R6 Festuscato: 7 Travelers, part 1 of 3

Cathar, chief of the Tinkers, seemed a good man though Mirowen called him a breed, and did not trust him.  Festuscato could almost smell the blood of the little ones flowing in these predominately human travelers.  He suspected they could swear to something and mean it with their whole hearts, and completely change their minds fifteen minutes later.  They had a true gypsy smell about them, and their wagons, animals and lifestyle all reinforced that impression.

The Tinkers worked in tin and copper, sometimes leather, and their women wove flax and wool and created patterns with dyes that were works of art.  Mostly, they made themselves available for labor.  They went where the work was, and hearing about a town beset by Saxon raiders seemed an invitation to work.  The men presented themselves first thing in the morning, did an honest day’s work, took their pay at sundown and with a small salute, went back to their wagons and their own separate world.  They were a pleasant enough people, but they kept to themselves.  Sometimes, they told jokes in their own twisted, Gaelic tongue that no one could understand, and they laughed; but the locals could not help the feeling that they were the ones being laughed at.

“They do good work,” MacNeill admitted.  “But you have to watch them.  You dare not trust them.  They have a strange view about property.  They mostly trade for things they want.  They are hard horse traders, but sometimes they just take the things they say they need and they don’t understand why that is wrong. Little things mostly, but annoying.  You have to watch them.”

“And they never settle down?” Festuscato wondered.

“They might stay for a couple of months in one place and a couple of years in another, but eventually they move on to other pastures and annoy some other Lord.  They do good work, though, if you can keep them busy.”

“But where did they come from?”

“Well,” MacNeill had to think a minute.  “Some say they followed the Irish when the people first came up and conquered the land.  That was ages ago.  Others say they once had fine homes in a prosperous, magical land, and they were a peaceful people, but their neighbors were greedy and eventually drove them out and took the land, and after that they vowed to never again settle down so they would never again be driven out; though some say they lost their way, so they travel still looking for that prosperous, magical land that was their home. Then some say they are the remains of the people that lived on this land before the Irish came and defeated them in battle, and they travel and await the day when the Irish all kill each other off and they can take back their homes.  Who can say what the truth is.”  MacNeill shrugged and Festuscato stood.

“All the same,” he said.  “Something does not smell right.  I don’t sense danger, but my curiosity is up.  I think I want a talk with Cathar.  Excuse me.”

MacNeill shrugged again and gave his advice. “Hold on to your purse.”

Cathar came out from the wagons to meet Festuscato on neutral ground.  “Lord.” Cathar put his hands up in a clear sign that he was cutting Festuscato off from the community.

“Come over here,” Festuscato suggested.  He took the man to a place beneath the fort wall where the makeshift battering ram used by the Saxons lay abandoned and untouched. “Sit,” he said, and the two men sat.

“I do not understand,” Cathar started right up. “But you make my people uncomfortable. The women all want to be with you in the worst way, and the men all want to fight you for the women, but they are afraid to touch you.  I feel it myself, but I do not understand it.”

“I understand it,” Festuscato admitted. “But that is not what concerns me. It is something else, something you are carrying in your baggage.”  Festuscato paused to consider his words.  “Have you traveled all of your life?”

Cathar nodded.  “And my father, and his father before him.  My family has traveled for as many generations as there is memory.”

“And you have no desire to settle down.” Festuscato made it a statement, but Cathar took it as a question.

“There are many deep reasons for that, and I dare not start or I would feel compelled to tell you all of them, and that is strange and impossible because such things are not for outsiders.  Let me just say men kill and die for land.  We have no land.  We have nothing anyone wants.”

“Hush,” Festuscato let the man keep his secrets. “You have to tread lightly to not get caught up in the foolishness of men.  And you should always trade for what you need, never just take it, but otherwise you understand it is property, not just land that men fight over.  But you know that.  No, there is something else I am sensing.  What is it?”

Cathar looked back at his camp and shook his head. “We have nothing in the camp that is special.  Some tools, cooking pots and utensils, our plates and cups are plain wood.  I have no idea what you are sensing.”

“Do you stay long when you camp?” Festuscato asked, not sure what to ask.

“We have, in the past.  But these last couple of years we have moved again and again. It seems we barely get settled and we are told to leave.  People claim we bring them bad luck and ill will.  Some even complain we give them nightmares.  I know it is simple prejudice.  The Irish are not trusting of strangers, but it seems to me these last couple of years have been especially bad.

Festuscato looked down as the man talked and then said something that surprised Cathar.  “Nice shoes.  Where did you get them?”

“Eh?”  My grandfather made them for me.”  Cathar blurted it out before he could stop his tongue.

Festuscato nodded and called the name that came into his head.  “McKraken.” Thirty little men appeared out of thin air, and Festuscato had to wave his hand.  “Only the grandfather,” and as twenty-nine one-foot tall men disappeared, he added, “Same name must be an Irish thing.”  Then he said to the little man, “Stay.  Talk with us.  I have some questions.”

The man stood a foot tall, only a bit taller than normal fairy size, but he had no wings.  He had red hair, wore fairy weave like a gnome might wear that blended like camouflage into the grasses, and wore fine looking shoes over feet that were frankly too big for his body.  Festuscato said nothing about it because leprechauns were so easily offended, and he knew big feet was typical.

“How many questions,” McKraken asked with a squint of his eyes.  “Grandtoot.” He acknowledged his grandson after a fashion.  Cathar kept his mouth closed, but stared all the more intensely at Festuscato.

“No limits.  No tricks,” Festuscato said.  “I want to know what this troop of Travelers is dragging with it.”

“Don’t know,” McKraken said honesty enough, as he glanced at the Traveler’s camp.  “We visit sometimes.”

Festuscato shook his head.  “You haven’t visited your grandson in twenty years, so that isn’t it.”

“Well, they went away when the dragons came, and my feet can only walk so far, you know.”

“Grandfather?”  Cather started putting things together, like he had forgotten his own roots.

“Grandboop,” McKraken said, to acknowledge the man again.

“So, what should I do since you know mingling with humans is forbidden?” Festuscato asked.

“Wish us well?  Grant us a long, happy and prosperous life?”

“I was thinking MacNeill needs a new pair of boots.”

McKraken paused and rubbed his chin.  “Something there might be worked out.”

“No deals.  You just do it.  Call it penance, and measure his foot so you get the size right.  He needs good, comfortable, sturdy, long-lasting footwear, and no tricks.  Now, go and visit with your family and bless them.  Go on.”

Cathar stood and as they walked, he looked down. “Grandfather?”

“Grandshoot,” McKraken called Cathar.

Festuscato rubbed his own chin.  He got nowhere by asking.  They did not seem to know anything.  He would just have to wait and see.

Avalon 5.12 Bad Wine, part 5 of 5

The travelers got hauled in front of Solomon, no matter how much they insisted that they needed to see Korah.  They tied their horses out front, and armed up, just in case.  They left the Patton sabers wrapped at the back of their saddles, but they brought their gun belts, and Decker and Katie carried their rifles while Lockhart shouldered his shotgun.  Lockhart figured the locals might not even recognize the guns as weapons, though they said nothing about the knives the travelers carried on thier belts.

“Remember what the Kairos told us last time.”  Alexis spoke to everyone before they entered the audience chamber, and she focused especially on Lincoln and Katie.  “It would have been better to avoid seeing Solomon, but for Pete’s sake, keep you mouths shut.”  She shot the last at her husband who raised his hands in surrender.

The room looked overly large.  Solomon sat at the far end, in a comfortable looking chair, on a raised platform.  The travelers were used to that.  The unusual part was how many, mostly less comfortble chairs, sat up on the platform with him.  Most were empty, but a few were filled with what looked like advisors of a sort—or possibly close, personal friends, not one of whom looked under sixty.  To Solomon’s left hand, one chair got filled with a young girl, maybe fifteen or sixteen, and an Egyptian from her look.

The travelers looked around as they marched up front.  The guards and soldiers were inconspicuous.  Decker, Katie and Lockhart certainly noticed, and Decker probably counted them, but the others paid no attention, which was likely the idea.

Alexis saw one woman, an African looking woman, but with European features, which felt odd.  In fact, Alexis had an odd feeling overall, just to look at her.  The woman did not go about some duties.  She certainly scrutinized them with a knowing look, but Alexis had to move on before she could explore her feeling further, and when they reached the front, she forgot about the odd woman.

The travelers stopped several yards from the platform, and when Solomon waved his hand back and forth, they took the hint and spread out into a single line.

Solomon scrutinized the travelers, and spoke when he was ready.  “You are?”

“Robert and Katherine Lockhart.  Benjamin and Alexis Lincoln.  Elder Stow and his daughter, Sukki.  Mary Riley, that everyone call Boston, and Major Decker.  I assume you are Solomon, the Wise.  It is a pleasure to meet you.”

