Reflections Flern-6 part 3 of 3

“The Jaccar will wait until morning at the very least,” one big man said. Vilder, Tiren, Gunder, Borsiloff and Karenski all looked at Flern, and she did not disappoint them as she shook her head most firmly. She heard from Diogenes and the Princess, her two experts in this sort of thing, and she spoke as well as she could, and with an uncharacteristic decisiveness.

“The Jaccar may wait until morning or until the rain stops, but we cannot count on that. My decision would be to press forward in the bad conditions because I would expect my enemy to become lax and lazy. I say double the watchers in the night and be sure they can keep watch on each other as well. That way, if some sneaky, grass covered Jaccar takes out one watcher, the other can raise the alarm.” Flern looked down at her boots. She felt sure that whether in the night or in the morning, good men were going to die to protect her. The Jaccar seemed only interested in getting to her, after all. “Maybe we can plan a surprise for them in the morning,” Flern said offhandedly. “A good bit of morning fog might help.” She looked up toward the sky, full of rain clouds. She started toward the tent, not wanting to argue with anyone. Vilder called after her to ask where she was going, and she did not mind telling him. “Doctor Mishka needs a nap,” she said. “And so do I.”

Flern woke up before sunrise and sat up to very little light. It took a few seconds of eye adjustment to discern that the other girls were all present and sleeping. The rain had stopped, and the clouds had cleared off, so the light of the nearly full moon helped a lot. What is that knocking at my door, Flern wondered. “Who is there?” She asked out loud, but soft enough to not wake the others.

“Miroven.” The answer came quickly, and a message came with it. “The Jaccar have arrived in force, nearly a hundred, and they are preparing to move.”

Flern jumped up. “Show time!” She shouted, and everyone in the tent began to stir, slowly. Flern called for her weapons and felt surprised to learn that she now knew how to use them. Of course, she understood that head knowledge and hand knowledge were two different things. She felt the other gift, too—the one from Baldur. Wlvn received the gift of speed. She knew, but it probably would not help her fly. “Show time!” Flern shouted again. “Hurry up!” She said, as she left the tent.

Flern listened to Miroven as she walked to what she called the command tarp. “We are presently arrayed behind their position. If they pull back, we will have them.”

“I hope by the time we are done, there will be none left to pull back,” Flern said, and she cut the connection and found that her headache did not feel as bad as before. Perhaps, in time, she thought she might be able to do this without any headache at all. Flern had gotten up when Mishka awoke, and she arranged things before she put herself back to bed. Now she would see, and she let her thoughts drift up to the sky, and the few lazy clouds that remained there.

“Little friends in the sky, come down now. Bring the clouds to make the wall and I will be so grateful.” That was all she thought before she came to Karenski and the lone village elder who presently had the duty. Gunder stood there as well to represent the young people, and they all looked at her for what to do. “Get the men up and moving,” Flern said. “They are coming.”

“Are you sure?” Gunder asked, and Flern frowned. She did not need her own people questioning her. She was not used to this command business, and such a question might make her question herself.

“I am sure.” That seemed all she could say. Fortunately, it was enough. As the men went off to their appointed tasks, Flern floated up to the top of the nearest house wagon. She looked up briefly and said thank you to Nanna, the moon goddess for the flight, and again as she felt the light of the moon rise up inside of her. When she raised her hands, she still did not know if it might work, but sure enough, light came from her hands and then from her eyes, and it looked like several spotlights of moonlight, like moonbeams that she could move back and forth. To be sure, it looked dim, not much better than spotlight flashlights, but it looked strong enough to reflect off the gathering fog bank. The bank looked more like two hundred yards off rather than a hundred yards, but it should still work if the sky sprites made it thick enough. If the Jaccar came on foot, she figured the travelers and villagers would have an advantage, being able to deploy some of their men on horseback. But if the Jaccar came on horseback, she felt they would be in trouble. A cavalry charge would overwhelm the poor defenses of the village. This artificial fog bank created by her sky sprites should make a cavalry charge impossible. The Jaccar would have to slow considerably to get through the fog lest they become disoriented and begin crashing into each other.

Flern turned off her lights when they began to simply reflect back from the fog. She scared herself a little because it took a minute to figure out how to do that. “Entering the fog on this side. They are on foot.” Flern heard from her elf spy while she floated back to the earth. “There are thirty horsemen down the riverbank. I suspect they will charge once the footmen engage your forces.” Flern’s panic must have been palpable as she ran to where Vilder waited, Pinn beside him.

“Vilder. They have horsemen downriver. What are we going to do if they charge our flank?”

Vilder might not have known what a flank was, exactly, but he moved quickly to draw one in five men on the wall of wagons to reinforce that side. The sides of the wall had been virtually deserted to strengthen the center where they all felt sure the Jaccar would strike. Now, the downriver side of the wall got staffed again. “We can’t do more,” Vilder said. “We can only hope that if they charge, these men will be able to hold them until we can send more help.”

All of a sudden, poor Flern became a nervous wreck. She felt sure that this would not work, and good men were going to die needlessly, for her, to protect her. “Pinn?” She looked to her friend, the strong one on whom they always depended.

“There isn’t any more we can do. We are as ready as we are going to be. I only wish it was over,” Pinn said, and walked away to catch up with Vilder. Flern followed more slowly and dragged her feet but started when she heard from Miroven once again.

“They are coming to the edge of the fog bank and should present targets soon.” Flern ran.

“Get ready!” She yelled. “Get ready!” she shouted down the wall and jumped-floated up again to the top of a house wagon. She saw the first, and then more and more, coming on slowly and carefully. There seemed so many of them, Flern had to hold her breath and listen very closely to the words inside her head. She had to bite her lower lip to keep from screaming despite Diogenes repeating his phrases, “Be patient. Not yet. Be patient.” When Diogenes finally said, “Now!” She almost did not hear it. Then she shouted, and while the barrage of arrows turned out to be an intermittent thing, there were enough arrows all at once to pin more than one Jaccar to the ground.

The Jaccar charged as arrows continued to rain on them. Flern’s hunters knew how to shoot a bow and hit their target, even if they were not warriors and did not have the experience at war that the Jaccar had.

“Again!” Flern shouted, and she let her moonbeams fall on those places where the Jaccar were bunched up. Any archer attracted to the light could hardly help hitting someone with an arrow. Then the arrows stopped, not all at once, but in a ragged sort of way as the horsemen from the villagers and travelers pushed out between the wagons and, spears in hand, affected a counter charge. These men were chosen for their ability to hunt with their spears from horseback, and they cut big gaping holes in the Jaccar charge, but there were still plenty of Jaccar coming on, screaming and yelling in a way that would frighten the villagers and travelers, not because the Jaccar were courageous, but because they were giving voice to their own fears. The screams were the sounds of terror and imminent death. Many were going to die.

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MONDAY

There is a battle and Flern runs away, but then the mixup happens and Flern ends up vanishing.  Wlvn takes her place and there does not seem to be a way back. Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

Reflections Flern-6 part 2 of 3

Vincas’ father, Venislav turned out to be as verbal as his daughter. “That young man saved my life. He saved us all.” He reached up with his good hand and patted his daughter’s hand and smiled for her when she came over to watch. Venislav’s other hand rested in his lap. His arm broke, but it did not hurt much as long as he kept it still. Mishka smiled and sent Borsiloff and Thrud off in search of what she needed for a splint and sling. A broken bone in those days often did not heal right and it meant loss of some use in that limb, if it did not cripple, but it would not be that big a deal to one who knew her anatomy. The big deal would be keeping it immobilized until the bones knit together. She distracted Vincas and her father with a question.

“Pivdenny Bugh, it used to be all woods. What happened to all the trees?”

“The Brugh?” Venislav said, before he squinted and groaned softly as Mishka made sure the bones lined up correctly. It had been a clean break and should heal completely. “We cut them, for our homes and to make our fields and, well, everything we needed.” Vincas spoke up in her father’s place.

“Our forefathers did.” Venislav corrected his daughter while a few tears dropped from his eyes. “That was well before my time. Anyway, if you go further up into the hills, the woods are still there. We hunt there sometimes, but nobody goes very far into the woods.”

“Why is that?” Mishka asked as her things arrived and she began to immobilize the arm. Venislav watched the doctor work, so Vincas spoke up again.

“Because the woods are full of ancient spirit people, elves and dwarfs.” Her eyes got big as she spoke. “And they have magic and play terrible tricks on the poor souls who get lost in the woods.”

“Silly superstition.” Venislav spoke when he saw that the Doctor was not going to hurt him anymore. “It is just too easy to get lost in the woods, that’s all.”

Doctor Mishka nodded. She heard what she wanted to hear, and now all she needed was to charge Venislav with every terrible thing she could think of to be sure he left his splint on and his arm in the sling long enough to properly heal. When she stood, she told the others she needed a break before seeing any more patients. She had treated the worst, so no one would die on her.

