We jogged back toward the crystal city of Dluwulaxa single file. Kinqalatlala took point and Red Tara brought up the rear, longbow at the ready. Jogging behind Kinqalatlala, I asked, “We just spilled blood. What’s going to happen to Dluwulaxa?”
“I do not know the answer. This has never happened before to my world. Legends of long ago tell of a time when Dluwulaxa was shaken by explosions from the mountain below and almost destroyed.”
“Volcanic eruptions?” That can’t be good,” I said. “Eruptions big enough to destroy this world would devastate the Seattle area.”
“Unfortunately, we will know soon enough,” Kinqalatlala replied.
“We have more immediate problems,” Red Tara cried out. We stopped jogging and turned to discern the bad news. A line of nontsistalal approached, rapidly loping across the crystal plain toward us. Tongues flopped out of their open jaws. Their huge canines glistened in the brilliant sunlight. Occasional bolts of yellow fire scorched the crystal plain. Laxsa, the zombie warriors, mounted each monster. One hand held a lance while the other hand held onto clumps of fur. Their legs bounced out to the sides almost like balance bars.
“We’ll never outrun them!” I yelled. “We need to make a stand.”
“As long as it’s not Custer’s Last Stand,” Michael replied, dropping to one knee with his magic harpoon stretched forward. Red Tara nocked an arrow in her longbow while Jean dropped to one knee next to Michael, her shotgun cocked and aimed.
“Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes,” I joked.
“That would not be very useful,” Blue Tara replied. “I can already see the whites of their eyes.”
“That was a joke,” I replied. “Just trying to bolster everyone’s spirits.”
“The spirits ride the nontsistalal,” Blue Tara said. “We need to kill them. Not bolster them.”
“I give up,” I responded with a shrug.
“It is too early to give up,” Blue Tara replied. “The battle has not yet begun.”
Before I could think up a witty response, White Tara leaped off Blue Tara’s shoulder and flitted into the sky. “We have help from the city,” she called out.
We turned to see a flock of enormous golden eagles flying in our direction from the crystal city. The eagles sped over our heads directly toward the charging demons. Dropping their gleaming talons they dived toward the nontsistalal. The giant eagles seized each of the laxsa and yanked them off their mounts. Furiously flapping their great wings they pulled back up into the sky and flew out beyond the edge of the crystal plain. Once clear of the plain the eagles released their prey and the laxsa tumbled toward the Earth and oblivion. The eagles circled back to the city of Dluwulaxa and disappeared.
Losing their riders, the nontsistalal faltered and their pace slowed considerably. Several of the monsters drew to a walk and fell well behind the advancing line. Jean pulled the triggers of her shotgun and two of the creatures running side by side plowed face down into the crystal plain which turned red with blood where they fell. Clouds of red crystal spray billowed into the air behind them.
Red Tara aimed her longbow and methodically began to release her arrows. One by one the nontsistalal tumbled head over hoofs to the surface of the plain with arrows pierced through their skulls.
Michael aimed his magic harpoon at the last couple of creatures charging us. One collapsed dead. The other spun on its heels and ran in the opposite direction. Red Tara nocked one more arrow and the creature tumbled to the surface dead.
We prepared to resume jogging back toward the city of Dluwulaxa when the terrible screech of the Yagis knocked me off my feet. I found myself on my knees with my hands pressed over my ears trying to block out the crushing sound. Jean and Michael both fell to the surface, hands pressed to their ears. I could see that even Blue Tara and Red Tara winced with pain.
“We must go!” Kinqalatlala commanded. I struggled to my feet as Red Tara pulled both Jean and Michael up with her four arms. “The Yagis is getting closer,” Kinqalatlala said. “We do not have much time. Make haste!”
I jogged a couple of paces and stopped. “The Yagis is the least of our problems right now!” I yelled.
“What’s the matter?” Michael asked, stopping next to me.
“Look,” I replied, pointing toward the city.
“Shit!” Michael exclaimed. I counted at least a dozen dzonoqwa standing in a pack between us and the city. Behind us, toward the rim of the crystal plain we could distinctly hear the baying and howling of the nontsistalal.
“Hamatsa is going to try to hit us from both sides,” I observed.
“We charge,” Blue Tara said as she raised her battle axe and ran toward the dzonoqwa. Red Tara ran after her while White Tara darted into the sky.
“Crap,” I said. “Run!”
