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Chapter 18

Storm snarled wordlessly in anger. They bounded outside the barracks room. Lorelei scooped up her bow while he pulled both his swords. Without pausing they barreled into the next chamber to kill the enemy before they got organized.

They skidded to a halt at the sight of bags of gold lying scattered across the floor. Several fine paintings leaned against the wall. Jewel encrusted trinkets occupied the space between the bags. Storm cursed savagely. Wrong room!

They spun, trying to escape before they were cut off.

They were too late.

A salvo of arrows slammed into the walls around them. Lorelei yelped as one sent stone chips spraying into her face when it hit the stone by her head.

“Cover me!” Storm bellowed.

He dove through the doorway, hit and rolled, then was on his feet among them before they could adjust their aim. He saw a raider in front of him; a gray-fletched arrow suddenly grew out of the man’s throat and he spun past him, lashing out with both blades in a flurry of death. A severed head flew through the air. There was no time to think about finesse or tactics. It was a sudden, bloody fight to the finish. A bandit loomed up in front of him. Their swords met in a ringing clash of tempered steel. Storm’s twin blades wove a glittering dance of death in the man’s face. The man’s scream was choked off by a gush of blood as he crashed to the floor.

Storm dove for another man then sheared off as the enemy stared down in shock at the arrow in his chest. From the corner of his eye, he saw one of them sprinting for the exit. Another bandit slashed at him and he had no further time for the escaping raider. Steel rang against steel and he was fighting two of them at once. “Die you scum!” he thundered, flinging himself at them in a mad rage he’d first learned in the hand-to-hand fighting against the Germans in World War I during the Battle of Belleau Woods. Howling in terror, the bandits died beneath his savage attack then, abruptly it was over.

Storm paused, breathing heavily. Bodies littered the floor.

From the last passage, he heard the sound of men moving about. He snarled, moving to finish the last of his enemies, his blood-lust fully aroused. Lorelei grabbed his arm. “Storm, wait! The sorcerer!”

It was a foolhardy move. He nearly took her head off before he recognized her.

He paused, a semblance of sanity returning. “What?”

“The wizard! The one who set the spell-trap. He has to be in there. It’s the only place left!”

His rage bubbled just beneath the surface. Once aroused it was not easily calmed. “Then let’s kill him before he has a chance to raise his spells against us,” he grated through his battle fury.

Lorelei recognized the uselessness of arguing with him in his current state; her people also succumbed to berserker rages from time-to-time. “Go!” she shouted, shoving him toward the last opening. “Kill him while I deal with the rest!”

He needed no urging. He charged through the door like an amok god of destruction, reveling in the carnage of war. He saw three, four, five more bandits on the other side of the portal. He ignored them as his eyes lit on the wizard standing at the back of the chamber, gesturing frantically. He lunged for him with a bellow that shook the walls. The terrified man had time for one ill-aimed blast of power before his head sailed across the room. Thunder rocked the chamber, bringing down a hail of rocks and debris. Storm ignored the stinging cuts, turning like a wolf to rip the last bandit to shreds with his spinning blades as Lorelei finished off the rest with her bow.

A low growl rumbled in his throat as he searched for more enemies to kill. Finding none he let himself lean back against the cavern walls. Sweat stung his eyes.

He blinked.

He shook his head then blinked again.

Finally, the burning was gone and his eyes cleared.

He looked around at the carnage they’d created. A savage smile creased his lips. “So much for scouting. It looks like we won.”

Her shoulders slumped. She managed a weak smile. “Yes, I think we did.” Now the sudden battle was over she looked as tired as he felt.

A weak cough interrupted them.

One of the bandits smiled faintly at them through blood soaked lips. He gestured weakly for them to come near. “Thank you for . . . freeing me from . . . the Leader,” he wheezed. His chest labored against the arrows embedded in it.

“Leader?” Lorelei arched one eyebrow as they knelt beside the dying man.

He tried to nod. “Controls your . . . body, actions. Found magic scroll from . . . First Age. Made bloodstone that . . .” he coughed again, blood gushing from his lips. His back arched in pain. “Controls you . . . makes you do things.” His hand gripped Storm’s arm with sudden strength. “I used to be a good man before he captured me, turned me to evil. He’s too good with a sword . . . too evil . . . he wants . . .”

His voice trailed off to an unintelligible whisper.

