Saturday, May 20, 2017

Book Two of The Princess Tara Chronicles: The Princess Witch, Chapter Five


Chapter Five
Part One

“Listen!” Jean exclaimed, as she, Michael, and the Taras walked through the forest. Everyone halted. They could hear the flapping of enormous wings, flapping that moved away from them and faded into the distance.

“Gagits,” Michael said. “The pterodactyls. They seem to be flying away.”

“We are there,” Blue Tara said, pointing into the forest. The longhouse with the double-headed serpent painted on the front wall could be seen through the trees, guarded by the totem of the four furies. Jean broke into a run. “Hey! Wait up,” Michael yelled after her.

They found the longhouse deserted. Innumerable tracks and footprints in the clearing in front of the longhouse made it impossible to distinguish any particular set of prints. Michael pointed to a muddy patch of ground. “Looks like blood,” he said.

“There was no lack of blood,” Jean replied uneasily.

“What do we do now,” Michael asked, to no one in particular.

“We wait,” Blue Tara replied. “Be watchful.”

“Wait for what?” Michael responded.

“For whatever comes,” Blue Tara replied.

They didn’t need to wait long. Bokwus, the living skeleton, appeared at the door to the longhouse. “I come for Blue Tara,” he stated.

“Of course you have,” Michael replied, pointing the magic harpoon at the creature to no avail.

Jean pulled the shotgun off her shoulder, but Blue Tara grabbed the barrel to stop her. Blue Tara stepped up to the Bokwus, battle axe in her hand. “What do you want with me?”

“My master has commanded me to take you,” the living skeleton replied.

Blue Tara swung her battle axe and smashed the creature’s skull. Another living skeleton appeared in the longhouse’s doorway. “I come for Blue Tara,” he repeated.

“This is getting old,” Michael replied.

Blue Tara stepped up to the Bokwus. “If your master wants me, let him show himself.” She swung her battle axe and lopped off the creature’s skull. Margarita growled as a tall pale yellow-skinned figure with gleaming red eyes, clad in black leather, walked out of the forest into the clearing.

“Hamatsa!” Michael exclaimed. Before he could point the magic harpoon a club came flying out of the trees and struck Michael on the side of his head, throwing him to the ground unconscious. Jean dropped to her knees at Michael’s side, relieved to find him bloodied but still breathing. Half a dozen giants completely covered with matted black hair appeared out of the trees behind Hamatsa.

“Sasquatch!” Jean yelled. Dzonoqwa. Behind them appeared an equal number of deathly pale phantoms with wild black hair and sunken eyes, clad in tattered western clothing, carrying lances. Laxsa. Warriors of the spirit world. Zombies.

Hamatsa walked up to Blue Tara. “It was pitifully easy to capture you,” he told her.

“I could say the same,” Blue Tara replied, holding her battle axe in her hand. Red Tara pulled her long bow off her shoulder.

“If you resist me, your friend is lost,” Hamatsa said.

“What have you done with him?” Jean yelled, scrambling to her feet, shotgun in hand. Blue Tara grabbed the barrel and held it down.

“You would make a tasty meal,” Hamatsa said, extending a gloved hand at Jean’s throat. Red Tara nocked an arrow in her bow and aimed it at Hamatsa. “I can not be killed by you,” Hamatsa said. “But I can destroy your friend.”

“What do you want?” Jean cried.

“What do I want?” Hamatsa replied. “Isn’t it painfully clear? I want this witch,” he said, pointing at Blue Tara.

“There are twenty other Taras,” Blue Tara said. “Destroy me, but you will still have to deal with them.”

“There is only one Blue Tara. The mother of all the Taras.

“And what do you offer in return?” Blue Tara asked, pointing her battle axe at Hamatsa.

“You are in no position to bargain. I could destroy you all.”

“If that was the case you would have done so already.”

“Don’t test my patience.”

“Restore our friend and I will surrender to you,” Blue Tara said.

What? No you won’t!” Jean exclaimed. “I won’t let you.”

“Do not interfere,” Blue Tara replied. “It must be so.”

Jean pointed the shotgun at Hamatsa. Red Tara grabbed the barrel and pulled it out of her hands before she could pull the trigger. “It is all part of the plan,” Red Tara explained.

“Plan? What plan?” Jean replied.

“It is necessary for us to part ways,” Blue Tara said, turning to face Jean. “Do not fear for me. I have foreseen this. It is the only way to get your friend back to you alive.”

“You can’t do this,” Jean cried, running up to Blue Tara. Several of the laxsa stepped between the two, pushing Jean back with their lances.

Hamatsa walked up to Blue Tara and put a gloved hand on her breast. “You will be served up to me as a special feast,” he gloated. “Take her!” he commanded the dzonoqwa. One of the giants stepped up to her and took her battle axe out of her hand. Another dzonoqwa snapped a steel collar around her neck, attached to a long chain held in its hands. Hamatsa entered the longhouse and Blue Tara and the ghouls surrounding her quickly followed.

“Stop!” Jean yelled. She ran after them, but halted at the doorway. “They’re gone!” she cried. “The building is empty.”

“Let them go,” Red Tara replied, handing the shotgun back to Jean. “This is all part of the plan.”

“What plan?” Michael asked, rolling over on his side, struggling to get to his feet. Jean and the Taras ran up to him. “Whoa! What the hell happened? My head feels like it’s going to explode.” Margarita rubbed her body against Michael’s ankles and purred.

“You were knocked out by one of the Sasquatch,” Jean replied.

“Knocked out? Feels like my head got knocked off. Oh, that hurts,” he said, feeling the side of his head with his fingers.

“You’ve got a bad bruise,” Jean said. “Thankfully it’s stopped bleeding. Can you stand up?” she asked, helping Michael to his feet. Jean picked the magic harpoon up off the ground and handed it to Michael. “Maybe this will work better as a crutch than it does as a weapon.”

“So, what plan are you talking about?” Michael asked. “Why don’t I know anything about a plan?”

“First I’ve heard about it,” Jean replied. “Why haven’t you shared this plan with us? Jean asked Red Tara. “You’re just leading us around blindly.”

“It was necessary to get your friend back,” Red Tara replied. “Our ultimate goal is to find the tlogwe. The only way to defeat Hamatsa is by finding the tlogwe. With the magic of the tlogwe we can destroy Hamatsa and rescue Blue Tara.”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Jean asked, perturbed.

“We could not take the chance, as long as your friend was in Hamatsa’s hands. Blue Tara knew this was a sacrifice she would need to make to keep Hamatsa from destroying your friend.”

“Where is he?” Jean asked plaintively. “Why isn’t he here?”

“Listen,” Michael responded, putting his hand on Jean’s shoulder. In the distance they could hear the flapping of enormous wings, flying toward them.


∆∆∆

Leaning over the neck of the pterodactyl I rode I could discern the longhouse in the clearing below us, the brightly painted double-headed serpent clearly visible on the front wall. The two gagits banked into a tight circle and descended toward the ground. I could make out several people huddled in the clearing in front of the longhouse. I recognized Red Tara first. It would be hard to miss a four armed red skinned Amazon goddess with a longbow slung over her shoulder. Then I recognized Jean and Michael and Margarita. I began to yell and wave one hand while holding onto the pterodactyl with the other. I could see Jean waving her arms below.

I jumped off the gagit’s neck while its wings still flapped and ran to Jean. I threw my arms around her and kissed her. She put her hands on my face and kissed me back. She tore my shirt open and put her hands on my chest. “You’re alive!” she cried. “I watched you die. That witch stabbed you with her hand.” She caressed my chest.

The second pterodactyl landed, and Kinqalatlala stepped off the creature’s neck. Jean pushed away from me and pulled the shotgun off her shoulder. “It was her!” she yelled. “She killed you.” Jean pointed the shotgun at Kinqalatlala.

“Wait!” I cried. “Don’t shoot!” I jumped between Jean and Kinqalatlala. “She saved my life!” I exclaimed. I put my hands out to try to keep the two women apart.

“She killed you,” Jean repeated.

“She saved my life,” I replied. “Blue Tara made her do it.”

Michael walked up to me. “What are you talking about? Blue Tara made her do what?”

“Blue Tara could have saved me, but didn’t,” I replied. “She let Kinqalatlala kill me so I could enter the spirit realm to search for the tlogwe.”

Michael put his hand on my arm. “So are you alive? Or dead?”

“Your friend is alive,” Kinqalatlala said, stepping to my side. Jean held her shotgun ready. “Hamatsa fulfilled his part of the bargain.”

“Bargain? What bargain?” I asked, confused, glancing between Michael and Kinqalatlala. “Where is Blue Tara?” I began to feel a sense of panic.

“Hamatsa took Blue Tara,” Jean replied. “She gave herself up to Hamatsa to save your life.”

“Oh no!” I cried. “What have you done?” I asked Kinqalatlala, grabbing her shoulders.

“I have shown you the possibilities,” she replied. “It was that witch’s choice to trade her life for yours.”

I shook Kinqalatlala. “Is Blue Tara dead? What did Hamatsa do to her?”

“The witch you call Blue Tara is not dead. That is not my master’s plan for her.”

“We have to save her,” I said. I turned to Jean. “I thought I lost you. I watched you get killed by that magic harpoon,” I said as I noticed Michael holding a magic harpoon in his hand.