We made a bee line for the dzonoqwa. As we approached the dzonoqwa fanned out in a line facing us. Waving its club over its head, one of the dzonoqwa jumped forward and commenced to scream. Without slowing, Blue Tara raised her battle axe over her head with both hands and flung it at the creature. The blade whistled as it whirled through the air, striking the creature squarely between its eyes with a sickening thud. The dzonoqwa flew backwards as if pulled by a rope. Blue Tara leaped on the dead creature’s body and gripped her battle axe to yank it out of its skull. Two other dzonoqwa raised their clubs to fall on Blue Tara. One club went flying backwards as the dzonoqwa fell on its back with an arrow sticking out of one of its eyes. Jean aimed and fired both barrels of her shotgun. The other club fell harmlessly to the surface when the creature’s head disappeared in a cloud of blood red dust. Michael brought one of the creatures down with his magic harpoon. Another dzonoqwa leaped at Blue Tara. Margarita jumped onto her hind legs and whirled. The whirling dervish Black Tara knocked the creature back, slashing its throat with her gleaming steel claws. Wobbling on unsteady legs, screaming in pain with bright red blood coating its long black fur, the dzonoqwa attempted to raise its club. Pulling her battle axe out of the skull she embedded it in, Blue Tara swung the axe blade up and severed the creature’s head. The body collapsed at her feet. The head and club fell harmlessly to the surface next to the lifeless body. The remaining dzonoqwa turned tail and ran. I leaned over and tried to pick the club up. First with one hand. Then with both hands. I could barely budge the weapon.
“Look!” Jean yelled, pointing toward the rim of the crystal plain. “They’re coming back.” We spotted another line of nontsistalal loping across the plain toward us, once again with laxsa riders mounted on their backs.
“If at first you fail. . .” I muttered.
“We’re never going to make it back to the city!” Michael cried out frantically.
“Then the city will have to come to us,” Kinqalatlala replied. We turned and stared at her.
“What do you mean by that?” I replied, somewhat bewildered.
Kinqalatalal clapped her hands. A crystal wall appeared about a hundred yards outside the city. She clapped her hands again. A second crystal wall appeared another hundred yards beyond the first one. Standing about a half mile short of the city I quickly did the math. It would take Kinqalatlala clapping about fifteen more times for the wall to reach us. Meanwhile the laxsa commenced to fling their lances at us. I could hear the spears whistle through the air and thud harmlessly into the crystal plain. But as the nontsistalal got closer to us so did the lances. It seemed problematic whether the wall or the lances would reach us first.
White Tara jumped off Blue Tara’s shoulder and flew toward the charging ghouls. She darted over the heads of the laxsa and their lances. Swinging wide of their charging line she twirled to the ground in the form of the white-skinned silken skirted Amazon goddess. She waved and whistled at the creatures galloping by. The nearest nontsistalal glanced at her and veered away from the others, dropping its pace to a slow trot in spite of the entreaties of the laxsa rider.
The nontsistalal came to a stop facing White Tara, pawing the surface with its claws, like nails dragging across tin siding. Tongues of yellow fire flicked out of its mouth as its jaws opened and closed. The creature growled and hissed at White Tara. The laxsa on its back yanked its fur and kicked it with its heels attempting to turn it back to the charge.
Seeing the first nontsistalal swing to a stop in front of the white goddess, the next monster swung around and followed suit. And the next. And the next one after that. The entire line of charging monsters swung around and loped to a stop to face White Tara. The laxsa riders tried to spur the creatures around to resume the charge. Several of the laxsa commenced beating their mounts with their lances. One of the nontsistalal bucked onto its hind legs, flinging its laxsa rider backwards onto the surface. The laxsa fell into the tongue of fire from a nearby nontsistalal and exploded into flames. Several laxsa speared the nontsistalal, only to get flung off their mounts. Frenzied bucking and roaring by the nontsistalal unseated the remaining laxsa. The laxsa that avoided becoming torches ran back toward the rim of the crystal plain.
White Tara stood on one leg, placed her right foot against her left knee, and extended her arms. She began to twirl. Faster and faster. She became a white dervish. The white dervish coalesced into a white parrot. The parrot flapped its wings and banked away from the nontsistalal to fly back to Blue Tara’s shoulder.
Kinqalatlala clapped one more time and a crystal wall appeared directly in front of us, towering into the sky.
“Wow!” I exclaimed. “I don’t know which one of you is more impressive.”
“No time for accolades,” Kinqalatlala replied. “We must go while we still can.” She waved her hand and a doorway appeared at the base of the crystal wall.
“You can always shower me with accolades,” White Tara responded, darting onto my shoulder and rubbing her beak against my chin.
The terrible screech of the Yagis hit us like a sonic wave that seemed to obliterate everything in its way. I stumbled to my knees and White Tara fluttered to the surface. We stumbled through the doorway as the screech faded. I collapsed onto my hands and knees. As we fell through the doorway Kinqalatlala waved her hand and the doorway disappeared. I raised my throbbing head to see the city of the Dluxulaxa spread out before me. We were no longer a half mile outside the city but within the city itself.
“The crystal walls should protect us from the Yagis for a while,” Kinqalatlala said.
