Green Cabin part 80

He felt his eyes close. Felt Minerva clinging to him, her small arms tight around his neck. Then they slowed dramatically. He opened his eyes and watched as the wave diminished and vanished. The boat was no more than a mile from shore. The brown mountains, which he now saw were as much green as brown towered thousands of feet in front of them.

As he examined the mountains, he heard the engine sputter. He turned to learn if he could keep it stable when it quit completely. The sudden silence was punctuated by small waves lapping at the hull. The sound was a dull wet slap.

Stanton looked at his daughter and realized she fallen asleep in his arms. Smiling and feeling true affection, he gently carried her below deck and placed her on a lower bunk, tucked her in and returned to find Taisie guiding the boat on a current that led directly to the dock before them.

As he moved to stand alongside her, he looked at the land they approached. As with the locations he docked before, this too was basically barren. The dock they would tie up to extended at least a hundred feet into the lake. Beyond it there was a small stone building so similar to the one he and Margaret spent a night in that for a second he felt an uneasy stab of confusion.

With a small headshake, he looked beyond. There he saw landscape looking layered with green plateaus forming a path through the forest of conifer trees that carpeted the mountainside. What he saw gradually rose up the side of the mountain until he could no longer see much detail.

“I can only wonder if this place will finally bring me to the destination I’ve been struggling to reach since returning to the ring world.” He spoke more to himself than to his companion.

“Perhaps it will.” Taisie’s voice sounded flat like she’d answered in a way that would hide her feelings.

“It never does.” He answered himself.

The boat floated to the nearest dock, drifted until the bow bumped against a piling. Friction slowed the boat enough to enable Stanton to jump off and on the dock. He turned and caught the rope Taisie threw, quickly wrapped it around tie-off piling. The boat pulled the rope taut and then stopped moving.

He wrapped a second rope around a second piling as Taisie began unloading supplied. Minvera stood watching them. She didn’t seem curious but did seem to understand their tasks.

Finally after months of travel, nearly a year he knew, Stanton helped his child off the boat, and lifted her on his hip. He grabbed his backpack and accompanied Taisie onto the land.

No one was there to greet them, or to repel their approach. He had retained his hand held laser weapon, but was glad he wouldn’t need it then.

Neither of the spoke but they walked side by side and began the climb to the first plateau. The slope was gradual but after several hours with but one stop, he legs began to burn.

“We should rest,” Taisie said as if reading his pain. “You have injured places that will never be as they were. Even an immortal can push his body until it demands a difference.” She waved at a downed tree that lay in the shade of others. “We can sit there eat and drink. Minerva looked tired and hungry.”

Stanton lowered the girl to the ground. He let her walk for as long as she wanted and carried her for the rest. She looked at him and yawned. He small teeth were pointed, but he decided that was common for all toddlers. She’s no ordinary child, he thought as he recalled her fighting the lake serpent.

Squatting he sat on the log drew a low groan. He lower back hurt. Along with areas were he now had scar tissue that hadn’t been there on earth.

“I’m immortal but I heal and scar like a normal human.” He stated.

Taisie nodded with no verbal replay. She was busy preparing a meal for Minerva.

Stanton prepped adult rations and then the three ate. “We’ll need to locate a place to spend the night.”

“We can camp if needed.”

He nodded and watched Minerva finish eating. After they’d cleaned up, they walked in the edge of the forest to keep them from getting too much sun. The day was warm.

Stanton spotted a trail and guided them to it. As they progressed the trees grew thicker, closer together forming a green canopy that provide shade, which cooled the air several degrees.

The path curved to the left and as they walked around the curve, a rumbling sound behind them grew louder as it neared. Stanton turned, digging out the laser, only to see that the forest was closing off the trail. Trees grew with astonishing speed. He scooped up Minerva and began running. Taisie was several steps ahead, and stumbled as the ground under her feet acted like a wave, then opened and she disappeared.

