, and the orcs looked afraid to move forward.

The light that surrounded Sara appeared to spread as she spoke, but only to one side.  Then it flashed brilliant for a second and when it went out, two dozen well-armed elves stood beside the small, makeshift fort.  One ogre who seemed very eager for a fight, came with them.  The elves ignored the women and the orcs quickly focused on the elves.  The fight looked inevitable, as the monster that tore off the door, a distorted troll of some sort and the ogre charged each other.  They would have torn the gym to shreds in moments, but something happened no one expected, least of all Sara.  Zoe appeared between the two charging beasts, and she was dressed in the most ancient looking armor and decked out with a sword, a long knife across the small of her back and several other instruments of combat hanging here and there.  Zoe threw her hands up and some force emanated from her hands that picked up the two combatants and flung them to crash into their respective walls, and she said one word.

“Enough!”  The elves all went to their knees and dropped their eyes, no longer concerned with the orcs in the least while Zoe first turned on the orcs.  “You don’t belong here,” she said.  “Begone.”  And they all vanished.  There were no flashy lights or trumpets, they just were not there anymore.

At that point, Emily and her troop piled into the gym, and Heinrich at least had the good sense to follow the lead of the elves and fall to his knees.  Amina was a bit slower, but she soon joined him, and Mindy followed her example, though her eyes never looked down.

ac-riverbend-9“Good,” Zoe said and turned on the women in the fort.  She spoke matter of fact, like she was speaking about the weather.  “My rebellious ones have no business coming here.  They can drill a hole in the atmosphere of Avalon, but the only way they can make it a passage to Earth is if someone here, on this side opens the door.”  Zoe turned to the new arrivals.  “My queen,” she said, and in a way that was possessive, not submissive.  There might be other queens in the world, but Emily somehow belonged to Zoe.  “You must find out who opened the door here and where it is and close it.”  She smiled and turned finally to the elves.  “Captain Riverbend.”  The name was sharply spoken.

An elf, a female scooted a bit forward but dared not look up.  “My lady?”

Zoe paused in a kind of dramatic moment before she softened her tone.  “Thank you for helping my friends, but you don’t belong here either.  Please take your troop back to Avalon before Lady Alice finds out.”

The elf looked up, and she was a pretty creature, and looked young.  “But you and lady Alice are—”

“Hush.  No need to get into that.  Things here are complicated enough.  Go on, now.  And be sure to take the big, frightening, ugly, smelly, boil-faced brute of an ogre with you.”  The humans all looked, though perhaps only Emily and Heinrich could look at the beast for more than a second, but instead of anger at the insult, it appeared the brute beamed with pride.

One man’s insult…  Emily thought.

“Yes, my Lady,” Captain Riverbend responded and an archway appeared in the air in the gym.  That was the only way to describe it as the gym remained, but through the arch there was some other place altogether with green grass and trees still in bloom; and it was everyone’s idea of lovely.  The elves stepped through and the ogre followed and then the archway slowly shrank and disappeared.

zoe-1“You, too, Mister Schultz.”  Zoe had moved on to talk to Heinrich.  “No stories of the Kairos if you please.  These women have enough on their plates for present.”  Then she turned to Maria and Jessica.  “Now Maria.  You have to get that arrow shaft out of her side before it festers.”

“But the blood,” Maria protested.  “I’m not a surgeon.”

Zoe shook her head.  “Lay on hands,” she said.  “The spirit of Eir has not left you without gifts.  Sara can help you understand how to lay on hands, but you are the one who must do it.”

Last of all she turned to Sara.  “Priestess, you were chosen by the source for your tasks before the foundation of the world.  Perhaps we all are, only we don’t see it.”  Zoe stepped up and put out her hand, and Sara took that hand to shake before she realized what she was doing. “Now, you can just talk to me.  I will hear you.  And call me sometime.  Maybe we can do lunch when things quiet down a bit.”

Zoe stepped away from them all and headed toward the back wall.  “Emily, find and close that door, and solve my mystery.  Apples are missing from Avalon.  Something to do with immortality.”  Zoe paused for a moment.  “Immortality?  Fools.”  She sighed.  “So much to do.”  Zoe shook her head and walked right through the wall, and was gone.

