R5 Greta: The Old Ones, part 3 of 3

“Woman.” Baran turned his wrath on the old woman. “I think age has finally caught up with you.  She speaks crazy and you say it is the truth.  I do not even understand what she is saying.”

Fae simply looked at the man until he backed down.  “I understand little myself.”  She said. “But what she says is truth.  She does not lie.”

“Tell us about the wolf,” Vilam spoke up.  “Tell us about Liam.”

“I killed the wolf.”  Greta spoke plainly as she recognized that in a sense this became like a visionary moment for her.  “He did not suffer.  And I buried him twenty feet beneath the earth and solid rock.  Do not dig him up lest you become infected like he was. Let him rest in peace.”

“You killed the wolf?”  Baran only caught the first part of her answer.

“She speaks true.” Fae almost went unheard.

“But you said the Nameless god of the Yellow Hairs killed the wolf.”  Vilam objected.

“The Nameless god did kill the wolf.”  Greta said.

“But how could you both?”  Vilam got confused.

“That doesn’t make sense.”  Baran still protested.

“She does not lie!”  Fae said, with sudden strength.  Everyone looked at her.  Greta also looked and saw that the old woman started looking at Greta in a very different way.  She guessed that the quarter of Fae’s blood which belonged to her little ones saw something her human three quarters never dreamed possible.

“The Yellow Hairs will be made weak by the loss of their woman.”  Baran wasted no more time.  “Put her with the others.  We will bring them to the bogie beast this very afternoon.”

“The bogie beast? The hag.”  Greta understood.  “That won’t be possible.”  She spoke before they could grab her.  “I killed the Hag.  I baked her in her own oven.”

That really got their attention because they knew all about the chimney and, of course, the oven.

“She does not lie,” Fae said, and Baran looked astonished.

“That is why the smoke stopped,” Vedix said, as if confirming her story.  He started looking at Greta with different eyes as well at that point, and not without some fear.  Greta showed considerable restraint not to say anything especially since Salacia kept urging her to ask if Vedix would like to spend the rest of his life as a sea slug.

While Baran conferred with several of the men, Greta considered the stockade around the village.  Such a structure could not ultimately keep out a hag, or bogie beast as they misnamed it. Such creatures returned to the same village, and often to the same house as their last feeding.  But then, a regular flow of sacrifices might keep one at bay and even fix the beast on a new place for feeding.

Baran turned angrily and spoke without preliminaries.  “Tie the woman in the swamp and leave her for the banshees.”

“I destroyed the banshees, the wyvern.”  Greta spoke without hesitation, but lowered her eyes as if not wanting to remember what she saw.  “They are no more.”

“She.”  Fae began to speak, but Baran interrupted her.

“Old woman, I swear you are senile and don’t know what you are saying.”  Then he turned his anger back to Greta.  “I suppose you can prove it!” he demanded.

“I have a witness.”  Greta answered, as calmly as she could in the face of the man’s storm.  She had amazed even herself up to this point in the things that she said, but now, suddenly, she felt completely alone.  She did not hear a peep throughout time, and she knew she had to do it herself, whatever that might be.  In truth, she could only think of one thing to do.  “Berry.”  She called softly.  She steadied herself and decided how things needed to be.  “Berry.”  She insisted. “On my shoulder.”  And Berry got compelled to vanish from wherever she was and appear on Greta’s shoulder.  “There, there.”  Greta said immediately.  “I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

Berry let out a little shriek and instantly hid in Greta’s hair, but not before everyone in that place saw her.  Most just stood and stared, including Baran who appeared to be frozen with his mouth part way open.  Fae, however, fell to her knees, placed her face in her hands and wept.  It seemed as if seeing Berry became the fulfillment of her every hope and dream.

“Just talk to me.” Greta said.  “Come and face me and speak up good and loud, Okay?”

Berry hesitated and shook her little head.

“You can put your back to all of the people so you don’t have to look at them.”  Greta pointed out.

Berry thought about that and decided she could do that.  She flitted out to hover and faced Greta, and Greta did not hesitate to get her talking instead of thinking about being on display.

“Did I go into the swamp yesterday morning?”  Greta asked.

“Yesterday? I have to think.”  She put her little finger to her temple and tapped. “Think, think.  Oh, yes!  You know you did and I almost stopped you, but Bogus the Skin said I was supposed to just watch.”

“And you followed me?”  Greta made it a question.

“I watched like I was told.  I do good what I’m told.  So I fly from leaf to leaf and you don’t see me because I hide-ed.”

“You hid.”

“I sure did. I do good what I’m told.”

“Then what happened?”

Berry flitted back and forth several times very fast before she settled down again.  “I don’t like to think that part.  The suckies came.”

“The banshees? The wyvern?”  Greta suggested both the Celtic and Dacian names for the succubus.

“They been called that.”  Berry said. “But you got the big god sword and POP! One is no more.”