“I didn’t die,” Jean replied. “You saved me. You pushed me out of the way at the last moment. That’s when I saw that witch stab you with her hand,” she said, pointing the shotgun at Kinqalatlala.

“Well, apparently I was dead,” I replied. “She did kill me. But she also saved me from Hamatsa. I guess killing me was part of the plan. . .” I looked at Kinqalatlala and then back at Jean, “. . . part of Blue Tara’s plan for me to find the tlogwe. Somehow she,” I pointed at Kinqalatlala, “and Blue Tara are connected in the plan to find the tlogwe.”

“I don’t trust this witch,” Jean said. “I’ve seen what she’s capable of. She’s Hamatsa’s slave. I should shoot her where she stands.”

“She showed me another world that’s beyond our comprehension,” I told Jean. “She’s not what she appears to be.”

“Nothing is what it appears to be anymore,” Jean replied with some exasperation. “What is she supposed to be?”

“She’s Dluwulaxa. She comes from a world above the clouds.”

“What is Dluwulaxa?” Jean asked.

“People who descend from the sky,” Michael replied. “Ancient native legends talk about a world of bird people above the clouds who occasionally fly down to the ground. They’re shapeshifters. They can take on human or animal form.”

“But once they do so,” I said, “they can never go back to their world. She’s one of them.”

“And you believe her?” Jean asked.

“Not only do I believe her. She took me to the city of the Dluwulaxa above the clouds. Her world in the sky. I saw it with my own eyes. She wants to help me find the tlogwe so I can use the magic of the tlogwe to restore her to her world.”

“I don’t believe her for a minute,” Jean replied. “I saw her hand sticking through your chest. I saw you standing in a pool of your own blood.”

“I only want to return to my world,” Kinqalatlala stated. “In return I will help you find the tlogwe and help you rescue that witch you call Blue Tara. I only ask that you consider my offer to join me in my world.”

“What?” Jean said. “What is she talking about?”

“She wants me to become Dluwulaxa. To join her world above the clouds.”

“No fucking way!” Jean exclaimed. She stepped up to Kinqalatlala and before I could react she slammed the butt of her shotgun against Kinqalatlala’s head, knocking her onto her back, unconscious. “She’s playing you for a fool!” Jean yelled at me. “You need to focus on your world! And your friends!”

“I did,” I replied. “I turned her down cold. All I wanted was to get back to you. I love you Jean.”

Kinqalatlala groaned and struggled to get up. I took her hands and helped her to her feet. “You’re bleeding,” I said. Red blood oozed out of her black hair. She took my hand and pressed it against the side of her head and drew lines of blood across her breasts with my fingers.

“We should kill her and then figure out how we’re going to rescue Blue Tara,” Jean said.

“We can’t kill her,” I replied.

“And why not?”

“She knows where the tlogwe is. And she knows where Blue Tara is.” I saw Jean staring at Kinqalatlala’s hand holding mine. I pulled my hand out of Kinqalatlala’s grasp.


Part Two

I noticed the bloody gash on the side of Michael’s head. “Jesus H. Christ!” I exclaimed. “What in the hell happened to you?”

“Dzonoqwa,” Michael replied. “Or Sasquatch, as Jean calls them. More of Hamatsa’s ghouls. They took Blue Tara away in chains.”

“Oh my God. We’ve got to rescue her.”

“We will rescue Blue Tara. In time,” Red Tara said. She had been standing on one foot so quietly, right foot resting against her left knee, I forgot she was there. “Your plan to rescue her is already underway as she has foreseen.”

“My plan?” I replied, confused. “I don’t have a plan.”

“Your plan is to find the tlogwe,” Red Tara said.

“We need to kill this witch,” Jean said, pointing her shotgun at Kinqalatlala. “I don’t trust her. You’re making a big mistake if you let her join us.”

“We need her,” I replied. “I need her help to find Blue Tara.”

“Then make her tell us where Hamatsa and Blue Tara are. And then we kill her.”

I stepped up to Jean and put my hands on her shoulders. “I don’t know how to make her tell us, or I would. I don’t trust her either. Completely. But we need her. We need to find the tlogwe and rescue Blue Tara. She can help us with that. And then we can deal with her.”

“Or better yet,” Michael offered, “We can let Hamatsa deal with her.”

“I like that plan even better,” I replied.

“You need to trust me,” Kinqalatlala said. “I am the only weapon you have to use against Hamatsa.

“I’d prefer to blow your head off, and deal with the consequences,” Jean said.

“You do not understand,” Kinqalatlala replied. “Your weapons are useless against me. Go ahead and shoot me, if you don’t believe me. I possess the magic to travel between the worlds of the living and the dead. Otherwise your friend would not be standing here with you.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Jean replied.

“You are in my debt,” Kinqalatlala said. “I could easily send your friend back to the world below this one, if I so chose.” Kinqalatlala raised her hand to her face and watched the hand transform into a steel blade. Jean pulled her shotgun off her shoulder and tried to aim it at Kinqalatlala, but I grabbed the barrel and pointed it at the ground.

“Everybody relax!” I yelled, my heart racing, far from relaxed. “We need her Jean. I promise you, if she double-crosses us, I’ll tie her to a post and let you blow her head off. Until then, we need her to lead us to Hamatsa and Blue Tara.”

“I promise you,” Kinqalatlala said, as the steel blade reverted back to her hand, “I will help you rescue that witch of yours. I will help you destroy Hamatsa. I will do whatever I need to do to earn my freedom to return to my world of Dluwulaxa.”

“As long as you understand you’re going alone. He is my friend,” Jean said, pointing to me. “Not your friend.”

Kinqalatlala walked up to Jean. “You owe this to me. Allow me the chance to earn your trust. If I fail you, then I will submit to whatever punishment you choose.”

“Can you at least put some clothes on,” Jean replied.

“Hold on,” Michael said. He took his shirt off and gave it to Kinqalatlala. “This should help. And please take care of it. It's a Ralph Lauren.” I looked at Michael. “What? I got it at Value Village. And I believe in layering. I’ve still got two t-shirts on,” he said, pulling up his t-shirt to show another tee underneath. 

“Nothing like being prepared,” I remarked.

“I have to say,” Michael continued. “I’m with Jean on this one. I have a really bad feeling about taking her along,” he said, pointing at Kinqalatlala.

“What do the Taras have to say about all this?” I asked, turning to Red Tara and Margarita. Margarita growled and rubbed her body against Michael’s ankles.

“We take her at her word,” Red Tara replied. “If she fails us, I still have recourse to this,” she said, tapping her longbow.

Margarita stood up on her hind legs. “It’s time for this witch to lead us to Hamatsa.”

“Okay,” I said, turning to Kinqalatlala. “It’s your show now. How do we find Hamatsa and Blue Tara?”

“Follow me,” she said. She stepped into the longhouse and we followed her inside. “Take a seat along the wall,” she continued. We sat.

“Now what?” I asked.

“We wait for the ceremony.”

“What ceremony?” I asked, perplexed.

“Wait,” she replied.

The sound of sticks beating cedar planks filled the room. Six dark-skinned men and women dressed in cedar bark blankets marched out of the darkness at the back of the longhouse and sat is a circle in the center of the hall, beating time on the cedar planks. Several men carried sticks and brush into the longhouse through the doorway and constructed a bonfire at the center of the circle. Men with deathly pale skin and sunken black eyes appeared out of the darkness carrying lances. They formed a circle around the drummers.

“Laxsa,” Michael observed.

Grizzly bear dancers stepped out of the darkness in time with the drumming. Men wearing bearskin cloaks with bear skulls tied to their heads like crowns, they held menacing razor sharp bear claws in their hands. Each dancer stopped and stood next to each of us.

A tall man clad in black leather from boots to fedora and gloves walked out of the darkness following the grizzly bear dancers. The flickering light of the bonfire illuminated his pallid scalloped yellow face and burning red eyes.

“Hamatsa!” I exclaimed. Jean took my hand. He stopped near the bonfire and fixed his gleaming red eyes directly on me.

“You have witnessed the power I hold over life and death,” he said. “And yet you choose to challenge me.”

“Do I have a speaking part?” I whispered to Kinqalatlala.

“Be patient,” she replied.

“It is time for me to demonstrate my power once and for all,” Hamatsa continued. “My power to stamp out any resistance to my dominion. My power to stamp out the scourge of those that oppose me.” Out of the corner of my eye I could see Red Tara tightening her grip on her longbow with one of her four hands.

Hamatsa waved a gloved hand toward the darkness at the back of the hall. Four giants covered head to foot with matted black hair so greasy it looked like fur, wearing deerskin capes, emerged holding a large cedar box.

“Sasquatch,” Jean said.

“Dzonoqwa,” Michael replied. 

The dzonoqwa placed the cedar box next to the fire. Two more of the giant creatures emerged from the darkness.

“Oh my God!” I cried.

They led Blue Tara into the center of the hall by a long chain attached to a steel collar around her neck. The beating of the cedar planks stopped.

