Avalon 7.5 Ali Baba and the 40 Guns, part 6 of 6

“Bodies,” Decker reported what they could all see.  The few men they saw looked shredded.  The Wolv they saw appeared dead, or at least not moving.

“I don’t see movement in the fort.”  Lockhart looked through Katie’s binoculars.

“I see… Thirty some Wolv in the trees by their ship,” Elder Stow said.  “My guess is the EMP worked, and they are trying to figure out what to do about it, now that thy are vulnerable.”

“Visitors,” Boston said, and added the words, “Friendlies.”  Katie sensed them and pushed up beside Boston to block the view in case Decker or Lockhart thought to shoot first and ask questions later.

Boffo, the dwarf came from the trees, holding tight to an iron bar.  It looked like a duplicate of the one Schaibo carried, but it looked like it fit Boffo’s big hand.  Maruf the cobbler led the three women out of the trees and on to the road.  Princess Nuronnihar looked terribly frightened and confused.  Almeria and Peribonou came holding hands, while Jasmine rode on Almeria’s shoulder and held tight to Almeria’s rich, black hair.  Aemir the elf chief followed, while Cedar, still holding the EMP transmitter, fluttered up to Baba.

“We did just like you said,” Cedar reported.  “We got here just before the Wolv charged, and Jasmine was very brave to press the button.”  He handed the device back to Baba as Aemir took up the tale.

“We had their instruments fooled, but they must have picked up traces of the metal used in your guns.  They found us by visual sighting.  Sorry we couldn’t make the whole camp invisible.”

“Survivors?” Lockhart asked.

“Mostly,” Aemir answered.

“We got the women out while the Wolv danced,” Maruf said.

Baba explained. “When their personal screens burned out, they probably got a bad case of electrical shock.”

“Their charge did not go as expected,” Boffo said, and grinned.

“I got people left and right,” Aemir continued.  “They won’t be able to flank the camp, if that is what they are thinking.”

“Right,” Baba said.  “Almeria, take my horse—Tony’s horse.”

“And what are you thinking?” Almeria asked, sharply, as Baba gave her a quick kiss and showed her how to use the stirrup.  

“Princess get up behind Boston.  She will keep you in your seat.  Peri get behind Sukki.  You all need to ride back to the wagon.  Peri, you need to talk to Alexis.  She used to be an elf and became human to marry.  I’ll get up behind Lockhart. Maruf with Decker.  Aemir with Elder Stow.  It is open ground, but if Elder Stow can manage a wall screen on our side, the rest of us can make a dash for the castellum.”

“Boss,” Boston protested.

“No arguments,” Lockhart said.

“Boston,” Baba continued.  “You need to keep your senses flared in case a group of Wolv break away to follow you.  You have your Beretta, and Sukki has the power in her hands to protect you, if that should be necessary.”

“I don’t think we have time for that,” Elder Stow interrupted the plan.  “We have eight or nine sneaking up on our flank, and the rest, maybe twenty-six or twenty-seven look ready to charge the fort.

“Damn,” Baba said.  “Maruf, take the rest of the horses back into the woods to keep them out of the line of fire.  Cedar and Jasmine get big to help with the horses, please.  Keep them calm and quiet… Well?”  He looked at Boston, who all but growled at him.

“Come on,” Boston shouted, and led the women back the way they came.

Baba turned to the travelers.  “Elder Stow?”

“Just a minute… There.  The screens are set around us and the horses.  The women have moved out of range, but we should be safe.  They should not be able to get at us.”

“Good.  Decker, Katie, and Elder Stow focus your fire on the ones charging the fort.  Lockhart, Maruf, Aemir, and I will deal with the ones that come up to the screen.”  He called and became clothed in the armor of the Kairos, sword over his shoulder and long knife across the small of his back.  He left his helmet, shield, spear, and the cape of Athena on Avalon, but he could call to them if he needed them.

“And Elder Stow,” Lockhart added.  “Please take the safety off your weapon this time.”

“Automatic,” Decker said, interrupting Elder Stow’s grumpy response. “Three round bursts,”

“Sir,” Katie acknowledged that she heard.

Baba and Maruf loaded their primitive rifles.  They fired a good-sized mini ball with enough force to penetrate armor, though not nearly with the force of Lockhart’s shotgun.  Aemir and Cedar got out their wands, but they were not sure what they could do, exactly.

The Wolv sneaking through the woods divided when they saw the horses ride out.  Four came to the screened travelers, not knowing about the screens.  Four chased the horses.

Boston rode at a fast trot, but did not push them to gallop, wary of their passengers.  Peri enjoyed the ride behind Sukki, though the Princess screamed in Boston’s ear, shut her eyes, and held on to Boston for dear life.  Almeria kept up on Tony’s horse, not because she was a great horsewoman, but because the horse stayed with the group.  They got less than five minutes away when they saw two riders coming toward them.  Lincoln and Nanette stopped in an open field as the others rode up.

“Tony and Alexis have the wagon,” Lincoln shouted.

“Look out!” Nanette shouted and pointed.  The Wolv were able to move fast enough through the woods to catch the horses.  They came racing across the meadow, and people reacted.  Lincoln and Boston pulled out their handguns and both managed to fire on the same Wolv.  It ran out front.  It eventually stumbled, and with enough bullets in it, it collapsed.  Boston whipped out her wand and turned her flamethrower on the beast, just to be sure.  Lincoln turned on the other two.

One attacked Sukki on the left side, and the other ran around to the right.  Sukki screamed, not being able to turn her power in both directions.  She did not know if she could turn the power on.  She did not know what she was doing. She panicked, and the power came from her hands, outstretched to hold off the beast, much like it did before, only this time the whole mid-section of the beast turned to dust and ashes.  The head and legs fell.

Nanette screamed.  She had her wand but did not know what she was doing any more than Sukki.  The Wolv to Sukki’s other side leapt.  It kept going up, until it floated twenty feet in the air.  It clawed and scratched at the air, and roared, but could not come back down.  Lincoln fired, over and over, and Boston had to distract Nanette with a word of praise.

“All right, sister!”

“I panicked,” Nanette admitted, as the dead Wolv crashed to the ground.

“I panicked first,” Sukki said.

“No, I did, as soon as I saw them,” Nanette countered.

“No, as soon as we started riding to escape,” Sukki insisted.

“God,” Boston interrupted.  “I love having sisters.”

The group turned and found the wagon not far away.  They also found another Wolv body.  Tony shouted to them.  “Alexis held it back with her wind, and I shot it with all six bullets in my gun.  Alexis told me there were more bullets, so I shot it three more times, and twice more after I got down to make sure it was dead.  I checked.  The gun is still fully loaded.  What kind of magic can do that?”

Lincoln shrugged.  “The gun will never run out of bullets.  We have had that grace since the beginning, like Alexis’ never-ending vitamins and the never-ending bread crackers.  Just keep in mind, the gun can still overheat and break if you abuse it.”

Tony nodded, looked at his handgun and said, “I wonder how the others are doing.”

The others, at that moment, were destroying the Wolv charge.  Decker, Katie, and Elder Stow dropped one after another of the beasts as they raced across the field.  Nothing came from the makeshift fort until the Wolv nearly arrived at the palisade.  Then they heard the orders shouted.  A volley from fifteen rifles put holes in about ten of the beasts.

“Second row.  Ready.  Fire.”  They heard the echo through Elder Stow’s screens.  A second volley of fifteen rifles fired, and the charge of the Wolv stalled before they could get their claws on the wooden stakes that made the palisade. The Wolv might have torn through that wood like paper.  They heard, “Third row…” but it got interrupted by the sound of Lockhart’s shotgun, and the two rifles behind them.  Baba shot a big hole in the middle of one. It would not live long. Maruf caught one in the face.  Lockhart blasted a Wolv back to slam into a tree and added a second blast just to be sure.

Aemir managed to raise a root from the ground over which the last Wolv tripped.  The Wolv slammed his face into Elder Stow’s screens, and found his foot tangled in the root.  While it clawed at the root to get free, Lockhart came over and blasted it, twice.  He made sure the rest were dead even as the Wolv attacking the fort turned to attack the travelers.  Some semi-bright Wolv decided the travelers posed the bigger threat.  Between Decker, Katie, and Elder Stow, none of the Wolv made it as far as the screens.

The Romans and Parthians came out from the fort holding javelins and swords, and very few rifles.  They planned to make sure the Wolv were dead.  The Arabs and Persians wisely stayed behind the palisade.

“Elder Stow, the ship?”  Baba asked, and Elder Stow put down his weapon and pulled up his scanner.

“No sign of engines working.  I am guessing most, if not all of the systems have burned out.  They are probably repairable if the Wolv haven’t torn them apart.”  He paused before he added, “I see three Wolv still aboard.  Probably as near as they have to engineers.”

Baba nodded.  “’l will need you, Boffo, with Schaibo and Boston when they get here, to go invisible and clean the Wolv out of the ship, if you don’t mind.  I’m sure Boffo is disappointed at not using his iron bar.”

“Actually,” Boffo said.  “I am not like Schaibo.  I have no need to smash things.”

“Awe, come on,” Baba said, and patted the oversized dwarf on the arm.  “Hulk smash.  You need to practice that.”

###

When the others arrived, Ali Baba gave them a purse of gold and silver coins, mostly Parthian, but some Roman.  They volunteered to stay and help him repair the ship, but he turned them down. “I’m going to give it ten days,” he said.  “If I can get it in flight, I’ll take this crew to Moesia.  I have to gather the legions to face the main body of Wolv there, though I feel better about our chances now than I did before, knowing that we can short out their personal screens and their weapons.”

“What are the odds?” Boston asked.

“Four legions, with auxiliaries make about twenty-four thousand men against five or six thousand Wolv.  That may not be enough men.  But anyway, don’t dawdle.  You have ten days to reach the next time gate.  Don’t worry.  We will watch through Prince Ali’s tube.  I won’t leave and shift the time gate until you are gone.”

“See you next time,” Katie said, and everyone waved.

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

MONDAY

The travelers catch up to a friend of regular readers of this blog. They find Greta, Woman of thee Ways of the Dacian people, or she find them. The Wraith also finds them… Until then, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.5 Ali Baba and the 40 Guns, part 3 of 6

They moved an hour away before they made a camp in a hollow beside a hill.  Ali Baba sent Hussain back to his own camp with the word that he hoped to be there by noon tomorrow.  He made Schaibo stay with him, had Elder Stow put his full screens around the camp so the horses and mule would not wander, and he got down to examining the equipment before dark.

