Eric was there to see them off, when they were finally ready to go back through the exit. The Company was also there to see for themselves what this thing was, how it worked. They didn’t hang around long after the three of them dropped into the darkness, however, and they went about their preparations for that which could be.
Sam had been curious about the Ringspeak capabilities. This time during the passage through Rent, he tried to maintain contact with Hazgorn. The connection seemed to dissolve as he stepped from the mist.
“Genie, can you talk to Vyrna from here?” he asked.
She got a curious look on her face and tried. “I can hear something, but it’s weak,” she said, “Give me your ring.”
Sam pulled off his ring and Genie put it on and tried again. “Yes, it’s faint but Vyrna can hear me. You try.” She pulled off the two rings, and Sam put them on.
“No, I can’t get through,” he said disappointedly, “How can you?”
Genie smiled, taking her ring back. “Girl power.”
After Sam showed them that the lights worked, he grabbed his new shotgun, and they climbed out of the shelter. Sam was glad to see that it was all quiet, and nothing had changed since he had left it. The van and car were still sitting there waiting for them. Off to Boulder they went.
The first stop was at Mack’s. He was there on the front porch when they pulled up.
“See you made it back okay,” he said, “What do you young people do, go backpacking or somethin’?”
“Something like that,” Genie said. “Thanks for helping out, Mack. I just wanted you to know how much I appreciated it.”
“Heck, ‘tweren’t nothin’,” he replied.
“I really wanted to see if you were okay after all that,” Sam said.
“Why wouldn’t I be? You’re the one they’s after. What can I do for you today?”
“I could use some ammo for that Glock,” Sam said.
“Tried it out, did you?” Mack smiled. “I don’t have much call for sellin’ 9mil, but I got a couple of boxes. Maybe I should order more with you in the neighborhood.”
“I want a gun,” Terri said suddenly. They all looked at her. “I’m no good with a sword or a bow. I need a gun.”
Mack just looked at her. “Sword?”
“Yeah, never mind about that, Mack,” Sam said, “the lady wants a gun. What have you got?”
“Can’t just buy a handgun legal just like that,” Mack said, “but I have a nice Glock I could let you have.” He winked at Sam. “If you’re gonna be hangin’ out with this one, you’re gonna need it.”
“I’ll take that nice compound bow up there too,” Genie said. “I’ll keep that one at the house,” Genie explained to Sam.
They bought what they needed, and Mack was happy. As they were leaving, he held Sam back a moment.
“So, if I see a bunch of black SUV’s driving by, should I call the cops?” he asked.
“No, I don’t want anyone getting hurt. Feel free to follow them and see if you can help, but don’t engage if you don’t have to. I’m trying to deal with this smart. If you see them driving back down past here though, you might want to call the cops then.”
“10-4, Good Buddy,” Mack said.
The next stop was the clinic for Genie, and Sam sat there and waited for a long time. Terri got a pile of change and set up shop at a public phone. Obviously, she was telling people who might be worrying about her that she was about to drop off of the grid indefinitely, and that she would be fine.
Sam was summoned to the examination room, where he found Genie about to get an ultrasound.
“So, you are pregnant?”
“Apparently Vyrna was right on,” Genie said.
“Girl power,” Sam repeated.
“This is going to be cold,” the technician said as she squeezed the gel onto the device and plopped it onto Genie’s bare belly.
“That’s accurate,” Genie agreed, trying not to cringe.
The tech moved it around, looking at the monitor. She clicked two shots and before long, the couple was checking out holding thermal-paper images of their little ‘peanut’.
Terri suggested ice cream in celebration, and the idea had plenty of merit. Ice cream, another thing that did not exist in Hordann. Sad, but all the more reason to keep the door open to Earth. While they were enjoying their frozen confections, Terri happened to think so something. Toilet paper. Eric requested toilet paper.
“I think we can grant that wish,” Genie said. “I would have to agree with him too. I had never really considered it a luxury until…you know.”
“Until you fall through a hole in space to a world where toilet paper doesn’t exist?” Sam snarked.
“Why, yes, Lord Samuel, that is it exactly,” Genie came back.
“Just stop, you two,” Terri interjected, “You’re going to make me puke.” She thought about it for a minute and asked, “Do I get to be some kind of lady there? In New Sky Hold? I can’t believe you named it that, by the way.”
“For someone who is looking for a title, you shouldn’t be criticizing the name of the place we had to come up with after landing in the middle of a battle and surrounded by people with swords,” Sam said. “I could have said ‘Xanadu’ or something.”