Green Cabin part 79

He hadn’t thought ahead enough to plan for transportation. Until then, everything seemed to fall into place without his having to do any more than being there. That too suddenly felt important as he focused on it. Then the warrior tapped his shoulder and Stanton felt as if she’d dragged him from thoughts that might pull him into a quagmire of confusion. Too much had occurred since Margaret’s death including the discovery that he was immortal.

He turned to look at his companion and she pointed into the lake water. Looking where she pointed he saw a pod of dolphins and wondered if they were from earth.

“Earth animals?” he asked.

“I couldn’t say with any honesty. I’ve seen them uncounted times when traveling on any of the lakes.” She glanced up as if she could see the other lakes dotting the surface of the ring world.

“Are they dangerous?” he asked.

“No. They’ve never harmed any human. Well not that I’ve heard.”

He nodded silently.

The dolphins remained with them for two days and nights. Early morning on the third day while Stanton sat in the captains chair watching a horizon that never seemed to grow nearer everything changed.

First he heard absolute silence. He stood to investigate and discovered their escorts missing. The lake surface glowed like polished glass reflecting the ring world’s darkness with a edge of sparkling stars. Stanton had to check to be sure the boat still moved. He found it moving at the exact speed as the last time he checked.

Beginning to feel apprehensive, he looked to the rear. As he turned he noticed a large bubble rising to the surface a few hundred feet behind the boat.

At first he didn’t react. Then as the bubble surfaced and he thought he saw the head of a water serpent within, he raced into the boat to be certain Minerva was safely in her bunk. The girl slept.

Taisie was on her feet as he dropped to the below deck.

“Something behind us,” he whispered harshly.

Taisie nodded and climbed to the foredeck followed by Stanton. As they reached it, the bubble burst. From within lifted a massive dragon’s head. The creature was long like a snake, but had small wing like appendages a third of the way down its body. At the end of its tail a single steering wing curled and acted like a rudder.

The beast rose skyward to tower fifty feet above their boat. It opened its huge mouth showing rows of dagger-sized teeth. Then it pulled back, roared loud enough to send the boat speeding ahead of it.

Stanton felt certain it would sink them and turned to get Minvera. As he did the child climbed to stand alongside him. She raised her small arms and as he watched transformed into a creature like the one that controlled Margaret. Her small wings spread. As they did, they grew in size and strength. Suddenly his child was in the air confronting the sea creature.

Minerva roared. It sounded as small as she, but the beast responded. It did not attempt to harm her, but actually seemed worried. Minerva spit flames into it face and the beast reeled back howling loud enough for the sound to echo off distant mountains.

Then it curled around its tail, and dove back into the lake. As it did it created a tsunami like wave that kept rising until it was three times the height of the boat.

Minerva returned to join Stanton and Taisie and resumed human form.

“Hold on!” Stanton shouted and grabbed to wheel with one arm, and Minerva with the other. He saw Taisie dive to wrap her arms around the base of the captain’s chair. Then the wave lifted them to it crest and raced across the lake. The moved faster as the wave traveled through the center of the lake.

Sure the wave would slam them into the mountains now fast approaching, Stanton felt his heart sink. Can’t even save Margaret’s child, he thought sorrowfully.

Green Cabin part 78

They were showing wear scuffed at the toes he saw when he too looked. “Okay,” he said not knowing how to address her words and the obvious feelings speaking them aloud made her relive.

Doesn’t seem like she thinks badly of our being together. He thought.

“Do you understand what is Minerva doing?” he asked to change the subject as he thought as calmly as possible, the warriors are immortals too.

He glanced at her, caught her eyes and she smiled kindly as if to acknowledge this thought without adding to it verbally.

“Minerva grows quickly. We believe that is because of her parents contributing to her DNA mix. Margaret was somewhat of a creation using ancient DNA manipulation technology. Forbidden since her century. Very crude and inhumane. Any scientist since attempting to duplicate what was done to your Margaret was executed without trial. As you might imagine that abusive behavior ended quickly.”

“But Minerva is so small.”

“She will grow. We do not know yet if she is one of us.” The warrior tapped her own chest and then his letting Stanton know she meant immortal.