While they walked outside, Doctor Mishka asked Flern a question. “Would you like me to do it?”

Flern took a minute to come out of whatever spaced-out condition she rested in, and she realize that she knew everything the good Doctor said and did, so while Flern might not be in her own time and place, in a way she still was. “No.” Flern responded in Mishka’s mind. “It is my life. I should do it myself.”

“Doctore.” Pinn pronounced the unfamiliar word imperfectly. “Thrud, Arania and I are going back to the wagon wall to check on the boys. Vinnu and Elluin say they can help here, but we feel kind of useless.”

“Mishka,” she said. “And that would be fine. I will be along, shortly.”

“See ya, Flern,” Thrud said, with a broad grin.

Just for that, Mishka smiled and instantly changed back to Flern, startling Thrud and almost making her stumble. “See ya,” Flern said, and she watched Pinn laugh, turn the girl in the right direction, and watched them walk away.

I have to concentrate, Flern thought to herself as she looked away. She was going to try and contact the earth spirits that might not even be there. It could not be harder than contacting the water spirits, she thought, but then, if they were there, they would be terribly far away. “Miroven.” The word popped into her head, and at first, she did not know what it meant. She understood it as a name, but whose? She shrugged. She called. “Miroven.” Nothing happened. She tried again, and a third time, and still nothing happened. She felt frustrated, because she felt sure something was supposed to happen, so on the fourth call, she shouted, and in her heart, she demanded some response. She jumped in her skin when the response came into her mind. She had heard from other lives she had lived, but this felt different. It sounded clearly like a voice outside of herself coming, she imagined, on a very private wavelength.

 “We are here, my Lady.” Miroven said. “We knew you were coming, and we have prepared. There are thirty of us, all volunteers, who will help in this struggle, and more who will help to defend the river and keep the enemy from crossing over.”

“What? Prepared? Thirty?” Flern looked around, but she did not see thirty people or thirty elves.  “No, wait. Don’t come here. I will come to you, but I don’t know when.”

A long pause followed before Flern heard an answer. “We will not come there if you do not wish it, but we are very close if you need us.” That felt like enough. Flern cut the contact and put her hand to her head. She was going to have a nice headache.

Vincas took that moment to come out of the common house, and she came up to Flern, immediately. “Are you well?” she asked, sweetly. Flern smiled for the girl, though a weak smile, and she nodded, though it did not help her throbbing temples. “Maybe if you became the Dokter—the healer again.” Vincas suggested. Flern nodded and made the change, and Mishka’s smile felt more genuine.

“Trouble is,” Mishka said. “When Flern comes home, she will still have a headache, I believe.”

“Oh.” Vincas clearly did not know what to say. She had no idea how it worked and simply felt overwhelmed on watching the transformation from one person to what looked mostly like a completely different person.

Doctor Mishka eventually made her way over to the house where they kept the Jaccar prisoner. His wounds were the worst of all, and she knew he did not have much time to live. If he did, she felt sure the village elders would be getting out the rope; but the village healer, more or less a shaman for the people confirmed her diagnosis. She questioned the prisoner, which surprised the shaman. None of them had been able to talk to the man, and Mishka figured Flern might not have understood the words either, but she had access to a lifetime that Flern did not yet know, so she got the language and got to ask her questions. It soon became clear that the man seemed normal in all respects, except he seemed convinced that serving the Wicca and doing whatever she asked was the most important thing in his life. He asked Mishka several times if she knew where the young red-haired girl might be. He spoke very frank in saying that his only desire was to find this girl and kill her. This is what the Wicca asked, and so it was what he must do. Even in his half-dead condition, Mishka felt certain that given the opportunity, the man would try.

“It is a very powerful enchantment,” the healer said, when Mishka explained the situation. “I have no way of undoing something so strong.”

“Nor I,” Mishka agreed, and she gave the Jaccar some pain killers so at least his last few hours would not be so painful. When she went back outside, she saw that it started raining again. She returned to being Flern, the right person in her own time and place, and Flern suffered with her headache all the way back to the wall of wagons. Pinn and the others sat there under a hastily erected tarp. Karenski, also present, said nothing. He just looked at Flern the way he did. Flern started getting used to that. Two of the village elders were also present, and they were currently arguing that now that the rain returned, and now that it would soon be dark, surely the Jaccar would not do anything.

Reflections Flern-6 part 1 of 3

The river ford ran by the back of the camp. Flern walked in up to her ankles and stopped. She knelt down to place her hand in the water. The naiad had spoken to Wlvn about the water sprites, and Wlvn went under the impression that they were part of his responsibilities since Kartesh, when the Kairos got made responsible for the little spirits in the Earth. They were sprites, or spirits in the air, the fire, the water, and the earth, but at the moment, she had to try and get in touch with the ones in the water, this water, if there were any. It turned out to be easy, and in almost no time a little gelatinous head popped up from the current.

“My Lady,” the sprite said with deep respect, despite the squeaky little voice. Elluin and Vinnu looked a little frightened at this sight, but Pinn, Thrud Arania and Borsiloff all looked fascinated. Flern had to do everything in her power to keep herself from reaching out and hugging the cute little thing.

“I have a dangerous thing to ask you,” Flern sounded like a mother who might speak to a child. “And I will be just as happy if you say yes or no.”

“Please tell.” The water sprite spoke in a voice as cute as his looks, and he looked anxious to please his Lady.

Flern put on her most serious Disney Princess face and shook her finger. “I mean it now. This is a free choice, and I would not want to see any of my water babies hurt.” She could not help calling them water babies. She thought that the instant she caught sight of that cute little head. “Do you know who the Jaccar are?”

“Dirty muddy creatures,” the sprite answered, with a look meant to say he did not think much of the Jaccar, but which in reality made him look cuter than ever.  “Some swam in our good waters in the night.”

Flern nodded. “Well, if any more try to swim the river, you have my permission to stop them and wash them back to their own shore, and if you cannot stop them, you must come tell me right away, before they reach the village shore.”

“We will!” The sprite smiled and appeared to dance in the water. “Thank you, Lady. We will! You will see.”

“Thank you, Sweetwater.” Flern called the sprite by name. She was not sure how she knew the sprite’s name, but if these water babies were indeed part of her responsibility as it appeared, it would only be natural for her to know them all by name. Flern cut off her thoughts in that direction before she did know them all, and all at once. She felt rather certain that such an influx of information would have incapacitated her mind for some time.

“Now Tird?” Flern looked back at Pinn for guidance.

Pinn smiled very broadly. “Now Tird,” she assured her. They started to cross the ford at that point, but found their feet lifted from the water so that it felt like crossing a bridge, an invisible bridge made of water itself, and Flern heard Karenski in the distance as he now yelled at men to get up on those wagons!

Vinnu looked afraid to cross the river at first, but Flern took her hand and helped her. “They are sweet and will never hurt you,” she assured her friend. Vinnu looked like she was not quite sure.

When they got to Venislav’s house, Flern suggested that all of the wounded be brought to the common house to be tended for their wounds. Any number of people were wounded, not just Tird, and even one Jaccar survived the night raid. No one moved, though, until Pinn insisted on it, and then she insisted that the healthy men get out to the front line with the travelers and the young people.

The village elders that helped bring the wounded to the common house stood there, ready to protest that the Jaccar might swim the river again and they needed to protect their families. Borsiloff and Thrud tried to explain, and Pinn eventually took over explaining how Flern had solved that problem. They looked at Flern, and since she was waiting for that moment, she took advantage of it by instantly trading places with Doctor Mishka. Mishka was even an inch taller that the Princess, and her brown hair, a genuine brown, but the most startling thing, for those who noticed, was seeing Flern’s fawn brown eyes turn suddenly blue. The Princess had blue eyes as well, but no one watched that transformation.

“My friends are on that line.” Mishka spoke right up. “You would not want it said that on that day, the children showed more courage than their elders.” That stung a couple of the elders, and the rest wisely held their tongues. “Go, go. Now, go.” Mishka waved them off like she might dismiss a class. “Borsiloff, I need you here in case I need to send word to Karenski. I am Doctor Mishka, from Saint Petersburg. I had the dubious honor of learning my trade in a world war and practicing more than a lifetime in the Second War as well. Just remember, I am no miracle worker. Sometimes people die despite our best efforts, is it not so?” They all nodded, more or less. “Now let us see who we can help.” Mishka called to that same place her armor came from, and a little black bag appeared in her hand. She knew that with some of the equipment and medicine in that bag she tempted time and there might be a danger of changing the future, but she remained a careful person and her things never went far from her hands. Besides, this far in the past, more than likely they would not even recognize what she was doing, and no way they could duplicate her equipment. “Go, go,” she said. “See who you can help.” Elluin, Vinnu, Arania and Borsiloff went to see what they could do, but Pinn and Thrud shadowed the doctor.