“For some reason, I’m not reassured,” I replied as I struggled to my feet. I saw Blue Tara and Red Tara pulling Michael and Jean up off the floor.
“How did we get from out there to here?” I asked Kinqalatlala.
“The city expanded its space to meet us and contracted to its original space once we entered the city.”
“I like that. Think how much gas we could save if every city did that.”
“The oil companies would ban that,” Michael quipped.
Another terrible screech of the Yagis shook the crystal pavilion. This time the crystal walls of the city muffled the sonic blast of the screech.
“The Yagis is getting closer,” Blue Tara observed. “These walls will be breached eventually.”
“How can we defend ourselves?” Michael asked. “There’s nowhere else for us to run.”
“And I’m running out of shotgun shells,” Jean added.
“Just great,” I said, putting my arm around Jean’s shoulder. “We’ll just have to throw crystals at them.”
“How many laxsa and dzonoqwa do you suppose Hamatsa has at his service?” Michael asked.
“As many as I need,” a deep guttural voice replied.
We spun around in shock, our illusion of safety behind the crystal walls shattered like a falling chandelier. Hamatsa stood in an open doorway, his black leather garb silhouetted by the gleaming white crystal plain behind him.
“It is only a matter of time before my army of the dead overruns this city and smothers any resistance from these witches.”
“That’s because they’ve been doing such a great job so far,” I retorted, with some smug satisfaction. “No wait. I got that wrong. That’s us been doing such a great job. We’re the ones who’ve been kicking your ass. Easy to get confused.”
“I will ignore your feeble boast,” Hamatsa replied, “because before this day is over my slave will serve up your head to me on a silver platter.”
“If you’re talking about Kinqalatlala, she seems to be helping us just fine.”
“Your gullibility will be your demise,” Hamatsa said. “Kinqalatlala serves me. Everything that has happened has happened according to my plan. According to my plan to seize the worlds of the sky and the Earth.
“Ambitious much?” I replied.
“Go on. Your boasts and your swagger belie your precarious position within this city. Do you really think you can withstand the onslaught of the Yagis?”
“We seem to have done just fine so far,” I retorted with as much bravado as I could muster.
“At my command the Yagis will blow down these flimsy walls that surround you. I offer you this last chance to surrender and bow down to your master.” As Hamatsa spoke laxsa after laxsa entered the doorway and lined up against the crystal wall behind Hamatsa, lances pointed forward. Several dzonoqwa followed the laxsa into the pavilion with their clubs resting over their shoulders.
“What do we do now? I asked, turning to Kinqalatlala. “Whose side are you on? Really?”
Kinqalatlala raised her hand above her head. Hundreds of black birds flew out of the crystal buildings throughout the city and landed on the crystal floor before us. She clapped her hands and the hundreds of black birds transformed into exact duplicates of Kinqalatlala. Kinqalatlala put her hand in front of her face and her fingers morphed into a narrow steel blade. The hundreds of duplicates looked at their hands and their fingers too became steel blades.
Jean pointed her shotgun first at Hamatsa. Then at Kinqalatlala. “What do I do?” she cried out.
I turned and faced Kinqalatlala. “Help us,” I said.
“That is my intention,” she replied.
“Bow down to your master!” Hamatsa ordered.
Kinqalatlala stepped up to Hamatsa and without saying a word stabbed her hand through his chest. His eyes bulged out of his face in surprise as he toppled over backwards. The hundreds of duplicate Kinqalatlalas charged the laxsa and dzonoqwa. Many fell to dzonoqwa clubs and laxsa lances.
The laxsa fought and died silently. The dzonoqwa died with blood-curdling cries on their lips. Those not killed by the army of Kinqalatlalas fled out the doorway in the crystal wall back onto the crystal plain. An eerie quiet fell over the crystal pavilion. The duplicate Kinqalatlalas halted, dropped their chins to their chests, looked at their feet and transformed into black birds. The birds quickly and noisily flew out the doorway.
I don’t think I twitched a muscle during the short pitched battle. I noticed the crystal floor turning red with the blood of Hamatsa’s ghouls. I heard the crystal walls begin to rattle. I looked up to try to find the source of the unusual noise. I felt the walls shaking. Then the floor below my feet. “Earthquake!” I cried out.
“Hardly,” Michael replied. “We’re not exactly on Earth.”
“Is it the Yagis?” Jean asked.
“It has begun!” Kinqalatlala exclaimed.
“What? What has begun?” I asked, confused.
“The destruction of Dluwulaxa,” she replied. “Blood has been spilled. An ancient prophecy foretold the destruction of the city once the crystal walls became stained red with blood.”
I looked down at my feet. The red stain from the blood of Hamatsa’s ghouls rapidly spread across the crystal floor.
“Mount Rainier,” Michael said.
“What about it?” I asked.
