“Nobody is going anywhere, silly man,” Blue Tara said. “We either succeed together or fail together.”
“That’s a noble sentiment,” I replied. “I’m sure Davy Crockett told George Russell the exact same thing at the Alamo.”
“This ain’t the Alamo,” Michael replied. “And that’s not the Mexican Army out there. And you better find a better analogy than Davy Crockett. I sure as hell don’t want to go into a fight with someone who thinks they’re going to be dead.”
“Anyway, going after the gagits would be too risky,” Blue Tara added. “If the Yagis discovered us we would be. . . “ Blue Tara looked at me, “What’s that analogy you like so much? We would be burnt bread?”
“Toast,” I replied. “We would be toast.”
“Please. And can we not talk about food,” Michael added. “It’s making me hungry.”
“Well then,” I said. “What are our options? We can’t stay here. We’re totally exposed. There’s no wall between us and Hamatsa.” I pointed out across the crystal plain to where we could just make out the fog rolling up over the rim.
“We move into the city,” Kinqalatlala replied. “There are still structures where we can hide.”
“What’s the point? If Hamatsa or the Yagis don’t get us first, an exploding mountain below us may just blow us to kingdom come.”
“We must stay alive so we can keep fighting,” Blue Tara said. “As long as we fight we have a chance of finding the tlogwala.”
“Is it worth it if Kinqalatlala’s people get wiped out?” I said.
“We must prevent that from happening,” Kinqalatlala replied. “Dluwulaxa can not exist without its people.”
“Then I say we go after Hamatsa and drive him off this world,” I said. “And capture the gagits while we’re at it.”
“We’d be exposed crossing the crystal plain,” Michael pointed out.
“We’re caked in crystal dust,” I observed, looking over my clothing. “That can only mean one thing.”
“We fly!” Michael exclaimed. “We’re birds.”
Margarita growled, twirled off the floor and transformed into a small black bird. The bird screeched and tumbled back to the floor, transforming back into a black cat.
“You need to flap your wings to stay airborne,” I said.
“Bit of a problem if you don’t have arms,” Michael replied. Margarita got to her feet and brushed her body against Michael’s ankles.
I put my arms out and visualized myself as a bird. My feet drifted off the floor and I found myself weightless, hanging in the air. “You did it!” Jean exclaimed.
“What do you see?” I asked.
“You look like a raptor. A hawk,” Jean replied.
Blue Tara and Red Tara stood on one leg, placed their right feet on their left knees, extended their arms and twirled. They dissolved into pulsating blue and red orbs that coalesced into macaw parrots. I looked down at Jean and Kinqalatlala. Instead I saw two large ravens.
“I’ll stay me,” Michael said, and keep Margarita company. I’ll bring the magic harpoons and the shotgun and we’ll catch up to you. Don’t start the party without us.”
Those of us who assumed the form of birds flapped our wings, climbed into the sky, and banked toward the rim of the crystal plain.
We landed undiscovered in the safety of the fog bank at the edge of the giant fungi forest on the rim of the crystal plain. I cleared my mind and visualized me.
“It worked!” Jean exclaimed. “You are you again.”
“And you are you,” I replied, throwing my arms around Jean’s shoulders and kissing her.
“There will be time for that later,” Blue Tara said, back in her Amazon goddess form. “In the meantime, be very careful where you step. One false step could be your last.”
I looked around for the others. White Tara perched on Blue Tara’s shoulder, retaining her Goffin’s cockatoo form. Red Tara flexed her longbow while she leaned against a giant mushroom. “Where’s Kinqalatlala?” I asked. She was nowhere to be seen.
“She flew with us,” Blue Tara said. “She must have alighted somewhere else. If something happened to her we most assuredly would have heard something.”
Kinqalatlala spooked the several dzonoqwa guarding the gagits when she stepped out of the fog. A couple of dzonoqwa turned and fled into the fog. One screamed as it ran the wrong way and plunged off the crystal rim to its destruction, its scream fading into the distance.
“Take me to Hamatsa!” Kinqalatlala ordered. One of the dzonoqwa pointed its club into the fog and motioned to Kinqalatlala to follow. She found Hamatsa caressing one of the pterodactyls.
“Wonderful creatures, are they not?” Hamatsa said, without looking up at Kinqalatlala. “Obedient. Never complaining. Eager to please. Are you these things my slave?”
“Yes, my master,” Kinqalatlala replied as she bowed to Hamatsa.
“You are right on schedule, just as we planned. I am pleased. You have earned the right to live another day.”
“Thank you, my master. Everything is happening as you foresaw and planned for it. The witches are gathered in the mushroom forest preparing to attack you.”
“They will be crushed by the Yagis. And then I will exterminate the vermin that inhabit this world.” Caressing the gagit, Hamatsa could not see Kinqalatlala grimace and clench her fists tightly into balls. “Then I will have an unassailable base from which to attack the world below.”