“Just kidding,” she said, licking the drip on the side of her cone.
“How about ‘Lady of the Lake’?” Genie suggested.
Terri laughed. “Strange women, lying about in ponds, distributing swords, is no basis for a system of government…” she smiled, quoting a favorite zany film, which seemed now about as credible as the situation they found themselves in.
“I’ll have them make you a special sword,” Sam said, “for when you receive your title.”
She smiled at the thought, but it faded after a few seconds. Her chin began to quiver as she teared up. “I miss Skip.”
Sam had to fight back his emotion. “Me too, Terri, me too.”
The drive back was quiet, and it wasn’t long before they pulled in to Mack’s for some toilet paper. They went on in, but there was no one around. Terri found a large pack of TP and carried it to the front.
“Strange,” Sam said, “Nobody here? Mack usually has his wife work the store when he’s gone.” He looked out back, but the truck was gone and everything was quiet. He locked up the back and came up front. “I have a bad feeling about this. Let’s go. He laid a $20 on the counter for the goods, and set the front door to lock behind them.
On the front porch, Genie pointed to Mack’s chair. On it, there was an American flag sticker, but it was upside down. There was also a walkie-talkie lying there. It was on.
“That wasn’t on there before,” Sam observed, “and upside down is a distress signal.” He looked at the two women seriously. “I told him if trouble came, to follow it.”
“I’ll bet he took his wife with him as backup,” Terri said.
“Maybe,” Sam said pensively, “We best gear up for battle. We might have to test your metal, Lady of the Lake.”
They got their gear ready for action and had Terri drive the van slowly up the dirt road to the homestead. Mack’s truck was parked in the weeds about a quarter of a mile away from the house, and they pulled in next to it. Empty. Sam figured that they were off on recon. That’s what the walkie-talkie was for. Now that they were close, he assumed they would be in range to use them.
He almost just called Mack, but thought better of it. If he did, and Mack was in a touchy situation, his position could be compromised. Instead, he just pressed the transmit button briefly to click on Mack’s end.
“That you, young fella?” Mack whispered.
“10-4, Good buddy,” Sam replied, indicating that he knew the 10 codes. He had been required to learn them to use the radios on location shoots. They had been necessary often to coordinate complex action sequences, so everybody had to know them. “What’s your 20?”
“Looking at your barn. They seem pretty interested in it. I think they all went down in the shelter. Two guards up top.”
“How many went down?”
“Couldn’t count. Four vehicles though. Couple of women too. All armed.”
“Like the last guys?”
“Them last boys were the hounds, these here are the hunters. You comin’ up?”
“10-76, yup,” Sam said.
“10-40 all the way,” Mack replied, meaning ‘silent running’.
Sam tried to think of a plan. He knew Mack was surveilling, and was most likely armed with his trusty M-16. So, he could handle one of the guards. If Sam could work his way around the barn from the bluff side, Genie could take out the other with the bow she had just bought.
“You want to try a test shot with this new bow?” he asked her. “You might need to pick off one of the bad guys.”
She pulled an arrow from her back and drew down on a tree about a hundred feet away. She released it and it hit smack dab on the knot. “I think it’ll do,” she said.
Sam pulled up the walkie-talkie. “Mack, what’s your exact 20?”
“The boulder across the road from the barn, ‘bout 40’ down the road.”
“Terri, could you drive the van up slowly to the house as if nothing was wrong? You can’t block Mack’s shot, so you need to park in front of the cabin. One of the guards will probably approach you, but don’t do anything weird. Mack should take that shot, but you have the Glock ready, though.”
“Yeah, but won’t they just shoot me?”
“They are looking for Genie and me. They don’t know who you are, so they will be cautious,” Sam assured her. “Mack, Terri’s coming in the van. Genie and I will flank. If they so much as raise a gun, you take the shot,” Sam said.
“10-4, take the shot.”
“We’ll be there in 10.”
Terri stopped the van about a hundred yards from the curve in the road by the homestead. “Give us about five minutes, then cruise in nice and easy. And don’t look for Mack; just drive in.”
Sam and Genie got out quietly and took to the woods leading to the base of the bluff. Sam stepped around the freshly dug graves, and climbed up awkwardly, carrying the shotgun. Genie scrambled right up. They laid low for a few seconds, getting their bearings. The barn was about 50’ from them. There were no windows to the east, so they could not see what was happening. Neither could the bad guys see them approach. They worked their way to the house side of the barn, to the right, and Genie got her bow ready.