When she came to Tird, she saw the terrible gash down his leg. It had been bandaged after a fashion, and it had stopped bleeding, so he appeared in no immediate danger of bleeding to death. Vincas sat right there with him, holding his hand, letting him squeeze her hand every time the throbbing pain in his leg became unbearable. “He saved my life.” She kept saying it over and over.

Tird said nothing but, “Who?”

“Flern,” Thrud answered.

“Mishka,” Pinn corrected her friend.

“Your healer,” Mishka clarified as she removed the bandage and spread an ointment over the whole area which had the effect of anesthetizing the leg in a few seconds. She pulled out a scalpel, a hemostat and a pair of tweezers and shocked everyone by first opening the leg. “We must make sure there is no stone or metal inside to poison him.” Mishka explained. “You should be around in the days of lead bullets and powder burns.” Seeing that the wound was clean and assuming it bled clean, Mishka got out her needle and self-dissolving thread. “A dermal regenerator would be better, but we use what we have,” she said, and sewed up the leg as neatly as sewing a tear in a dress. “You must stay off it for a week,” she instructed. “If you do, it should be good as new.” Then she polished it off with some antiseptic and a clean bandage and told Vincas how to be sure the bandages were always clean. “Boil them. Boil them.”

Reflections Flern-5 part 3 of 3

Flern knew exactly when the moon goddess touched the head of her reflection. “Grrr.” She had to say it. She wondered what Mother Vrya meant about her willingness to be herself. How could she, with all these giftly interruptions? But that was what Vrya said. Flern did not know what that meant, but she would willingly give it a try if she could.

She turned down Arania’s last dress. They were all too big for her anyway. She was the tallest one after Elluin, but she had nice long legs and a short waist and was really a petite—a petite with long arms, so very hard to fit. Flern called to her armor, though she took off her sword and long knife, and then she lay down on her blanket and hugged her weapons like a child might hug a teddy bear. She let her exhaustion overwhelm her until she fell asleep.

No one woke Flern for breakfast, though the girls never left her alone for a minute. Thrud sat there when she awoke, and Thrud stayed uncharacteristically quiet. She did not even make a crack about Flern being lazy, and that made Flern very suspicious.

“What?” Flern asked. “Out with it,” she commanded, but Thrud looked reluctant to say anything at all. Flern heard nothing until Pinn and the others returned from breakfast, and then she heard it all. The Jaccar had come in the night. A dozen Jaccar had swum the river and came up into the village, searching for the girl with the auburn-red hair, as if Flern could not guess who that was. There were nearly a dozen villagers, along with a number of women and children dead, and that was a great toll in a village that supported barely over three hundred all told. One attacked the house of Venislav. He wounded the man and threatened Vincas, but Tird showed up and put the man down. Fritt arrived to stop the flow of blood, but the village healer says Tird may lose his leg.

“Tird?” Flern could not believe it.

“Worse,” Elluin said. “They have poor Bunder staked out. His screams are terrible to hear.”

Pinn, Thrud and Vinnu all hushed the girl, thinking of Bunder as the last one Flern needed to hear about, but Flern showed no emotion at all at the news. She called for her weapons. Her sword and long knife flew up to attach themselves to her armor, and she walked at a firm pace toward the wall of wagons. The others followed her. She hardly got out the door before she heard the wailing in the distance. She drew her ebony, elf-made bow from the secret pouch in her cape and found it looked much improved from the bow Wlvn once used.

“Revenge?” Pinn’s word made Flern pause for just a minute. She shook her head.

“Maybe mercy,” she said, and she did something that she knew she could do, thanks to Nanna, the moon. She floated up and forward just enough to land with both feet on the top of the nearest house wagon. No one screamed, and in fact Flern heard no noise at all from the girls or anyone else who might have seen.

Bunder, out there, looked tied to a cross of two logs, lashed together in a great “X.” Flern rose up again and moved to a house wagon that stood directly out from that spot. She noted that she could fly, sort of, or float anyway, and again she noted that she only reflected the gifts given to Wlvn, and in a lesser degree. Once she landed on her feet, she took a closer look. The Jaccar had not been content to merely crucify the boy. They had skinned him in several places, and they had peeled back his lips, ripped out his cheeks, and peeled the skin away from his eyes expertly so he appeared to have a skeleton head, with eyes that were still alive. Of course, he could not speak. He could only wail, but Flern imagined what Bunder would say if he could speak. Two words: “Kill me.”

Flern put her hood down. “The Jaccar have men in the grass!” A man shouted up to her. It was Borsiloff, and she waved to say she heard, but she had already seen the men. The Jaccar had taken the green paint of Karenski one step further. They had grasses and branches from bushes tied to their clothes so they might not be noticed unless one went looking for them. Flern looked, and one of the Jaccar inched closer with the intention, no doubt, of getting a good shot at her. Flern only thought for a second. Though not bad with the bow, the Princess had been, or rather would be the best with the bow in her generation, and maybe in any generation. So, with three arrows in her hand, Flern reached out through time and traded places with the Princess. All that anyone below might have seen was Flern’s hair, shining red in the morning sun, turn to such a golden brown it almost appeared blonde. That, and the fact that the Princess stood three inches taller, now being an inch taller than Elluin herself.

The Princess made three shots without the space of a breath between them. Three Jaccar were struck dead on, beginning with the one who inched up close. The other Jaccar wisely began to back away, and the Princess pulled out a silver tipped arrow she found. She kissed the tip with a prayer. “Artemis, strengthen me.” She did not know if a Greek goddess could reach into Odin’s jurisdiction, but she gave it her best try and intended to give it her best shot. Poor Bunder suffered just out of bow range. The Jaccar were obviously well practiced at this, keeping the boy just far enough from the camp so the best archer and strongest arm could not reach him. Dying, surely, but the longer he screamed, the more demoralized the locals tended to become. The Princess saw several arrows in the grass where men had tried and failed. A few were close, but not close enough. The Princess would need the strength of Artemis, and she took aim and let the arrow fly. It did not exactly hit Bunder in the heart as she hoped, but it hit near enough so he would be gone in a minute or two. At least his agony would not be prolonged into the afternoon, screaming until he got hoarse, until his peeled lips dried out like two worms in the sun.

The Princess spun around. She could not fly like Flern, but it did not appear that far to the ground. She jumped and used her legs to cushion the fall. This became the first close look in daylight the girls had, and the Princess could not help smiling for them as she set her hand on Pinn’s shoulder. “We may need to move from this place,” she said without too much of a Greek accent.

“Princess,” Pinn said, but she said no more. She stared.

“Karenski!” The Princess turned to the side. “Get some men up on those house wagons. You can see the Jaccar clearly from there, even in their grass suits; and tell them to keep their heads down.” Quite unlike Flern, in certain situations the Princess did not get into the habit of asking. She did the telling. “Borsiloff!” She turned again. The man had wandered down the row for a better look at her work, but he looked up as she called. “Come with me. We have to get the village men out here to hold the line. No telling how many Jaccar are out there.”

“The village men say they have to stay in the village and protect their houses in case the Jaccar swim the river again.” Borsiloff said as he jogged up. He arrived about the same time as Karenski. Both did a double take on the armor with a stranger inside. The Princess had already turned and used her own long legs to make for the village. She changed back to Flern without breaking stride, but then stopped and turned when no one followed.

She eyed Karenski. “Well?” She shouted, still having the spirit of the Princess with her like a ghost image. “Get the men up,” she insisted. “And come on.” She looked at Borsiloff, but when she turned her eyes on the girls, she added a thought. “We have to see if we can help Tird, don’t we?”

Pinn and Thrud smiled at each other. Dear old Flern.

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MONDAY

Flern does everything secant prepare the village and the travelers for battle, and she reaches out to the natural world to see what help she can get from that direction. Until then, Happy Reading.

*

Reflections Flern-5 part 2 of 3

Pinn and the others decided to stay with Arania in the big tent, and Trell also stayed with the travelers, under Karenski’s watchful eye, but he wanted it that way.

“No offense to the village,” Pinn told Vincas and her father. “But I feel some of us need to stay with the travelers.” Venislav said he understood, but Flern thought that someone needed to stay to be sure they kept a good watch for the Jaccar. It would not do if the Jaccar came and surprised them.

After the boys settled in, and the girls did what they could to help prepare the feast, mostly under Vinnu’s urging—Thrud taking every opportunity to get lost and hide—everyone returned to the common house for the feast, and a number of travelers came as well. It was as the young people expected, the food tasted great and proved plentiful. Vilder got to tell the story once again of the fall of their village and their escape to the south. This time, though, he managed it without as much finger pointing at Flern, for which she felt grateful. Flern imagined Pinn got to the boy, and she appreciated having such a good friend in high places. Karenski told of their encounter with the Jaccar, the time he lost his wife and Arania’s mother, and the villagers appeared deeply touched by his words. After that, the room broke down into smaller conversations. The men discussed what they could do to fend off the Jaccar, and the women talked some about the men and some about domestic matters, some villagers and travelers even exchanged the equivalent of recipes.