“Is it necessary to exterminate my people?” Kinqalatlala asked. A tear rolled down her cheek from her eye.
“Let’s not get sentimental,” Hamatsa replied. “The Dluwulaxa are a worthless race. They must not be allowed to interfere with my plans.”
“The Dluwulaxa only desire to live in peace. They wish to harm no one.”
“And that is precisely their problem. There is no peace in a time of war. Peace will only come when those that oppose the new order are exterminated. When those witches and the people that assist them are wiped from existence. Then we shall have peace. And you shall be my queen.”
“Thank you, my master.”
“Together we shall start a new race of warrior kings to rule over a new world. A world of masters and slaves. Of swords and chains.”
“Of course, my master. As you ordain. But are you not concerned about the ancient prophecy that foretold the destruction of Dluwulaxa should blood be shed?”
“Do you dare challenge me!” Hamatsa exclaimed, turning to glare at Kinqalatlala. “I am not interested in your fairy tales. They are not real. This is real,” he said, patting the gagit on its snout. “Get back to your witches. Soon I will release the Yagis and end this nonsense. And we can get on with our work.”
“Yes, my master,” Kinqalatlala replied as she bowed in submission.
“When my work is done bring the head of the one with the parrot to me!” Hamatsa yelled as Kinqalatlala fled into the fog.
Kinqalatlala emerged from the fog moments after Michael and Margarita found us hiding among the giant mushrooms. I whipped the 45 out of my waistband and pointed it at her head before I realized who she was. Red Tara already had an arrow nocked and pointed at her head.
“Easy,” I said, nodding at Red Tara. She relaxed her grip on the arrow. “Where have you been? We were worried about you.”
“Hamatsa is on his way to attack you,” Kinqalatlala replied. “He is preparing to release the Yagis for the final assault on Dluwulaxa.”
“What?” I said, perplexed. “How does Hamatsa even know we’re here?”
“I told him.”
“I knew it!” Jean exclaimed as she pumped shells into the barrels of her shotgun. “This witch has been working with Hamatsa all along.” I grabbed the barrels of the shotgun before Jean could raise it to shoot Kinqalatlala.
“You told him? Seriously?”
“Let your friend shoot me,” Kinqalatlala replied. “I deserve to die. I have destroyed my own world.”
“So why are you telling us this now?” I asked. “I’m totally confused.”
“I have made a grievous mistake. I need to atone for my sin.”
“Don’t believe her!” Jean insisted. “She’s lying. We’re being set up for a trap.”
“Was your mistake lying to Hamatsa? Or lying to us?” I asked.
“A long time ago I fell to Earth and Hamatsa captured me and enslaved me,” Kinqalatlala said. “He promised to return me to my world if I served him. Now I have learned the true cost of my freedom. Hamatsa aims to reward my service by destroying my people.”
“And you expect us to believe this? Why” I asked.
“I do not expect you to believe this at all. I expect and wish you to kill me.”
“You must know we will not kill you,” Blue Tara interjected. “You still hold the secret to the tlogwala.”
“Then let me help you,” Kinqalatlala replied. “If we act now we can surprise Hamatsa before he strikes you. He believes I still serve him and will not be expecting an attack.”
“It’s a trap,” Jean said. “We can’t trust her.”
“So let’s spring the trap,” I replied. “We came out here to punch Hamatsa in the face. Even if it is a trap, knowing it’s a trap gives us an advantage.”
“And if she’s telling the truth and it’s not a trap,” Michael added, “we have the opportunity to give Hamatsa a knock-out punch.”
“White Tara will fly ahead under the cover of this mushroom forest,” Blue Tara said. “She will scout out Hamatsa and his ghouls. She can warn us if an attack is coming.”
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s go.” I grabbed one of the magic harpoons from Michael. “If you’re lying to us,” I said to Kinqalatlala, "you’ll regret it.”
“You bet she will,” Jean added, patting her shotgun.
Hamatsa stood outside a gigantic crystal box that caged the Yagis. With a wave of his hand one of the four walls of the box vanished. A monstrous winged creature resembling an enormous vulture, with legs and face covered in thick red scales that gave the appearance of armor plating, and a body and wings covered in red ochre feathers, waddled out of the enclosure. The dzonoqwa serving as Hamatsa’s bodyguard stumbled backwards, growling in fright.
“Stand your ground!” Hamatsa ordered. “The Yagis will not harm you as long as you stand by me.”
White Tara darted out of the fog and alighted on the shoulder of one of the dzonoqwa. Letting out a screech, she dug her beak into the creature’s neck and jumped away. The dzonoqwa screamed. Enraged, it spun around and smashed its club into the head of the dzonoqwa standing behind it, dropping the dzonoqwa where it stood.