“How about breakfast? I’m hungry. Has she eaten, have you?”

“Minerva was served like a princess. I am hungry and would be pleased to join you. Perhaps we can try to learn what your mission is here…mine too since I’m to travel with you again to your destination.”

They found a stand-alone brick and mortar building that housed a restaurant. It had a row of windows along the street side with an entry door in the middle. They entered sat on padded benches with a wood slab table in the middle and ordered breakfast of scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, buttered toast, and coffee.

They ate in silence. Stanton savored every bite, sipping his black coffee as if he believed it was the last cup he might receive for days or weeks to come. Of course, he knew better. They had reached a reasonably civilized part of the ring world.

“We need a boat to cross the lake,” Stanton told her as he pushed his empty plate aside. “One with cabins and that can withstand the storm cycles.”

“I will work with Pedro to locate and secure one.” She stood, leaned slightly, smiled warmly and added, “I have always enjoyed being you companion. The missions you are on are convoluted in ways no one could easily imagine, which to me makes living more exciting.”

She straightened and left the restaurant.

Stanton felt ready to get on with the mission. And as he thought that he knew something he’d not thought about in detail. He had never known Attrea in his past. The green cabin and his time there, her affection and then his leaving through a time portal to arrive on the ring world did not match any previous experience he could recall. She was an anomaly and that was troubling and too exciting.

Who are you Attrea? What is your interest in me, and my child?He thought as he recalled the massage sent him through William. He walked from the restaurant and stood just to the left of the door looking at the small town where Pedro lived comfortably. Everyone he saw seemed to be smiling as they stopped to talk to a friend or neighbor. No one hurried the way he’d witnessed on earth. No one looked like they felt neglected.

Yet again this is not a place I can remain and Minerva cannot grow up here. It doesn’t seem like a peaceful existence can be mine. But I must find somewhere that Minerva can live out her childhood safely.

In the distance he saw Taisie talking with Pedro and another man who he did not recognize. The stranger was waving his arms as he spoke and pointed frequently in the direction of the lake.

Stanton began walking in their direction, but stopped when he felt a small hand wrap fingers around his thumb. He stopped and squatted to look in her eyes on her level.

“Are you ready to ride in a boat for a few days?” he asked.

“Maybe I am,” she said in her little girl voice, which was seriously different that the voice she’d used when speaking with the crowd of adults.

“Good,” he said and then asked, “What did you talk about with those people this morning.”

“Some said they knew you, I, um, I wanted to know too.”

Stanton nodded, stood and held out his hand. She grasped it and they walked to intercept the warrior heading towards them.

Taisie met him and said, “We have arranged for the use of a large boat with two cabins, a head, which I’m told is a bathroom, and a small fully stocked kitchenette. We can leave as soon as the fuel tanks are full.”

“Fossil fuels?” He asked recalling his conversation with Margaret. He hadn’t really known about their use in the past, and now wondered if when he recalled more of his long life, he might.

“It is different not fossil fuel but a safe synthetic that will burn slower so it won’t need refilling until we reached out destination across the lake.”

“Good, I suppose. I’m not recalling much regarding energy producing products.”

Taisie smiled and nodded. “You never did care.”

“We should gather our gear and head down to the dock.” He said to change from a subject that was oddly making him uncomfortable.

She laughed lightly and nodded her agreement.

Fifteen minutes passed before they again stood by the large boat. Taisie had her armor and weapons stacked on the dock, along with a canvas travel bag nearly as long as she was tall. Stanton carried his gear and Minerva’s pack. His daughter carried a doll dressed as a warrior with a cloth helmet and boots up to mid-thigh.

They climbed aboard. Stanton took the cabin closest to the stairs up to the deck. The warrior led Minerva to the cabin closet to the bow. As Stanton climbed into the captain’s chair, he saw that Pedro and several others from town had come to the dock to see them off.

He waved at Pedro and his friend untied the boat from the dock. As the boat began drifting into the lake, Taisie appeared and ignited the engines. With a simple twist of the wrist, Stanton turned the rudder aiming the boat into the center of the lake.