Maria’s hands glowed with a golden glow.  She and Jessica watched as the hole in Jessica’s side closed up.  “You have still lost some blood,” Maria said.  “I don’t know how deep the healing will go.”  Jessica looked up, but she was not complaining.  The pain was gone.  Meanwhile, Maria had something to say to Sara.  “By the way, Priestess, the phrase is not “hold it right there, don’t come any closer.”  It’s, “You shall not pass.” And you need to bang your staff.”

###

ac-julie1The following day, Julie Tam from the Medical Examiner’s office called Lisa.  “Tell Latasha it was arsenic, or something like it.  Her instincts were right.  Janet did not die of the drug overdose, though they stuffed enough drugs into her system to kill an elephant.  I will be running more tests and give you a more complete report in a few days.”

“But where would drug dealers get their hands on arsenic?”  Lisa asked.

Julie had some thoughts.  Lisa took notes, but after that she decided to call Latasha herself.

Ashish was right there.  “Are you going to tell her about Carlos?”

“Not yet, but she needs to know what to look out for.”

Elect II—7 Orcs on Parade, Part 2 of 3

Once outside, Diane did not have to take them far.  There were a dozen nasty looking brutes a hundred yards off across the parade ground.  Fortunately, there were no people between them and the orcs.

“We may need to run,” Heinrich whispered.

“Diane, go back to the others,” Emily said.

ac-em-diana-2“I’m not afraid,” Diane said, though her voice shook a little.

“Not the point.  You are unarmed.  I said go back.”

“Yes Ma’am, Majesty.”  Diane started out Army and turned Amazon.  Mindy and Amina thought that was great.

“Arrows ready,” Heinrich said as the two parties stopped twenty yards apart.  The orcs were hard to look at, not because they were especially frightening or ugly, but because they looked unstable.  They were on earth, on the parade ground that doubled as a ball field in the summer, but they appeared to still have a foot in some other realm.  Besides that, whatever they once were, elves, dwarfs, imps of one sort or another no one could say.  They all appeared to share the same distorted, mean and pained expression.

“Why are you here?”  Heinrich asked.  “You do not belong here.”

One orc, no doubt the leader, took a step forward.  “We were sent to find the called one and her coven of evil.”  The voice was distorted as well as the face, and hard to hear without feeling the chill of death.

“And what will you do with her?”  Emily had to ask.

“We will kill her and crush her bones and have her for our meat.”

“That doesn’t leave much negotiating room,” Mindy said quietly while Amina spoke over her head.

“The others.  There are two groups.”

“Return to the Second Heavens while you can.  You cannot survive here,” Heinrich ordered the orcs, not that they were likely to listen.

goblin-kingThe orcs laughed, and Emily took that occasion to speak softly to her group.  “Back away slowly, like from a wild dog.”  She was anxious about the others.  She chided herself for jumping before she had all the facts.  She swore once again that it was a mistake she would not repeat, assuming she survived this encounter.

The orc laughter stopped as suddenly as it started.  Diane, Hilde and Greta ran up from behind with military issue rifles.  They must have busted into Captain Driver’s gun locker and ammunition box.

“Armed and ready, Ma’am.” Diane was all military that time.

Emily raised her sword.  “Aim!”  She skipped right over ready.  “One warning.”  She looked squarely at the orc leader.  “Run,” she suggested.

At sight of the rifles, several of the orcs at the back began to move away.  But the orc leader chose to be stupid and charged as Emily said “Fire!”

Of the orcs who braved the guns, five were struck immediately.  One took two arrows dead center and went down, but the others continued on.  The guns fired again.  Mindy and Amina pulled their small knives, but counted on their bows to fend off any attacker until help could arrive.  Heinrich took down two with his sword and without a sweat, but one went for the rifles and the other went after the archers.