Several other dzonoqwa screamed and rained blows with their clubs on the head of the first dzonoqwa. An arrow smashed into the head of one of the dzonoqwa squarely between its eyes, sending it tumbling backwards. Hamatsa yelled a command, but the screams of the enraged dzonoqwa drowned it out. Emerging from the fog, Michael and I dropped to our knees and took deliberate aim with our magic harpoons at the dzonoqwa sparring with themselves. One by one we dropped them dead. The Taras stood by, ready to assist. Jean kept a close eye on Kinqalatlala.
Seeming somewhat panicked, Hamatsa called out several commands to the Yagis which I couldn’t make out over the screams of the dzonoqwa. Hamatsa finally pointed a gloved hand in our direction and the Yagis took several halting steps forward. The monstrous winged creature extended its great wings, raised its head, and opened its beak as if to let out one of its terrible screeches.
“Oh shit!” I yelled. “It’s the Yagis!”
The Yagis never managed to screech. A majestic and fearsome bird of immense size appeared in the sky above the Yagis. The gold of its body radiated a brilliant light as bright as the sun. Its white face and massive beak gave it the appearance of an eagle. An eagle with a golden crown. Its blood red wings spread across the horizon.
"Lord Garuda!” Blue Tara cried out.
Garuda stretched its enormous talons down and seized the Yagis. Slowing beating its great wings Garuda climbed into the sky with the Yagis struggling futilely in its grasp. The wind created by Garuda’s flapping wings nearly knocked me off my feet. Garuda banked into the clouds rolling up over the rim of the crystal plain and disappeared. Hamatsa stood alone, exposed on the crystal plain, surrounded by the bodies of dead dzonoqwa. He seemed stunned into silence.
Kinqalatlala stepped up to Hamatsa and handed him the fedora that had blown off his head, exposing his long black stringy hair to the wind of Garuda’s wings. “I know how much you love this hat,” she said. As Hamatsa reached for it, she dropped it at his feet. She put her hand up to her face. Her fingers turned into a narrow steel blade. Reaching out, she drew the tip of the blade across Hamatsa’s chin, leaving a line of red blood. Hamatsa stood stone-faced. “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley,” Kinqalatlala said.
“You will pay for your deception!” Hamatsa screamed out in anger and frustration.
With the tip of her steel blade, Kinqalatlala cut a line of blood across Hamatsa’s other cheek. “Maybe so,” she replied. “But not to you. I was a fool to ever believe you would assist me.”
I heard that loud rattling noise again and the crystal plain commenced to shake. The shaking grew in intensity, becoming so violent the huge crystal box that had caged the Yagis collapsed in a cloud of crystal shards and dust. Jean and I grabbed each other for support. The others dropped to their knees or sat down on the surface to keep from getting thrown down. Only Hamatsa and Kinqalatlala continued to stand.
“You are too late,” Hamatsa said. “Your pathetic world is on the verge of destruction. You and the other witches will be destroyed along with it.”
“I thought you didn’t believe in ancient prophesies,” Kinqalatlala replied.
“You are powerless to prevent it,” Hamatsa continued. “I will find another slave to serve me as my queen. But it is unfortunate that I will lose these,” Hamatsa added, placing his gloved hands on Kinqalatlala’s breasts. Kinqalatlala stabbed the steel blade that was her hand through Hamatsa’s chest. As he collapsed to the surface, she sliced the blade through his heart.
Another quake convulsed the world of Dluwulaxa as Kinqalatlala wiped Hamatsa’s blood off her hand on his black leather coat. Just as quickly as it started the quake rolled to a stop. The feathered tips of a gigantic blood red wing fluttered up through the clouds at the edge of the crystal plain. The great white head of an enormous eagle capped by a golden crown rose over the crystal city of Dluwulaxa.
A blue and gold macaw parrot fluttered out of the clouds rolling over the rim of the crystal plain and alighted on Blue Tara’s outstretched arm. I recognized the macaw as the parrot named Aboo, the parrot we left to guard my Ballard apartment when we first departed on this adventure, the parrot that first directed me to my fateful meeting with Princess Tara at Charlie’s Bird Store.
“Greetings Ekajati,” Aboo said to Blue Tara. “The world of the Dluwulaxa will no longer be troubled by the eruption of the mountain below it. Garuda is protecting and stabilizing Dluwulaxa with his wings and will do so until the mountain returns to its sleep.”
“Thank you Aboo,” Blue Tara replied. “Lord Garuda’s arrival is timely once again. If I might ask, what of the Yagis?”
“Garuda has encased the Yagis in an unbreakable cage within the mountain itself, sealed by white hot magma. Rest assured, the Yagis will not trouble this world or your world any time soon.”
“What happened to my apartment?” I asked Aboo. “What happened to Seattle?”