“So, you like him?” Thrud asked and Arania’s face reddened, just a little. “Can’t be that much. You’re not nearly as red as Flern when we talk about Kined.”

Flern nudged her friend in the arm. “Not a fair comparison. My red hair just makes me look redder.”

“No, it’s fair.” Pinn teased from across the table and as if in response, Flern’s face flushed.

“But I do like him. Trell and I share so much in common, and we share so many ideas, the same.”

“I never knew he had any ideas,” Thrud said.

“Thrud!” This time both Flern and Vinnu scolded her.

“Okay, okay. Sorry.”

“Don’t pay attention to Thrud,” Pinn said. “You go ahead and like whoever you want.”

“You don’t mind?” Arania looked at Flern and asked straight out. Flern felt surprised at first, but soon felt the need to encourage the girl.

“Be my guest,” she said. “By all means. He is all yours.”

“Oh, good,” Arania said, sweetly. “Because I think I am going to have him ask me to marry him.”

The others paused.

“A bit quick, do you think?” Vinnu suggested, but Arania just smiled and bit her lower lip a little and shook her head like it was already a done deal.

“So that leaves just Fritt and Tird,” Flern said softly.

“So you can concentrate on Kined.” Thrud looked for the red face, and Flern obliged.

“Vinnu has Gunder, and Pinn has Vilder. Why don’t you pick on them?” Flern responded.

“Because we are not going to have to pry them apart with a big stick,” Thrud said. Flern’s jaw just dropped.

“Maybe Pinn and Vilder,” Vinnu said, and they were all more shocked by the fact that Vinnu said anything like that at all, than they were by what she said. Even Pinn put her hand to her mouth, while it became Vinnu’s turn to blush. Vinnu could not believe the words came out of her own mouth.

The rain stopped for a time after the sun went down, though it rained on and off all night. During a lull in the storm, the girls repaired to the Traveler camp. Their conversation did not change, but Flern wanted to be sure the travelers had watchers out as Karenski promised, and she easily enlisted Pinn to help her check.

“I think they will be there, since it to their benefit to be forewarned if the Jaccar show up,” Pinn said.

“Agreed,” Flern responded. “But not everyone takes threats the same, and this is just a possible threat. Karenski only promised to put men out for three nights because he said if the Jaccar had not arrived by then, they were not coming. If these watchers believe the Jaccar are not coming, they might not really be watching.”

“I understand,” Pinn said. “And you know, you have gotten smarter about things like this lately. Vilder and I discussed the situation, but we never thought to check on the watchers, obvious as that is.”

“I’ve never fought anyone,” Flern responded in all seriousness. “But the Princess, Diogenes and Doctor Mishka have all been in war. Trust me, I am not getting smarter, I am just leaning on other people’s information.”

“Other versions of you,” Pinn said. Flern did not deny it; she just pointed to the left while she went to the right.

“It was a dark and stormy night,” Flern mumbled to herself. It would be hard to see much with all the cloud cover. Even if the moon came up almost full, as it did for Wlvn, it would do them no good in watching for Jaccar. She found one man, Borsiloff by name, who seemed to be vigilant in his watch. She talked to him for a bit and found out that he lost loved ones in the last Jaccar attack. She assumed most of the travelers had.

“You will have to keep your ears open,” Flern told him. “And don’t be afraid to shout for others even if you are not sure what is making that sound. Don’t wait until it is too late.”

Borsiloff nodded and went back to his late supper while Flern crawled out from beneath the wagon and started down the row. She felt good about this watch and just hoped every man stayed as alert as Borsiloff, though she suspected they would not, when hands came out of the dark and grabbed her from behind. One hand clamped firmly across her mouth, and Flern could hardly breathe. The other hand grabbed Flern by the arm near the shoulder and squeezed her muscles until they hurt, as the man shoved her toward a nearby tent where a single blanket laid out. Flern’s eyes went wide. She felt the sweat break out in salty little beads on her forehead. It matched the sweat on the man’s hand. Flern had not yet struggled, being surprised, and since it all happened so fast. It happened much too fast, and yet, at the same time, it happened in a kind of slow motion as one might see in a movie. With that, Flern felt a kind of detachment from the whole event, like she was merely watching it happen on a big screen. Flern got shoved on to the blanket, and the man slipped around to land on top of her. He pushed the air from her lungs as she fell and forced it out her nose along with whatever else might have been in her nose. Not a pretty thought. It covered the man’s hand while still attached to her nostrils. It got hard to breathe with the weight on top of her. She could hardly move, but then she caught sight of her assailant. Bunder, on top of her, kept one slimy hand across her mouth while he pawed at her breasts with his other hand.

“No!” Flern screamed a muffled scream that would be hard to hear from outside the tent. The screaming in her head sounded much louder, almost deafening. She tried to bite Bunder’s hand, but Bunder seemed too excited or too drugged up by something to feel it. He reached down to pull up her dress and at the same time, with his one free hand, he tried to pull down his pants. He tore at his rope belt and tore the front of her dress to expose her breasts.

“No! No!” Flern bit and screamed and felt something well up inside of her. “No!” She said that last to herself. For all of her fear and pain, she did not want to be guilty of frying Bunder with the gift of Odin. Something else bubbled up, though, and just as her dress became shredded, and it looked like Bunder’s rope belt might finally come loose, Flern found her hands against Bunder’s chest and her small reflection of the strength of Thor rose up. She shoved with all of her strength. Bunder flew straight up, pulled the tent with him into the air, arched over the nearest wagon and fell outside the line of wagons altogether, probably terribly hurt. Flern could not think of that right then. She got too busy screaming, crying, and trying to breathe, and she did not know what really happened until she felt Pinn’s hand take a cloth to wipe her nose. She felt humiliated and tried to cover herself as well as she could without having to look at anyone at all. She wanted to die in that moment.

By the time the men arrived, Flern had calmed down a bit. The watchers on the wall of wagons said they found where the boy landed, but he must have run off. The men started a search through the village and the traveler’s encampment—no one condoned rapists in those days—but as Flern and many suspected, they turned up nothing. “He won’t get far on foot.” Several of the men assured her. “We will surely get him in the morning.” Then Kined came in, but he hesitated. He did not know how to react or what to do. He could not hide his rage, but for the rest of it, he looked afraid to so much as touch Flern. Flern solved his dilemma by grabbing him and holding him as close as she could. She cried into his shirt, chest, and shoulder. She may have cried for an hour without stopping, and Kined stayed wonderfully patient that whole time.

When Flern let go, she let go all the way and backed up to wipe her eyes and nose. She turned her back on Kined, felt self-conscious, and wondered if he would think badly of her. She felt ruined by the whole event and wondered if they might all think terrible thoughts about her. Could she have done something to avoid this? Did she somehow ask for this? She felt so powerless, so hopelessly overwhelmed, and in a way, so dirty. It seemed very hard to explain just what she felt, but through it all, she knew one thing. Maybe she did not feel this way at the moment, but she felt certain the feeling would return in time, so she voiced her one certainty.

“Kined. Don’t ever leave me.”

“I won’t,” Kined said. “I will always be here for you, Flern.” And Flern felt that then and there he wanted to tell her that he loved her, but something in him said it was not the right time, and she probably could not have heard it right then. Poor Kined. He got stuck, back between the place where he wanted to hold her and comfort her and tell her that everything would be all right, and at the same time, not touch her for fear that she might break altogether. “I must go,” he said at last, and quickly left the tent. With that, Flern cried some more. She ached for Kined, but she dared not touch him as well. She felt afraid to touch any man and felt withdrawn into her secret self where no one could ever find her. So, she just cried some more, and all of the girls cried with her as well.

Reflections Flern-4 part 2 of 3

Around three, during the hot part of the day which Flern thought plenty hot for the first of May, they saw a train of people down toward the bottom of a little hill and debated vigorously about whether to join those people or avoid them at all costs. The vote to join them won easily, since the train appeared headed in their general direction.

“Besides, I though part of the plan was to get people who might be willing to help us against the Jaccar,” Pinn said. They got all bunched up on top of their little hill by that time and thought nothing about whether they were seen. They supposed the people in the train might be wondering the same sorts of things about them, whether to contact the people on the hill or ignore them and hope they went away. The gang on the hill certainly did not want any trouble. But, even as the sound of Pinn’s voice finished echoing across the hillside, two dozen men on horseback with spears came out of nowhere, virtually up out of the ground, and they surrounded the young people.

Everyone froze, afraid to say or do anything in the face of so many spears; until an older man detached himself from the crowd of spears and rode up to the group. He looked hard at Pinn, Flern, Vilder, Tiren, Thrud, and Vinnu who looked away for fear. He stopped in front of big Gunder. The man’s long gray hair was slicked back with sweat. He had green stripes painted on his cheeks, and Flern thought he looked mean.

“You are not Jaccar,” he said. His accent sounded thick, but his words were understandable.

“Do we look like Jaccar?” Thrud asked, with a sharpness that betrayed her nervousness. Normally, her sarcasm got delivered deadpan.