The orc leader was the one who was miraculously untouched by arrows or bullets.  He went straight for Emily. And he had a wicked looking sword with a jagged edge.  Emily and the orc went thrust and parry for a good ten seconds, and Emily dropped her shoulder twice when she went for the orc’s legs.  She remembered what Heinrich told her and scolded herself.  When she dropped her shoulder the third time, the orc dropped his weapon to parry, only instead of aiming at the orc’s legs, this time Emily went for the arm.  She sliced through the orc’s arm without even pausing at the bone.  The orc dropped its sword with the arm and looked up, dumbly, as Emily followed up with a slice through the orc’s neck.

Greta and Hilde both shot the orc that attacked Diane.  It collapsed before it reached the girl.  Mindy and Amina double-teamed their assailant.  While Amina blocked the orc’s big club with her bow, held like a staff, Mindy, the short one, slipped under and stuck her knife in the orc’s heart—or at least where a heart would have been in a human.  The orc staggered and Amina jumped up and thrust her knife into the orc’s ear.  Whatever hesitation Amina had with killing, apparently it did not include orcs.

“Quickly!” Amina shouted.  “They are attacking the gym from the other side.”  And they ran.

###

Latasha and Keisha walked to Janet’s house, Keisha happy to have her friends together again, Latasha with some trepidation, but she didn’t say anything.  There was an ambulance out front.  When they rang the bell, Janet’s mother looked to be in shock.  Janet came home from an outing barely an hour ago, and now she was dead.  Keisha burst into tears.  Latasha called Detective Lisa.  She would cry in a minute.

Elect II—7 Orcs on Parade, part 1 of 3

“I could be the hunter,” Keisha said.  Latasha gave her a funny look, so she explained.  “Well, I don’t have any magic power, and I’m not psychic.  I figure the wise woman and healer are too much work.  If I said priestess, you would laugh.  So that leaves the hunter.”

“You can’t even find your backpack in the lunch room,” Latasha pointed out.

“Yeah, and what would Janet be?  They don’t have a fat one, do they?”

ac-latasha-a7“No.  And be nice.”

Keisha’s phone rang.  Janet was on the other end and she was getting a ride home.

“She wants us to meet her at her house,” Keisha said.

Latasha said nothing, but nodded.  Maybe Janet was beginning to thaw toward her since they talked about Bobby Thompson and the drug delivery in the garage basement level.

###

Heinrich dropped his sword point and stepped back.  “You are still dropping your shoulder when you back-swing toward the legs.  You know where your opponent is, you should not have to look first.”

Emily frowned and ran a hand through her hair.  She nodded and took a moment to look around.  Jessica was helping Melissa learn the staff.  They had the ones with the cushions on each end so they did not hurt much, but poor Melissa who only began these workouts in the fall kept taking it in the gut while Jessica kept explaining how to block that shot.  Maria was off to the side working through her hand to hand techniques.  Mindy was helping Amina try to hit something with an arrow.  Amina was great with the staff and hand to hand, but she couldn’t shoot straight.  It was like she was willing to hit someone, maybe even knock them out, but the idea of an arrow or knife cutting and maybe killing someone made her balk.

“Ready?”  Heinrich finished wiping the sweat from his brow and tossed down his towel.

Emily shook her head and pointed to the back door.  “I think you have a new pupil.”  Sara came in, and she brought her shepherd’s crook, the one Heinrich had given her as a gift.

“Ah, priestess, welcome.”  Heinrich was friendly and the others stopped and welcomed Sara as well.  Melissa was especially happy to see the priestess.

“Priestess.  Now maybe someone else can get punched in the stomach for a while,” she said.

ac-sarah-7Sara shook her head.  “I’m still getting used to priestess.  I know it is just the classical title, but it irks my Anglican nerves.  There is a reason I am a Methodist.”

“Zoe called you priestess,” Amina said as if that should settle the matter.

“Yes, Sybil,” Sara responded in a kind tone of voice and nodded toward Emily for emphasis.  “Your majesty.  But that is another thing.  I can’t hardly bring myself to talk to Zoe, much less pray to her.”

“I can answer that one,” Heinrich stepped up.  “I guarantee, right or not, she does not want or feel worthy of prayer or praise.  Just talking is what she prefers.  Sorry, you will have to take my word on that for now.  But here, let me help you learn what you can do with that staff.”

