Stanton helped set up a temporary camp. Once Minerva was sleeping, after eating a meal of berries and dried meat rations, he collapsed.
The sounds around him settled down as night traveled across their location. When an odd noise encroached and woke him, Stanton was awake in seconds. A dim light illuminated the figure of a male dressed in mixed armor. His polished steel helmet was like a bell with a ring pinnacle at the top. It had cheek guards.
Otherwise he word chainmail, which covered him from the neck to his waist where it flared out. Wide well-worn leather straps crossed his chest and wrapped around his waist. Everything looked old. His mail pants ended inside knee-high boots that laced up the front. He held a lantern aloft with a lit candle inside. Across his shoulders rode a heavy woven vest with what Stanton believed were Scottish clan markings. In his left hand was a long sword that glinted light from the candle.
Stanton pulled his own sword from under the bedding he’d used. Then he stood fully prepared to fight if needed.
“You must come with me,” the intruder told him.
Stanton shook his head trying to get the grogginess out. “Why? Who sent you?”
“As you discovered yesterday the way you’ve chosen to reach the summit is filled with pitfalls. You will never see one until it is too late. Therefore to achieve your immediate goal I will lead you. As to who sent me, well, I think you know.”
“Attrea,” he said softly. “Is that true?”
The intruder nodded. “She awaits your arrival. Time is running out.”
“Time for what?”
“Prepare your child and awaken the warrior. Then we will travel.” He stared at Stanton making it plain he would answer no more questions.
As Stanton turned to rouse Taisie, he discovered she was awake donning her armor.
He went to Minerva and she too was awake. “We must leave now.” He spoke quietly.
“Yes. Attrea is anxious,” the girl said in reply.
“You are growing quickly.”
Minerva looked down at herself and nodded. “Because of mother. Every time I change I grow and age. It will happen until I am an adult.”
Stanton drew a deep breath preparing to speak, then did not. Instead he helped repack their supplies.
When finished he nodded to the intruder. “We are ready.”
The intruder turned around and began walking. He followed a path likely known only to him. As dawn leaked over the peaks of the mountains, he looked back at Stanton. “Do not worry about what happened next. We will be safe.”
Stanton frowned, glanced at Taisie, Minerva, and then blue light surrounded them. The ground they stood on, the air, the land, the mountains, the lake, disappeared.
When the light extinguished, Stanton blinked and rubbed his eyes to clear them. Then he looked at what was before them. They stood near the top of a mountain. A finger of stone extended out over a deep void. At the tip he saw a small human figure.
He turned to Taisie. “Please wait here and keep Minerva safely with you.”
“I will,” Taisie said.
Stanton nodded and dropped his gear. He walked as quickly as the uneven ground allowed, slipped once, nearly fell, and then reached the mountain end of the finger. As he walked towards the tip of it, he saw a familiar figure. She stood straight. Her raven black hair lit by sunlight so the gold threads in it glittered as she moved. Her silver eyes were opened wide when she turned and saw him.
“Attrea,” he spoke loudly enough for her to hear, he hoped, but not too loud.
She extended her arms as he grew near. Then she was holding him. He her. His heart felt like it began to beat a normal rhythm for the first time since Margaret died.
“I am glad you arrived finally. I was beginning to worry that you’d set too many difficulties for yourself.” She spoke with her head pressed against his chest.
“Perhaps,” he said. “But not once did I recall that I planned the misery I lived through. I don’t believe meeting Margaret as part of the original.”
“No, but your daughter is very gifted as was her mother. I’d heard talk of the first half of the twenty-first century as if it was nothing more than humanity’s nightmare. But learning through you what Margaret experienced then, well,” Attrea left the thought unfinished. “Now we much assemble the others.”