When supper arrived, Lord Baba and Elder Stow came to agree.  They imagined no remote way to short out the personal screens of the Wolv, having had only one afternoon to work on the problem; but they agreed an electromagnetic pulse would do the trick nicely, and short out the Wolv weapons besides.  The ships, with their stronger screens, would likely be shielded from the pulse, if their screens were activated.  That would be just as well.  Lord Baba planned to send the survivors, if any, back into space.  He acknowledged that the Wolv were not known to surrender, so all he could do was shrug.

“Where are we, exactly?” Katie asked, even as Lord Baba and Elder Stow came to the fire.  She and Lincoln had mostly figured it out, but they remained unsure.

“Wait,” Boston interrupted.  “What about Sukki?”

“Armenia.  Near the border of Osroene,” Baba answered Katie’s question, but looked at Boston and Sukki, showing some sense that he would address their questions in a minute.

“That does not explain much,” Lincoln said.  “We figured that out, but when?”

“Trajan died almost a year ago,” Baba said.  He put down the last piece of equipment he played with.  He had a small knife and tried to pry the thing open, but it was being stubborn.  “Hadrian is emperor now, and this is all Roman territory, but not for long.  Mesopotamia and Assyria will be traded back to the Parthians, if they aren’t already.”  He took a bite of supper and decided he better explain something.

“Trajan got guns.  He conquered all the way to the Persian Gulf and burned Susa, but we blew up his factory, cutting off his supplies, and effectively disarming him.  The Persians, Arabs and Parthians then combined to stop his progress.  The Arabs, under Lord Sasan, originally a Zoroastrian priest, sort of took over a very weakened Persia.  As usual, it is complicated, since they all still answered to the Parthian King of Kings, as he calls himself.”

“So, where are we in this mess?” Lockhart asked.

“I figure you came in around Lake Van,” Baba answered.  “That river you crossed this morning was the Tigris.”

“Yesterday, Late afternoon,” Tony interjected.  He drove the wagon at the time.

Baba nodded.  “A Wolv scout-transport with fifty or so Wolv, and three or four small craft, like the three-man scout ship we encountered, is parked on the Chaboras River, a tributary of the Euphrates, this side of Edessa.  I figure the next time gate is on the other side of the actual Euphrates, somewhere on the road between Edessa and Antioch in Roman Syria.”

“Hadrian is Emperor,” Tony said.

“He was less into conquest and more into building walls and forts and making solid borders,” Katie explained to Lockhart, but so everyone could hear.

“I suppose,” Baba said. “Now that the weapons of Trajan, the guns, have been taken away, his options for conquest are greatly diminished.  Besides, he will have to contend with the Wolv, and probably see some of his legions decimated.  There is a full Wolv battle fleet parked on the corner of Superior Moesia and Inferior Moesia, and Thrace.  That is about six thousand Wolv, like a full-strength legion of Wolv.  By the way, I haven’t detailed that for the others, so I would appreciate you not saying anything about it, when we get there tomorrow.”

People agreed to keep their mouths shut, but Boston could not help interrupting.  “But what about Sukki?”

“Sukki,” Baba said, kindly, and reached for her hands.  She slowly took his hands, afraid of what her own hands could do.  “You have nothing to be afraid of.  The goddesses who were kind enough to make you human, all wanted to give you something to help you fit in with the human race, though I can’t understand how some of the gifts might help.”

“But I had something come from my hands.  That poor Wolv got blasted.  I’m not safe,” Sukki spouted.

Baba said, “Hush, hush… You can be sure the goddesses did not give you anything without also giving you the ability to control it.  That may take some learning, or practice, but you can control it.”

“But what has she got?” Boston said, excited.

Baba turned to look first at Nanette.  “And you are learning how to lift some things?”  Nanette also looked scared.  “Telekinesis, I think, not strictly magic, or maybe some magic.  It was hard to tell, judging from the evil twin.  Nothing to be afraid of, but the ability will come and go as the Other Earth phases in and out of conjunction and you move through time.  Learn what you can do when you can, because in 1905, or whenever you get home, you will have the ability for the rest of your life.”

Nanette nodded slowly, and turned to look at Alexis, who paused in her own thoughts to hug the girl.

“Now,” Baba returned to Sukki.  “Let me see if I can list things.  Athena, or Minerva, is the only one who stuck to the plan.  She gave you what she called a fundamental understanding of physics and astrophysics, if you should be tempted by space, and the math to go with it.  Knowing Athena, you probably have doctorate level understanding of those things.  At least you should be able to understand what Elder Stow and Boston talk about.”

“That’s great,” Boston shouted, while others congratulated her.  Sukki did not look so sure.

“Mother Bastet felt concerned that you not lose track with your roots.  She let you retain your Gott-Druk strength, and enhanced it a little, I am sure.  She also gave you a glamour, like the glamour you used to have that made you look human.  It works the same, only now you can look Gott-Druk anytime you wish.”

“You should try it,” Nanette said, before anyone else could say it.  She felt a bit shy at briefly having been the center of attention and wanted everyone to focus on Sukki instead.  She decided that perhaps she and Sukki were alike in that respect; not wanting people to focus on them.  The Romans said that made her all the more fetching and fascinating, but she could not help it.  She did not like being the center of attention. She looked at Decker, but he did not look at her.

Sukki put on her glamour and sat there for a minute looking like a perfect young Neanderthal girl, though she could not see herself, she saw Boston raise her eyebrows at the change.

“Here,” Schaibo said, and pulled out a mirror as tall as himself from a little pocket in his vest.  “I got used to carrying it around for my sister.  She is a little on the vain side.”  He turned the mirror to Sukki but turned it away again when Sukki began to cry.

“It is all right,” Elder Stow spoke to comfort her. “Now, you are truly my daughter.”

Sukki nodded and wiped her nose as she let go of her illusion of being Neanderthal.  Schaibo put that big mirror back in his little pocket, without a word.

“Okay?”  Baba asked, and she nodded before he continued.

“Mother Doris wasn’t sure what to give.  Honestly, she is probably least connected to the human world and human things.  She let you keep your lung capacity, and enhanced it some, like a dolphin, she said.  You can hold your breath a really long time; and then she thought to let your body handle the cold and pressure of the deep, and sudden changes in pressure, too.  That does not make you invulnerable.  Far from it.  You may be puncture resistant, but don’t think you can’t be shot by a bullet or an arrow.  You will feel the hit, too, if someone takes a swing at you and connects.  But the bullet or arrow might not penetrate far, and you should be pretty hard to crush.  Also, I imagine the snowy cold won’t be as bad as before.”

“I don’t see how that will help her fit into the human world,” Alexis said.

“Maybe the fish world,” Lincoln said before he could stop the words from coming out of his mouth.

“Amphitrite’s mother,” Katie reminded them all.  “Doris of the sea.”

People nodded that they understood, even if they could not see how it helped Sukki be more human.

“But what about the laser blast?” Boston said, and Sukki nodded.

“Yes.  Well.  The last two, mother Frya and not-my-mother Ishtar searched your heart.  They saw the things that you wished you could do and filled you with those things.  They are both, in their own way, goddesses of love and war.  They put a weapon in your hands.  I think you can turn it down to stun people and not have to turn them to dust and ashes.  And they filled your heart with love.  Mother Frya said the capacity for love is the only thing that truly makes us human.”

“I don’t feel any different in that way,” Sukki confessed, and looked to the side like one thinking really hard.

Lord Baba nodded.  “I honestly don’t know what filling your heart with love means.”

“You said things,” Katie pointed out.  “Is there more?”

Baba shrugged.  “I am not sure.  There may be more.  I know you are stronger than human, with extra lung capacity in a self-pressurizing and cold resistant body.  You have a powerful weapon in your fingers which you can learn to control with practice.  But you also have been given some human knowledge, a way to remember your roots, and a big capacity for human love.  If there is more, we shall see.”

People paused to consider Sukki.  She quickly felt on the spot and got up to check on the horses.  After a moment, Elder Stow and Boston got up to join her, and Alexis changed the subject.

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

MONDAY

The travelers are not out of the woods yet… I always wanted to say that. I saved it for years. Monday, the rest of the story. Until then. Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.5 Ali Baba and the 40 Guns, part 2 of 6

Lincoln walked up from the wagon.  He had the database out and spoke as people got down from their horses.  “Apparently, the Wolv did to the Humanoids what the Androids once did to the Anazi.  They learned to be organized, developed a command structure, and learned enough to run the technology before they rebelled against their Humanoid masters.  Most… eventually all of the Humanoid houses will be torn down, and the Wolv will rampage, eating planet after planet for a thousand years before the equipment breaks beyond their ability to repair it.  They are not dumb beasts.  They are clever and capable soldiers.  But the physics of space flight, weapons and the rest, not to mention higher mathematics, is beyond them.”

“An F-15 might develop a fault and land in the desert,” Decker said.  “But it is not likely the pilot has the expertise to repair the plane and take off again.  Much less create a spare part for whatever broke.”

“A bit more complicated than that, I imagine,” Katie said.  “But probably the right idea.”

People looked at Lincoln.  He read a second longer before he answered.  “It is more like me and the microwave oven.  I use it, but if it broke, my only option is to throw it out and get a new one.  I have no idea what microwaves even are.”

“That’s easy,” Sukki said.  “They are on the short end of the radio spectrum.  These wrist communicators are microwave transmitters.”  She smiled at the one she got when Candace gave out presents.  It made her feel included, and that made her happy.  When she looked up, she saw the others staring at her.

“Way to go Sukki,” Boston praised her.

“Must come from you,” Sukki said, shyly.  “Doctor in electrical engineering and all.”  She looked away.

“There,” Elder Stow interrupted.  “The screens are up while we discuss what to do.” He got down from his horse.

“Decker screens?” Decker asked.

“Yes,” Elder stow answered with a sigh.  “Now that I have stretched this little screen device beyond all capacity, it is a small thing to make their activation one-sided, so to speak; though that is ship to ship technology on much better equipment than this toy.  Be that is it may, they should deploy that way automatically from now on.  Sadly, I have admitted that we often need to be protected when we end a threat to ourselves and to the innocent.”

“It is a sad world we live in,” Alexis said, as she and Nanette walked to the group.  “Tony has Ghost and the wagon,” she added for Lincoln.