Then you did something very brave.”  Greta praised her, and Berry puffed up her chest in pride.

“I showed myself,” she said, and then added, “But not so brave.  I knew you would save me, and you did.  You powered them with more than magic, like fire and lightening herself, and they turned like fish bubbles and POP!  POP!  POP! They were no more.”  Berry smiled and then frowned.  “But four still chased you.  They did not chase me so you could not power them.  One got popped on the God sword, but three surrounded you and I was afraid for you.”

“And what did I do?”

“You went into tomorrow or yesterday and the big man came.  With the god sword and the long knife, you one, two, threed them and they were no more.”  Berry thrilled at the memory of them being no more, and everyone present felt it. Berry did a back flip in mid-air and zoomed right up to hug Greta’s neck and kiss her cheek.  Then she pulled back and looked serious as if she just remembered something very important.

“Oh, but Lady. I’m not supposed to be here.  No, no!  Bogus the Skin made a greement.  The mortal, clumsy trompers get this side of the river and we get the other.”

Of course, it was nonsense.  Greta knew that Berry and plenty more were over on the human side all of the time. They were in the grain, the trees, the flowers, the animals, but she supposed they always hide-ed.  They had a comfortable freedom in being able to go about without always having to be invisible; but then those days were over since the dissolution.  The days of dividing the land into separate realms was over.  The earth was one, now, and it belonged to the lowly human race.

“And what was this agreement?”  Greta asked. She was not entirely surprised to hear Baran answer.

“It would last until Danna herself, the Earth Goddess, the mother of all the Gods should end it herself, and what can you do about that?”  Everything had gone so badly for him thus far, he wanted to mock her, as if that might still give him some power over events.  Greta simply looked at the man without blinking.  Then she went away into the winds of time, and Danna, herself came to take her place.

Some ran. Most hid.  Some fell to their faces.  Berry got big and got down on her knees beside Fae, but she could not contain herself.  She slowly inched forward to where she could hug Danna’s knees, and Danna reached down and gently stroked Berry’s hair.

“All right.” Danna said.  “The agreement is now ended.”  And she made sure that Bogus the Skin and all of the little ones heard as well. “The whole forest now belongs to humanity which at present means the Celts, Dacians and Romans in equal measure.” She paused to let that sink in before she turned to the leader.

“Baran, you think if the Romans and Dacians fight each other it might weaken them and be to your advantage, perhaps even give you the opportunity to reclaim your land. Foolish man.  The Northland is terribly overcrowded.  Even now Germans of many tribes and nations are jostling each other and pushing against the soft side of the Roman Empire.  Even as we speak, the Quadi stand poised to invade. If the Romans and Dacians weaken each other, only the Quadi and Samartins will gain, and the next invasion will not stop at the borders of the forest.  For your own survival and for the sake of your children, I implore you to make yourselves known to the Romans and Yellow Hairs.  You must join with them to strengthen and defend the border. There may yet be a hundred years of peace, but I leave that in your hands.”  She paused again, but only to stroke Berry’s hair.

“Now Vedix.” Danna said, and Vedix appeared before her, instantly.  A number of people gasped and several screamed.  They were startled, but not surprised when Berry appeared earlier. They almost expected such things from the Vee Villy.  But to think that it could happen to a man!  “You kicked me this morning.”  Danna said.

Vedix fell to his knees.  His heart beat too fast, his palms sweating and he looked ready to pass out.  Poor Danna had to tone down her nature to almost nothing at all, and even then Vedix barely eeked out a response.

“’Twasn’t you,” he said, and fell on his face.

“’Twas.” Danna responded in kind.  “Not Danna me, but Greta me,” she said.

“Oah!” Vedix moaned.

“This is your punishment.  Hear me!” Danna threw her arms out compelling attention and the sparks flew from her hands and eyes.  Vedix certainly had to hear her because she had the power to send him to where a thousand years would barely begin his torment.  All she did, however, was speak.  “You must learn to treat others as you would wish to be treated if you were in their shoes.”  She paused before adding, “No sea slug.”  And she waved her hand once more and sent him back to the place where he had been trying to hide.

“I must go,” she said, and smiled, which suddenly warmed every heart present.  Many people looked up, but only Berry had the presence to speak up.

“Must you?” she said and flitted to another thought.  “Is it time for my Greta to come home?”

“Yes, sweet,” Danna said.  “This is my Greta life, not my Danna life.  Only, be good to her.  You know my Greta is just as human, mortal, and fallible as Baran.”  She paused for effect.  “Well, perhaps not that fallible.”  And she vanished into the winds of time, and Greta did come home, still speaking as if finishing Danna’s very thought.  “Still, Baran, I would appreciate it if you would stop trying to sacrifice me to myself.  That would be too strange, even for me.  Now, I hope to make peace instead of war, but even if I fail at that, I must still destroy the weapons of Trajan.”  Greta shook her head.  These people had no idea what those weapons might be.  “But first.”  She looked down at Berry, “I’m going to fetch my brother Hans.”

