Avalon 8.8 The Bad Penny, part 2 of 6

“I thought they all died,” Sukki said as she got down from her horse.  “There should not be any more Wolv.”

“Not a chance,” Boston said, as Nanette and Titania came up to join them.  “They just got stranded on whatever planet they were on when their Humanoid ships busted beyond what they could fix.”

Elder Stow came up staring at his scanner.  He ostensibly came to help the women move their horses off the road.  The circus people were still bringing in the wagon loads from where they parked in a field outside the town palisade.  The others all went to help.

“Actually,” Elder Stow spoke to the women.  “Even in my day, a thousand years in the future, there are a half-dozen or so worlds where packs of Wolv still roam around.  You see, on some worlds the people were made extinct before the Wolv returned to space.  Some fought off the invasion as Earth did a thousand years ago in the days of Ali Baba.  But eventually the Humanoid technology broke as Boston said, and the Wolv became trapped on that world.  Again, some local people defeated the Wolv, and if they were advanced enough to do it, they also got an introduction to Humanoid technology and space travel.  I suspect the Flesh Eaters, and maybe the Apes fall into that category.  But on some worlds, the Wolv won and now own at least a half-dozen worlds in my day.”

‘You mean, they might learn how to fix things and come back here at any time?”  Sukki worried.

“No, daughter.”  Elder Stow gave her a reassuring smile.  “The Wolv everywhere have reverted to their natural pack and tribal state; what modern people would call a Neolithic existence.  They can learn.  They can be taught, as the Humanoids taught them how to use their equipment, but it will be thousands of years before they learn enough to build their own spaceships, and it is possible that will never happen.”

“But they are here,” Nanette said, sounding nearly as nervous as Sukki.  “How did they get here?”

“Over here,” Alexis shouted.  She and Tony had the wagon in a side street, and Alexis had hers and Lincoln’s horses.  The others each grabbed the reigns of two horses that were otherwise just standing around, and they followed the wagon, while Elder Stow said one more thing.

“That is the question.  They had to be brought here.  Who brought them?”

Decker and Lincoln went to help pack and bring in the last of the circus wagons.  The town watch and soldiers were anxious to get the gate closed, though they had not yet seen a Wolv.  If they had, they might have slammed the gate already and let those outside the palisade fend for themselves.  Decker did not have the heart to tell the locals a wooden palisade wall would hardly be sufficient against the Wolv.  It would not keep out an army, but the town could surrender to an army.  If they surrendered to the Wolv, the Wolv would just eat them or tear them to shreds just for fun.  The palisade might keep out a company of men attached to a distant army.  It would at least make the company think twice before attacking, so Decker supposed it was not a totally useless wall.

Meanwhile, Lockhart and Katie met with Don Giovanni and Leonora, and two older men who went out to one of the outlying farms to see what the madman kept screaming about.  They tried to explain things to the local Baron, his three knights, and the four town elders.  At least one of the knights, Sir Bertulf seemed to understand what they were talking about, or maybe he believed them.  The others all wanted to deny reality or interpret it in a way that did not appear so threatening.

“So, a pack of wolves attacked the man’s farm,” the Baron said with a haughty laugh.  “Nothing a couple of good hunters can’t take care of.  It happens all the time.”  He walked off and two of his knights went with him, laughing about the panic.

“No.  You don’t understand,” Otto, one of the old men started to speak but paused when Giovanni put his hand out.

“He will believe it when he sees it,” Giovanni said.  “Let us hope it is not the last thing he sees.”

“How can we help?” Lockhart asked.

“Actually, for once you can stick around and get your rifles ready,” Giovanni answered as he turned to the town elders.    “Besides, it isn’t safe out there to be traveling right now.”  He spoke to the elders.  “Do you understand what is going on here?”

The head of the little group looked at his fellows before he answered.  “I am with the Baron.  A pack of wild wolves I understand.  I don’t know these Wolvs you speak of.”

“Just as long as you open the gates for the people to come behind the shelter of the wall.”

“We will not keep anyone out,” he responded, and they left.

“Sir Bertulf?” one of the older men asked, wondering what the last knight present thought.

Sir Bertulf pulled a little on his beard.  “You say and all agree these are not natural or normal wolves.  They think, are clever and cunning, and have a language all their own with which they communicate with each other even as we talk with one another.  Are they demons, then, who have taken the form of wolves?  I know their master goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.  I do not doubt that his servants may take the form of wolves and be equally hungry.”

The old men looked at Don Giovanni as Lockhart began to speak.  “That is not exactly right.”

“But close enough,” Giovanni said.  “And if that line of thinking helps the people mount a reasonable defense, then let’s go with it.”