Storm lifted him up, cradling him in his arms. “Wants what?

The man’s eyes opened one last time. “The girl who . . . lives in two places. With her, his power . . . will . . . increase to, to . . .” he slumped in Storm’s arms, his eyes rolling sightlessly back in his head.

Storm eased him down to the floor.

They looked at looked at each other across the man’s corpse, the same thought echoing in both their minds.

The girl who lives in two places.


* * * * *

Once they had checked and found all the raiders were dead they went after the one who escaped. They found him very quickly. He was standing in the middle of the tunnel, caught by the spell-trap they’d spent so much time bypassing. He was encased in a shell of pure amber, a horrified expression frozen on his face. They left his petrified form where they found it. Although there now existed the possibility all of them had been unwilling slaves, the only emotion they could summon was relief it was him instead of them caught in the evil trap.

They returned to the main cavern and lit all the hanging lamps so they could explore it more thoroughly.

By common assent, they looked over the horses first. They were a fine collection of animals, sleek, strong, and well fed. Storm tapped one of them on the back of a front knee until he reluctantly raised his hoof. The iron shoes were hammered on neatly, displaying the same patterns he’d noticed in the dust at the farm. It still looked familiar to him. When he ran his hand along the animal’s flank he discovered the reason. On the left hindquarter was the brand of the Royal Army of Ingold. He and Lorelei quickly moved among the horses examining them for brands; all but six carried the same mark.

“Wait until the King hears about this,” she grinned. “What happens to horse thieves around here?”

Storm shrugged. He wasn’t so sure they were stolen. The raiders had reacted to their attack with a speed and efficiency more common to seasoned veterans than outlaws. “You get pulled apart by horses,” he answered absently. “Roderick believes in making the punishment fit the crime.” His eyes lit on the huge, potbellied stove dominating the kitchen area. “Come on,” he waved at her. “I want another look at the stove.”

She followed him with a shrug. “Who knows why they wanted that thing, or how they got it up here.”

He ignored her, intent on studying the stove closely. He circled the mammoth piece of ironmongery, examining it for guild marks or a manufacturer’s stamp. He found it on the back near the bottom; a silver plate, blackened with soot, was bolted to the stove. Grabbing a filthy rag he scrubbed it vigorously until the name came clear. ‘Caryrstul & Sons’ it read. He’d never heard of it. He wiped away more soot. Under the name, he found the royal stamp of the T’thalian Empire.

Lorelei squatted down beside him. “What is it?”

“It’s the cartouche of the T’thalian Empire. I served alongside their army for a while. They stamp it on everything. They’re trying to put their mark on the world, I guess,” he shrugged.

Lorelei wrinkled her nose. “Horses from Ingold and stoves from T’thalia. Not very picky were they?”

“No.” He stood up. “Let’s see what the Leader had in his room.”

They strode across the cavern to the final chamber where the wizard had lost his head to Storm’s blade. At the far end of the room was a door leading to yet another room carved out of the rock. It was roughly twenty by twenty feet, somewhat circular in shape. Against the far wall was a large bed and matching nightstand, both constructed from a dark, expensive looking, fine-grained wood, polished to a bright finish. A cheap, military-style wall locker stood at the foot of the bed. To the right was a massive desk constructed in the same manner as the bed, a matching chair before it. Papers and charts lay scattered on the desk while a large map was attached to the wall above it. Along the opposite wall were a table and chairs, apparently where the wizard took his meals, built along the same lines as the rest of the furniture.

Lorelei ran a finger along the beautifully scalloped edge of the desk. “He had good taste,” she said admiringly. “This is from the Marilas Federation; Overon maybe, or Silvenwood.”

“Looks like it,” Storm agreed. He’d seen similar furnishings transported back and forth on many of the caravans he’d been with. The Marilas Federation crouched alongside the River of Sorrows which flowed from the eastern flank of the Biqah Prairie, all the way to the coast where it emptied into the Overdark Ocean. The tall, dark wood trees lining the mighty river for two hundred Leagues on either side were the envy of the world, fetching high prices in the courts of Carrzulm, Fleyniria, T’thalia, Ingold, the desert kingdom of Thorizdum, and the city-states which circled the Tagil Sea. He’d even seen one shipment destined for far distant La-Dan.