“Your apartment suffered little damage,” Aboo replied. “A window broke, which allowed me to leave. Garuda managed to contain the violence of the eruptions to the mountain itself, and spared Seattle and other cities around the region. It may be awhile before Rainier has another glacier, but that couldn’t be helped.”
“We are ever thankful for Lord Garuda’s assistance,” Blue Tara interjected.
“Think nothing of it,” Aboo replied. “You have achieved a great victory over Hamatsa today. Of course, you realize this is not the end of Hamatsa?” Aboo added, stretching out a wing toward Hamatsa’s prone body. “Hamatsa is crippled, but not destroyed. His magic is too great.”
“This at least gives us a reprieve and a chance to rest before the day we must face Hamatsa again,” Blue Tara replied. “And to consume pizza and beer.”
“I must return to Garuda,” Aboo said. “The gagits are resting on the rim of the crystal plain, so you have the means to return to your world.”
“Thank you Aboo,” Blue Tara said, “but we still have unfinished business here on Dluwulaxa. We must find the tlogwe before we return to Seattle.”
“And so you will,” Aboo said as he jumped off Blue Tara’s arm. Flapping his wings, he disappeared into the fog on the rim of the crystal plain.
“I wish I was as confident,” I replied.
“I am confident we will not be troubled by Hamatsa anymore this day,” Blue Tara said. She grasped her battle axe in one hand and Hamatsa’s hair in the other and lopped his head off. She swung the head by its hair and sent it flying into the fog and oblivion.
Blue Tara pointed her battle axe at Kinqalatlala. “It’s time for this witch to take us to the tlogwala.”
“I can not do that,” Kinqalatlala replied.
“Why not?” I asked. “Hamatsa is dead. For now anyway. Dluwulaxa is safe.”
“For now,” Kinqalatlala said. “But we are not done with Hamatsa. Hamatsa will not give up so easily.”
“So take us to the tlogwala. Let me receive the tlogwe. Let me save your world. And my world.”
“It is not that simple,” Kinqalatlala stated.
“You keep saying that,” I replied. “But I don’t believe you. If as you say you know who the tlogwala is, it is that simple. You can just tell us!” I exclaimed. My voice dripped with exasperation.
“The person who receives the tlogwe must prove themselves worthy of the gift of the special powers.”
I could feel my face flush. “I’ve been stabbed, speared, fucked. . . “ I said, glancing to see Jean’s reaction, “ and did I mention killed? I’ve helped save you. Helped kill Hamatsa. Helped save Dluwulaxa. I’ve flown a gawddamned pterodactyl. What more do I have to do?”
“It is not for me to say,” Kinqalatlala replied. “Expecting and receiving this special gift are two different things.”
I hung my head. “I give up. Maybe we should leave and return home,” I said glumly.
“That would doom both our worlds to ultimate destruction,” Blue Tara said. “Until we find the tlogwala we must stay on Dluwulaxa. Unless. . .” Blue Tara looked at Kinqalatlala, “unless she tells us to search elsewhere.”
“Are you suggesting the tlogwala is not here afterall?” Jean asked.
“Huh?” I stammered.
“Think about it,” Jean continued. “What if the tlogwala is in Seattle instead of here on Dluwulaxa? What if this witch is still working with Hamatsa to deceive us? To keep us from the truth. If she keeps us occupied up here with some silly wild goose chase we can’t fight Hamatsa on our world.”
“We are not chasing silly wild goose,” Blue Tara interjected.
I put my hand on Blue Tara’s shoulder. “It’s a figure of speech. Ignore it. But Jean is right. We could be sitting up here starving to death chasing wild. . . ah, chasing Hamatsa, while he’s down in our world building an empire.”
“I was Hamatsa’s slave,” Kinqalatlala replied. “You knew that. It wasn’t a secret. But I am free of Hamatsa now. Here. Free to rejoin my world.”
“But you can never become Dluwulaxa again yourself,” I said, “without the magic of the tlogwe.”
“That is correct. Do not you think if I could give you the tlogwe I would, so you would possess the magic to restore me to my people?”
“That’s why she doesn’t want you to leave,” Jean said. “She wants to make you a bird person. She wants to make you Dluwulaxa. She doesn’t care about us. She doesn’t care about fighting Hamatsa. She wants you.”
“I offer you a world of peace and absolute freedom,” Kinqalatlala replied. “All of you. But one of you is special. One of you, and only one of you, has the potential to fulfill the destiny of the tlogwe. To receive the gift of special powers that the tlogwe can dispense.” Kinqalatlala took my hands in hers. “If you commit to Dluwulaxa, you could use the magic of the tlogwe to help both my world and your world.”
“Don’t fall for it!” Jean cried out. “She’s trying to trick you.”
“Your friend is correct,” Blue Tara said to me. “Your destiny lies elsewhere than here in the clouds. We have a war to fight. And if we can’t find the tlogwe here on Dluwulaxa then we need to return to our world to search for it there.”