“We will spread the word among the people,” one of the old men said.

“And I will see to the soldiers and the night watch on the wall.” Sir Bertulf agreed.

As they left, Leonora grabbed Giovanni.  “Tell me about these friends of yours.  You never mentioned them.”

“I never think of them until they arrive, or mostly,” he said.

“They have an elf with them.”  Leonora smiled.

“And a member of the elder race, two witches, and Katie here is an elect.  We will meet them all later, but that is not important now.”  Giovanni turned at the door and looked to see the gate closing.  His circus wagons stretched the whole length of the street from the gate almost to the Baron’s residence at the far end.  The Baron lived in a mansion and had a strong stone tower as a fallback position.  He also had his own wall around his very big piece of property.  It was an improvement over the town wall because the bottom four feet or so was stone.

“I hope we don’t end up stuffing as many people as possible into the baron’s tower as a last resort.  That would not be good.”

Leonora tugged on Giovanni’s sleeve.  “So, where do these Wolvs come from?” she asked.

“Wolv,” he corrected her.  “It is like sheep.  Wolv covers the singular and the plural.”  The couple looked eye to eye in silence for a moment, and Katie smiled and nudged Lockhart who imagined he knew what she was nudging about.

“But where…”

Giovanni put an arm around Leonora’s shoulder.  She quieted and let out her smile.  He pointed to the sky and said, “You know in the night when all the stars come out?  Generally, in that direction.  You know, they are all suns very, very far away.  There is a world, like the earth, that goes around one of those suns.  They come from there, and how they got here is a question.”

Leonora sighed and laid her head against Giovanni’s shoulder.  Katie had to say something.

“Surely, the Humanoid ships are not still functioning.”

“No,” Giovanni said.  “And don’t call me Shirley.”  He smiled.  “But seriously, they had to have been brought here.  The question is by who and for what purpose.”

Lincoln called as he walked up to the town hall.  “Lockhart.  Katie.  We found an inn and got five rooms before they filled up with circus people.  The horses and wagon are in the barn.”  He stepped up and smiled for what he took to be two couples.  Giovanni quickly let go of Leonora and asked her a question.

“Would you mind going with the travelers to help them get settled in?  I need to settle the train and get the tents up in the street, I guess.  Tell Boston I haven’t forgotten.  I’ll be along later to get her hug.”  Leonora backed up and looked at him.  He explained.  “It is just tradition.  She is the elf.”

“Oh,” Leonora said and seemed to understand something. “Come on,” she waved to Katie and Lockhart as she and Lincoln led the way down the side street.  “The Frauenhaus,” she named the inn.  “Not the best in town, but acceptable.”

Avalon 7.6 Food of the Gods, part 5 of 6

Even with the giant snake in the grass, for some reason the travelers and soldiers kept their Sunday afternoon picnic attitude.  Alexis figured it out when she felt a nudge, and she convinced Lincoln as they rode toward Napoca.

“It is the wraith,” she said.  “It gives people a false sense of security, almost lulling them to sleep.  Then, when she moves in for the kill, the terror is that much more absolute.”

“Absolute terror.”  Lincoln shook his head, not to disagree, but to clear his head of the wraith’s influence.

“That is how she feeds,” Alexis explained, dredging up the information from her childhood nightmares.  “She feeds on fear, fright, and feelings of hopelessness and despair, and she sucks on the soul until the body is utterly drained and collapses, an empty, shriveled husk.”

“Something to look forward to,” Lincoln responded.

Alexis and Lincoln spent the morning trying to convince the others that they were in grave danger, but they only got blank stares in return.  People shared stories and laughs around the lunch campfire when Lincoln and Alexis looked up.  They heard howls in the distance.

“Wolv?” Lincoln wondered.

Alexis shook her head.  “Just ordinary wolves.”

“Giant ordinary wolves,” Lincoln corrected her, and he got the people packing up to travel.

The wolves followed them through the afternoon.  Some of the howls sounded loud enough and close enough to get at least the temporary attention of the soldiers and travelers.  They got to about a half-hour from Napoca when the wolves circled in for the kill.  That woke people up.  Boston and Sukki raced back from the point.  Decker rode hard to reach the group from where he wandered off to the side.  Even the soldiers following hustled to catch up.

Elder Stow watched carefully, and when everyone came inside the circle, he turned on his screen device.  He stared at the device and wondered why he had not reset it and turned it off in the morning.  Running all day in ready mode used up ten percent of his charge.  It did not matter much, now that he had the charging unit supplied by the god Hephaestus, but still…  He could be a bit obsessive-compulsive about his equipment and leaving it in ready mode all day did not feel right.