“I intend to stamp out the scourge of the resistance once and for all,” Hamatsa said. “Bring that witch to me.” The two dzonoqwa holding Blue Tara’s chain pushed her to Hamatsa. “Get down on your knees before your master!” Hamatsa ordered. One of the dzonoqwa kicked Blue Tara behind her knees and she buckled to the ground. “Are you ready to submit to your master?” Hamatsa demanded. Blue Tara tilted her head and defiantly stared up at Hamatsa with her one bright yellow eye. Hamatsa slapped her across her face with a gloved hand. “Submit or be destroyed,” he ordered. Blue Tara said nothing. “Take her,” he ordered the dzonoqwa. “Place her in the box.” The dzonoqwa lifted her by her arms.

“No!” I yelled as I leaped to my feet. Michael jumped to his feet and pointed the magic harpoon at one dzonoqwa, who crumpled to the ground. Red Tara whipped her longbow off her shoulder and nocked and released an arrow at the other dzonoqwa. The arrow pierced its skull between its eyes and the creature tumbled over backwards, and did not get up. The laxsa spun around and pointed their lances at our heads.

“Your heroics are useless here,” Hamatsa said. “My army is vast. You can change nothing.”

“Don’t bet on that,” I replied. I pushed aside a couple of the laxsa and stepped up to Hamatsa. “Take me,” I said. “Release Blue Tara.” It was the adrenaline talking. I’m not usually that brave or selfless.

“What are you doing?” Jean screamed. She tried to push her way to my side but the laxsa blocked her with their lances. “You don’t need to do that!” Jean yelled.

“Why would I trade the life of that witch for yours?” Hamatsa asked.

“Because I’m the key to finding the tlogwe. Without the tlogwe you have nothing to fear from the Taras.”

“Take him,” Hamatsa ordered. Two of the dzonoqwa grabbed me. “Release the witch.” A dzonoqwa took hold of the steel collar and snapped it in two, leaving bloody gashes on Blue Tara’s neck from its claws. “Put him in the box.” The dzonoqwa lifted me up and carried me to the cedar box. Their putrid breath nearly caused me to gag.

“Wait!” someone yelled. I struggled in the grip of the dzonoqwa to see who spoke. Kinqalatlala pushed her way through the ring of laxsa.

“You dare interfere?” Hamatsa exclaimed.

Kinqalatlala fell to her knees and dropped her head to the ground to kiss Hamatsa’s boots. “My master,” she said. “I offer myself as a sacrifice in his place. Take me instead.”

Hamatsa took hold of Kinqalatlala’s hair and pulled her to her feet. “Why would I do that?” he asked.

“Because I know where the tlogwe is. Destroy me. Then the Taras, and the man with the parrot, will be powerless to stop you.”

“You dare to oppose me?” Hamatsa said, seizing Kinqalatlala’s throat in his gloved hand, lifting her off her feet.

Kinqalatlala struggled to speak as Hamatsa choked her. “I had thought to trade the tlogwe for my freedom.”

“You fool.” Hamatsa dropped her onto the ground and ripped Michael’s shirt off of her.

“Not my Ralph Lauren!” Michael exclaimed.

Hamatsa nodded at the dzonoqwa. They lifted me out of the cedar box and seized Kinqalatlala, dropping her into the box in my place. They quickly hammered a large plank lid onto the box and set the box directly in the bonfire. A deathly stillness engulfed the longhouse as the bonfire slowly consumed the crate. I could hear Kinqalatlala plaintively chanting from inside the box as sticks commenced beating time on cedar planks:

“I keep down your wrath, great cannibal Hamatsa.
I keep down your whistles, great cannibal Hamatsa.
I keep down your voraciousness, great cannibal Hamatsa.
You are always devouring property, great cannibal Hamatsa.
You are always devouring food, great cannibal Hamatsa.
You are always devouring heads, great cannibal Hamatsa.”

After what seemed like an eternity the last vestiges of the box collapsed in ashes into the fire.

“Destroy them all!” Hamatsa ordered, sweeping his gloved hand across the wall where Jean and Michael and Red Tara stood.

I heard Jean yell “Fuck You!” as she pumped her shotgun and fired both barrels at Hamatsa’s head. His fedora and his head underneath it disappeared in a cloud of blood red dust. I fell to the ground in agony with my hands slapped over my ears as Blue Tara screeched, my eyes squeezed shut trying to close out the pain from my head. When I dared to open my eyes I saw Blue Tara and Red Tara helping Jean and Michael to their feet while Margarita lay curled up on the ground licking her fur. I realized the longhouse was otherwise completely empty. No dzonoqwa. No laxsa. No grizzly bear dancers. No Hamatsa. No Kinqalatlala. I struggled to my feet.

“What happened?” I asked.

Blue Tara lifted me up and threw her arms over my shoulders, and pulled me to her. “I made them go away,” she told me. And then she kissed me. And I let her.

I felt Jean’s hand on my shoulder pulling me back from Blue Tara. “Is Blue Tara okay?” Jean asked.

I saw blood oozing down Blue Tara’s neck from the gashes made by the dzonoqwa’s claws. “You’re hurt,” I said.

“Nothing to worry about,” she replied.

“What did they do to you?” Jean asked.

“Hamatsa could do nothing to me,” she replied. “In spite of what Hamatsa believes, he has no power over me. His magic can not hurt me.”

I turned to Jean and kissed her. “Jean killed Hamatsa,” I said. “Blew his head off. That means he’s dead? Right?”

“Life and death are meaningless with that ghoul,” Blue Tara replied. “You have destroyed his body, but you have not destroyed Hamatsa. Only the magic of the tlogwe can do that. I fear that we will face Hamatsa and his army of the dead again soon enough.

“I have no idea where to find the tlogwe,” I said. “Kinqalatlala knows. . . knew,” I corrected myself, “where the tlogwe is. I think she was about to tell me. But the tlogwe is lost to us now without her.”

“Do not give up hope,” Blue Tara replied. “You are closer to finding the tlogwe than you realize.”


∆∆∆

Hamatsa and Kinqalatlala stood together in a void. Blackness illuminated only by Hamatsa’s gleaming red eyes. “Does the one with the parrot believe you?” Hamatsa asked Kinqalatlala.

“Yes my master.”

“He believes you will help him find the tlogwe in exchange for your freedom?”

“Yes my master.”

“He will help restore you to the Dluwulaxa?”

“I believe he will, master.”

“Do you believe he will succumb to your entreaties to join him in the world of the Dluwulaxa?”

“The men of his world are weak, my master. He will succumb to these,” she said, taking Hamatsa’s hands and placing them on her breasts.

“Together we will command the worlds of the Earth and the sky,” Hamatsa said.


Part Three

I sat down on a log outside the longhouse and flipped a couple of pebbles toward the mudflats extending down into Elliott Bay. “I’m open to suggestions,” I said. “If anyone has any good ideas about what we should do next, now’s the time to share.” I turned toward Blue Tara. “What did you mean when you said I was closer to the tlogwe than I realized? Why does everyone keep talking in riddles? I wish someone would just tell me what to do.”

“Jean sat down on the log next to me and put her arm around my shoulder. “What would be the fun of that?” she joked. “Life should be a struggle. Nothing should come easy.” I stuck my tongue out at her. “Is that an invitation?” she asked.

“I wish,” I replied. I rested my head on her shoulder.

“You said that Kinqalatlala was about to tell you where the tlogwe is,” Michael said. I nodded. “With her dead that puts us in a bind,” he added. “You have no clue where it is?”

“Oh, big clue alrighty,” I replied. Michael gave me a perplexed look. “Dluwulaxa. The city above the clouds. That has something to do with it. And I’m pretty sure the tlogwala is a bird.” I turned and pointed to the totem of the four furies standing outside the longhouse. And I’m also pretty sure Kinqalatlala knew who the tlogwala is.”

“I think we can safely say who the tlogwala isn’t,” Michael replied.

“Hamatsa,” I said.

“Precisely.”

“Dluwulaxa holds the key to this riddle. The city above the clouds. The world of the bird people.”

And you saw it?” Michael asked.

“Saw it. Kinqalatlala showed it to me. Get this. It’s constructed entirely of crystal.”

“The four furies!” Michael exclaimed, glancing at the totem.

“And the connection to Hamatsa,” I replied. “If the tlogwe is located in the world of the bird people, then the Dluwulaxa are not safe from Hamatsa.”

“Imagine if Hamatsa gained control of the skies,” Michael said. “Those of us on the ground would be in a world of hurt.”

“Which is why we needed Kinqalatlala,” I added.

“As I told you,” Blue Tara interjected, “you are closer to the tlogwe than you think.” It was a sight to see both Blue Tara and Red Tara resting quietly on one foot, their right feet pressed against their left knees.

My jaw dropped as a small white parrot with pink highlights on its feathers darted out of the sky and landed on Blue Tara’s shoulder. Red Tara screeched with joy and ran up to the bird. Margarita stretched her front paws out in front of her head and jumped up on her hind legs.

“Oh my,” Jean said. “It’s a Goffin’s cockatoo.”

Blue Tara put her hand up to her shoulder and the white parrot hopped onto her hand. “Greetings to you, my sister,” Blue Tara said. “I had wondered when you would make your appearance.”

“It is my pleasure to answer your call,” the white parrot replied.

Red Tara bowed before the newcomer. “It makes me so happy to be in your company once again, White Tara.”

“White Tara!” I exclaimed. “Are all the Taras parrots?”

