“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.
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.
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.
“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.