Avalon 7.10 Guarding the Future, part 3 of 6

The day started out hot as ever, but they soon came to a green place in the wilderness.  No one would ever call the area lush with greenery, but there were trees, and in the distance, it looked like a field of grain.  Elder Stow rode in when they stopped.  He checked his scanner and said there was a town in that direction.  Lincoln looked it up and called it Taif.

“I don’t know,” Lockhart said.  “The path we are on looks like it avoids the town.”  He waited to hear from the others.

Katie shook her head.  “Remember Italy, where we found Evan.  All the local Latin tribes were fighting each other?”

“Where they treated strangers like shoot first and ask questions later?” Lockhart clarified.

Katie nodded.  “That is the feeling I get about this place, like all the tribes are fighting each other.  No telling how they treat the caravans.”

Lincoln spoke up.  “I’m not comfortable in this place, but I figured it was just the heat.”

Alexis spoke for the other side.  “But the town might have fruit, maybe cold melons, or at least dates.”

Decker rode up from the other wing.  “The city looks like an armed camp.  They have soldiers all along the walls.  I recommend we avoid going there.”

“Boss,” Boston rode back from the point.  She had her amulet out and shook her head.  “I was checking the direction.  It looked like we were going to have to veer to our left and go over the mountains.  I was hoping we could avoid doing that.  But all of a sudden, the Kairos moved, like when the gods used to move us in an instant.  She is almost due south, now, well, south-southwest.  The time gate shifted, too.  Hopefully, we won’t have to go to sea, but look.”  She held out her amulet for Lockhart to look, but he did not have elf eyes to read such a small map.

Katie got out her prototype amulet and confirmed Boston’s words.

“Town or no town?” Tony asked, wanting to get back on topic.  He was not sure what Boston meant when she said the Kairos moved in an instant, like when the gods used to move them.

“We go around,” Lockhart said, just before the travelers, their horses and even the wagon and trees felt a massive pull toward the southeast.  The wagon lifted on two wheels before it settled down again.  Nanette, who just dismounted, and Lincoln both fell to the ground in that southeast direction.  Several tree branches snapped off and flew a short way to the southeast, as if a great tornado-like wind came crashing in from the northwest, but they felt no wind at first.  The air moved, as people and horses struggled to keep to their feet.  Then the air seemed to change its mind as it came rushing back from the southeast at almost hurricane speed.  It was not long before they heard the sound of rolling thunder.  The earth beneath their feet began to shift and tremble.  Lincoln looked, but no great flash of light came, and no mushroom cloud rose over the horizon.

“Sand,” Alexis and Katie both yelled at the same time.

“Turn the horses.”

“Turn your back.”

People expected the worst, but Elder Stow clicked a button, even as the sand came.  The screens held the full seven minutes of the horrendous sandstorm.  The people watched it tear up the trees outside the screen area.  They saw it rip through the distant fields of grain before the sand built up on the outside of the screens and obscured their vision.

“As good a time as any to test the screens,” Elder Stow said.  “I can see fluctuation in the stabilizers.  I still have to work on it, but hopefully, they will stay up until the sandstorm stops.”

“Seven minutes,” Lincoln said, having timed the event.

“The legend says when Ubar sank into the sand, the sandstorm lasted for seven days,” Tony said.

The wind shifted and began to blow back in the direction from which it had been driven.  The ground finally settled down, but the returning wind blew hard enough at first to knock down a couple of those broken trees.  Soon enough, the wind became a simple breeze.  Boston said she could smell the Red Sea in the distance, but the others only smelled the heat.

“So, anyway,” Lincoln said, even if it sounded like a street name, “Sweny Way.”  He said, “No town.”

“No,” Lockhart said.  “And no, Alexis.  You can’t go there and heal everyone hurt by that storm, or whatever it was.”

Alexis looked unhappy but nodded.  Nanette gave her a hug before they all mounted and started.  Alexis did have a suggestion.  “We should stop and have lunch before we leave the trees.”

Lockhart agreed with that, so that was what they tried to do.  They found a troop of baboons clambering around the rocks and in the trees.  The baboons spent lunchtime yelling at the travelers and occasionally throwing pebbles and twigs at them.  Nanette countered with an offer of elf bread.  They all watched the big male as he checked it out and tested it.  He screeched, and the travelers put out a dozen loaves which the baboons collected before they ran back to their rocks and trees.  As far as Boston could tell, about a third of the bread got eaten.  The rest got played with, which mostly meant squished.

While they rested in the heat of the afternoon, Decker meditated and let his eagle totem up into the sky.  He looked to the southeast, over the mountains, but saw nothing to indicate the reason for their seven-minute sandstorm.  He figured it had to be too far away to see.  He also figured it had to be a massive explosion, and if it was too far away to see, Lincoln had been right to look for a mushroom cloud.

Elder Stow suggested a dual-concussive gravitron bomb.  He explained that it sucked everything in and squished things close enough, almost like a miniature black hole.  Then, after the initial action, it exploded back outward, more powerful than a simple atomic explosion.  He said a big enough bomb might affect an area of a thousand miles around, or more.  “An old fashioned, but powerful device,” he called it.  No wonder Decker could see no sign of it, even from the limits of his eagle flight.

Decker wheeled his eagle to the south.  He saw scrub grass, and hills broken by sections that looked like good grass and even trees.  He saw some towns and villages in that direction.  He figured the land they were moving through still had plenty of good grazing land, which accounted for the herd animals they saw in the night.  Hot as it was, their journey should not be too difficult if they did not push it.

Finally, Decker wheeled around and examined the city they avoided.  The city wall crumbled in a few places in the direction of the explosion.  He saw plenty of people out in the fields, no doubt trying to save whatever crops they could. Then he saw some thirty soldiers headed straight toward their camp.  He circled around.  He saw the wraith leading the soldiers and knew it would be trouble.  Fortunately, the wraith did not see him.

Decker let go of his totem and stood.  “Everybody up,” he yelled.  “We got trouble coming.  About thirty soldiers from the city, and they look to be led by the wraith.”

“Pack it up,” Lockhart yelled.

“They will be here in about five minutes,” Decker added, knowing there was no way they could get everything packed and they could move in time.  Decker did not exactly adjust the time from as the eagle flies to travel on the ground.  It took more like ten minutes, and the travelers did get everything packed, more or less, but the soldiers surrounded them, so there was nowhere they could go. Fortunately, Elder Stow got his screens up again so the soldiers could not get at them.  It sliced through a couple of rocks and trees, but it held.

“I don’t know how long they will hold, though,” he said.  “I’m still seeing serious fluctuations in the stabilizers.  They could collapse any time.”

Two soldiers walked up and cracked their toes against the screens.  One fell forward and slid down the front.  Two soldiers in the rear fired arrows at the travelers—maybe warning shots intended to get them to not put up a fight.  One arrow snapped in half and fell harmlessly to the ground.  The other bounced off at an angle and nearly skewered one of the other soldiers.

The wraith, who had been hiding in the back, rushed forward to point a boney finger at the travelers.  “These are the ones,” she shrieked.  “These made the earthquake and sandstorm.  They killed your people.  They must pay with their lives.  Kill them.  Kill them!”

One soldier who appeared to have a brain, set his hand against the screen, and asked, “How do we get at them?  They seem to be protected by the gods in some way.”  At the suggestion that the gods might be protecting the travelers, several soldiers backed away.

“It is not the gods,” The wraith yelled.  “The gods have all gone over to the other side, you fool.  Just kill them.”

A sudden hot breeze smelling of sand got the attention of soldiers and travelers alike.  A face of sand hovered over them all, looking down on them.  The first thing the face said was, “Hello Meg.”

The wraith looked up and screamed.  She raced off as fast as she could, south, toward the next time gate.  The face appeared to shrug as a hand of sand formed next to it.

“Meg is the wraith’s name?” Katie asked.

“Wraiths have names?” Lockhart mumbled.

The hand pointed one finger and touched the top of the screens.  They popped like soap bubble, and Elder Stow protested.

“No, no, no.”

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

MONDAY

The Djin proves friendly and will take the travelers to the Kairos, they hope.  Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.9 The Inns and Outs, part 5 of 6

The travelers arrived in the bay after dark.  The tide had already gone out, so they had to wait until the early morning hours to dock and unload the horses.  Lockhart set Pinto’s hands free, thinking the man could not do anything, and he needed to be able to feed himself.  Besides, he wanted his handcuffs back.  All the same, people slept on the deck with their weapons handy.  Boston slept with one ear on the horses below, and Lincoln slept with their money bag nestled securely between himself and Alexis.  Alexis complained, but she felt tired enough to sleep no matter what.

