Marvin Wallis stood rigid with his feet planted wide. The rock of the waves tried to distract him. His right hand was in a fist, raised, and nearly shaking with intensity. He kept shaking out his left hand like it was asleep. He intoned his most powerful adage standing there facing his wife and Blaine Gentry. His right hand, his strength was to them. His left, his stability, waved at his back, ready.
“Marvin,” Elizabeth whispered.
Just then a wind brought the sweet smell that was all Elizabeth’s own. With the power of the intonation coursing through him he could see her clearly though everything was in a blue-green cast. Her high cheekbones, the fair skin, red lips with a slight overbite, even her freckles, beckoned a calm rustle through his soul.
“You don’t know the truth,” she continued.
He tore his eye from her to check on Blaine and the scarred Indian. They stood there impassive; confident men not in the least impressed.
She reached into a pocket of her lovely green and white dress and tossed his pocket watch toward him. His right forearm cramped in the effort to hold back. He used his eyes to make sure the watch was his.
“I found it on a bureau in the servant’s quarters. I thought you might have lost it.”
He lifted a foot and stepped closer to the timepiece he’d owned as long as he could remember. He didn’t remember going to the servant’s quarters tonight. Blaine took a step, but Liz raised a hand and he stopped.
“You are safe here,” she said.
His every creaky joint told him that was a lie. Blaine felt like a fire ready to wreak havoc on the forest. With his left hand he deftly bent, picked up the watch, and deposited it in its rightful chest pocket.
“Please, Marvin.” Her voice was like a soft fog slowly rising in the sun. “I’m your wife.” He never let go his mantra. “Please,” she said, “for our son.”
He must have paused, or faltered, or not spoken with the conviction necessary, for Liz, his beloved, the one he’d sacrificed all, the one he’d defied his family for, made a simple gesture complete with a practiced flourish of the wrist and his words cut off. His mouth continued to move for a breath then his legs gave way. She had used a deft combination of wards she must have learned from the Hargrove townsfolk. His compulsion to remove himself from the ward was conflicted with his inability to physically comply. His eyes dimmed, but still worked. She neared. Blaine was close. He could smell his fiery scent though couldn’t see him.
“It’s too late,” her voice, still sweet as all the love he could imagine, was edged with something harder, something more real, more visceral and unappealing.
“You don’t know,” she said. Her brown eyes reminded him of the rich earth of the highland. His body felt numb.
“What you called Agolloch should not be here. Immortality does not belong.” She shook of her head.
His voice would not work. His vision was becoming wavery. Blaine’s image swam into view. His eyes looked red. The scarred face of the Indian smiled at him in a passive way. The man’s eyes were blacker than the darkness. Somehow, Liz’s auburn hair still looked vibrant, even in the deepening black.
And, then all was clear. The smoky haze lifted from his eyes. Blaine’s red eyes widened and his nostrils flared. The scarred Indian squinted. Liz looked up and away. The soft skin of her neck looked so white in the darkness.
“Release him.” The voice shattered the relative quiet. It sounded like his grandfather. A pressure released from his hips and ankles. His hands were numb.
“You have no anchors here, old man,” Blaine said and moved from Marvin’s sight. Liz was staring at something over his head and behind him. He rolled to be free. He couldn’t smell her anymore.
On his feet and after a glance to his would be captors, he turned sidelong and looked at what they were fixated on. A young man stood with tight skin stretched across strong features. He smiled a many wrinkled huge buck-teethed smile that he directed to the Indian.
“My grandson and his wife are coming with me.” Marvin shivered at the way he’d said, ‘wife’.
“Grandfather?” The man before him was bone, sinew, and muscle. The staff he carried was blackened as if recently on fire. Marvin reached out a hand toward it.
“You’re a long way from your forest,” hissed Blaine as he sauntered closer to Grandfather. Grandfather laughed. Blaine stopped. Grandfather gestured to Marvin. Marvin took a step, his hand still extended toward the staff.
“Marvin, my love, don’t,” Liz’s said as another gust of wind brought fresh her scent.
“Sani,” The Indian had found his voice. “Wikvaya.”
Blaine pulled a gun with his right hand and a wicked short handled fire axe with his left. His black overcoat was even darker than the moonless night aboard ship.
“Speak plain, Antin,” Blaine said as he stepped between Marvin and Wilhelm. Marvin continued to stagger forward. “What does the old man bring?”
