Avalon 6.12 The Road Ahead, part 5 of 5

People stopped firing.  Any soldiers who survived, did so by running away. The roof across the street looked empty of archers.  Li Si, the king’s chancellor stood in the alleyway, but his eyes looked wide and his mouth seemed stuck open.

“Done,” Elder Stow said.  “I have put up a screen wall between the house and the street.”  He looked at the others, saw enough through the window to see the bodies, and he complained.  “The equipment is not designed to make a wall screen, much less a single sided screen. It takes time, focus, and serious reprogramming.  I worked as fast as I could.”

“That’s all right,” Lockhart said.

Decker spit.  “No problem.”

“Are we finished?” a voice asked. Everyone turned and saw Tien Shang-Di, king of the Chinese pantheon, standing there, looking older and wiser than the last time they saw him.

“Lockhart and Katie.”  Meng Shi decided.  “You need to come and collect the outlaw horses, and all of their equipment, and take it with you.  The rest of you need to get the horses and wagon out of the back yard and get ready to ride.”  He walked out of the house, Tien beside him.  Katie and Lockhart followed without a word.

Alexis hurried to the back, concerned about Millie watching all those horses by herself.  Others, especially Boston followed more slowly.

Katie and Lockhart proceeded with the grizzly task of stripping the outlaws of everything, including their pants and shirts.  Lockhart drew the line at the underwear.  Then they collected the guns and horses.

Meng Shi and Tien walked up to Li Si, who still had not closed his mouth.  “Removing the memory of the gunpowder and how to make it is easy.  I would think some memory of explosive magic powder should not be a problem.  Memory of the outlaws will be trickier.”

“Strangers with big horses and magic weapons might work,” Meng Shi responded.  “It fits with the magic powder idea.  The travelers are moving through time on big horses with saddles and magic weapons, and there is not much I can do about that in most times and places.”

Tien nodded.  “So, what do we do with this one?”  He looked at Li Si, who even then had not closed his mouth.

“A day would be helpful,” Meng Shi said. “Maybe twenty-four hours, like lunchtime tomorrow.”

“Lord Meng?”  Li Si did not appear certain what he was seeing.

“Are you planning on running away?” Tien asked, being unable to read Meng Shi’s mind.

“My family,” Meng Shi said.  “I need the travelers to get them to safety, to Xiang’s family around Shu, before I confront the servant of the Masters.”

“I can’t help you with the servant of the Masters,” Tien said, and paused to look closer.  He grasped something, reading minds or not.  “You believe you might not survive that confrontation.”

“I might not,” Meng Shi said, honestly.

“Don’t worry,” Tien said.  “I will watch over your wife and children.”

“I appreciate that,” Meng Shi said.

“Lord Meng?” Li Si asked again, as he, and Tien, and Li Si’s horse disappeared from the street.

Meng Shi turned around. The street appeared full of people carrying water for the fire.  He heard plenty of talking, shouting, and noise, but he caught sight of Katie and Lockhart in the alley.  They had mounted the outlaw horses, and he nodded at their wisdom.  Leading the horses through the crowd might have been difficult, but people would step aside for mounted warriors or dignitaries.

Meng Shi had little trouble getting back to the house where he found his own horse saddled and waiting.  He noticed several of the local houses were on fire.  He felt bad about that, but also felt there was nothing he could do about it.

They started out slowly, but it did not take them long to reach Meng Shi’s house.  They immediately began packing the home and family for a long journey.

Meng Shi’s wife, Lilei, and their eleven-year-old daughter, Aiting, packed their silks, and everything of value around the house, down to cooking utensils.  The women helped, but Lilei felt reluctant to pack her jewelry and the family gems in front of these strangers, until she found out Boston was an elf.  Boston found out something, too.  Later, she tried to explain it to the others.

“I felt the love Lilei had for Meng Shi, and how much he loves her.  And the children, too.  All I wanted to do was help and protect Lilei, and do whatever she asked.  You know, I was a free spirit, inclined to do my own thing, and good at being passive-aggressive, even when I was human. Becoming an elf did not change that much.  I might not have done exactly what she asked, but the urge felt strong to treat her almost like a goddess.  I don’t think I can explain it better.”

“The little ones have always treated the beloved spouse of the Kairos as special,” Alexis said.  “And the children like princes and princesses.  Even close, special family members, family servants and trusted retainers, and close, personal friends have been treated well. It is really self-defense.  Things would not go well for the hobgoblin that played a nasty trick on the beloved spouse of the Kairos, as you may imagine.”