“It’s never been my intention to become a bird person,” I replied. “It’s never been my intention to stay on Dluwulaxa.” Kinqalatlala dropped my hands and backed away from me. “But I believe her. What she says about Hamatsa. I’m willing to stay here on Dluwulaxa to search for the tlogwe if you all want to return to Seattle to search for the tlogwala there.”
“Dividing our forces is a bad tactical idea,” Michael said. “Don’t you watch Game of Thrones? We need to stay together. Either here. Or, more preferably, back in Seattle.”
“I for one am ready to go home,” Jean said. “I feel like I could sleep for a week.”
“In a real bed,” Michael added.
“I could stand a pizza and a beer. Maybe a couple of beers. You’re welcome to come back to Seattle with us,” I said to Kinqalatlala. “I’ll even buy the pizza and beer.”
“But only if she wears some real clothes, for chrissakes,” Jean said.
“You can help us search for the tlogwala in Seattle and help us deal with Hamatsa when he shows his ugly face again,” I added. “I promise you that when we find the tlogwe I will come back with your to help restore you to your people.”
“We should secure the gagits,” Michael said, “before they decide to fly off.”
“There might still be laxsa and those sasquatch things around,” Jean warned.
White Tara hopped off Blue Tara’s shoulder and flew into the fog bank toward the giant fungi forest. “White Tara will check for us,” Blue Tara said. “We seem to have accomplished everything we can accomplish here on Dluwulaxa. We should return to Seattle if the search for the tlogwala here is fruitless.
“What will it be?” I asked Kinqalatlala. “Should we go back to Seattle? Will you come with us?”
“I will come with you,” Kinqalatlala replied, “if that is what is required to secure your future assistance.”
“That would seem to be the case. Will we find the tlogwala in Seattle?”
“You will find the tlogwala wherever the search leads you. And right now it’s leading you to Seattle.”
“God I hate these riddles,” I muttered.
White Tara flew back out of the fog and alighted on Blue Tara’s shoulder. She shook her feathers fiercely. “All clear,” she said. “No laxsa. No dzonoqwa. No nontsistalal. We are free to return to Seattle.”
Thankfully we only needed to pound on Charlie’s trap door for a few minutes before the door swung open. Charlie stood above us basked in incandescent light, staring down at us in wonder.
“Lordy! Lordy!” he exclaimed. “What have we got here?”
“Drop the ladder down,” I replied.
He did so. He got down on his knees and helped each of us climb up.
“You’re a sight for sore eyes, boss,” Charlie said to me, shaking my hand. I noticed he couldn’t stop staring at Kinqalatlala.
“You got any extra clothes around?” I asked Charlie, nodding to Kinqalatlala. Charlie’s frame was slight enough I thought his clothes might fit her.
“’Course I do,” he replied. “What with all the bird shit around I always keep clean clothes handy. You really lucked out. I was just about to close up the shop for the day. Let me get some clothes for this lady. I’ll be right back,” he said as he walked to his storeroom.
I looked around the bird shop. Instead of the usual bustle and din of a bird store the place seemed unusually calm as the birds settled down for the night. Many of the birds stood perched on one foot. A few placed their beaks behind their wings.
“Here you go hon,” Charlie said, returning with a stack of clothes in one hand and a pair of flip-flops in the other. “Best I can do.” Kinqalatlala took the clothes and put them on. She looked good even in blue jeans and a flannel shirt. Charlie noticed his shotgun slung over Jean’s shoulder. “Am I glad to see that,” he said with a grin.
Jean handed Charlie his shotgun and unbelted the Smith and Wesson from her hip. “Thank you so much,” Jean said. “Saved our butts.”
“Good to hear.”
“You remember what you said about being able to take down a sasquatch with that shotgun?” Jean asked Charlie.
“You’re kidding?” Charlie replied. He whistled while he inspected the shotgun. “You’re alright in my book,” he added.
“You wouldn’t believe what we’ve been through,” I said.
Charlie took a long look at me, his eyes dropping down to my pants. “What in God’s name happened to you? Is that blood on your pants?”
“I got speared.”
“Thankfully White Tara saved me.” White Tara hopped onto my shoulder and rubbed her beak against my chin. “White Tara. This is Charlie,” I said, craning my head to look at her. “White Tara’s another witch. Just like Blue Tara and Red Tara.”
“My word,” Charlie replied. “The Tara of Healing. And a Goffin’s cockatoo parrot at that.”
“We couldn’t have beaten Hamatsa without her,” I said.
“And did you?” Charlie asked. “I’m almost afraid to ask.”
“Yes we did,” I replied. “For what it’s worth,” I added, “we’re not done with Hamatsa. He has the power to travel between the worlds of the living and the dead.”