“I bet Flern killed a dozen Jaccar all by herself.” Gunder said and pointed. The old man looked up, but Flern shook her head.

“It wasn’t me,” she said, and technically it was not her flesh and blood that did it.

“Our village just got overrun with Jaccar.” Vilder spoke, while Pinn reached out for Flern’s hand. “We escaped, and now we are seeking the weapons and friends to help us set our village free.”

The old man paused to scratch his beard. “Children.” He pronounced the word with some disdain. “Come.” And that was it. They were escorted to the train by the armed men, and rode together, mostly in silence for another two hours, flanked at all times by men until the train halted for the night.

The old man returned after they stopped and conferred with the chief guard before he approached the group. “You are no danger.” The old man concluded. “Day after tomorrow, we will come to the Piddy River. There is a village there. Maybe they will be your friends with weapons. Now, come. You stay with us, and we eat.”

Flern and Kined started to dismount but paused when the others did not move.

“Come, come.” The old man said and tried to smile. It was hard to tell under the bush he had for a moustache. “Young boys like to eat. Come eat and you tell us your story.” Trell, Fritt and Tird got down, but the rest waited a second longer until Vilder and Pinn dismounted together. They came to a big tent, one still being set up, and they smelled the cooking fires already burning and roasting something for supper. They got ropes with which to hobble the horses and got escorted into the big tent, but not before Flern had a chance to take a good look around.

Flern had thought at first that these people might be refugees from some other village the Jaccar attacked, but now she saw that she was mistaken. The dozen wagons pulled by pairs of oxen were little houses built on top of the wagon. She decided that these people were not settled people, and that notion got confirmed when the old man finally introduced himself.

“I am Karenski. We are travelers. We have fought the Jaccar on two occasions and moved on from those places. They push, always we move west, but they follow, and some say soon there will be no more west to go.”

“Someone needs to push them back.” Strawhead Trell was the one who said that, and the old man gave him a strange look, even as a young girl came in under the tent door and interrupted them all.

“That is what I keep telling my father, but he says I am just a girl and don’t understand.” Flern let out a little “Grrr,” and Kined patted her hand to keep her quiet.

“My daughter, Arania.” The old man made the introduction. “She is your age, a child.” The girl looked to be about fifteen, or sixteen at the most which made her younger than everyone, but this old man seemed determined to lump them all under the same umbrella of being children, and who were they to argue?

“You are welcome in our tent,” Arania said, in her formal best, and she smiled, but it seemed to be for Trell.

“Now, tell while we wait for the food.” The old man insisted as his daughter took a seat beside him, and Vilder, with a little help from Pinn, told of their adventure thus far. At first, Flern shook her head violently, but she need not have worried about Vilder revealing anything that might be best kept secret. On the other hand, Flern turned red by the end of the telling and refused to look at anyone. Vilder credited her with the raid on the village, the kindness of the naiad, saying that she and the naiad appeared to be old friends. And he praised her for killing both Jaccar on the following morning. Flern turned beet red at last, but at least she did not have to explain about the Princess. When they were finished, Arania wept softly and Karenski comforted her.

“Her mother was killed by the Jaccar,” he said, all the while never taking his eyes off Flern. “We raided them back, but you cannot kill them all. I think they are without number.” Flern felt grateful, then, because several of women and several men brought in plenty of food for all and stayed to join in the meal. It made their quarters rather tight because the big tent was really built to accommodate maybe a dozen or so. There were twice as many at present for that meal and they had to avoid bumping elbows.

After they had begun to feast, Karenski asked a simple question, still not having taken his eyes off of Flern. “Do the young men confirm this tale I have heard of this woman in your midst?”

Every man in the group nodded, and Kined took a breath. Flern who continued to look down, being too embarrassed to look up, stomped on Kined’s foot to quiet him, but he spoke up anyway. “She is friends with Vrya, goddess of love and war. It was the goddess who warned her and us of the Jaccar, and I am sure she also helped our escape.”

“Ah!” Karenski said. “The new lady of Aesgard.” Far from disbelieving what Kined said, this seemed to clarify some of the other questions in his mind. “You are of Vanheim, then?” He asked, but the question got directed at Flern.

“I am an independent,” Flern said, quietly. “I seek the well-being of all the gods.”

Karenski pursed his lips and nodded. “Very wise for one so young,” he said, and then he turned the conversation to other matters. He spoke of the hunt and the way of the bear and the beaver. He did pause now and then to glance at Flern after that, but he also got occupied with glancing at Trell and his daughter who seemed to be having their own glancing contest going on. It became quite a dance of the eyes.

After supper, the young people vacated the big tent while suitable arrangements were made for them to sleep in the night. The girls got to be housed with Arania, and the boys were to be given a fire, outdoors. The weather stayed good, not threatening rain, so the arrangement felt more than acceptable.

Avalon 8.12 Abomination, part 5 of 5

Jai the Mongol became substantial again as soon as Sung Ao fired the photon canon.  He leaped to cover Sung Ao when the canon got crushed just in case it exploded.  Sung Ao quickly checked it, but Gan Ao spoke.  “I thought it best that the weapon not explode.  I turned it off before it got crushed.  Sorry if I overstepped my bounds.”

“You did right as always.  I am very proud of you.  But what are you doing here?”

“I reserved a time for coming back should I be needed.  Apparently, I am needed now.”

“Sung Ao?” Lincoln asked.  He always had to know.

Sung Ao nodded, but then Lockhart had a question for Gan Ao.  “Who are you?”

The old man smiled as men started to revive all over the field.  They had headaches but would recover.  “I am not surprised you did not recognize me.  I am much older than I was when I traveled with my master, the great lord Zhang She of Xi’an, servant of the Great Emperor Guangwu of Han.”

“From Lydia’s day,” Boston remembered, and smiled, knowing who Gan Ao really was.  Sung Ao reached out and gently hugged Boston, then he said something strange.

“I am going to miss my hugs.”

Alexis and Katie knew who Gan Ao was and Alexis spoke before Boston could ask.  “Didn’t you go over to the other side?”

“I did,” Gan Ao said.  “But I can’t remember anything about it while I am here.  Funny how that works.”  He let go of the old man and became Tien Shang-di, king of the ancient gods, and son of the Kairos, the Nameless god of the north.

Lockhart nodded like he had forgotten.  He looked quickly, but the wagon was close by and Ghost, for once, was minding his own business.  Decker and Nanette were busy being lost in each other, and Lincoln and Tony were failing to comfort Sukki, who looked teary-eyed but maybe finally realized there were times she had to act even if it meant people had to die.

“The cyborgs are all dead,” Tien said.  “The super soldiers are all dead as well.  They were possessed for a long enough time so there was not enough of them to come back.  The rest should recover.  Their time of possession was brief.  So, you see, Elder Stow.  Now, you can report to your people that possession by an abomination does not kill a person right away.  The consciousness hangs on for some time, and the body continues to live, though yes.  I see how terrible that must be.”

“Anyway,” Sung Ao interrupted everyone.  “Boston.  I have someone for you to meet.  Jai.  He came a long way just to find you.”

Jai stepped up, and Boston knew he was an elf, like her, but she did not know who until he removed his glamour that made him look Mongolian.  Roland said nothing.  He did not get a chance.  Boston screamed and tackled him.  She kissed his face all over.  Then she began to weep great big tears, and Roland was not against weeping himself.  They stood as Roland’s sister, Alexis came up weeping as well, and joined the hug.  They might have continued for a while, but Lincoln shouted from a distance.

“Alexis.  Nanette.  We have wounded here who need help.”

“May I?” Alexis asked Sung Ao.  She felt a slight curtsey was appropriate.

“Of course,” he said, and turned as three men came to ask what they were doing.  Sung Ao put Niccolo, Maffeo, and Marco in Katie’s hands and said she could talk to them as long as she kept her mouth shut.  He went to find Timur the chief and the servants of the Masters.  Tien went with him and waved his hand while they walked.  All the cyborgs and super soldiers, the ship inside the cave and the busted photon canon with the wet spot that had been the abomination vanished.

“Sent to Avalon,” he said.  “To the alien island and museum,” he explained.

“Yes, thanks, but that does not explain why you are here.”

They found Chin Li alive and checking out the bandits.  He had a half-dozen men with him, just to be safe.  Timur, Bozarius and Hakim the Berber were all dead.  Timur got blasted with a super soldier gun and the other two were killed by the travelers. Bozarius got a shotgun slug in his middle.  Hakim got crisped by Sukki.  “No idea what their names were in this life,” Sung Ao mumbled to himself.

Timur’s son, Kohja, knew better than to stick around.  He promised to take the bandits home and not bother them again.  Sung Ao let them go.  Lincoln, who came up to watch the exchange, commented.

“He knew they were out gunned,” and added, “Sorry.”  He knew the Kairos was not a fan of clichés.