Standing on her hind legs, Margarita growled. “Of course not.”

“My apologies,” I replied, nodding to Margarita.

“No apologies required,” White Tara said. She bolted off Blue Tara’s hand and landed on my knee as I sat on the log.

“White Tara is the Tara of Healing,” Margarita added.

“So this is the one that Blue Tara chose to be our savior?” White Tara said.

“Savior?” I replied. “Not hardly. Not sure who’s saving whom anymore.”

White Tara cocked her head and fixed her pink eye on me. “He seems somewhat unprepossessing,” she said. “Whatever caused you to pick this one?”

“That’s me,” I replied, laughing. “I’m the epitome of unprepossessing.” I put my hand out to White Tara. Without warning she nipped my finger with her beak. “Ouch!” I exclaimed, pulling my hand back. Blood appeared on my finger from a small tear caused by her beak. I stuck my finger in my mouth to lick the blood off.

“Assumptions can be your downfall,” she said. “You assumed it was safe to stick your finger in my beak just because I’m a Tara. Let that be a lesson.”

“Goffin’s cockatoos are the juvenile delinquents of the parrot world,” Jean interjected. “It’s always smart to be on your guard.”

“Wise words from a lovely lady,” White Tara said. “Give me your finger,” she added. I didn’t respond. “Put your finger out to me,” she commanded. I hesitantly offered White Tara the bleeding finger. She tapped the finger with her beak and the blood and tear disappeared.

“My word!” Jean exclaimed.

“It seems the timing of my arrival is propitious,” White Tara said.

“There is one you need to restore to us,” Blue Tara said. “One that holds the key to the tlogwe.”

“Most certainly,” White Tara replied.

“Kinqalatlala!” I blurted out. “You can bring Kinqalatlala back to life?”

“Apparently my sister Taras have been deficient in your education,” White Tara responded. “You know nothing of the magic of the witches. Witches like Kinqalatlala exist in a reality where there are not boundaries between life and death. A reality where existence is defined by being or not being. A reality where existence has no beginning and no end.”

“I’m sorry,” I replied, “but this is getting way too deep for me.”

“That’s because your reality is too linear and inflexible,” Blue Tara said. My sister, White Tara, the Tara of Healing, possesses the magic to restore Kinqalatlala to existence.”

“Now you’re talking language I can understand,” I said as I jumped to my feet. White Tara flew off my knee and twirled into the air. The white parrot melted into a translucent white mirage of a magnificent woman with pink hair and seven pink eyes, one in the middle of her forehead as well as one on each hand and foot. The mirage solidified into a goddess of pure white skin clad in a multitude of brilliantly colored gauzy silken skirts, with a filmy pink silken scarf wrapped around her neck accenting her sculpted breasts.

“My God!” Jean exclaimed. “Don’t any of the Taras believe in proper clothes?” I could feel my face flush as Jean looked at me.

“Take me to the one you wish me to restore,” White Tara said.

“This way,” Blue Tara replied, leading the way into the longhouse. We circled the ashes of the bonfire. I could see what appeared to be charred bones in the ashes.

White Tara removed one of her skirts and spread it over the ashes. “This is where a lesser witch would spout some nonsense chant to impress the gullible,” she remarked, looking directly at me. “I’ll just raise my hand over the victim’s remains.” She lifted her hand over the skirt spread on the floor. As she lifted her hand the skirt came off the floor and the figure of a woman took shape and rose underneath the skirt. Once the skirt stopped rising, White Tara grabbed the skirt and pulled it away from the body. Kinqalatlala stood before us, naked. She blinked her eyes and smiled. Seeing me, she ran up to me and threw her arms over my shoulders. She kissed me.

“You saved me!” she exclaimed.

“Hold on a minute!” Jean cried out.

White Tara stood on her left foot, pressed her right foot against her left knee, extended her arms and twirled, dissolving into a white Goffin’s cockatoo parrot. The parrot flapped her wings and flew onto Kinqalatlala’s shoulder. She bit Kinqalatlala’s ear.

“Ouch!” Kinqalatlala exclaimed, brushing the bird off her shoulder. White Tara darted onto my shoulder.

“Just checking,” White Tara said. “That’s to remind you who just saved your sorry ass.”

“No reminder necessary,” Kinqalatlala replied. “I am in your debt.”

“And you are expected to repay that debt.” White Tara brushed her beak against my chin. “I still don’t understand what these witches see in you,” she told me. “Yet this black witch jumped into your arms, without so much as a thank you.”

“Maybe it’s your sparkling personality,” I replied. White Tara tried to nip my ear but I brushed her off and she hopped onto Red Tara’s longbow. 

“Chew that bow,” Red Tara stated, “and I’ll use you for target practice.”

“Enough,” Blue Tara interjected. “Now that we have Kinqalatlala restored to us we can resume our search for the tlogwe.”

“I am at your service,” Kinqalatlala replied, bowing to Blue Tara.

“I’m guessing the tlogwe is hidden somewhere in the city of the Dluwulaxa,” I said. “I think you were just about to tell me where before Hamatsa interrupted us.”

Kinqalatlala took my hand in hers. “You are very astute. The Dluwulaxa are in fact guarding the tlogwe.”

“Hamatsa is as much a threat to your world as he is to mine,” I said. “Can you take us to the tlogwe?”

“The tlogwe is a gift. The ultimate treasure. It is not something I can show you.”

“Here we go with the riddles again,” I replied with a note of exasperation.

“I can not show you the tlogwe. But I can take you to the tlogwala. The tlogwala will determine if you are worthy enough to receive the tlogwe.”

“Well,” Michael interjected. “Let’s get this show on the road. Please lead us to the tlogwala.” White Tara jumped off Blue Tara’s shoulder and lighted on Michael’s shoulder. And screeched. “Not in my ear! Please,” Michael exclaimed as he slapped the palm of his hand to his ear.

“I like you,” White Tara replied. “A man who knows what he wants.” Margarita jumped up on her hind legs and growled. “You are not so unprepossessing,” White Tara added.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Michael replied. Margarita crouched and sprang up onto Michael’s shoulder, pushing White Tara off and back to Blue Tara’s shoulder.

“So, Dluwulaxa,” I said. “How do we get back up there?” I pointed toward Mount Rainier looming to the south, with its cap of lenticular clouds, the world of the Dluwulaxa.

Kinqalatlala turned to face the mountain and whistled. Within moments we could hear the slow flapping of enormous wings. Soon half a dozen gagits, the pterodactyls, appeared in the sky bearing down toward us. Flying overhead they spread their twenty foot wings and banked into a tight circle, gliding to a landing on the mudflats below us.

“Let’s mount up boys and girls,” I said. Kinqalatlala reached for my hand but Jean jumped between us and took my hand in hers.

“Never flown a pterodactyl before,” she said.

“Interestingly enough, I have,” I joked. “It’s quite the ride. Grab some hair in each hand and hold on.”

“Oh, I’ve ridden horses bareback since I was a kid,” Jean replied. “Shouldn’t be much different.” My estimation of Jean kept going up.

We mounted the gagits, Margarita riding Michael’s shoulder and White Tara perched on Blue Tara’s shoulder. Kinqalatlala whistled again and the gagits spread their wings, took several halting steps, and leapt into the air, rapidly climbing into the sky with each powerful flap of their wings. Airborne, the winged creatures banked to the south and flew up the Duwamish River directly toward the mountain looming on the horizon before us. My eyes fixed on the lenticular clouds capping the summit of the volcano. I tried to imagine a world lost above those clouds, like Shangri-La.

Jean shouted to me from an adjacent gagit. “Why doesn’t Blue Tara just bend us up there with her magic?”

“Probably because she’s never been there. She may be a parrot, but she’s not of the world of the Dluwulaxa. Come to think of it, I didn’t see any parrots up there when I was there. It’s a bird world, but not a parrot world. Actually, I don’t have a clue.”

“Dluwulaxa is not of this world,” Blue Tara shouted from the gagit she rode flying slightly above us. “I do not know what power my magic will have in that world.”

The gagits made straight for the lenticular clouds shrouding the peak and we soon found ourselves flying into the clouds. The gagits broke through the clouds into brilliant sunshine and alighted on the crystalline plain that supported the city of the Dluwulaxa. The crystal palace that was the city of the Dluwulaxa towered before us, the wall extending as far as we could see in either direction. The crystal wall climbed straight up into the sky seemingly without limit. Sunlight streaming through the crystal wall bathed the plain in every color imaginable. The gagits lay their heads down on the crystal plain and we dismounted. 

“We’re standing in a rainbow!” Jean exclaimed with delight.

The pterodactyls turned and spread their wings and leaped back into the sky and quickly disappeared into the clouds below. We stood on the crystal plain and marveled at the gleaming structure before us.

“This is incredible!” Michael exclaimed.

Margarita growled and jumped off Michael’s shoulder, landing on her hind legs. “I don’t like this for one minute,” she said. “This is a mistake.”

Kinqalatlala walked ahead of us toward the massive doorway visible at the base of the wall. “You are perfectly save here in my world,” she replied.

“Will your people be able to see us? Talk to us?” I asked.

“Yes. We are in the world of the living.”