Meng Shi took the men and his two boys, fifteen-year-old Pi and nine-year-old She, to the barn and stables. Meng Shi’s trusted retainer, Ba, showed them the oxen, the two big wagons, and the horses they needed to get ready to travel.  Meng Shi found some shovels and got Lockhart and Decker to take the boys out, to dig up several bronze pots filed with gold and silver.  Elder Stow said he was not much good with oxen, but he had just the right tool for making holes in the ground.  He used the same tool Alexis used to pull the bullet from Boston’s shoulder.

“She, I understand,” Lockhart told the boys.  “Like Meng Shi Junior.”

“Father calls She Junior, sometimes,” Pi said.  “His real name is Shu.  That means third son.”

“Our brother died when he was one,” She added.

“Even though Father sometimes calls me Shu.  It is complicated.”

“Pi?” Lockhart said the name like a question, but Pi understood what he was asking.

“I am Meng-Meng, the first son.  Shu means three.  Father calls me that sometimes, because he says I made a family of two into a family of three.”

“Point one four one five nine, father says,” She nudged his big brother.

“Pi,” Decker said, and snorted.

Once everything got packed, it became too late in the evening to move.  They would relax and leave about two hours before sunrise.

Meng Shi called his children close and instructed them that for the next month, or until he caught up with them, they were not to call themselves by the Meng name. They would take their mother’s name, Xiang.  He explained to Lilei that he had dangerous work to do, and he explained to the travelers that he would hide and watch for three weeks, maybe twenty-five days if he could manage it.  Probably not a full thirty days if he had to act.  He wanted to plan his move where he had the best chance for success, by which he meant survival.  The travelers understood that they had to be gone in that time in case Meng Shi died and the whole time zone reset.

Meng Shi and Lilei went off to spend what time they had together.  Millie and Alexis got to put the children to bed, and Millie confessed that she really wanted to have children.  Alexis said she understood.

Four in the morning, the caravan headed out from Meng Shi’s house.  Meng Shi stayed, and showed himself to his neighbors in the daylight with the hope that they would think whatever travelers headed off in the night, they had nothing to do with his family.  He prayed that by the time his neighbors figured it out, his family might be well on their way, and difficult to catch.

Lilei cried most of the first day, and Aiting cried with her.  Pi kept a stiff upper lip, but She ignored them all and kept running ahead.  Boston finally put the boy up behind Sukki, and the three of them got along great after that.

Ba, and five servants, including one man for each ox-drawn wagon, went with them to watch over the family. Ba got a third ox to carry the traveler’s wagon, which they loaded with all the silver, gold, and jewels, and which also carried all of the cowboy equipment.

Lockhart rode Dog at the front of the line, and Katie rode the horse that had been Reynard’s.  Alexis, Lincoln, Evan and Millie shared the other two cowboy horses, and two horses they brought from Ji, but mostly they walked, since the caravan could not move any faster than the lazy oxen.

Decker and Elder Stow took the wings, but in this case, they kept their eyes open for whatever might be following them, or catching up.  They also watched the dozen horses that got tied to the wagons, including the rest of the ones the travelers rode all the way from Ji.  It would make the beginning of a nice herd once Lilei reached the city of Shu.

Shu proved twenty days down the road, and Boston got nervous.  That had been the limit of Meng Shi’s promise, and the time gate looked to be a few days beyond the city.  They saw Lilei and the children warmly accepted by her family, and heard the family promise to keep the secret of the Meng name.  Lilei’s mother delighted in calling her grandchildren Xiang Pi, Xiang Aiting, and Xiang She.

Three days later, Boston and Sukki stayed out front, and Decker and Elder Stow stayed on the wings. They all had their own horses.  Lockhart rode Dog, sometimes, and Katie rode Reynard’s horse, though she switched it out to use her own saddle.  Billy and Tom Porter’s horses took turns as draft horses to pull the wagon.  They were not sure how long they could keep the wagon, but the paths were becoming roads, and the roads were improving, so they might do well if they did not end up in the middle of a jungle.

Katie and Lockhart often walked with the others.  In a pinch, Katie could double up with Lockhart on Dog.  Lincoln and Alexis could double on one cowboy horse, and Evan and Millie could ride another, which would leave the third cowboy horse to drag the wagon, possibly for miles.  That would not be a good way to go under normal circumstances.  It would be too hard on the horses.

“So that leaves us with walking most of the time,” Lockhart concluded.  The morning sun just touched the horizon, and people started packing to go.

