Mother's Heart (Book Three)
by Alan Tucker, ©2011
Jenni landed roughly in a patch of wet snow next to a prickly bush in the darkness. Clouds of vapor formed in front of her as she labored to catch her breath. “How did they find us again so fast?” she whispered into the night.
“I don’t know,” Neseus’s voice replied from the bud in her ear. The former ruler of Atlantis sounded distressed — a significant change from his usual aristocratic self-confidence.
Jenni searched for signs of pursuit between the sparse foliage of the bush while she tried to calm her breathing. Her eyes adjusted to the lack of light without a thought, providing her with a clear, grey-green view of the landscape. She crouched on a hillside covered sparsely with snow, in what would be shady places during daylight hours. Small, twisted trees dotted the area, creating intimidating shadows from the intermittent starlight peeking through rope-like clouds overhead. In the distance, Jenni saw a handful of sculptured stone columns, reaching up like giant fingers from the grounds of the Temple of Apollo.
Jenni and her two companions, Neseus, and his daughter, Xenia, spirit beings of fire and air respectively, had been traveling through Europe for nearly six months since becoming stranded on Earth. Jenni had diverted a dangerous ocean lava flow away from an open doorway to Mother, but in doing so, the system of lava tubes and caverns had collapsed, sealing off the threat, but also their way back.
Happy that her mom should be safe, Jenni was still distressed about the possibility her friends — Sara, Crank, and the others — might be threatened by Mogritas masquerading as Captain Princero. Jenni and her new Atlantean friends reasoned if there had been one open doorway between Earth and Mother, there could be more.
Jenni didn’t want to consider the alternative.
Her best friends, even her parents, were all literally a world away. Never seeing them again was something Jenni did her best not to think about.
Without the other two forms of spirits, earth and water, and someone to act as a conduit, like Mr. Kain, Neseus and Xenia had no hope of creating a doorway themselves. Their search had started with Stonehenge, in England, and expanded from there. While they had found several places where enough lines of power came together to create a new doorway, they had yet to discover any more pre-existing passages to Mother.
An intense, multi-colored light flashed in the distance near the ancient temple. Jenni winced with remembered pain.
“That looks like the same weapon they used before,” Neseus commented.
Jenni nodded. They had been ambushed by three men wielding guns of light and sound several days previously. A combination of pulsating light and sonic waves had caused an immediate and searing headache in Jenni, nearly knocking her out. Only her body’s quick, instinctive reaction to create coverings for her eyes had allowed them to escape. Those men, or others like them, had been dogging their trail ever since.
“Xenia,” Jenni said in a whisper, “how many?”
“Five,” Neseus replied a moment later.
Jenni sighed. “Which direction is the closest one?”
“Left, down the slope, approximately fifty yards,” Neseus told her after silently consulting with his daughter.
Jenni nodded again and reduced her size significantly. She used her excess body mass to create a sensory web of air all around her. She’d become much more proficient with the technique in the months since discovering it with Swiftspear while searching for her mother. Jenni could feel the shape of every leaf, the location of every blade of grass, within a sphere nearly ten yards around her. She formed her main body into something like a small fox, dark and mottled in color to blend in with their surroundings. Neseus’s MP3 player rode securely in a pouch Jenni created in her chest.
“He’s moving slowly toward us,” Neseus said softly from the earbud still held in Jenni’s right ear.
Jenni padded silently down the hill until she felt the man move into the edge of her senses. He wore military style clothing and had several pieces of equipment strapped around his body. An apparatus Jenni assumed was used for night vision covered his eyes and he held one of the light guns tensely in his right hand. “Now, Xenia,” Jenni said.
The man jerked suddenly and pulled the trigger on his weapon. Jenni ducked under the bright beam and closed the distance between them. Neseus sparked from the player in her chest to the electronics their attacker wore and small pops and smoke soon emitted from the devices. Jenni reached out with her ability and formed a deep hole under the stunned soldier, burying him waist-deep in the earth. Neseus fried something vital in the gun and darkness blanketed them once again.
The whole encounter lasted less than five seconds.
Xenia had removed all the air from around the man’s head, making it impossible for him to breathe, or even make a sound. He was rendered silently unconscious less than a minute later while Jenni resumed a more human shape and searched through his pockets and equipment still above ground. The three of them had talked about the maneuver after they’d first been attacked, but hadn’t been forced to use it before.
Neseus jumped back to his player, causing a burst of static in Jenni’s ear. “We have to move quickly,” he said. “He was receiving information about our position before I burnt out his communication device.”