“The mountain must be erupting. It’s the volcano that’s affecting Dluwulaxa.”
“Do you know what that means for Seattle?” I replied. “We need to get back to the city.”
“We have unfinished business,” Blue Tara interjected. “And no means to return. I am not able to bend time and space from this world to your world.”
“I don’t know,” I replied, exasperated. “So we dive into the crystal pool and fly down,”
“Do so,” Blue Tara replied, “and you may suffer the fate of the furies.”
“We’ve defeated Hamatsa,” I said. “What more is there to do?”
“Don’t be so cocky,” Kinqalatlala responded. “Hamatsa is far from defeated. He is most certainly not destroyed. We will face him again, and he will throw even greater forces against us than he has before.”
“Our track record has been pretty good so far,” I responded.
“Hamatsa has yet to unleash the Yagis against us,” Blue Tara added. “Once he does so, this city is doomed. There is not magic in this world or your world powerful enough to stop such a formidable creature.”
“We have Kinqalatlala’s people to help us,” I said. “They showed Hamatsa what they’re capable of.”
“My people are few in number,” Kinqalatlala replied. “Any loses are devastating to us and can not be replaced. Hamatsa’s forces are virtually unlimited. He can afford tremendous losses without affecting the forces he wields against us.”
The crystal walls of the city shook again. This time not from any volcanic eruption below, but from the terrible screech of the Yagis. The great bird approached. The hair on the back of my head bristled as the presence of the creature became palpable.
“Well, fuck,” I said. “So what do we do?”
“A hot bath with a cold glass of wine would feel so good, right about now,” Jean offered.
“Pizza and beer,” Blue Tara said.
“At least we’re inside the crystal city,” I suggested. “No one’s hurt. We’ve got White Tara to thank for that,” I added. I smiled as White Tara darted onto my shoulder and rubbed her beak against my chin.
“We’ve still got our weapons,” Michael said. “The magic harpoon seems to still be functioning.”
I asked Jean, “How many shells you have left in the shotgun?”
“Probably enough for a very short fire fight. But I’ve still got the 45,” she added, patting the Smith and Wesson strapped to her hip. “I haven’t fired a single round of that yet.”
I glanced over Red Tara’s shoulder. Her quiver seemed well stocked with arrows. “How is it you never seem to run out of arrows?” I asked her.
“Magic,” she replied.
“Of course it is. I should have known.”
“Can we count on the people of Dluwulaxa when Hamatsa unleashes his next assault against us?” Blue Tara asked Kinqalatlala.
“Of course,” she replied. “My people will do what we can to protect our world.”
“Being stuck in here we have no idea what’s going on out there,” I observed. “Can we send White Tara out to reconnoiter?”
“Not with the Yagis approaching,” Blue Tara replied. “It would not be safe for people or birds.”
“That’s the problem,” I noted. “We have no idea what Hamatsa is up to. And we have no way of finding out.”
“That may not be entirely true,” Kinqalatlala replied
“Is there a way to send a spy out?” I asked.
Without responding, Kinqalatlala began to melt onto the floor of the crystal pavilion.
“Of course,” Michael said. “She’s a shapeshifter.”
First Kinqalatlala’s feet turned to liquid. Then her ankles. Then her knees and hips dissolved into a thin pool of black liquid. As her upper body dissolved she waved her hand and a doorway opened at the base of the crystal wall. The shimmering black pool elongated and snaked out the doorway onto the crystal plain, rapidly disappearing from view.
“Well, that is definitely different,” I remarked.
“Now we’ve got a doorway that won’t close,” Michael observed.
I waved my hands. First my right hand. Then my left hand. The doorway remained open. I clapped my hands. The doorway remained open. “You must need an ancient gene or something to get the door to work,” I said.
“Ancient gene?” Michael replied. “What are you talking about?”
“Don’t you watch Stargate?” I replied.
Michael glared at me. “With Kinqalatlala gone, how do we call her people to help us, if Hamatsa attacks?” Michael asked.
“Oh, I think they’ll probably figure it out,” I said. “What do the Taras think we should do?”
“Nothing,” Blue Tara replied.
“We wait,” Blue Tara added. “We wait for Hamatsa. We wait for the Yagis. We wait for Kinqalatlala. We are not in a position to act. We wait for Garuda. By now Garuda most likely has heard the cry of the Yagis and will be on his way to assist us.”
“You will get no help from Garuda. Or from Kinqalatlala. Or from the Dluwulaxa,” a menacing voice responded from the open doorway. We spun around to find Hamatsa standing in the doorway, his black leather garb silhouetted by the brilliant white crystal plain behind him. Only his gleaming red eyes kept him from looking like a cardboard cutout.
“Where is my slave?” Hamatsa demanded. His booming voice echoed around the interior walls of the crystal pavilion. “. . . my slave? . . . my slave?. . . my slave?” “Bring Kingalatlala to me.”