We passed through the doorway into the city. Kinqalatlala paused at the doorway and waited for us to enter the city. Once inside, the doorway morphed into crystal wall and disappeared. I stopped, stunned. The empty expanse of clouds and sky I witnessed on my first visit no longer was empty. Instead, before us stood hundreds if not thousands of massive crystal buildings, all gleaming every imaginable color of the rainbow in the brilliant sunlight. My jaw dropped to my shoes. Instead of the myriad variety of birds I had seen before, now I saw a multitude of people. The people, each and every one of them, all of the thousands of people we saw standing before us, they all appeared identical. Not only did they all appear identical, each and every one of them looked exactly like Kinqalatlala. Tall. Dark skinned. Black haired. Svelt. Athletic. And naked. We all turned and stared at Kinqalatlala.

End of Chapter Five

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Princess Tara's Second Author Reading

What do you do when you discover your parrot is a witch? A witch with a coffee addiction. And a mission to save your world from an evil cannibal warlock and his armies of the dead. And she needs your help.

Coming Summer 2017! Just finished writing Chapter Five of Book Two of The Princess Tara Chronicles, putting me half-way done with the dreaded second novel.

Chapters One through Four are posted on my blog: www.TheZenParrot.com

Book One of The Princess Tara Chronicles, Blue Tara; Or, How Is a Hyacinth Macaw Parrot Like a Tibetan Goddess? still available for FREE on Smashwords and almost for free on Amazon in both ebook and dead tree editions.

It's About Time Writers Reading Series, Seattle's Ballard Public Library, May 11, 2017. When you discover there's more to your parrot than you thought. Book One, Chapter Three, Part Three:








Saturday, May 6, 2017

Book Two of The Princess Tara Chronicles: The Princess Witch, Chapter Four


Chapter Four
Part One

“I'm at a loss how to proceed,” Michael said to Jean, as they sat outside Jean’s coffee shop the next morning drinking coffee. Michael, Jean, three macaw parrots, Blue Tara in her Princess Tara form, Red Tara in her greenwing macaw form, Garuda in his blue and gold macaw form, and Margarita in her black cat form. Red Tara perched on Michael’s shoulder. Garuda perched on Jean’s shoulder. Princess Tara sat on the table top with her beak dunked in an iced latte. Margarita sprawled out in the sun on the edge of the sidewalk adjacent to the street. They tried to ignore the crowd of people gathered behind the coffee shop’s front window drinking their coffees while staring at the menagerie outside.

“We’ve got to go back through the tunnel at Charlie’s store and find our way back to the Indian village,” Jean replied, as she sipped her latte. Jean looked the picture of northwest chic in cargo shorts and a checked flannel shirt. Michael couldn’t help admiring her long slender legs as she sat cross-legged next to him at the table.

“But is this going to be a ghost hunt? What can we do for someone who’s dead?”

“I don’t know that he’s dead,” Jean said. “And apparently dead doesn’t mean what it used to mean,” she added. “Anyway, I’m going back with or without you.”

“What do the Taras have to say about any of this?” Michael asked.

“More coffee,” Princess Tara replied. “Please.”

“That was a serious question,” Michael responded. “What do the Taras think we should do?”

“Drink more coffee,” Princess Tara said. “When we are ready we will return to the spirit world. We must continue the search for the tlogwe. Wherever the tlogwe is, your friend will be close by.”

“Seattle is overrun with Deportation Police,” Michael said. “Shouldn’t we do something about that?”

“Our numbers are too small,” Princess Tara replied. “Their numbers are too great. We must await the remaining Taras to join us. We need to keep our focus on Hamatsa and his slaves. Once we defeat Hamatsa then these side shows will collapse by their own dead weight.”

“I’m guessing classes at the U Dub have been suspended for the duration,” Michael said. “What have I got to lose? However, I need to get back to my office so I can change into some appropriate clothes and grab the magic harpoon,” he said as he reached for his coffee.

Princess Tara screeched so discordantly Jean dropped her coffee cup. Red Tara hopped onto Jean’s shoulder. A red hand seemed to materialize out of thin air and catch the cup before it could shatter on the pavement, placing it back on the table. Jean craned her neck to look up at Red Tara’s gleaming white face and smiled. Before she could say ‘thank you’ Michael vanished and almost instantaneously reappeared, wearing hiking boots, blue jeans, and a flannel coat. He cradled the magic harpoon in his arms.

“Wow!” Michael exclaimed. “Can I finish my coffee now? Please warn me before you do that thing.”

Margarita growled and jumped up on her hind legs, peering into the sky. Princess Tara ruffled her feathers and stood erect, head tilted to the side, her gleaming yellow eye searching the heavens. Michael and Jean heard the slow flapping of immense wings well before the creature appeared in the sky overhead.

“Oh. My. Lord!” Michael exclaimed.

“What is it?” Jean asked, jumping to her feet.

“I don’t believe I’m seeing this,” Michael replied. “Ancient Indian legends call this creature a gagit. An immense flying monster with gigantic razor sharp claws and teeth. A monster covered with black greasy hair instead of feathers. It’s a pterodactyl. A flying eating killing machine.”

“My God!” Jean exclaimed. “How big is that thing?”

“Big,” Michael replied. “The largest of the pterodactyls, called a Quetzalcoatlus, had a nearly forty foot wingspan, big as a fighter jet.”

The gagit spread its wings and lazily circled overhead, slowly descending with each circle in the sky.

Aboo, the blue and gold macaw, screeched and hopped onto the table next to Princess Tara. “The creature is not a bird, and not of this world,” he said. “I have no influence over its actions.”

“I thought pterodactyls were extinct,” Michael said. “Along with all the other dinosaurs.”

“Apparently not,” Jean replied. “Actually dinosaurs did not go extinct. You’re looking at three of them here. Parrots are living dinosaurs, the oldest of the avians, so it’s no wonder there’s a pterodactyl flying overhead.”

“Should I try shooting it down with the magic harpoon?” Michael asked.

“It is just trying to scare you,” Princess Tara replied.

“It’s doing a good job,” Jean said.

“One gagit can not harm us,” Princess Tara responded.

“How do you know there’s only one of them?” Michael asked. “It might be a scout for a whole flock of those suckers.”

“We will deal with whatever comes,” Princess Tara replied.

Sweeping ever lower, the immense size of the creature quickly became apparent. Twenty foot wings pounded the air with each flap, sounding like a giant pile driver in the sky. The creature’s menacing teeth and claws glinted in the sunlight. Dropping nearly to treetop level, the creature let out a cry that shook the windows of the shops below. Crowds of people on the sidewalks who had stopped to stare at the pterodactyl screamed and ran for shelter. The pterodactyl dived to the ground and caught a man trying to dash across the street. Grabbing him by his head, the creature flipped the man into the air and swallowed him whole with its huge beak.

With a screech Red Tara leaped off Jean’s shoulder and whirled to the ground, a four armed red skinned Amazon goddess holding a long bow and arrows in her hands. Before the gagit could extend its wings and take flight Red Tara nocked and released an arrow from her bow. The arrow slammed into the creature’s head squarely between its eyes. The gagit stumbled and charged at Red Tara. A blinding blue dervish appeared at Red Tara’s side. Blue Tara raised her battle axe over her head with both of her hands and flung it at the monster. The blade whistled as it whirled through the air and struck the gagit in its skull. The gagit stumbled and fell forward onto the pavement. The creature tried to push itself off the ground with its wings. Red Tara nocked and released another arrow from her bow which split the arrow in the creature’s forehead. The creature collapsed to the ground, and did not move again.

“Look at the size of that thing!” Michael exclaimed, holding the magic harpoon at the ready as he slowly approached the pterodactyl. “Is it dead?”

“You better hope so,” Jean replied, “if you’re going to stand next to it.”

Michael backed away to a more comfortable distance.

“Oh, for chrissakes!” Michael exclaimed as the sky filled with the deafening sound of pounding wings. Everyone looked up. Two more gagits, pterodactyls, appeared overhead. Then another two. Then four more. And then another four. Soon a score or more of the hairy flying monsters filled the sky, blotting out the sun, the pounding noise from their gigantic flapping wings drowning out all conversation on the ground. Aboo, the blue and gold macaw, Lord Garuda, commenced screaming in response, with a scream of his own that threatened to burst already endangered eardrums.

One of the pterodactyls began to circle and rapidly descend to the ground. The gagit landed on the street near the body of the dead pterodactyl. This pterodactyl had a rider mounted on its long neck, a rider that literally was a skeleton. A living skeleton.

“Oh. My. God!” Jean yelled. “What is that?”

It’s Bokwus, Chief of the Dead!” Michael cried out. “Stay away from him. Anyone he kills becomes a ghost slave in his army of the dead.”

Michael pointed the magic harpoon at the ghoul, as Bokwus dismounted from the neck of the pterodactyl. Bokwus turned and stepped toward Michael. “You can not kill that which is already dead,” he said.

Michael stumbled backwards, almost dropping the harpoon while tripping over the curb. “What do you want?” Michael asked.

“My master has commanded me to take the witches that you protect,” Bokwus said, pointing at the Taras.

“That I protect?” Michael stammered. “Geez, are you ever misinformed. Stay back!” Michael demanded, once again pointing the magic harpoon at the skeleton stepping toward him. “Die!” Michael commanded. “The skeleton kept stepping forward.

“Your weapon is useless against me.”

