Frustrated, unable to assist, Mixt and Nakishdan watched anxiously as Rainith battled Noutan. The Elf appeared to be having the better of it. In the air, Rainith was faster and more manoeuvrable, but Noutan's swordplay was so skilled that the fairy was unable to gain an advantage. Despite her wound, she flew at him again and again, each time mounting a furious attack, but she was unable to penetrate his defence. Finally she was wounded again, and sagged in the air, some way above their heads.
'Rainith should retreat,' said Nakishdan.
'She won't,' said Mixt.
They watched as their fairy companion raced towards her opponent once more, her sword raised, a murderous expression in her eyes.
'Can't anyone get this barrier down?' Fourteen Trees snarled with exasperation as her efforts to rewrite her surroundings came to nothing. She entered long streams of code into her screen to no effect. The barrier between them and Rainith could not be breached. 'Nineteen Stars, can you do anything?'
At this, Mixt turned her head. 'Nineteen Stars? You said she was called Twenty Stars.'
'I just said that to make you feel better.'
Mixt went pale. She took a step back, swiftly withdrawing her naginata from beneath her coat, snapping the weapon together in one smooth movement. 'Something bad is going to happen,' she said.
'It's all right.' Nakishdan attempted to re-assure her. 'It's just a name. It can't really make anything bad happen.'
'Nineteen Stars, what are you doing?' Fourteen Trees sounded alarmed. 'What are these entries you're making? Are you - ?'
Their was a faint glimmer of light beside their tent as Captain Lir of 102 Woo stepped into their time period. Behind him were five companions, all clad in black and all heavily armed. Fourteen Trees screamed at her companion. 'Nineteen Stars! You betrayed us!'
'Sorry.' Nineteen stars shrugged, and didn't look very sorry.
'How could you betray 47 Jeng? Did the school club mean nothing to you?'
'I'm joining 102 Junior. That's a much better club. A better school too.'
'It is not!' cried Fourteen Trees. But by now, Nineteen Stars was fading away, her part in the proceedings over now that she'd given away their location to 102 Woo.
Mixt was irate. 'I knew anyone with Nineteen in their name couldn't be trusted! People should listen to me about this sort of thing.' She took a step back, raising her weapon as the six members of 102 Woo fanned out to surround them.
Rainith was tiring. Fighting in the air was an exhausting business. Her wings ached. Blood seeped from the wounds in her shoulder and thigh. She wondered about returning to ground level, but there the Elf, so solid in his defence, would be even stronger. She decided to mount a final airborne attack. Her face, already scarred by her ancient wound, took on an expression of rage and hatred that would have rendered her unrecognisable to anyone who'd never witnessed her fury in combat. She rose in the air above the waiting Noutan, then launched herself towards him, prepared to crash into the Elf and knock him out of the sky if necessary.
Some way below, Nakishdan made the instant decision that as Mixt was so heavily outnumbered, he had to fight at her side. It meant he was unable to suppress events from any onlookers. Here, at the very edge of the festival, there were few others around, but if those in the area did see what was happening, it couldn't be helped. He leapt to Mixt's side, drawing his sword. As he planted his feet firmly in his defensive stance, his kimono took on a brighter hue of yellow, and the edges glowed with gold trimmings.
'Nice fighting outfit,' muttered Mixt. There was no time for anything else. Mixt and Nakishdan found themselves in a desperate struggle as the agents from 102 tried to fall on them from all directions. It was fortunate for Mixt and Nakishdan that Noutan had erected his Elvish barrier. It blocked off one avenue of attack. They stood with their back against it, holding off their opponents, looking for an opening that might enable them to see off one or two of their attackers and lessen the odds against them.
Up above, Rainith attacked. Enveloped in a rage that she hadn't felt since her mortal struggle with the Elvish fencing master, she shot towards Noutan, wings beating furiously, her sword descending in a stroke intended to slice him in two. Despite the Elf's strong defensive skills, her lightning attack was enough to get through, and they crashed into each other. For a moment they were motionless, locked together in the sky, their faces almost pressed together. Rainith glared at Noutan with hatred in her eyes. Then she felt a sharp pain in her stomach. She glanced down. Her blade had passed by the Elf, drawing blood but not wounding him seriously. Meanwhile Noutan's sword had pierced her body. The end of his blade was projecting from her back. Noutan had run her through. The Elf smiled, and lowered his weapon. Rainith the Red slipped from his sword and tumbled through the air towards the ground, fairy blood pouring from the terrible wound.
Down below, Mixt, spotting a gap in her opponent's defence, managed to slide the long blade of her naginata straight into his chest. The 102 Woo agent gasped, then abruptly faded from existence. On her right, Nakishdan, after a desperate period of parrying, surprised his attackers with a sudden rush to one side. From there, he succeeded in landing a skilful blow on the neck of the agent on his left. In the space of a second, Captain Lir had lost two men, and Mixt and Nakishdan faced four opponents rather than six.