In this case, Sung Ao responded, “You were out gunned, but I am glad you butted into a bad situation anyway.”  Lincoln said no more, as they watched the bandits leave. They took their dead and wounded with them, so that was at least one thing they did not have to worry about.  Even so, Sung Ao thought to say something to Lincoln.  “You better go and check on your wife.  You don’t want her working herself to exhaustion.”

“Right.” Lincoln jogged ahead to the camp.

The travelers stayed that night with the Polos, but Sung Ao said it was best if they leave in the morning.  “We will head south, two days to Khotan.  We will rest there a week while our men heal.  You should be able to reach the time gate before we move on again.”

“But Father,” Alexis said, and Sung Ao and Tien took Alexis and Lincoln aside to speak with them privately.

In the morning, Roland stood beside Boston, holding her hand, and repeated what everyone already knew.  “Father is dying.  He never really recovered from his struggle with the ghoul master of the hundred.  Now he is dying.  I came to fetch Boston and Alexis so they could be with him in the end.”

Alexis came out of her tent, an elf again, and she explained for everyone.  “Time is still broken with the Storyteller missing.  Lady Alice can only move her own through the Heart of Time.  I have temporarily become an elf again so I can go and say good-bye to Father.”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Lincoln said.  Alexis gave him a kiss and said she was ready.

Tien stepped up, and Sung Ao traded places with the Nameless god, Tien’s father, so the two gods could work together.

“I’ll miss the wagon,” Tony said.  Most of the travelers shook their heads.  They would not miss it.

“I’ll miss my hugs,” Boston said suddenly.  “And Strawberry, and Honey, but I will see you when you get back.  Sukki, sister, take care of the amulet and remember, I’ll be waiting for you.”

Sukki nodded, and Nanette said, “Good luck.”  Nanette carried Alexis’ bag, the one with the vitamins and medical supplies.

Boston said she was ready and looked up at Roland who merely nodded.  They vanished along with the wagon, their Roman saddles and most of their things.  Ghost stood with saddlebags that carried their spare horseshoes and necessary equipment.  They went back to carrying things in saddlebags and having their tents and extra blankets strapped to the back of their western saddles.  The Kairos said they could ride them again.  They were well into the Middle Ages by then.

Tien said good-bye to them all.

Nameless smiled for them and Sung Ao came back to wake up the Polos.

Lockhart spoke as they headed out.  “Sukki, you have the point.  Be careful.  Decker and Elder Stow still have the wings.”  He paused to look at Katie before he turned his head back to talk to Lincoln.  “So, where are we going?”

Lincoln had to look it up, while Katie shouted back to the ones behind.  “Tony and Nanette.  You have the rear.  Keep your eyes open for whoever or whatever might be following us.”

“Yeah,” Lincoln interrupted his reading.  “Watch out for dragons, little green-men, werewolves and vampires, ghouls and genies, witches, displaced people, space aliens and servants of the Masters, and whatever else I can’t think of right now.”  He returned to his reading.

Nanette took his words seriously, but Tony smiled and said, “Hut, hut.”  Ghost, who had his long lead tied to Tony’s saddle stepped up.  Tony did not want to have to drag the mule all the way back to the twentieth century if they should live so long.

END of Avalon, Season 8.

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

TOMORROW

Introduction to the twin tales of Wlvn and Flern, two lives of the Kairos separated by a mere 500 years.  They are genetic reflections, or as they say, identical twins of the opposite sex, and it gets them in big trouble.

*

Avalon 8.12 Abomination, part 4 of 5

Metal skinned warriors though they were, the cyborgs took advantage of the rocks and boulders strewn on their side of the field.  What few trees there were also got utilized along with the trees on the hillside where the super soldiers hunkered down and returned fire.  Curiously, the super soldiers were not caught unprepared.  The power beams from their rifles split the trees and shattered the corners of the stone.

Sung Ao watched as one cyborg got blasted dead center.  It went down, but after a second, it started to get up again.  It got blasted a second time, and this time it stayed down.  Several super soldiers got struck and they tended to stay down.

Jai came up to Sung Ao’s shoulder and commented on the fight.  “This could go on for a while.”

“Maybe not,” Sung Ao said and pointed.  The cyborgs brought up their machine, or whatever it was.  It floated on a gravity bubble and Sung Ao tried to remember where he saw such a machine before.  He watched as the cyborgs kept the machine behind some rocks.  It appeared to be protected by screens of some sort, but they were not about to expose it until they were ready.  It came to him.  Of course, Kirstie only saw it after Sukki and Elder Stow melted it, but it looked like the photon cannon the Flesh Eaters used in Norway back then…  He wondered who Kirstie was, but then he had to concentrate on what the cyborgs were doing.  The battle was going about even, but there were more super soldiers on the hill than cyborgs down below.  That meant the super soldiers could lose half their men and still be victorious.  Sung Ao wondered if the photon canon might be used to sweep the hillside.

Jai tapped his shoulder and pointed to the wide cave up the side of the hill.  “A docking bay for their ship,” he said.  “The Sevarese used to park in the same way when they came to earth.”

“Of course,” Sung Ao shouted, and quickly looked back from where he hid behind a boulder.  The men in his camp all looked like they were drunk on something.  The bandits across the way looked the same, or even worse.  “The big bad is in the cave,” he concluded.

“That would be my guess,” Jai agreed.

Sung Ao heard a soft whine over the sound of battle. His eyes went to the photon canon.  The cyborgs pushed it out from the rocks.  He heard an answering whine come from the cave. Several cyborgs stood in front of the machine, like willing sacrifices.  They got cut down with two or three shots, but the photon canon fired before the ship in the cave had a chance to return fire.

Sung Ao saw the screens in the cave turn red and rapidly climb the color scale to purple before they blacked out.  Sung Ao ducked, and Jai ducked with him.  The cave exploded.  It was a massive explosion, but fortunately, mostly absorbed by the hill and mountain that contained it. The front of the cave completely collapsed.  Perhaps the whole cave collapsed.  The ground shook, and a few more good-sized rocks fell from the cliff.  Then only little wisps of smoke came out the cracks left in the cave entrance, and Sung Ao had to say something.

“Thanks.  I have to clean that up.”

Jai laughed.

The super soldiers collapsed.  The five remaining cyborgs checked them briefly before their feet fired up, their legs stiffened, and they sped away at a good clip about two feet off the ground.  They left the photon cannon where it was.  Sung Ao had to run out and turn it off.  Then he looked at his people and at the bandits.  They all appeared to be unconscious.

Hardly two hours later, Sung Ao and Jai saw a ship take off for the outer atmosphere.  “The cyborg ship, I presume,” Jai said.

Sung Ao nodded before he said, “God, I hope so.”

After another five minutes, the super soldiers woke up along with Sung Ao’s people and the bandits.  roughly a third of the super soldiers went to join the bandits.  They forgot their rifles but took their handguns with them.  The men returned to their positions to fight.  The bandits dismounted and prepared to do battle.  Sung Ao and Jai both looked at the collapsed cave.  They saw something slithering through the trees and Sung Ao swore.  He turned the photon canon back on, but it would need a minute to warm up.

The super soldiers in the field fired on the men behind the wall and boulders.  Some men died.  The super soldiers that joined Sung Ao’s people returned fire, and some men in the field fell.  A rain of arrows fell on the boulders.  More died or were wounded.  The men behind the boulders fired back and a few in the field got stuck, including a couple of super soldiers.  Then came the charge and more arrows from the boulders.  Super soldiers were firing in both directions, and Sung Ao saw Niccolo, Maffeo, and Marco pick up swords and run to get in the middle of it.

“No!” Sung Ao yelled, and curiously, everyone stopped, and all eyes turned on Sung Ao and Jai.  Sung Ao vaguely remembered this happening before, maybe more than once.

The nearest men yelled at Sung Ao.  “Why can’t I possess you?”

Jai put his hand to his head, but there was no way an abomination could possess a nature spirit, even in manifest form.  It might give Jai a headache, though.  Jai turned insubstantial so the abomination had nothing to latch on to.  “Forgive me,” Jai said to Sung Ao.

“Quite all right,” Sung Ao responded before he shouted to the trees.  “Even the gods of this world were not allowed inside my mind.”

“I am a god,” the abomination said through the nearest man, and it echoed among many men, bandits and super soldiers included.  “I am the god.”

He no sooner finished speaking and Boston and Sukki came from the trees, followed by Lockhart and Katie, Lincoln and Alexis, Decker and Elder Stow.  The wagon stayed in the woods with Nanette and Tony riding shotgun and Gan Ao driving the mule.  Nanette complained, if only she had her magic back.

Everyone got down right away and pulled their weapons.  Nanette and Tony whistled and got the horses back in among the trees.  People raced to get behind the rocks and boulders in the field.  Alexis pulled her wand and sent a great wind that scattered the bandits’ horses.  Boston laid down a line of fire to keep everyone back.  And Sung Ao yelled.

“Lockhart.  Go for the trees on the hill.”