Blue Tara stepped in front of Michael, battle axe in her hand. With one swing of the battle axe she separated Bokwus’ skull from the rest of his skeleton. The skeleton crumbled to the ground as the skull rolled to a stop at Michael’s feet. He swung the magic harpoon as hard as he could and smashed the skull to pieces.

“If he wasn’t dead before, he is now,” Michael boasted.

“Hamatsa is not as smart as he thinks,” Blue Tara replied.

Bokwus’ mount, the pterodactyl, began to flap its wings and run down the street trying to take flight. Red Tara nocked an arrow in her long bow and released it at the creature. The arrow struck the gagit in the back of its skull. The pterodactyl banked to its side, furiously flapping its wings, as it crashed into a storefront, shattering the window. Pushing against the building with its wings, the creature attempted to push itself back out of the wreckage. Lifting her battle axe over her head with both hands, Blue Tara flung the axe at the monster and split its head open. The gagit collapsed onto the sidewalk. The pterodactyls in the sky banked to the south and flew out of sight in the direction of Mt. Rainier.

“Glad I don’t have to clean up that mess,” Jean said, looking down the street at the wrecked storefront with a pterodactyl as big as a fighter jet in the window.

“Hamatsa is desperate,” Blue Tara said. “He’s throwing everything he’s got at us. He’s coming after us. It’s a sign of how much he fears us.”

Michael noticed that a crowd of people had gathered on the street, staring and pointing at the Taras. No doubt they had never imagined, let alone seen, a naked glowing blue skinned Amazon warrior with a battle axe, or a four armed almost naked red skinned witch with a long bow.

“Say,” Michael said. “Maybe we should get out of here. You seem to be attracting a lot of attention,” he added, looking at the Taras. Perfectly understandable attention, he thought to himself.

“You are right,” Blue Tara replied. She screeched, and Michael found himself on his knees in the Ballard apartment inside the St. Charles Hotel trying to protect his ears with his hands, along with Jean, Margarita, Aboo, and the three Taras, Blue, Black, and Red. Jean took Michael’s arms and helped him to his feet.

“My head just can’t take much more of this,” Michael insisted. Michael stepped to the bay window and looked up the street to the crowd of people gathered around the dead pterodactyls. “They’re going to have some wild stories to tell their grandkids,” he said. Then, looking down, he cried, “Oh, shit!”

Jean and the Taras rushed up to the window. Jean looked down at the sidewalk and screamed. “I thought you killed it!” she cried.

Bokwus stood on the sidewalk across the street from the St. Charles Hotel, looking up at the window. Passersby screamed at the sight of the living skeleton, and ran.

“There may be more than one,” Michael said. “They all look alike.”

“You crushed its skull,” Jean replied.

“He did say you can’t kill what’s already dead.”

“I need a beer,” Blue Tara said, walking back to the kitchen. “As long as we stay together Hamatsa’s ghouls can not harm us. He is trying to distract us and confuse us. We need to stay focused on our plan to search for the tlogwe.”

“How many other kinds of monsters are out there?” Jean asked. “Are we safe here, what with a living skeleton spying on us?”

“There is safety in our numbers, as long as we stay together,” Blue Tara replied, grabbing a can of Rainier out of the fridge. “You need to get us some more beer. This is the last can.”

Once again Blue Tara screeched without warning and Michael slapped his hands over his ears and squeezed his eyes shut to try to shut out the pain of the head popping screech. The din of hundreds of squawking and shrieking birds assaulted his eardrums. Hesitantly he opened his eyes. They were back at Charlie’s bird store, all except for Aboo, the blue and gold macaw. Blue Tara stood in front of Michael drinking her can of beer. She handed Michael the magic harpoon. “Do not lose this,” she commanded. “It may save your life.”

“Lordy! Lordy!” Charlie stepped up to the group, hands on his hips, admiring the two naked and almost naked Amazon witches. “Did you folks see those giant birds that flew overhead? They even scared my birds. You could hear a pin fall in here when they flew over.”

“They’re not birds,” Michael replied. “They are gagits. Flying monsters. Pterodactyls. Living dinosaurs.”

“What were they doing?” Charlie asked.

“They were coming for the Taras,” Michael replied. “We killed two of them.”

“The Taras killed two of them,” Jean interjected.

“Right,” Michael added.

“We need to return to the city of the dead,” Blue Tara told Charlie, polishing off her beer.


Part Two

Hamatsa had his gloved hand on my neck and he squeezed so hard I almost passed out. His body reeked of the stench of death.

“Master,” Kinqalatlala entreated him.” “He is our best chance to capture Blue Tara. If you destroy him we lose that chance.”

Hamatsa released his grip on my neck and I collapsed to the ground. He reached down and grabbed my shoulders and pulled me to my feet.

“This pathetic excuse of a man does not deserve another chance,” Hamatsa said. “However, I give him to you as a play thing to do with as you wish. On the condition you complete my instructions.”

“Yes master,” Kinqalatlala replied.

Hamatsa pushed me into Kinqalatlala’s arms, turned, and disappeared into the longhouse. Kinqalatlala put her arms over my shoulders and pulled me to her. She licked my lips and stuck her tongue into my mouth. “Kiss me,” she commanded. “You heard the master. You are my slave now.” I stood unmoving. “Kiss me, or you’ll be damned to Hell!” She pressed her breasts against my chest, her lips against my lips, and her tongue against my tongue. I squirmed out of her grasp and pushed her away from me.

“Shouldn’t we be looking for the tlogwe?” I asked.

“We have all of eternity to search for the tlogwe. You are dead. Or have you forgotten?”

With her tongue sticking in my mouth I almost had forgotten I was dead. This certainly was not anything like what I ever imagined death might be like. I was relieved that Jean was not here with me.

“Assuming you find the tlogwe,” Kinqalatlala said, “what do you intend to do with the magic it will bring you, if it is granted to you?”

“Are you kidding? It should be obvious. Destroy Hamatsa. Destroy the Winalagalis. Bring down Dear Leader. Destroy you.”

“Why would you do that, even if you could?” Kinqalatlala asked me, putting her hands on my shoulders. “Hamatsa wants to save your world. Dear Leader only wants peace and prosperity for his people. I wish you no harm,” she added as she quickly kissed me.

“Would you stop that,” I responded. “Hamatsa is trying to subjugate my world. Dear Leader is a self-absorbed narcissistic megalomaniac who has substituted a cult of personality for government.”

“We could be friends. And allies,” Kinqalatlala said, kissing me again.

“Oh, for chrissakes!” I grabbed her arms and pulled her to me and pressed my lips against hers, kissing her as hard as I could. “Is that what you want?” I asked, pushing her away from me.

“It’s a start.”

“We could never be allies, let alone friends, as long as you serve Hamatsa. Hamatsa wants to destroy the Taras. I can’t have that.”

“The Taras are witches. They have bewitched you. You need to beware the Taras. You don’t understand the kind of forces you are allied with. As far as Hamatsa is concerned, I have already explained to you my relationship with Hamatsa. And how we can help each other.”

“I will help you search for the tlogwe, only because I don’t think I have any choice in the matter. But one way or another, I will destroy Hamatsa. And you!” I turned and walked into the longhouse.

“Where are you going?” Kinqalatlala asked.

“I want to see where Hamatsa disappeared to.” I looked inside. The longhouse sat completely empty. “There must be some kind of portal in here that allows Hamatsa to travel between the world of the living and the world of the dead.”

“Hamatsa’s magic is beyond your comprehension,” Kinqalatlala replied. “You are only avoiding the task at hand to search for the tlogwe. I know you are stalling in the hope that the Taras rescue you. But it is a lost hope.”

Well, I could hope, I thought to myself. “Fine,” I said. I stepped out of the longhouse and started walking into the forest behind it.

“Where are you going?” Kinqalatlala asked.

“What do you think? Searching for the tlogwe.”

“But where are you going?” she repeated, as she ran after me.

“Searching for the tlogwe.” I stopped and faced her. “I don’t have a clue which way to go or even what I’m looking for. So I’m just going to go and hope for the best. Unless you can point me in the right direction. This way looks as good as any,” I added, pointing into the trees.

Kinqalatlala took my arm in her hand. “Brash actions can have undesirable consequences,” she said. “You should not just charge off into the unknown without a clear idea of what you are doing and where you are going.”

I got the distinct impression that Kinqalatlala was the one stalling now.

“You know something,” I said. “You should just tell me.”

“If only it was that simple,” she replied. “You need to prove yourself first.”

Now I knew that Kinqalatlala knew something that she wasn’t telling me.

“You’re talking in riddles now,” I said. “I’m not very good with riddles.”

“Life is a riddle. And death is a riddle. To find life requires solving the riddle of death.”

Kinqalatlala took my hand in hers. “The future is a riddle. Don’t you wish you could see your future? See if you have a future?” If you help me I can show you magic that will not only let you see your future but shape it.”

“I seriously doubt such magic exists,” I replied. “Or you would already know where to find the tlogwe.”

“You do not know that I may already know where the tlogwe is.”

“There’s an old riddle about the future,” I replied. “I never was, am always to be. No one ever saw me, nor ever will. And yet I am the confidence of all, to live and breath on this terrestrial ball.”