Solomon let out a slight grin.  “Some think not so wise, including sometimes your friend, Korah, who has been sent for.”  He stared at them again before he asked, “And where are you from?”

Lockhart looked at Katie, Lincoln and Alexis.  He figured if Solomon was half as wise as his reputation, he would see right through any lie he came up with.  So much for Alexis’ admonitiion, he thought, before he turned again to Solomon and answered, “The future.  And we are headed back there, slowly.”

Solomon smiled again.  “We are all headed slowly into the future.”

“But some more slowly than others.  And no, we cannot tell you about the future, and I probably should not have told you that much.”

“Sukki was born before the flood,” Boston blurted out.  “She is not technically from the future.”

The little Egyptian girl huffed.  “Suliman.  These people are boring.  Telling a strange tale that makes no sense does not make them less boring.”  Solomon looked at her, but let her ramble as she turned to the travelers.  “You see, in my hands I have Sekhmet, the lion, who is the real goddess.  I have seen her outside my window on the hot days when she has come into the shade of the wall.  She is my protector, and if you lie about things, and say you are from some imaginary place called the future, she will eat you.”

“She would not do that,” Kaie said.

The Egyptian girl huffed again, and spouted, “What do you know of the real gods?  How can you say that?”

“Sekhmet is our daughter,” Lockhart said, and with a glance at Solomon, added, “adopted, though I believe she adopted us as much as we adopted her.”

“We last saw her when we married,” Katie said, and took Lockhart’s hand.  “That was when the Philistines came from the sea and conqured the land you call Philistia.”

Solomon tipped his head, like he understood something.  “Both my father and King Saul before him struggled mightily to keep the Philistines from overrunning the whole country, and to make a lasting peace.”

“We could call her,” Lockhart suggested.

“But I am sure she won’t come here,” Katie interrupted.  “This place is given to worship the Most-High God—the God of the gods.  The old gods of this world have no place here.”

The Egyptian girl frowned.  “Liars.”

“I don’t think so,” Solomon responded.  “Even if they are not telling the whole truth.”  He scrutinized them once more before he said, “You should not hide yourselves behind such masks.”  He seemed to indicate Boston and Elder Stow, beside Sukki.

Boston looked briefly at Lockhart and Alexis before she removed her glamour of humanity.  The Egyptian girl shrieked and covered her eyes with her hands.  Elder stow looked only at Sukki and nodded.  They removed their glamours as well.  Even Solomon looked shocked at their appearance.

“We are of the elder race that once roamed these very lands,” Elder Stow said.

“Do not be afraid,” Alexis said.  “They are very nice people.”

“We all are,” Lincoln added.

“I am sure this is so,” Solomon said, as he watched the Egyptian girl slowly uncover her eyes, to stare.  “And you are traveling back to the future at a slighly faster rate?”

“Sorry,” Lockhart said, with a smile.  “Still can’t tell you about the future.”

“And you didn’t even say Back to the Future,” Katie said, and squeezed Lockhart’s hand.

“Lockhart,” a man’s voice sounded out from the back corner of the room.  “Have you been telling stories?”  The old man paused while he hobbled into the room, leaning heavily on a cane.  “Boston,” he said, and opened his arms for a hug.  Boston only glanced at Lockhart and Alexis before she raced into the hug.  Everyone smiled, except Lincoln, who asked.

“Korah?”

“Yes,” Solomon said, and he tried not to smile.  “And we haven’t had any stories yet.”

Boston whispered in Korah’s ear.  “You are old again.”

“Every lifetime,” he said, and leaned on her.

“We might tell something from the past,” Katie suggested.

“Like our encounter with Apophis,” Lincoln said.

The Egyptian girl shrieked.  “Please, no,” she said, and covered her eyes with her hands.

Solomon sat up and stroked the girl’s hair, like a doting grandfather, or maybe like a man might pet a faithful dog.  He asked a question while he pretended to be unconcerned.  “So, tell me about this black cloud that chased you into the city so you could not wait for the gate to be opened.  Why did you jump into the pool of Siloam?  Why is it waiting for you, even now, just outside the gate?”

The travelers hesitated, so the Kairos spoke up, now that Boston had helped him get to where he could sit down.  “Go ahead.  Tell us about the djin—the genie.”  He added that word for the men sitting there.

“My wife better explain,” Lockhart said, and he smiled at Katie while he slipped his arm around her.

Katie returned the smile and began.  She told how they entered the time zone, and the djin tried to kill them with the sandstorm. They made it to the city, only to find Ashtaroth, who threatened to sacrifice them in the altar to Moloch.  Boston called to Moloch, and he sent the djin somewhere unknown, and after seeing that they were hedged about by the gods, he sent them to the other side of the Jordan River.  “We set out this morning, after very little sleep, and even so, we almost did not make it to Jerusalem.  We fell into the pool from exhaustion and thirst, after all that time in the heat and desert sands.”

“A djin?” Solomon confirmed.

“A marid,” Korah said.

“Oh, but that is easy,” Solomon responded.  “I have some rejuvination juice right here.”  He stood, slowly for an older man, and picked up a clay jar with a lid that was not exactly like a cork, but near enough.  He lifted the lid, took a sip, and then called to the Egyptian girl.  He leaned on her as he walked, even as Korah continued to lean on Boston.  He took them all to a door that lead out to a balcony right next to the wall.  The cloud floated there, and Solomon called to it.

“Marid, I am Solomon.  I am king of this city and all the land you can see around you.  I have many Marid who are friends in my court.  I wish you no ill will, and I tell you, no harm will come to you here, as long as you do no harm in this place.  Here.  I have rejuvanation juice to toast your health and life.  Come join me in the toast.”

The cloud wavered, but did nothing.

“Come. this will strengthen you after your long hunt.  I drink some every day, but only a little so I don’t become too powerful.  This is stong drink.  You know, I have seven-hundred wives, and three-hudred concubines, and you can imagine at my age how much I need rejuvination.  Even so, all I need is a little of this magic elixir.  They say it can fully restore a person and all of his abilities—even magical abilities, though I have no such talents.

The cloud still appeared to hesitate.

“I see.  You fear the drink may be poison or something.  Here, let me show you.” He took a small sip, waited a moment, and hauled the Egyptian girl to his chest and kissed her, hard.  All the while he held out the jar.  “I am a bull now, ready to mate.  But first I drink to frendship with all the djin.  Will you try some, of course just a little.  No telling how strong you may become if you were to drink it all, or something so foolish…”

The black cloud rushed in, creating a wind it came so fast.  It squeezed itself down into the jug without so much as taking human form.  Solomon put the lid on top and smiled.

“That should keep it.”

A man stepped up with wax and a flame, like he rushed to get them as soon as the king stood.  He melted wax all over the top of the jug and all along the edge of the lid, effectively sealing it tight.  Solomon took off his ring, and while the servant held the jug, he made an imprint of his ring in the top.

“So we don’t forget which jugs have the djin, and which have the fresh wine,” Solomon said.  “That wine had a poor aftertaste, anyway…”  He let the Egyptian girl help him back to his throne.

“We can make love now?” the girl asked.

“Maybe later,” Solomon smiled for her as well as he could.  “Later, if I can stay awake.”

“That’s it?” Lincoln asked.

Korah nodded.  “As long as no one is stupid enough to break the seal, the djin should be held indefinitely.  Even if the seal is broken at some point, the djin will have to return fully to the desert world made for the genies, and heal, before he can do anything else.  And even the powerful and mighty marid cannot return to earth without help from someone on earth, so I would say, yes, that is it.  I do not expect it will be able to bother you any more.”

“But, that is it?” Lincoln asked again.  “But that was so easy—so nothing.”

“Yes,” Korah said, and paused to think.  “You feel let down after all that build up?  You wanted a magical duel, buildings blowing up, sparkas flying everywhere, that sort of thing?”

Lincoln nodded as Alexis answered.  “All I feel is relief.”

“Tell you what,” Korah said.  “Come to my place.  You can eat and rest for a time.  Ignore the boys.  They have the first garage band in history, but at least it is not electric.”

“You don’t want us to move on right away?” Boston asked.

“Lockhart?” Korah looked for him.  He saw him and Katie, still out on the balcony, kissing.

“Still newlyweds,” Elder Stow explained.

Korah nodded.  Solomon spoke.  “You owe me a good story, or two.”

Korah said, “No reason you should not take the chance to rest a bit.  The twenty-first century is still a long way from here.  The gnomes have your horses.  Eat, rest and relax for a bit before you return to the road and your journey… Back to the Future…”

“You said it,” Decker did not sound pleased.

“I know.  If I’m not careful, I’ll get hit with a cease and desist order.  Good luck finding me a thousand years before Christ.”

END of Season Five.

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

Special preview post tomorrow.