Sure enough, in the early hours, a couple of crew members joined Pinto in stealing the long boat.  They rowed to shore where they could get lost in the crowd and not have to answer any questions the harbor master and his legionnaires might ask.  Captain Ardacles said good riddance, and a mate is no good if you can’t trust him.  The travelers did not believe him.  Several suspected that after they got unloaded, Pinto and his friends would be back on board to continue their thieving ways.

Once free of the dock, all the papers signed in duplicate, they found the dozen monks of Barke, waiting patiently for them.  Deacon Galarius introduced them all, but only Alexis, and maybe Nanette and Katie would remember all those names.  Lincoln was quick to thank them for helping the ship get safely through the storm.  They nodded, smiled, and said don’t mention it.

“We will walk with you on the road to Nicaea,” Deacon Galarius said, and several monks nodded.  “That way, we can keep the wraith away, not to mention the thieves.  The road is full of thieves looking for an isolated priest or bishop with a bag of gold.”

Lockhart looked around at the group and did not argue, even if it meant walking the whole way.  They all began to walk, together, and brought the wagon along, slowly.

“What has that creature got against you folks, anyway?” Father Flavius opened the conversation.

“Not sure,” Lockhart answered.

“If it is the same one,” Lincoln said.  “And not everyone agrees that it is.”  He paused to start again.  “If it is the same one, it followed us through a time gate about three thousand years ago and stayed mostly hidden until after the time of dissolution.”

“What is that?” Deacon Galarius asked.  “The time of dissolution?”

“It is when the old gods gave up their flesh and blood and went back to being forces of nature.”  Lockhart offered what he understood.

“It is when the holding places for the spirits of the dead, like Hades, gave up their dead,” Katie added.

“The advent of our Lord,” Father Flavius suggested with a nod.

“Basically,” Alexis agreed.

“Anyway,” Lincoln continued.  “This wraith somehow got the idea that she is supposed to have our souls, and so far, we have not been able to stop her or talk her out of that idea.”

“I see,” Father Flavius said, though he did not explain exactly what he saw.

In the afternoon, they began the slow climb into the hills and Deacon Galarius came up front to warn the travelers.  “The thieves are mostly here in the high country.  The legion patrols the valleys, but apparently, they don’t get paid enough to climb into the hills.  Besides, the hills are filled with off-road trails where a few men can scurry away to hide among the trees and rocks.”

“Welcome to Sherwood,” Lockhart said.

After a moment, Katie guessed, “Robin Hood?”

The group camped in a field where they had a fair view all around.  They did not find much game, but the monks brought food stuffs for the journey.  It included plenty of vegetables so Alexis, Boston, Sukki, and Elder Stow were happy.  They also brought some beer, which helped everyone relax as they settled in for a night of careful watch.  The thieves stayed away, but one visitor did show up in the early hours when Boston and Sukki awaited the sunrise.

“What?” Boston said, much too loud.  “What do you want?”

The wraith hovered over the grass, just outside Elder Stow’s screen.  The slight breeze that blew her ragged dress around, showed no feet to stand on beneath the dress.  She looked old, a bit like a wrinkled and rotten fruit, but her many teeth looked clean and plenty sharp.  Her voice sounded like the creak in the shutters of an old barn.

“I don’t want you, little spirit.  You are no longer of any consequence,” she said, with a grin that showed all those teeth, but suggested she might change her mind.  “And I have no interest in the elder ones, either the girl beside you that used to be an elder, nor the elder man that continues to travel with you.  Nor do I have a claim on the new ones, neither the man, nor Nanette, who has proved a great disappointment.  But the other five…”  The wraith held up her hand.  The fingers appeared wispy and seemed to have a hard time solidifying and coming into focus, but it was enough to count.  “Yes, five.  You must give them to me.  I am charged by Domnu herself to feast upon their fear and drag their souls to the land of the dead where they will live in eternal torment.”

“The land of the dead has been emptied,” Deacon Galarius said as he stepped up behind Boston and Sukki.

“Yeah,” Boston spouted.  “When was the last time you went there and checked?”

The wraith grew suddenly angry.  The people took one step back in the face of that fury, but all the wraith could do was pound on Elder Stow’s screen and yell, “You lie.  Give me the mortals.  Give them to me.”

By then, the two monks on the watch stepped forward, and with Deacon Galarius, they appeared to pray.  A mist, barely discernable, came from the monks and slipped right through the screens.  It caught the wraith in mid-curse and pushed her further and further from the camp, until she disappeared behind a far hill.  The yelling and cursing could be heard until the end.

Decker came running up, rifle in his hand.  Nanette followed him, only a couple of paces behind.  “Damn,” Decker said.  He fired once in the general direction before Nanette caught him and took his arm.

“Next time,” Nanette said.  Decker did not answer.

As the travelers and their escort followed the river down into the valley, toward the lake and the city of Nicaea, Alexis asked a serious question.  “I thought the church frowned on sorcery.”

Father Flavius nodded as Deacon Galarius explained.  “The church frowns on the misuse of power and the ungodly misuse of whatever talents or position the Lord gives.  To violate a person’s conscience is the temptation—because with every gift there is temptation.”

“The Lords and rulers in this age, instead of leading and guiding people, they have most often sought to control people,” Father Flavius said.  “They tried to make people think, act, and talk a certain way, and for years, threatened torture and death if, for example, the people were unwilling to sacrifice to the emperor.  The government is not to be worshiped.”

“People need to make their own decision how they will act, think, and talk.  People must come to Christ in their own heart, and neither threats nor magical trickery will do,” Deacon Galarius said.  “The monks of Barke understand this and do everything that they do with prayer and supplication, being most careful not to violate others in their work.”

“It is for salvations sake,” Father Flavius agreed.  “All gifts and talents are given for the building up of the body of Christ.  Magic is a most rare, and honestly, most dangerous gift to be treated with the utmost care and oversight.  But when it is misused in order to force or control others, or make things come out the way the magic user wishes, then it is sorcery, and the church does frown on that.”

“So, what you are saying.” Lincoln wanted to get it straight.  “Nothing is evil of itself.  It all depends on what people do with what they have been given.”

“God created all things and called them good,” Father Flavius said.  “Without Christ, nothing was made that was made.  Magic was made.”

“The rich man and the poor man lived side by side, and when they died, the rich man went to torment and the poor man went to paradise.”  Deacon Galarius tried to explain.  “When the rich man complained, he was told he had every good thing in life, and he did nothing to relieve the suffering of the poor man.  Now, in death, the poor man has every good thing, and the rich man gets to suffer.”

“That is not exactly the story,” Father Flavius said.  “But the rich young ruler was told to sell all that he had and give to the poor and come and follow Jesus.  The rich man went away sad, because he had many things.”

Alexis offered her thought.  “Back home, some think the rich should be forced to give up their money so it can be given to the poor.”

“No, no,” Father Flavius said.  “Conscience, remember?  The rich have been given a great gift, but they must find it in their hearts to give and help those in need.  That is when it means something, has value, and God will bless.  To take, by which I assume you mean steal, will accomplish only evil.”

“There are many talents and gifts with which the Lord gifts his people,” Deacon Galarius said.  “Don’t make the gift of magic more than it is.  Personally, I believe the most gifted person in the monastery of Barke is the cook.  Without any magic whatsoever, he can take the most meagre rations and produce a feast worthy of the name.”

“Now, I’m hungry,” Father Flavius said.

Lockhart overheard and called, “Lunch.”

They stopped on the last small rise before the lake and the city, both of which they could see perfectly well down the hill.  Elder Stow did not need his scanner.  Decker did not need to meditate and let his eagle totem show him the countryside.  Decker did, however, get out his binoculars.  He sensed something wrong.  All of the monks and the travelers that were sensitive to such things felt the same.

“Fire in the city,” Decker said, and handed his binoculars to Lincoln so he could have a look.  Katie got out the scope for her rifle while Lockhart got her binoculars, which he handed around so some of the others could take a look.

Avalon 7.9 The Inns and Outs, part 4 of 6

Captain Ardocles sat that whole time with his mouth and eyes as open as they could be. He said nothing until they began moving rapidly against the prevailing winds.  The he said, “Ten points to port if you are headed back to the Gulf of Astacus.”

“Ten points to port,” Lincoln echoed, nice and loud, and the men on the rudder followed orders.  Tony, Boston, and Katie went below to check on the horses.