“Just so you know, I am a woman of peace, not war.”  Sara looked around the gym and looked hesitant, though she came dressed in sweats.

“So was Father Martin,” Heinrich responded with a smile and an outstretched hand.  “But he said there is nothing unchristian about learning to defend yourself and to defend the innocent.”

“Father Martin?”

“A disciple of Francis of Assisi.”

“A Franciscan?”

“No,” Emily said.  “I think he means a disciple of Saint Francis himself.”

ac-heinrich-1Heinrich nodded.  “He was my age now, four hundred and seventy something when I was an impressionable youth of twenty something.  He was a good man.”

Sara’s eyes widened a bit, but she took Heinrich’s hand and let him lead her into the middle of the room.  “Paul is also having real problems with all of this,” she confessed.

“Your young man?”  Heinrich pulled her in so she took his arm.

Sara nodded.  “Paul is a lawyer, very logical.  He took a job with the District Attorney’s office last year and was glad to hear I will be sticking around for the next three years.”  She stopped and withdrew her hand and arm and stared at Emily.  “Look, he has a hard enough time with me being a minister.  Amazon priestess is freaking him out.”

“Don’t look at me,” Emily said with a deadpan face.  “I killed my last boyfriend and the one before that turned vampire.  I killed him, too.”  Emily’s eyes watered a bit.  “I am not the one to talk to about boyfriend troubles.”

“Invite him to meet us,” Amina said.  “He will see we are just a bunch of normal women and nothing to worry about.”

“Ms Joel heard from?”  Emily lost her tears and grinned as Amina darkened and looked at the floor; but she smiled at the mention of Joel’s name.

Sara looked around the room at all of the ones present before she made her pronouncement.  “There is not a normal one here.”  She bit her tongue.  She knew she should say they were all special and gifted beyond reason, but at the moment she felt like saying they were all freaks.

Maria stepped up.  “Actually, we are all facing the same problems with boyfriends.  Okay, maybe Emily and I aren’t dating right now, but Amina and Joel are, Mindy just asked Bill out, Melissa is hanging out with Robert and Jessica has Brinkman wrapped around her finger.”

“Please!”  Jessica interrupted.  “I gave up boyfriends for lent.”

“Robert?”  Emily asked with a look at Melissa.

“Later,” Maria said as Melissa turned red and looked away in her best Amina imitation.  “Anyway, the point is you are not alone.”

“I did not choose to live four hundred and seventy years, which is not public knowledge by the way,” Heinrich said.  “Emily did not choose to be one of the elect.  The Spirits of Artemis and Eir chose their own vehicles in Jessica and Maria.  Amina and Melissa had no say in whatever power they were granted, great or small.  You are the only one who has graciously been given a choice, but you must choose.  You have swum half-way, now will you turn and swim back or finish the journey?”

ac-sarah-6“I am here,” Sara said.  “Priestess is still going to take some getting used to.”  Everyone smiled happily, and several hugs were exchanged before Sara remembered.  “Oh, Jessica and Emily, I brought your ROTC crew.  They say they want to join the, um, tribe?”

“Yes, that’s right.”  Mindy said it before Amina could.

Sara turned back to the door she came in and wondered.  “I thought they were right behind me.”

Natasha came tumbling in after a second.  She was winded, but said one word, loud.  “Orcs.”  She threw her hands to her knees as she breathed.  “A bunch of them, heading this way.”  Diane, Greta and Hilde followed Natasha in and Greta and Hilde started to bar the door.

“Wait!”  Emily shouted and Greta and Hilde paused.  “Mindy and Amina, get arrows, bring the bows.  Diane, show me.  The rest of you stay here.  Jessica, prepare a defense.”

“After you,” Heinrich said.  He still had his sword, but picked up a bow as well.  Emily was not about to turn down the help and experience, but she looked again at Jessica and once at Sara.  Jessica looked uncertain, but Sara assured her with her eyes and Emily felt the Priestess earned her place permanently with that look.  There would be no going back.