One of the guards stepped out of the barn, and Sam and Genie ducked quickly behind the front of a large black vehicle. Sam watched as the man walked to the other side of the line of SUV’s, over to the house, to take a leak in the bushes.
Just as he was zipping up, the van came into view. The man regained his composure and faced the van. Unfortunately, the man was now in a position that was likely out of Mack’s line of sight. The guard’s hand slipped around to his back, and he gripped his Glock, but did not pull it as he approached the van cautiously.
The geometry flashed in Sam’s mind. “Genie, you’re up,” he whispered.
She came around and stood ready.
They could hear the man saying something loudly to Terri, and the other guard came out of the barn to see what the problem was. Terri was frozen, and the two men did not take well to her lack of response.
Simultaneously, as per their training, the Glocks came out. A split second later, one fell on his face with an arrow in his C7, and the other on his back, having been shot in the heart by the hidden M-16. Everyone held their positions to see if there would be any reaction from inside the barn. There was none.
Everyone came cautiously toward the bodies from their positions. Mack came up to his victim, and picked up his Glock and spare clip. He also had the fancy military knife that had been carried by the first two. His wife joined him from the woods. She relieved him of the gun. “This here’s Hilda, my wife,” Mack said. She looked like a good match for him. She was old, but wiry and her gray hair framed her face like drapes. Her eyes were dark.
“I’m Sam, my wife, Genie, and our friend, Terri,” Sam said. “Nice to meet you.”
“Save it kid; this ain’t the mall,” she said gruffly, dropping the mag out of the Glock to check the ammo. She slammed it back in.
Sam’s eyebrows raised, and he pulled Genie’s arrow out, dutifully, and wiped it off. “Good shot, Amazon,” he said as he collected the man’s weapons. He handed Genie the knife. “Here, I’ve already got one.” He demonstrated it, pushing the button up to spring the blade out of the front of the handle, then in reverse to store it.
“Whatever it is you got, they want it pretty bad, young fella,” Mack said.
“Where the heck are they?” Sam said.
Terri was coming out of the van. “I think you know, Sam.”
She was right; he knew. The door to the shelter was locked from the inside, Sam determined. They were in there. With the lamp.
The Lord and Lady had been gone for several hours, and everyone had been scurrying around trying to secure the defenses. Dextmann stationed two of the new guards in the passageway near the Lord’s chamber. There were two more guarding the dragon cavern entrance. The rest were spread out. There were archers in the high wall of the Hold, and some atop the outer wall, across the square.
It was a beautiful day, and the all the dragons, except Hazgorn and Vyrna had gone fishing, or were otherwise occupied. The Company members were gathered in the Great Hall swapping more stories that seemed to become more embellished with every telling. All the while, Hannegelt kept his eye on the upper levels.
He thought he heard some shouting, and he shushed his friends. Suddenly, the sound they had just learned exploded through the halls. Gunfire. The two guards up in the passage had been told to flee, if invaders came and had the weapons of Sky Hold. It didn’t take too much convincing for them to run from the danger. One had gotten off a shot with a bow, but since he was new, and this was his first encounter, he shot wide. He did not have time to try again from that position before the Glocks were out and the lead was flying. The invaders pursued the two as far as the top of the stairs, shooting at the fleeing guards as they descended. Gensonn and Kemann were there and began diverting bullets from their marks. The invaders were good shots, and did not know what was happening. How suddenly they had become like Imperial Storm Troopers.
During the shooting, the Company was shaken by the noise, the thunderous noise, from the guns. They had heard the noise outdoors, but inside the hall, with multiple guns firing, the decibels shook them to their bones. They were attempting to shoot arrows up at them, but failed with every shot. Kemann sent up a wall of flames illusion and the invaders jumped back, which gave everyone time to clear the Great Hall, out of harm’s way.
The Company went separate ways outside the hall, and took cover. They would be ready this time, having learned what to expect.
These guys were not total idiots though, and they did not just come filing out the front door to become part of a shooting gallery. They did have some training, and they were in the defensible Hold.
The advantage that the Hordannfolk had was that this group of invaders had no plan. They had come through Rent unexpectedly and had no real objective. They had been shot at first and had returned fire, and now they were pissed. They were also afraid. There had been no warning that they would suddenly be thrust onto another world, apparently in medieval times. They didn’t know how they got there, and they didn’t know how to get back. But the boss had yelled at them to take the castle, and so there they were. How did the boss know they were in a castle anyway? It had been an educated guess. Whatever the motivation, they were currently the aggressors. Aside from shooting everyone, they did not know another way to accomplish such a broad order as, “Take the castle.”