“Life,” Elizabeth choked out. Marvin half turned to her. She looked shadowy with distance. She must have been backing away as he had neared.
“The forest,” The Indian said.
A click of a gun brought Marvin’s head back around. Blaine was taking a bead on the staff. Grandfather stood there looking at the Indian.
“Burn him!” The Indian screamed.
“Shame,” Grandfather said. He refocused on Blaine too late. Blaine’s fingers squeezed the trigger.
Marvin had not been idle. He’d uttered a taught adage of silence and had slipped close to Blaine who now smelled like rotten eggs. He grabbed Blaine’s arm as the man went to fire.
The shot went wide. Marvin smiled and sighed then was thrown hard to the unforgiving deck.
“You’re not that important,” Blaine announced before pulling the trigger again. Marvin’s sight, which had already been dimming, disappeared. He could no longer smell Liz. He heard the ocean crash against the hull. His last thought was of rain. It must have started raining. He felt the wet.
Wilhelm staggered back at the flash of lightning that was the gigante’s gun as it sent a bullet to Marvin. He spared a look to Elizabeth. She had her back to the rail. Spray soaked her hair though she didn’t seem to notice. Her hands wove a continuous ward of repel and attract. Poor Marvin hadn’t had a chance.
His strong legs moved before his brain caught hold of the action. The staff, new to its mobility seemed to be gaining a will of its own. Before he could get control the staff leapt to Blaine’s gun hand. Blaine shrieked. The staff sagged in his overreached position for a moment too long as both it and he inhaled the sweet noise. Then Blaine swung his axe and buried it in the exposed wood.
Wilhelm recoiled, pulling the axe free of Blaine’s grip. He overbalanced and fell hard onto his back. He cursed his new senses in utter breathless silence as he writhed like a child. Pain, so long a companion, had grown new arms, like the Adya, Kali, Agolloch had told stories about.
“Fast,” Blaine said. “I’m getting out of shape.”
Wilhelm heard Blaine take a deep breath, heard the demon grunt as it reset the broken bones. Then he was up, as if the staff had pulled him to his feet. He ripped the axe free of the precious wood, felt fresh the pain, and sent the weapon like a shot toward the Indian. The axe head buried itself in the man’s chest and he dropped. The staff tried to pull him toward the felled man, but he kept control. The will involved in the effort was enormous.
Blaine shook his head at the fallen Indian then shrugged and flexed his right hand.
“He can be replaced with little effort. Mother’s children are easy to cull.”
“I don’t care who you taint, demon. Doesn’t mean I will suffer their softness in my presence.” He pointed to Elizabeth who was edging farther away down the opposite rail. “She’s coming with me.”
Blaine squared up to Wilhelm and took a wide stance. He lowered his head and rubbed his hands together like he was trying to keep them warm. The metal at his feet buckled then started to glow red with heat. Blaine’s black overcoat smoked. He looked up. His eyes were red fire brighter than the metal of the overheated deck.
“She’s under my care.” Blaine’s breath was a blue-white fog.
Wilhelm gripped his staff with both hands. The wood quivered at the proximity of such great heat.
“Ssshhhh,” He stroked the wood. “Do not fear.” He touched the water rings to the wood and it quieted. Blaine smiled broadly and walked toward him.
“A demon riding on the water… crazy.”
With a guttural hum that threatened to rupture his diaphragm and shred his vocal cords Wilhelm slammed the butt of the staff into the iron decking. A resounding gong echoed outward, buffeting his robes as the air tore apart. The metal ship vibrated under his feet hard enough to make his feet numb and his ankles ache. Blaine was tossed away like a dead leaf. Elizabeth crumpled to the deck instead of being thrown overboard as he expected. The young lady was full of surprises.
The staff had an iron cap about 3 inches deep when he pulled it from the decking. Wilhelm rubbed his hand down the length of wood and picked up the iron end. The added weight did disturb the balance, but not overly so. He’d have to get used to it. He did, however, flip the staff so the iron rode high. It wouldn’t make noise that way.
He got to Elizabeth’s side. She did not stir.
“Please do not insult my perception, child. This is going to happen no matter what you do.”
“I like your style, old man,” Blaine said at his back. Wilhelm turned enough to keep both Elizabeth and the newly risen Demon in his sight then smiled. The tautness of the skin around his mouth reminded him of his renewed youth.
“You’ve seen nothing yet, Tartarus spawn.”