What looked like a daily journal was spread open in the center of the desk. They pored over it, flipping through the pages at random. Most of it dealt with nothing more exciting than the day to day happenings within the little band of raiders. “Radik made a fine, beef stew tonight. The men were well pleased,” one entry read. Toward the end, they found a page that riveted their attention.

The Leader came to see us today. He brought three new recruits for us. None of them are as accomplished with the sword as he is, but they are fine soldiers nonetheless. Soon we’ll be ready to start blockading the road below.

Storm and Lorelei stared at each other in surprise. “The wizard wasn’t the leader after all!” she exclaimed.

“Then who is?” he wondered. “And what’s this part here? ‘None of them are as accomplished with the sword as he is’? The guy’s a warrior and a wizard?”

Lorelei shook her head in confusion. “I’ve never heard of such a thing. How could one person master both crafts? It doesn’t make any sense. None of it does. Why would the leader want to blockade the road? Bandits set up ambushes not blockades. Besides, what kind of title is that . . . The Leader?”

“No, they don’t,” he asserted, ignoring her last question for the moment. He had heard of that kind of title before, but it was on Earth. This was Gaia. His eyes narrowed in concentration. “But soldiers do set up blockades.” He gestured at the map on the wall. Ingold was laid out in minute detail, covered with a grid of fine lines. Prominent points were highlighted in red ink; Ingoldian troop quarters, supply dumps, patrol routes, armories and training grounds. Interestingly there was nothing indicating the hideout they were standing in. “That’s a military map,” he grunted sourly. “All of Ingold’s defenses are there; approach routes, strong points, elevated positions – everything.”

She saw at once what he meant. “That’s the kind of map you’d use to plan an invasion.” She studied the handwriting on the map then compared it to the journal. “Our little dead wizard out there didn’t draw this thing. The Leader?”

“Probably. This guy has to be a soldier, a pretty good one from the looks of it. But how could a soldier use a magical scroll from the First Age? Only wizards can do that.”

Lorelei saw the worry she felt mirrored in his eyes. “This is bad.”

He started pawing through the rest of the journal. “You said a mouthful,” he muttered. The very next page held an entry even more ominous than the last.

The Leader sent a message to all units today to be on the lookout for a girl who lives in two places, her soul separated from her body. He commands us to find and capture either part of her no matter the cost. With either half, he can increase his power a hundredfold. He says she travels with a small band heading from Zered for Robling under the command of a mighty barbarian warrior from the Bear Clan. My unit will have the honor to be the first to try to capture her.

They stared at each other silently.

Storm heaved a deep sigh, “And the hits just keep on coming.”


“Nothing. Just an old saying from the sixties or seventies,” he replied absently, tugging at his beard with a worried expression. The information in the journal meant their expedition to Ingold had taken a sudden turn for the worse.

She favored him with a puzzled frown then straightened up. “I say we grab what we can and get out of here.”

“Take everything,” he corrected her. “I’ll saddle the horses.”

Suiting actions to words he turned on his heel without waiting for her response and stalked out to the main cavern, worry eating at his guts like a tapeworm. It wasn’t enough they were likely to attract demonic attention, now there were earthly enemies after them as well. “Units.” That meant more than this one band. They would be waiting in ambush for them along the road.

Blast it!

The Leader also knew about him.

His background as a self-imposed outcast from the Bear Clan wasn’t widely known. Most men didn’t care where you came from and unless you told them, never asked. As long as you led them well and paid on time they were happy. There were only a few caravan masters who’d bothered to delve deeply enough to uncover his history. Although he’d never hidden his Gaian past there couldn’t be more than a handful of men who knew he was from the Bear Clan. But none of them fit the picture of a “Leader” using magic to run a military campaign. So who was it?

This was looking worse and worse.

He snarled bitterly under his breath as he threw saddles and panniers on the horses, cinching the straps down with hard, savage jerks. Lorelei tossed an endless stream of books, maps and papers into the panniers then he joined her in toting the bags of gold out of the treasure room. Two of the largest paintings were too big to fit so they tied them across the back of one of the horses.

They led their captured remuda up the ramp then down the long tunnel back to the forest below. The horses followed willingly through the tight confines of the tunnel, but once outside they tied their halter ropes to the horse in front of them in a long string to keep them from scattering. They reclaimed their own horses, still patiently waiting where they’d left them and headed down the mountain toward the farm.

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