“Have you noticed,” Katie said, and paused.  “Maybe it is just me, but it seems the time between gates is getting longer.  That is not a good thing if we are reduced to a walking speed.”

“How do you figure?”

“Twenty-three days from Meng Shi to the gate.  Xianyang to Shu was four hundred miles, according to Lincoln.”

As Lockhart considered her observation, Tien Shang-Di showed up.  Alexis noticed and figured it out.

“Meng Shi died.”

Tien dropped his eyes.  “I can hold the time gate here for a bit, but I would appreciate it if you hurry.”

“Boston?”

“Heading out, Boss.”

People moved quickly.  Things got thrown into the back of the wagon, and Evan pulled the cowboy horse forward, through the gate.  Finally, Lockhart and Katie, both mounted, were the last.

“Thank you,” Katie said to Tien, who waved.

“Come on,” Lockhart told her.  “We have a long way to go to get back to the twenty-first century.”

END

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TOMMOROW

A brief introduction of what s to come.  We return to familiar faces and one new face in the Kairos Medieval, Book 3 Light in the Dark Ages  (M3) where Festuscato, last Senator of Rome sails to Danish lands and the Halls of Hrothgar (8 weeks of posts).  Then we return to Gerraint in the days of King Arthur and the search for The Holy Graal.  (13 weeks of posts).  And finally, The Old Way has Gone, where Margueritte, grows up on the border of Brittany and Francia, and gets into all kinds of medieval trouble. (18 weeks of posts).  Tune in tomorrow for the preview.

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Avalon 5.11 The River Circus, part 6 of 6

Gongming, Aunt Chen, Wang and Bi all stood by the railing, ignored the three bound soldiers, and watched the river water rise in the shape of a bridge that spanned the whole river.  They watched by the moonlight as sand and mud came up from the deeps to color the bridge, until it looked like an earthen bridge, or perhaps a stone bridge.  It was hard to tell in the dark, but in any case, it looked solid enough.

They watched as the travelers doused their lantern lights and stepped out on that bridge, leading their horses by the reins, and stepping carefully, but trusting.  They got about half-way and stopped.  They waited.  Hardly a minute, and the people heard a strange roar on the shore.  Baby became agitated, but Feyan had her.  Bi had put her collar on down below, and he held her leash.

Another minute and the pack arrived.  They howled and roared, and made all sorts of odd squealing sounds before they ventured out on to the bridge.  They went slowly and carefully, like they suspected something.  They did not charge their prey as they would have on solid ground.  All the same, they went, only they did not wait for the rear guard to catch up first.

“They do not swim,” Feyan said in her anxious voice.  “They have a very heavy specific gravity, and sink like a stone in deep water, and they drown.  It is one of the surest ways to kill them.”  Feyan sounded nervous, and it translated to nervousness in the tiger, who turned her head several times to growl at the soldiers.

Out on the bridge, Katie and Decker got to their knees and readied their rifles.  Lockhart cradled his shotgun.  Elder Stow had his energy weapon in hand and Alexis and Boston had their wands.  Lincoln and Sukki only needed to keep the horses back, over the hump of the bridge where they could not see the night creatures, though they could certainly hear them.

The night creatures got close before one howled, and they charged.  A water sprite stuck his head up from the bridge and yelled, “Hold your fire,” and the travelers trusted, but got very nervous.  At the last second, the creature-half of the bridge gave way.  Four fell to the water.  A fifth one leapt and clawed at Decker’s feet, but the water bridge, despite its solid look, gave nothing for the creature to grab.  It fell with the rest, and sank quickly under the waves.

The travelers turned from the scene, and only Boston thought to wave, though she imagined no one could see at that distance in the dark.  Katie stated the obvious.

“There is probably a rear guard out there, still on our tail.”

“We will have to watch out for that,” Lockhart said.

“It is the djin I am worried about,” Lincoln admitted.  “He may be diminished, as he says, but he set off a volcano, and sent night creatures after us.  What’s next?”

People quieted.  None could think of what they could do about the djin.  They reached the other side, and Sukki asked if they could stop.  Somehow, camping by the river that had been so friendly to them seemed a good choice.

They watched the bridge collapse and said thank you and good-bye to Wei We.  Boston thought to say thank you to the water sprites.  A five-foot wave passed them by, followed by any number of little water spouts.

“That means you’re welcome,” Boston lied with ease, not knowing what it actually meant, or even if it meant anything at all.

The travelers backed up, off the riverbank, and found a clear area where they could pitch their tents and the horses could graze.

Boston got a fire going, and Alexis got some food cooking.  Katie got out the grain the kind farmer insisted they take, so the horses got a treat as well, after being so loyal and riding so hard.