The Hordannfolk were content to wait. They did not relish the idea of standing up to Sky Hold guns, and as long as they stayed in the Great Hall, no one would be hurt. Hannegelt would not be drawn into the madness of trying to take the Hold back, facing superior firepower. He had been told by Lord Samuel not to involve the dragons for fear they would be killed by weapons they knew nothing of. Even if they were to help, he was pretty sure Sam wouldn’t want them to burn down the Hold to defeat a dozen men. No, best to just wait.
The invaders did not know the layout of the Hold, or the numbers they faced. They knew very little, and this was their problem. They also were not as patient. They had been steeped in aggression and Hollywood heroics, and this was another of their problems. Gensonn cast illusions over the interior exits from the Great Hall, which lead to other areas of the Hold. He made them appear as the rest of the stone walls in the hall, making it look like there was no way out except the front door or back up the stairs they had come down.
After about an hour, they could sit still no longer and attempted their offensive. The door opened suddenly, and two guys sprang out and took positions behind the dragon statues on either side of the landing. They fired with their handguns at the guards they could see on the Hold wall, but the distance was too great for any accuracy. It took about three seconds for them to realize they had been pierced with arrows from above. Heaving themselves back to the doorway, they were pulled in quickly by reaching arms.
Everyone resumed waiting. The invaders may have had superior weapons, but this was not their game.
“There might be a dozen guys down there,” Mack said, “but at least they’re trapped down there.”
“That’s not entirely accurate,” Sam said. “It’s too long of a story for now, but let’s just say they aren’t in there anymore, and we have to follow them.”
“How are they not in there?” Hilda asked.
“There is a way out, but not to here,” Sam began. Mack and Hilda just looked at him. “Not to anywhere even close to here. Bottom line here is that our friends are in trouble if these assholes went through.”
“And we know they did. It’s the only thing they could do,” Genie said.
“But it wasn’t what they were expecting,” Sam said. “How long have they been in there?” he asked Mack.
“’bout hour and a half, I guess.”
“Seven or eight hours,” Sam said looking at Genie. She looked worried. He handed her his ring. “See if you can talk to Vyrna.”
“What’s that about?” Mack asked.
“Walkie-talkie,” Sam said. Genie had her eyes closed for a minute.
“Yeah, they are there. It’s not good, but it could be worse,” Genie reported, “but we need to get back as soon as possible.”
“What the hell is going on here?” Hilda asked.
“I promise we’ll explain later,” Sam said. “Problem now is how do we get in there?”
“That’s not gonna happen. Maybe we can smoke ’em out through the vents,” Mack said.
“No, they aren’t in there, and we stopped up the vents.” Sam said, as the thought of the drain popped into his mind. He went over to the tools on the wall and grabbed the pick. “Come with me,” he said, “And bring the guns. Sure hope I’m right about this.”
He sprinted out the door with the shotgun and pick. The others followed him as he made his way back down the bluff to the drain. He leaned the shotgun on the rocks to the side and began using the pick on the ‘stone’ around the drain. It was not very yielding, but it started to give way after several good hits. Sam picked the loose parts away and began to broaden the hole. The wall he was chipping was a couple of inches thick and had been created to cover old Gus’ escape route. Sam was right about it not being too heavy duty, because Gus would have needed to remove it from the inside in order to escape. After about five minutes, Sam was sweating, but the hole had been opened to its limits. Not much more than a crawl space, but it would have to do. The others had made it down the bluff while Sam worked.
Sam figured as well, that if the tunnel coincided with the drain that it must go to the bathroom/sink fixtures in the little room off of the living quarters. There must be a breakaway wall in there too. Maybe a secret panel, like in the movies. If it had been made as an escape, would Gus have put a release on this side? That was the question. If the answer was ‘No’, then Sam would have to force his way through. If there were any guards left in there, it could go badly.
“Let’s go,” Sam said. He looked at the others. “Genie and I have to do this, but y’all might want to sit this out. Somebody should stay here anyway to hold down the fort in case they come back out.”
“We’ll stay,” Mack said. “When should we consider calling the cops?”
“That’ll be your call, Mack,” Sam said, “but I’d wait until morning on that. Look, if we get in no problem, we’ll open the doors. Don’t shoot us.”
“Deal,” Mack said. “Hilda ‘n me’ll go through those SUV’s up there and see if we can figure out who’s visitin’.”
