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Two Trails - Title

Chapter 48

Storm and Lorelei spent the rest of the day talking about their brief encounter with the Knights of Gaia and their ship, the Sky Hawk. After exchanging names and well wishes they’d parted ways, watching the strange galleon, which the crew assured them was actually a starship, head back into the sky, finally climbing so high it vanished out of sight. It reminded Storm of watching a launch at Kennedy Space Center but without all the flames, smoke, and thunder. Gaia might be primitive compared to Earth in many ways, but starships were something the people of Earth could only dream about in movies and such. It made him wonder what else Gaia had that Earth didn’t.

Well, they had The Six, he amended. Earth definitely didn’t have gods popping in and out, threatening people, and trying to take over the world. Of course, they weren’t actually gods, they were fallen angels and had some very real limitations.

He paused.


He ticked off the limits he’d learned about them recently. They couldn’t directly harm anyone who didn’t worship them. If he and Ralt was right in their assessment of Adrammelech and Ashima’s behavior, they had to wait until a non-worshiper attacked them before they could so much as spit on them. After that, all bets were off. But until a person attacked one of the “gods” he or she was basically immune. Oh, the “gods” could order their followers to attack an unbeliever but they couldn’t do it themselves until after being attacked. The compact they’d made apparently required them to keep any promises or deals they made. He’d also learned from Aram they had to wait 36 days between appearances on Gaia. No one knew why, but once one of the “gods” appeared on Gaia in person, when they left they had to wait 36 days before they could appear in person again.

The fourth thing was one he’d always known but hadn’t really thought about.

They could be killed.

Before the Chaos Wars there had been hundreds of “gods”, six hundred and sixty six of them if the stories told by the elders in the Bear Clan could be believed, and the number had been confirmed by both Durin and Aram in separate conversations back in Zered, but now there were only six left. So, while they might not die of old age, they could definitely be killed. There was also the commonly told story that their power and their very lives depended on the number of worshipers each one had. If a “god” lost all their worshipers they would die.

Storm chewed it over as the leagues slipped by under them. He was uncomfortable with the “God stuff” dealing with the real God, but these weren’t gods. They were monsters. Powerful ones, of course, but still, just monsters. He laughed silently at his own conceit, just monsters!

No matter what he did to avoid it, he seemed destined to keep running into them so maybe there was some way he could show people what they really were and rob them of their worshipers, thus ending their miserable lives once and for all. He was still mulling it over when Lorelei caught his attention.

“Look! You can see the end of the lake!” She pointed ahead of them.

They still had a good fifty miles to go, or fifty leagues as she thought of it, but he could see the end of the lake from this high up. He nodded. “We won’t make it before sunset, but we’ll reach it well before noon tomorrow.”

“Then we’ll reach the plains where my people roam,” she added. She was obviously excited to be almost home again.

“Happy to be back?”

She looked troubled. She nudged her pegasus closer to his so they wouldn’t have to shout. “Not happy so much as relieved at the end of a long journey. It’s been well over a year since my father died. When I left, I didn’t know if I’d ever be back or not.”

“And now that you are?”

She bit her lip. “I keep thinking about Klah. The idea of him being the one who killed father is like a knife in my heart.”

Her attitude was much improved the next morning as they passed the northern end of Namak Lake and she began pointing out familiar landmarks to him. The western third of the Biqah Prairie was known as the Riverlands for the great rivers that drained out of the Rampart Mountains and flowed south to Namak Lake.

On the west was the Sundown River. On the east side of the Riverlands was the Wolfhead River. About 70 leagues north of the Namak Lake, the Snake River joined the Wolfhead for its final rush to Namak Lake. Named for its twisting, winding path, the Snake River lay about halfway between the other two until it turned east and joined the Wolfhead. Near the juncture of the Snake and the Wolfhead was the Abeytu winter camping grounds. Many other tribes wintered up and down the rivers as well. It was nearing the time of year when they would leave the Riverlands and begin their summer roaming across the great prairie. On the western banks of the Wolfhead lay their ancient burial grounds, accessible via a natural rock bridge they called, the Bridge of the Gods.