Elder Stow got out his scanning device and explained for the others.  “It occurred to me, there is no way to seriously screen out a night creature being helped by the gods.  It might confound the god for a bit, but not prevent the god in the long term.  But there is no reason why we can’t be warned.  I have scanned all the particulars concerning the creatures.  If one should approach us, the alarm should go off.”

“Annoying alarm, you mean,” Decker said.

Elder Stow nodded and grinned.

###

Back across the river, a young woman stepped up to the riverbank to look at the travelers.  Some arcane power crackled between her fingertips, and her eyes easily pierced the darkness and the distance.  Ordinarily, no one would give such a young woman a second glance, but in her case, she stood out, an oddity in that part of the world.  She had European-like features, and her skin was darker than anyone would expect to find in Asia.  She did not appear Indian, but perhaps Arabic or North African.  For the present, though, she simply watched.

###

Aboard the ship, Feyan got Gongming’s whip stick without a word.  She handed it to the man and knelt, with a deep sigh, awaiting her punishment.  Gongming did appear to consider it, but asked instead for Feyan to explain herself.

“I kept secrets from you and from the family, and I promised never to do that.  I am sorry.”

Gongming tugged on his beard before he reached down to help Feyan stand.  “Some secrets are best not kept, but some secrets are nobody else’s business,” he said.

“Fortune cookie?” Bi asked.  Feyan made a face, like she was not sure about that one.

“Hmm,” Gongming hung the whip-stick back up.

“I’m glad you feel that way,” a young man said, as he appeared out of nowhere.  “The famous fortune man, Zhou Gongming.  A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”  He shook Gongming’s hand and moved on before the man could frame a thought.  “And this is Chen, your lovely wife.”  He kissed her cheeks like a long-lost relative.  “Always remembering the gods, and being so good to take in your poor niece, like she was your very own.  And Bi, and Weng.”  He shook their hands.  “And you, too, Ziya Baby.  You have been a good girl.”  Baby was excited, but in a happy way.  She even let the man pet her, which was most unusual.  Normally, she only let the family touch her.  “And…” the man opened his arms, and Feyan leapt into them with a shout.

“Tien.”  She wrapped her legs around his middle, her arms around his neck, and whispered in his ear.  “Tell mother I love her, I mean Nameless loves her, and he loves you, and so do I.  Oh, Tien, I am scared.  There are soldiers and armies gathering everywhere, and I know it is important, and I should be there, but I am scared.”

Tien kissed her cheek and extracted her from her stranglehold.  He set her down, and walked her to the bow of the ship where they could talk; and he made sure no one else heard.  “As the daughter of Bi Gan, you are royalty, first cousin to King Bi Xia of the Shang.  You came here when your father was killed by the king.  Yes, your mother and your brother Quan are safe, but now you must decide for yourself.  Your uncle, Jiang Ziya, has taken the side of Lord Wu of the Zhou, and they plan the overthrow of Shang rule.  So, you see.  You have blood on both sides of the issue.  You must decide for yourself what you will do.”   He patted her head.  “You are young, but brave enough.  And I will tell you, I would like the Zhou to finish the change that began with the death of the Shang-Di, all those years ago.  But history is your thing.  You know how it is supposed to turn out.  I will follow your lead.”

“Why do I have to decide?  I’m just a little girl.” Feyan whined.

“And a cute one, at that.”  Tien smiled and disappeared, and Feyan came out, staring, looking much like Gongming when he received a shock of surprise.

“All secrets will be made clear in time, but some things are best not knowing in the first place,” Gongming said.

“Fortune cookie,” Feyan said, absentmindedly, before she spilled the most important thing to her.  “My mother is alive, and I have a brother named Quan.”

“Great,” people said.  Wang looked happy for her.  Aunt Chen looked conflicted.  Bi was not sure he liked the idea.

“Don’t worry Bi,” she said.  “You and Wang will always be my best brothers.  Now you have a younger brother, that’s all.  He must be a baby.”

“About five,” Aunt Chen said.  “The same age as you when you first came here.”

“And Aunt Chen, you will always be my mother, too.”  That made Aunt Chen smile, even if it was not exactly true.  But Feyan moved on and shook her finger at their three prisoners.  “And, so you know, that was Tien Shang-Di, and he did not say it, but I am sure he thought it real hard.  You three better be good while you are guests of Lord Gongming or the gods will be very, very angry with you.”  Baby roared, as she picked up on what Feyan was feeling.