It was a temporary triumph. Nakishdan had attacked successfully but in doing so he opened himself up. He was desperately holding off two agents when captain Lir, timing his attack perfectly, leapt forward and sank his long-bladed knife into Nakishdan's chest. A great red stain spread over Nakishdan's yellow and golden kimono as he fell to the ground.
'It's an interesting report. Probably the most detailed thing the Kesh have ever given us.' Agent Duluth read from the screen he was carrying. 'Nakishdan's background is worse than I imagined.'
'He was lucky to survive,' said Ms Darben. She suppressed a smile. There was something humorous in the tale of Nakishdan, with a notable lack of gallantry, being caught in bed with the general's wife and immediately fleeing the scene, only to be apprehended in the shrubbery outside.
'Stole the General's silver plate too. And was involved with his daughter.' Duluth looked over the desk at his superior. 'He's not really the sort of person you'd want to rely on.'
'Well, it was a long time ago.' Ms Darben read from her computer. '1815, just before the Battle of Waterloo. He's probably matured since then.'
'I haven't noticed.'
'Perhaps not. Still, we've employed worse agents. And we are relying on him. Mixt has always seemed able to keep him under control.'
The Kesh had not yet provided the Department with any details of Mixt's early life. They'd managed to examine Nakishdan's early days, several hundred years ago, but Mixt's origins lay much deeper in the past.
'Do you think her tribe really did build Stonehenge?'
'Who knows? She must have been around for a very long time if the Kesh can't find any details of her birth.'
Agent Duluth pressed his finger to the screen, bringing up a new page. 'Is this the first time we've heard about this person called Granyu?'
'Yes. No mention of his origin either, but the Kesh say he's confronted Mixt on several occasion during the last thousand years. They don't know why. Nor do they know much about Flavia, the woman who accompanies him, apart from saying she was Roman, probably exiled in Britain.'
'It's not good for our mission if our agents are being pursued by mysterious enemies from the past. They're having a hard enough time with 102 Woo. Did the Kesh say anything about letting us send anyone else into the past? Reliable people who might do the job properly?'
Ms Darben shook her head. Mixt and Nakishdan had both acquired the ability to slip back through time after being wrenched from their own time periods by Geeda Lala's arrival on earth. So far even the advanced technology of the Kesh had not been able to replicate this ability.
'I wish they'd make progress. 102 Woo manage it so it is possible.'
'102 Woo are outsiders. Not bound by the same rules, apparently. Like the snakes.'
It was some time since the Department of Historical Disturbance had been called on to deal with one of the winged snakes that had been plaguing parts of the underground in London. Their patrols were still on high alert.
'Do the Kesh say anything about fairies?'
Ms Darben shook her head. 'I've noticed they're reticent on the subject. They don't like talking about them. I think think they regard fairies as a regrettable anomaly.'
Mixt saw Nakishdan fall. Enraged, she attacked Captain Lir, driving him back. Despite her skill, she was unable to land a fatal blow. The three remaining members of 102 Woo leapt to their commander's assistance, halting Mixt's furious assault and driving her back in turn. She found herself pressed against the impenetrable Elvish barrier. Nakishdan lay at her feet, bleeding from the wound in his chest.
There was a dull thud as a small figure plummeted to the ground behind her. Mixt, concentrating on her defence, didn't look back. She knew it was Rainith, defeated in the air.
'Kill this one and take Geeda Lala,' shouted captain Lir. His agents closed in. Mixt sank into her defensive posture, her long-bladed naginata in front of her, prepared to go down fighting. In the distance, she could hear the sound of the Doors, playing on the main stage, far off in the next field. One of the last appearances they would ever make, she knew, before their singer died in Paris.
'He's going to outlast me,' she thought, grimly.
As he enemies advanced, she swept her weapon in a low arc, aiming for their legs. Her blade connected with one of the agents, sending him stumbling back. The man next to him cut with his sword at the shaft of the naginata, deflecting it for a second. It was enough for the skilful Captain Lir to leap in close to her, his blade heading for her throat. Mixt saw the blade and thought she was about to die.
Abruptly, she found herself in an empty field. She still carried her naginata. Nakishdan was still at her feet. But Captain Lir and 102 Woo were gone. So were the tents, and all the people who'd been at the festival. The sun shone overhead. It was a pleasant, peaceful day. Fourteen Trees hurried to her side.
'I moved us forward a year. We're safe for now.'
Mixt laid her weapon on the ground and urgently pulled back the shoulder of Nakishdan's kimono to examine his wound. The bright yellow garment was heavily stained with blood. There was a deep cut in the right side of his chest. His eyes flickered open then closed again. Mixt glanced to her side, where Rainith lay unmoving, blood seeping from her many wounds. She looked towards Fourteen Trees and Geeda Lala.
'Can you heal people? Change things so they're OK?'
The two young Kesh shook their heads. Meticulously rewriting the insides of organic beings was beyond even their considerable mathematical prowess. Mixt cursed, then pressed her hand over Nakishdan's wound, to slow the bleeding. She looked around. They were at the edge of the field, separated from a road by a layer of trees. Mixt picked up Nakishdan.
'Bring Rainith,' she said, and set off for the road.