Elder Stow got out his weapon.  Five giant wolves came roaring in from all four compass points.  They ran into the screen, and the travelers got out their guns like it was routine.  They put down three of the giant beasts before the other two ran off.

“Rather anticlimactic,” Lincoln said, as he spied a very frustrated looking wraith in the late afternoon sun.  He fired at her, but she shrieked and vanished.

“Good thing Elder Stow had his screen device set to deploy,” Boston said, and Nanette and Sukki agreed with her.

“But that is just it,” Elder Stow said.  “My Mother and Father, I should have turned it off and put it away this morning, but I never thought of it.  It was only by chance accident that I was able to place a screen around us with such speed.”

“Thank you, all the same,” Lockhart said. 

“But you don’t understand,” Elder Stow tried again.  “I left it running all day, but I would never do that.  I believe something has gotten into our thoughts.”

“The wraith,” Alexis said.

“Maybe someone is watching over us,” Katie suggested.

“That may be also,” Elder Stow said.

“Like a competing power that will not show themselves,” Alexis wondered.

“Maybe the Kairos,” Boston imagined.

“No,” Hans and Berry came up while Lavinia had the boys. “My sister has no such natural power.”

“Maybe one of her god or goddess lifetimes,” Berry wondered.

Hans shook his head.  “She would show herself.  She would not stay hidden.”

Lockhart nodded.  “Okay.  We have the wraith trying to get at us with giant predators, and someone might be helping us that doesn’t want to be known.  We need to get to Napoca as quick as we can.”

“Before the wolves come back with more friends,” Decker agreed.

“An inn in town might, make a good defensive place, depending on what the wraith throws at us,” Katie said, quietly.

“The inn and stables,” Lockhart nodded.  “If Elder Stow wouldn’t mind, maybe we could get a screen around both tonight.”

Elder Stow glanced at the sun.  “That might work.  I should have enough time to charge the equipment before sunset.  We will have to see how big an area my little hand-held toy will have to cover.”

That night, the inn got attacked by bats the size of cars.  Thanks to Elder Stow, the people, and the horses in the stables, slept safe.  Elder Stow’s screens apparently stymied, and no doubt frustrated the wraith.

In the morning, around the breakfast table, they warned each other that when Elder Stow turned off his screens, they would be once again subject to the mental manipulations of the wraith.  They promised each other to stay vigilant, and not fall back into the same careless attitude of the day before.  Alexis suggested a more realistic approach.

“Potaissa, where we planned to meet the Kairos, is a short day from here.  Why don’t we pledge to get there as quickly as possible?”

###

When Greta, Darius, Mavis, and their troop of soldiers finally got out of Apulum, Greta pushed them to ride as hard as they could.  They got about half-way to the salt mines at Salinae, which meant they would have a full day yet to travel.  Greta made them camp in the wilderness and decided it was just as well they did not make it to the fort at Salinae.  The soldiers there would have only slowed them down.

Greta said they would leave at first light and not stop until they got to Potaissa.  She ate little.  She tried to sleep.  She remembered how glad she was that Marcus Italicus dallied in Romula-Malva, nowhere near their area.  She wondered where Rhiannon had gone.  She felt reluctant to ask Danna to trade places with her and call her child.  She was not sure Danna would do that based only on some uncomfortable feelings Greta had.

Greta pecked at Darius’ lips and turned on her side to face the fire.  Darius turned to spoon with her.  Good.  She needed to be held.

###

The travelers stopped for lunch two hours shy of Potaissa.  Despite warning each other over and over, they got sloppy again.  Elder Stow noticed.  No one watched the perimeter.  Elder Stow at least kept his eye on the scanner.  Decker also noticed, and tried to keep his eyes and ears open, but Nanette kept saying they were almost there.  “In the home stretch, “Lincoln kept repeating, as if arrival in Potaissa would magically fix everything.

Boston sat with Katie and Lockhart and watched Sukki and Alexis cook.  She glanced at Nanette, but the girl appeared focused on Decker and Boston did not feel like interrupting.  She glanced at Lincoln and Elder Stow, but Lincoln looked absorbed in reading in the database, and Elder Stow fiddled with his equipment.  He did that lots lately.  Boston wondered if he started feeling uncomfortable now that Sukki chose to become human.  He said he felt happy for her, but everyone knows, what a person says and actually feels might be two different things.

Tony screamed.

Everyone looked up.

Boston ran faster than the rest.

“No, it’s all right.  It’s all right,” Tony repeated.  “I came to check on Ghost, and it was just a squirrel, or bird, or something—normal size.  It just startled me.”