“There is another old riddle,” Kinqalatlala responded. “What begins and has no end? What is the ending of all that begins?”

“That’s easy. Why, death of course.”

“But all I have shown you should convince you that is not true. Death can have an end just as life can have an end. I can give you the magic to allow you to travel between life and death.”

“Yes. But at what cost? To be your slave for the rest of eternity?”

“There are worse fates.”

“Not many. And why would you want me for your sex slave? I’m just a retired history professor. There must be all kinds of studs and jocks in the world you could corral into your stable.”

“But none as special as you,” Kinqalatlala replied. “Of all the studs and jocks as you call them in your city, Blue Tara picked you. That is the riddle I want most to solve. Why did she pick a goofy retired history professor?”

“Goofy? What does that mean?”

Kinqalatlala put her arms over my shoulders. “I’m just teasing you. You are a very special man. And I want to discover what makes you so special.”

“Right now I sure don’t feel special, what with being dead and all.”

“Yes, but you are special even in the manner of your death. Blue Tara chose you for a specific reason. She knew you must die. And she knew you must die at my hand.” Kinqalatlala raised her hand and as she looked at her fingers her hand transformed into a narrow steel blade. She ran the tip of the blade across my cheek. I felt a sharp pain as the blade cut my skin, and I could feel blood trickling down my neck. The blade reverted to her hand and she rubbed my blood across my cheek with her fingers and licked the blood with her tongue.

“Well, I guess I had to be dead to search for the tlogwe. The tlogwala will only give the treasure of the tlogwe to one brave enough to enter the realm of the dead. But it’s not like you gave me a choice.”

“Only someone who can prove themselves worthy of that magic can receive the gift of the tlogwe. And of all the people Blue Tara could choose, she chose you. She thinks you are worthy.”

“When the Taras show up to kick your butt I will ask her why she chose me. Why did Hamatsa choose you to be his slave. And not turn you into a zombie?”

“My master chose me because I am special as well.”

“How so?”

“I am Dluwulaxa, one of those who descend from the heavens. My people reside in a city in the sky. The sky is my world, and the sun is my father. All the heavens serve as our playground where we can fly and soar among the sun and stars.”

“So how did you fall in with Hamatsa?”

“Our weakness is curiosity. My people are safe as long as we stay in our world above the clouds. But on occasion someone of us is enticed to explore the wonders of the world below the clouds. Once that someone was me. And Hamatsa captured me. Once we are forced to descend to your world we take on the form of your people.”

“How does Hamatsa prevent you from simply flying back into the sky?”

“Once we cease being Dluwulaxa, we are no longer able to return to our original form.”

“What is it that makes you special to Hamatsa? Special enough to make you his slave? Are you his sex slave?”

“Hamatsa has no use for sex. He eats people. He doesn’t sleep with them.”

“So what makes you special to Hamatsa?” I asked again.

“I am what you call a shapeshifter. I can take many forms. People. Animals. Objects. I do Hamatsa’s bidding. I procure the bodies he needs to feed on. I root out his enemies and destroy them.” She raised her hand again and watched her fingers transform back into a steel blade.

A revelation struck me as if a light bulb turned on in my head. “You were a bird!” I exclaimed. “You’re a Tara.”

“Bird, yes. Tara, no.”

“Maybe you’re not a Tara. But you know where the tlogwe is. What I don’t understand is, why you need me if you already know where it is?”

“I need you to find the tlogwe. Only those deemed worthy by the tlogwala are able to receive the gift of the tlogwe.”

“You’re talking in riddles again. I’m guessing Hamatsa is preventing you from revealing the location of the tlogwe. . . Or. . . “ Kinqalatlala’s piercing black eyes drilled into my brain. “Hamatsa is the tlogwala.”


∆∆∆

You’re going to need more than that stick to take on the demons,” Charlie told Michael, “if you’re going back underground into the spirit world.”

“This is a magic harpoon,” Michael replied. It kills anything it’s pointed at. Anything smaller than a pterodactyl anyway.”

“Just in case, I brought in some hardware from home. I was a Boy Scout a hundred years ago, and I still believe in the Boy Scout motto, ‘Be Prepared’.” Charlie walked into his storeroom and returned with another 45 Smith and Wesson, and a double barreled pump action shotgun. Charlie gave the weapons to Jean and she buckled the gun belt around her waist, and slung the shotgun over her shoulder. “And here’s an electric torch and a bag of extra clips and shotgun shells. That’s a 12 gauge. A double barrel of that will stop Sasquatch. But be careful when you fire it. It kicks like a bucking brahma bull.”

“I’ve fired many a shotgun in my life,” Jean replied. “I know my way around shotguns.”

“You do?” Michael responded.

Charlie looked over the Taras. “I’m guessing you ladies do just fine with the weapons you have. Anything else I can get you before you go?”

“Got any beer?” Blue Tara asked.

“Beer? Why no. But tell you what, honey. You bring your friend back in one piece and I’ll buy you a case of Stella Artois.”

“Is that a beer?” Blue Tara asked.

“Best there is.” Charlie pried open the trap door to the secret basement and dropped the ladder into the darkness. With the light from her glowing blue skin to illuminate the way, Blue Tara climbed down the ladder first, followed by Jean, Michael, with Margarita riding his shoulder, and Red Tara. “Godspeed,” Charlie said as he dropped the trap door closed.

Following the trail of the original expedition proved easier than expected, because they could simply follow the footprints in the dirt and mud. Then they discovered extra sets of footprints converging on the original prints. Large footprints.

“Everyone be alert,” Blue Tara commanded. “We had company we were not aware of,” she added.

When they retraced their steps into the basement with the dead laxsa, they found the body of the laxsa, still dead, but sitting back in the chair with its head reattached. "Another warning," Blue Tara said. Blue Tara grabbed her battle axe and with one swipe removed it once again.

Coming out into the streetscape from the basements, Michael stopped and slowly scanned the storefronts along the street. “What?” Jean asked.

“Do you hear that?” Michael replied.

“Hear what?”

“The piano playing.”

“Oh God. Not you too?”

“Not me too, what?”

“Too many John Wayne movies. Next thing you know you’ll be in the middle of a shootout at the OK Corral.”

“That was Burt Lancaster. Not John Wayne. And what do you call that?” Michael responded, pointing down the street.”

Six creatures stood at the end of the block, shoulder to shoulder, clubs in their hands, blocking the street.

"What are they?" Jean asked.

“Dzonoqwa,” Michael said. “Beings of immense physical power.”

Gigantic, the creatures stood easily seven feet tall. Skin hidden under thick mats of greasy black hair that shined like fur. Menacing claws could be seen on the hands holding the clubs.

“Sasquatch,” Jean said, pulling the shotgun off her shoulder. “My brothers and I saw one once years ago when I was a kid. We were hunting varmints in the wilderness east of Rainier. We never told anyone.”


Part Three

The six Dzonoqwa raised their clubs over their heads and charged, screaming wildly. Jean bent down on one knee, aimed and fired both barrels of her shotgun. The recoil knocked her back on her butt. The heads of two creatures in the middle of the line disappeared and their bodies tumbled backwards. Red Tara nocked an arrow in her bow and aimed at one of the flanking creatures. The arrow pierced its skull squarely between its eyes. The creature stumbled forward and sprawled dead on the cobblestones. Michael aimed the magic harpoon first at one charging Dzonoqwa. Then another. They collapsed. Blue Tara stepped forward with her battle axe raised over her head as the last Dzonoqwa halted about ten feet away from her. Grunting incomprehensibly, the creature waved its club wildly while twisting and turning its head. When it realized its companions were dead the creature dropped the tip of its club to the cobblestones.

“We mean you no harm,” Michael said, holding his magic harpoon at the ready.

“The fuck we don’t,” Jean retorted, pointing her shotgun at the Dzonoqwa’s head.

“Do you understand anything we say?” Michael asked. “Who sent you?” 

Looking back at its fallen companions sprawled out across the cobblestones, the Dzonoqwa screamed and raised its club. Before it could take a step forward, Blue Tara swung her battle axe and separated the creature’s head from its body. The body tumbled to the cobblestones at Blue Tara’s feet, which turned red with blood.

“That was impressive,” Michael remarked. “Wonder what that was all about?”

“Hamatsa’s slaves are legion,” Blue Tara replied. “He knows we’re coming and he’s going to do everything he can to stop us.”

“Oh my!” Jean exclaimed. “Look!” she cried, pointing along the street. A skeleton. A living skeleton appeared out of a basement and slowly walked toward Jean and Michael and the Taras.

“Oh shit,” Michael said. “Bokwus again. Chief of the Dead.”

Bokwus stepped up to within a few feet of the group and stopped.

“What do you want?” Michael asked, holding the magic harpoon in front of him.

“I come for Blue Tara,” Bokwus replied. “My master has commanded me to take Blue Tara to him.”

“Fuck that,” Jean said as she raised her shotgun to Bokwus’ skull and pulled the trigger.

Another living skeleton appeared out of a basement door and stepped forward, but not quite so far as the first. “How many of them are there?” Jean asked in frustration.

“More than one, apparently,” Michael replied. “I don’t understand what Hamatsa is doing. They don’t seem to be armed. Or dangerous.”