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MONDAY

R5 Greta goes in search of Hans, but he is in the territory of the Wee Willies, and they are not inclined to cooperate with mortal humans.  As she really begins to learn her place, and what it means to say they are her little ones, it becomes a very heady experience.  Sadly, she does need to return to the real world to finish her quest.

Until Monday, Happy Reading

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R5 Greta: The Old Ones, part 1 of 3

“Not too tight.” Greta said, but her captors ignored her. Then Greta realized her mistake. Gerraint and Festuscato both told her. These were old Celts, the people of the land before the Dacians moved against them.  That had to be three hundred years ago, or certainly since the days of Decebalus, some seventy years ago.  The old Celts once filled the entire border land between Olympus and Aesgard, stretching all the way from Gaul to Galatea in Asia Minor.  She realized that she understood their language the night before and could speak it now if she chose, because she received help from another life.  Danna, the mother of the gods of the Celts, filled her with this new tongue.

“Not too tight.” She repeated in the local Gallic dialect.  They stopped. The woman nearly dropped her end of the rope which had the noose around Greta’s neck.  The old man stepped back, though he did not loosen his grip on her shoulders.  The young man gave up trying to tie her wrists altogether.  Greta looked closely at the young one.  He looked to be about twenty-eight, but from the look in his eyes and the grin on his face, Greta could tell these people were in trouble from too much inbreeding.

“My hands are healing hands.”  Greta said. “If you damage them, I will be no use to help others.”

“You are a Druid?” The gruff man asked.

“I am the Woman of the Ways.”  Greta said, giving her own name for the position.  “And I am willing to go with you freely without the need for any ropes at all.”

The old man looked at her.  He scrutinized her face and looked deeply into her eyes.  He made a command decision and removed the rope from her neck.

“Is that wise?” The man’s wife asked.

“Kindness is never foolish.”  Greta answered.  The old man laughed at his wife, and the young man laughed, too, though he was not sure what he was laughing about.

“She even sounds like a Druid.”  The old man said, and added, “Follow.”  They walked, skirted the bog, and headed right back to the old road where Greta started that morning.

Her captors were Vilam of the Manclugh, his wife, Mayann, and their son Finbear, and they were indeed the remnants of the Gaelic peoples who hid in the great forest at the coming of the Dacians—the Gatae and the Yellow Hairs.  Despite Greta’s own experience in the forest, she felt certain that these people were the main reason why those who entered the woods were never heard from again.  They had the secret of their existence to protect and what better way than to make sure no one got out alive?

“We are the only ones who live on this side of the river.”  Finbear talked without stop, much like Hans sometimes talked, except Finbear kept staring at her in a way that made her feel very uncomfortable.

“This side belongs to the Vee Villys,” he said.

Greta looked curiously at Mayann who looked clearly unhappy with Greta’s presence, but who spoke out of courtesy.  “The Old folk, The Spirits of the night and day, the Good People of the Earth, the blessers of true believers.”  She said that last rather loud, but Greta understood.  Her own people lumped them all together as elves of light and dark, and then as an afterthought, put dwarfs in between the two elf types.

“How is it they let you live here?” she asked Mayann, but Finbear answered.

“We cut the trees,” he said.  “Father says it is so the trees do not get too overgrown and dangerous when the fire comes, but all I know is the Vee Villys mark the trees and we cut them.”

Ravenshold, that is, Sarmizegetusa is probably a good market for lumber.”  Greta thought out loud.  “And they probably don’t ask too many questions.”

They stopped. Vilam looked at her in a way which confirmed her thought, and he did not look too happy that she had guessed correctly.

“This is the way.” Vilam said, but Greta stopped him. She touched his arm when she recognized the rise.

“No, up there. I need to show you something,” she said. “I need to show Mayann.”

“Come now.” Vilam said, gruffly, though with kindness still in his voice.  “You said you would go freely without ropes.”

“This will only take a minute.  It concerns Liam.”

“Liam?” Mayann spoke and started up the rise. The rest were forced to follow.

From the top, they could see the cross some distance down the other side.  “That new grave is Liam.  The Nameless god had mercy on him.  He did not suffer.”

Mayann ran down the hill and fell on the grave in tears.

“Gvidion’s praise.”  Vilam said, before he turned curious.  “Why would the Nameless god of the Yellow Hairs do good for Dagda’s people?”

“Because he cares about all of the people in the land,” she suggested.

Vilam was not slow to grasp her suggestion.  “You Yellow Hairs, and those Romans, too, have no business here.  This is our land.”

“But we are here,” Greta said.  “Business or not.  So why can’t we make peace and make life better for all?”

Vilam shook his head, but Greta did not wait for a response.  Her duty at the moment turned her to Mayann.