Please stop by, and Happy Reading

*

Avalon 5.12 Bad Wine, part 4 of 5

The travelers found themselves in a pleasant grove of trees beside a river.  The horses all appeared unharmed.  They also appeared to have their equipment.

“My guess is the Jordan River,” Lincoln said.  “It was the way we were headed.”

“Good guess,” Boston said as she checked her amulet.  “We are about a day from where the Kairos appears to be.  We got a whole lot closer without having to move ourselves.”

“Any idea where the djin might be?” Lockhart asked.  Everyone shook their heads, including Boston, who spoke.

“The amulet doesn’t show the djin.”

“The other side of the Jordan River,” Alexis said, and sighed her relief.  Everyone got it.  When Moloch threatened to send them over to the other side, the way the gods talk about the other side of death, he did not mean to kill them.

“We need to find the Kairos as soon as we can,” Lincoln said.  “Hopefully before the djin finds us.”

“Agreed,” Lockhart said.  “But we need to rest, and heal, and so do the horses.  We take eight hours.  Two for each pair on watch.”

“I could put the screens back up, just in case,” Elder Stow suggested.

“No,” Lockhart said.  “The djin might more easily find us that way.”

“I don’t suppose we could stay long enough to hunt,” Decker asked.

“Bread crackers,” Katie said, with a shake of her head.  “Be glad it is not cold.  I don’t think even a fire would be wise.”

Decker did not argue.  He was military, and knew better than most the trouble any delay might cause.  Tents were teken back from the horses and went up.  Horses got some extra care, then Lockhart started the eight-hour watch.  He knew they would be sleeping after the sun rose, but not for long after.

###

“Still no sign of the djin?” Lockhart asked, as he tried to wake up.

“No.  Nothing,” Boston answered.  “It has been quiet since Sukki and I got up to watch.”

“The sun is well up,” Katie said, as she checked her saddle.  “We still have time to get to where the Kairos is?”  Boston nodded.

“And we go around Jericho,” Lockhart said.  He underlined that for Lincoln.

“We have not been there since that first time, way early in our journey,” Lincoln said.  “I am curious to see how it has changed, that’s all.”

“It is where I joined the others,” Elder Stow explained for Sukki, who nodded, but held her tongue, as usual.

“We ready?” Decker asked.  The others mounted, and they set off through the wilderness.

The travelers found a village and a well-worn path to Jericho.  They asked the way to Jerusalem, and got shown the cut-off that went around the outside of the city and pointed straight at the capital.  Soon, they picked up a better path, almost a road between Jericho and Jerusalem, and they made very good time.

“Much better than the first time we came through here,” Lockhart said, when they paused to walk the horses, to rest them.  “Back then, Old Salem was ruled by the Kairos whats-his-name as an independant city.”

“Yadinel,” Katie told him.  “The Elohim people lived there, but the Jebusites were on the verge of overrunning the city.”

“Now, David might be king,” Lincoln spoke up from behind, his nose in the database.  “But I suspect we will deal with Solomon.  It says here that Nathan was the student of Samuel, and Korah was the student of Nathan.  Korah has two students, Shemaiah and Ahijah.”

“Elijah?” Boston asked from behind Lincoln.

“Ahijah,” Lincoln corrected her.  “Elijah comes further down on the list.”

“So, Korah is a prophet?” Lockhart wanted to get it straight.

“No, technically, he is a musician.  So was Nathan.  Apparently, with some other Korahites, not named after the Kairos, Korah… they composed and play most of the temple music that made the Psalms into songs.”

“Korahites?” Alexis asked.

“Yes…” Lincoln paused to read before he spoke.  “They are levites, the ones who specifically carried all the sacred items all those years in the wilderness, including…” he paused to read.  “Including the Arc of the Covenant.”

“So, now that there is a temple, he has turned to music?” Katie said, like a question.

“So, what do we call him?” Lockhart asked.

“Can’t be Elvis,” Boston spoke up.  “Because we aren’t in Memphis… Egypt.”

“Rabbi, I think,” Lincoln said, and read some more.

“There were Rabbi’s this far back in history?” Boston asked.

“No, I don’t think it’s that kind of Rabbi,” Alexis said.

“Rabbi just means teacher,” Katie shouted back as Lockhart stopped the column.

“Mount up,” he said.  “We have really pushed our luck.  We need to get to Jerusalem, and whatever the Kairos, Korah is doing, I hope he can help us with the djin.”

“I hope we get there before the djin finds us,” Lincoln agreed.

###

“I see the gate,” Boston shouted from the back.  At four in the afternoon, they would easily get there before dark.  Even with that encouragement, everyone dragged toward the gate.  They, and their horses, were exhausted from a whole day of fighting the wind and sand, and then getting very little sleep in the night, and then riding all day without a stop.  They dared not stop for lunch.  They all felt hungry, sick of plain bread crackers.  Mostly, they sweated and were thirsty.  The idea of food and water, and maybe rest kept them going, but they had no speed in them.  That changed when Sukki shouted from the rear.

“I see a black cloud following us.  It looks like it is catching up.”

Everyone looked.  Lockhart shouted, “Ride.”

The road they were on seemed better than most they had seen.  Even so, they probably rode faster than it was prudent.  The wind began to pick up around them and blow dust into their faces, but Alexis pulled out her wand, and the wind detoured around them.  She did not have the power to counter the djin, but she could divert the wind.

Fire came up from the ground, like a living thing.  It shot at them, but Boston had her wand out already.  She could not delete the fire, but she could cause it to bend away from them long enough to pass by.

Decker and Elder Stow came in from the wings to cover the rear.  As the cloud came closer, lighting began to shoot out and explode on the ground where it hit.  The lighting tried to hit them, but Elder Stow had prepared his screens in advance for just this possibility.  He flipped the switch, and the lightning struck the wall of screens he made come up behind them.  It struck the screen and dissipated.  Otherwise, the djin had to fire his lightining too far in front of the group, or too far to either side to be effective.

The travelers galloped flat out where they could, and near that speed in every other place.  They looked like they might make it, but Boston shouted, and made herself heard, as elves can.

“The gate is closed.”

Elder Stow touched something on his screen device and sprinted his horse to the front.  They all understood if they stopped to ask permission to enter the city, the djin would catch them.  Elder stow did not ask permission, or even think clearly of the consequences.  Somehow, they all imagined if they got inside the city they would be safe.  Elder Stow pulled his weapon, adjusted the setting on the run, and fired.  Whatever small part of the door around the edges that did not vanish, exploded and caught fire.

The travelers raced into the city, and the soldiers and watchers in the gate dared not stop them.  Dead ahead, they saw a pool of water.  They rode into it, and after a moment, they got down into the water.  It felt glorious.

They all looked, of course, and noticed that the cloud of the djin stopped outside the city.  It almost seemed as if the wall kept him out.  It made no sense, that a wall could stop a cloud that could easily fly over top.  But something kept the djin out.

As the travelers, and their horses reveled in the water, the guards in the gate pulled themselves together.  After only a minute or so, the soldiers came.

Avalon 5.12 Bad Wine, part 3 of 5

The travelers were not disappointed with the tantrum.  The ground began to shake, which Elder Stow said had to be below the screen.  He reminded them the screens formed a globe and projected below the ground as much as above the ground.  The travelers watched as the desert cracked.  Steam shot up from several cracks, like wild geysers.  Flame came up from others.  The Tornado slammed into the screens.  The whole landscape turned from the desert, to an image of Hell.

Boston saw one of the streams of fire waver, and curiosity made her go invisible.  She saw a big, vulture-like bird had fallen to the ground.  It smoked, like it had been burned, and it took a moment to get Alexis’ attention well enough to explain what she could see in the dark, lit up by the light of the flames.

“Of course,” Alexis said.  “It isn’t just us stuck between two worlds.  The whole area around us is shifted, like the real world and the sand world are being overlapped in our location.  We are mostly insubstantial to the real world, and the real world is mostly unsubstantial to us, but not entirely so.  We pass through the real world and the real world through us, but not entirely so.  We have substantial shadows, we might say.”

“Uh-huh,” Boston said, but it would take her some time thinking about it before she understood what Alexis understood.

The ground began to rise, beneath their feet, and while the rest of the people, and the horses, began to panic, Elder Stow smiled.

“Something like rock must be pushing us up from underneath,” Lincoln said.

“The ground won’t stay still,” Sukki complained.

“Why are you smiling?” Boston returned to visibility and asked Elder Stow. He played with the screens, and slowly let sand fall out of the screens from beneath the traveler’s feet as they rose.  The travelers began to sink in the globe or protection.  Elder Stow began to float so he, and his scanner and equipment, stayed in the center of the screen globe, even as the bottom half of the globe got pushed out of the ground from underneath.  Elder Stow left enough sand in the bottom part of the globe for the travelers and the horses to stand upon, but soon enough he floated well over their heads.  He seemed to know exactly when the screen globe broke free of the sand, and he moved without warning.