“What happened with Mount Rainier?” Michael asked.
“You heard about that?” Charlie replied.
“Heard about that? We were right on top of it!” Michael exclaimed.
“That was pretty scary,” Charlie said. “All of a sudden the mountain got active. Totally unexpected. Experts didn’t have a clue what was happening. A lot of shaking. Seattle rocked and rolled there for a while. My birds were completely freaked out. There was even talk of an evacuation order. And then the mountain suddenly got quiet and went back to sleep. Nobody could figure it out.”
“Much damage around Seattle?” I asked.
“Thank the Lord, not much at all,” Charlie replied. “Few broken windows. Some cans knocked off shelfs in some stores. Few bricks fell down around Pioneer Square. Some flooding around the mountain from the melting glacier. That was it.”
“Thank you Lord Garuda,” Blue Tara interjected.
“Lord Garuda?” Charlie asked.
“It’s a long story,” I replied.
“We don’t have time for long stories,” Blue Tara said just before she screeched. I found myself on the floor of my Ballard apartment, my hands pressed to my ears. Blue Tara helped Jean to her feet. Margarita purred and nuzzled Michael’s head as he lay on the floor on his back. Red Tara pulled Kinqalatlala to her feet. White Tara sat on Princess Tara’s play stand, one foot up with her beak behind her wing.
Blue Tara bent down, grabbed my arms, and yanked me up. Then she walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. “This is a problem,” she said. “You have no beer left.”
“While you all figure out the pizza and beer,” Jean said, “I’m going to jump in the bath. Just bring me some pizza and beer when you have it.”
“So I’ll just run across the street and pick up the pizza and beer,” I said. I looked at Blue Tara. “There’s no need to help with your time and space bend. Okay?”
“I will run across the street with you,” Blue Tara replied. “Just in case of trouble.”
“Ah, no. That would be trouble,” I insisted. “There definitely would be trouble if you joined me looking like you look.”
“You do not find me attractive?” Blue Tara asked, her face furrowed by a frown.
“Are you kidding?” I said. “It’s just that getting the pizza and beer will go a whole lot easier if I don’t have a naked crystalline blue-skinned Amazon goddess with a battle axe to explain.”
Half an hour later I returned to the apartment with a stack of pizza boxes and a couple of cases of beer. While everyone else dove into the pizza and beer, I left a trail of dirty and tattered clothes into the bathroom to join Jean in the bath. I did take a box of pizza and a six-pack of beer into the bathroom with me. Once in the bathtub however, I had other things on my mind instead of food.
As Jean and I settled back at opposite ends of the bathtub, I popped a beer can open and stretched my legs out over Jean’s thighs. The bathroom door opened and Kinqalatlala entered.
“What the fuck!” Jean exclaimed. “Can’t you knock?”
“I need to talk with you,” Kinqalatlala replied. “Is this a bad time?” Jean and I looked at each other.
Kinqalatlala sat on the edge of the bathtub and stuck her fingers into the water, splashing the water back and forth. She ran her fingers up my leg and rested them on my thigh. Jean took Kinqalatlala’s hand and set it on the edge of the bathtub. “You don’t get to play with stuff you don’t own,” she said curtly.
“I feel we got off to a bad start,” Kinqalatlala said.
“No shit,” I replied. “Killing me would do that.”
“I want to tell you a story,” she said. “After you hear this story you can tell me to leave or stay. I will do whatever you command.”
I took a sip of my beer and handed Kinqalatlala a can. “Stories always make me thirsty,” I said.
“Okay. Here goes,” she replied. She popped the beer can open, kicked her head back and guzzled the entire can.
A being from another world, a youngster, grew up in a world without limits. This was a world of winged creatures, of freedom and flying, of sun and peace, of clouds and sky. This youngster had an accident while testing her wings before she was fully fledged. As youngsters these beings stayed close to their community until they mastered the magic of flight. Only when they became proficient fliers did they venture out to explore the wonders and mysteries of their world. They took this precaution because their world was a world apart, a world in the sky of another larger world. Venturing beyond the safety of their community before they fully fledged could easily result in their falling out of the sky. Falling to their oblivion. These occurrences thankfully were rare, but did happen on occasion. Because their numbers were small the loss of even a single member of this tightly knit world in the sky provided a severe shock to the people called the Dluwulaxa.
There was one youngster in this world who possessed a curiosity and thirst for adventure that exceeded any of her peers. In spite of admonishments to the contrary, this youngster ranged farther and farther out to the edges of her world well before she had fully mastered the magic of flight.
One day while testing her flying abilities she stumbled upon the forest of giant mushrooms hidden in the fog on the very rim of her world. While exploring the giant fungi a storm blew up and snatched her in its maw and swept her over the rim. Because this youngster possessed some limited magic of flight she did not fall to her oblivion like most caught in the grip of a storm. She fluttered and fought and flapped her wings until exhaustion overtook her. Then she fell to the earth, spent and helpless.