After a while, she helped the woman rise and walk.  She assumed they were headed for the village which she rightly supposed would be on the other side of the river.  Vilam gave her that look again, but she explained herself.

“Finbear did say you were the only family living on this side of the river in the territories of the Wee Willies.”

“Oh, yes.” Vilam nodded.  “I forgot that he said that.”  He looked relieved, but Finbear had to correct her pronunciation.

“Vee Villys,” he said.  “I have never seen one, myself, but they say they are like ghosts, frightening and strange, and they can be invisible, so they might be anywhere and you would never know it, and they do terrible tricks on those who displease them.”  He tried to scare her.

“Trick or treat!” Greta said sharply to him, which surprised him, and he jumped a little, having scared himself.  Greta smiled but otherwise kept silent.  She did not feel in the mood to argue with the young man. Somehow, she could not imagine Berry as frightening and strange, or playing terrible tricks on people, though there was the matter of Hans.

When they reached the river, Vilam uncovered a log raft which had been well hidden in the bushes. They had two long poles to go with it, and though it seemed easy crossing the calm water that slowly worked its’ way out of the swampland, it was not exactly dry going.  If she stood, she felt too wobbly and unsteady.  If she sat, her dress got wet.  Finally, she decided to sit.  The dress would dry.

“I like her, father.”  The ever staring Finbear spoke over Greta’s head as if she was not even there.  “I want her.”

“No.” Mayann rose to Greta’s defense. “She is not for you, my son.”

“Father?” Finbear was not for giving up, but Vilam only laughed, except that the laugh seemed to Greta to carry the unspoken words, “We’ll see,” as if he actually considered it.

From the river, it did not appear far to the village gate.  Greta saw fields there that stretched out beyond her sight, carved out of the forest and irrigated by ditches that drew water straight from the river.  The village itself sat behind a strong wooden stockade, so it looked like a fort from the outside.  The gates were open, however, and there were several men and dogs in the gate.

Ever since seeing Sanger, Greta had a good idea who the village captives might be.  Drakka, probably Rolfus and maybe Jodel, she was not sure.  She only hoped she was not too late.  The word “sacrifice” scared her.

After Vilam talked privately with the men in the gate and pointed to Greta several times, Greta got brought to the central square.  After a short wait, a man came out from one of the houses, followed by one of the men from the gate.  The man from the house had a chicken leg in his hand, and he appeared to be annoyed at having his lunch interrupted.

“Well, Vilam. Quite a catch.”  The man spoke as he walked around Greta and eyed her with a mixture of suspicion and lust.

“Baran, I claim the right of capture,” Vilam said.

“Yes, we’ll see,” Baran responded.  “A druid you say.”

“Yes.”  Both Vilam and Mayann spoke up at the same time, which caused Baran to pause and raise an eyebrow.

“Liam’s dead,” Mayann said.  “She showed us the grave.”

Baran looked again at Greta with suspicion.  “Maybe, and maybe not,” Baran said.  “Fae has been sent for.  We will test her when Fae gets here in the morning.  In the meanwhile, put her with the others.”  Baran went back into his house.  He had nothing else to say.

“Father?” Greta heard Finbear raise his voice while two ruffians led her away.

“Hush son,” Vilam said, as he watched.  “Can’t do anything until morning.”

The men who escorted Greta were not cruel, but they hurt her arms all the same. Fortunately, the hut without windows was not very far away.  The door got unbolted, and Greta got pushed in.

“Hello?” Greta heard the word in the tongue of her people.

“Who is there?” She whispered in the dark.

“Greta?” She felt a strong set of arms surround her and hug her hard.  It was Drakka.  She did not have to see him.  “Greta, why are you here?  Don’t you know we are to be sacrificed tomorrow?”

“I came to save three fools,” she said.  “Who else is here?”

“Save us?” She heard Rolfus’s voice.  “I think you just became another body for the feed.”  He laughed, but it did not sound like a pleasant laugh.

By then, Greta’s eyes started adjusting to the dark.  The slats in the hut were not perfect so some light leaked in.  She saw Koren in the corner, weeping softly, and she thought that at least Jodel had the good sense to stay home.

“Why did you follow me into the forest?”  Greta asked straight out.  Drakka almost flinched before he lied.

“Because I love you more than life,” he said, and subtly kicked Koren to keep him quiet. “I was afraid for your safety.”

Greta stared. He said the words she always wanted to hear, but she knew in her heart that it was a lie.  She became angry with herself for not believing him.

“Well, then,” she said, and sat down.  “I will just have to save you from the sacrifice.”

“Impossible.”  Rolfus responded.  “But at least Sanger escaped.

“No, he didn’t.” She paused because she did not want to remember that vision, not in the dark, alone.  Yet, she decided she had to tell them since they all looked at her, waiting.  “Sanger is dead, not by the hands of these people, but by the succubus in the swamp. I saw his body, shriveled and emptied of life.”  She put her head in her hands and shuddered.  Then she began to cry.  It all got to be too much.