Pinto sat that whole time with his eyes shut tight, like a man who did not want to see what was happening.  When Lockhart removed the gag, the man began to weep, and spoke like a man half-mad.  “I didn’t know.  You have silver and real gold.  And horses worth the treasure of Midas himself.  I should have known you were of the gods.  I was blinded by my greed.  Gods forgive me.  I sent messengers on the morning tide while we waited the day.  I didn’t know.”

Boston came up from down below, having heard the gist of the man’s confession.  She removed her glamour to reveal her true elf self.  Pinto saw her and screamed.  He wet himself, as Katie scolded Boston.

Lockhart stepped up to Captain Ardocles and put a hand on the man’s shoulder.  “We don’t normally get a full confession like that without persuasion.”  Of course, the travelers would never deliberately hurt anyone other than in self-defense, and they certainly would never torture anyone, but Lockhart thought it safe to let Captain Ardocles think what he will.

The captain widened his eyes and pointed at his mate.  “Pinto was in the nest and reported storm clouds in the gulf.  I turned south toward Apamea for your own safety.  I didn’t know he had pirates waiting.”

“It was his idea,” Pinto shrieked.

Captain Ardocles shook his head.  “Poor fellow.  Wanting to cast the blame rather than face up to his own misdeeds.”

“Maybe,” Lockhart said, but he let the captain go about the business of getting them safely to Nicomedia.

Nanette gave out first, so the bow of the ship splashed again into the water, but Alexis could not sustain the wind much longer.  By then, they reached the mouth of the gulf and found a wind they could use, so Alexis let it go and imagined she would sleep well that night.

 

When they entered fully into the gulf, they found storm clouds had indeed settled over the water.  “Very unusual for this time of year,” Captain Ardacles said.  He looked up at the darkening sky and sounded sincere.

“It doesn’t feel natural,” Boston admitted.  She turned her head to the side and tried to figure out what, exactly, it did feel like.  Decker stayed with an exhausted Nanette.  Lincoln stayed with Alexis.  Tony kept watch on the rudder, while Lockhart and Katie kept the captain and his crew in sight.  Father Flavius prayed for Deacon Galarius, who got seasick, again.  Sukki stayed faithfully with Elder Stow who thought he might be at the point in his repairs where he could test the device.

That all left Boston free to fret about the storm overhead.  The wind came from the north.  The crew had to be careful to keep the ship from being pushed toward the southern shore.  The captain said they would soon reach the place where the gulf narrowed, considerably.  That would not give them much room to maneuver.

The storm started with the wind and the sea, as the waves grew, and the boat began to bounce along.  It bounced.  It did not cut through the waves.  The sky began to drizzle, a wet to match the spray of the sea, when Boston caught sight of the shoreline, north and south.  It looked like the woods, grasslands, and hills all moved closer, to hem the ship in.   It began to rain in earnest, but as soon as it started, it stopped.

“Hey!” Boston shouted, before she noticed the rain did not stop.  It simply shifted to outside the ship, while no rain at all fell on the ship.  She overheard Elder Stow explaining to Lockhart and Katie.

“It is a Decker wall, which I have set as the default.  Right now, I have it overhead where it can act as an umbrella for the ship.”

“Decker wall?” Tony asked, not remembering the term.

Elder Stow nodded.  “It is set so things with sufficient mass and speed, like bullets, can go out through the screens, but nothing can come in.”

Tony nodded, even as a big stroke of lightning struck directly overhead.  Elder Stow’s screens flashed a brilliant yellow light and went out.

“No, no,” Elder Stow shouted, and grabbed the screen device, and replaced the eyepiece with which he worked on the device.  “No,” he said again, as the rain returned to pelt the ship.

“Lightning is a big electro-magnetic pulse,” Sukki said, and looked to the sky for fear of another strike.

Boston finally shouted and got everyone’s attention.  “It is the wraith.”

A second lightning strike came, but it missed the ship by several yards and discharged harmlessly in the sea.  The wind picked up and turned contrary to their motion.  Alexis had to stand and fight back with a wind of her own, though she already felt exhausted.

Lockhart, Katie, and Decker all armed up, but they had little hope of shooting the wraith, unless she was foolish enough to manifest within range.  They scanned the sky, as Nanette closed her eyes and stretched out her senses with her hand.

“I can’t seem to pinpoint the wraith’s location,” she said.  “Maybe I’m not doing it right.”

“You are doing it just fine,” Decker said, without taking his eyes off the sky.

 

“I can’t get a fix on her location either,” Katie shouted through the rain.

“She is up there,” Boston said, and scanned the sky from horizon to horizon.

“The wraith won’t manifest,” Elder Stow said, and stopped his repair work to see what he could pick up on his scanner.  

Sukki wanted to fly up there for a closer look, but Boston and Nanette kept the girl’s feet glued to the deck.  Then the wraith showed herself in a place no one expected.  The travelers and crew all looked north, where the storm came from, and where the cold, north wind came that tried to push the ship to crash on the southern shore.  The wraith appeared over the southern shore and laughed loud enough to draw everyone’s attention.  True, the travelers were not nearly as afraid as the crew, but the wraith seemed to relish the idea of the travelers dying so she could feast on their souls.

Decker fired first, though Katie came a close second.  The target appeared pretty far away, but their military-style weapons would reach that far.

Boston took a second to grab her wand and grab Alexis by the shoulder so she could draw on Alexis’ wind magic.  Boston sent a fireball in the wraith’s direction, but that was all Alexis had left in her.  She collapsed to the deck.  Lincoln caught her, and gave Boston a hard look, but Boston pretended not to notice.

With the fire-ball half-way across the sea, and blocking the Wraith’s view, Elder Stow pulled his weapon.  He fired his energy weapon at the wraith, and Sukki followed with the heat-ray she had in her own hands.

The wraith shrieked, and vanished, but the travelers felt sure something struck home and wounded the creature.  Like all spiritual beings, when they took on physical form, they become subject to physical things, like bullets and alien heat-rays.  They certainly heard the wraith up in the rainclouds, screaming like one in pain.

Another stroke of lightning came down, but it missed the ship by a good bit.  Lincoln had a thought which he shared.  “I guess the wraith can trigger the lightning, but she can’t control it very well.”  Another stroke came, but landed on the other side of the ship, even as Captain Ardacles said they were being pushed too close to the southern shore.  He looked at Alexis for help, but Lincoln shook his head.  “She is finished for the day.”

“I may help,” Father Flavius interrupted everyone.  He pointed, as the ship appeared to enter a tunnel of favorable winds, calm seas, and no rain.  The dark rain continued all around but stayed outside the tunnel. The lightning came again and again, like an expression of the wraith’s frustration.  It did not enter the tunnel, but rather slid harmlessly off the roof of the tunnel and discharged harmlessly into the sea.

People looked at Elder Stow, but he shook his head, like he did not do it.  They looked again at Father Flavius and noticed Deacon Galarius was not throwing up for a change.  He seemed to be meditating, and Father Flavius explained.

“Deacon Galarius is a monk from Barke, where his order practices strange and unusual—some would say unnatural talents.  There are a dozen monks in Nicomedia, awaiting our arrival.  Once we got close enough, Deacon Galarius was able to reach out to his fellow monks, and together, they have made this safe way to port.  The storm, and any demons that would hinder our progress will be held at bay until we arrive,” he whispered to Katie and Lockhart, and Boston heard with her elf ears.  “Provided the connection with Galarius is not broken by sea sickness.”

“Alexis says, it is hard to concentrate on two things at once,” Nanette overheard and understood.

“Hard for Boston to focus on one thing at a time,” Lockhart teased.

“Boss!” Boston protested, but not too loud, as Lockhart and Katie both reached out and hugged the elf.

Avalon 7.7 Guns Between the Rivers, part 4 of 4

In the dark of night, the wraith got frustrated by Elder Stows screens.  She bounced off and could find no way around them—even by going underground.  They seemed to make a complete bubble around the people, to protect them.  If she had a brain, she might have realized they had to let air and such inside the screens, and being a lesser spirit, she could shape herself like the wind.  In fact, Boston, only being a little spirit, could phase through the screens.  Certainly, the wraith could do the same, if she could figure out how.  To be clear, sophisticated screen technology, in manipulating natural forces, made even the gods pause, and some never did master it.  But in this case, the wraith got frustrated, so she flew off to the next time gate, thinking, if she got a few days ahead of the travelers, she might set something up.

Not long after the wraith left, a lone gunman, the sole survivor, slammed his foot into the screens and fell forward on to the screens.  He planned to get one of the horses and go hide in Hatra, but there seemed to be an invisible wall between himself and the horses.  He paused to think about what he was doing.