A tall gaunt man found her lost, hungry, and scared, cowering on a beach, exposed to the elements and on the verge of death. Paralyzed with fear and exhaustion she could not escape this creature. His glowing red eyes set in a face of pallid scalloped yellow skin burned through her soul and destroyed her will to escape. She shrank back from this loathsome creature, the antithesis of the beauty and purity of the beings of her world.
This man knew of the ancient legends his ancestors shared through the ages over lonely campfires of strange winged beings that fell to the earth. He immediately recognized this youngster for what she was. He wrapped this girl in a net and took her to his home. She was too weak to employ her flying or shapeshifting magic to try to escape.
He locked her in a cedar box and only let her out with a chain wrapped around her neck. He only let her out to feed her, just enough to keep her from starving to death. Finally, much later, this man let her out of the cedar box and did not force her to go back in. She had lost track of time, so she did not realize almost a year had passed while she had been confined to the cedar box. By then she no longer was a youngster, but fully grown. The man explained to her that she needed to take a form similar to the humans around him. If she did so, he said, he would free her from confinement in the cedar box. He failed to tell her that the humans around him were his slaves and his meals. For this man was a cannibal called Hamatsa. And the humans that surrounded him were slaves or zombies. He failed to tell her that she would become his slave. But this saved her life. Because by becoming Hamatsa’s slave, Kinqalatlala avoided the gruesome fate of the humans that Hamatsa feasted upon. To become a zombie warrior in his army of the dead.
Hamatsa took her into a large enclosure in his compound. A cell packed with human prisoners. He told her to pick one of the humans out and to visualize becoming to look like that person. She picked out a scared, naked, tall, svelte, young, dark-skinned woman, an immigrant from North Africa with long flowing black hair and a muscular body. She visualized herself as that woman. And she became that woman. When the woman saw Kinqalatlala transform herself into a spitting image of her, she screamed and fell to her knees, pleading for her life. Hamatsa drew a sword from under his black leather frock coat and stuck the point of the sword to the woman’s throat. He told Kinqalatlala to put her hand to her face. She did. He told her to visualize her hand to be a steel blade. She stared at her hand. Nothing.
Hamatsa demanded she concentrate. Focus her thoughts on the sword in his hand. Still nothing. Hamatsa angrily put the point of the sword to Kinqalatlala’s throat. She stared at her hand and the fingers transformed into a narrow steel blade. Hamatsa ordered her to cut the woman’s head off. She recoiled. He stuck the point of his sword in her breast and told her that if she did not cut the woman’s head off he would slice her up with his sword and feed her to his zombies. She swung her arm out with a strength she did not know she possessed and the woman’s head flew off her body. The body collapsed to the floor of the cell, red blood spurting out of its neck, and Hamatsa’s zombies fell on it in a frenzy of feeding. Hamatsa speared the woman’s head with his sword and held it up to Kinqalatlala. He told her if she ever disobeyed him that too would be her fate.
“Oh. My. God!” Jean exclaimed. I downed the can of beer I held in my hand through Kinqalatlala’s story.
“Hamatsa saved my life,” Kinqalatlala said, “but he didn’t warn me that taking human form would prevent me from ever rejoining my people. To repay my debt to him I became his procurer of bodies. My punishment was to bear the responsibility of picking the unfortunates that would become his victims.”
“I am so sorry,” I said. “I can’t imagine the emotional scars you must bear.”
“I did save your life, you know?” Kinqalatlala added, almost as an aside.
“What? How so?” I asked with considerable surprise. “I remember you killing me. I sure as heck don’t remember you saving me.”
“At Red Square. At your university. When we first met at the monoliths. Hamatsa ordered me to cut off your head, like I did with the woman whose likeness I bear.”
“I guess you failed,” I smirked.
“I disobeyed his order. Instead of killing you I tackled you and let you go.”
“That I remember. I dropped the crystal when you jumped me.”
“That’s when I realized Hamatsa was not omnipotent. That’s when I recognized something special about you. I saw you the way Blue Tara saw you. I recognized that Blue Tara picked you for the same reason. She recognized you had the qualities that could be deserving of the special gift of the tlogwe. The special magic that could bring me my freedom and restore me to my world.”
“It’s time for you to get out of the bathroom,” Jean said, pointing to the door.
“I could leave,” Kinqalatlala replied. She stood up and pulled off her clothing. “Or I could join you.” She stepped into the bathtub and slid down into the water next to me.