“Too much stress,” Boston said, and looked at the others to see if anyone disagreed.

“I have been worried and anxious of late,” Tony said, softly, and he lowered and shook his head.

People went back to lunch looking a bit more sober, but Elder Stow and Decker noticed they did not hurry lunch, or hurry to get into town after lunch.  Boston resumed her seat and wondered if her uneasiness might be because she finally started feeling like a true elf and got stuck, now, around so many clunky, mortal, humans.

Avalon 6.7 Yeti, part 2 of 4

The following morning, the clouds closed in again, and by noon, it started raining, a cold, soaking kind of rain; the kind to put everyone out of sorts.  Elder Stow and Decker stayed in close, given the rough terrain, and even Boston and Sukki did not straggle far behind.

By noon, everyone felt miserable; but Evan reminded them of the monastery up ahead, and when Elder Stow claimed the small dot on his scanner might indicate human habitation, they all felt a little better.  They hurried lunch, but would have hurried it in the rain in any case.

Around two that afternoon, the rain turned into a deep mist-like fog that limited their visibility.  Decker and Elder Stow moved in closer on the flanks. Ears opened, and talk came in whispers, until Boston shouted, “Hush.”  She stopped moving, and Sukki stopped with her.  Lockhart clearly did not want to stop in the open, out in the rain, but he did.  Elder Stow and Decker came all the way from the flanks.  “Hush,” Boston repeated.  She pointed to the woods up ahead, but off the line they traveled, to their right, and down a gentle hill.

Everyone heard.  It sounded faint, in the distance.  A barely audible, Boom, Boom.

“Sounds like someone has a big club,” Lincoln said.

“What are they hitting?  Drums?” Evan asked.

“Trees, I think,” Alexis answered.

Katie closed her eyes for a second, and stretched her hand out toward the sound.  “I sense no danger to us from that direction.”

“Your Yeti?” Sukki quietly asked Boston, who shrugged.

Decker spoke sensibly.  “I’m not picking up a pattern.  If it is a message, it may not be for us.”

Lockhart nodded.  “Which way?”

Boston pulled out her amulet and pointed the way they were heading.  Lockhart started them moving again.  As they pushed slowly into the woods, the Boom, Boombecame louder and began to pick up speed.

Very quickly, they came to a stream among the trees.  “Winter runoff,” Lincoln called it.

“Rain melted snow from further uphill,” Alexis agreed.

“Woah,” Lockhart shouted and stopped. A hill, hidden by the fog, rose up before them.  It looked almost steep enough to be a cliff.

Boom-boom-boom-boom... The drumming became very fast, like someone banging between two trees. Katie closed her eyes again and faced the sound.  Lockhart got ready to cross the stream, but waited for Katie.  He watched as her eyes sprang open.

“It’s a warning,” she said.  “Back to the meadow,” she yelled and swung her horse around.  “Hurry,” she added, as the ground began to tremble. The others started more slowly, but sped up by the time they heard the rumbling on the hill.  The hillside gave way.  Hugh chunks of mud and boulders rushed to the forest below.  Bushes were crushed, and saplings snapped.  Big, old trees cracked and fell over.  The stream got blocked and had to find a new path. Horses and riders burst from the woods as the rumbling stopped.  The mudslide stopped at the edge of the forest.

“Everyone here?” Lockhart yelled over the din of voices.  Everyone was, though they all looked rather shaken.  “Which way?” Lockhart asked again, wanting to get out of that area, just to be safe.

Katie and Boston both pointed toward the Boom, Boom, which had once again slowed and sounded more distant.

“Warning?” Lincoln asked, having heard that word.  Katie nodded.

“We would have had to go around that hill in any case,” Lockhart said.

“I would go the opposite way,” Decker said, softly.

“I think we are outvoted,” Elder Stow said more loudly, but only because Gott-Druk are not good at whispering.

The travelers gave the hill a wide berth, and came down into a valley where a small river ran, no doubt made up of many small streams.  The rain stopped and the mist cleared off about the time they found an acceptable campsite.

The booming had long since stopped, but this time no one jumped when Boston said, “Yeti,” and pointed up river. Some eyes turned in that direction, though of course, they did not see anything.

“Thank you.”  Alexis thought to shout that out, just before Boston said, “Gone.”

“Do you think they could be like the fauns, slipping into another universe?” Decker asked.

“No,” Elder Stow said.  He sat frowning and shaking his head at his scanner. “I have adjusted the scanner to pick up any such thing, like movement out of the world altogether, like a hole in the world to another dimension, or something.  No.  I’m catching glimpses, but having trouble picking up the Yeti, or whatever it is, even when it is there.  I have no way of knowing where it goes.”