“Wish us luck.”
“What about me?” Terri asked.
“Your choice, but it’ll be a good way to earn your title,” Genie said. As she followed Sam into the crawlspace. Terri thought about it for a second and followed.
“You know what the hell they’re talking about?” Hilda asked Mack.
“I ain’t got a clue.”
It ended up being about thirty-five feet before Sam got to the impass. It was a smooth door, framed of two-by-four and plywood. The hinges were on Sam’s side, so he knew it would open towards him and which side would swing, therefore, if there were to be latch, he should know where to look for it.
He felt around in the shadows of Genie’s flashlight behind him. There it was, a spring-loaded latch. He pressed its lever and gently tugged the panel. Nope. From behind him, Genie held the tactical knife he had given her over his shoulder and pulled the button. The blade swished out.
“Pry it with this,” she whispered.
He dug it in to the crack on the side and barely had any room to pry since the wall was right there. Tilting down for a little more room, he snapped the knife blade. At first, he cursed under his breath, but then he realized that it was now shorter and easier to pry with. He tried again, and this time, the wood began to move. He reset the knife and continued until he had exposed enough of it to grab.
He tugged again, and the panel came towards him making a slight click and scraping noise. He waited to see if the sound had been heard. It had not.
Sam poked his head out to see that the door to the bathroom was shut. As quietly as he could, he climbed out of the hole and beckoned the others to follow. The room was not really large enough for three people, but they squeezed in.
The door made no sound at the opening. Sam crept in and could see no one else in the bunker. The girls followed him in. That’s when he saw.
“The lamp,” Sam said, “It’s gone,”
Genie looked around. The place had been gone through by the bad guys, but the most obvious problem in the room was Rent. The mist was floating in the middle of the room, but the lamp was gone.
“We’ve seen this before,” Sam said. “They came in and found the lamp. Of course, they couldn’t resist rubbing it. The mist came out, but they didn’t get their jinni. They must have gone into Rent looking for it.”
“And they took the lamp with them,” Genie said, “and started the conundrum again.”
“We can hope that’s the outcome,” Sam said. The mist began to drift toward the open bathroom door. “Shut the door.”
Terri reached and shut the door. “What are we going to do?” she asked.
Sam thought. Too many possibilities. “Ask Vyrna if she has seen Rent moving back to the sky.”
Genie thought for a moment. “She says she has not seen that.”
“Well, that’s good for the moment.” Sam thought some more. “You guys stay away from it, but I’m going to go through.”
“No way, Sammy,” Genie said, “we stay together.”
“I’ll stay,” Terri said.
At that moment, Sam saw the parachute. He had left one in New Sky Hold and one on Earth, just in case. It gave him an idea. “Genie, put the parachute on.”
“What?” she puzzled.
“There’s a chance that Rent has flown the coop, with the conundrum. This one wants its freedom too. Last time, only the exit stayed in place at New Sky Hold. We only have the one rig here, so I’ll hang on to you as we go through. If Vyrna is right, we won’t need it, but if Rent floated away at some point, we don’t want to fall to our deaths.”
Then it hit him. “After we go through, Terri, open the doors and leave them open. Careful not to let it catch you, and keep Mack and Hilda out of it.”
“You want me to let it escape?” she asked incredulously. “You won’t be able to get b….” She stopped.
“Genie, do you remember what happened to Nassar?”
“You said he probably fell to his death out of Rent.”
“Exactly. He didn’t have a parachute. Only a Skadiver can do it,” Sam explained. “Now, we get back to Hordann, and we have to not get shot and get outside to the Company. Then we can drive these assholes back to the mist.”
“Unless we kill them first,” Genie said.
“Unless we kill them first,” Sam agreed.
Genie put on the rig, and they prepared to go.
“Good luck,” Terri said as they held each other and stepped into Rent, vanishing. She went to the door and opened it, climbing the ladder and releasing the upper door. She pumped the lift handle and it rose slowly. When she climbed out, Mack and Hilda were ready, and they lowered their weapons to help her.
“What is that? There a fire down there?” Hilda asked, looking at the mist floating upward out of the door.
“Stay away from it!” Terri exclaimed, moving them out of its path. They watched it drift out of the barn and start to rise into the sky.
“Why do I get the feeling we are going to be returning these rentals?” Mack asked.
“It can wait until morning. Right now, I need a drink,” Terri said.
“Way ahead of you, Darlin’,” Hilda said as she pulled out a flask and passed it around.