The gun makers in Damascus were long put out of business.  He and his group had to be one of the last gun groups.  He could not be certain.  There might still be others.  He vaguely recalled his captain saying something about the gun merchants meeting up with Master Lajani in Hatra.  In any case, his captain insisted on tracking and killing the one responsible for destroying the gun factory.  That did not work out too well.  The man figured he had some shot left, and a rifle, for all the good it did him.  He frankly ran out of range and hid when the others got killed by the strangers with real guns.

“Guns to put my rifle to shame,” he mumbled, as his hands felt out the invisible wall he ran into.  He figured it went all the way around the enemy camp, and maybe underground, too, for all he knew.  He decided he would not be getting a horse, so he turned and began to walk.  With luck, he might be half-way to Hatra by morning.

###

When the morning came, Elder Stow got up early to check his screen device.  No one came down the road in the night.  That felt understandable.  In that day and age, only armies moved at night, and only if they were headed to a battle.  Elder Stow said good morning to Boston and Sukki, who had taken the early morning watch so they could rate the sunrise.  That morning got a seven, whatever that meant.

“Shouldn’t you be building up the fire and setting the water to boil for Lockhart’s fake coffee, as he calls it?” he asked.

“Yes, father,” Sukki responded.

Boston asked, “Why are you up so early?  What are you doing?”  She looked over Elder Stow’s shoulder.

“I was curious to see why we didn’t have any night visitors, but it seems we did.  Both appeared to stay away from the road, which is why the watchers did not see them.  Here.  See?  One came in about twenty feet above ground.  Checked around to the back and underground.  It must have been the wraith.”

“Can you track her?”  

“Yes, I believe I can.”  He fiddled with the settings on his scanner.  “See?  The signature plays out about a half-mile away, but I believe I can set the scanner to give us warning when she gets within range.”

Boston’s big elf eyes got extra big.  “Oh, she is not going to like that surprise.”

Elder Stow nodded.  “There is another, a human.  He did not stay long and headed off towards that city we came through.”

“Hatra,” Boston said, and when she explained it a couple of hours later, Xalazar responded.

“No, you can’t come with us. This is one situation I have to deal with myself.”

“I don’t understand,” Tony said.  “How is it we keep running into people with guns.  They should not be invented yet, should they?”

“Damascus,” Xalazar said, and nodded.  “They tried twice before Jesus was born—the obvious target if you intend to change all of history, and for the worse.  Bodanagus destroyed one factory and wouldn’t let Caesar have any guns.  You destroyed the factory and got the gun maker in Candace’s day.  They have tried twice since.  They gave Trajan guns, and that almost ruined everything.  Fortunately, in Ali’s day, the last of the guns got used to help fight off an invasion of Wolv, as you know.  Now, this time, they are trying a new tactic.  Instead of making weapons for the purposes of murder and assassination, or giving them to one power, like the Romans or Sassanids, who have taken over the old Parthian empire, they seem to be giving them randomly to merchants and traders on both sides.  It is like they are deliberately spreading them out to cause as much chaos as possible.  It is a headache.”

“We have been up and down the Tigris and the Euphrates,” young Arman said, with some excitement in his voice.  “We’ve been as far away as Antioch.”

“We barely stopped a shipment from going to Rome,” Sarkis, the Armenian said, and Marona, the old Assyrian soldier, nodded his agreement and lifted his eyebrows; like that was a story worth telling.

“The point…” Xalazar took the conversation back.  “We have narrowed it down to three merchants, three Magi still living, that I happen to know, personally.   They are meeting up in Hatra.  The thing is, the leader of the group is a young magus named Ramin Lajani, and I am ninety percent sure he is working for the Masters.  In which case, he has a life in the future, and if I can’t stop him, he may start to make more guns.”

The travelers all reacted, but Lockhart held up his hand and responded for them all.  “We saw Lajani in Hatra, last night, at the inn.  Katie and I were both bothered just to look at the man.  Now, what you say makes sense.”

Xalazar nodded.  “Good to have that confirmed by human eyes.  We will head that way.”

“We sent the caravan on ahead when we tried to ambush the group that was following us,” Sarkis said.

“That did not go too well,” Marona, the old soldier, admitted.

“Lucky you folks came along,” Sarkis agreed.

“The point is…” Xalazar tried again, and gave his companions hard looks to be sure they had finished interrupting.  “The point is, we sent the caravan ahead.  We will disguise ourselves and sneak into the town.  Hopefully, we will be able to find the guns, the merchants, and Lajani secretly, before they realize we are on to them.  You folks would probably put the magi on high alert.  They might all slip out of town and go who knows where, and we would be back to square one.”

The travelers understood well enough.  Even doing all they could to disguise themselves, like using Roman-style saddles and shaping their fairy weave clothes to imitate the local dress, they were a strange crew wherever they went.  Boston could cover her red hair with a glamour, but Katie’s blonde locks stood out in most places.  Decker and Nanette’s dark skin often stood out as well.  Decker and Lockhart were intimidatingly big.  Their horses were also bigger than normal and would be until the Middle Ages when people started breeding horses for size and strength—to carry those medieval knights.  Most of all, with six or seven on horseback, and one little wagon, they did not appear much like a merchant caravan, no matter how much they claimed to be.

 “Our job is to get home in one piece,” Lockhart responded to Xalazar, and no one objected.

###

Five days later, in the morning, less than a day from the time gate, Boston squawked.  “It moved!  The whole gate moved, right off my screen.”

“What?”  Lincoln shouted.  He whipped out the database for a quick look to see where it might have moved to.

“Let me see,” Katie said, and pulled out her proto-type amulet as they heard from Elder Stow.

“The time gate has disappeared from my scanner.  Have we lost it?”  He rode in from the wing.

“Setting it to maximum range,” Boston said.  “Wait.  Zeroing in.  It is back where it was.”

“Yes,” Elder Stow said when he arrived.  “It has reappeared.”

“I wonder what could have happened,” Katie said.

“It blinked,” Boston said.

“Keep moving,” Lockhart decided.  “Before it blinks again.”

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

MONDAY SPECIAL

Avalon 7.8 will again be a four part episode and be posted in a single week. Yes. Again there will be posts on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, AND Thursday, so don’t miss it. The travelers go through the time gate and come out in the same place, except 20-25 years later. Perhaps at the end of episode 7.7 I should have said To Be Continued… Avalon7.8 Ambush begins on Monday. Until then, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.6 Food of the Gods, part 6 of 6

Once in Potaissa, the sergeant of the little group of soldiers said he knew a place they could go and be safe.  “The old legion fort.  Five, Macedonian.  They built this place back when Trajan took the province.  I heard after the trouble on the border those few years ago, the emperor is thinking about bringing them back.  Meanwhile, we got stout walls, a place to stay, stables, and at no cost.”

The travelers did not argue.  Lockhart spoke when they came to a halt by the stables. “Decker and Elder Stow, stay here and get the horses settled.”  Decker pointed to the wagon and draft horse already in the barn.  Lockhart nodded.  “Katie, Lincoln, Alexis, and I will see who might be around.”

“Sukki, come with us,” Alexis said.  “Boston, you might help Berry and Lavinia with the boys.”

“Hans and I got the wagons,” Tony said, and he started to take Ghost out of the harness.

“I can help,” Nanette added, and glanced at Decker.

Lockhart nodded and pulled his shotgun as Katie got her rifle.  Katie whispered, “No telling what we will find.”

“Wait,” the sergeant said.  He assigned three of the soldiers to go with the explorers, and Lockhart did not say no.

The group of explorers walked toward the main building, quickly turned a corner and got out of sight.  The others began to strip the horses when Boston spoke up.

“I hear something scurrying around the ceiling.”

“I hear it too,” Lavinia said.  “And slithering”

“No, no!” Tony yelled.  “I won’t, I won’t.”  Tony screamed and began to grow.  He tried to look at the others, but his eyes did not appear to focus.  He ran, away from the group in the direction the others went.

“Rats,” Boston yelled.  They looked the size of Saint Bernard’s.

“And snakes,” Lavinia added.  They appeared twenty feet long, and hungry.

Decker put holes in two serpents that got close.

Nanette threw her hands out and a half-dozen giant rats flew fifty yards back across the courtyard.

Boston laid down a line of flames across the cobblestones, which appeared to cause the rats and snakes to hesitate.

Elder Stow threw the switch on his screen device which he left primed, and the stables became encased in a particle screen the rats and snakes could not penetrate.  Decker continued to blast the ones that tried.  After a minute, Elder stow added fire from his weapon, and Boston fired her Beretta.