“We don’t know where she’s at,” I replied. Which was true to a point. We really didn’t know where Kinqalatlala was at, specifically.
“You lie!” Hamatsa exclaimed. “You will pay for your insolence with your lives.”
“They do not lie, my master.”
“What the. . .” I said, spinning around.
A crystal wall appeared next to us inside the pavilion and Kinqalatlala entered through a doorway at the base of the wall. “They had no knowledge of my activities,” she added.
“Where did you come from?” I asked, confused.
“It does not matter,” she replied. “What matters is that you bow down to your master, Hamatsa.” She dropped to her knees and bending over kissed Hamatsa’s boots. Hamatsa grabbed her hair and pulled her to her feet.
“You’re not Kinqalatlala,” I insisted. “She’s helping us fight Hamatsa. She’s out scouting Hamatsa’s forces on the crystal plain right this very minute.”
“I can not be doing that when I’m standing right here talking to you.”
“You’re a duplicate. You’re not the real one.”
“You don’t think so? Let me show you.” Kinqalatlala stepped up to me, put her arms over my shoulders, and pulled me to her. She put her lips to my lips and slid her tongue into my mouth. “Does that remind you of anything?” she asked.
“That’s enough. Stop it!” Jean demanded, leveling her shotgun at Kinqalatlala’s head for emphasis. Kinqalatlala stepped back and bowed her head to Jean.
“This is all part of my master’s plan to crush the resistance,” Kinqalatlala said. She stepped to Hamatsa’s side. As she bowed down I noticed she held her hand in front of her face. Her fingers transformed into a narrow steel blade. Before her hand could move Hamatsa grabbed her throat and squeezed. I heard her neck snap. Her body fell limp and dangled in his grasp. As Hamatsa released his grasp on her neck, the body dissolved and turned into a large black bird. Before falling to the surface, the bird spread its wings and flew out the doorway.
“So you can’t tell which is real and which is Memorex,” I said to Hamatsa in a taunting tone.
“You fool,” Hamatsa replied. “None of what you see is real. This world of Dluwulaxa is an illusion. It only exists in my mind to send you on a fool’s errand. I have manipulated every experience of yours. Every action you take. Every reaction to every action. You and your witches have fallen into a trap that I have constructed in my mind. A trap that will result in your destruction.”
“Dluwulaxa is very much a real place,” Kinqalatlala said, stepping through the doorway in the interior wall. Or an exact duplicate of Kinqalatlala. I gave up trying to discern a difference. Maybe in this world someone could exist in several forms at once. “I am Kinqalatlala,” the new Kinqalatlala said. “Dluwulaxa exists. It is not a figment of anyone’s imagination. It is as real as you are. As real as I am.” That might not be the best argument in her support, I thought to myself.
“Then bow down to your master!” Hamatsa demanded. Kinqalatlala stepped up to Hamatsa and bowed. Hamatsa bent down, grabbed her throat and lifted her off her feet. I heard her neck snap as he squeezed her throat. He dropped her limp body which dissolved into another big black bird. Hamatsa tried to kick the bird, but the bird jumped out of the way, spread its wings and flew out the doorway to the crystal plain.
“I grow weary of this game,” Hamatsa said.
“You and me both buddy,” I replied. “But that puts a lie to your claim that this world is a figment of your imagination. You don’t have any more of a clue who the real players are than I do.” The way Hamatsa glared at me suggested I struck a nerve.
“I am a real player,” said Kinqalatlala, standing in the doorway to the crystal city. We all turned to stare as Kinqalatlala entered the pavilion. Walking rapidly, she stepped up to Hamatsa and before he could command her to bow to him, she transformed her hand into a narrow steel blade and stabbed it through Hamatsa’s chest. Hamatsa collapsed to the floor. His body dissolved into thin air.
“So he was right about being a figment of our imagination,” I said. “That wasn’t the real Hamatsa. Are you the real Kinqalatlala? Not that it really matters anymore.”
“That was an illusion created by Hamatsa,” Kinqalatlala replied. “A projection of his mind. But beware. As long as it existed, it was just as real as he is.”
“Just like Anubis,” I replied.
“Anubis? Oh, stop with the Stargate references already,” Michael interjected.
“Are you real?” I asked Kinqalatlala again.
“I am the real one.”
She stepped up to me, took my hands and placed them on her breasts, and leaned over to kiss me. I pushed her away.
“Unfortunately, that doesn’t prove a thing,” I said. I heard Jean chamber a couple of rounds into the barrels of her shotgun.
“But I am the real one. I just came back from my survey of the rim to assess Hamatsa’s forces.”
“What did you find?” Michael asked.