They flew.

The travelers, the horses, the sand beneath their feet, and Elder Stow overhead.  The whole screen globe flew toward the city, and the djin appeared stymied, like this was an option he had not considered.

“My little flotation device is not designed for all this weight,” Elder Stow shouted down.  “It may give out after a short way.  I do not know how we may hit the earth.  I hope we don’t roll.  I hope the horses are not damaged, or worse, roll on top of you and damage you, but for now, we might as well take advantage of the djin’s mistake.”

“He is flying,” Sukki gasped.

“It is how he got around at first, when he followed us,” Boston told her.  “He went invisible and flew after us.  Nothing we could do about that, until he decided of his own free will, that it was safer and better to join us on the journey, since we were headed in the same direction he was headed.”

They did not fly fast, but some time passed before the djin figured out to raise the wind and sand again and try to blow them back.  Too late.  They reached the city, and Elder Stow just had to figure out how to set them down, safely.  He found a market square, deserted in the night, but big enough if he trimmed the size of the screens.  He went for it, though it took some fast and delicate manipulation of the screen and floatation controlers.

As the screens sank back into the sand, and Elder Stow returned to set his feet again, on the ground with the travelers and the horses, he flipped the invisibility disc back on to show them where they were in relation to the town.  He imagined it was a market.  Katie knew better.

“We must be in Rabbah, and this is the temple complex.”  Katie pointed toward the three-story tall bronze looking statue of a man with a bull head which took up one whole side of the square.  “That is the altar of Moloch.  He eats the sacrifice of human children.”

“Ashtaroth land,” Lincoln read, before he explained the Sukki.  “The one with the basilisk, who ate your entire expedition.”

“No,” Sukki whispered, and hid her face in her hands.  Boston and Alexis comforted her, while Lockhart kept Katie from getting closer, to examine the altar.

Something swirled in the square.  It became a little tornado before it began to form, outside the screen.  The travelers feared the djin, but it turned out to be a woman.  She came dressed in a plain, pull-over dress that fell around her like a shapeless tent.  She did not appear a bad looking woman, though it would have stretched the truth to call her pretty.  Mostly, she looked haggard, or cruel, or broken in some way; and angry, which did nothing for her looks—that, and the two big horns, like bull’s horns, that grew out or her forehead.  Still, she looked human-like despite the horns, but from the way the travelers trembled, they knew she had to be the goddess.

“Let me see you,” she demanded, and Elder Stow wisely turned off his screens.  It seemed better than her breaking them. The woman squinted, growled, and waved her hands.  The travelers felt themselves drawn back into the real world.  The only thing missing was the thump! when they landed.  They watched as Ashteroth grinned a wicked grin.  “The two ancient ones from the before time,” she said.  “And six ohers that do not belong here.  How nice.  What fun we will have.”  She looked up at the black cloud that appeared to hover in the sky and defy the wind.  No one had to guess who that black cloud represented.  “I might even let you live for bringing them to me,” she spoke to the sky.

“Who should we call?” Lockhart whispered.

Katie shook her head.  “In this place, only Moloch, her husband.”  Katie pointed at the altar, the big, bronze bull-headed man.

“Yes,” Ashtaroth said.  “And my husband will be very pleased with your sacrifices.  We have seven chambers in image.  We will cook you, and eat you, and I will relish your spirits.  One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…” she stopped when she pointed at Boston.

“Eight,” Boston prompted, in case the goddess forgot what came next.

Ashtaroth shrugged.  “I have no need for a spirit one.”

“Moloch,” Boston called.  “Moloch…”

“No,” Ashtaroth said, but it was too late.  The god appeared, eight feet tall, muscular, naked, bull head and all.

“You have trespassed on my place,” he said.  “I claim your children.”

“We have no children,” Katie responded.

The bull head looked up at the black cloud and yelled.  “I said no.”  He clenched his fist and the cloud disappeared, leaving a night sky full of stars.  “I claim you,” he said, and Ashtaroth smiled.

“We are hedged by the gods,” Boston said.  “By Enlil, Enki, Marduk, Ishtar, Hebat, Arinna, Hannahannah and Astarte.”

Katie found courage in the names and added to the list.  “By Odin, Zeus, Amon Ra, Tien Shang-Di, by Ameratsu, Leto, Artemis, Apollo and Ares.”

“By Hathor and Horus,” Boston continued.  “By Varuna and Brahma.”

“By Maya, and the Great Spirit over the sea.  By Poseidon, Feya, Bast and Anubis, Sekhmet and the Kairos, and many others.”

“Are you prepared to bring the wrath of the gods down upon you?” Boston asked.

“Harm us at the risk of your life,” Lockhart added.

“The gods will send you to the other side,” Lincoln said, using the words the gods used for death.

“You will be cast into the outer darkness,” Alexis added.

“Even into the lake of fire,” Boston said with a shiver, her head lowered that whole time.

Moloch did not appear to be a bright person.  He held his unclenched hand out to the travelers, like he felt for something.  He seemed to sense something.  He roared loud enough to shake the nearby buildings.  Then he spoke.

“You should not be here.  You should go to the other side.”

Moloch unclenched his fist even as Ashtaroth shouted, “No.”  The travelers vanished from that place.

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

MONDAY

Go to the other side…of what?

Be sure to return for the second half of episode 5.12, and the end of Season Five

Until then… Happy Reading

*

Avalon 5.12 Bad Wine, part 2 of 5

The sandstorm kept up for several hours, but with a couple of hours to work, Elder Stow made something like a window, high up on the back side of the screens.  He even bent one section of the screen dome above the window so the sand slid off it, like rain off a roof, and did not come in the window.  Boston, the engineer, asked how he did that.  Elder Stow grinned his best Neanderthal grin and answered the question with a question.

“And how did your father Mingus make a window so only I could see you, though you remained invisible to the rest of the world?”

Boston, who had become visible right away, because staying invisible was too draining, wrinkled her nose as she spoke.  “That is very complicated magic,” she said.  Elder Stow nodded, but said no more.

“How long do you think he will keep this up?” Decker asked.  He chewed on some beef jerkey that had to be at least sixty-years-old after coming through the time gate.  He handed some to Sukki with a word.  “I don’t swallow it.  I just chew it for a while and spit it out.  I don’t have any gum or tobacco.”

Sukki understood.  She tried a piece for something to do, but she did not care for it much.  Gott-Druk, in general, were not big meat eaters.

After Elder Stow set the window, and made sure the screens were functioning properly, he joined the others and had a request for Boston.  “The sand appears to be covering the front end of the screens very nicely.  Boston, would you mind going invisible again and tell me what you see.”

“Okay,” she said, and it took a minute of concentration before they heard her voice.  “I see the field, the trees and the big rock, like no sandstorm ever happened.”

“Good,” Elder Stow responded, and he touched something on his belt and went invisible.  Sukki shrieked before she covered her mouth, and they heard Elder Stow’s voice.  “I see the same, trees, open field, and rocky hillside.”  Elder Stow became visible again, and Boston became visible a moment later.  “Now, let’s see what happens.”  He reattached the invsibility disc to the screens, and when he turned it on, everyone saw the native area.  Dog and Cortez let out sounds of surprise.  Misty Gray and Honey came up to stand beside Alexis and Boston.

“Question.” Lockhart spoke.  “Can you move us with the screen around us, like you did back in Althea’s day when the volcano went off?”

Elder Stow had to think about that.  “I can, but I would have to let solid items pass through the screen, like sand.  Perhaps we can move out from beneath the piled-up sand first before adjusting the screens for easier movement.”

“I don’t believe we have moved back into our world,” Alexis said.  “By becoming invisible, we have made the world visible, but in reality, I suspect we still have one foot in that other world.”

Lockhart understood, as well as he could understand.  Everyone mounted, and did their best to cover themselves and their horses against a blast of invisible sand.  They moved a small way, and could not move any further, like the sreens got stuck or caught on something immovable.

“Okay,” Lockhart said, and Elder Stow switched the screen settings, and they felt the wind, and the sting in the wind, though they did manage to get out from under the collapsing sand hill, which they could no longer see.

“We may have to take this bit by bit,” Katie shouted against the wind.

Lockhart nodded and started them in the direction they needed to go.  They got about a quarter mile before they had to stop and Elder Stow had to restore the screens to their previous condition.  He turned off the invisibility disc.

Everyone saw the sandstorm still raging, and Lincoln asked this time how long this could continue.

“A true duststorm can last from several minutes to several days,” Katie said, having dug up the relevant information from somewhere in her memory.  “It depends on a number of factors that I have no way of knowing right now.”

“Well, we have passed the few minutes part,” Lockhart said.  “We will see how long the djin keeps it up.”