The soldiers, Berry, Hans, and Lavinia grabbed Javelins and bows with arrows, but Nanette stopped them.  She was not sure and explained that their hand thrown spears and bowshot might not be strong enough to get through the screen.  They might bounce back in their faces. She was not sure, but the people relaxed when they saw the rats and snakes stopped at the invisible barrier and could not get at them.

###

The others found an extended family group huddled around a small fire in the central square of the fort, beneath the overhang in front of the officer’s quarters.  The people did not panic on being confronted, but the man got up right away and began to make excuses to the soldiers for their presence in the fort.  

Alexis said the family would be welcome to join them for supper.

“If you don’t mind my cooking,” Sukki said, with a smile for the women and the children.

Katie yelled.  “Danger!”  She grabbed Lockhart and Sukki. They rushed inside and came right back with whatever furniture they could find to throw down to make a makeshift mini fort around the fire.  Lincoln shot a giant rat, which made the women in the family group scream, and the men cower in fear.  Alexis caused the wind to pick up a slithering snake and whip it against two more rats and another serpent.

The soldiers corralled the family in the doorway of the house, thinking they might have to fall back into the building, but at the same time they kept one eye on what they could see inside, in case some giant rats and snakes already got inside.

Katie and Lockhart added their fire to Lincoln’s, and Lockhart felt glad he brought his shotgun, though he could not say why he thought he needed it.  Alexis continued to raise the wind, which kept most of the creatures at bay until they could be put down.  Sukki pulled her big knife, thinking she would act if any got too close.  Then she remembered her gifts.

Sukki rose up a few feet so she could see better around the central square.  She seriously concentrated on her finger.  She wanted to stop the rats and snakes—especially the snakes.  She hated snakes and had a phobia about them.  But she did not want to cook the creatures.  She imagined the smell.  She pointed at a snake and put a hole in the snake head.  She smiled at herself before she gagged.  The snake body kept whipping around, like the snake died, but the body kept involuntarily moving.

Sukki shut her eyes for a moment and swallowed the bile.  When she opened them again, determined to act, a twenty-foot-tall Tony came rushing around the corner, screaming, “No, no, no.”

Sukki flew out to meet him, yelling “No, Tony.”

Tony raised his foot and pushed Sukki to the ground, like he intended to squish her.  But Sukki had pressure resistant skin, and inhuman strength.  She shoved on his sandaled foot, and the giant Tony tipped over and fell on his back, several yards away.

A viper lunged at her, but Katie’s bullets spoiled the viper’s aim.  Lockhart’s shotgun turned the viper head to mush as Sukki got up and, with Katie and Lockhart, rushed back to the mini fort.

“That is one step too far.”  Everyone heard the words in their bellies.  Two soldiers and several family members shook their heads and stared.  The rats and serpents stopped where they were, returned to normal size, and while the rats scurried away to their holes, the vipers vanished altogether. Tony shrank to his normal size and moaned, not like anything broke, but like a man bruised everywhere.

A beautiful goddess appeared in the central square, her back to the travelers.  The wraith appeared facing the woman, and the wraith looked like she had no choice.  She seemed unable to move.

“You are no longer permitted to have the food of the gods, or any such thing,” the woman shouted, a fire in her voice.  She waved a hand before she placed her hands on her hips.  

The travelers could only later say that the wraith appeared to shrink or become less in some way.  They could also only imagine the expression on the face of the goddess, but they felt glad it did not point at them.

The wraith wailed, a bone chilling sound.  “It is not fair.  I waited and moved into the days to come, almost four thousand years, until the day that the gods went away.  You should not be here.  You should be gone.”  She wailed again.

“Enough,” the goddess in the square said, waved her hand again as the wraith vanished.

“Rhiannon,” another goddess appeared in the square, but she sounded more annoyed than angry.  “Where have you been?”

“Mother?”  The goddess Rhiannon turned to face the newcomer.  She also turned in her attitude from avenging goddess to humble daughter who feared she might be scolded for doing something wrong.

“I have been calling you.”

“I heard,” Rhiannon said, humbly.  “But I thought it best to keep an eye on your friends.”

“And what have you done?”

“I nudged them a little, to get them to pay better attention.  …No, I have taken away the wraith’s ability to have even a little sway over them.  And I took away her gift of the gods to make the animals unnaturally big.”

“But you did not stop her.”

Rhiannon looked at the ground.  “I sent her to the next time gate.  I wasn’t authorized to send her over to the other side.”

The mother goddess stepped up and kissed her daughter on the cheek.  “Next time,” she said, and turned to the travelers.  She went away, and Greta came to stand in her place, so the travelers knew it was the Kairos.

“Yes, Lincoln,” she said before he could ask.  “Boston,” she opened her arms, and Boston, who had been coming up the road with Nanette and Decker, raced into the hug.

When the evening came and people settle down, Darius, Mavis and their escort arrived.  The extended family got to complain to the former governor of the province about how a Roman threw them out of their house and stole their land.  Darius said he would look into it.

Boston sat with Mavis and Lavinia and saw how they appeared perfectly comfortable around humans. She decided her discomfort had been Rhiannon’s fault, warning her, and Boston had been too preoccupied with herself to understand the message.

Alexis, Sukki, and Nanette had their first disagreement about how to cook the roast, and Berry got right in there with them.  She just said, “As long as Mother Greta doesn’t start making suggestions.  She can’t cook.”

“Or Boston,” Alexis nodded.  “Or Katie.”

“Decker is getting better at it,” Nanette said, and only turned a little red.

“Lincoln and Lockhart don’t do too bad a job,” Sukki agreed.

“The men take a turn cooking?” Berry sounded surprised.

“Yes,” Alexis said.  “But not often.  I like to eat something worth eating.”

“And with some flavor,” Sukki agreed.

After supper, everyone pulled up what they had to sleep, and curled up around the fire.  Greta whispered, “Watch out for the rats in the night.”

“Ha, ha,” Boston heard, and said it out loud, without laughing.

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

MONDAY SPECIAL

Episode 7.7, a four part episode, will be posted in a single week. Yes. There will be posts on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, AND Thursday, so don’t miss it. The travelers return to Syria and find Guns Between the Rivers. Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

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 7.6 Food of the Gods, part 3 of 6

Greta, Mavis, Darius, and their small troop of soldiers left the city, but not at first light.  Greta had to settle things at home before she could go anywhere.  The sleeping children were easy enough to kiss, and Selamine, their nurse, would watch them well.  Father and Mother were another issue.

Father sat up, awake in his bed.  That was not unusual, as he woke and slept at odd hours.  Mother sat by the bed, nodding from exhaustion, until Greta came in.  Greta kissed her father and explained what she would be doing.

“Friends of mine.  Ancient friends appeared in the north and are coming down to meet me. But they are in trouble, and I have to go to them, or they may not survive the journey.”

“Appeared?” Mother interrupted.

“Like the gods.  They appeared out of nowhere,” Greta said.

“Trouble?”  Mother did not like the sound of that.

“I will be fine.  It is them I am worried about.  Lord knows they will not stay in Porolissum where they are safe.  I am sure they will try to bring me the terrible news as quickly as possible.”  She began to think out loud.  “Maybe I can reach Willow and convince Hans and Berry to go with them.  That should slow them down so I can get there.”

“But Greta, what about your father,” Mother protested, no doubt still thinking about the trouble.  “You need to stay and take care of him.”

Greta looked at her father, and he gave it his best half-smile.  He tried to talk, but the words slurred, and everyone strained to catch the gist of it.  “I once tried to stop you from going into the haunted forest.  I learned my lesson.  You do what you must, Mother Greta.”

Greta leaned over to give her father another kiss.  A tear formed in her eye.  “You just be here when I get back.”  She turned to leave, but Marcus, her five-year-old came racing into the room and jumped into her arms.  She said, “Ugh,” loudly, as she caught his embrace.  Selamine followed, carrying two-year-old Hildi, and Greta wondered what Marcus did this time.

Darius came in.  “The troop is ready,” he reported.  Mavis followed him and brought Greta’s well-worn red cloak.

Greta put Marcus down, and put her foot down in such a way, the boy thought it safest to go stand by his grandmother.  “Darius.  Mavis and I need our horses.  We will not be riding in the wagon.  Mavis, get the cook up and get something for the road.  Selamine, you have the children, and Marta can help watch the little ones.  Tell Gaius I expect him to help Johannes with the house and grounds, and he better be a good help, or I will hear about it.  Mother take care of Father.  There, did I forget anyone?”