“My dad is the best,” Sukki said, to encourage Elder Stow.  He smiled for his adopted daughter, as a stream of white light came from the edge of the woods and reflected off the screens.

People reacted by hurrying their horses to the wagon, which they used as a hitching post.  Sukki brought Elder Stow’s horse, while he stayed up front and analyzed the readouts on his scanner.  Decker went to one side, and Katie went to the other, right up to where they could feel the screens.  That tingling feeling prevented them from walking through the screens and then not being able to get back inside the protected area.

“They are in the grasses, left and right.  One is staying behind the trees up ahead.”

“I see mine,” Decker said.  He fired.  He did not miss, but the Wolv did not appear to be hit.  It stood and returned fire, though its handheld weapon had no chance of penetrating Elder Stow’s screens.  Decker fired again and nothing happened.  The Wolv got ready to charge.  Decker flipped to automatic and fired a three-round burst.  The Wolv stalled before the charge and staggered, but the bullets did not appear to penetrate.

“Try concentrated fire on the same spot,” Katie suggested.

“Just coming to that, Major,” Decker said, shortly.

“Sir,” Katie acknowledged him and turned to her own Wolv that had gotten up to charge the group.  Decker let his rifle rip, and roughly nine bullets in, something shorted out on the Wolv.  The Wolv seemed stung by the electrical discharge, but not for long as three more bullets put it down.

At the same time, the Wolv from the trees charged the group.  Elder Stow continued to fiddle with something on his scanner.  “They seem to have developed some personal screen technology,” Elder Stow said.  He pulled his weapon which Lockhart was glad to see.  Lockhart had his shotgun but figured the Wolv would have to be right up to the screen for it to be effective.  Boston also had her wand, but she could not shoot her flamethrower very far, either.

Elder Stow let the beast-person come really close before he pointed his weapon and nothing happened.  He said something like “Oops,” and fiddled with the weapon while Lockhart let off a shotgun blast and Boston sprayed it with fire.  Katie and Decker turned and added some automatic rifle fire.  Sukki put her hand up as if to ward off the claws and teeth of the beast, even if her head told her the beast could not get inside the screens.  Something came from Sukki’s hand.  A bright-white light, much stronger than the Wolv weapon.  It looked more like Elder Stow’s weapon.  The Wolv head turned instantly to dust and ash.

“What was that?” Sukki said, staring at her own hand.

“Wow,” Boston said, and added, “Let me see.”

Sukki held both hands out, a combination of curiosity and horror across her face.  People looked, not knowing what to say.  Fortunately, they got interrupted by a voice from overhead.

“Lockhart.  Not a good time to visit, as usual.  Elder Stow, please turn off your screens so we can land.”

The words sounded muffled, coming through the screens.  “Apologies,” Elder Stow said.  “I let the air circulate through the screen, the simple gaseous elements, but I minimized the circulation to muffle the growls and roars in our face.”  He worked a second longer before he added, “There.  Screen is down.”

“Ali Baba?” Lincoln called up, as the magic carpet came down to the ground.  No one answered right away as the three people who rode on the rug had to hang on until touchdown.  The driver looked like a sage, but one just thirty.  He would have to double that age before he had the expected long gray beard.  The dwarf looked like the smallest dwarf they had ever seen, but he appeared to make up for it by growing the long beard that he had to wrap around his shoulders.  He also looked like so many short people, that he did not take guff from anyone.

“Yes, Lincoln,” Ali Baba confirmed, as he stepped from the carpet, holding a primitive looking rifle.  He handed it to Decker to examine, who quickly passed it on to Katie.  “I have forty of these rifles for twenty Romans, ten Parthians and ten Arabs, some of whom are from Persia.

“Schaibo.  please make sure the Wolv are dead.  Thanks.”  He opened his arms.  “Boston.” And she rushed into the hug.  He kissed Boston’s head, like a father might hug a daughter, and turned to Sukki, but she backed away.

“No,” she said.  “It isn’t safe.”  She held up her hands covered in fairy weave gloves, to hold him off.

“Lord Baba,” Schaibo called.  “This one is missing his head.”  The dwarf held an iron club much too big for him, but he held it like one who knew how to use it.  The travelers watched the dwarf shrug and move on to the other Wolv in the grass.

“Lord,” Boston got his attention.  “Sukki has something in her hand, like a Lockhart heat-ray.  She disintegrated the Wolv head.  You have to help her.  She scared herself.”

“It is nothing to be afraid of.  You can learn to control it,” Baba said.  “But first thing’s first.  Elder Stow, would you help me gather the Humanoid personal screens from the Wolv?”

“Yes, of course,” Elder Stow said.  “I am curious about them, myself.”

“Then we need to move on to where the scout craft came down in the woods.  I need to strip some of the equipment out of it, and we need to move on again before the Wolv send a recovery crew.  Hussain, you can pack your carpet in the wagon for the time being.” He turned on the first Wolv in the grass and briefly gagged.  Apparently, Schaibo’s version of making sure they were dead was to smash the head to a pulp.

“A real magic carpet?” Nanette asked, some awe in her voice, and Hussain nodded.

“Hussain?” Alexis asked.  Lincoln and Nanette looked at her as they walked to the wagon, so she explained, sort of.  “I read a thousand and one nights as a child.”

It did not take long to reach the scout ship.  Ali Baba went away so Martok the Bospori could come and take his place.  Being a life from the far future, Martok knew and understood the equipment even better than Elder Stow.  Between the two of them, they stripped certain systems from the inside of the ship.  They loaded up the wagon that poor Ghost would have to haul.  When Ali Baba returned to his own time and place, he got Elder Stow to turn his weapon on the ship, inside and out.

“Hopefully, the Wolv won’t realize anything was taken, or what was taken, or what might be done with what was taken.”  Lord Baba shrugged.

Avalon 7.5 Ali Baba and the 40 Guns, part 1 of 6

After 72 A.D. Syria

Kairos 90: Ali of Arabia

Recording …

“Baba,” Ahmed called and came running.  “Lord Baba.  Prince Ali has his tube working again.”  He stopped outside the tent.  “Ali Baba, are you there?”

Three women poked their heads through the tent flap.  Almeria, Ali Baba’s young wife smiled for Ahmed.  Princess Nuronnihar, Prince Ali’s wife, wondered what was happening.  Peribono, Ahmed’s own wife spoke.

“Husband.  The Lord is meditating in the woods.”  Peri stepped out to give her husband a kiss.  “He will be back shortly.”  Peribono used to be a fairy princess but became human to marry Ahmed.  She still referred to Ali Baba as her lord, though he claimed he no longer had that responsibility.  Ahmed did not mind, though.  He often called the rich, older man Lord Baba.  They all did.

Almeria spoke, a sharp tone in her words.  “He is praying that his first wife, Shayrin, not learn terrible ways from the cobbler’s wife while he is away.”

“Speaking of the cobbler…” Peri said, looking over Ahmed’s shoulder.

“Prince Ahmed,” Maruf the cobbler called.  “Your brother wants to know what is taking so long.”  He also ran to the tent.  “Antares, the Parthian and Scipio the Roman are looking at all the area around.  They have seen a strange group of people headed our way.”

Ahmed reluctantly let go of his wife to concentrate.  “Have they located the Wolv?”

“They are afraid to look in that direction,” Maruf admitted.  “Scipio says the strangers on their big horses are enough to worry about.”

“Strangers on big horses?”  A gray-bearded man of some forty-six years stepped from the nearby trees, followed by two dwarfs that had a Mutt and Jeff look about them.  The one with the extra-long beard, Schaibo, stood less than two feet tall.  The other, Boffo, looked more ogre sized, but bearded, and with a bulbous dwarf nose.  He walked hunched over, not because he had to, but because he felt embarrassed by the way he towered over his fellow dwarfs.

“Yes, Lord Baba,” Maruf said.  “Antares the Parthian says if they stop for the night, they will be only half a day away, and they are headed right toward us.”

Ali Baba sighed and walked to the meadow where the tube had been set up.  They all followed.  Prince Ali stared through the eyepiece.  Aemir the elf chief, Antares the Parthian, and Scipio the Roman all stepped back when Baba tapped Ali on the shoulder.  Ali looked, and stepped back while Baba raised the stand that held the tube to accommodate his five-foot, ten-inch height.  He turned the tube the opposite direction before he looked.

“The main Wolv fleet is parked for the moment on the Oescus river.  I think that is what it is called.  They are on the triple corner of Thrace, Moesia inferior and Moesia superior.  They are no doubt waiting to see what their scouts report.”  Baba stood and looked around.  “Your lucky day, Antares.  The Romans, not Parthians will be bloodied.”  He paused and added, “Probably to the point of being a bloody mess.”  He sighed briefly imagining all that blood but spoke differently to the group.  “No telling how many scout ships or scout-transports they sent out.”  He looked again through the tube.  “The local transport has about fifty Wolv, and unlike in the past, these appear to have some weak sort of personal shields.  The shields are certainly strong enough to deflect arrows and swords.  How they will fare against the guns will be seen.”

“I saw the shredded Parthian soldiers, and the few remains of that village,” Antares said, and shivered at the memory.

“We are only forty,” Scipio said.  “Twenty Romans, ten Parthians and ten of you Arabs.  Even with forty guns.  You say they are fifty?”

“Estimate.  Based on typical transport ship size,” Baba said.

“You got us to help,” Schaibo the dwarf said, gruffly.

“How can we hope to defeat fifty of these Wolv creatures?” Antares asked.  “We should call out the army… armies.”

Scipio agreed.  “This is one where Romans and Parthians might work together.” 

“Not going to happen,” Baba said, and swung the tube the other way.  “But my friends may help.  Let’s see.  Look.  Boston and Sukki are riding back, yelling something.  Oh, shit.  A three Wolv fighter-craft just landed in their path.”  He stood and yelled.  “Hussain.”  He turned to Ali and Ahmed.  “Where’s your brother.  Hussain.”  He spoke to the rest.  “Schaibo, stick with me.  We need to get Hussain to drive his carpet.  It is an emergency.  Hussain!”

###

“Alexis did the math,” Katie said, as she and Lockhart rode in front of the line.  Alexis and Lincoln were presently driving the wagon.  Nanette and Tony stayed with them, talking about magical things.  Since entering the time zone, Nanette learned she could levitate some small things.  She got excited and scared at the same time.