“Hush,” Alexis told Lockhart.  “Let me see your eyes.”  She found some petroleum jelly in the medical kit and made them aply some to the insides of the nostrils, while she explained.  “This storm will dry you out worse than making your breathing heavy.  Your nose and mouth can dry.  We should keep the masks moist.  Your eyes can become dry enough to cause blindness, even permanent blindness. Best not to look up, and not into the wind at all.”

“We should probably cover our horse’s faces completely, and keep their face covering moist as well,” Lincon added.  He read in the database.

“Hey,” Boston got their attention.  “Why don’t we completely cover the horses with our tents, like we do in the snow, like medieval blankets, you know.”

Lockhart nodded and looked at Decker.  Decker appeared to be thinking, but in fact he was meditating and letting his eagle spirit haul him up above the screens to see what he could.  Sukki spoke up.

“Why are we heading straight into the wind?” she asked, innocently.  “Could we go to the side and go around the storm?”

“I imagine the djin wants to blast us head on,” Lockhart said.

Lincoln said, “Tacking,” and Alexis said, “A sailboat,” at almost the same time.

“We would be hit on the side,” Alexis explained.  “But we would not be hit in the face, and could better see where we are going.  With the blanket-covered horses, it would not be so bad.  And when the djin swings the storm to hit us in the face again, we swing to angle in the other direction, to be hit on the other side.”

“At a forty-five-degree angle, our forward motion would be about cut in half,” Lincoln said.  “But it should be more bearable.”

Elder Stow spoke.  “I have to assume the djin is subject to the same laws as anyone.  He can’t hit us from more than one direction at a time with wind and sand.”

“Keep the masks moist,” Alexis said.  “We brought plenty of water, so for a couple of days, if need be, should not be a problem.”

Decker came back and reported.  “The storm in about half-a-mile high and roughly half-a-mile in front, but from the way it dies instantly behind us, I would guess it is being artificially created.  I bet he can keep this up as long as there is sand.”

Lockhart stood.  “We are going to tack to the city, like a sailboat.  Get your tents and get the horses covered.”

###

The crew stopped for about the tenth time, well after dark.  Stopping proved no problem, but if they stopped for too long a period of time, the sand built up again against the screens, and then they had to backtrack before they could move forward again; and progress came painfully slow as it was.  People and horses got as much rest as they could, and they turned off all the lanterns but one to conserve power each time they stopped, but there was not much rest to be had.  Alexis checked people’s eyes and noses every time.  Boston and Katie took on the task of checking the horses.  It did not help matters when Boston said the horses should not go out again.  She said that the last two stops, but this time Katie agreed with her.

“Quite all right,” Elder Stow said.  “It appears our djin is tired of the game as well.”  He threw a switch on his scanner and the screens solidified, even as they had been at first.  He also turned off the invisibility disc so everyone could watch.  The storm ended, suddenly, and a tornado took its place.  It slammed into the screen, but it could not penetrate.  Elder Stow spoke calmly.

“Over our various stops, I tinkered with the scanner.  I managed to see what was going on in the desert world through or around the invisibility disc.  I expect a temper tantrum.”

Avalon 5.12 Bad Wine, part 1 of 5

After 999 BC Jerusalem.  Kairos 71: Korah, Musician and Prophet

Recording…

The travelers came prepared.  Too bad for the djin.  They took their blankets and their horse blankets and shaped them into water carriers, where the water would evaporate slowly over the next four days to a week, depending on how much of it they drank in that time.  They draped one carrier just behind their saddles where it would cool the horse’s rear, and the other, just in front of their saddles, where it would drape down and cool the horse’s neck.  They separated a piece of fairy weave from their clothes to make a mask for the horses to protect them from the sand.  They protected themselves with sold clothes where they could sweat, and masks and hats of their own.

“Tien said desert,” Alexis reminded everyone several times, before she finally asked, “Are we ready?”  Their canteens were full, and the horses had a long drink.

Katie looked at Lockhart before she nodded, and they left China behind.  They came out on a plain where they saw only sand for as far as they could see, and it felt like it would be a hundred degrees in the shade, if they ever found any shade.

“I don’t like it,” Katie said.  “It feels unnatural.”

“About what I expected,” Lokhart said, and with a glance at Katie, who checked her amulet and pointed, they started right out at a slow, walking pace.

“Looks like nothing but bread crackers for a while,” Lincoln said.  “Unless Decker or Elder Stow can find something.”

“How can we eat bread crackers without hot water to make the bread?” Sukki asked Boston.  Alexis heard and leaned back to answer.

“We may have to just eat the crackers.  Don’t worry. They won’t expand into full loaves of bread in your stomach, though they will fill you more than you would normally expect from crackers.”

“It will be fine,” Boston assured her.  “We have eaten the crackers before.”

“My mother.  My father,” Elder Stow interrupted and moved up beside Lockhart.  He had his scanner out and shook his head.  “I do not understand what I am seeing.  I am picking up a hot and dry land, but there are bushes and some trees.  I would guess olive and fig trees, among others.  I see a farm and a village that we should be able to see from here.”  He pointed off to their right.  “But my eyes see nothing.”

“Boston?” Lockhart shouted back, though Boston’s elf ears would have heard his whisper.

“Sorry, Boss,” Boston responded.  “All I see is sand.”  She got out her amulet, which offered more information about the location of cities and towns, and the general terrain than Katie’s prototype amulet.

“An illusion?” Alexis asked.

“Boss,” Boston raised her voice for Lockhart’s attention.  “I don’t see the village in the amulet, but we should reach a city by the end of the day, or a bit less.”

“We’ll look for it,” he said and turned to those around him.  “I want to keep Elder Stow with the main group to keep an eye on the terrain, in case we come to a cliff or something.  Katie, would you mind taking the wing with Decker?”

“Really?” Katie asked, and appeared to smile about it.  It could be dangerous by herself out on the wing, but previously, Robert would not let her get in a dangerous position.  It almost separated them at one point.  She thought, maybe he was growing, willing to let her be the elect she was.

“If you don’t mind,” Lockhart said.  “Lincoln needs to use the database to figure out where we are.  Alexis and Boston are trying to figure out how to pierce this illusion, or whatever it is.  Sukki is too new at all this, and not military trained, and as I said, Elder Stow needs to keep a watch on the terrain.”

“Oh.”  Katie lost a bit of her enthusiasm.  “So I am the only choice?”

“Not exactly,” Lockhart admitted.  “You have elect senses.  You might sense something that none of us can see.”

That helped.  Katie rode off to one side, and Decker rode off to the other.  Lockhart watched them to make sure they did not disappear in the sand.  Then he spoke into his wrist communcator.  “Testing, testing.  Don’t get out of range in case we need to pull you back quickly.”

“Roger.”

“Yes, Dear.”

Lincoln looked at Lockhart, who turned slightly red but did not turn his head.  Lincoln kindly changed the subject as he pulled out the database.  “I would guess our equipment has been taken out of the djin’s hands.  He had to teach the men in Sinon’s day to fire the weapons, and Elder Stow’s radiation detector still worked.”

“Zoe took away his ability to control our minds, way back when,” Lockhart responded.

“Looks like he still figured out a way to control our senses, though.” Lincoln said and turned to read.

“This way,” Elder Stow said.

“Why?” Lockhart asked.

“Trees.  A grove,” Elder Stow replied.

Lockhart shook his head.  “I don’t see them.  Let’s see if they are there.”  He kept them moving straight ahead.

Elder Stow grunted, raised his eyebrows and grunted again before he spoke.  “You…We appear to have walked right through them.”

“That doesn’t mean if we come to a cliff or crevasse we won’t fall off or fall in,” Lockhart said and turned his head.  “Alexis.”

“We seem to be partly out of sync with the environment,” Alexis responded.  “Like we have one foot in another world.  Boston.”  Boston looked at her.  “Try to go invisible.”

Boston had to concentrate, but she eventually succeeded, and though they did not see her, just Honey, her horse, plodding along in the heat, they heard her well enough.  “I’m in regular land,” she said, and everyone knew what she meant.

Sukki had a question, after she got over her shock of seeing Boston disappear.  “Is it as hot there?  I’m melting.”

“Still hot, but not as bad,” Boston said.

“The benefits of a green environment,” Alexis said.

“Elder Stow.  Want to try it?” Lockhart asked.  Elder Stow had a disc with which he could simulate invisibility.

“Wait until we stop for lunch,” he said.  “It is still tied to the screen device.”

Lincoln looked up.  “Hey, I was wondering.  Can your screens cut the glare of the sun, like sunglasses—or those glasses that darken out in the sun.”

“Like shade,” Alexis said.

Elder Stow looked up and thought about it.  “I believe so, but I may need to take extra time at lunch to work on the program.”