###

It was after midnight, so Lockhart said everyone should take a two-hour shift.  “So we can get some sleep, and still be on the road by nine or ten.”

“Sounds reasonable,” a man said, as he appeared in their midst.  “So, what’s for late night snack?”

“Just leftovers,” Alexis admitted.

“My favorite,” the man said, before Katie and Lincoln recognized him.

“Tien,” Katie said it out loud.  He smiled.

“And I thought I was getting good at appearing human,” he said.

“Could have fooled me,” Lockhart said, and Tien laughed.

“By the way,” Tien spoke seriously as Decker cut the god some Chinese deer.  “I took care of the rear guard, and the one that hid on shore, so you are night creature free for the moment.  The djin, on the other hand, is a slippery character.  He has moved on to the desert, I believe.  Hot, dead land is probably where he belongs, what Alexis might call a natural habitat.  He is a fire creature, after all, like the ifrit, iblis and ghouls that you finally got rid of in father Yu-Huang’s day.  So, Elder Stow, no need to use up your batteries, unless you want to keep the screens up against the wandering soldiers.  That might not be a bad idea, but the further south you go, the less soldiers you will see.”

Tien stayed for a while, and they had a good conversation before they all got some sleep, and the horses rested.  Of course, the people all dreamed about being in a desert land, and did not wake up excited to get there, except for Boston, who dreamed about playing with the water babies.

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MONDAY

Avalon season 5, the final episode begins: Avalon 5.12 Bad Wine, which will post in 5 parts.

The travelers struggle through the desert of the Djin to get to Jerusalem, to the Kairos Korah, musician and prophet in the court of Solomon, the king…

Happy Reading

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Avalon 4.12: part 4 of 7, The Missing Gods

The upper cavern floor was perfectly flat apart from the few rocks here and there that had fallen from the ceiling over the centuries.  The room was wider than the deck of an aircraft carrier.  The ceiling did not look too tall, but the opening at the far end looked wide enough and tall enough to land a flying aircraft carrier.  Still, it would take some seriously good piloting skill to land safely.

People camped across that flat floor.  A few tents were set up, with cooking fires blazing away.  Children ran free, and so did the dogs, but Decker could not imagine they got dogs to climb those stairs.

“You got an elevator somewhere?” Decker had to ask.kunlun-view

“Yes, actually.”  Yu-Huang said, as he took them to the opening at the far end, which gave a great view of the forest below and the distant hills.  A wicker basket, like one might find at the bottom of a hot air balloon, and rope contraption with pulleys waited only for passengers to be lowered to the ground below.  “Of course, we haven’t been able to use it since the Shang showed up.”

“When was that?” Lockhart asked.

“Just after Artie arrived,” Yu-Huang answered, and looked at the android.

Artie smiled again and nodded shyly.  “I was beginning to learn about the way, and the Shang came and attacked the caravan that was supplying the people here with meat and grain.  I used my weapon.  I kind of overreacted.  The Tao says we should not raise our fist in anger.”

“The Tao?” Katie asked.

“All life is precious,” Artie said, her eyes downturned.

“I am more interested in the teeth and tail,” Boston spoke up, and Artie smiled again.

“The Tao says it is best not to fight at all.  If I can frighten them off without having to injure them, that is better, don’t you think?”

“I think you are learning fast,” Alexis said.

Katie agreed.  “But do not hesitate to defend yourself if you need to.”

Artie lost her smile again and looked at the ground as she nodded.  “Yu-Huang says it is the way of this sad and broken universe in which we live.”

“Be happy,” Boston insisted.  “Hey, I know.  The men are busy pretending to talk about important things, so why don’t you show us around?”

artie-9“I will,” Artie said, and took them first to the cliff that looked out over the forest.  She pointed.  “I don’t know if you can see the Shang tents in the dim light, or the smoke from their fires, but there is an army of several hundred and they have cut off our access to the rich farmlands and the river country.  Fortunately, the Xi-Rong people that live in these hills and mountains know how to hunt and gather well enough, and hide, so the Xia army cannot find them.”

“I see the smoke,” Katie said, and Alexis nodded.

“I see the camp,” Boston admitted.  “And it looks mostly deserted.  I am afraid to think what has moved in to scare them off.”

“Ghouls,” Alexis said the word, and no one objected.

“Come,” Artie said.  “Let us ask the Lords.”

Artie led them to one wall where there was a hole that let water into the cavern, and a small waterfall that let the water down into a cut groove in the floor.  The groove deepened as it headed toward a corner of the cave opening where it fell, a much bigger waterfall, into the woods below.  Three grand tents, and three smaller tents to the side, tents that the travelers surmised could not have been locally produced, stood by the stream, like guardians of the waters.