Lockhart had his eyes on the flank where Colonel Decker rode.  He could not see Decker, but he thought he saw something in the sky.  He scanned the line of trees they headed toward and briefly glanced at the other flank where Elder Stow watched, before he turned to his wife.  “Sorry,” he said.  “I got distracted by… I don’t know what.  A flock of vultures, maybe.”

Katie repeated herself.  “Alexis did the math.  Christ ministered for three years before he was crucified, and we missed the whole thing.  That was eleven years before we came into the last time zone.”  Katie stopped her horse, so Lockhart stopped, and the others halted, but Lockhart did not stop the conversation.

“Probably on purpose,” Lockhart said.  “I know there are things the Kairos has kept hidden even from us, and no doubt for good reasons.  But this is one of those things where I imagine a higher power got involved.  One of my mother’s favorite expressions was we live by faith, not by sight… what?”  He finally noticed and asked.

“I’m not sure,” Katie responded. “I sense danger ahead.”

Boston and Sukki raced back from the point.  Elder Stow came riding in from the flank at the same time.  Lockhart looked, but saw no sign of Decker.  “Decker?” Lockhart spoke into his wristwatch communicator.  He got no answer before Boston arrived.

“A ship,” Boston reported.  “It landed right in our path.”

Sukki rode up.  “We did not stick around to see what kind,” Sukki confessed.

Elder Stow came from the side, his scanner barely clipped to his belt to keep it from bouncing while he rode.  “A ship,” he shouted, and when he arrived, he unclipped the scanner and turned his eyes to the screen.  “I would guess a three-man scout ship with fighter capabilities.”

Eyes turned as Decker appeared on the other flank, riding hard, though he did appear to slow a bit when he saw the group had stopped.  People waited to hear his report.

“Humanoid ship,” Decker said.  “I caught sight of two Wolv.  I didn’t see any Humanoids, but I didn’t stick around.”

Lockhart had to think.  “One thing about roads,” he said.  “While they don’t run in a straight line, they do make it possible to have a wagon, and are easier on the horses, in general.”

Katie nodded.  “But they also make it hard to detour without risking damage going across country.”

“Sukki and I could find a way through the woods,” Boston offered.

“What is the point?” Lockhart countered.  “I imagine they landed in front of us because they found us on their long-range scanner.”

“Well said,” Elder Stow offered the compliment before he confirmed the thought.  “I am sure they are studying us at a closer range.  Probably a scout ship.”

“Maybe we could talk to them, and see what they want,” Katie suggested.

“Lunch,” Decker responded.

“They want to eat us,” Sukki agreed.  “They are just being careful first.”

Avalon 6.8 Archidamian War’s End, part 6 of 6

On the edge of town, three Wolv jumped them.  They got blown back by the screens Elder Stow set around the group.  The Wolv did their best with tooth and claw, but that did nothing to impede the steady progress of the group.

When they entered the village square, where the Humanoid ship faced them at the far end of the open space, a dozen Wolv opened fire with their handguns.  It did nothing.  The Wolv soon stopped and backed away.  The patrol-transport ship screamed and produced one burst of its main gun before the gun appeared to shut down.  Patrol ships got outfitted with some of the most powerful Humanoid weaponry.  Those ships tended to be engines, weapons, and some reasonable screen capabilities against intruders.  Crew quarters and work spaces were cramped, and they had minimal navigation, limited life-support, and limited other systems interstellar ships had.  They were not made to leave the solar system.  But they had weapons, and Elder Stow remarked as he considered his readout.

“Impressive.  They have found a new energy source and improved on the old Anazi technology.”  Of course, the shot hardly registered visibly on Elder Stow’s screens.  Elder Stow only had a small, handheld screen device such as a ship’s officer might carry, but such was the technological difference between the younger races, like the Humanoids, and the elder races, like the Gott-Druk.  Elder Stow said no more as the Humanoid commander came out of the ship, followed by three more Humanoids and a dozen Wolv as guards.

As the Humanoids marched to face their visitors, a lovely young woman showed up, and gave Ophelia a big hug. “Galatea,” Ophelia named her.  “I thought I might see you.”

Galatea nodded.  “I had to figure out how to slip inside Elder Stow’s screens. Even though the gods know how to do that, now.  It isn’t easy.  I had to really think about it.  I may get a headache…”

“Good for you, now, hush.” Ophelia smiled for the woman before she turned with a serious face to the approaching Humanoids.

“Your Amph… Salacia husband wants to help,” Galatia whispered.

“Yes.  Hush,” Ophelia said.  “Zeuxides.”

Zeuxides stepped forward with the blanket.  He whispered as he laid it out on the ground, revealing the six heads.  “I don’t know why we didn’t take some Wolv heads.  That might have put a bit of fear in the beasts.”

“First of all, they are people, not beasts,” Ophelia said.  “They walk and talk, and as you have seen, they follow orders.  But second of all, they have no word for fear.  They do not even understand the concept.  The closest they have for the word fear is their word for indigestion.”

“Then, if one wants to eat me, I hope I can give it indigestion,” Zeuxides whispered as he stood.

“What?” the Humanoid Captain yelled the word as he came to face his visitors, though his eyes fastened on the six Humanoid heads.  By the grace of the gods, probably Proteus, because Galatea would not think of it, Ophelia and Zeuxides could understand and communicate with the Humanoids. Ophelia had imagined using Elder Stow as a translator.

“The troops you sent to scout the area are all dead.  We brought you these so you can perform the proper rituals.  Understand.  This is not a sanctuary planet for you or your people.  This is a Genesis planet, and as such is off limits to you and your people.  You have no business being here, and I know it is marked on your charts as a no-go zone.”

“Aaaah!” The Captain shouted and threw his hands in the air in a very human act of frustration and anger. Ophelia looked closely and judged him to be a young lord from a noble Humanoid house.  “I don’t even know what that means…”

One of the Humanoid commanders leaned forward and asked.  “What is a Genesis planet?”

Ophelia only paused briefly before answering.  “It is one of a dozen or so worlds in this whole galaxy where intelligent life spawns or is created.  At some point in the development of the species, the powers of the universe spread the life forms among the stars.  Most of the people you have come into contact with during your age of exploration among the stars had their beginning here, on Earth, or on the Pendratti world, which is now barren.”  She pointed to Elder Stow and his glamour of humanity fell away to reveal his Neanderthal nature.  “The Gott-Druk and the Elenar, both of whom I know you have in your records, began on this world.”  She pointed to Zeuxides.  “This world presently belongs to the Homo Sapiens, who you dare not underestimate, though their technology appears primitive to your eyes.  The very powers of the universe will fight to protect this world, and its residents.  You are being given a chance to leave before you are utterly destroyed.”

“But we have nowhere else to go,” the captain still shouted, only now he sounded desperate.   Ophelia caught a word from one of her lifetimes, far in the future.  She decided to go with that thought.

“Your father threw you out.”  She said it like a statement, not a question. “And how many ships do you have in orbit?”

The captain said nothing.  He just steamed, but the Humanoid commander spoke frankly.  “Seven. Two war ships, three transports carrying several thousand people, no Wolv, and two more patrol boats, one being a patrol-transport.”

The captain interrupted.  “But you heard.  We have nowhere else to go.”  This time, his words were softly spoken and he sounded like one resigned to his fate.

The sky turned dark.  Thunder echoed through the village.  Stroke after stroke of lightning struck the fields near the beach.  A giant rose out of the water and headed straight toward them.  He only needed a few steps to reach the edge of the village, at which point he stood only twenty or so feet tall, as he shrank when he neared. When he came around a barn to reach the main street, only the top of his gray head could be seen.  When he arrived where the group of people stood, he looked human enough, though still bigger than Zeuxides, who stood an imposing six feet tall in his generally smaller world.

“I can help with that,” the man said. “I know a planet in an untouched system that should sustain you.  The world is bigger than earth, but not like double.  There is an atmosphere and animal life there, after a fashion, so an edible food source.  The star gives about half the heat and light of the sun, but the planet is closer.  It goes around in about two hundred and maybe thirty days.  The weather stays cool and dreary, but it is livable, about thirty some of your light years out in the Gott-Druk direction. In fact, I know several systems, if you are willing to travel up to fifty light years.”

“You will take us there?” the Humanoid commander asked, not waiting for his captain to speak up.

The man shook his head.  “I am not my wife to travel all over the sky; but with a kiss from my wife, and maybe if I can borrow Martok, he can put the information in your, er, navigation system.”  He grinned for remembering what the system was called.

Ophelia dropped her jaw.  “Taking liberties, I see.”  She turned to the others.  “Elder Stow, I’ll be back.  Zeuxides, close your eyes.”  She turned again to the man.  “Both parties are agreeable,” she said, speaking of Amphitrite and Martok.  “Especially since the alternative would involve several atomic explosions in the upper atmosphere.”  Ophelia traded places through time with Amphitrite, the goddess, who stepped eagerly into her husband Poseidon’s arms.  After a moment, those two, the Humanoids, the Wolvs, and the patrol ship all vanished.

Proteus and Galatea also vanished, so that left Elder Stow, who restored his glamour so he looked human again, and Zeuxides, who didn’t close his eyes, but wished he had.  He asked, “So where did Ophelia go?”

Elder Stow shrugged as they walked back up the hill.  “Somewhere into the past, or the future, or somewhere in between.”

“Who was that who came and stood in her place?”

“Amphitrite, I believe.”

Zeuxides swallowed.  “So that giant was…”

“Poseidon.”

Zeuxides nodded.  “So, when Ophelia said Proteus and Galatea, she meant Proteus and Galatea.”

“I would say, yes.”

Zeuxides nodded and swallowed again. “And are you human?”

“Certainly,” Elder Stow said with some force in his voice.  “Homo Neanderthal, not Homo Sapiens, but that still qualifies as human.  In fact, we are close enough on the genesis tree, we can even mate with each other, as disgusting as that sounds.”

Zeuxides said nothing the rest of the way up the hill.

“So, where did they go?” Lockhart asked the same question Zeuxides asked.

“They went to visit the ruins of Malvas,” Elder Stow said, with a nod.

“Where’s Malvas?” Lincoln asked.

“There are ruins on Malvas?” Katie asked at the same time.

Elder Stow pointed to the sky as he spoke.  “An orange star.  It became unstable about two thousand years ago, my time.  It kicked a habitable planet about three times its original distance from the star, according to the reconstructed theory.  The survey team found a city, but determined it had been abandoned a hundred years before the star bloomed.  The star has returned to its more stable condition since, but now there are ruins on the ice rock that was probably once an earth-like planet.”

