“So now what?” Krista asked curiously as they continued to circle and climb higher above Robling. “Where do we go from here?”
“I promised to help Lorelei avenge her father, but first, we have to get rid of this,” Storm answered, pulling out Niran’s bloodstone gem for their inspection.
Ralt and Durin shook their heads together. “You can’t destroy an artifact unless you know the exact method,” the wizard reminded him, “which we don’t.”
“What about burying it?”
Ralt gave Durin a questioning glance. “You know more about this kind of thing than I do. What do you think?”
The dwarf shrugged. “Tis the only thing we kin do,” he opined. “But where?”
Thomas waved at the rugged, snow-capped, mountain peaks below. “Why not bury it on top of one of them?” he interjected. “Without flying horses and such, who’d ever find it?”
The rest exchanged startled looks, surprised by Thomas’ pragmatic suggestion.
“That,” Storm said slowly, “is the best idea I’ve heard in a long time. Durin?”
The dwarf gave a deep laugh as he waved Fenris Fang over his head. “Perfect! I kin cut through da stone to make a burying place and Ralt kin melt da stones back ta’gether wit his magic ta cover it up.”
“Just make sure it’s out of the line of sight to Robling,” Lorelei added, indicating the town far below. “We don’t want anyone seeing fire on the mountain and getting curious about it.”
“Good point,” Storm agreed. He looked around, scanning the mountains for a good candidate. He found one off to the west then gestured to his friends. “Come on; this way.” He led them due north away from Robling. As soon as the peaks hid them from the view of anyone watching, he turned back to the west and south until he found the peak he’d spotted. It was a bit shorter than the surrounding mountains, but the final slope to the top was steeper than the rest, almost vertical in places.
He flew as close to the mountain as he could. “Durin! Think you can tie a rope to your waist and to your pegasus, then jump over to that rock wall and cut into it?”
“A pegasus can’t hover in one spot like a hummingbird,” Durin rumbled, “but I kin jump easy enough.” He tied a rope around his waist. “Gimme those pitons,” he said.
Storm searched through the saddlebags on Specter Jr. He shook his head. “I think Lorelei has them.”
She sighed and dug through her saddlebags. “There’s only three,” she warned, holding them up. “The rest are still in that cliff we climbed.”
“I only need one,” Durin snorted. “I ain’t climbing ya know, jist diggin’.”
She shrugged and tossed one to him. He grabbed it one-handed out of midair and tucked it in his belt. He coiled the rope over one shoulder, stood up on the saddle with Fenris Fang in hand and leaped for the rock face of the mountain.
The mighty axe bit deep in the rock and held tight. Durin scrambled for a handhold, then yanked his axe out and slammed it into another spot nearby. Hanging from the handle, he pulled out the piton and jammed it into the first cut then slid the rope through it and tied it off. He leaned back, letting the rope hold him in place. “Now I kin work wit both hands,” he grinned at them.
Storm and the rest, circling in the air, grinned back at him.
He went to work, chopping small blocks out of the mountain then tossing them to them. Quickly he had a small passage he could crouch in to continue working, cutting deeper into the rock face. After about four cubits he stopped. “Dat oughta be enough. Toss me da gem.”
Storm pulled it out, and on his next pass around the aerial circle, he tossed it underhand to Durin, forgetting about Mein Kampf in the bottom of his backpack. The dwarf caught the gem easily. He put it at the back of the shaft, then began backing out, filling it in as he did. They carefully tossed the stone blocks he’d cut out and given them, back to him until the short passage was completely filled. Finally, he tamped them in place with the butt of his axe.
Once it was done, he put the axe away, and using the previous cuts in the rock, held himself in place while he untied the rope and retrieved the piton. Then he waited for his pegasus to circle around close to him. It was too far and he had to call him to come closer. On the next pass, the pegasus was so close his wings nearly brushed the cliff. Durin leaped out with a mighty shout. He landed heavily in the saddle. The pegasus staggered in midair and he had to grab for the reins. “Whoa! Easy! Easy der, ya silly critter!” His mount fluttered sideways in the air, then settled down.
Storm nodded at Ralt. “It’s all yours!”
“Everyone back off a little,” Ralt warned them. “I don’t want anyone getting caught in the blast.”
They obediently pulled back a couple hundred cubits.