“Giza,” Katie blurted out, and to the curious looks of the others, she added, “They are arranged like the pyramids of Giza.”  She held her tongue as they came to the biggest tent in the center of the Giza-tent complex.

“Tien,” Artie called.  “Lord Tien, forgive the interruption.”  No answer came, and Artie took a step back and spoke to the ceiling.  “Tien?”  She rushed to the next biggest tent and called.  “Tuti.”  She stepped back and called again.  “Yin.  Where are you?  Yang, where is your sister?”

Boston looked into the first tent.  Alexis pulled back the flap on the second.  They were both empty.

“The children of the Kairos—of the Nameless god,” Katie specified who Artie was seeking.  Artie confirmed that with a nod while Alexis and Boston caught up.artie-8

“Lady Eir, their mother was here as well.  I knew the other gods were going to leave according to the agreement, but I thought the children of the Kairos would stay with their father.”  Artie looked worried.  “Come, Yu-Huang will know.”  She turned to go and interrupt the men, and the others followed.  “Lord,” she called across the cavern, and the men stopped talking to wait for the women to arrive.

“I was about to explain,” Yu-Huang said, as they neared and all gathered around.

“Hush, daughters,” Mingus said.  “Pay attention,” he added for Boston.

“The king of the gods, the Shang-Di is not well,” Yu-Huang began.  “He has always been cruel and mean, but able to be reasoned with in the past.  Now it seems as if reason has left him altogether.”

“Is he mad?” Lockhart asked.

Yu-Huang continued without answering that question.  “Nuwa was able to build a defense for the Longshan culture that stretched along the fertile Yellow River. Lin was able to found the Hsian Dynasty, and her children were able to extend their rule and influence to the Yangtze.”

“Her children, Huang-Di and Yu the Great,” Lincoln said, quietly.

Yu-Huang heard and nodded.  “But now, the Shang-Di has raised up his own people, the Shang, and he has made them mean and cruel, like himself.  The Shang have become the masters of the Hsian world, and everyone else has been made no better than slaves.”

“But wait,” Katie finally interrupted.  “History says the last of the Hsian became the cruel and evil ones, and the first of the Shang were like saviors who established a new dynasty.”

kun-yu-hu-1Yu-Huang nodded.  “History is written by the victors,” he reminded everyone.  “But the reality of the actual events of history may be different.  It is something that as the Watcher over history, I have to struggle to reconcile all the time—literally all the time.  In this case, though, it is a simple matter of the Shang finding a way to rationalize and justify the usurpation of power.  Now, what they will do, and what they are already doing from the beginning, is use the army to conquer and grind the people into conformity and uniformity all over what you call China.  The people will work, sometimes like dogs, and the ruling Shang will reap all the benefits.”

“Hardly fair,” Elder Stow objected, and people looked at him.  They remembered that his Neanderthal views were really human views in a different package—not that different from everyone else.

“But Lord.  Your children are missing,” Artie could not contain herself.

Yu-Huang nodded again, but continued on his own train of thought.  “All of the gods around China felt it when the Shang-Di went mad.  They felt the disturbance in the force, if I can say that without paying a royalty.  They found me here, where I had already gathered some disciples to begin teaching the way—the Tao.  My hope is that natural law, natural science, spiritual and moral living will eventually work its way into the consciousness in China.  You know; a little leaven will leaven the whole loaf.  But anyway; the gods found me and gathered to decide what to do to prevent the madness from spreading and contaminating all of the surrounding jurisdictions, and maybe the whole world.”

Yu-Huang moved the group from the view of the outside world, to the tents by the stream that the kun-tien-tentwomen just left.  Someone built a great fire in front of the tents, and left a pile of wood for the night.  Someone also brought up all of the traveler’s things, including their own tents.  A pig, almost ready to eat, roasted on the fire.  A basket of fruit and a second basket of more than enough vegetables to satisfy Alexis, Elder Stow and the elves, sat beside the fire, ready to be cooked or eaten raw, as people might desire.

“How…” Lincoln pointed at their stuff and began to ask, but Alexis quieted him as everyone gathered around the fire.  Yu-Huang, who appeared to be quite young, and not at all the ancient looking sage one might have expected, continued to stand, and spoke when people settled down.