A final glance over his shoulder showed him that the docks were empty. Everybody had returned to the daily routines. He was unsure how he felt. Part of him regretted leaving the village’s safety. Another part of him was anxious to strive for a successful voyage and reunification with Attrea. But that too caused him a brief flash of trepidation since he felt he had no knowledge to guide him when he arrived across the lake.

Green Cabin part 77

Then he began trying to understand why the ring world would be that way if the humans allowed to travel to it were pre-selected.

“Offspring,” Pedro said as if reading his mind. “They feel trapped like any generation on old earth did and struggle to find reason among the tranquil passivity. There are no conflicts here that amount to, much more than a few men and women fighting an equal number opposed to what they fight over. Boring really. Warriors are often scoffed at since they represent a time in human history many here believe was purposeful and necessary. However warriors such as Taisie are deemed magical and walk among us with an air of mystery none other dare challenge. Well except for a few like those we just witnessed. And as you suspect, she would have bested them one by one or all at once.”

“I hate it when you do that.” Stanton retorted without a trace of anger.

“What know what you’re thinking? To me you are quite transparent.” Pedro stood and said, “Come let’s get you and Minerva settled in then we can see about a proper meal.”

Stanton woke as the sun began to creep over whatever the ring world used for a horizon. He felt uncertain if he should stay with Pedro’s people for a time or continue to the lake. A lake that was matched by a string of lakes that lay equidistant around the entire ring. He knew then that he was beginning to recall more of his past and wondered if he was alive when the ring world was constructed.

Why if I know about this world’s history as if I was born and raised here, did I travel to earth and live a life there? Have I done that repeatedly traveling back and forth? Will I remember thousands the years I’ve apparently lived? What is the purpose of whatever it is I do? How many people have I loved, watched grow old and die? Why does that thought feel like a significant burden? This life I’m experiencing now how much was and is real? Do I begin each one as an infant?

I should remember the answers. Maybe when I begin a new journey my mind creates a past so when I meet and speak with people who are adults I sound like one of them. I can tell them about a childhood that fits the time they live. Right now this is confusing. I must return and discuss in depth this with Julia.

He stood, stretched and discovered that his daughter was not in her bed or in the room they were given.

“I must talk to her about disappearing. Seems she thinks she’s invulnerable, or untouchable. Not a habit she should develop.” He washed his face by splashing cold water on it, dried and went out into the early morning sun. The air was dry carried odors of plants, and flowers, people cooking.

He heard laughter and walked that way, stopping when he saw Minerva standing in the center of the group of adults. She was waving her arms, gesturing as if to make a point, and she was talking like an adult.

For a second she looked exactly like Margaret and Stanton felt a serious stab of grief.

For an immortal guy who must’ve experienced hundreds of deaths like hers you still feel deeply, perhaps too deeply.

“No,” said a female voice. Taisie stepped alongside him. She was not wearing armor, but ordinary clothing. “You must feel what every other human feels.”

“Good god does everyone around here read my mind?” He stared at her.

“You project your thoughts and those of us adept at reading them know what you think, but it only happens when you feelings are intense. Otherwise we cannot read your thoughts.”

He continued looking at her eyes. “Have you and I traveled together in the past, um, distant past?”

“As we do now we have been together fifteen times. Each one ended when you or I were sent on a separate mission.” She grew quiet and then said, “Once we were lovers.” She glanced down at her feet as if to inspect her well kept boots.

Green Cabin part 76

He sighed mentally and focused on the place where he stood not where he’d been before or where he wished to be.

Taisie and Minerva watched a stable hand care for their horses while Stanton joined Pedro and sat on a bench to talk. Minerva joined them and climbed on Stanton’s lap.

“She’s yours then?” Pedro asked with affection.

“My girl Minerva.”

Pedro nodded at the warrior. “Her mother?”

Stanton shook his head. “Her mother is no longer with us. Her name was Margaret. She was born in the first half of the twenty-fist century.” He watched Pedro eyes widening, eyebrows arching and knew his friend understood the implications. “We ran into trouble in the kingdom.” He said no more. He knew Pedro understood which kingdom.