Rolfus made a sound of absolute revulsion and horror and turned away.  Koren looked filled with fear.  Only Drakka seemed unmoved, except he said he was sorry, and how horrible it must have been for her, and he sat down beside her and willing held her and let her cry on his shoulder.  And that was no lie.  He had a heart.  That was what she knew and loved about him.  Somewhere beneath it all, he had a good heart.

R5 Greta: Nowhere to Run, part 3 of 3

The armor adjusted automatically to Greta’s shape and size, and as she thought on it, it felt very comfortable, and not at all too heavy.  The cloak of Athena also felt much warmer than her poor red cloak, and she could make it longer with a thought, so it got long enough to act as a blanket.  She lay down on the heather and added her own “Thank you” to the moon, her Artemis moon. She slept, and this time, she slept peacefully, and without dreams.

Greta woke in the morning feeling much better in her mind and heart.  She had faith that somehow that morning everything would work out. She had hope, even if she felt terribly thirsty.  A bit of breakfast would have been nice as well.

She smelled the air.  It smelled fresh and clean.  She looked all around and felt that the Sylvan River had to be fairly close.  She started out in that direction and was not even aware that she wore her armor until she stopped to relieve herself. She decided to wear it for a while. It really felt that comfortable, and she did not mind the feeling of protection it gave her.  Besides, it became hers for her entire lifetime, and this was her lifetime and she would live it for all it was worth for as long as she could.

Greta came to a spring fed stream and had a long, cold drink.  Why did she head toward the river?  She could not imagine the reason, but there had to be one.  If nothing else, she decided to see where the path let out.  It did not take long, though, before she started to get bogged down in a swampy area. The fact that she wore water-proof knee boots rather than sandals helped a lot, but after a while it still became rough going.  She kept thinking any moment she would break out on to the riverbank, but the bog continued, and she could see no end.

Something caught the corner of her eye and the hair came up on the back of her neck.  It wasn’t Berry.  She considered pulling Salvation, the sword Nameless had graciously left her.  She might have brandied it as a warning, but she could not be sure if her arms were strong enough, even for this sword made for a woman.

She stepped around a tree and a man blocked her way.  He shimmered in the dim sunlight and looked beautiful to behold.  Greta felt an instant attraction to the man which felt so strong, she almost rushed to his feet.  She had to struggle to check herself.

“What do you want?” she asked.  The man said nothing while a second man stepped out from the shadows.  He looked very different, but in his own way, he appeared as attractive as the first.  Greta felt herself flush with desire and excitement.

“What do you want?” she asked more sternly.

A woman stepped forward.  Hers seemed an unearthly beauty beyond anything Greta ever imagined.  Greta felt the urge to fall into the woman’s arms and kiss her passionately.  That felt wrong.  She was one who never had any inkling in that direction, and the thought repulsed her a little and returned her to her senses.

“No,” she said.

“Come to me,” a third man spoke.

“Come share my love.”  A second woman came into the light.

They are not real people, Greta said to herself, and she started to back away until she realized a fourth man and two more women stood behind her.  She got surrounded.  The ones behind her, however, had the morning light behind them, and she could see through them in a distorted sort of way.  They looked translucent, and whatever else they might be, they were certainly not people.

Greta closed her eyes for a brief moment and cleared her mind and heart as well as she could.  The first rule of magic was to let be what must be.  When she looked again, she saw demon faces where she had seen beauty, and ghostly, floating figures where their bodies had been.  They still called to her, but she could no longer hear them. Instead, she found Salvation securely held in both of her hands.  She decided the adrenaline helped, but the sword proved not nearly as heavy as she had imagined.  Several of the demon faces appeared to laugh.  They had faced swords before and such weapons were ineffective against them. Greta swung clumsily at the one nearest to her.  It neither moved nor ducked, apparently expecting the sword to simply pass through. Instead, as she cut the creature, it bubbled and fizzed for a moment like carbonation in a glass of ginger ale, and then popped and vanished altogether from the world.  The others backed up significantly, and the smug looks on their faces changed to sheer cruelty.

“Help!” Greta screamed on the inside, but no one answered.  She did hear the word, “Wyvern” followed by “Succubus.”  So she knew what she faced.  “Thanks a lot,” she said out loud.  She tried to back up and swung her sword as much as she could, but these creatures were no fools.  They had let her come way into the swampland before they approached her.  Her arms would tire long before she got out of their territory, and even as they did tire, the Succubus began to close in. She caught no more of them with her wild swings.

Suddenly, a beautiful young girl of about twelve years of age stepped out from behind a tree. “Wyvern,” she called.

“Berry, no!” Greta shouted.  She knew who it was, even though she had never seen Berry before in her big form.

“Lifegiver.” The Wyvern called out, and they all turned instantly from Greta to attack the little spirit of life.