People shook their heads.

Greta walked to the door, walked back to give her mother a kiss, tussled Marcus’ hair, and kissed Hildi’s cheek on the way out where she raised her voice.  “At this rate, we will be lucky to make it to Aquae by nightfall.”  More softly, she added, “Well, at least I can get a good bath there.”

###  

In the late afternoon, the travelers arrived at a big house in town.  The fairies, Willow and Reed stayed with Katie and Lockhart.  The young fairies, Icechip and Snowflake raced ahead to loudly announce their arrival.

Two women sat on the front porch, sewing and talking.  The older one, a beauty in her mid-thirties, introduced herself as Karina, Bragi’s wife.  It was her house, she said, greatly expanded since they had some trouble on the border some years earlier.  The younger one in her mid-twenties, almost too beautiful for words, was Berry, Han’s wife.  Lincoln had to explain that Hans and Bragi were Greta’s brothers.

“Welcome,” Karina said.  “I’m sorry the men are not here to greet you properly.  Nad-fia!  come here and greet our guests.  My daughters, Nadia and Sofia.”  The twins, five-year-old girls were sneaking off, but came back with sour expressions on their faces until they saw Willow.  They beamed for the fairy.  Apparently, Icechip and Snowflake were old news.

“Karina has girls.  I have boys,” Berry sighed and pointed to the two at her feet.  “Lucas is four.  Andri is two. And Lavinia is the best help in the world.  I don’t know what I would do without her.”  Lavinia, the young elf, blew at the hair that had broken loose from her bun and straggled down in her eyes.  She tried to smile but caring for two young boys was dirty business.

Boston removed her own glamour of humanity and stepped up to encourage the girl.  Lavinia recognized her, lowered her eyes, and said, “Princess.”  Boston did not appear to know how to respond.  Sukki grinned for her, and after a moment, Nanette joined in the grin.

“More like a Disney Princess,” Alexis said with a grin of her own, as she, Katie, and Willow followed Karina and Berry inside.  Boston stuck out her tongue, even if Sukki and Nanette did not understand the reference.  The men, Tony, Lincoln, and Lockhart had to take a turn with the horses, once Berry pointed out where to take them.

Caw!

Something very big, like a giant Raven flew overhead.  The men were taken by the size of the shadow. The women also looked and dropped their jaws at the size of the thing.  Lavinia grabbed the two-year-old and hugged him, while the four-year-old shouted the second century Latin version of “Cool.”

Decker and Elder Stow stood between the two groups, and Decker pointed to where he could barely make out the wraith, leading the bird.  She appeared so pale in the glaring light of the setting sun, she almost looked invisible.

“If she sky-writes Surrender Dorothy, I’ll kill her,” Decker said.

“We probably need to,” Elder Stow agreed, not understanding the reference.  “But I think the big bird needs to come first.”

Both men got their weapons.  Elder Stow kept his handy after the bear.  Decker never let his get out of reach.  Two men ran up in time to see Elder Stow fire and slice the sky with his weapon. The energy stream stopped moving when the bird head fell in the street.  The bird body fell on a house several blocks away.

Meanwhile, Decker laid down a pattern of fire.  He tried to lead the wraith, like a hunter might lead a bird in flight.  He did not imagine he hit the wraith, but he heard her shriek and race off into the light.  Decker would have to fire into the setting sun, so he lowered his rifle.

The younger man shouted, “Wow.  What kind of weapons are those?  Where did you get them?  Can I see them?”  Decker shook his head while the older one asked a question.

“Where did the bird fall?”  He eyed the bird head, not a hundred yards away.

“Probably on a building,” Elder Stow said.  “I hope nobody got hurt.”

“Great!” the older one threw his hands up.  “The magistrate will blame me, and I’ll have to clean it up.”

“Free food,” Decker said. “Unless you charge so much per pound.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” the older one said, rubbing his beard in anticipation.

“Come on in,” The younger one said.  “I want you to meet the wives.”

Elder Stow and Decker followed without mentioning that they already met.  Boston followed after the boys got settled, and the other men followed after the horses had their turn.  Lockhart made an announcement when he ducked under the door lintel and came inside.

“We can’t stay here.  It is for your own protection,” he told Karina, Berry, Hans, and Bragi.  Willow, in her big size, clearly the most beautiful of them all, responded.

“Lady Greta suggested you might stay here until she can arrive, but I told her about the bird, and she said you should meet her in Potassia in three days.  She is riding up to meet you, and she says, be careful.”

“We will go with you,” Hans said, reaching for Berry’s hand.  “We wat to see Father.  He is sick and may be dying.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Alexis said.  “Maybe I can help.”

Hans shook his head.  “Greta calls it a stroke.”

“What about the children?” Katie asked.

“Lavinia will come to help with the boys,” Berry said.  “Karina and her children will be staying here for now.”

“Yes, that’s right,” Karina confirmed.

“Yes,” Bragi, the older brother agreed.  “I’ll have to stay and clean up the bird.”

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

MONDAY

The travelers and their new friends head for the midpoint in Dacia, but are followed by the wraith, and Greta tries to get there in time. Next time. Happy Reading

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Avalon 7.0 Brigands, part 4 of 6

Boston and Sukki sat quietly in the alley where they could watch the warehouse side door and keep one eye on the brigand horses tied there.  The sun passed the midpoint in the sky a couple of hours earlier, and the afternoon felt hot, and boring.  Boston looked at her watch and saw it was after three.

“Hurry up,” she whispered.  “It is going to be dark soon. We don’t want them to get away.”  Immediately, she heard the voice of Lockhart come from her wristwatch communicator.  Boston grinned.  It was just the sort of coincidental, perfect timing the little spirits of the earth tend to do without any effort.

“Decker. Any movement?” Lockhart asked.

“Nothing on the docks,” Althea spoke into the communicator she borrowed from Lincoln.

“No movement,” Decker spoke over top.  “Since Alexis mentioned it, Elder Stow decided he wants to go invisible and sneak into the building.  If he can isolate Millie and Evan, he has two more discs tuned to the invisibility spectrum.”

“Sukki,” Elder Stow spoke.  “You still have an invisibility disc.”

Sukki took Boston’s wrist and spoke into the watch.  “Yes.”

Elder Stow meant to tell Sukki to stay out of the warehouse, invisible or not, but Lockhart interrupted.  “Elder Stow.  Go ahead inside but take your screen device.  There should be a couple of young Amazon girls in there that we did not know about before now.  See if you can isolate them all behind your force field.”

“You got a screen device, one small enough to carry around?” Althea spouted her excitement over the radio.

Elder Stow huffed.  “My father.  It is not a force field.  That description is so wrong, I cannot tell you.”

“Just go,” Katie spoke.  “We will be there in five or ten minutes, and Leodis is bringing a hundred guardsmen.  We want our friends safe, and don’t want them used as hostages.  Out.”

“Going,” Elder Stow responded, and added, “Out, as you say.”

“Boston?”  Alexis’ voice followed.  “You are not allowed to go invisible and follow Elder Stow into the building.  Do you hear me?”

“Yes, mom,” Boston said, in her best sarcastic voice.

Alexis turned off her wristwatch device and spoke to the others, looking only slightly embarrassed.  “As long as she listens…”

“Are you going in anyway?” Sukki asked Boston.

“Absolutely,” Boston responded.

Sukki pulled her knife and made sure Elder Stow’s invisibility disc stayed in the pocket in her belt.  After a minute, Sukki turned invisible.  Boston immediately went invisible, the way elves do, especially when they are working around humans.  Sukki could not see Boston, but Boston could still see Sukki, so she took Sukki’s hand, cautioned her to quiet, and took her in the side door.

Boston and Sukki stepped to the back as a man came to poke his head out the door, looked at the horses, and shut the door again with a shrug, like maybe the door blew open.  Boston counted twenty men in the warehouse, all standing lazily by the windows, looking out, occasionally, and waiting for something.  Boston figured they were waiting for the sun to go down.

“Millie,” Sukki whispered and pointed.  She seemed to want to drag Boston in that direction.  Millie and Evan appeared to be unhurt, but sitting quietly on chairs, while two young girls sat on the floor behind them.  She wondered how many young girls the brigands carried off originally from that village.  She would find out later.  She tried hard to wait, patiently.

“Hush,” Boston said.  “Wait for Elder Stow.”