Storm found himself amused by the name when Lorelei told him about it. On Earth, there had once supposedly been a natural rock bridge over the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington thousands of year ago. The Indian tribes referred to it as the Bridge of the Gods too. When modern engineers build a man-made bridge over the river at the same spot, that became it’s name as well. There was even a restaurant near the bridge with a picture on the wall showing an “artist’s conception” of what the natural bridge must have looked like. He was interested to see how closely the one here on Gaia matched that old drawing.

Although the Biqah was a prairie, the land near the three rivers was lush and green with plenty of trees. Away from the Bridge of the Gods, the Biqah tribes made canoes from the tall trees on the riverbanks and paddled them up and down the rivers for fishing, travel, and commerce. Some tribes, like the Abeytu stored their canoes in caves or wooden sheds when they weren’t being used or when the tribe was roaming over the rest of the great prairie.

That night, Storm and Lorelei made camp about halfway between the northern edge of Namak Lake and the lower reaches of the Snake River.

“Tomorrow, we’ll cross the Snake and find my father’s grave,” she told him as they snuggled by their tiny fire. The harsh dry winds from the Akhu were gone, replaced by gentle breezes. In the evening calm, the smoke from their fire went straight up into the night sky.

“You told us you rode away from your father’s grave. How did you get across the rivers? I can’t imagine a horse in a canoe.”

“Me either.” She smiled at him. “My tribe built canoes and hid them in camouflaged sheds and cave because it took a lot of work to make them, but we also build flat rafts. They aren’t much more than a bunch of logs lashed together. When we’re done with them, we leave them so other tribes can use them too. Those tribes do the same thing, so there are rafts scattered up and down the banks of the rivers everywhere you go. It was easy to find one and paddle it across the river.”

With flying mounts, they didn’t have to bother looking for a raft when they reached the Snake River early the next morning. They flew over it and began searching for the Abeytu burial grounds. “It’s about 10 or 12 leagues from the Bridge of the Gods,” she told him. “There are a lot trees in the area so we’ll have to land to find it.”

He nodded. “Lead the way.” He waved her ahead of him.

She flashed him a smile then urged her pegasus toward the ground. Soon they were trotting through sun dappled trees and tall grass. Except for the height of the grass, it could almost be a park. She found her bearings nearly at once. “This way.”

Before long they saw animal skulls dangling from tree branches, a warning to travelers they were entering a burial ground. Lorelei pointed to a boulder the size of a house. It had strange markings chiseled into it with painted runes next to them. “Glory Rock,” she told him. “The names of our greatest warriors and chiefs are here, painted on the rock for the lesser ones, chiseled in for all time for the greater ones.” She glanced up at the sun. “Father’s grave is this way.”

She rode due north for less than a minute then suddenly exclaimed in dismay.

“What is it?”

She threw herself off her pegasus. “It’s empty! Father’s grave is empty!”

Storm dismounted and joined her. The grave was in the middle of a small clearing. A circle of rocks outlined its location. But instead of a flat ground with grass growing up, there was a hole in the ground. Nearby was a mound of dirt. Whoever had taken the body hadn’t bothered to fill in the grave when they were finished. The desecration must have taken place soon after Crowsotarri was buried because there was tall grass growing inside the empty grave and on the mound of grave dirt too.

Storm forced himself to look at the desecrated grave the way his policeman friend might. Who gained anything from taking the body? It hadn’t been filled in, which made him wonder if any Abeytu had been out here since Crowsotarri died. He asked Lorelei about it.

She shook her head in confusion. “Why would anyone come here? Crowsotarri isn’t here. It’s just a dead body.”

He gave her a brief grin. “The Bear Clan felt the same way. I was just checking.” He dug into his saddlebags and pulled out the mirror phone. “I want to talk to Gerald and Aram, see if there’s some magical reason a person might want a dead body.”

Lorelei shuddered. “How could you think of such a thing? That’s horrible.”

Storm activated the mirror and waited for Gerald to answer. “Remind me to tell you about Frankenstein some day.”

She started to say something but the mirror cleared suddenly and Gerald was staring at them. Aram hovered over his shoulder in the background. Storm could see just enough past them to ascertain they were in Gerald’s upstairs study in his tower. “Storm, my boy! How good of you to call. Hello, Lorelei.” He waved at her. She lifted a hand in his direction. “So, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

Storm nodded hello to him. “Hello, Gerald. Aram, I’m glad to see you’re there. I’ve got a question that one or the other of you might be able to answer.”