“No!”  Greta screamed as did Berry, but just as they came at her, something like fire poured from Greta’s hands and eyes.  The Wyvern were instantly on fire, and they began to fizz and pop all over the place.  Berry stayed untouched.  Then Greta had to jump and cut one with Salvation, because while she got distracted by her concern for Berry, one came right up to her face.

She still faced three of them that the flames missed.  One floated in front of Greta, one to her right, and one behind her.  Berry, her small fairy self again, went up the tree to her left and Greta knew the little one would be safe for the moment.  Greta doubted she could deal with these last three. They seemed to know that as long as they did not threaten Berry, they were safe, and it would not be too much longer before Greta would be unable to keep her sword up, much less resist them.

“All right.” Greta heard a voice as clear as day in her head.  It could not have been someone outside talking to her because it sounded unquestionably like her own voice.  At the same time, though, it sounded like a male voice and that confused her for a moment. “I’ll take it from here.”  Greta gladly and gratefully let go, vanished, and let him come down through time to stand in her place.  Gerraint, son of Erbin appeared, but older than she remembered. This Gerraint was already a Knight of Arthur’s Round Table.  “Always willing to help a lady in distress,” he said with a grin.

The Wyvern recognized the change and began to flee, but already too late for them.  Two popped on the tip of Salvation’s point. Then Defender got whipped from its’ sheath.  It flew faster than sight and pinned the last Succubus against a tree, catching it square in the center.  The Wyvern bubbled, fizzed, popped and became no more, and Gerraint patted himself on the back because it appeared a near perfect throw.  “Practice.”  He told Greta, as he left and she returned in his place.

Greta had no time to respond as Berry attacked her from the tree, flung her little arms around her neck for a big hug and cried and then laughed because her little self could not reasonably do more than one at a time.

“I knew it. I knew it.”  Berry got excited.

“Knew what?” Greta asked.

“I knew you were my Great Lady,” she said.  “The stories all said the fee were sometimes permitted to ride on the shoulder of their goddess, and you let me ride on your shoulder, and you could still see me even when you were not in the circle, and one of the gods came to fight for you, even though I missed you when you went away.”

“Hold on,” Greta interrupted.  “I’m no goddess.”  And she did not want to be one.  Nameless always came courteously restrained, but she had been Salacia in a moment of havoc. That seemed a power beyond anything Greta could handle, and a responsibility she would never want.

“But you are,” Berry insisted.  “Even when you are completely mortal and human, you are the goddess for all of the little spirits of the world.  And you will be our goddess in your next life, too, and the one after that, unless you are our god.”  Berry had to pause to puzzle her way through that thought.

“But you took an awful chance exposing yourself like that,” Greta said.

“No-oh.” Berry insisted again.  “Even when you are mortal, human, you have everything you need to protect and defend us.”  She became serious for a moment.  “And you make the rules and teach us and keep us on the path of righteousness.”  She paused again to swallow and her little eyes became big.  “And sometimes you punish us when we are bad, and they say your wrath is a terrible thing to behold, and I have to go now.”  Greta blinked and Berry no longer fluttered there.

Greta shrugged. Faster than a speeding bullet, she thought.

She considered Defender, stuck ten feet up the tree.  She supposed she could call to it and it would jump to her hand, but instead, she sent her armor and weapons home, wherever that might be, and became clothed again in her dress and red cape.  She found her dress cleaned and pressed, and sewn where the little tear had been.  She wondered if her little ones did that.  She supposed they did, and she felt grateful, though calling them her little ones would take some getting used to.  She wondered what on Earth she could do that would be even half as nice for them. She felt very warm and loved at that moment.  Then she saw him.

She gagged.  Sanger sat with his back to a tree.  She felt sure it was him, but he looked like a raisin or dried prune.  His eyes were rolled up in his head and his mouth hung open in a scream.  It looked like every ounce of life had been sucked out of him.  She turned away, but saw the bones of others.  Some looked like they had been tied or chained. Sacrifices, she thought.  There were some rusty old Roman weapons, too, and she knew why that Century of Romans never made it to the other side of the forest. She could not stay there.  She had to get out of that death swamp; that succubus graveyard.  She fled and felt terribly sick to her stomach.  She ran until she found herself scooped up by the arms of the gruff old man of the Bear Clan.

“There, there,” he said.  It seemed as if he knew she had been scared by something and he came there to protect her. In the next moment, she felt a rope slipped around her neck and the young man started to bind her wrists.

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MONDAY

Greta is taken captive by the old ones, and they almost make her prefer being with the monsters.

Until then, happy reading.

*

The Elect 16, part 4 of 4: Succubus

Monday morning, Latasha, Keisha and Janet walked to school in the dark.  There was a cold March wind and some icy spots where they still had to walk carefully.  The stars were hidden behind the clouds.  It was either going to snow or rain, Latasha could not tell.  Maybe it would sleet and make that impossibly cold slushy stuff that was the real harbinger of spring.