Elder Stow got confused.  There had been a battle.  They were in a battle.  He thought to put the screens up against the people turning on them.  He thought to pull his weapon to rake the enemy with fire, or maybe his sonic device.

Katie and Decker figured it out right away.  They opened fire on the trees, and the bandits, Sung Ao’s men, and the super soldiers turned on the travelers, heedless of the wind or fire.  They heard screams coming from the people but did not know if it was screams of anger or pain.  They assumed it was the abomination verbalizing its pain.  Bullets were a new thing.

Lockhart turned with his shotgun and started blasting the men and super soldiers that got too close.  Those men forgot all about their bows, spears, and guns, and acted like animals that would only be satisfied with ripping the travelers apart with their bare hands.  Lincoln and Tony came up to join in the melee, shooting men at random when they came close.  Sukki finally reacted and threw out her hands.  The whole front row of oncoming men became like charcoal.  Sung Ao had one brief fear to lose the Polos, but by then, Elder Stow just about decided.  Sung Ao fired the photon canon, and the trees lit up, showing exactly where the abomination was located.  The abomination, however, figured out how to mentally project screens of its own, and they were strong enough to protect it from the photon cannon, at least for a bit.

“No!” Sung Ao yelled again and turned the canon back on.  He held the switch against the abomination turning it off again.  The abomination started to strain, and in a last effort, it ripped a boulder from the ground and heaved it at the machine.  The people scattered when the photon canon got crushed, but by then, Elder Stow figured it out.  He fired his weapon full blast at the thing in the trees.  It tore through whatever flimsy screen the abomination could project and fried the thing.  The men and few remaining super soldiers in the field collapsed again as the abomination rapidly burned to a crisp.  The trees there also burned and would soon be charcoal themselves.  It fell to the ground and appeared to shrivel up before it liquified, and Sung Ao pronounced it dead.

“Dead as a doornail,” Gan Ao said.  Sung Ao hugged the old man with a word.  “You should not be here.”

Avalon 8.12 Abomination, part 3 of 5

Sung Ao had his people camp up against a cliff face where it rose from a sparse grassland on the edge of the Taklimakan Desert.  Boulders sat here and there around the field, stones that fell from above at some time in the distant past, or perhaps got planted by glaciers long ago.  He made the men dig trenches between the boulders before dark.  They piled the dirt and added what fallen trees, branches, and rocks they could lift to make about a one- or two-foot wall.  It would give his men something to lay behind in case of bandit arrows.  And while horses could probably leap over the wall, any bandits on foot would have to pause and crawl over, making themselves targets for arrow fire in return

Sung Ao and the Polos camped in the corner beside where the cliff collapsed making the field full of stones and big rocks where no horses could go.  Sung Ao noticed a big and wide dark spot up that side of the hill, but he did not imagine anything would be there worse than a bear, and any bear would avoid such a large number of men.

They had a pleasant night.  The Polos argued.  Marco read and conversed haltingly with Chin Li after dark.  Jai the Mongol laughed with Sung Ao now and then.  The stars came out that night and the moon appeared nearly full.  Sung Ao expected no trouble in the night.  It was the morning he was worried about.

###

At dawn, Elder Stow’s alarm went off.  Lockhart, Elder Stow, with Katie and Decker who carried their rifles went to the edge of the screens Elder Stow set up.  It did not take long for three cyborgs to show up and face them.  One cyborg reached out to touch the screen.  He appeared to try several different energy pulses, but the screens barely registered that they had been touched.  The cyborgs had no way of getting through.

“You don’t belong here,” Lockhart said right away.  “This planet is off limits to space travelers.”

“We understand,” one cyborg responded in a relatively normal sounding voice.  At least Lockhart was surprised that it did not make a scratchy-metallic sound.  “We will not be here long.  The enemy has come here.  We will destroy the enemy and be gone.  Stay here until we have finished.  You will be safe.”

Elder Stow spoke.  “You know, there are limits on what a species can do with cybernetics.  You will not live forever, and the collective mind destroys things like creativity and initiative.”

“So we have discovered.  Our kind will not last, but first we must end the abomination.”

“Abomination?” Katie asked.

“The enemy.  They abused themselves in unnatural ways making horrors as evil as the Acca that we drove from our world.  They created the great abomination that ruled our world with its thoughts.  The poor souls have become no more, but our collective being found a way to block the thoughts of the evil one.  We destroyed it, and the lesser abominations it made, but one escaped.  It came here.  When we destroy it now, our work will be done.”

The three cyborgs turned and lifting slightly from the ground, they flew away.

The others turned back toward the camp but looked at Elder Stow for an explanation.  He had his own database out to read before he spoke.  “The Acca are Flesh Eaters.  The Flesh Eaters invaded their world and they drove them off by making super soldiers in one place and cyborgs in another.  The cyborgs have learned that there are limits on their ability to adapt and grow.  They will cease soon enough.  The super soldiers, however, continued to experiment until they altered their genetic code to create a massive world-mind that took over the planet.  The normal, original people on that planet got wiped out.  The super soldiers became its slaves, but the cyborgs, with their collective mind, resisted, maybe because some of them were off world using space technology made by the Flesh Eaters.  They discovered a way to better block the mind of the abomination, and the weapon to kill it.  The cyborgs then invaded their own planet and, at great loss, killed the super soldiers, the abomination, and the lesser abominations the first one made.”

“Thank God for that,” Katie said.  “Telepathic control?” she asked.

“Essentially,” Elder Stow nodded.  “It can project itself into the mind, memories, feelings, everything, and take complete control so the person is no more than a puppet.  Complete possession, though it is unclear in my record when the person dies.  One theory suggests they die instantly when possessed in that way, but most believe the consciousness continues for a time.”

“That must be horrible,” Decker said.

“Indeed,” Elder Stow agreed.  “Fortunately, this lesser abomination can only take over and control an area of several hundred miles radius.  It can’t take over the whole world.”

“I wouldn’t call several hundred miles fortunate,” Lockhart said.

Katie asked.  “When you say control, you are talking about possessing people?”

“People.  Animals.  Plants.  As far as I can tell from my record, the whole landscape and environment can be reshaped.”

“Wait.”  Decker stopped shy of the campfire, and everyone waited for him to speak.  “We have to be within the radius, unless Elder Stow’s screens are keeping the abomination out.”

Elder Stow shook his head.  “There is one screen set to block telepathic projections.  Yes, we have that, but it is not nearly strong enough to hold back anything as strong as an abomination.”

“My guess is it is hiding from the cyborgs,” Lockhart said.

###

“Bandits,” one man shouted, and soon there were many shouts.  The bandits appeared on horseback, about two hundred, but a few rode in front of the others and got down.  They waited, like they expected the merchants to come out and talk.  Sung Ao, Chin Li and Jai were willing.  They took the time to set the men in the best positions they could to fend off an attack, and they came dragging the two that normally rode on the point.  Sung Ao made sure the three Polos stayed in the camp and kept the fire going.

Sung Ao hardly had to get close before he recognized two of the bandits.  He shouted ahead.  “Lord Bozarius and Hakim the Berber.  Sorry you had to be killed, several times I imagine.  You must be about out of lives by now.”

The men growled at Sung Ao, and one even said, “Kairos,” but they let a third man do the talking.  He was a big and ugly one that appeared to enjoy looking down on his opponents.  Sung Ao heard from the Princess.  She said he appeared very Xitides-like, and she wondered if he was actually mean or if it was all bluff and bully like Xitides.

“I am Timur,” the big man said.  “You cannot cross my territory without tribute.  Bring out your gold and the three foreign men you have, and I may let you go unharmed.”

“You mean Niccolo, Maffeo and Marco?”  He saw that was exactly who Bozo and Hakim wanted.  Timur stood and thought about it.  It looked painful.

“I guess so,” Timur said.

“But what do the Masters have to say?” Sung Ao turned to stare at the two men he knew were repeats.  Lord Bozo spoke.

“The Polos will not finish their journey.  The gifts from the Pope will never reach the Great Khan.  Europe will remain in darkness for ages to come.”

“Yes,” Sung Ao understood.  “The Travels of Marco Polo is one of a dozen books that impacted the history of the whole world.  Sorry.  No Venetians. But I do have three strangers for you to meet.  Slymer, Dragos, and Cruncher,” he called.  Slymer was an imp from the Taklimakan Desert. Dragos was a dwarf and Cruncher was and ogre from the Kunlun Mountains.  Timur stood shocked by the imp and dwarf, but he screamed when he looked up at the eight-foot ogre.  He turned and ran screaming, ignoring his horse who backed away from the smell.  His men grabbed their horses and rode after him.  Lord Bozarius and Hakim were the last to leave, and not without another growl.

“Thank you,” Sung Ao said, and waved his hand.  The three little ones vanished and went back to where they came from.  He looked at Chin Li and his men and pointed at the big man running away.  “We should change his name from Timur to Timid.”

Jai laughed.