“Let’s see.  Varuna and his brother Mitra came here.  Enlil and Enki came, with not-my-mother Ishtar.  Brahma and Visnu left Shiva home, thank goodness.  You met mother Vrya briefly a couple of times.  She came with her brother Vry to represent Aesgard.  Gods came from the Scythians, Cimmerians and all the way from the Black Sea.  Let’s see.  Ruan Zee’s husband came, with Caroline from the sea.  Artemis came from the west and Ameratsu came from the east.”

“Ameratsu?” Boston blurted out.  “And I missed her?”

“Artemis?” Katie spoke over top.  “That is a long way.”

Yu-Huang agreed.  “There are still free people on the coast of China, but that way lies the sea, which is not exactly friendly to the children of the Shang-Di.  The whirlwind that you met holds the southern people and keeps the eye of the Roc open.  North is a harsh and sparsely populated land watched by lesser gods and greater spirits.  The nomads there trouble the river lands from time to time, but they are annoying, not a serious danger, and nothing the Shang-Di would be interested in, even in his madness.  But Central Asia and to the west is open to invasion, as the Mongols prove some three thousand years in the future.  Aesgard and Olympus both sent representatives, and Papi Amun, on his own, came all the way from Egypt.”

“Quite a collection,” Mingus interjected.

“Yes.  And that was only naming the ones you are familiar with.”

“But Lord,” Artie sounded distressed.  “Where have your children gone?  Yin, and her mother Eir were teaching me so much about being a woman.”

alexis-1“The gods negotiated with the pantheon of the Shang, and withdrew.  They left me here to hold the line.  But to be sure, Tien and his brothers and sister have been charged to overcome the Shang-Di should his madness break out and move out of his place.  They hold the Tien Shan, the first step into the west.  But Artie, they too have gone home.  They agreed.”

“So you are alone here,” Alexis said.

“I am,” Yu-Huang said.  “But I am not alone.  The goblins hold the deeps, the dwarves fill these mountains and the elves keep the forests.  The Xi-Rong are many, and not incline to let the Shang intrude on their mountain homes and upland valleys.

“But the Shang appear to have withdrawn as well,” Decker said, having noticed what the women all noticed.

Yu-Huang nodded a final time.  “And the demons have moved in.  Your ghouls from the future have joined a hundred more in this age.  There are iblis and ifrit here, and the marid, your big, bad genie, is on the horizon waiting only for the coast to be clear.  You came at a bad time, but I am glad you are here.”

“Triple watch tonight,” Lockhart said, as Alexis looked to see if the pig was ready to eat.

Avalon 4.0: part 5 of 7, Ambushing the Ambush

“I don’t see them,” Lincoln said, referring to the caravan that should have been on the road drawing the attention of the ghouls.

“We just have to go with it,” Lockhart decided what everyone knew.

The marines, Katie and Decker, took the center with their special issue rifles.  Lincoln, with his pistol, backed them up where he could also keep an eye on the horses.  Eder Stow went out on one wing to get a different angle on the ghouls.  Lockhart took the other wing, and pulled his police revolver as well as his shotgun.  He might need the shotgun if they got close enough, but he hoped they would not get so close.

“Remember, they can grab your mind and make you see and hear things that aren’t real,” they all barak saberreminded each other.

“If they get close, defend yourself,” Lockhart instructed the crew.  He patted the Patton saber he wore at his side.  They all carried one, except Elder Stow who had a good charge in is hand weapon.  “But don’t attack since you can’t be sure who it is you are seeing.”

Lockhart wished they had time to practice with the sabers, like about six months to a year, but he figured they had a sharp point and side with which they could slice and stab, and to be sure, not much else was needed.

When they were in position, Lockhart picked up his pistol and waved.  They all had their first targets picked out.  If they could take out five before the ghouls responded, the rest would amount to one on one.  Still not good odds with seven or eight foot ghouls, but better than if they had been ambushed.  Thus far, Lockhart had seen no ghoul weapons other than the wicked looking knife they carried.

Lockhart waved, and the gunfire was ragged, here and there, but ghouls fell, and two fell quickly when Elder Stow turned his weapon on the enemy.  Elder Stow’s hand weapon all but vaporized the enemy.

Then it started.  Katie, Decker and Lincoln all shouted and put their hands up to their heads.  Lincoln and Katie turned around to look on the horses that stomped nervously behind them.  Decker fought it.  He had ghouls in his mind before, and as he had been told, they were having less and less affect on him, like he was slowly building an immunity.  Eder Stow down the way, used his anti-gravity belt to float up about ten feet to where he could look down on the enemy.  He thought he would fire again as soon as he saw an enemy, but the ghouls appeared to go invisible.  Whether they did or whether it was part of the illusion they were casting, Elder Stow could not say.