“Sandstorm.”  Katie’s word came from every wrist communicator.  Lockhart looked up and saw Decker, and then Katie riding hard.  Behind them, he saw a wall, like a giant cloud pursuing them.

“No time like the present,” Lincoln said.

“Over here,” Boston spoke.  “Follow Honey.”  Honey wandered to a spot that looked, to the others, no different than anywhere else.  But they followed, and Decker and Katie angled in to join them.  Elder Stow got down and worked feverishly on his scanner and screen device.

“Why here?” Lockhart asked to Boston’s horse.  He heard an answer over his head.

“We are behind a hill and great rock outcropping.  I can kind of see the desert, if I concentrate, and I don’t know if the natural barrier will help, but I thought it was worth a try.”

“Everyone, get out your tents,” Lockhart shouted.  “See if it will expand enough to cover yourself and your horse.”

“Wait, wait,” Elder Stow said, and he judged where Katie and Decker rode in the distance.  He hit a button with a word, “Now.”  Suddenly, the sound of the wind that they hardly noticed cut off.  Elder Stow continued.  “I made the screens as big as I could and still keep out the sand and dust.”

“Why make it so big?” Sukki wondered.

“Because, I would not put it past the djin to try and bury us in sand, at which point the only air we will have to breathe will be the air inside the screens, until we dig ourselves out.”

“Well, if he buries us, it should cut the glare from the sun,” Lockhart said.

“And bake us, like in an oven,” Alexis responded.

“Cheery thought,” Decker said, as he dismounted.

Katie got down to stand beside Lockhart as they watched the sand strike and begin to build a wall of sand on the outside of the screen dome.

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.

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

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 5.11 The River Circus, part 5 of 6

“So, tell me about these night creatures,” Gongming said.  Lockhart explained as well as he could.  Basically, he said honestly that they were faster, stronger and tougher than the tiger, and would tear the throat from the tiger without blinking.

“Without blinking?”

“Without a second thought,” Lockhart affirmed.  “And worse, they hunt in packs, like wolves.”

“Like wolves?”  Gongming pulled on his beard.  “And why have I not heard of such creatures before?”

“They are very rare,” Katie took up the explanation.  “They must be brought here from far away.”

“It is the genie,” Boston said to Feyan, so Katie also turned to Feyan.

“He got one of the gods to work with him in the last time zone, and has one of the Shang gods working with him here, as well.”

“No other explanation as to how the night creatures could stay up with us on the trail,” Lockhart finished.

Feyan pulled on her chin, in imitation of Gongming.  “I have to think.  I assume they are not far behind you, even now, but I have to think.”  She went to the far railing and looked out across the river.

Gongming gave her a hard look, to imagine the youngest, and a girl, should have anything to say about the matter, but Aunt Chen interrupted his thoughts.  “Let the princess think.  She also has the blood of the Shang-Di in her.  Maybe she can intercede with the gods on our behalf…”

Gongming nodded grumpily as Wang came up from the small boat for the third and final time, bringing the last of the almost stolen bronze, and he spoke.  “Mother is very careful about not offending any of the gods.”  He smiled for everyone, but he really wanted Boston’s attention.  “Are you really a benevolent spirit?”

“Yes,” Gongming let that distract him.  “How is it a spirit should even know a little girl.  She has been with us since she was five, and I have not seen any spirits before now.”  Both Wang and Aunt Chen looked like they may have seen something, but they said nothing.

“We worship her, like she is our goddess,” Boston said.  Both Katie and Lockhart thought it might not be a good idea to be so honest, but Boston ignored them.  Boston, like any little spirit, knew that the secret to good lies was knowing when to lie, or stretch the truth, or be completely honest.  The little ones seemed to have a sixth sense about that, especially some imps and dwarf types.

Gongming shook his head.  “A giant being the leader of others makes sense to me.  A yellow-hair woman being captain over men makes no sense to me.  But one who appears human, claiming to be a spirit of the sky, and claiming to worship a young girl sounds dangerous.”  He looked at Chen, his wife, knowing the great care she took to give all of the gods their due.  “The gods can be jealous.  They require our worship, and do not share our devotion.  I fear you may anger them with what you say.”

“No,” Katie protested to Boston, but Boston removed her glamour to reveal herself in all her elfish glory.  Wang gasped and Aunt Chen lowered her eyes.  Gongming returned to his shocked, unmoving look, as Boston caused a fire to rise in the palm of her hand, shaped it into a ball of light, called a fairy light, and let it float into the sky to just above the mast, so it could bathe the whole boat in light.

“I am a spirit of the earth,” Boston said.  “Though the littlest spirits of the sky, water, fire, metal and wood also worship Shang Feyan, since the earliest days.  Though she is presently a young girl, she has not always been so.  Have you not seen anything strange about her?  Have you not heard words come from her that seem to make sense, though you do not understand what she is saying?”

Gongming slowly nodded, and asked an odd question.  “What is a fortune cookie?”  Boston, Wang, Aunt Chen, and Katie all laughed.  Lockhart tried to explain.

“A cookie is a treat that a person has at the end of a meal. Inside the hollow cookie is a saying, words that are usually wise and encouraging, and may point to the future.  That is called your fortune.”

“Some fortunes are funny,” Boston said.

“They are a delight for people, and instructive.”

Gongming pulled his beard.  “One who can bring delight to people will surely have good fortune.”

“Fortune cookie,” Feyan yelled back from the other side of the deck.  Eyes turned to her as she took hold of her feelings and spoke in her most humble tones.  Clearly, she was not speaking to any of the people on board.  “Great Wei.  Please.  May your most humble servant speak with you?  I have a special request, unheard of in this broken world.” She added a last word, as softly as she could.  “Tien, my son, I have need of you.”

Immediately, the river began to boil.  People walked over to watch, but backed up a couple of steps as a true giant, a woman rose out of the water and leaned her arms on the rail.  People assumed the reason the whole boat did not tip in the giant’s direction was because she was made of water, and probably did not weigh much.  Katie and Lockhart knew water could be very heavy, but they were finally getting used to the gods ignoring the laws of physics.

“Wie We?” Feyan spoke to the woman like she knew the woman.  The travelers, at least, were not surprised.

“Father doesn’t want to get involved,” the woman said, with a smile for the travelers.  “I am one of the daughters of the river, a naiad, you might call me.”

“Wei We, my friends are being followed—”

“By night Creatures.  We know.”

“I thought, maybe a collapsible water bridge,” Feyan said.

Wei We liked the thought.  “Your water sprites are anxious to help.”

The boat rocked slightly and several water blobs popped up to the deck.  They looked like little gingerbread men made of water, and spoke in the sweetest, baby-like voices.  “We are ready.  We want to help.”

“Water babies,” Feyan yelled her joy just before Boston yelled the same thing.  Both struggled to keep themselves from bending down and hugging them, which would not have offended them, but might have broken them to pieces.

Wei We looked almost as pleased with the water babies as the others.  “I understand horses do not do well over running water.  I will bring up the sand to color the bridge, if that would work.”

“That and some sides,” Lockhart said, and showed with his arms.  “That would work great.”  Boston checked her amulet.

“The time gate appears to be south, on the other side of the river,” she said, and restored her glamour of humanity, though she left the fairy light overhead.

“What about the prisoners?” Katie asked.

“Here,” Gongming shook himself enough to say the one word.

“They are tied?” Wang sought assurance.

“Yes.”  Boston looked and saw that they were.

Wei We spoke after a moment of silence.  “Are we ready?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Lockhart responded

“Goodie,” the water sprites shouted and leapt back into the water.

“Ma’am?” Katie questioned.  Lockhart came from Michigan.  Decker was the one from North Carolina.

“It doesn’t hurt to be polite,” Lockhart responded

“Courtesy can often gain what demands cannot,” Gongming said.

All three travelers looked at each other and said, “Fortune cookie,” before they disappeared from the deck of the ship to be replaced by three frightened looking soldiers.  Bi chose that moment to come back up with Baby following.  Baby bounded to Feyan as Wei We appeared to break apart and return to the river.  They all watched from the railing.

Avalon 5.11 The River Circus, part 4 of 6

Baby, the tiger was the first to wake.  She served better than a watchdog.  Feyan woke next, and before Baby growled, Feyan let out a soft guttural sound like she and the tiger lived on the same wavelength.  Feyan woke Wang by clamping a hand over his mouth.  Baby stayed quiet, but her tail twitched.  Suddenly, they heard a crash, clink, clunk in the small hut they built in the bow to house all their bronze and such.

“Quiet.”  That word from overhead was not very quiet.

Bi got up, and Aunt Chen stirred, but Gongming snored.  Feyan imagined Uncle Gongming could sleep through a thunderstorm, and flood, with the river water sloshing up and threatening to swamp the boat.