Sung Ao and his crew went back to the camp and adjusted the defensive position a little according to what they saw among the bandits.  The bandits would argue, perhaps for hours before they did anything.  The Polos all asked but got told they had to wait.  “Stand off for now,” Sung Ao told them.

In less than an hour, laser-like weapons got fired in the direction of the rock pile beside the cliff face and the long cave in the side of that hill.  Jai moved the Polos to the other side of the camp in case a stray shot came in their direction.  Sung Ao watched closely.

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

MONDAY

The showdown. Don’t miss it.  Happy Reading

*

Avalon 8.12 Abomination, part 2 of 5

Sung Ao sat across the fire and laughed occasionally at the two Venetians.  Niccolo and Maffeo, two brothers, argued about everything from maps to lunch.  The hand gestures made it especially entertaining.  Chin Li, Sung Ao’s captain of the escort tried to ignore the two.  He usually ate fast and excused himself saying that he had to check on the men.  To be honest, he did not speak much Italian other than a few words like go, stop, and get down, so he couldn’t catch the humor.  Maffeo mastered comparing apples and oranges, and often made no sense whatsoever.  Niccolo mastered sarcasm as his standard response.

Sung Ao looked to the third man of the party.  Marco, sometimes called Il Milione, as his father, Niccolo sometimes got called Emilio.  Marco just turned twenty.  He had the good sense to let the older men argue without him.  He had the habit of reading and rereading the same three books they brought on the journey.  More importantly, he often wrote in his diary, what Sung Ao knew would one day be transformed into a book about his travels.  Sadly, Sung Ao had to avoid the young man to stay out of the book as much as possible.  He tended to talk to the older men and let Chin Li ride with Marco.  Both young men somehow had passable conversations in some combination of Turkic, Arabic, and Persian. They both knew some of each language.

Sung Ao knew enough Italian to communicate with the brothers.  He figured Alice of Avalon filled his mind with the language, and because of that, he also figured these three Venetians had to be important to history in some sense.  He got the word that he had to wait in Kashgar for Marco to arrive and escort him to the court of the Great Khan.  Kublai Khan sent him with the ambassadors to the court of Chagatai in Samarkand, but he had to let that mission go.  He had to wait and kept only the young commander Chin Li and his thirty men.

“Time to go,” Chin Li said as he finished his lunch and stood.  Marco also stood and put his book in his pouch.  This time, Niccolo got in the last word, and it was a doozy.  Sung Ao stood and laughed as men came to put out the fire.

The Polos and their hired men rode on horses, mostly Arabians.  The twenty men of mixed middle eastern heritage with them also brought a dozen pack animals to carry their supplies.  Chin Li’s men mostly rode on camels, which did not mix well with the horses.  But Li had seven on horseback as well, so they moved out in what was becoming a standard formation.  Two men rode out front to watch the road.  Sung Ao rode beside a third man, an old friend named Jia who claimed to be Mongolian, and who acted something like a sergeant to the men.  He also kindly spoke very little.  Niccolo and Maffeo came next, followed by Marco and Chin Li, and the four additional men of Chin Li on horseback.  Behind them were the men contracted by the Polos with their pack animals.  Twenty-two poor excuses for soldiers on camels brought up the rear dragging another ten camels that served as additional pack animals for Sung Ao and his men.

They hardly got started after lunch and Chin Li pushed up to talk to Sung Ao.  “I’m seeing men up in the rocks watching.  This is the second day I have seen them.  They appear to be marking our progress.”

“Yes,” Sung Ao said calmly.  “The bandits are watching and reporting back to their leader and his men.”

“This is not good,” Chin Li said.  “I have only thirty and the Polos have but twenty more.  If there are a hundred or more bandits in the mountains, we will be in big trouble.”

“Have you mentioned it to the men?”

“I don’t want to frighten them.”

Sung Ao shook his head.  “Your men are not cowards.  Better they be prepared if the bandits decide to try us.  Better they are not caught off-guard.”

Chin Li dropped back.  He would have to think about that.

About an hour later, Marco shouted.  He was the kind of man who noticed everything, and he looked around at the scenery all the time, though the desert and mountains never really changed.  “Up.  Overhead.  What is that?”

Sung Ao knew right away what it was.  A scout craft, and he heard from Alice that it was a craft of super soldiers.  When he hoped that there were no cyborgs around, Lady Alice promptly told him that they were, and the travelers were just over a day away right in the middle of them.  “Damn,” he said, probably in English.

“You know what it is?” Niccolo asked.  Maffeo, Chin Li, and Marco all wanted to know as well.  Jia, his Mongolian sergeant laughed.

“I hope not enemies,” Sung Ao said, and he began to look for a defensive position where they could camp for the night, even though it was still too early to stop.

###

The travelers found an oasis in the desert where they could stop for the night.  Lockhart went to Elder Stow and asked about the cyborgs.  Elder Stow anticipated the questions.

“Yes.  They are easy to trace carrying so much metal.  There are twenty that have moved out from their ship carrying what I would guess is a weapon of some sort on a gravity bubble.  They appear to have stopped, possibly for the night, but when we get back to the road in the morning, they will be ahead of us.  We will be between them and their ship.  Not generally a good position to be in, I would say.  I can set the screens for the night, and the scanner alarm in case they should be tempted to come and check us out.  After that, we will not know until morning what is what.”

Lockhart nodded as Katie came to fetch the two of them.  Supper was ready, and Boston was talking.  That was generally a good sign.  Boston had been quiet since the last time zone when all that business came up about Roland being in the future and her being stuck in the past, assuming Roland had not died.

“I bet those helmets are to protect the cyborgs from some mind-numbing thing, like the Vr energy,” Boston said.

“The Apes wore helmets against the Vr energy,” Sukki said in support of her sister.

“The super soldiers showed some signs of telepathic ability,” Decker said.

“Oh, yeah,” Tony remembered.  “They tried to get inside my head and gave me a headache.”

“We are hedged by the ancient gods against that,” Alexis said.  “To keep people from reading about the future in our minds.”

“Your father Mingus used his mind magic to totally confuse you,” Lincoln said.

“Just my memories,” Alexis said.  “I knew who I was, and I knew my father, but I did not remember much.  I had no choice but to believe what he told me.  But eventually it came back to me.”

“I think the gods later corrected that part,” Katie said.  “With your memory suppressed, you might have been fooled into revealing all sorts of things about the future that ears don’t need to hear.”

“We started with ghouls making us see and hear things that were not even there,” Decker said.

“I know for fact that got corrected,” Boston said.  “Tien himself helped to fix that one.” she explained for Nanette and Tony who were not there at the time.

“Then there was the genie,” Alexis said.  “The big bad genie got down deep in our personalities and messed with our self-perceptions.”  She explained like Boston because Tony and Nanette were not there, and Sukki.  “He had us all thinking we were Amazons and put us all in a position where we had to defend ourselves, and without our guns.”

“Zoe started the correction on that one,” Katie said.

“I am sure plenty of others contributed,” Lockhart added.

“I’ve thought about this a lot,” Lincoln said.  No one looked surprised.  Alexis smiled and said he worries about these sorts of things.  Lincoln returned Alexis’ smile and continued.  “I’m no expert, but I can’t imagine any other way someone can get into our heads.  We have memories, personalities, and illusions all covered.”

“Projected illusions,” Boston corrected.  “I can still put a glamour on myself, like now to appear Asian, and you see it too.  Plus, invisible.  You can’t see invisible.”

“Thanks,” Lincoln grumped.

“Even so,” Alexis said.  “I don’t see how those things could help someone get inside our heads.”

“I do,” Nanette said.  “Someone could disguise themselves as Boston and get me and Sukki to talk about things without realizing it.”

Sukki grasped the idea.  “Any one of us could be a pretend person and not the real person at all.”  People looked around the circle.

“Like the Were—shape shifters taking on the appearance of one of us,” Boston said.  “I could be back in Khotan under a spell and some alien may have taken my place.”

“No,” Katie said.  “I asked about that early on, and Danna herself explained it to me, and to Lincoln.”

Lincoln agreed.  “According to the database, the Were could become animals, like wolves or bears, but the gods made them unable to transform into other people for that very reason.”

Katie nodded.  “Danna said the hedge of the gods covered all that, knowing how sneaky some of the gods could be.  No squirrel, or someone invisible, or someone wearing a glamour will hear anything.  She said we were covered against hypnosis, or drugs, or anything like that.  All they will hear is garbled noise, so it won’t do them any good.”

“Good to know,” Lockhart said, and Decker nodded.

“Anyway…” Elder Stow interrupted and looked up from his scanner. “The cyborgs will certainly never fool anyone.  They have definitely stopped for the night.  I don’t know their sleep pattern, but maybe they are not inclined to move at night.  They might need light or some way of moving in the dark, and that might give them away.”

Lockhart stood.  “Standard watch,” he said, and he and Katie went into their tent.  The old man Gan Ao finished eating and said nothing.