“Their intent is simply to harass us,” Blue Tara replied. She stepped up to the living skeleton and with one swing of her battle axe lopped off its skull. “We must continue forward,” she said.

Yet another living skeleton appeared in a basement doorway. Michael pointed the magic harpoon at the creature, but the skeleton kept walking forward.

“You can’t kill what’s already dead with that thing, remember?” Jean said as she aimed her shotgun and pulled the trigger. Jean charged into the basement, kicking the bones out of the way. With her shotgun at her shoulder, she scanned the room, ready to fire. Michael and the Taras followed behind her. The room appeared to be completely empty.

Margarita trailed into the basement on Michael’s heels. She growled and spun into the air as another living skeleton burst into the room behind them. The black dervish flashed her claws of steel and separated the skeleton’s skull from its body.

“Bokwus is persistent, if nothing else,” Michael remarked.

“We are almost there,” Jean called out from the back of the room. She stood looking out another doorway. The Taras walked through the doorway as Michael followed behind.

“Oh my God!” he exclaimed, looking out onto a forested landscape, the realm of the dead. “How is this even possible?” He looked back at the empty basement, and stepped through the doorway. “It’s like we just stepped into another dimension,” he said.

“You are correct,” Blue Tara replied. “We have entered another time and space. Hopefully the same time and space your friend is lost in.”

“Now you’re starting to scare me,” Michael responded.

“You’re scared?” Jean replied. “You should have witnessed what we witnessed the first time here. Then you’d have reason to be scared.”

“We need to stay together,” Red Tara remarked.

“Kurukulla is correct,” Blue Tara replied. “We can protect each other. If you get separated,” she added, looking directly at Michael, “there is nothing we can do for you. You would be at Hamatsa’s mercy.”

“Hamatsa has no mercy,” Red Tara responded.

“Where do we go from here?” Michael asked.

“Looks like we just keep following the trail,” Jean replied, as she pointed into the trees.

“Oh shit!” Michael exclaimed. Another living skeleton stepped out of the forest. This one was not alone. An army of white phantoms appeared out of the trees behind it, stretching as far as could be seen in either direction. “The army of the dead. We’re fucked.”

The living skeleton, Bokwus, Chief of the Dead, stepped forward. “I come to take Blue Tara,” he commanded.

“What do you intend to do with Blue Tara?” Michael replied.

“My master has commanded me to bring Blue Tara to him.”

“What do we do now?” Jean asked.

“The army of the dead can’t be killed,” Michael replied.

“Well, we’re not giving up Blue Tara,” Jean responded, as she aimed her shotgun at Bokwus’ skull and pulled the trigger.

Another living skeleton emerged from the forest and stepped through the line of phantoms. “I come to take Blue Tara,” it repeated.

“Anybody have any ideas?” Michael pleaded. “This could go on for an eternity. Eventually we’re going to run out of ammo.”

“We ignore them,” Blue Tara replied.

“What?” Michael and Jean responded simultaneously.

“We ignore them,” Blue Tara repeated. The army of the dead can not be defeated. But we are not dead. The army of the dead has no influence among the living. As long as we stay alive the army of the dead can not harm us.”

“Are you sure?” Michael asked dubiously.

“We continue forward,” Blue Tara replied. “We will find out soon enough if I am right.”

“If you are right? I’m not reassured,” Michael said. “What if you’re wrong?”

“We will know soon enough.” The Taras commenced walking forward. Blue Tara held her battle axe ready, and Red Tara her long bow. Michael and Jean quickly ran to catch up, with Margarita at their heels. They walked past Bokwus, who turned to watch them as they passed. They walked through the line of phantoms. Michael swept his hand through one of the apparitions. He felt a slight tingling, but figured it could just as well be a case of nerves as anything else. As they stepped into the forest they heard Bokwus repeat his refrain, “I come to take Blue Tara.”


∆∆∆

Kinqalatlala took my hand in hers. “We must leave,” she told me.

“That’s what I planned to do,” I replied, “Until you stopped me. I wish you’d just tell me where the tlogwe is. Where is Hamatsa? Is Hamatsa the tlogwala?”

“You do not understand. We must leave before they find us.”

“Before who finds us?”

“Your friends are on their way to rescue you. We must not allow that to happen.”

“What?” I exclaimed. “Bull! Shit! I’m going to stay right here until they get here. I knew it!” I cried out. “I knew Jean and Blue Tara would come back for me.”

“You do not understand,” Kinqalatlala repeated. “They can not help you. They do not possess the Water of Life. If they take your body back to their world, all hope is lost.”

“You mean if they take me back to my world. And how do you know they are coming. You haven’t left my sight. Are you telepathic or something?”

“This is your world now,” Kinqalatlala replied. “Their world is no longer your world. You are dead to them. You are dead to your world. You are dead. You must continue the search for the tlogwe. If they find you they will only find your dead body.”

“Tell me where to go, for god sakes,” I replied, exasperated.

“I’ll do better than that. I’ll show you.” Kinqalatlala whistled, and looked into the sky. Soon I could hear the flapping of enormous wings. Wings pounding the air like pile drivers. Two great winged creatures appeared overhead. Gagits. The pterodactyls. They circled over the trees and glided to a landing in the clearing in front of the longhouse.

With their huge scale covered feet and giant claws they awkwardly stepped up to me and Kinqalatlala, dropping their heads to the ground. Their breath, the putrid stench of death, caused me to take a couple of steps back.

“Mount their necks,” Kinqalatlala commanded. “We will ride them into the sky.” She straddled the neck of one of the gagits, taking clumps of long greasy hair in her hands for reins.

“Do as I do,” she said. Holding my breath, I gingerly climbed onto the neck of the second gagit. “Hold onto their hair,” she commanded.

Turning and taking several halting steps, the creatures flapped their wings and leaped into the air, climbing and banking to the south. I could see Mount Rainier towering on the horizon before me.

“Where are we going?” I yelled at Kinqalatlala over the noise of the flapping wings.

“We are going to the city of the Dluwulaxa. To my world above the clouds. You have much to learn about me.”

“I think I know just about everything I want to know about you,” I replied.

“You need to understand why we should be allies and not enemies,” she said. Like that would ever happen, I thought to myself. I peered over the gagit’s neck and watched the landscape pass rapidly below me. The pterodactyl proved to be much better at flying than I expected. The slow steady flapping of the immense wings made for a smooth ride on the gagit’s neck. Furthermore, the heat radiating from the creature’s body kept me pleasantly warm even at altitude. We were riding well above tree top level, and climbing steadily. Mount Rainier loomed ever larger before us in its glacier capped glory. A massive lenticular cloud obscured Rainier’s peak. The gagits flew directly for the cloud.

The gagits flew a lazy circle around the summit and to my total amazement landed on top of the lenticular cloud shrouding Rainier’s peak. A translucent sheet of crystal at our feet extended in every direction as far as I could see in the cloud. Wisps of cloud drifted over us, giving the scene an eerily surreal aspect. Kinqalatlala jumped off the gagit and took my hand, helping me dismount. “Come with me,” she said, as the pterodactyls flapped their wings and took flight, disappearing into the clouds.

Seemingly appearing out of thin air, a building loomed before us. Translucent crystal walls shimmered white in the blazing sunlight above the clouds. Kinqalatlala led me to the door. I stood mystified in front of the structure. I ran my hand over the cool crystal surface. “The furies,” I said. “Crystal made the furies fly.”

“Come with me,” Kinqalatlala replied. We entered the building. Stepping inside I stopped, stunned. A vast expanse of nothingness opened up before me. As far as I could see. Nothing but sky and clouds. Innumerable birds cavorted through the sky and landed on clouds to rest. Large birds. Small birds. Black birds. Red birds. Blue birds. Green birds. Brown birds. Brightly rainbow colored birds. Flying. Circling. Soaring. Gliding with the wind. Birds stood on the translucent floor preening themselves.

“”Dluwulaxa,” Kinqalatlala said. “Welcome to my world.”

“This is incredible,” I replied, stunned. “This is your home?”

“Yes. These are Dluwulaxa. These are my people.”

“Can they see us? Talk to us””

“Unfortunately, no. Remember, you are not of the living. They do not see us.”

“And there is no way for you to revert back to your original form?”

“There may be one way,” she replied.

“What is that?”

“The one with the tlogwe may possess the magic to make that possible.”

“So that’s why you want me to find the tlogwe. To help you become Dluwulaxa again.”

“And I can help you,” Kinqalatlala replied. I gave her a blank stare. “I can give you the freedom of the sky. If you find the tlogwe and restore me to my world, you would possess the magic to join me in my world.”

“By becoming a bird?”

“By becoming anything you wanted to be. You would possess that magic. You could make a home here in the world of the Dluwulaxa with me. A home free from strife. Free from conflict. Free from want. Free from jealousy. Free from pain. Free from Hamatsa.”

“Shangri-La,” I responded. “But at what cost? By becoming your slave?”

“By becoming my partner.” She placed her arms over my shoulders and pulled me to her, her breasts in my chest. She kissed me. “Every dream. Every fantasy you have could be realized. I could show you a life of perfect freedom.”

“And give up my world to be ground down by Hamatsa and the Winalagalis?” I pushed her away from me. “Lady, I have a life. I want to get back to it.” I turned and walked through the door back onto the cloud.

End of Chapter Four