Boston watched and listened to the two that sat at a table.  She caught the names, Mylo and Philocrates.  They looked like the ones in charge, if only because they were not standing beside a door or window.  She thought of all kinds of things she could do to spook them.  The thoughts came to her, instinctively.  Some of her notions, the true imps might describe as trixie-fixies.  She had to force herself to refrain, but she did pass the time thinking what she could do to get the two men to draw swords on each other.

Finally, Elder Stow came in the front door.  Sukki started right out across the warehouse floor.  Elder Stow saw her and frowned.  Sukki and Elder Stow could see each other, even if no one else could see them.  Boston, on the other hand, stayed invisible to everybody, though she might have been seen if there were other spirits around, at least little spirits.  Lesser and greater spirits and, of course, the gods would see her, and she might not see them.  She could not worry about that.  She had to catch up to Sukki.

“Millie. And Evan,” Sukki gave it her best whisper.  She clutched her knife and turned to see if any of the men heard.

“Hold the girls,” Boston said.  “We don’t want to frighten them.”

“Boston?” Evan spoke softly as he took Libra’s hand and Millie hugged Chloe.  A few of the men’s heads turned toward them.  “Is Elder Stow with you?”

“Right here,” Elder Stow said in his normal voice.

As he got close, he got ready to turn on his screen device, but Boston yelled, “Hey.”  She got knocked over from behind.  Elder Stow nearly dropped his screen device in a sudden wind.  The wind coalesced in mid-air.  A wraith appeared in the image of a zombie-like woman with flesh rotting off her body.  The wraith floated six feet off the ground.  She turned her head all the way around to grin wickedly at the travelers and Amazon girls, then finished turning her head the rest of the distance to face the two men at the table and the men against the walls.

“Your enemies have found you,” the wraith spoke in an eerie, chilling voice.  “Now, you will all die.”  The wraith laughed, and a number of people in the room threw their hands to their ears to not have to hear that laugh.

Boston got mad.  She whipped out her wand and lost her concentration on staying invisible.  Fortunately, when she became visible again, she came with her glamour of humanity in place.  Boston aimed her wand at the wraith, and a stream of fire, like a miniature flame-thrower came out of the end.  The wraith shrieked and managed to side-step in mid-air.  Then, because Boston and Elder Stow might hurt her, or because she finished making her dastardly prophecy, she raced to the ceiling.

“Die,” she yelled, and laughed again as she went right through the roof and out into the afternoon sun.

Elder Stow turned on his screen and turned off his invisibility disc so he and Sukki became visible again, looking human enough.  Elder Stow looked like a bearded fifty-year-old, which was plenty old for that day and age.  Sukki looked like a big, broad-shouldered girl, like maybe an Olympic weightlifter, or wrestler, or some such thing.

The screen made a bubble, covering overhead, as well as beneath the floor.  Boston got caught outside the screen, but she knew how to get through the screen, and quickly phased through to get behind the protection.  All at once, the men around the room appeared to wake up from their shock.  They all moved.

The two at the table ran straight for the side door where their horses were tied up.  Three men followed them.  Ten burst out the warehouse double-doors that faced the docks.  They ran into the dozen Amazons who were ready for them, and well hidden.  The rest raised their bows and tried to shoot the intruders, only to see their arrows bounce off Elder Stow’s screen.

A couple of them shouted, and two joined the others on the dock, to be cut down by the Amazons.  The rest tried for the front door where Decker played turkey shoot.

Inside the screen, the Amazon girls pushed past Millie and Evan to get at Sukki and Boston.  “You are a spell caster,” both said to Boston, more or less together.  The awe in their voices could not be hidden.

“I wish I was a spell caster,” Chloe said, while Libra turned to Sukki.

“You look really strong.  I wish I was really strong.”  Libra touched Sukki’s muscled arm and Sukki smiled but did not know what to say.

“She is stronger than you might imagine,” Elder Stow said, and the two young girls bowed their heads slightly to the old man as a sign of respect.  “And Boston here was the first spell caster in the Amazon nation, back when Zoe was queen of the people.  They called her Little Fire.”  Elder Stow looked at Boston.  “I remember, even if I spent most of that time passed out in a drunken stupor from that Amazon beer.”

Chloe’s eyes got big, but Libra did not buy it.  “Can’t be.  That was a gamillion years ago.”  She looked at Millie for adult confirmation.  Millie smiled with her response and responded gently.

“I wasn’t there at the time, but I believe it.”  Libra still looked uncertain, but Millie turned to Evan and said something not entirely unexpected.  “I want to have a daughter.”

Evan opened his eyes, wide.  While he did not say no, he looked glad when Elder Stow interrupted.

“We have prisoners.”

Three men threw down their weapons, put their hands on their heads, and knelt, one with his eyes closed like he started praying.  Decker came in and shouted.  “Lie down on your faces.  Hands over your head.”  The men did not argue.

Elder Stow turned off the screen device as Althea and three Amazons came rushing in the warehouse double-doors.  Boston walked up to the corner of the building where her flame-thrower started the wall on fire.  She had to think, and that felt hard to do with Chloe clinging to her side and walking in her steps.  Finally, she pulled out her wand and pointed at the building fire.  The flames appeared to suck back into the wand, though the wooden wall still smoldered, and the fire looked like it might start up again any minute.

“Amazing,” Chloe said.  “I wish I could do that.”

Boston smiled for the girl and patted her head.  “You are an Amazon.  You can do whatever you want.”

M3 Margueritte: Epilogue and Sneak Peek

Margueritte took her time walking down the aisle in the new church built where the chapel had once been.  She never honestly thought of herself as better than plain looking, though many would have called her pretty; but on her wedding day, she was beautiful, as all brides are.

The thought of Abraxas came only once, unbidden, into her mind.  She knew she would have to do something, but not on her wedding day.

Charles stood as the best man and Tomberlain stood with him.  Elsbeth was the maid of honor and Jennifer stood beside her.  Bartholomew gave his daughter away, and Brianna cried, and Father Aden presided over a perfect ceremony. And when he got to the part where he asked her the question, she said, “Oui.”  Though it might have been “Weee!”

END

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MONDAY

We will be taking a break from our regularly scheduled program to present Avalon, Season Seven.  The season will run for 24 weeks, from March 22 through September 1,  Consider it summer vacation reading, as if we haven’t all been home and on virtual vacation for the past 12 months.

To those who have not read any of the Avalon stories before, let me assure you, they are written like a television series.  It is good to read the earlier episodes, but not imperative.  One episode, and you will get the idea, know who the characters are, and learn that they are trying to get back home to the 21st century while disturbing history as little as possible.  They travel through time gates that surround the various lives of the Kairos, a most peculiar person, who has the job of trying to keep history on track.  But you can figure that out easily enough, even starting with Season Seven.

Season Seven finds the travelers face to face with a monster who would like nothing better than to literally frighten the travelers to death in order to feast on their souls.  The wraith, a refugee from the land of the dead, has followed in the background since 3600 BC, waiting for the time of dissolution, when the gods go away.  Now, the travelers step over the line into the AD, the common era, and the wraith feels it is her chance.  She will have a few surprises for the travelers, who will have to fight to stay alive.

The second to last episode and the last episode in the season feature two people you may be familiar with.  Festuscato, the last Senator of Rome, where things don’t exactly go to plan.  And Gerraint, son of Erbin in the days of King Arthur.  The last episode is called The Guns of Camelot.  Something to look forward to.

Come September 6, just when everyone is getting into the return to school, assuming people will return to school this year (yes, plans are always subject to change), we will continue with our saga.  The Kairos Medieval 4 (M4): Saving the West.

First (6 weeks of posts) we will follow Festuscato, the Dragon, as he tries to return home, to Rome and his villa on the Appian Way, and to his comfy chair.  He just has one problem to deal with first, a Hun named Attila.

Next (6 weeks of posts) we will join Gerraint, the Lion of Cornwall, now older, in the last days of Arthur where everything leads to the final battle.   Don’t miss it.

Finally, Margueritte will return for 18 weeks of posts in The New Way has Come.  While she tries to help Charles Martel end the days of civil war, bring order out of the chaos that is Francia, and prepare for the inevitable showdown at Pontiers, she also watches the old Roman world dissolve and become the Middle Ages.  The change isn’t as hard as you may think.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that you can read all of the chronicles of the Travelers from Avalon.  The books are available at Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo, or wherever fine E-books are sold.  Please consider buying the book to support the author and remember, reviews matter.  Don’t forget to also pick up your copy of the prequel Invasion of Memories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Season Seven, Wraith begins Monday.

Happy Reading.