“I’m cold,” Janet’s words started the conversation even as her foot broke the ice.

“I’m tired,” Keisha had only one thing on her mind.ac lat and friends

“I’m cold and tired, but we have to do this.”  Latasha had convinced herself that another ride with Ms Johnson might seriously injure some of the students.

“Maybe we should wait and see what Ms Riley comes up with,” Janet suggested.

“We can’t wait.  Your friend, Jason won’t survive another ride.”

“He’s not my friend.  He just lives next door,” Janet protested.  She was not fooling anyone.  She had feelings for the boy.

“What do you mean, won’t survive?”  Keisha was beginning to wake up a little.  “You mean like die?”

“Yeah, maybe,” Latasha carefully examined what she was feeling.  “It’s possible.”

There was silence for a minute before Janet spoke again.

“So why are we going to face a killer?”  Janet asked the question, but by then they were at the schoolyard and coming up on the bus parking lot.

ac j school bus 1There was only one gate for the drivers because they did not want just anyone around the school busses, but then there was no one guarding the gate so it would hardly keep anyone out.  A few of the busses were already running to warm them up.  They did have to be sneaky, but finding their bus was not hard, and since it was not yet running, they assumed Ms Johnson was not there yet.  The girls went behind the bus and waited, being careful to stay hidden.

Now that they were not moving, the cold became more apparent.  Janet could not help hugging herself and stamping her feet.  Keisha, who was watching intently, kept telling her to be quiet, but it did no good.  Latasha paced a little between the bus and the fence.  She was still trying to figure out a way to stop Ms Johnson from driving.  Naturally, Ms Johnson walked up behind them.

“Are you waiting for me?”  Ms Johnson said with a grin.  Only Janet shrieked, and it was softly.

“Yes,” Latasha spoke up after she stopped staring.  “We wanted to ask you not to drive the bus today.”

“That was your great plan?”  Keisha balked.

“But why, Latasha, dear?  I find driving the bus so fulfilling”

Janet butted in.  “You mean filling.”ac j john 1

“That, too,” Ms Johnson said and she placed her hand up to Janet’s cheek.  Janet’s eyes went wide and she stumbled.  “And you Keisha, dear.”  Keisha did not move.  She was already squatting, holding to the edge of the bus.

Latasha stepped up and shoved Ms Johnson away from her friends.  “This is not funny,” Latasha said.  Ms Johnsons was ruffled, but only for a second.  “Keisha, get Janet out of here.”

“I can’t move,” Keisha said before Ms Johnson spoke again.

“You are a strong one, a very strong one.  I am going to enjoy you.”  Ms Johnson pulled herself together and surprised Latasha with a punch.  Latasha got hurt and shaken by the strength of that punch.  She stumbled to the fence.  The fence helped hold her upright, and it only took a second to recover, but when she turned, she saw Ms Johnson kneeling between her friends.  The woman’s hands were hovering over the girls and she was grinning, eyes closed, singing.  Janet and Keisha looked like they were being drained for good.

Latasha raced over and kicked out just as hard as she could.  Ms Johnson lifted off the ground and flew to the next bus where she crashed loudly into the side and with enough power to shake the whole bus.  Latasha felt sure she hurt the woman and felt glad about it, but her concern was for her friends.

Ms Johnson growled for Latasha’s attention and Latasha saw something come up into Ms Johnson’s face that could not be called human.  Latasha made her little fists for a fight, but Ms Johnson simply stretched her hands out and at once Latasha felt all the strength leave her.  She was on her knees before she could think of what to do.

ac boston archer“I will be fed,” Ms Johnson said in a voice that grated on Latasha’s ears.  “I will…” the woman stopped talking and Latasha saw why.  An arrow stuck out of the woman’s chest.  It had entered the woman’s back.  “Oh my,” Ms Johnson said in her normal, pleasant voice as she looked at the arrowhead and the blood that followed.  She seemed uncertain of what she was seeing.  “Oh my,” she said again as a second arrow arrived, and this one burst straight through the heart.  “But I…”  Ms Johnson fell to the ground and Latasha heard what sounded like Ms Riley’s voice.

“Latasha, get your friends out of there.”

Latasha recovered rapidly, but she had to grab her friends by the hands and drag them several feet away.  When she turned, she was not entirely sure what she saw.

Something ghost-like rose up from Ms Johnson’s body, though it was not entirely ghost-like because she could see it.  It appeared to have some substance and the look on what she took to be the face was angry, and evil.  But at once, there were several tremendous flashes of light all around that made Latasha blink.  She could not see well, but there was nothing wrong with her ears.

“Get it.”  “Don’t let it get away.”  “Look out Dweezel.”  “Get that tether around it.”

The thing moaned and let out a wail.

“That’s it.  Now get the other tether.”  “It’s bucking.”  “Hold it.  Hold on.”