“So why would they go to a place that has ruins?” Decker wanted to know.

“It doesn’t have ruins yet,” Elder Stow responded, and looked up at the sky as the sun sank to the horizon.

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

MONDAY

The travelers head toward Rome, and the Kairos, Marcia Furi Camilla Diana; but first, they have to get past the witch.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 6.8 Archidamian War’s End, part 5 of 6

Labium and his elf troop had been secretly ferrying out humans from the village since they took up their watch. They doubled their efforts as soon as they knew Ophelia was on the way.  They feared the intervention of the gods and imagined there might not be a village when it was over.

Taking people to safety did not always go well.  In one house, a husband, wife, and two children cowered in their hut-like dwelling. They seemed typically human when Labium spoke.

“Friend.  Friend.  Do you want to get to safety?”

“Yes,” the man said, a bit loudly. “Where are you?”

“I am here, but I am invisible.  I am an elf.”

The man stopped.  The woman looked at her husband, and he said, “Can you guarantee our safety?”

“If you follow my instructions and keep very quiet, I can lead you to safety outside the village.  I am not a god to guarantee anything, but we have a good chance to get away from the monsters, if you stay quiet.”

“We will,” the woman promised.

“I will show myself.  Not a sound.  Not a peep.”

“I understand,” the man whispered.

Labium became visible, and the woman took one look and screamed as loud as she could, and it seemed she would never stop screaming.  Labium went invisible again.  Two Wolv came in from the street, and Labium slipped out behind them.  After a moment, the screaming subsided.  Labium heard weeping with his good elf ears, and the Wolv came back out from the hut with the two children, whom they killed and ate.

In another case, a young elf maid led two parents and their teenaged son to the corner of an alley.  She held them there because two Wolv were on the street, and until they moved, she could not safely bring the people across the back of the alley.  She hushed them again and again.  Finally, the boy got bored.

“Dad,” he said, nice and loud, and touched his father on the shoulder.

The man’s fear came out of his mouth, really loud.  “We are going to get caught.”

The elf maid saw the Wolv coming down the alley.  She quickly shoved the nice woman into the house there and shut the door. Then she ran, much faster than the Wolv could catch her.  Sadly, she heard the nice woman come right back out of the house.

“What ya pushing for?”  She was nice, but not smart.  Needless to say, that family did not live long.

Far and away, most of the people in that village made it to safety.  Most of those headed for Corinth.  They got off the road when the dwarfs and travelers approached.  Few spoke.  No one pointed.  Most just stared.

A few villagers headed for Sidius, some because they had relatives there.  When they found the army coming to Isthmia, they wept and cried, believing the army would save them from the monsters.  In that moment, they could not have cared less if they were Athenians or Spartans.  Too many of their friends and neighbors had already died.

“Nicias,” Ophelia shouted, though the man was not far away.  “You need to set an escort to take these people to Sidius, to find shelter.”

“Just coming to that,” Nicias responded gruffly, and Ophelia changed her tone.

“Of course.  My apologies.  You are the general here.  You will do what is best.”

Nicias eyed her and nodded.

“Trouble?” Styphon stepped up.

Ophelia shook her head.  “I am a Spartan woman, but I must remember I am still dealing with Athenians.  I should respect the men, that they know what they are doing.”

Styphon nodded, and Nicias came up as Styphon stood up for her.  “We would have suffered much worse if you had not directed us in the battle.”  Nicias scratched his beard, but nodded a little. “I don’t know how you became friends with the spirits of the earth, but that has helped greatly.  You also seem to know about these space aliens, as you call them, and the story isn’t finished yet.  I am willing to follow your lead.”

“As am I,” Nicias admitted.

Ophelia accepted that.  “Just please be gracious to me.  When I deal with flighty fairies, or trickster elves, or pig-headed, stubborn dwarfs, I often have to be hard and harsh.  I do not need to turn that same attitude on you men, stubborn as you can be.”  She smiled, and the men smiled a little with her.  “Just forgive me and remind me if I overstep myself. Okay?”

This time, Nicias nodded in earnest. “I think an escort to Sidius for these good people is a fine idea.  I will see to it.”  He walked off, and Ophelia offered Styphon a kiss on the cheek.

###

Ophelia and the travelers arrived at Isthmia at about the same time.  The little ones guiding the travelers and scouting for the army were good at that sort of timing.

Prissy sat on Ophelia’s shoulder. Labium and Flaves stood beside her as she looked down on the village and the Humanoid transport.  It evidently crushed several houses when it landed, and no one bothered to see what or who might be under there.  Zeuxides and Tellis stood close as well.  Nicias, Styphon, Antiphas and Timocrates stood a couple of steps away so they could see around a tree.

Ophelia opened her arms as the travelers dismounted and began to climb her little hill.  Boston raced into Ophelia’s arms at a speed that made Labium smile and made the men take another look.  Boston appeared human enough.

“Ophelia?” Lincoln shouted up the hill as he walked.

“Yes, Lincoln,” Ophelia shouted back. “Lockhart and Katie, I have some people for you to meet.  Elder Stow, I will need your help.”

“You are older,” Boston said as she stepped back.  “Your hair is all gray, and short, like mine used to be.”

“I am forty-six, I think.  My youngest son is eleven.  My eldest son is seventeen. My daughter should be fourteen. She was ten when I went into captivity in Athens.  It is a long story.”

By then, Bergeron had pushed to the front.  He went to one knee and spouted his report.  “We have brought your traveler friends here safely.  We had to fight to protect them, especially the women, but we knew you would not want to see them hurt…” his voice trailed off.  He looked at the dirt.  He dared not say more.  Even with overwhelming odds, and mostly injured Wolv, a dozen dwarfs died.

Ophelia put her hands to her hips and tapped her foot.  “Prissy. You should visit with Boston’s shoulder.”

“Yes, Mum,” Prissy said.  “Thank you, Mum.”  She quickly vacated Ophelia’s shoulder before steam started coming out of Ophelia’s ears.  Ophelia tapped her foot and let Bergeron build up a good head of sweat before she said, “Thank you,” She growled, and turned away, and never smiled until she spoke to the others.  “Lockhart and Katie.  Please meet my friends.”  She introduced the couple to the commanders present even as she noticed an older woman and a young woman hugging Millie and Evan.

“Athenians and Spartans working together,” Katie remarked without explanation.

“Given the circumstances,” Styphon said. “We are all Greeks.”

“We worked hard to make a peace that would last,” Nicias added.

Katie did not respond, but the look on her face suggested she did not believe it would last.

Ophelia took charge then and began giving orders.  She moved the Spartans and their allies to the south, behind the dwarfs.  She kept the Athenians and their allies on the north, and moved the Elves in front of them, just in case.  “Yes,” she said.  “They know we are here, and are watching.”  She did not need to tell them that given Humanoid technology, they no doubt tracked them all the way through the wilderness.

“Katie and Decker, take opposite sides of the little hill here.  Zeuxides, open your blanket.”  The man did. There were three Humanoid heads in the blanket.  “Bergeron. Add your three Humanoid heads to the pile.  Lockhart and Lincoln, get the binoculars and direct things from here.  Millie, Evan, Sukki, Boston and Alexis, stay here with mother and my lovely daughter, Nyssa.”

“Ready,” Elder Stow said.  Ophelia nodded.

“Zeuxides,” she said, and the man picked up the blanket full of heads.  “Do not follow us, no matter what,” Ophelia told Styphon, Nicias and Lockhart.  She started down the hill toward the village, with Elder Stow beside her.  Zeuxides followed, and another young man appeared on her other side—a most handsome man. Ophelia squinted before she named the man.  “Proteus.”

The man smiled.  “I can’t ever fool you, mother.”  After several more steps, he added, “So you know, father wants to help.” Ophelia nodded, but she grimaced a bit to imagine what the god, Poseidon, might consider help.

Avalon 6.8 Archidamian War’s End, part 4 of 6

The Spartans and Athenians dug three trenches on the slight rise, and they piled up rocks on the dirt they excavated to make like mini-walls.  Some of the Spartans, and to be fair, some of the Athenians did not like the idea of keeping their heads down, or throwing their javelins rather than stabbing the enemy in the face when the time came.  Some called bows and arrows cowardly weapons.  All Ophelia could say was they will probably get close enough for tooth and claw no matter what we do.  Then, gods help us.  Nicias and Styphon kept the troops focused.  They had no reason to disbelieve a woman who commanded fairies.

They waited all morning.  They waited until Zeuxides said he was hungry and ready for lunch.  Then they came.

They looked like wolves, albeit, dressed in vests and far bigger than any wolf seen by humans.  Ophelia made out the three Humanoids who kept back to bark out orders.  She raised her bow.  The Athenian archers, and some of the Spartans and their allies all raised their bows.  Ophelia tried to wait, but when it appeared they were not getting closer, she said, “Loose.”

The arrows barely went the distance, but two of the Wolv looked put out of commission.  Ophelia knew better.  It just made them mad.  She saw the Wolvs back out of range, and then had to yell again.

“Get your heads down.”

The Wolv pulled out weapons and several men reacted too slowly.  They got fried, and the rest of the men got an object lesson, encouraging them to keep their heads down.  The Wolv did not fire for long.  They had nothing but hand weapons, and that would take all day to cut through the fortifications.  Flaves showed up and helped Ophelia hear the barked orders.  Ophelia yelled

“Javelins.”

Fourteen of the twenty Wolvs attacked. The men stood and about a third threw their best, but the Wolvs moved too fast.  Only two got taken down that way.  Three bounded up to the top trench where the more lightly armored Athenians and archers waited.  Nearly thirty men got torn to shreds or were grievously wounded before they put down the three Wolvs.  The Athenian regulars in the second trench hardly did better when four Wolvs arrived. More than twenty men died there, and almost twenty more died among the Spartans in the first trench where they fought off the remaining five.  The Wolvs fought for victory or death.  They had no thought of retreat, but neither did the Spartans.

Ophelia got spared when Zeuxides, who kept his javelin instead of throwing it, stabbed a Wolv in the back, the same time two Spartans struck it from the front, one cutting off the Wolv’s arm. The Wolv hardly slowed by the loss of an arm, but then it was only a matter of time to put it down, completely. Six Spartans went down to five Wolv, along with nineteen Spartan allies who died or were wounded unto death.  Of the two hundred and ninety-two captured on Sphacteria, two hundred and forty-eight would make it home.  Zeuxides wept for his friends, and no one thought less of him for it, but Ophelia lifted her eyes to the three Humanoids and the remaining six Wolv.  What she saw angered her, greatly, and she stomped down from the fight to confront the situation.

