Mia’s campout weekend turned out to be more interesting than she imagined.  All the Ronins, Sentinels, and Warlords came.  Dais, Kale, Sekhmet, and Anubis shared the stories of how they came to serve Talpa so long ago. 


Trace put more wood on the dying fire.  Everyone had been so intent on the stories that no one had been taking care of the campfire.  If they didn’t get it stoked a bit more, it was going to be a cold night.


Kento was looking over Trace’s shoulder.  “Hey.  Can’t we just go in the house?  Think of all those nice warm beds just waiting for us.”


Dais rubbed his hands together.  “For once I agree with Kento.  It seems idiotic for us to celebrate the completion of Mia’s house by sleeping outside it.”


Kale scoffed at him.  “Living in the Dynasty palace has made you soft.  You are all too soft.  Haven’t you ever slept under the stars for no other reason than to enjoy the experience?”


Gilgamesh spoke up.  “Sleeping under the stars is not as romantic as it sounds.  Try it for a thousand years and then tell me you would prefer it.”


Astarte said, “I think it is also a matter of what you are used to.  In my youth, I would never have dreamed I would become accustomed to rocks for pillows and hard earth for a bed.  I only ever slept in the most luxurious of surroundings in my sky-castle.”


Trace stood up and shook his head.  “I’m with Kale on this one.  There’s nothing like the Great Outdoors.”


“Well of course you’d say that,” Rowen added.  “What kind of Warrior of Gaea would you be if you didn’t like to be outside?”


Kento got Trace in a headlock and started giving him a noogie.  “Growing up with the squirrels and the bunny rabbits will do that to ya’.”  A minute later Kento found himself hanging upside down from a newly-sprouted tree.  “Aw, come on, Trace.  Let me down.”


Zoe was laughing.  “Yeah, Trace.  Let him down.  If all the blood rushes to his head, who knows what’ll happen up there.  His brain’s not used to that much activity.”


“Hey, I thought you were supposed to be on my side!  Some girlfriend you are!”  Trace let him down with a gentle thud.  “Hey, Mia!  Can we sleep inside?”


Mia looked at all of them with her arms folded imperiously.  “No one will be sleeping inside tonight.  This is a camp-OUT.  The operative word is OUT.”


Sai jumped in.  “Well maybe we could turn it into a camp-in.”


“Absolutely not, you bunch of big babies.”


By this time Astarte, Trace, and Gilgamesh had started a different conversation amongst themselves.  They walked away from the others.  Astarte looked across at the miserable Anubis and Oshay.  She smiled devilishly.  “Gilgamesh.  It will please you to know I have decided.”


“Decided what?”


“What we talked about.  The child.”


“Oh.”  Gilgamesh frowned.  Trace looked uncomfortable.  “I thought we were going to wait and see.  We are in no hurry.”


“No, but I think our problem could help two others with their problems.”


Trace noticed the direction she was looking.  “I don’t think that’s a good idea.  Some people don’t like matchmakers…”


“Nonsense!  You are talking to an expert.  Remember.  I was a goddess of life.  As such, people often came to me for advice and aide.  After all, love usually brings life—figuratively and literally.  I now see how to repair something that has been broken.  But you must agree, Gilgamesh.  Are they acceptable to you?”


“They are both worthy people and honorable friends.  I would be very pleased.  But will they be willing?”


“We shall see.  Soon, my love.  Soon.”


(*author’s note—this whole conversation will make sense someday.  It has to do with a future story that I have only the barest inkling of now.)


Trace just shook his head.  When Astarte made up her mind, she made up her mind.  He hoped it would work out.  Suddenly Astarte grabbed Gilgamesh and kissed him passionately.  Astarte wasn’t given to public displays of affection.  Nor was Gilgamesh.  He started blushing bright red.  Gilgamesh--the unflappable Sentinel of War.  Trace laughed out loud and couldn’t stop.  Gilgamesh blushed even more, his stony faced turned sour.  Everyone began to stare at them.  But every time Trace tried to explain, he started laughing again.


Meanwhile, Kale went over to talk to Anubis.  Anubis was silent and pale.  “I want to ask you about the boy, Jack.”


“What of him?”


“There was an anger in him earlier—something dark and elemental.  But there was something else.  I sensed…If he had become enraged enough, he would have killed me.”




“His armor, his power.  I felt it for only a second.  But it was familiar to me.”


“It should be.  It is the power of Talpa’s nether-spirits.”


“How can that be?”


“The renegade Ancients never finished the Armor of Storms that he wears before they were all killed.  Talpa had Badamon and his lackeys complete it.”


“Then it is tainted with evil Dynasty magic.”


“Yes.  And being bonded to the armor taints Jack as well.  We Sentinels don't merely wear our armor--it is a part of us, a part of our souls. We can’t choose to give up our armors like the Ronins or Warlords.  Only through willful evil acts or death will we be separated.  The evil that Jack did under the influence of the nether-spirits was not his conscious doing, therefore, the good magic of the armor has not rejected him.  It is a cursed problem.  The armor will not leave him unless he commits evil acts, yet its dynasty taint pushes him into dark territory—depression, mood swings, uncontrolled anger.  We have found no way to completely cleanse the armor.  Jack must control his stronger emotions at all times because he could hurt someone with a careless surge of power.”


“Control can be useful.  But when it is too rigid, it easily breaks.  I think your Jack may need a place where he can go to loose his tightly-wound emotions.”


“What are you suggesting?”


“Let him come to the Dynasty for a time.  There are many barren areas there where he could let the power go without harming anyone.”


“Why would you be willing to help him?”


“He is, I think, more like us Warlords than he is like the Sentinels.”


“You don’t know Astarte and Gilgamesh very well.”


“…And I want to test my own strength against his somewhere where we could go all out—not around a campfire.”


“You may regret it.”


“Then it will be my loss.”


Anubis grinned.  It was strange to see Kale do something to help someone else.  They were all changing.  “I’ll talk to him.”


A while later when everyone was getting ready to bed down, Jack approached Kale cautiously.  “So you want me to go with you to the Dynasty?  Is that to get back at me for calling you a pompous windbag?”


“Perhaps.  You won’t know unless you come.”  They stared at each other challengingly for several minutes.


Jack looked away and laughed darkly.  “You might regret it.”


“That’s what Anubis said.”


“You should listen to him.  He’s a smart guy.”  The two of them walked back to the fire in silence.


Kale looked at the others starting to bundle up in their sleeping bags and frowned.  He lowered his voice so only Jack could hear.  “I hate to admit it, but perhaps I was hasty in wanting to sleep outside.  It has been a long day and even longer evening.  A nice warm bed would be better than the cold hard ground tonight.”  He grimaced menacingly at Jack.  “Do not even think of telling Kento that I ever agreed with him.”


Suddenly, a few drops of rain hit Kale.  Then a few more, harder and faster.  The others jumped up and frantically began grabbing all their stuff.  They all started running up the path to the house.


Mia held something over her head and yelled at Jack, her voice dripping with sarcasm.  “The forecast said clear skies all weekend!  Isn’t it amazing how fast the sky clouded up?”


Jack smiled sheepishly.  “Isn’t it, though?”  Mia shook her head and sighed.  Kale laughed as they ran.  Jack turned to Kale.  “Does it rain a lot in the Dynasty?”


“No, it doesn’t.”


Jack raced ahead, his head held high to catch the falling rain.  He spun around to face Kale.  “Maybe it should.”