“They are evil and the latest reports to leak out told us about a couple of unexpected visitors their king was anxious to keep around. That was you then?”

Stanton nodded. “Suppose it was. They hid a device in her leg that exploded the moment we were outside their perimeter.”

“One day we must assemble an army to clean that hornet’s nest out.”

Stanton nodded agreement. “I will want to be part of that cleansing.”

Minerva tugged at his sleeve and pointed to where the warrior faced a group of men. She seemed tense as the men formed a slow circle around her.

Pedro also checked to see what the girl pointed to and then said, “I’ll fix this. They’re troupers that spent weeks patrolling our outer perimeter. Afraid they’ve got some needs that will be denied. I know some thing about men may never change, but we are doing better as we weed out the worst.” He stood and waved over a woman dressed in a blue uniform with green diagonal strips on the sleeves indicating rank.

“Tell them to go the hell home and leave our guests their peace while that are here.”

The woman nodded and strode quickly to interfere. Stanton watched briefly and turned away once the aggressors left the area. Taisie stared at Stanton as if sending a message. He didn’t understand completely but suspected the message wasn’t entirely a thanks you.

She is a warrior, he told himself. Likely she wanted the opportunity to take out a couple of them.

Pedro must have sensed Stanton’s discomfort. “Worry not about your warrior friend. I’ve seen her fight and it wasn’t a scene you would desire for your daughter to witness. Taisie is ruthless and relentless. Once engaged, she will battle any enemy and the outcome is nearly the same each time. She succeeds. Occasionally she is wounded, but not often.” He glanced at Stanton. “Now I’m not saying she would be ungrateful that we interfered, but it is likely she wanted a taste of blood, if you understand my meaning. If Taisie thought of Minerva before reacting to the assault, like she was not about to, she would never have engaged in combat in front of Minerva.”

Stanton’s mouth pulled to one side as he fought a sardonic smile. He ran his fingers through his hair and then turned to look at his child. There was, he understood something about her that defied her young age. She seemed older and he wondered if the healers might be responsible. After all, the world on which they lived was clearly quite hostile.

Green Cabin part 75

When he reached the surface, he found the warrior seated alongside a fire on which she was preparing a meal. Minerva was wrapped in blankets sleeping.

“Sorry I was gone so long.” He told her. He went to his gear and slid the sword behind the harness.

“Dinner is fixed. You should eat. Tomorrow will be a long day.”

He sat near her and filled a plate with savory meat, gravy, and brown bread. Then after helping clean up, he slept better than he’d done in what felt like years.

Sunlight greeted him, burning through his eyelids. He was on his back now staring at the blue sky dotted with small clouds drifting to the east. He sat and saw Minerva carefully eating with her fingers. Not sure if he should help her or tell her how to do it differently, he did neither.

The warrior was fastening her saddle and gear. She looked at him and nodded to the child without speaking.

He imagined she’d become tired of telling him to eat, which made him smile.

After he assisted his daughter on her horse, and discovered there was a strap that went across her hips to help her stay in the saddle.

“Not tight,” she said in her small voice.

“Tell me if it is,” he said and gave it a tug.

“Good now.”

Finishing, he arranged his gear and mounted the horse. They returned to the plank road as it wound past the mound of earth. He thought briefly of the woman underground, realized he’d not asked her name and shrugged it off.

Julia, floated in his mind and then he knew that was she. Safe travel, Stanton.

Ego vinces omnes, he replied and felt the sensation of her smile. Dein regressus.

By early afternoon, they reached to entrance to the village they selected on the map before starting out. The wall around the town was flat fieldstone built to a height of about ten feet. He did not see any sentry towers so felt the people within would prove less aggressive and hopefully more welcoming. The warrior rode first in to the town. No one seemed to be bothered by her presence. Minerva and he followed closely behind and the reaction they received was vastly different.

“You have returned.” He heard a male shout and turned in the saddle to locate the speaker. “Stanton I’m here.”