Gerald did something to his mirror then stepped back so both he and Aram were standing side-by-side looking at them. “By all means, my boy, by all means. What is it?”

He briefly explained where they were and what they’d found. “My question is, is there any kind of magical use someone would have for a dead body?”

“Was there something special about the dead man? Was he born on a particular day like Lorelei? Was he sacrificed or used in magic ceremony that caused his death? Was he suffering from a curse when he died? Were other dead bodies dug up around the same time?” Both of them threw a barrage of questions at him.

After consulting with Lorelei, he told them, “No to all of them. I’m pretty sure there aren’t any Frankenstein types running around on the Biqah, so what other uses would someone have for a dead body?” He saw their puzzled expressions and headed them off before they could ask. “Long story, I’ll tell you some other time. But why would someone want a body?”

Gerald pursed his lips. “Well, some barbarian tribes in the Ramparts are known to believe eating a dead enemy will allow you to absorb his power or strength. It’s hogwash of course, but they persist anyway.” He shrugged. “Who knows? Some of the Biqah tribes might have picked up that belief from them. They mingle a lot during those big festivals they have each summer, don’t they?”

Lorelei had come up to Storm’s shoulder. She nodded emphatically. “We mingle quite a bit during them. There are a lot of children born after those festivals.”

Gerald inclined his head at her. “There you go, my boy. Mystery solved.”

Storm had heard of such things on Earth too. Ritual cannibalism was fairly common among the more primitive tribes around the world. “Part of it,” he agreed.

Lorelei pushed him aside with her hip. “I’ve got a question. Something strange is happening to me and Storm. We seem to be using each other’s powers lately. Have you ever heard of such a thing?”

Gerald shook his head.

Aram butted in. “I have.”

Storm felt his eyebrows go up. “You have?”

“Of course. I’m surprised it happened to you so fast, but it’s actually quite common among those who follow the Lord of Light.”

Storm and Lorelei blinked at each other in confusion. They turned back to him. “What are you talking about?”

Aram smiled benignly. “The Lord of Light insists on monogamy, telling us that a man and woman who marry become one flesh in His sight. Shedey’uwr, the priest from Elder Earth who brought us the news of the Lord of Light and established His first Temple on Gaia, wrote about it in his journals. As a result of being one flesh, a husband and wife who have special powers or abilities will eventually share them with each other.”

Storm held up a hand in protest. “Wait, wait. Shedey’uwr? You mean, like the proverbs of Shedey’uwr? That Shedey’uwr?”

Aram nodded happily. “The very one. Do you know another one?” He bounced on the balls of his feet. “It probably happened to you so fast because you’ve in battle together all the time.” He nodded to himself.

“Uh, how long will it last?” Lorelei wanted to know.

He was surprised. “Isn’t it obvious? As long as you’re married.”

It was more than Storm was ready for at the moment. He waved it off impatiently. “Okay, look, this all fascinating as Mister Spock would say, but we’re getting off the subject. Aside from ritual cannibalism, there’s no other use either of you can think of to explain why someone might want Crowsotarri’s body?”

Lorelei gave him a curious look but kept silent.

Gerald and Aram were equally puzzled but they didn’t resist his efforts to change the subject. “No, none.”

“Thanks.” He said some hurried good-byes then ended the call. As soon as the mirror went dark he dropped it in his saddlebag and walked away, breathing hard. He strode back and forth, clenching and unclenching his fists.

Lorelei let him stew, knowing it was useless to question him in this state. He’d talk when he was ready. She sat down cross-legged on the ground to wait.

After about an hour of pacing, he came over and dropped down beside her. “I hate feeling like a pawn in somebody else’s game,” he said without preamble. “This sharing powers thing caught me by surprise. I mean, it’s nice knowing you can heal people if I’m out of it for some reason, and objectively, I don’t mind being able to shoot a bow like you can – I just don’t like having it dropped on us like this without any warning.” He heaved a huge sigh.

She laid a comforting hand on the side of his face. “It’s strange for me too. But, on the bright side, it proves the Lord of Light approves of our marriage. It proves it’s a real marriage.”

He managed a brief smile. “And here I thought it was wedding rings, a passel of kids, and a 30-year mortgage that proved it.”

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