As Latasha’s eyes cleared from the flashes of light, she saw what looked like men, at least little ac ghost capturemen. They appeared to have the ghost trapped in some way, and the light came again.  This time it was a big one, but this time Latasha squinted, prepared.  The little men walked into the light and took the ghost with them.  The last thing she heard was singing.  It sounded like the theme from Ghostbusters.

When they were gone, Latasha caught a glimpse of Ms Riley at the far end of the bus.  The sun by then was preparing to top the horizon so there was some light.  Ms Riley was kissing someone.  He looked like an alien from some space ship kind of show.  For that matter, Ms Riley had the same pointed ears, and she looked as skinny as Latasha.

Latasha glanced at her friends and saw they were moving, though neither had yet opened her eyes.  When she looked back, someone was standing between her and Ms Riley.  It was a woman, a white woman, tall and stately, and as beautiful as any cover girl.  And she was frowning.

“Wisdom says you should use whatever help is offered.  Only a child wants to do it all herself.  Sometimes you need to get all the help you can.”  Latasha did not argue.  She messed up and almost died, and worse, she almost got her friends killed.  “Sweetheart, if you want to be strong, you must first be strong up here.”  The woman bent down and touched Latasha on the temple.  Then she smiled, and it was such a warm and gentle smile, Latasha could not help returning the same.  When the woman stood, she said one more thing.  “Boston, you will have to drive the bus.”  Then she vanished, but there was no light.  The woman simply vanished, like a ghost herself.

Latasha was not sure what she saw, except she saw the skinny version of Ms Riley curtsey and say, “Yes, Lady,” while her skinny alien man bowed his head slightly.  The man touched his lips once Boston LF1more to Ms Riley’s lips and then turned to look at Latasha.  Ms Riley looked only at the man.  The man also smiled before he vanished, but he disappeared into another light and Latasha blinked.

“What happened?”  Keisha sat up slowly.

“Yeah,” Janet agreed, but she was not ready to sit up yet.

Latasha said nothing but looked up at Ms Riley who came close and looked utterly human again.  Latasha was sure it must have been some trick of the light.  When Ms Riley helped her up, they looked at the body of Ms Johnson.  She looked like she had been dead a long time, but she was recognizable, and the expression on her face was terror.  She was petrified, and with her dead, leathery skin, that was almost a literal description.

Ms Riley got the keys as several people finally ran up.

“What is going on over here?”  Principal Wearing was the one out front.  “Where is Jean Johnson?”

“Here,” Ms Riley said as Latasha pointed.  “I’ll be driving the bus this morning and the girls will be going with me to make sure I don’t miss any stops.”

“What happened?”  Principal Wearing stared.  Ms Johnson’s body was still barely recognizable, but beginning to crumble.  The two arrows were no longer present, having vanished with the last flash of light before the sun rose.  Only the hole in the woman’s chest remained, and the stain from what was now dry and crusty blood.

“No telling.  The police have been called,” Ms Riley said as she helped Janet and Latasha helped ac latasha 9Keisha get up into the bus.  Ms Riley started the bus, but left the door open, not sure if the principal or another might come up with some more questions.  As it turned out, Principal Wearing turned the gathered drivers to their own busses and walked off to the gate to await the police, and Latasha felt it was safe to ask.

“What happened?”  She sounded a bit like the principal.

Ms Riley looked at Janet and Keisha.  They were still recovering, and Janet might have been asleep.  All the same, she spoke softly.

“It was about twelve years ago certain spirits, ancient things and people were allowed to come to earth.  You might say they escaped their cages.  This was one, but I am telling you because there are still many out there.  It is only in the last couple of years that we have begun to try and find them and return them to where they belong.”

“I don’t understand,” Latasha admitted.  “What was that ghost-thing?”

Ms Riley shrugged.  “A succubus, incubus, school bus.  Some kind of bus.  My husband would know exactly.”

“Your husband?  The one with the ears?”

Ms Riley grinned and nodded.  “The one with the ears.  I told him I could not abandon you mid-semester.  I said I had to finish the school year.”  She turned in her seat to face Latasha.  “We were hunting that thing for a year, ever since we discovered the bodies last March in Philadelphia.  These things only feast once per year.  We knew it was close, but we did not know who or what it was possessing until it showed itself.”

Latasha turned her head a little to try to get another angle on her teacher.  She thought if the light was right, she might be able to see the points in her ears again.  “Are you human?”

ac shool busMs Riley laughed.  “I was born not too far from Boston.”  She paused.  “You don’t need to know when.”

“Boston Minnesota?”  Keisha was finally coming around.

Ms Riley frowned.  “Maybe we need to add some geography lessons in our science curriculum.  Oh look, it is our turn.”  She began to drive and did not answer any more questions for a time.  When she did, it was, “There are some things you don’t need to know about yet,” and that was it.

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Be sure to return Monday as the story of the Elect continues…