Feyan got her short sword and her bow and arrows.  She slipped a couple of knives into her belt.  She handed the boys their swords, and Baby finally had to let out a growl loud enough to make the shuffling feet above pause.

Feyan sent the brothers up the stern ladder to the steering oar area behind the main house up on deck.  She and baby went up the front steps to the kitchen area behind the little hut, as far forward as they could get.  The boys did not know what to do other than watch, but Feyan had ideas.  There were five men on board, and no telling what they were looking for.  She figured it had to be something important, or they had to be stupid to invade a ship with a live tiger aboard.

Feyan pulled her knives.  She threw one so it stuck in the mast right in front of the face of the one she figured was the captain.  She threw the other so it cut the arm of the soldier about to enter the house, and pinned his sleeve to the wall.  She stood, one hand on Baby, who looked at her like a puppy, waiting permission to tear the intruders apart.

“Hold it right there, Captain,” she shouted.  “What brings you to our little home?”  She put one arrow on her string, but otherwise kept petting Baby to keep her quiet.

The Captain looked in her direction, though she remained hidden by the dark and mostly behind the little bronze hut.  He grinned as he talked.  “You have to be pretty stupid to disarm yourself.”  He pointed at the knife in the mast.

Feyan shouted, “Boys.”  Then she removed her hand from Baby long enough to fire her arrow. The shot whizzed past the captain’s eyes and also stuck in the mast, the fletching tickling his nose on the way.   Baby could not hold back the roar of agitation that came out, but Feyan got her hand back to scratch behind Baby’s ears as quickly as she could.

“You were saying?  I think you have to be the stupid one to invade a boat that has a live tiger on board.”

“I heard it was a puppet,” the Captain said.  “I heard you have been up and down the river and have been paid in gold and jewels.”

“You heard wrong,” Feyan said.  “Whoever told you that wants you dead.”

The captain paused, but Gongming came up the central stairs and out the main hatch through which they loaded rice and supplies.  He probably imagined he would make a grand entrance and soon straighten out whatever the problem came aboard his boat.  The captain had another idea.

“Grab him.”

The two soldiers on the deck did just that, and the one with the bleeding arm, that got himself free from the wall, grabbed Aunt Chen.  Poor Aunt Chen looked like she knew going up amid ships was a bad idea.

That became too much for Baby.  She roared, leapt right over the little bronze hut and raked her claws across the back of one of the men holding Gongming.  All four of the men on deck leapt overboard, the captain to the port side and the other three to the deep, off the starboard side.  They had anchored off the town, so they had water in both direction.  Baby went to the starboard railing, certainly not against a good swim, but Bi and Chen both called to her.  They knew better than to try and corral an angry tiger.

Gongming looked confused, but Feyan ran to the port side railing.  She saw a sixth man, rowing to shore with all his might, some bronze in the small boat, and the captain swimming to catch up.

“Thieves.  Thieves,” Feyan shouted to the people on horseback who rode up to the shore line.  They had lanterns burning to light up the shore.  Several dismounted, and made the man in the boat get down on his face.  They got the captain, too, when he arrived.  They found some rope in the small boat and tied up the two, but then they felt stymied.  They had no idea what to do with them.

Feyan ran to the other side to look for the others.  Even with the moon nearly full, it was too dark to see anything.  The three disappeared in the water, or likely ended up being swept down river due to the current.  Feyan figured at least one of them would not live long, and only one of the three escaped, unscathed.

Baby calmed down enough to nudge Feyan’s arm.  Feyan paused to snuggle Baby’s face and head, and kiss her nose.  She placed Baby in Bi’s hands with instructions to take her below and keep her there.  Then she ran back to the port side and yelled.  “Lockhart.”  She opened her arms like she was giving a big hug.  “Boston.”

Boston got down and ran across the top of the water.  She barely got to the boat before she sank, but she managed to grab a piece of netting, the same the soldiers used to clamber aboard, and she hauled herself up.  Baby looked as Boston come aboard, but Baby did nothing, like she did not see the elf at all, or like some instinct in animals prevented them from hostility toward benevolent spirits.  Boston hugged Feyan with a comment.

“You are younger than I have ever seen you.”

“I’m ten.  I get to be young once every life,” Feyan whispered.  She saw Lockhart and Katie using the invader’s boat to row out to the ship.

Gongming came out of his stupor, and Aunt Chen and Wang walked up beside him.  “And who are these people?” Gongming asked, with a long, hard stare at Boston.

“These are people from the far future who have fallen back into our time and are trying to get home.  They are people of power, and friends of mine,” Feyan said, in her most humble and placating voice.  “Boston is a benevolent spirit, most of the time.  Lockhart is the leader of his group, and Katie is a captain of soldiers, and Lockhart’s wife.”  She paused to see what Gongming heard.

“Don’t be foolish.  Women cannot captain soldiers.  The soldiers would not listen to a woman.”

Katie climbed up first, while Lockhart figured out how to tie the boat to the netting.  “Shang Feyan?”  She looked at Aunt Chen.

“Right here,” Feyan said, with a frown, and Katie shifted her eyes and smiled for how young Feyan was.  “Robert Lockhart.  Captain Katie Harper-Lockhart.  Allow me to introduce Zhou Gongming, his wife, my Aunt Chen, Wang, their eldest son, and Bi, who is below deck, is their younger son.  Also, so you know, we have a full-grown Siberian black tiger female as a pet, like another family member.  Her name is Ziya, but her given name is Baby.”  Feyan finished and struck a perfect pose of submission.  Aunt Chen stepped forward before Gongming could pronounce something.

“This must be very important.  You must be very special.  Feyan never submits to anyone.”

“She is a good little actress,” Gongming said.

“Wonderful to meet you,” Katie responded, in particular, to Aunt Chen.

“Yes, but we have a problem.”  Lockhart spoke to Feyan through Gongming.  “We have night creatures on our tail.  We have traveled three days and now in our third night, and have taken only twelve hours or so to sleep, but they have kept up the whole way.  Our consensus is one of the old Shang gods is keeping them on our tail.”

“Oh dear,” Feyan said.  “We can’t take you aboard ship. The boat is not big enough for all of you and your horses, and Baby would not like being confined.  The horses would not be comfortable, and the smell of horses would drive Baby crazy.  She would find a way to get out.”

“Maybe the water babies could help us cross the river,” Boston suggested.

Feyan shook her head as Katie spoke.  “What is the point?  If the god is helping the creatures, they would just catch up again.”

Gongming pulled on his beard and spoke to his son.  “Wang.  Climb down to the boat and retrieve our things.  I must think what we can do.”

“Father?”

“It is good to help others when you can.  Someday, you may need help,” Gongming said.  Wang went, and Feyan explained.

“My uncle speaks fluent fortune cookie.”

Katie, Lockhart and Boston all nodded as someone shouted to them from the shore.

“Oh, also, what do you want me to do with the two men we have on shore?” Lockhart asked.

“Yes,” Gongming started to speak when they heard a crash in the bronze hut.

Katie and Lockhart carried their handguns and their Patton sabers.  Katie pulled her saber.  Lockhart pulled his police pistol.  Boston pulled her wand.  When Katie was ready, Lockhart opened the door quickly and spoke.  “Come out of there with your hands up.  Drop your weapons and reach for the sky.”  It was a cliché, but effective.

A soldier came out and Feyan nodded.  She thought there were five on the boat.

“Please,” the man begged.  “Save me from the tiger.  I was just following orders.”

“Whom do you serve?” Katie asked with a touch against the man’s chest with her evidently sharp sword.

“We serve the king, but Captain says there is nothing to be gained by service.  The king only pleases himself, so why should we not please ourselves?  I did not believe him.  Oh, no.  I am loyal.  But he ordered me, and threatened me.  He forced me to come.  I don’t want your gold and jewels.  Please, I am innocent.”

“A nickel for every time I heard that,” Lockhart, the former policeman said.

“Can you swim?” Katie asked the man.  The man nodded slowly, not sure what she had in mind.  Katie sheathed her saber before she grabbed the man by his pants and shirt, pulled him to the rail, and threw him into the water.  He was not a big man, shorter than her, but she threw him impressively far to make sure he missed the boat tied to the side.  “One more.  Sit on them,” she shouted.

“Captain Harper,” Feyan whispered to Gongming, who simply stared, dumbfounded.

Avalon 5.11 The River Circus, part 3 of 6

The travelers kept to their watch schedule, even though it was daylight and they were sheltered.  Decker and Elder Stow went right to bed, having the noon to three shift.  Boston and Sukki had a hard time sleeping during the day.  Lockhart and Katie slept about two hours before their shift, with the thought that they could get more rest in the afternoon.  People stayed on edge, but they understood that there was no way the night creatures could get near them in the daytime without help, and they planned to start moving again before dark.  Every hour of daylight they moved, the more space they should theoretically put between them and the creatures.