“The gagits have returned. They are ferrying more of Hamatsa’s soldiers up to the rim to attack this world. The laxsa and dzonoqwa are massing for an assault on the city.”
“If the gagits are back,” I noted, “that means we have a way off this world.”
“We wouldn’t stand a chance against the Yagis,” Blue Tara replied.
“What about the Yagis?” I asked.
“There is a monumental enclosure on the rim of the crystal plain, encased in crystal. That must be where Hamatsa has the Yagis confined.”
“That’s great!” I responded.
“It is?” Michael asked, perplexed.
“If there’s an enclosure, then maybe there’s a way to destroy it?”
“Only Lord Garuda would possess the magic necessary to accomplish such a feat,” Blue Tara replied.
“Just a thought,” I said. “But maybe, if the Yagis is confined to a crystal cage, we could try another preemptive strike? Keep Hamatsa off balance.”
“Or we could use the time we have to search for the tlogwala,” Blue Tara said. “We must not lose sight of our original mission to this world.”
“If you know who the tlogwala is,” I said to Kinqalatlala, “now would be a great time to tell us.”
“It is not that simple,” she replied.
“Yes it is that simple!” I cried out in exasperation. “By your own admission, the tlogwala is someone on this world. That’s a finite number of possibilities. You said your numbers are small. I’m willing to go out on a limb and bet that you know who the tlogwala is.”
“There are no limbs here to go out on,” Blue Tara replied. “That would be unwise and unsafe.”
“What? No, nevermind,” I replied, shaking my head. “I’ll bet a case of beer Kinqalatlala knows who the tlogwala is.”
“I will take that bet,” Blue Tara said.
“You would win that bet,” Kinqalatlala replied.
“I knew it!” I exclaimed, stamping my foot on the crystal surface of the pavilion for added emphasis. Then I found myself on my butt. A sonic wave created by another terrible screech of the Yagis literally bowed in the crystal wall of the pavilion. Me, Jean, Michael, Kinqalatlala, and the Taras found ourselves rolling across the floor. White Tara jumped off Blue Tara’s shoulder, took flight, and flew frenzied circles over us. “We must get away!” White Tara screeched.
A shower of crystal dust rained down upon us as extensive cracks spider-webbed across the crystal wall of the pavilion. Kinqalatlala scrambled to her feet. “Hurry!” she cried out. “The wall is coming down. We need to get away.” She clapped her hand and another crystal wall appeared behind us. A wave of her hand and a doorway opened at the base of the wall. “Come!” she yelled. She pulled Jean to her feet while Blue Tara pulled me off the floor. I saw Red Tara push Michael through the new doorway.
We scrambled into the new space. Kinqalatlala waved the doorway closed just as the original crystal wall collapsed. An avalanche of crystal shards pounded the new wall like hailstones beating a windshield. A crack ripped across the new crystal wall. A sound like sheet metal tearing accompanied the rip across the wall. Smaller cracks branched off from the primary crack and spider-webbed across the wall.
“Run!” Kinqalatlala yelled. She clapped her hand and another crystal wall appeared behind us. A wave of her hand opened a doorway for us to scramble through as the previous crystal wall crumbled. Before Kinqalatlala could wave the doorway closed, I saw laxsa charging through the crystal cloud outside the wall, magic harpoons in their hands instead of lances.
“They’re coming!” I cried out. “Give me the 45!” I yelled to Jean. She handed me the pistol and pulled several extra clips out of the pockets of her cargo shorts. “How do I use this?” I asked her frantically.
“Pull the slide,” she pantomimed with her hands. “Make sure the safety’s off. Point and squeeze.”
“Got it,” I replied as I attempted to pull the slide. Damn. It was tougher that I thought. I braced the pistol between my knees and finally managed to pull back the slide.
“You only have to do that with each new clip,” she clarified. I winked at her.
Kinqalatlala clapped her hand again and another crystal wall appeared behind us. As soon as she waved the doorway open I grabbed Jean’s hand and pulled her through without waiting for someone to tell us to run through. Everyone else quickly followed and Kinqalatlala waved the doorway closed. We found we had company within this new space.
Hundreds of duplicate Kinqalatlalas stood in several rough lines facing us, holding out steel blades where their hands should have been. They stared at us stone faced as we ran into the space. Then they stared up as the sound like tearing sheet metal accompanied cracks ripping through the crystal wall.
“Get back!” Blue Tara commanded as crystal dust rained down from the wall. We ran through the lines of duplicate Kinqalatlalas. The wall collapsed in a thunderous storm of crystal shards and a great wave of crystal dust billowed out and rolled across the surface of the pavilion, lapping up at the feet of the duplicate Kinqalatlalas. Brilliant sunlight reflected every color of the rainbow through the crystal dust.