“Time distortion,” Lincoln said, reading from the database.  “There is very little in here about the Bigfoot or Yeti.  That may be on purpose.  There may be some things the Kairos does not want known, for some reason. But anyway, as near as I can figure, the Yeti lives a few seconds in the future.  It can phase into our time stream when it wants, but mostly it moves ahead of us, in time, I mean.  I think when your equipment tries to focus in on it, it has already moved on.  That probably doesn’t make much sense.”

“No.  That is helpful,” Elder Stow said.  “I am not sure what I can do about that.  The scanner does not have a temporal adjustment.  But it is helpful to know.”

“The elusive bigfoot,” Lockhart said.

“It will never be seen unless it wants to be seen,” Katie added, agreeing with Lockhart.

People sat quietly for a minute. They tried to get warm by the fire, grateful that the fairy weave clothing was self-cleaning and self-drying.  All that frigid rain did not stick to them, or to their fairy weave blankets and tents.  Sadly, the horses were not self-drying, but the travelers did the best they could.  At least, by the river, the horses had some snow and ice-free grass to eat.  Then Evan had a thought.

“It seems to me, the question is, why is the Yeti following us.”

“And warning us,” Millie added.

No one had an answer, and soon, people went off to bed, keeping their watch in the night.

All remained quiet—cold, but quiet, until the shift change at four in the morning.  At that time of year, in that part of the world, the sun set around five-thirty in the evening, and rose again around six-thirty in the morning. Millie asked about the time.  She said she did not notice when they walked, but now that they had watches, surely, they were several hours, or time zones east of Babylon.  Why didn’t they have to reset the watches for each time zone?

Katie answered.  “I asked at the very beginning.  Lincoln looked it up and explained that the time zones automatically adjusted a few hours one way or the other.  He could not explain how, exactly.  But the result is, when it is noon here, it is noon in all the time zones.”

“A blessing,” Alexis said.  “We would be utterly frazzled by now if we had to adjust our internal clocks every time we came into a new time zone.”

“Some things you just have to take by faith,” Boston added.

“I see,” Millie said.  “But then, I have seen plenty of things that I used to dismiss as fantasies of the mind.”

“Like magic?” Sukki asked, as Boston magically started the campfire despite the soaking wet wood.

“Like elves,” Millie answered, and reached out to touch Boston’s pointed ears.

Boston grinned.  “I was not born this way, you know.  But it feels so right.  I can’t explain it.  I just hope my parents and brothers can deal with it.”

That began a long conversation about what to expect when they got home.  Of course, they all paused to hug Sukki and say she would be welcome to make a home with them.  Sukki only cried a little, and that got Elder Stow’s attention. Soon the men joined the conversation, though realistically, they could only imagine what might have happened back home after five years of travel.

Boston still wondered about that when she and Sukki got up for the early morning shift.  Decker looked ready for a two-hour nap, and Elder Stow looked already asleep, when Boston shouted.

“Yeti!”

“Wolves!” Sukki shouted as well, even as she punched one that made a leap for her.  She moved fast, and given her natural Neanderthal strength, she knocked the wolf into a tree and undoubtedly broke its jaw.  She whipped out the knife Boston gave her, as Boston pulled her wand to lay down a line of flames between them and the wolves.  Decker grabbed his rifle, but paused to watch the Yeti.

The Yeti made a sound like Chewbacca on a bad day.  One by one, it caught three wolves by the scruff of the neck and tossed them, seemingly without much effort, into the half-frozen river.  It turned and roared at the rest of the pack, flailing its arms for any wolves that might not already be running for their lives.  Then in a few steps it disappeared among the trees.

Elder Stow switched on his screens just before three lynx came at them from the other direction.  One slammed into the screens and appeared dizzy. Decker shot one, since Elder Stow had long since adjusted things so he could shoot out and nothing could get in. The third lynx ran, but by then the others were up, and Alexis offered a thought.

“There is something more than accident going on here.  Lynx are solitary hunters.  They don’t hunt in packs like wolves.”

“Not to mention wolves and lynx attacking at the same time can’t be coincidence,” Lincoln added.

Lockhart and Katie came back from helping Boston and Sukki put out the line of bushes still smoldering from Boston’s fire.  “Maybe we need to hurry and get to that monastery before the next mudslide,” Lockhart said.

“Good thing everything is still wet,” Katie had a different thought.  “Boston might have set the whole forest on fire.”

“Nuh-uh,” Boston said, but no one said anything more.