Stanton saw a man raise both arms hands out fingers spread and he knew him. He stood Stanton’s height and was narrow shouldered with a small what people on earth often called beer belly. He needed a shave, had thick dark eyebrows and a handlebar mustache.

“Pedro,” he greeted his friend. “I suspect it has been years since I last saw you.”

The warrior had stopped and watched the exchange. Her eyes didn’t show concern as Pedro strode over and stuck out both hands for Stanton to grasp.

Stanton jumped down and grabbed his friend in an embrace.

“Where did they send you this time?” Pedro asked not really sounding like it mattered or that he cared.

“Such a long story,” Stanton began, and took the reins of Minerva’s horse walking it and his horse towards a stable he was familiar with. Stanton knew that before his time with Julia that he’d not have recognized Pedro. Now everything felt familiar.

Where have I been, he thought. Why can I not recall any details other than time spent in the village together with Blythe. Was all that a lie? It doesn’t feel unreal. The pain I suffered watching her die and the guilt I still feel because I’m an immune who was unwilling to sacrifice his own life in a feeble attempt to save others. Most of them in the end wouldn’t have been saved. Am I immune because I’m allegedly immortal? What is the reason for either if I cannot help others? I’m missing something.

Julia, he continued hoping she’d respond. What is my purpose? Do I only travel through time witnessing the horrors and joys of a species no longer evolving? Is the ring world where I was born or did I travel here through a time portal from earth and had been born there?

Is the purpose of the ring world to gather remnants of humanity and collect what items that could be hauled here to preserve samples of what humans were capable of doing good and bad?

He heard Julia laugh and could picture her shaking her head at his dismay. Too many questions for now. We will be together again and then we can travel through the winding paths that dominate your thinking. Know this, you are gifted in more ways than just immortality. The answers you seek have been given to you before. Now you must reach the destination you established when you left the green cabin.

Green Cabin part 74

“You never remember your past when you return.”

“This has happened before?”

“Several times. I have known you for centuries.”

“I really think this isn’t true. Explain how any of what you’ve said is possible.”

“You are gifted too.”

“Yeah the warrior I’m with told me that but not how.”

“You are immortal, Stanton. Have you not wondered why some of the injuries you’ve received did not kill you?”

He thought about it and knew there was at least a ring of truth in her words. “How is it possible that any human might be immortal?”

She shrugged. “No one can answer that question. The Creator’s hands molds all life. You and several others were selected. That’s all I can say since it is all I know.”

“I remember none of any past life I may’ve lived. What could I have been doing for so long?”

She didn’t reply as if knowing it was not truly a question, but a dip into confusion as he focused on her announcement. When he finally shook his head, she reached and placed a hand on his forearm.

“Come with me. I have what you left for me to give to you when you return.” She started walking in the direction of a closed double door made from copper and silver.

Not sure what else he might do to resolve the nagging suspicion she was correct, he followed. As he reached to doors, she stepped aside.

“Only you can open them.”

Stanton glanced at her and then examined the doors more closely. At shoulder height he was two-handprints. Not like prints left by oily or dirty hands. These were inset into the copper and lined with a thread of silver. He reached up and found himself hoping that his hands would not match.

As he touched the copper surface, he felt a tug so his hands now matched perfectly and became, momentarily one with the metal. Noises like inner door lock mechanisms clicked, knocked, and made turning sounds. Then without warning the doors swung open completely and released him.

Inside he saw what could in his mind only be described as palatial. There was a throne in the distant center of the large room. It was rather plain but along the top of back was a Fleur de Lis on both sides with a Lion Rampant in the center. Under the seat he saw a large rectangular stone trapped by the legs.

As he walked closer he spied a glass-fronted cabinet filled with crowns scepters and orbs.

He stopped and looked at his companion. “Where is what I need?”

She pointed to the throne. “Sit.”

He did and nearly overwhelmed by the massive flood of sensation, memories, people, and more towns and villages, countries then he had until that moment known existed in human history.