“I hope the clouds move off by nighttime,” Lockhart said.  “And the moon comes up like last night.”

“It won’t be the moon’s fault,” Lincoln said, and the others agreed.

Around four o’clock in the afternoon, Boston heard the sound of a baby crying in the distance.  It sounded far enough away so she could not tell if it was a night creature or a real baby.  She decided she could not take a chance.  She began to wake the others and make sure they moved into the patches of afternoon sunlight that shone here and there across the floor.

Lockhart and Elder Stow got grumpy.  They were not finished sleeping.  The others woke well enough, but they were all slow moving into the light.  They needed something to encourage them.  They got it when a claw, then a head that roared broke free of the dirt in the back corner of the barn.  Sukki screamed, an alto with a slight gurgling sound, like she had a mouth full of water.  It did not exactly sound like a human scream, but no one missed the point.

“The horses,” Alexis yelled.

“Out in the field,” Lincoln said, and followed Alexis to call them in.

Boston had her wand out, but Elder Stow stopped her from spraying the creature with fire, for fear she would set the whole barn on fire.  For that reason, he kept his energy weapon at the ready, but did not use it.  Katie and Decker had their marine rifles, and this time they shot for the head, and especially the eyes and mouth.  That seemed more effective.  The night creature staggered like a drunken donkey as it pulled itself free of the tunnel.  Lockhart unloaded his shotgun in the creature’s face and it collapsed into a stream of sunlight.  It immediately began to smoke, and in seconds, became engulfed in flame.  A few seconds more, and nothing remained but ash to be blown off on the wind.

“That explains why no bones of a Set animal has ever been found,” Katie said.

Sukki looked at her and Lockhart with questions on her face.  Lockhart explained.  “Their hide is tough and their bodies are full of muscle and cartilage—better than Kevlar.  Even with a high-powered rifle, it is nearly impossible to penetrate the body deep enough to hit a vital organ.  Their bones and skull are also much harder than human bones, but the head has vulnerable spots.  The eyes and open mouth are the best option to penetrate to the brain.”

“They got big, strong teeth, too,” Boston added as she put away her wand and encouraged Sukki to put away her knife.

“From a heavy gravity world, so exceptionally strong and fast,” Elder Stow added, though Sukki did not really understand what he meant by a heavy gravity world.  She came from a time before the Gott-Druk mastered space flight and began to explore other worlds.

“I don’t sense any more in the immediate area,” Katie said, as she grabbed her saddle.

“I heard them, though pretty far away,” Boston admitted while she began to pack her saddle bag.

“Let us hope this one was the scout and the others will take some time to get here,” Lockhart took the hopeful note.  Decker took the sour position.

“With the tunnel, it probably won’t take the main body long to get here.  Maybe an hour, and this barn will be swarming with night creatures.”  People grabbed their things and went out to grab their horses.

The old man came out of the little hovel he lived in to watch the travelers get ready to leave.  Katie found a small bronze bell she picked up back in Nameless’ day, and she thought to offer it to the man for his kindness.  He refused to take it.

“I sense the gods about you,” he said.  “They are watching, even when you think they are not.  Tien Shang-Di is looking down from heaven and sees what is done, even in the dark.  I know, for longer than I have been alive, there are struggles going on in the heavens.  The demons tried to break out of their place and fought against the gods, but the gods have gained the upper hand, and I believe good days are on the horizon.  There will be one final struggle before then.”

“How do you know this?” Katie asked.

“I have seen the signs.  I listen to the wind,” he said.  “And a small troop of Zhou and Shang fought each other not two days ago in my fields.”  He grinned.  “The Shang have kept us in bondage for hundreds of years, and these last years have been the worst of all.  The Zhou have been raised up to set us free.  Thank the gods, and may they have the victory.”

“I take that as the attitude of the general public all over China,” Katie said.

“Back home, we just have an election,” Lockhart said.  “Though lately, things have been so divided, I sense violence, depending on who gets elected.”

“No,” Katie and Alexis objected, and Katie spoke.  “We may not like who is elected, but we can be civil about it.  We are all Americans.”

“People set aside their differences after the election to try and work for the common good,” Alexis said.

Lockhart shrugged, and Lincoln spoke.  “But apparently, in human history, these things were decided by violence, revolution and war.  Like here, I am guessing the Zhou are getting ready to overthrow the Shang.”

Katie nodded.  “That would make it sometime before 1046 BC.”

Boston rode up.  “I got a lead on the Kairos,” she said.  “If we ride through the night and all day tomorrow, we should catch him by tomorrow night.”

“Her,” Lincoln said.  “Shang Feyan is a woman.”

“Great,” Boston looked happy, before her ears picked up the sound of a baby crying.

“You and Sukki need to take the front again in the dark,” Lockhart said.  “Weave us a good path.  Lincoln and Alexis in the middle and Katie and I will protect the rear.  Tell Decker and Elder Stow to stay in close and keep their senses peeled.”

“Great,” Boston repeated, and went to tell the others what was decided.

“I sense you have a long journey,” the old man spoke again.  “I also sense that the demons following you will not have long to live.”

“Great,” Lincoln borrowed Boston’s word.  “Will that be before or after they eat us?”

“Oh, come on,” Alexis turned him to the group.

“Thank you,” Katie said again.

“Oh,” Lockhart had a final thought as he mounted.  “I recommend you stay inside until the sun comes up in the morning.  Please stay away from the barn until tomorrow, daylight.  It is for your own safety and protection.”  The old man nodded as the travelers rode off.

With a three-hour head start in the daylight, and being in an area where more and more people lived, they found roads, or at least worn paths between the farms and villages.  They crossed a small river about midnight, one deep enough where they hoped it might at least make the night creatures pause.  Night creatures could not swim.  On the other side of the river, they passed through what Katie called a genuine town, though she figured in China, a thousand years before Christ, the locals probably called it a city.

No one stopped them, or interfered with their progress, including several camps of soldiers they passed in the dark.  They did not stop to see whose side the soldiers were on.  When the sun rose in the morning, they had to stop in a field.  They ate, and opted for four-hours of rest.  Boston volunteered to stay awake and watch.  Being a light elf, she dragged through some of the night, but became energized again when the sun rose.  She was also young enough, and her constitution strong enough, so it did not bother her, even with little rest the day before.

Most of the others were in no position to argue.  Katie, an elect, stayed up with her for a while.  Sukki, who was also young and had an enormously strong Gott-Druk constitution, got up after a couple of hours of sleep, so mostly Boston did not watch alone.

At noon, they ate again before they set out, and this time they did not stop until the sun got ready to set.

All through the afternoon, the soldiers and gathering army became more evident.  “These people are serious,” Decker said when they finally stopped to catch their breath.  “This is way more than a few thousand Greeks versus a few thousand Trojans.”

“Right, Major,” Katie said.  “I’m not as conversant on this period in China because the historical record is so sketchy, but as I recall, modern estimates say a bit less than fifty-thousand Zhou will attack some seventy-thousand Shang.”

“The numbers are against the Zhou,” Decker countered.  “Wisdom says they should set up a defensive position.”

“Yes, but maybe seventeen-thousand of the Shang Troops will be slaves who will switch sides.  And some of the Shang troops will refuse to fight for their corrupt king, and some of them may even switch sides.”

Decker nodded.

Alexis spoke.  “So much waste.”

“Yes,” Katie agreed.  “But sometimes there is no other choice.  Either people force a change, or they surrender to suffering under the Shang, maybe for centuries to come, generation after generation.”

“The people appear to want a change,” Lincoln added.  Alexis still looked disgusted by the whole idea, but she didn’t argue.

“So, Boston,” Lockhart changed the subject.  “You said we might reach the Kairos by nightfall.”

“I didn’t plan on a four-hour nap,” she said, and pulled out her amulet, though she had studied it earlier.  “But we should be there by midnight.  I assume we are not stopping for the night.”

“Don’t dare,” Lockhart said.  “Not if one of the Shang gods is helping the djin and bringing the creatures close during the day.”

“I wonder why the night creatures don’t just appear in our midst,” Lincoln said, not as a serious suggestion.

“I imagine the god or goddess does not want to be obvious about it,” Alexis answered.

Decker had another thought.  “I was wondering why the night creatures don’t appear in front of us, where they can ambush us.”

“Oh, great,” Lincoln yelled.  “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Same reason, I suppose,” Alexis said.  “That would show obvious interference by someone.  I think, whoever it is, is keeping the creatures close to our tail, but then expecting the night creatures to do their job.”

“Time to move,” Lockhart said.

“I hope the Kairos has some way to stop this,” Sukki said.  They all hoped that.

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The travelers are headed rapidly toward Shang Feyan, but the night creatures appear to be keeping up.  MONDAY, part 4 of 6 will continue the story, and see who or what will catch up…

Until then, Happy Reading.