As far as he could tell, Lockhart remained free of ghoul influence.  He saw four of them moving down below and figured the fifth went to ground, which meant it became insubstantial and sank into the earth to come out later, probably after dark, to track them and send mental messages of their movements to the main body of ghouls in whatever time zone that might be located.  That was not good, but he could not worry about that just yet.

Lockhart grabbed his shotgun and headed back toward the others, even as Decker sprayed a bush with bullets.  A ghoul shouted and fell.  Decker was thinking.  The ghouls were still down below the little rocks they were on, and though invisible, they were rather clumsy.  Any movement of bushes other than by the wind indicated the enemy in his mind.

ghouls 5“I’m free, Lockhart shouted.

“I’m free,” Katie said after a shake of her head.

“Decker and Lincoln, keep your eyes closed,” Lockhart commanded even as the two ghouls out front topped the rocks.  One went for Lincoln.  The other went for Katie who drew both her sword and pistol.

The invisible ghoul took a swipe at Katie, who being an elect had the fine tuned senses to move and respond.  Her sword slashed through the air, and cut something.  Lincoln yelled.  Lockhart shouted as he raised his shotgun.

“Katie, move out of the way.”  He was afraid if he fired where he thought the ghoul was, and missed, he might hit Katie.  She did not hesitate to back away from her invisible assailant, but she kept an eye on the purple blood that became visible as it dripped from the creature.

Lincoln yelled again and got knocked down.  He tried to back up on his seat, but something big was right there.  Lockhart fired, and they heard the ghoul squeal in pain.  It could not maintain its invisibility, and Lockhart finished it with another slug as soon as he could see it.

Katie fired some six or seven shots from her pistol at the point of dripping blood.  The ghoul, which had been ready to charge her, fell to its knees and also became visible.  Lockhart finished that one as well before he went to check on Lincoln.  Lincoln had wisely hardened and layered his fairy weave to approximate Kevlar, like in a bullet proof vest.  The result was his fairy weave got shredded, and he had a couple of scratches, but nothing more.

“Still one or two out there,” Decker got their attention as he flipped to his back, pulled his wicked army knife, and reached up to grab an invisible hand which no doubt held an invisible knife.  Suddenly, Decker stopped moving.ghouls 4

A young man appeared out of nowhere.  The ghoul also appeared, hovering over Decker and equally unmoving.  Lincoln, Lockhart and Katie were reaching the point where they could tell one of the gods just by the feeling in the air.  They said nothing and waited for the young god to speak.

“I am half tempted to let the marine finish the fight,” he said with a look over his shoulder and a grin.  “The ghoul has all the size, strength, weight, and everything, but I bet the marine would win.”

“No bet,” Lockhart said.

“Tien,” Katie named the young god, who nodded, as Lincoln looked toward his horse where the database was carefully put away.

“Mother Lin sent me,” he said, and another ghoul appeared beside him, also unmoving.  “I see you had things well in hand, but I agreed to come because these ghouls do not belong here.  You don’t either, by the way, but at least you will be moving on.  These ghouls, though, don’t seem to get the message.  I’m sorry to say I don’t know where the main tribe is.  Some future time zone, I suppose.”

“Something to look forward to,” Elder Stow said as he floated up to stand beside the others.

Tien made no direct response.  “This one went to ground, as Lockhart guessed.  Now, he won’t be following you to bother you.” He touched the ghoul and it melted to a small green and purple smudge on the ground which would wash away in the first good rain.  The one hovering over Decker joined his fellow in death by melting.  “All’s well as ends well,” Tien concluded, before he explained.  “Mother Lin says I shouldn’t go around quoting Shakespeare, but she leaks the future.  She can’t help it.  Most times, the Kairos leaks something or other, usually from the twentieth or twenty-first centuries, some times from the days of Alexander the Great or around two hundred BC when Greece was a mess and Rome was still a republic.

“Mother Lin?” Katie asked, as they vanished from the rocks and found themselves and their horses transported instantly to within a few hundred yards of the army camp.

“Better not to show up right in the middle of everybody.  They wouldn’t be surprised to see me appear out of nowhere, but to be honest, you folks are a little strange,” Tien said as an aside before he answered Katie.  “Well, it wouldn’t do to call her father.”

“I see,” Katie nodded, and to Lockhart she said, “The Nameless god of Aesgard is his father, another life of the Kairos,” in case Lockhart forgot who Tien’s father was.

Avalon travelers 2