Blaine had found a new weapon, a knife. It was almost long enough to be a sword, but too thick and it curved like a machete. The demon’s eyes still glowed red. His overcoat was gone, as was most of his thick threaded shirt. Previously hidden muscles rippled purple-red in Wilhelm’s augmented vision.
“Stop!” Elizabeth must have decided to quit her ruse. She stood on bare feet. Her dress, a good thick practical affair, adequate for such weather, was a little worse for wear.
“I’ll go with you,” She said.
Wilhelm cut a grin at Blaine, stepped close to Elizabeth, and wrapped an arm around her waist.
“No,” Blaine yelled. He took a giant leap toward them, but it didn’t matter. Wilhelm jumped an instant later, overboard, into the sea.
The ring worked its mystery again as he hit the icy water. He kept a firm grip on Elizabeth as he passed under the waves. ‘The shore,’ he thought, and it was so. He pulled her out of the water and set her on her feet. The iron monster churned the water quite close. He checked the girl for weapons then. Men were shouting about the vessel. He waded out into the surf and touched his ring to the wood then set an end to the sandy earth of the ocean floor. The iron cap glowed green.
“We’re away,” the girl spoke. “Leave them be.”
He set his iron will to task on the iron cap. A bolt of lightning shot from the cap and hit the great ship. Its engine’s chugged one more cycle then blew up in a yellow-red ball of fire.
“Come,” he told the girl. She stared wide eyed at the flames. “You’ve someone to meet.”
“I only agreed to come because I thought you’d spare them,” she choked.
“That’s not the only reason,” he said and went to her. He threw her over a shoulder and reentered the water.
‘Home,’ he thought.
The ring took him back to the crumbled bridge and the ever present water ogre. Wilhelm tried to ignore the great rock of a beast as he tugged Elizabeth free of the water with force enough to make her yelp.
“Nei ransmann,” the rock gurgled. Elizabeth jerked around and stared.
Wilhelm pulled the master ring from his finger and dropped it into the water.
“No thief,” He muttered. The river surface looked as smooth as metal. The ogre rolled out a gurgling laugh.
“Who are you talking to?” Elizabeth asked.
“Not the one you are to meet,” he replied and took her by the wrist to lead her up the steep riverbank.
“I loved him, you know,” she said once they’d cleared the bank and were into the thick of the trees. Wilhelm didn’t let go of her wrist.
“As Gaia loves,” He retorted, not looking at her.
“As a husband,” she said. “He had a quality…”
“Wait till you meet Agolloch.” Wilhelm smiled.
“It won’t matter.”
Agolloch entered from higher up the path and did so without his usual flair. Wilhelm stopped and held Elizabeth steady as Agolloch came near.
His Master wore a toga of pure white and smelled like the thin, crisp air atop mountains. He took care with each step, minding his footing as if unsure of the forest floor. He kept rubbing thumb to forefinger. His eyes would dart to Elizabeth then down, again and again.
Elizabeth fell to her knees. “I didn’t know.”
Agolloch’s gaze settled on her auburn hair. Wilhelm let go her hand and took a step back.
“You’re a true descendant of Rhea, a disciple?” Agolloch asked.
“The first to pass the… I was taught to defend against you. I came to rob you.”
Agolloch’s eyes were brimmed with tears.
“Wilhelm, my child, have I ever told you why I specify the chosen girls as I do?”
Elizabeth looked up at Agolloch but didn’t say anything.
“To remind me of my wife.”
Elizabeth hissed and regained her feet. She stepped close to Agolloch.
“I’ve been lied to,” she said.
“I can see that,” Agolloch said. “I knew one day I’d find you again.”
“I’m not her.”
Agolloch laughed. It filled the night sky. “You’re a favored child of Gaia, as she was. Rhea does mean inevitability. The titans cannot be locked away forever.”
“I’m but a small part of Kronos, a part that managed to slip away during the war.”
He gave her a crooked grin then pointed to her swollen belly. “And, you’re carrying my child.”
She rubbed her belly. “This child belongs to Marvin.”
“And Marvin is of me.”
She shook her head. “I was to deliver the babe to my masters in America. They will come again.”
Agolloch lifted the girl’s chin and stared into the doubt filling her eyes.
“Let them… Do you know what it is you carry in your womb?”
Her eyes widened.
“That’s right. Rhea is inevitability. Kronos is eternity.” He let go of the girl and turned bright eyes to Wilhelm.
“There’s to be a new God born to this world.”
Wilhelm bowed. The surrounding trees creaked in the windless night.