“What has happened that made my return so urgent?”
“Across the ring there are invaders. They did not come in peace. They have set off explosions with no concern for the consequences should they punch a hole in the ring. We must stop them.”
“We relocated two satellites for observation and to target localized portals. What we’ve seen is that they arrived in two ships possibly from earth.”
“So hundreds at least.”
“Yes, but the majority of them will not be fighters. So its plausible there are only a two to four companies of military.”
“With massive explosives. Do we know who or what resided in that sector?”
Attrea shook her head. She ran her fingers through her dark hair, pushed it behind her ears. All signs of frustration. “We do not.”
“There is a portal to connect us to them?”
She nodded. “I don’t believe they are aware of our gates since they used colony ships to travel. And I do not want them learning about them either.”
“I understand.” Stanton paused to think. “Can we use one not close to their landing site?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Then I’ll go and inspect then return. That way only I will be in danger and as I suspect you know, I am immortal. Unless they behead me I cannot die.”
She watched his eyes carefully as if wanting to read his emotions. “You cannot die. I have waited too long and this time I may not allow you to travel again. Besides, you have a child to care for.”
It was at that moment that Taisie stopped walking and stood alongside Stanton. Minerva held her hand and looked at Attrea.
“I know you,” Minerva said in her small voice.”
Attrea eyes wide with surprise tilted her head as if to do so helped her see better and understand. “I do not recognize you.”
“You will soon.” Minerva removed her hand from the warrior’s and captured Stanton’s hand instead. “You can’t leave here daddy.”
He opened his mouth to speak and was interrupted by Taisie.
“She is right. I will travel across and return with the answers we need to proceed.” As Stanton again started to talk, she added, “You know this is correct. The child needs her father and this is also what Margaret would’ve desired.”
Stanton drew a slow deep breath exhaled and nodded. “I will help you prepare.”
Taisie carried a travel backpack. It reminded Stanton of a go bag. He assisted her with her armor. When finished she looked ready to do battle.
They went and met Attrea and Minerva. “There is a gate within a stone arch over that rise.” Attrea pointed to a small hill about a hundred feet up behind where they stood.
“When you reach the gate you will need to walk swiftly through it. Do not hesitate and look back. The gate is newly designed and still needs adjustment. We installed it rather hurriedly because of the invaders.”
“I understand.” Taisie took Stanton’s hands and held them longer enough to express her emotions. Then she walked towards the hill went over it and a minute later Stanton saw a flash of blue light. The warrior was gone.
He turned to Attrea. “Is there a place we can stay while she’s gone?”
Attrea smiled expressing amusement and more. “You and the warrior are old friends. Did you know?”
“I suspected such. Truthfully I am still groggy with confusion. Learning I am immortal is daunting. Was I born immortal? Do you know?”
“No one is born immortal.” She reached and took his hand.
The contact felt electric. Stanton squeezed gently. “Why did I need to experience all I’ve done since leaving the green cabin?” He pulled so she was closer. Then he looked at her face. It was unlined, light pink complexion perfect. Her silver eyes seemed to study him carefully.
“It is not mine to explain. The portal you chose guided you to a certain place here. Then events unfolded in a sequence not necessarily random. Time guides and we follow. The paths we walk are fated. Therefore we must learn to love fate.”
“Stoically,” he added and grinned.
They found Minerva piling flat stones. The first one was largest and each after was progressively smaller. She was standing tiptoe to get the final stone in place.
Stanton felt parental pride, wanted to gather her in his arms and hug her. But he suspected she’d not be pleased with that at the moment.
“We must leave,” he told her.
She nodded and put the top stone exactly so it would not be off-balanced. “We need to return her at daybreak.” She said.
“Why?” Stanton took her tiny hand as the three of them began walking towards the mountain behind them.
“Taisie will return. She will be injured. You must prepare to help her.”
A sharp stab of fear jolted through his chest. “How do you know this?”
Minerva answered with a tiny shrug. She did not speak. Then looked at Attrea and asked, “Can we eat soon? I’m very hungry.”
“How badly will Taisie be hurt?” Stanton persisted.
“If you are here and prepared she will not last long.”
They had reached the safety of the meadow far from the edge of the cliff. Minerva shook her hand lose and skipped and danced through the wildflowers.
“Don’t fret,” Attrea said. “We will gather all the supplied we might need tonight. I’ll have a watchman wake us before the sun lifts out of night.”
Stanton nodded and before he could reply saw a small house in the distance. He pointed. “This is yours?”
“It is ours. We need to stay up here for several days. Then when we know it is safe we will descend to the plains below where we can live.”
“Until. . .”
Attrea stopped and stepped before him. She lifted onto her toes and kissed him. “Whenever. I have waited long for you to arrive.”
Stanton lowered his head to kiss her again. He’d not quite recalled how amazing her lips felt. As his lips brushed hers, he heard a familiar sound. With a wry smile, he glanced up and saw he owl flying in their direction.
“I wondered where he was,” he said.
“Never far,” Attrea told him and reached up, put her hand behind his head and pulled him down so she could finish the kiss.As good as he felt, Minerva’s words haunted him. Taisie was a true friend. She was, he believed also immortal. Her getting injured badly enough to put her in jeopardy felt stunning.