The laxsa horde emerged through the cloud of crystal dust. They stumbled clear of the dust and haze and halted upon seeing the lines of Kinqalatlalas arrayed against them. The laxsa formed a line and beat the butts of their magic harpoons on the crystal floor. More laxsa, carrying lances instead of magic harpoons, emerged through the cloud of crystal dust and formed a second line facing the Kinqalatlalas.
“This is not good,” I cautiously observed.
“Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes,” Blue Tara quipped. I sheepishly grinned back at her.
An arrow whistled past my ear and struck the head of a laxsa in the first line squarely between its eyes, sending it tumbling backwards. I glanced behind me to see Red Tara nock another arrow into position. “What? I can see the whites of their eyes,” she said.
White Tara darted off Blue Tara’s shoulder and raced across the space between the opposing lines. She landed on the head of a laxsa, let out an ear-popping screech, sunk her beak into its nose, and jumped away. The laxsa screamed and reflexively swung its magic harpoon. The harpoon struck an adjacent laxsa in its head and knocked it off its feet. Flat on its back, the second laxsa pointed its magic harpoon at the first laxsa, which collapsed dead. A laxsa in the second line of ghouls impaled the prone laxsa with a lance through its heart.
Without any audible order to commence, the laxsa screamed and charged. All the hair I had left on my body bristled at the sound of the screams, like a hundred cats fighting outside your bedroom window in the middle of the night. I raised the Smith and Wesson and held my breath as I prepared to fire. The duplicate Kinqalatlalas that stood between me and the laxsa charged at the onrushing ghouls. The laxsa dropped to their knees and pointed their magic harpoons at the charging Kinqalatlalas. A score or so of the Kinqalatlalas collapsed dead and did not turn into birds.
The original Kinqalatlala standing behind me let out a bloodcurdling scream that turned the blood in my veins into ice water. My body convulsed with shivers. She pushed past me and charged toward the melee waving the steel blade that had been her hand.
Red Tara commenced rapid fire release of arrow after arrow, each striking a laxsa in its head squarely between its eyes. A laxsa raised a lance and prepared to sling it at the original Kinqalatlala. Blue Tara heaved her battle axe before the laxsa could release its lance. The battle axe whistled through the air and lopped off the laxsa’s head, then embedded itself in the skull of another laxsa.
“Come on!” I yelled at Michael and Jean. “What are we waiting for?”
Michael dropped to his knee and pointed his magic harpoon at the laxsa. I started pacing forward, firing a shot with every step, my hand jumping into the air with each recoil. It thrilled me to see that most of my shots hit their intended target, blowing the laxsa backwards. In a few instances, I saw a couple of laxsa go down from one bullet. After about ten shots I began to wonder just how many bullets these clips held. I quickly discovered that fourteen shots seemed to be the magic number.
I stopped to fiddle with the pistol when I realized Jean forgot to tell me how to change clips. As I bent over to examine the gun an excruciating pain in my thigh dropped me to my knees. I dropped the pistol. Looking down I realized a lance stuck through my thigh. I heard Jean scream behind me. Several laxsa rushed at me to administer a coup de grâce. A shotgun blast from behind me nearly punctured my eardrums and blew off the heads of two of the charging laxsa. As two other laxsa raised their lances to try to spear me, a black dervish, Black Tara, whirled past me and separated their heads from their shoulders with its flashing steel claws. Thank God for black cats I thought to myself as I suddenly felt very lightheaded. Jean dropped to her knees at my side and put her hands on my shoulders. “Try not to move,” she told me. “Everything will be okay,” she reassured me.
“Whatever you say,” I replied, as I faded out of consciousness.
I came to just as Blue Tara yanked the lance out of my thigh. She had sheared off both ends of the lance with her battle axe. Someone tied my belt around my thigh as a tourniquet. I’d be hard pressed to say which hurt worse. The lance going into my thigh. Or Blue Tara yanking the lance out of my thigh. Needless to say, I immediately passed out again.
I awoke to find Jean cradling my head in her lap. “You okay now, hon?” she asked me.
Groggy and disoriented, I reflexively ran my hands over my thigh. No lance. No tourniquet. I sat up and ripped my pants leg open. Blood soaked the pants, but I found no lance. No wound. Not even a scar.
“What the hell happened?” I asked Jean.
“White Tara fixed you up. You were lucky. The lance missed any major artery, so you didn’t bleed out.”
“Can I get up now?” I asked.
“Don’t see why not.” Jean scrambled to her feet and helped me up. Other than feeling slightly dizzy I seemed to be no worse for the wear. Better off than my pants anyway.
“Don’t mind me,” I said, as I pulled my Swiss Army knife out of my pocket, stepped out of my pants, and cut the legs off below the tear.
White Tara alighted on my shoulder and rubbed her beak on my chin. “You don’t need to undress now, sweetie,” she said. “You can thank me later when this is all over.”