During the battle in the trenches, the whole fairy troop landed in secret behind the enemy.  They got big and had their bows.  The Humanoids and Wolv became pincushions for Fairy arrows.  As she stomped across the field, Styphon, Antiphas, and Porocleon of Olympia saw and followed her.  Flaves arrived as the fairy troop got small and scattered, having seen the look on Ophelia’s face.  The anger of the gods is a terrible thing to behold.

Ophelia stopped, and made sure the Wolv were dead.  She noted that even with a half-dozen arrows in their backs, the Wolv still turned to attack, and only went down when another half dozen or more arrows struck their front.  Nicias, with a handful of Athenians and a few more Spartans jogged up when Ophelia got to examining the Humanoids.  She paused before she spoke, and then it was to Styphon, not Flaves.

“I want the Humanoid heads.  We will take them to Isthmia.”  Styphon and the others got right on that grisly job without question.  Ophelia looked at Flaves.  She knew Fairies were capable warriors in war and battle, but they would have been irreparably injured if forced to perform such a macabre task.  She turned to Nicias.

“We need to move out at dawn. Leave as many here as you need to care for the wounded, but I want to be in Isthmia before dark tomorrow, so we can end this”

Nicias nodded and began doling out orders.

###

Dawn in Corinth saw the Wolvs fire on the city walls.  They only had handguns, but they put some holes in the stone and shook the foundation. The Corinthians did panic a bit, but one Captain got mad enough to gather a company of like-minded soldiers. Lockhart, Decker, and Katie, who had gotten to the walls by then, all urged the man to not act like a fool. but he was determined.

“Stubborn and stupid,” Elder Stow called the man.  “I recognize the symptoms.  Gott-Druk are very good at stubborn and stupid.”

“A strong human trait,” Alexis agreed. “Homo Sapiens as well as Homo Neanderthal.”

“Yes, but we have long since mastered it.”

Decker got to one section of the wall and readied his rifle and scope.  Katie took a section far enough away to spread the Wolv fire.  On a field, they might catch the enemy in a crossfire.  Elder Stow stood about half-way between the two where he could relay words without using the watch communicators, which might be on a frequency the Humanoids could tap into; but he was not to do anything unless he caught sight of the Humanoid commanders.

When they were ready, forty men poured out of the Corinthian gate, and charged, shields up, swords at their sides, javelins in their free hand.  The Wolvs were close enough to the wall so the men had a chance to get there before they all got cut down with Wolv weapon-fire.  Plus, Decker and Katie fired from above, struck several Wolvs, and at least distracted most of the others.  Only a few Wolvs returned fire to the wall.

At the end of the engagement, forty Corinthians lay dead on the field, and about half of the Wolvs sustained injuries. Three got seriously injured. Three Wolvs died, mostly from bullets. But then Elder Stow caught sight of one of the Humanoids and fired, once.  A streak of power lit up the sky.  The humanoid, though not directly struck, melted, and the big, old oak beside him exploded into splinters.

The Wolvs began to pull back into a copse of trees.  No doubt, the two remaining Humanoids needed to consider this new development.  Katie looked content to let them do that, but Decker flipped his rifle to automatic.  He never got to fire on the Wolvs, however, because roughly two hundred dwarfs came seemingly out of nowhere and attacked, about six or eight dwarfs to each Wolv.

“Damn,” Lockhart said.  He stood by Elder Stow and watched through the binoculars.

“Oh, Bergeron is in big trouble,” Boston said, and grinned for the dwarfs.

“We better get down there,” Alexis said, foolishly thinking some of the Corinthians might still be alive and need her help.

The Corinthians were more than willing to let the travelers ride out, but there were no Corinthians left foolish enough to follow them.  It looked like a gruesome battle, with human, Wolv, and some dwarf pieces strewn all over the place.  Bergeron survived, though he had a cut in his arm.  He, and his dwarfs looked content, even if they were in trouble.

“The Lady is on her way to Isthmia. We need to meet her there,” Bergeron reported.  “She wants the Humanoid heads.”  A few quick dwarf-strikes with their axes and the heads got wrapped in fairy weave for transport.  The dwarfs remained stoic about their losses.  They were not going to show any emotion in front of the humans.  “Best get moving,” Bergeron said, and he went out front.  The travelers came behind him in silence.  Appalled by the events.  Most of the dwarfs marched behind the travelers, where even the most gregarious ones only whispered.

Avalon 6.8 Archidamian War’s End, part 3 of 6

Lockhart and Katie got down in front of the inn where the guard in the gate directed them.  At first, he was reluctant to let them into the city.  He asked which side they were on.  Lincoln stupidly said Persia, because it was the only coins they had, from back in Xanthia’s day.  Rajish certainly had no coins to give them.  But the old Persian coins were silver and gold, so the gate guard did not argue too much.  He directed them to an inn where they did not ask questions.  It did not appear to be in the best neighborhood.

“Boston, Sukki, Evan, and Millie, please stay with the horses,” Lockhart said.

“Alexis and I could stay,” Lincoln suggested.

“No mister Persia.  You need to come and keep your mouth closed.”

“Good thing we came through when we did,” Katie said.  “Not that many years ago, Persian coins would have gotten us in real trouble.”

Krack!

Lincoln looked at the door.  “That sounds like…” Decker, Katie, Lockhart, Alexis and Elder Stow all ran by him.  Even Boston raced ahead.  “…gunfire.” Lincoln followed.

The inn had a dining area, not necessarily expected.  A man lay on the floor, bleeding out.  A woman knelt beside him, weeping.  Three other men and one older woman looked on in horror.

“Alexis,” Katie called.  Alexis got down beside the man, and Lincoln got down with her.

“Who did this?” Lockhart asked the people, but they stood there with dumb looks on their faces.

Decker found the back door, but paused when Boston shouted from the window.  “It’s one of the outlaws.”  They heard a “Yip-yip,” and the sound of a horse ridden hard.  Decker had to grab Boston to prevent her from jumping out the window to pursue the horse on foot.  With some elf speed, she might have caught a horse hampered by city traffic, but then what would she do with the man?

“Come here,” Katie caught the old woman’s attention and brought her to a table.  “Tell me what happened.”

That seemed to shake the men free of their stupor.  They all began to spout at once.

“Decker.  Lockhart.  Help me get him up on the table,” Alexis insisted.  Lincoln had the weeping young woman in a hug, to comfort her.

“Careful, careful.”  They got him up.  “Decker, cut the dress off him to expose the wound.  You may have to hold him down.”  Alexis dug into the medical pack that she carried like a purse.  She pulled out a jar of something and checked for the green dot on the bottom before she managed to get some down the man’s throat.  He moaned, and the young woman wanted to go to him, but Lincoln would not let her go.

“Boston,” Lockhart said.  “Aren’t you supposed to be watching the horses?”

Boston shook her head.  “Alexis might need my magic, or to cauterize the wound or something.”

Alexis reached to the bottom of her pack and pulled out a long, thin knife, the one she got back after the necromancer turned to dust.  She said, “I had hoped I would never have to use this.”  Then she added, “I wish Doctor Mishka was here.  She is an actual doctor, and a surgeon with battlefield experience besides.  I’m just a registered nurse.”  She leaned over the man to cut into the wound, and added a word for whomever might be watching.  “We have to get the bullet out if we want him to heal.”

Elder Stow interrupted her.  He had the device with which he pulled out bullets before.  Alexis gladly put her knife away while Elder Stow passed his device over the wound many times.  It took a while, and Alexis interrupted several times to staunch the bleeding, but at last, the bullet came to the surface and came out of the wound.

Alexis had Boston put a hand on her shoulder, so she could draw on a touch of Boston’s fire magic.  Then she placed her hands gently on the wound and a golden glow filled the area.  Eventually, the wound closed up, and both Alexis and Boston took a deep breath.

Lockhart went to Katie where the old woman and the three men began to babble.  It took almost as long to get a straight story from them as it did for Alexis to perform her healing.

Meanwhile, outside, Sukki got impatient. She finally told Evan and Millie that she was just going to check, and she would be right back.  She no sooner stepped in the door when Millie got grabbed from behind.

“Don’t cry out,” the man said in English. He had a knife to Millie’s throat. “Billy, check him,” he said.

The young cowboy checked to make sure Evan had no weapons.  He took the knife Evan had been given, but then balked.  “I can’t frisk no lady.”

The other man rolled his eyes. “Come with us,” he said.

Evan stepped up beside Millie, and did not argue.  Instead, he asked a serious question.  “You are a red Indian?”

“Apache,” the man said.  “Though I had a French grandfather.  Juan Reynard, at your service.”

“I’m Billy Porter,” the young man said, with evident pride.  “Me and my brother Tom robbed every bank on the Rio Grande.  Maybe you heard of us.  The Porter brothers.”

“Sorry,” Evan said.  Millie shook her head as they came to a building across the way from the inn.  “But if I was home, I might look you up.”

“Where is home?” Reynard asked.

“The United States, 1905.”  He added the date, because the others showed him that not everyone came from the same year.

“1875,” Reynard said.  “Inside.”

They went in, and Millie spouted, “Nanette.”

“Yes, Millie.  Good to see you.  And Evan, you are looking well.”

“What is this about?” Evan asked, not concerned about propriety.

“Why so suspicious, or do you not trust a darkie?  But look. My palm is as white as any white woman. It is light and bright.  The back of my hand is dark.  See?  Light and dark.  Look at my hand.  Light and dark… Light and dark… Light and dark… Now, when I count to three, you will close your eyes.  Light and dark… One… two… three.”

Millie and Evan closed their eyes.

“You will not remember seeing me or talking to me, or seeing these cowboys.  But there is one thing you must do.”  She explained, that they must wait until the others were asleep and bring all of their weapons to her, but in the next time zone.  “Now, when I say go, I want you to return to your horses, and touch your horse.  When you touch your horse, you will wake, and remember nothing of our conversation, except you will remember to do your job in the next time zone.  Now, go.”  Millie and Evan turned and walked back to the horses.

“Why the next time zone?” Reynard asked.

“Because the space monsters have come into this place.  We will have to ride hard up the west coast to avoid them.”