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Avalon 6.9 Rome, part 3 of 6

Nanette picked up Lincoln’s revolver, the only weapon she felt some familiarity with.  She pointed it at Evan and Millie and pulled on the trigger, but nothing happened.  It took a minute to figure out how to take off the safety.  Then she pointed it again, but at the last second, turned it on one of her flunkies.  The bang was loud.  The man yelled his surprise and collapsed, his hand across his stomach where he started bleeding out.  Nanette’s arm shot straight up.  She almost hit herself in the face with the weapon, but looked at it with approval as she put the safety back on and handed it to one of the other men.

“Gather these weapons and put them in the wagon,” she ordered.  “Take the couple.  Gag and tie them to the wagon.  I may have further use for them.”  As she followed everyone out the door, she turned her head with one last thought. “All right, Meg.  You can have the wounded one.”

Everyone heard the screams of absolute terror.  Millie threw her hands to her ears.  Evan looked back and dropped his jaw.  Nanette came out grinning.  She said, “They eat fear.  They feast when they scare someone to death.”

###

Boston gave her bow and arrows to Katie, and her Beretta to Lockhart while she held on to her wand.  Alexis pulled her wand and gave her bow and arrows to Lincoln, though she said he could not hit the broad side of a barn. Sukki pulled out her knife, military issue from the future, made from a steel far better than she ever imagined. Elder Stow had his gadgets. Decker broke off a table leg he could use as a club.

“A spear would be nice,” he said.

Lincoln nodded.  “Keep them at arm’s length.”

When Lockhart, Katie, Decker, and Elder Stow came out of their rooms and on to the upstairs balcony, their heads cleared a bit.  Good thing, because three giant spiders came clicking down the hall in their direction. Katie sent an arrow through one while Lockhart fiddled with the safety on Boston’s handgun.  Boston waved her wand and set the other two on fire. Alexis called up a wind that blew them on to the courtyard below where they would turn to charcoal without setting the whole house ablaze.

“No point in setting the house on fire,” she said out loud, and Boston smiled sheepishly, like she had not thought of that.

Everyone paused when they heard a distant, Bang!

“Millie and Evan?” Katie asked.

“They are gone,” Boston reported.

“Along with the weapons,” Decker said. He and Elder Stow faced the other way on the balcony, but no spiders came from the direction of the kitchens.

“We need to help the family,” Alexis said.

Lockhart shook his head.  “They seem to be coming from that direction.” He shot another one that might have come from the upstairs storage room.

“The horses,” Sukki suddenly spouted.

“The sabers,” Decker and Lincoln thought of them at the same time.  Lincoln, Decker, Lockhart and Katie had Patton Sabers wrapped up in their things, kept in the stables with their horses.

Decker started in the direction of the stairs without waiting.  The others followed.

Elder Stow shot one on the stairs. Decker got to use that club when a giant spider surprised them in the courtyard.  They picked up their pace and burst out the back door, heading toward where the barn and stables were located.  Decker and Katie sensed the trouble, and Boston heard the click-clickof spider legs on the wooden walls inside the stables.

“Hurry,” she yelled.

Alexis waved her wand at the door, and the doors blew open.  The horses in their stalls were panicking.  They saw dozens of giant spiders around the place.

Decker and Lincoln ran for the sabers. Alexis took her bow back so she could shoot the beasts and conserve her magical strength for her healing magic, if needed.  Katie, being an elect, quickly mastered her bow and arrows.  Lockhart fired the Beretta two handed, as he had been taught all those years ago at the police academy.

Elder Stow pulled out his sonic device, and the spiders protested.  The humans shouted their complaints and rattled a bit as well.  Elder Stow refined the sound, and all the spiders fell off the walls.  He did minimal damage to the creatures, but he paraphrased Alexis’ words.  “I don’t want to burn down the place.”

By then, everyone had their sabers, and they waded into the spiders.  Sukki liked her knife, but found it as easy to punch one and cave in its head. Despite her glamour of humanity, in reality, she was a bit of a linebacker in her build, and very strong.

Boston took back her bow and arrows from Katie, and thought she better practice.  Elf maids were known for their excellent archery, and she knew a fire in the stables would only make matters worse.  It did not take long to slice the remaining giant siders in the building, but the walls and the people got covered in blood and guts.

“We need to see about the family, and the other people in the inn,” Alexis said, again.

Sukki stepped up, holding her side. “I got stung,” she confessed.

Alexis and Boston got her to lie down, and Alexis went to work immediately drawing out whatever poison might have been in the bite, and then healing the wound, which looked like quite a gash.

“We will check on the family,” Katie said, meaning her and Lockhart.

“I’ll stay here with the girls,” Lincoln said, and for once, Lockhart agreed.  Lincoln got all too quick to keep back where it was safe, but in this case, these spiders could be anywhere.

“Just give me a second to adjust this screen device…” He turned it on, and handed little discs to Katie and Lockhart, and one for Decker who had his hand out.  They were tuned to let the people pass through the screens.  “If there are any inside the area, you will have to deal with them, but at least no more should be able to get at you from the outside, or at the horses.”

“Ready?”  Decker seemed anxious.

“I’ll have to check the horses next,” Alexis said, off handedly.

Lockhart simply nodded and led his group back toward the house.

“Alexis.”  Boston called from the stalls.  Alexis’ horse, Misty Gray, was not only dead, it appeared partially eaten. Katie’s Black Beauty was down and breathing heavily from the poison.  Elder Stow’s horse was also down, with multiple bites.  Lockhart’s horse, Dog, still stood, but he looked bitten several times.  Decker’s horse, Weber, looked bitten at least once.  The poison oozed out of a gash on his side.  Boston’s Honey and Sukki’s Freedom looked untouched, and that felt like a small miracle.

“Alexis,” Boston called again, but she sounded weepy.  She saw two spiders on the wall, ready to swing down on Black Beauty.  Boston carefully fried them with the hope that they would not fall and set the hay and the whole stables on fire.  Alexis, and Sukki, back on her feet, helped contain the fire.  Lincoln got the last one with his saber as it made a dash for the door.

Boston wept, but Alexis grabbed her hand to add her magic to the healing process.  Sukki and Lincoln kept watch, just in case.  Alexis made an executive decision.  She pulled the poison from Weber, Dog, and Elder Stow’s horse, which as far as anyone knew, he never called anything other than horse.  Black Beauty seemed too far gone, and by the time Alexis and Boston arrived there, exhausted, the horse had died.

Boston wept some more, and Alexis joined her.

###

Lockhart, Katie, and Decker burst back into the downstairs courtyard area, sabers ready, Lockhart still holding tight to Boston’s Beretta.  Elder Stow came a step behind, juggling his weapon and sonic device.  He considered activating his floatation device and flying up to the balcony above.  He also considered going invisible, but he imagined these giant spiders had to be the result of some magic, and that magic might see through his invisibility screen. His plan went on hold when they got met by some fifteen or twenty spiders in the courtyard.

The travelers almost backed out of the house in the face of such odds, but a dozen men burst in the front gate to add their spears, swords, and shields to the fight.  More spiders came from the family side of the house, or dropped down from the balcony or the roof, but altogether, the fight did not last long.  The spiders were disgusting when stabbed or sliced in half, but they were not smart and only knew one way to attack.

At the end, one man lost his spear and screamed when a spider got ready to bite him.  Lockhart’s bullet arrived at the same time as an arrow.  The arrow got shot with enough force to drive the spider back against the wall.  A woman stood in their midst, and smiled.

“That was fun,” she said.

“Artemis,” Katie recognized the woman.

The woman sighed.  “In this place, it is Diana.  Saturn renamed everyone in his corner of the world.  Before he went over to the other side, he even gave Hera the name Juno.  That took courage.”

“I imagine Hera is not one to trifle with,” Katie said, as she and the goddess hugged.

“I should say,” Diana agreed, as she backed up and put one hand to her cheek as if remembering something from long ago.  Katie thought it might have been Troy.

“So, Lockhart.  Are you taking care of my elect?” Diana asked, referring to Katie.

“More like she is taking care of me,” he answered, and Diana smiled again.

“Decker,” she turned to the man. “Venus and I were talking just the other day, and your name came up.  You are still on her list, you know.”

“No.  Please,” Decker said, and Diana laughed, which made every face in the courtyard smile.

“Elder Stow,” Diana moved on.  “How is that adopted daughter of yours?”

“Well, I hope,” he said.

“She is well,” Diana assured him, as she turned at last to the soldiers in the courtyard.

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MONDAY

The chase begins, to save Millie and Evan, not to mention get back the weapons which do not belong in the hands of the with, much less in the days of the Roman Republic.  Until Monday

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