Jenni’s heart clenched. “How can they know — Wait! Neseus! The phone in your player — you have to turn it off!” she said in an urgent whisper.
“But, Jenni … the Internet.” Neseus sounded like a child whose mother wanted to take his teddy bear away.
“Neseus, if we don’t, they’re going to catch us. Soon.”
“I … I don’t know if I can.”
Jenni resumed her search of the soldier encased in the ground. “Is there anything here you didn’t fry?” A breeze brushed her cheek. “I know, Xenia, I’m hurrying.” The next pocket Jenni opened contained cigarettes and a lighter. She nabbed the lighter and changed back to her dark fox form, slipping quickly through the brush and gnarled trees away from the unconscious soldier.
“Two of the others closing in on us,” Neseus said.
“Neseus, the phone,” Jenni whispered with irritation.
“Jenni, I’m trying.”
Jenni felt a form enter her perception up the hill to her right. Larger than the first man, he also carried a different type of weapon. He strode purposefully in her direction, head moving back and forth, scanning the ground in front of him with his night vision equipment.
Jenni sidestepped to her left across a patch of snow, hoping to circle around him. She felt, more than heard, his intake of breath and realized her mistake. Her dark form was silhouetted against the snow, making her plainly visible.
A sharp crack issued from his weapon. Jenni felt the prick of two projectiles before she could react and a flash of energy blinded her senses momentarily.
She expelled the two foreign objects from her body and saw thin wires running from them back to the gun the soldier held. A second later, the weapon exploded in his hand and blue sparks played across his shoulders and torso. His mouth opened to shout out, but he made no sound.
Her assailant fell to his knees and Jenni opened a hole beneath, swallowing most of his muscular form.
Jenni shifted back to her human form and crossed to the helpless soldier, who looked at her with wide eyes before he passed out. She removed an earpiece he wore and held it close to listen. The unit still functioned and Jenni heard someone shouting on the other end, possibly in French, but she wasn’t sure. The shouting stopped abruptly, replaced with Neseus’s voice. “I’m here, Jenni.”
She smiled briefly then pulled the MP3 player from her pocket and turned it off.
“Hurry! The others are coming!”
Jenni glanced around and made a decision. She stood up, pulling some of the soil and rocks from nearby and made herself into a tree like others around her. Heartbeats later, the three remaining men carefully approached their fallen teammate.
One knelt and placed fingers on the buried man’s neck. He then looked up and silently indicated to his partners that the man was still alive. The other two nodded and made slow circles pointing their weapons out into the sparse forest.
Embedded within her tree form, Jenni “heard” Neseus’s voice from the small communication device. “Whoever is talking to them is saying he’s lost the signal they were tracking. It appears you were right, Jenni. I was the cause of this.”
Jenni sighed inwardly, but couldn’t respond. The men gestured to each other with quick hand signals, then fanned out quietly, heading south down the hill toward their first fallen comrade. The one at Jenni’s “feet” remained unmoving. She could only assume they would come back later with tools to dig him out. After waiting a minute or two, Jenni swiftly transformed into a large owl and took to the air. She thought she heard a gasp from the still-buried soldier nearby and her suspicions of his regained consciousness were confirmed seconds later by shouting from the ground below. Dismayed she’d been seen, Jenni flew soundlessly through the night, putting distance between herself and the men chasing her.
Satisfied she’d eluded any immediate pursuit, Jenni circled wide and headed back in the direction of the ancient temple. Downhill from the monument, in one of the designated parking areas, she spotted a dark van, conspicuous by its presence alone in the empty lot. She angled down and landed softly on the roof of the vehicle. Inside, Jenni heard one or two voices, speaking intently in the same language she’d heard from the soldier’s communication unit earlier.
“Neseus,” Jenni whispered. “Get in there and learn what you can. Then fry everything.”
The Atlantean king answered by creating a miniature bolt of lightning from the device in her ear to a small antenna protruding from the top of the van. Time passed slowly as Jenni anxiously watched the forest for movement. She began to worry Neseus had somehow misunderstood her instructions when she heard an exclamation of surprise from below, followed immediately by several sharp pops and crackles.
The rear doors burst open, expelling two uniformed men and no small amount of acrid smoke. Jenni flattened herself on the roof of the van as only she could while the men shouted at each other. A return spark from the antenna was quickly followed by a short burst of static in her ear.
“Done. Let’s make haste away from here,” Neseus said.
The agitated agents were too busy yelling and waving their arms to notice the small owl-like form glide away from their ruined command vehicle into the night.