“Maybe the space monsters will eat the travelers so we won’t have to worry about them,” Reynard suggested.

Nanette rolled her eyes and stepped up to Billy.  “Billy, you are not to bring me anyone’s weapons.  You will wake up, remember what was said here, and make a sound like a chicken.”  She slapped Billy.  “Wake up.”

Billy said, “Cluck, cluck.”

###

The travelers sat around the table, feasting.  Dionysios, the wounded man, stayed upstairs, resting, but Helene, his young wife stayed with the travelers, grateful for their saving her husband’s life.  The old woman who ran the inn loaded them up with food. These people had gold, and the war over the last ten years really hurt the business.

“Tell me, Helene.”  Millie spoke kindly.  “How old is your husband?”

“Dion is thirty-six, but he is such a nice man.”

“My age, poor fellow,” Decker said, to everyone’s surprise.  “And how old are you?”  He asked in a way that suggested the answer meant nothing to him, personally.

“How old do I look to you?”

Decker shrugged. “Twenty-one?”  Helene smiled at the answer.

“Not more than eighteen,” Lockhart tried, and Katie tugged on his sleeve to quiet him.

Helene lifted her chin in pride. “I am just sixteen, but that is more than old enough to be a good wife, and young enough to have many children.”

“Start with one,” Alexis suggested. “Then see how you feel about it.”

“You should listen to my wife,” Lincoln said.  “She is old and wise.  Me? I’m sixty-eight, though I don’t feel a day over thirty.  Maybe twenty-eight.  She is much older than I am.”

“How could that be?” Helene scoffed. “She can’t be older than twenty-four. Maybe twenty-one as the Egyptian said.

“Last I counted, she is two hundred and thirty-eight years old.”

Alexis slapped Lincoln’s arm for telling, even as Decker spoke up again.  “So, I am an Egyptian now?  Good to know.”

“You’re not?” Helene looked surprised. “I thought all dark-skinned men were Egyptians.”

Decker got ready to explain, but stopped when Boston stood and knocked over her chair.  “You might as well show yourselves.  Do you have word from Ophelia?”

Bergeron the dwarf and two other dwarfs with him dropped their glamour of invisibility.  Bergeron introduced himself, said he knew who they were, and said, “Yes and no.  You see, it is like this, Miss Boston.  An alien transport landed up the coast in the village of Isthmia, and right now you got three Humanoids and twenty Wolv looking over the city walls, and the Lady won’t let us get in between.  We been watching these humans fight each other for ten years, and the lady would not let us help, even when she got taken captive and spent the last four years in prison.  Well, I got buckets full of dwarfs that are just itching for a fight, but the lady says the humans have to fight their own fights.”

“I’m human,” Decker said, and reached for his rifle, which was never out of reach.

“I was hoping you would say that,” Bergeron said.  “We wouldn’t have to fight, just sort of protect the women folk, if you know what I mean.”

“What do you mean?” Lincoln asked.

“I mean if the women are in danger, we might have to attack the Wolvs, just defensively, you know.”

Boston grinned.  Katie spoke.  “Your logic is so flawed, I don’t know where to begin.”

“Thank you, Captain.”  Bergeron tipped his helmet.  “I take that as a great compliment.”

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

MONDAY

The groups clash and try to find a solution that does not cost too much blood…

Until then, Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 6.8 Archidamian War’s End, part 2 of 6

Nicias and Styphon got the Athenians and Spartans working together to fortify their position.  Timocrates and Antiphas, the Athenian and Spartan seconds, worked side by side.  Porocleon of Olympia had command of the 167 Spartan allies, members of the Peloponnesian League that had also been held captive in Athens for four years.  Lesycles of Thebes did the same for the Athenian allies who came along for the ride.

Lesycles wanted to kill one in ten Spartans to send the message of what would happen if they did not keep the peace, but Nicias overruled him.  He knew the Spartans would see that as an offense to their pride.  If they gave their word for peace, that should be enough. The decimation of the prisoners would have only angered the Spartans to continue the war.  Maybe that was what Lesycles wanted.  Now, if Ophelia was to be believed, he was glad to have the Spartans standing out front to face the enemy.

Ophelia got left in her tent with the Athenian Tellis and Zeuxides, who had been a good friend of her husband. Zeuxides knew, but Tellis stifled his own shriek when Ophelia called and a man appeared out of thin air, or rather, an elf, pointed ears and all.  Ophelia ignored Tellis.

“Labium, have you had a chance to examine the Humanoid ship?”

“Yes, lady,” Labium said.

“An explorer?  A scout ship?”

“No, lady.  It is a patrol-transport.”

“Damn,” Ophelia swore.

“Trouble?” Zeuxides asked.

“Double trouble,” she answered, before she explained.  “A typical patrol ship will be crewed by nine to fifteen Humanoids.  They patrol the solar system where they are based, and keep watch on whatever colonies or outposts might be in operation.  You might think of them as small ships that watch the coast for enemies or intruders.  A patrol-transport is a bigger ship that can supply colonies with men, equipment or food stuffs.  In a pinch, they can be used to transport troops to an outpost or colony that might be under attack.  They might carry as many as a hundred Wolvs on a short trip.”

Zeuxides whistled.  “If these Wolvs are as formidable as you say, and I do not doubt that, having seen the remains of the night guard—and no dead Wolvs, I might add, though they may have taken their wounded with them—that sounds like a lot to contend with.”

“But that isn’t the worst of it,” Ophelia shouted.  “Patrol ships are not built for long distance travel.  A patrol ship means they have to have come from a nearby star, and only a half-dozen would qualify, I would guess.  Tau Ceti, or maybe Epsilon Eridani.  They would be candidates, about ten to twelve light years away.  That means we have a humanoid house staking a claim in our back yard.”

“When you say star, you mean…” Tellis looked up at the roof of the tent, swallowed and pointed… “Star.”

“What do you mean, house?” Zeuxides asked a question Ophelia could at least try to answer.

“Think of the Humanoid Empire like Greece, but with an emperor—a kind of high king, like Agamemnon was in the Trojan War.  The houses are like cities, all but independent, but sworn in allegiance back and forth across the stars.”

“Like the cities sworn to Athens?” Tellis asked, and thought to add, “Or Sparta.”

“More medieval,” Ophelia said. “More complicated,” she clarified, since the men would have no way of knowing what medieval meant.  “Like Megara is pledged to Athens in one way, has long term economic ties to Thebes, has other contracts with Corinth about shipping, and a long friendship with Argos.  So, when Corinth attacks Argo and Athens comes to the aid of Argo, but Thebes wants to stay out of it, which way does Megara go?”

“Complicated,” Zeuxides got the gist of it.

“So, we have a house in our back yard, and you can be sure they are looking at our world as a world to feast on.”

“But what about us?” Tellis understood something.  “We are living here.”

“They bring tens of thousands of Wolvs here, and those humans, Spartans and Athenians, that don’t get eaten would become their slaves.  We need to discourage that idea from the beginning.”  Ophelia brushed everything off the table in the tent and got out a map of the area.  “Labium. Show me on this map, where they are and how many, as best as you know and what house?”

“House of Lachkar,” Labium said, as he stepped up to examine the map.  “Isthmia?” Labium pointed and asked.

Ophelia nodded.  “Corinth is the big spot.  We are about here, just on the isthmus, down from Sidius.  This is Isthmia in the middle between Corinth and us.”

“They are in Isthmia.”  Labium tapped the map.  He paused to catch the drool that tried to slide out of his oversized lower lip.  “Best guess is ten Humanoids and about fifty Wolvs in the village.  They have the villagers completely cowered, but have not eaten many yet.  Less than a quarter league from here are twenty more Wolvs under three Humanoids. They are scouting the area, examining the flora and fauna, and specifically looking for military information. Your group of roughly eight hundred affords them a perfect opportunity for testing.”

“Tough luck on us.” Ophelia said, and stopped when she had a sudden thought.  “Fifty, plus ten Wolvs still on the ship, plus twenty here, makes eighty. Did they explore the isthmus in the other direction, like towards Corinth?”

“I was just coming to that.” Labium sipped.  “Twenty more, with three more Humanoids are headed in that direction.”

“Damn,” Ophelia spouted.  “Who do we have down there?  Bergeron,” she commanded, and a dwarf deked out for battle appeared in their midst.

“What?  What?”  Bergeron appeared confused for a moment.  “Labium,” he acknowledged the elf before he turned to Ophelia.  “No, before you speak.  We got our eyes on the Wolv and a plan to turn them back before they get to the city.”

“You will do no such thing.  The humans have to defend themselves.  I won’t have any of your people killed defending the human race.”

Zeuxides stepped up and spoke. “Corinth has stout walls and a strong garrison.”

Ophelia shook her head.  “Wolv weapons will make holes in the wall and they will run right in.  As for the garrison, nothing disarms a man faster than panic.  Better they check the city and decide to not try it without reinforcements.  They could eat Corinth in a couple of days of feasting.”

“So, what can we do?”  Bergeron sounded put off by her refusal to let them fight.

“Keep me apprised of developments. If it looks like they are going to test the city, let me know.  We will decide what to do when that time comes.”

Bergeron looked mollified a little. She did not say when that time came that she would not let the dwarfs fight.

“And my people?” Labium asked.

“Keep an eye on Isthmia and on that ship, and please ask Prissy to come see me.”  She clapped her hands and Bergeron vanished.

“Miss Prissy is here?” Zeuxides brightened.

“Miss Priscilla and her whole troop have been following since Athens, and trying to hide,” Ophelia said, though her eyes stayed on the map.

“I told her it wouldn’t work, that you would know.”  Labium grinned.

Ophelia smiled for the elf.  “And you were right.  Thank you for all you do.”  She clapped.  Labium bowed as he vanished.

“Miss Prissy?” Tellis asked that much before two lights zoomed into the room.  One landed on Ophelia’s shoulder, though being a married woman, Ophelia had her hair cut short, so she had no locks for Priscilla to hide in.  The other light landed on the map.”

“Flaves, old man,” Zeuxides smiled for the fairy who was Prissy’s husband.

“Zeuxides, young man,” the fairy responded.  “Are you ready to go to war?”

“Always,” Zeuxides grinned, before Ophelia interrupted.

“Tellis.  Stay.”

Zeuxides grabbed the man before he could run out of the tent, screaming.  The elf he could accept.  If he ignored the lip and the pointed ears, he looked human enough.  The dwarf he could pretend was a short, stout man with an extra-long, untrimmed beard.  Fairies, however, became too much.  His eyes stayed wide as he stared at Flaves.