When his mind cleared, he leaned back so his head contacted the Lion Rampant. This too charged his memory and suddenly he was riding a large horse wearing armor. He too wore armor and carried a lance and sword. The same sword he realized instantly as the one his companion held aloft for him. The blade dripped crimson, and at on the ground around him laid fallen enemy moaning, crying, and dying.

Stanton stood abruptly ending the memory. “So I am immortal and I have lived centuries if not much more. What is my purpose?”

“The first question you ask each return. The answer remains only you could an do know. As of now you have a small child that needs and requires your love and attention. This was a decision you made with the maiden Margaret.”

“And she was not immortal so is Minerva?”

“I am afraid only time can answer such a question. Now you much close, the doors and return to the surface. I shall remain behind until you call for me. I will mentally hear you and join you when you reach the destination of you choosing.”

Stanton led the way out of the throne room closed the doors with his hands touching and listened to the locks shift into place.

“Is there a way to the surface that doesn’t require swimming?” He asked and felt odd for asking.

“I will show you the stairway up.” She smiled as if his fear of water was amusing. Then she traveled through winding paths until she stopped and pointed. The stairway was almost a ladder.

Stanton looked up, then and her. “I will call for you as soon as possible.”

She nodded and watched him climb as she’d done more times then she could remember or count since she too was immortal.

Green Cabin part 73

“Here,” her tiny voice responded.

Scanning the area didn’t help, so he quickly ran to the top of the mound of earth. It was much higher than he thought when they stopped. And at the peak he saw his daughter looking at her feet.

Moving fast, but not too fast so her didn’t startle her, Stanton was about twenty feet from her when she screamed and disappeared. The ground beneath her erupted slightly, and opened where she stood.

Reaching the spot where she fell, Stanton peered into a hole. What he saw his child sinking in water. He kicked off his boots and jacket, dove in after her sinking rapidly.

As he reached her, and captured her arm pulling her closer, he realized she was not in trouble. There appeared to be a bubble around her that kept her dry. His hand had pierced the bubble, but that did not cause it to leak.

Minerva looked at him with a smile and said in her little voice, “Hi daddy.” Then she pointed downward. “Get sword.”

He tried to shake his head but couldn’t, glanced down and nearly gasped in a lungful of water. Below him at least a hundred feet down was a woman standing on a carved stone with one arm raised overhead. She wore a white robe, and diamond encrusted tiara. In the hand raised above her head, she held a sword blade tip pointing at him. Her eyes were open and when she blinked, he thought he was seriously hallucinating. He looked around them and saw they were inside a dome with the upper ribs exposed allowing light from above to penetrate. A third of the way down the side of the dome was a stone walkway with built in ornate stone handrails and arched doorways every twenty feet. This was repeated another third down and lastly on the ground floor. At the bottom where the side of the dome opened, he saw a wide stone stairway leading into darkness below.

He reached beneath Minerva with both hands and using his feet, gave her a gentle shove up. He followed until she was at the surface where Taisie grabbed her and pulled her out. Then Stanton surfaced long enough to take several deep breaths. He held the last and dove straight down.

He reached for the sword as he neared the woman, but she lowered the blade, and when he floated next to her, she took his hand and dove into a crevice he’d not seen. Moments later they stood on dry ground alongside an underground lake.

Stanton slowly tested the air, and when he felt it was safe, breathed normally.

“Where is this place?” he asked as he examined her boldly. She had bare feet, wore a thin white robe with a hood that lay across her shoulders and upper back. Her eyes were emerald green, hair copper red. Her face was pleasant with a small nose over full lips. Her eyebrows were pale ginger.

He suddenly realized she watched him and shrugged. “Thank you for saving my daughter Minerva with the bubble.”

She smiled and shook her head and said in a quiet soprano, “I did nothing. Minerva is gifted she felt the need and created the bubble herself.”

He frowned but decided the woman had no reason to lie. “Why am I here? Do I need your sword?”

“The sword belongs to you. You left it with me for safekeeping when you departed last time.”Thinking his brain might explode as an eerie sense of fear and then joy washed through him. “What do you mean?”