Storm found himself whistling happily for the dozenth time that day as the afternoon shadows began to lengthen. Being back on the edge of what Lorelei considered her native territory, she’d unleashed all her passion the night before, even waking him twice for an encore. She’d even woken him up this morning for more, until Ralt and During interrupted with their phone call on the magic mirrors. He remembered an old Texas saying, “When momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Well, the converse was equally true, he thought with a grin.
“You’re looking awfully pleased with yourself over there,” she called to him. Her eyes were alight with mischief.
“Well, let’s just say I found my pearl of great price,” he grinned at her, knowing he’d have to explain the reference later and make her pay a price for it too. When she demanded to know what he meant, he just wiggled his eyebrows at her to let her know she’d have pay to get an answer from him. He didn’t think she’d mind.
They were flying low, looking for a likely place to spend the night. The city of North Gate, the intersection of the mountain road through Ingold and the far eastern end of the Cliff Road, had been one of Lorelei’s stopping points during her expedition to find Storm the previous summer. Now though, with a price on their heads from Adrammelech and Ashima, avoiding anything larger than a village was the prudent thing to do. They skirted it and cast about for a good campsite.
Lorelei spotted a large open meadow with a creek meandering through it. It wasn’t ideal but at least there wasn’t enough cover for an enemy to approach them unseen. Storm nodded when she pointed it out and they landed while the sun was still a handsbreadth above the horizon.
Up close, they found a couple of rings of fire-blackened rocks where previous travelers had a campfire.
Dinner was a lively affair. Feeling as if they were on a second honeymoon, they teased each other, kissed, and generally behaved like over-anxious newlyweds. Which, Storm reflected, they probably were.
The sun was still half above the horizon when they were interrupted by the sound of tramping feet coming their way. Storm paused in his fumbling attempts to unlace Lorelei’s shirt. “Is that coming from North Gate?” He turned his head back and forth trying to pinpoint the location of the noise.
Lorelei, her hearing as sharp, if not sharper than his, nodded. “They don’t sound friendly either.”
Storm’s lips compressed angrily. “What’s the point of staying away from the cities if they come out of the cities after us?” he growled. He adjusted his clothes and scooped up his weapons.
Lorelei copied him, even belting on her sword in case things got up close and personal.
A familiar eye-searing flash of rainbow light split the darkening sky to the east. Storm and Lorelei shielded their eyes and Storm activated his Sight.
When they could see again, Adrammelech was floating in the sky above them.
“Damn it!” Lorelei cursed feelingly.
Adrammelech smiled evilly. “Join me or die, slut! This is your last chance!” His voice shook the trees.
Storm’s temper, always easily aroused, flared in an instant. “Come and get her if you dare, monster!”
Adrammelech was amused. “I wouldn’t sully my hands with the likes of a mere mortal. My followers will make short work of you now that you’re alone and in the open.”
As if it were a signal, a group of armed men marched into view. They were still some way off, but too close for Storm and Lorelei to escape, especially with Adrammelech blocking the way.
Storm reached for his swords, only to discover he already had them in his hands. Ignoring the looming threat of the monster in the sky, he counted quickly. “I make it fourteen or fifteen of them.”
Lorelei agreed. “They’re in range if you want me to thin the herd.”
He grinned savagely. “Do you really have to ask?”
She stepped behind him so he blocked their view of her and loosed her first arrow.
They didn’t even see it coming. Storm suspected most of their attention was riveted on their false god floating overhead. When her arrow took down the first one, they were caught completely off guard.
With a startled yell, they burst into a wild charge across the grassy meadow. Lorelei managed to take down two more, then they were in range of the battle magic Ralt had taught Storm. He’d already decided to start with his biggest guns to frighten them.
He chanted quickly and unleashed a bolt of lightening with an ear splitting clap of thunder. Three of them dropped instantly, dead before they hit the ground. Four more staggered and wobbled. The rest scattered like a school of startled fish. Their charge wavered and broke. They slowed to a halt in fear and confusion.
“KILL THEM!” Adrammelech roared at his followers.
Torn between their fear of the monster overhead and the two warriors they faced, one of them tried to reason with Adrammelech. “Awesome Lo . . . Lord. They’re too powerful. We need your help.”
“HOW DARE YOU DISOBEY ME!” A fiery bolt lanced out from Adrammelech’s eyes. The man was incinerated on the spot. Only drifting ashes were left to mark his passing. “KILL THEM!”
Storm despised the men facing them for worshiping such an obviously evil creature but at the same time he pitied them for the impossible situation they found themselves in. Since it was obvious Adrammelech had more than enough power to overwhelm any defense he and Lorelei put up, he might as well go ahead and get it over with.
“Why don’t you kill us yourself?” he yelled angrily. “Come on, get it over with!”
Lorelei sucked in her breath with fear.
Adrammelech didn’t deign to acknowledge him. “KILL THEM NOW!”
In terror of their snarling deity, the remaining men took their courage in hand and rushed them. Lorelei had time for one more arrow then the fight was hand-to-hand.
Storm laughed at the clash of muscle and steel. This was the part of Gaia he loved. The freedom to let go and fight to the death for a noble cause, or the right cause, or in defense. No lawyers, no second guessing from the chain-of-command after a battle was long over, no recriminations because he did something that wasn’t “by the book”. No, this was how battle was supposed to be!