Ralt flew with them, unlimbering his staff as he did. Once they were out of range he turned and flew back toward the cliff face, his staff held out like the lance of a charging knight in armor. He unleashed a fiery bolt then immediately turned away before it was halfway to its target. His friends were dismayed to see it detonate nearly twenty cubits before it reached the cliff.
“You missed, O mighty giant killer,” Thomas yelled across the sky.
“Not hardly,” Ralt called in return. “I didn’t want the blast to hit all that loose rock, it would have knocked it out of the passage Durin dug. I only wanted the heat to strike them.” He waved at the rocks, which were glowing a faint red. “Watch and learn!”
Thomas shook his head but watched along with the rest as Ralt charged the wall, again and again, detonating his fireballs just short of the rocks, but close enough that the intense flames washed over them. Each time the stones glowed brighter and brighter until they were white hot, and began melting. They slowly oozed down, closing up the cracks between them, sealing the terrible artifact behind a solid, unbroken wall of mountain rock.
Ralt spurred his pegasus higher, coaxing him to fly close to the packed snow on the steep mountain slope just above the rock face. “Come on!” he shouted. “Help me knock some snow down on it before it cools.”
Lorelei shot a confused look at Storm, but he didn’t have any answers for her unspoken question. “It’s his game,” he reminded her. “Let’s help him then find out what he’s up to.”
She nodded and all of them followed Ralt’s request, urging their mounts up the snow pack. They swooped and turned, diving over it as close as possible before pulling up with thunderous beats of their mighty wings. Swirling snow devils turned into trickles of snow, which quickly became a miniature avalanche. A wall of snow and ice met the blisteringly hot rocks in an explosion of steam.
They banked away from the steam with loud exclamations.
“I can’t see!” Krista yelped, fighting to get away from the sudden fog. A moment later she broke into the clear.
“Yikes!” Lorelei semi-screamed.
“Ye blasted runt! Why did’na ye warn us?” Durin roared. He burst out of the billowing fog bank with a swirl of steaming vapor. “We coulda run inta each other!”
Storm steered his way clear then shot Ralt a disgusted look. “You don’t like the barbarian rage thing? Well, I don’t like the mysterious wizard thing either! What are you doing?”
“Sorry,” Ralt called to them. “I didn’t think there would be quite so much steam.” It was dispersing quickly in the frigid, winter air. “Look at the rocks though.” He gestured at them. Where a few moments before there had been separate blocks of stone jammed together, now it was a solid, unbroken sheet of stone; but pitted, jagged and coarse, instead of smooth from being melted. “See? The snow cooled the rock so fast it made it look jagged and more natural. Pull back a little way and look back at at again; you’ll hardly be able to tell it from the rest of the cliff. It’ll blend right in,” he told them triumphantly.
With a few dubious looks, they obeyed, then exclaimed over how difficult it was to see, even though they knew where to look and what to look for.
Thomas flew down a hundred feet below them to look at it from beneath “From down here, you can’t see it at all,” he yelled up at them.
“Alright, ye knew what ye were doing,” Durin conceded. “But next time, warn us!”
There was a general round of laughter at Ralt’s red-faced expense.
Thomas regained his lost altitude and they began circling in midair, in what was fast becoming a new habit, to discuss their next move.
“Before we head for the Biqah Prairie, we need to visit Zered to let Meredith know about Sodan’s death,” Storm said without preamble. Thomas started to protest, but Storm cut him off. “I know, I know, she’s hard to get along with. I believe you. But Sodan was her brother, and she deserves to know what happened to him.” He glanced over at Krista. “I don’t think she’ll try to boss you around if we’re with you.”
She gave him an arch look. “Say that again after you meet her, but alright. Besides, there’s some stuff in my room I want before she finds it.”
Storm looked at Lorelei to see how she was dealing with yet another delay in avenging her father, but she only smiled. “Honor breached in part is honor breached in all,” she replied, quoting an old Biqah proverb. “You owe it to Sodan’s family to report his death. After that, your duty to them will be finished.”
He smiled back at her.
“Then the Army of Light can begin its mission in the world,” he laughed.
Ignoring the empty sky beneath their stirrups, Ralt twisted around in his saddle to fix Storm with a questioning look. “Meaning?”
“Meaning, righting the wrongs and setting the captives free,” Storm grinned, throwing his own words back at him. “Avenging Crowsotarri’s death will be the first step toward achieving that end.”
Ralt laughed, “Well then, what are we waiting for? Lead on!”