We all sat around the dining table with glasses of wine in our hands, the table stacked with empty pizza boxes and beer cans. White Tara sat perched on Princess Tara’s play stand, one foot up, her beak behind her wing. Margarita lay curled up in a furry black ball under the table at Michael’s feet, sleeping. Jean and I sat next to each other wearing matching checked terry cloth robes. Jean wrapped a towel around her hair. She leaned back in her chair and rested her legs across my thighs. Kinqalatlala sat barefooted in Charlie’s blue jeans and flannel shirt, unbuttoned two-thirds of the way down the front. I knew she wore no underwear under her clothes. Michael sat in a borrowed pair of U Dub purple and gold sweatpants, with a matching sweatshirt, the only clothes I had that would fit him. Blue Tara sat dressed as, well. . . Blue Tara. She did lean her battle axe up against the wall. Red Tara sat resplendent in her brightly colored silken skirts and shawl draped over one shoulder. I suspected there was magic involved that made her clothing seem so fresh, clean, and vibrant.
“I want to thank everyone for making me feel so welcome,” Kinqalatlala said, raising her wine glass. I noticed Jean roll her eyes.
“Hear! Hear!” Michael exclaimed.
“What’s the plan?” I asked, somewhat tentatively.
“Sleeping for a week is my plan,” Jean replied.
“Your apartment seems very crowded suddenly,” Michael observed. “Where’s everyone going to stay? Say for tonight?”
“I’ve got a couple of empty apartments in the building,” I said. “We can use those. Strangely enough, I had a bunch of tenants suddenly want to move out.”
“Can’t imagine why,” Michael smirked.
“But seriously,” I continued. “After tonight. What’s the plan?”
Blue Tara drained her wine glass. Not that I’ve had much experience with goddesses drinking, but it seemed to me she sure could put down the alcohol. I made a mental note to myself never to get into a drinking game with her. “We must continue to focus on our paramount goal,” she said.
“Yeah,” I replied. “I know. Find the tlogwe.” Blue Tara nodded. “Well, that’s a given. But what’s the plan to find the tlogwe?” I turned to look at Kinqalatlala.
Kinqalatlala looked back at me. “If you were fortunate enough to receive the gift of the tlogwe, what would you do with it?” she asked me.
“That’s easy. Save the world. Destroy Hamatsa. Return you to your world.”
“Those are fine sentiments. But how would you do that? Even the magic of the tlogwe would not allow you to simply snap your fingers and bring peace to the world.”
“It wouldn’t? That’s how they do it in those Harry Potter movies.” Kinqalatlala stared at me stonefaced. “Well, since I don’t know what the tlogwe is I couldn’t very well know what I would do with it.”
“Would you come back with me to my world? To Dluwulaxa?”
“I already said I would. To help restore you to your people.”
“What if I said that receiving the gift of the tlogwe could only be accomplished by joining with me in Dluwulaxa?” Clearly agitated, Jean noticeably and loudly dropped her feet to the floor and sat up straight in her chair.
“Then we would have to find another way to defeat Hamatsa,” I replied. “I think I was pretty clear when I said I wasn’t going to abandon my world and my friends for you and your world.”
Blue Tara leaned over and put her hand on Kinqalatlala’s shoulder. “We need to separate the issue of finding the gift of the tlogwe from the issue of helping you and your people,” she said.
“It’s not quid pro quo,” I added. Blue Tara gave me a quizzical look.
“Before we can even address the issue of helping your world,” Blue Tara said to Kinqalatlala, “you need to help direct us in our search for the tlogwala. We’ve been through the underground city. We’ve been to the ancient Indian village. We’ve been to the world of the Dluwulaxa.”
“And each time you told us we were closer to finding the tlogwala than we knew,” I interjected. “So tell us. Where do we search next?”
Kinqalatlala got to her feet, stepped over to me, put her arms across my shoulders and straddled my thighs. She bent over and licked my lips with her tongue and kissed me. “You are as close to the tlogwala as you’ve ever been,” she said coyly.
Jean jumped out of her chair, knocking it over, grabbed Kinqalatlala’s shoulders and pulled her off me, throwing her onto the floor. “That’s enough!” she cried out. “I want this game to stop. Now!”
“Once and for all,” I said, jumping up out of my chair, “please tell us where to look for the tlogwala.”
Kinqalatlala climbed to her feet. “The tlogwala stands before you,” she said. My jaw hit the floor. “I am the tlogwala.”
“No shit!” Michael exclaimed. “It wasn’t Hamatsa after all.”
I fell back into my chair, my arms hanging limp at my sides. “I don’t know whether to believe you or not,” I said. “You couldn’t tell us this before?”
“You were not ready to receive this knowledge before. I am unsure you are ready to receive this knowledge now.”
“Does Hamatsa know you are the tlogwala?” Blue Tara asked.
“No,” Kinqalatlala replied. “I kept this knowledge from him. It is not long ago that I discovered this knowledge about myself.”
“Once Hamatsa finds out you are the tlogwala he will tear Seattle down brick by brick looking for you,” Blue Tara stated.