“What happened?” I asked, looking around the ruins of the crystal pavilion as I pulled my pants back on. Only a line of crystal shards remained of the exterior wall. Many of the crystal structures within the city were in ruins.
“Earthquakes have been rocking Dluxulaxa,” Jean replied. “Ever since the battle ended.
“Not earthquakes,” Michael clarified. “Seattle is most likely rocking and rolling. I’m guessing Mount Rainier is erupting and shaking Dluwulaxa to its core. Don’t know how much more we can take here. Don’t know what keeps this world up here to begin with. But I’m pretty sure we need to get off this place as quick as possible.”
I looked around for Kinqalatlala. She stood chanting a lamentation over the bodies of her dead warriors. A flock of black birds flew circles over her head.
“What did I miss?” I asked.
“We killed most of the laxsa,” Michael replied. “Or I should say Kinqalatlala’s people killed most of the laxsa. But at the cost of about half their numbers. Some of the laxsa were killed by falling crystal shards. Some escaped and ran back out onto the plain.”
“Then the earthquakes started,” Jean added. “That brought down the wall and many of the structures within the crystal city.”
Blue Tara saw me standing and walked up to me. She put her arms around me and pulled me to her. She placed her lips on my lips and kissed me. Hard. I let her. After a few moments I could hear Jean clearing her throat. Hands on my shoulders, Blue Tara stepped back and fixed her one yellow eye squarely on my face. “It pleases me to no end to see you up and well again, thanks to my sister White Tara. You gave us quite the scare. Your lady friend was very concerned for you. You are a lucky man to have such a friend.”
“Don’t I know it,” I replied. I turned to smile at Jean. “Is Hamatsa going to try to strike at us again?”
“All business,” Blue Tara responded. “I like that in a man.” She smiled. “We must be prepared for any contingency. Thanks to the laxsa we have a large arsenal of magic harpoons at our disposal now. The odds in our favor have improved dramatically.”
“Shouldn’t we be trying to get off this world before it blows apart?”
“Hamatsa controls the gagits. They are our only means to get back down to your world. But we still have to complete our mission. To leave now would doom this world to destruction. And it would doom your world to destruction.”
“Are you kidding me? In case you haven’t noticed, this world is doomed to destruction anyway. Apparently we’re realizing an ancient prophecy. If we don’t get off this world we’re going to be doomed to destruction along with it.”
Red Tara stepped up to me and put one of her four hands on my head. “Everything has a way of working out if you are patient,” she said. “Hasty action can be just as destructive to our cause as the forces of evil we face.”
Her lamentation concluded, Kinqalatlala joined us. “Your ancient prophecy seems to be coming true,” I told her. “Shouldn’t we be trying to get off your world before it’s completely destroyed?”
“My people will not abandon our home,” Kinqalatlala replied. “And neither will I.”
“Your people fought valiantly,” Blue Tara said, putting a hand on Kinqalatlala’s shoulder. “My sister Taras and I are so sorry for the losses your people suffered.”
“I thank you for your kind words,” Kinqalatlala replied, placing her arm across Blue Tara’s arm. “This world literally hangs by a thread. A crystal thread. If that thread is cut my world will be lost. And if my world is lost then your world will soon be lost as well.”
A loud rattling noise above my head caught my attention. I looked up. The others looked up. The rattling seemed to descend out of the sky and settle onto the floor of the crystal pavilion. The floor commenced to shake. First gently. Then violently. With nothing to hold onto, we all sat down on the floor to keep from falling down. Clouds of crystal dust billowed into the sky as several more crystal structures within the city collapsed.
“I don’t think we have a lot of time left,” I said. “We need to get off this world.”
“We might be able to surprise Hamatsa’s ghouls,” Red Tara said, “and capture the gagits. Hamatsa won’t be expecting an attack from us. The Yagis may not be watchful.”
“We need to try something,” I replied. “We’re doomed if we stay here.”
“I will not leave my world,” Kinqalatlala repeated. “But I will help you return to yours.”
“Before Hamatsa’s attack,” I said. “you said you knew who the tlogwala is.”
“Yes, I did say that,” Kinqalatlala replied.
“Is there still time to find the tlogwala? Or has he been killed by Hamatsa?”
“The tlogwala is still alive,” Kinqalatlala replied. “As long as this world survives there is hope to find the tlogwala.”
“Then I will stay and help you find the tlogwala. But we need to get the rest of my people back to my world while we still can.”
“What?” Jean cried out. “You can’t stay. That’s what this witch has wanted all along. You’ll be killed.”
“I have to stay. It seems to be my destiny to find the tlogwe. Isn’t that right?” I asked, looking at Blue Tara. She nodded her head.
“Then I’m staying with you,” Jean replied. “Someone needs to teach you how to use that damn 45.”