He threw himself into it with a glad cry. His whirling swords lashed out, leaving trails of blood behind them. Men fell before him with despairing screams. After that first instant they tried to flee from him and concentrate on Lorelei but his blood lust was fully aroused and he pursued them relentlessly.
Lorelei fought just behind him, protecting her husband’s back when their enemies tried to surround them. Immediately she noticed a difference in her own fighting style. She parried and riposted, cutting down her first opponent with unexpected ease. Storm’s merciless “boot camp” training must be paying dividends. She laughed and turned to the next man.
He dropped and the remaining four backed away fearfully.
Storm wasn’t even breathing hard yet. “Come on!” he shouted, waving his blood drenched swords.
Lorelei glanced up at Adrammelech. His once handsome face was twisted in demonic fury. “KILL THEM OR DIE!”
The remaining men were caught with no way out. Hopelessly, they attacked and hopelessly they died.
Storm swung around to Adrammelech, swords at the ready. “Alright, monster! Come on!” Now that his followers were dead, Adrammelech was sure to step in. Storm wasn’t ready to die, but he couldn’t complain either. He’d had a better life than he’d ever had any right to expect. And the last few days alone with Lorelei had been nothing short of wonderful.
Lorelei swallowed hard, stepping up beside him. She dreaded the thought of what Adrammelech would do to them but she wouldn’t give him the pleasure of whimpering or begging either. She glanced sideways to meet Storm’s eyes. “Today is a good day to die,” she said, quoting the old Biqah saying.
He favored her with a tight-lipped smile then turned to face their doom.
Adrammelech looked down at them disdainfully, folding his arms. “I won’t sully myself killing a mere mortal,” he sneered.
“You sullied yourself with him,” Storm noted acidly, pointing the tiny pile of ash that was left from the man Adrammelech had killed.
“I do what I please with my followers,” Adrammelech thundered in anger. “Now, surrender and kneel before me!”
Storm’s Sight told him the creature before them had more than enough power to flatten an entire city and while his sense of danger pegged Adrammelech as one of the most dangerous foes he’d ever faced, he didn’t get any feeling of direct danger from him, which was puzzling.
Unless . . .
“You can’t attack us!” he exclaimed in surprise.
Lorelei was startled. “Are you crazy?”
“I AM A GOD! I CAN DO ANYTHING!”
Storm eased out of his battle crouch and dropped his swords. “Okay. Prove it. Kill me.”
“Storm!” Lorelei couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
He waved at her. “It’s okay. He can’t.”
“HOW DARE YOU! KNEEL AND BEG FORGIVENESS BEFORE I TURN YOU TO DUST!”
“Up yours,” Storm rejoined calmly, watching intently. If he was wrong he’d just made the worst mistake of his life. But if he was right . . .
Adrammelech’s face twisted out of shape as his form melted away under the weight of his unholy rage. No longer was he a handsome god-man. Instead he was barely recognizable as a twisted, fire-blackened skeletal figure with grasping claws and snarling fangs. “YOU WILL PAY FOR THIS INSULT!!”
There was a huge flash of rainbow light and he was gone.
For a moment they just stood there in the darkening meadow.
Lorelei finally stirred, her face slack in stunned disbelief. “What just happened?”
Storm laughed in nervous relief, unable to believe his insane gamble had paid off. His knees gave out and he dropped to the ground, laughing weakly.
“Storm!” She dropped to her knees to front of him. She tossed her sword aside and grabbed his face between her hands, forcing him to look at her. “What happened? Why aren’t we dead?”
“Because, I just figured it out,” he said in a wondering voice. “These so-called gods can’t kill anyone but their own followers.” She wrinkled her brow. “Don’t look at me like that. It makes sense if you think about it.”
She sat back on her haunches. “Well, maybe I’m slow, but I’m not seeing it.”
“That’s because you don’t have my sense of danger,” he smiled. “His behavior was weird. I mean, obviously he had more than enough power to wipe the floor with us, but he wouldn’t do it even when I dared him to. And my sense of danger wasn’t warning me of any direct danger from him. I never, not even once, got the sense he was going to attack us. Never!” His laugh was a bit shaky. “Ever since I became a Ghibbore, my sense of danger has been stronger than it ever was on Earth. I couldn’t be a hundred percent sure until I tried it of course, and I still don’t know why, but I guarantee, they can’t attack anyone who isn’t one of their followers.”
She stared at him in disbelief. “We’ve had priests and wizards studying the gods for thousands of years, then you come along and figure something out no one else has ever discovered in all that time? Just like that?” She was having a hard time talking.
“Somebody had to be first. Why not me?” he temporized. He lurched to his feet. He recovered his swords and began cleaning them. “We can’t keep something this big to ourselves. We have to tell Gerald and Aram about it so they can spread the word.”
She rose silently. Laying a gentle hand his arm, she stopped him in mid-stride. “The prophecy said a man of might, which we all took to mean physically strong and powerful, which you are,” she hastened to add, “but maybe the prophecy was referring to more than one kind of power.” She smiled fondly at him. “You’re also a man of might when it comes to caring for others.”
Storm thought back to Edison and Einstein, both of whom were men of might in their own way and nodded. “Maybe so.” He slid his swords back into their scabbards. “Let’s call Gerald and Aram, then Ralt and Durin.”
“And find a new campsite,” Lorelei added primly.
He looked at the dead bodies littering the ground. “Yeah, that too.”