“Please get big.  That might help our friend here,” Ophelia asked Flaves.

“Me too?” Prissy said in her ear.

“Yes, please.”

In a moment, a very fine man dressed in armor appeared beside a most beautiful woman, one who appeared a bit shy. Ophelia watched Tellis take a breath and let it out slowly, as she introduced them.  “Flaves and Priscilla, this is Tellis, Athenian from Marathon.”

Flaves bowed and Priscilla curtseyed because they were sensitive enough to know a handshake would have been too much for the man.

“G-good to meet you,” Tellis stuttered.

“So, tell me about the twenty Wolvs and three humanoids not far from here,” Ophelia said, having little patience for formalities.

“Of course,” Flaves said, and pointed at the map.  “They have a physician who took the captive men and ran some tests?”  He did not sound certain about the phrase, but Ophelia nodded.  “I don’t know what he tested for, but he gave most of them to the Wolvs for lunch, after separating some prime pieces for the Humanoids.  They ate it all raw.  No one built a fire.”

“And their conversation?”

“They want to run more tests, and one is keen on testing the military strength you show.  He figured out in the wilderness, away from the settlements, we are fair game.  That was how he talked about you humans, as game.”

“Well,” Zeuxides said, plenty loud. “If they are hunters, they will not find us rabbits.  We will be like the bear and turn on them to their end.  Isn’t that right, Athenian?”

Tellis nodded, but he did not look at all sure.

“Zeuxides,” Ophelia said.  “Fetch Styphon and send for Antiphas and Porocleon. Tellis, fetch Nicias and send for Timocrates and Lesycles.  We need to share what we have discovered.”

“Yes,” Tellis said, as the two ran off.

“You should know,” Flaves said to Ophelia.  “The travelers from Avalon are in Corinth, and so is the witch and her three cowboys.”

“Typical,” Ophelia said.  “When it rains, it pours.”  She let out something between a scream and a growl and stomped back into the tent.

Avalon 6.8 Archidamian War’s End, part 1 of 6

After 467 BC, Attica. Kairos lifetime 80: Ophelia, Spartan Princess

Recording …

A man screamed.  It came from the perimeter.  One man, and then several men began shouting, “To Arms!  To Arms!”  The camp scrambled.

The Spartan commander, Styphon, and the Athenian general, Nicias, both jumped to their feet and looked to the tent door.  Ophelia shouted.

“Wait.  See what it is first.  Panic and rash decisions help no one.”

Styphon growled.

Nicias looked again at the supper on the table.

Shortly, Timocrates, Nicias’ number two, and Antiphas the Spartan came to the door.  Timocrates reported.

“They came from the coastal area. No idea who.  Several men are dead, torn up, I don’t know how or from what. The sergeants are counting their charges to see if any are missing.”

Antiphas the Spartan spoke. “Zeuxides walked near the area. He claims he saw a wolf, but one standing on its hind legs, and bigger than any wolf he ever saw.”

“Damn!” Ophelia stood and threw her cloth to the table.  “Lord Nicias. We are less than a day from the border of the Peloponnesian League, but you better give the Spartans and the others their weapons now, if you want to survive this.”

Nicias shook his head slightly.  “I don’t know.  The Ecclesia charged me to see the prisoners safely out of Athenian land.”

“You know what we are facing?” Styphon asked, ignoring the general.

“I have a good guess.  I fear that I do know, and that is saying something, because you know I fear no man nor beast,” Ophelia responded.  “Timocrates, can you take us to the place so we can examine the evidence?”

Timocrates glanced at his general who appeared to nod, slightly.  “Follow me,” he said.

General Nicias had five hundred Athenians to escort two hundred and seventy-three soldiers of the Peloponnesian League to their own territory, one hundred and six of whom were Spartiates—Spartan warriors of the highest class.  Some did not survive four years of captivity, after the surrender at Sphacteria, though they had been treated well, and fed during those four years. Rightly or wrongly, the men credited Ophelia, a fellow prisoner, with the humane way they were treated and survived captivity, being treated like prisoners of war, and hostages, not like criminals.  They knew that being a woman, the Athenians wanted to release her, but being a Spartan woman, she refused.  She insisted on sharing the hardship of her people, even though she had a ten-year-old daughter back home.  Well, she had two older sisters to count on, and a husband who died an honorable and glorious death on Sphacteria.  Helen should be a fine young woman of fourteen by now.

When Ophelia and the men arrived, they found Zeuxides and the Athenian Tellis of Marathon waiting.  They looked uncertain.  Ophelia bent down to the shredded body of the guard.  She did not have to examine much before she swore again.

“Damn.  Wolvs.”  Ophelia called to her armor and weapons, and they came out of the Second Heavens and replaced the dress she wore.  No one blinked.  They had all seen her do that before.  “Nicias, you better arm the Spartans, even if it is a day early.  It may be a scouting party from a small ship, but we cannot count on that.”

“What are Wolvs?” Styphon asked.

“Like the name, but intelligent as a man, and big.  They have weapons of fire and explosions.”  She pointed to the burn marks on the body.  “They travel in ships that fly in the air the way our ships travel on water.  And even without weapons, they have claws and teeth that can shred you.  In fact, they seem to delight in shredding things like soft, human flesh.”

“Timocrates,” Nicias pointed at his number two.  “Arm the Spartans.”  Antiphas went with him to see it done.

“I haven’t even said the worst part yet,” Ophelia added, regaining everyone’s attention.  “The Wolv are just soldiers.  They answer to Humanoid commanders.  The Humanoids look like us, but have very sharp teeth.  They like to eat humans, raw.  They won’t bother to cook us first.”

“Wonderful,” Zeuxides said.  The Spartan took it like a challenge.

###

Evan explained how they came this way before, in the opposite direction.  “The time gate stood in the middle of a shallow river well north of Rome…”

“In the village of Pisa,” Millie interrupted.  “The Arno, I believe.”

“It was fairly shallow, and nearly dry,” Evan continued.  “We swam out in the muddy water, and did not know what to expect on the other side.” He paused to see if Millie wanted to add anything.  She shook her head.  “We landed in the Aegean, somewhere off the coast of Chios.  I thought we would surely drown.”

“Last time we moved from water to water,” Lincoln said, thinking a minute.  “That seems to be the way it works.  If the gate is in the water, the exit gate will be as well.  But, in any case, we moved from river to river, but that was before we had the horses.”

“So, what happened?” Alexis asked Millie.

“We got rescued,” Millie said, with a smile.

“We got picked up by a ship out from Rhodes, headed for Piraeus harbor and Athens.  That took a week, and the winds were favorable the whole time. Odd, to think of it.  The captain and crew acted like they picked up all of us in Chios, and our passage got paid.  That is very odd, now that I think about it.”

“What do you mean, we?” Alexis asked.

Millie answered.  “We traveled with a very kind older woman, Doris, and her granddaughter, Nyssa.  They gave us a cabin, where we ate all out meals; but I did not even know such ancient ships actually had cabins.”

“They don’t,” Lincoln said, as he got out the database to read.

“Another woman, one that Nyssa called Aunt Galatea was there, too.  But we only saw her on a couple of days,” Millie finished.  “I guess she kept mostly to herself.”

“We exited this zone around Olympia, where we came in,” Evan also finished, and added, “What?” because Lincoln appeared to be reading something interesting.

“Doris is Amphitrite’s mother. Nyssa is her daughter.  Galatea is her sister, one of the ninety-nine.”

“Amphitrite?” Evan asked.  He knew the name, even if Millie did not know it off hand.

“The Kairos,” Lincoln said, and Evan nodded, like he should have guessed.

“Sea goddesses,” Alexis told Millie, and a light seemed to go off in her head.

“Poseidon is Nyssa’s father,” Lincoln said.

“Neptune,” Evan told Millie.  “You would know her mother as Salacia.”

Millie nodded.  “Amphitrite is Salacia, and the Kairos.”

“And a wonderful woman, from what little I’ve seen of her,” Alexis added.

“Walk ‘em,” Katie spoke back to the four following.  She slipped off the back of Lockhart’s horse, and he also got down.  Sukki, who had taken to riding beside the mother and father of the group, also dismounted, but looked ahead.  Boston was returning from out front, having ridden out to check the lay of the land, and she had her amulet out, no doubt checking their direction.

“Corinth is up ahead.  Walking distance,” Boston reported.  “My guess is the Kairos is at the other end of the isthmus, on our side of the next big city, but not far from a village.”

Decker rode up in time to hear Katie name the village.  “The village is probably Isthmia, or whatever they call it in this time period, or maybe Sidius.”

“That’s it,” Decker said.  “The Kairos is insidious.”

“Ha, ha,” Boston spoke without laughing.

Elder Stow came in with an apology. “I am sorry, my mother.  The shrine of Artemis is no longer in the woods, and its wilderness location now appears to be farm fields just outside the city walls.”

“That’s okay,” Katie responded.  “I didn’t expect it to still be there after all this time.”  She glanced up at the sky and let out a little sigh for Artie, the android that Amphitrite made human, and that she and Lockhart adopted before they were even officially married.  She changed the subject as Lincoln, Alexis, Evan and Millie walked up.  “I am more unhappy that we came right through Nemea and did not get one whiff of a lion in the neighborhood.”

“The Nemean lion would be Hercules. That would have been ages ago, wouldn’t it?” Evan asked.

“We met him,” Lincoln whispered, to Evan’s surprise, but his whisper got over drowned out by Lockhart’s volume.

“Lunch.”  He shouted before he said more softly to Katie, as people turned to first take care of their horses.  “I want to get a meal in before we get to the city.  Even I can see that herd of sheep down that hill there.  That means we are too close to habitation to even technically be in the wilderness.”

Katie nodded.  “I wonder if your horse-thief’s inn is still there, in the city.”

Lockhart rolled his eyes.

When they were seated by the fire, Boston looked again at her amulet.  “The Kairos was moving in our direction,” she said.  “But she appears to have stopped for some reason.”

“We are too far away for a look,” Decker said.

“Indeed,” Elder Stow said, with a look at his scanner.

“Let’s just get through Corinth first,” Lockhart said.

“I’m sure there is a good reason,” Katie said, at about the same time.

“Who can understand the mind of the gods,” Millie said, still thinking about her trip aboard that ship.

“Exactly,” Boston and Sukki said together, but Boston said it louder.