Legends of Amacia: The Gathering Shadow

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Chapter 24: Peril Shared

Two and a half hours after falling asleep with Selina, Hannibal woke. He yawned and looked around, rubbing the side of his face. Selina stirred beside him, attracting his attention. She lay still sound asleep. He smiled as he looked at her, and then sat up. A tingling sensation arose in his leg so he looked at it. The disks were still clinging to his leg and the crystal glowed. “Hmmm,” he murmured, rubbing his leg where it was once broken. “It’s tingling…a good sign.” Sighing deeply, Hannibal turned his attention to Selina once again. She stirred again, rolled on her side facing him. Her sleeping face didn’t carry the sorrows she had just a couple hours previously. He reached out and gently caressed her face and her ears twitched as she began to purr. “Sleep, my sweet princess, sleep,” he said softly, leaning over and gently kissing her on the forehead. Moving slowly as not to wake Selina, he got up and limped to the bathroom.

A knock came to the main door while Hannibal was in the bathroom. When no one responded, the caller knocked again, louder this time. When the caller still received no response, the door creaked open and Nathanael silently stepped into the room carrying two canes. He looked around and called out the door, “Wait there for a moment.”

Nathanael walked to the bed and saw Selina sound asleep on the bed without Hannibal. He then heard running water coming from the bath, surmising that Hannibal was in there. He propped the canes up against the nightstand and slowly sat on the bed. Nathanael crawled to Selina in the center of the bed and leaned over toward her, reaching out carefully. Touching her shoulder and shaking her gently, he said softly, “Selina, Selina. Wake up. It’s time to get up.”

Selina stirred, rolling on her back and yawned with a growl, stretching as she slowly opened her eyes. She blinked and rubbed her eyes to get them to focus. “Dad?” she asked with some puzzlement. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s time for the meeting, princess,” Nathanael said evenly as he straightened up. “Hannibal is apparently in the bath.”

Selina sat up next to Nathanael and wrapped her arm around him, laying her head on his shoulder. “I love you, dad,” she purred.

Her action surprised Nathanael for a moment, leaving him speechless. He put his arm around her and looked down into his daughter’s face, saying, “I love you too, princess. Come on. It’s time to get ready for the meeting.” After the hug, Nathanael got off the bed as Hannibal came out of the bath.

“Nathanael,” Hannibal said, pleased to see him. “Is it time?”

Nathanael nodded, getting up and replying, “Yes, the meeting is in half an hour. Joshua sent me to tell you it was time and Drew sent the canes you asked for. They’re sitting there by the nightstand.”

“That was good of him,” Hannibal replied, seeing the canes. “Apparently, the kit is done. The little disks just came off a minute ago. Here, please put the disks back in the kit for me.” He handed Nathanael the disks that came off his leg.

“Here dad, take these too,” Selina called out, handing the disks that came off her leg. “They just let go.”

Nathanael nodded and took the disks from Selina. As he put the disks back in the first-aid kit, Nathanael added, “We’ll take those other disks off later when we have time. The meeting is upon us.”

“Right,” Hannibal stated, standing next to the bed.

“Hey, can I come in now?” Harry called out from the hall.

Hannibal chuckled and replied, “Sure, you goofball. I thought for sure by now that you knew my door was always open to you.” He looked over at Selina, who now sat on the edge of the bed smiling at Hannibal’s comical reply to Harry.

Harry came in and strode right up to Hannibal, standing toe to toe, nose to nose. “Goofball… goofball?” he retorted sarcastically. “If I’m a goofball, then you’re a scratching post.”

The comment hit Selina’s funny bone and she laughed hysterically for a few moments. Hannibal kept his serious face for a moment, and then Selina’s laugh became contagious. He smirked and laughed as Harry and Nathanael chuckled. “Oh, my, you got me that time,” Hannibal replied with a smile. “You got me good.”

“It’s good to see that you can still laugh,” Harry replied, smiling broadly. “You’ve been so serious here lately.”

Hannibal put a grateful hand on Harry’s shoulder and said, “It’s so good to have such a caring friend. I needed a good belly laugh. You’re right. I have been way too serious here recently.”

“I know you’ve had good reason for being so serious, you know with all that’s happened here in the last couple of weeks. Still, you do need to lighten up occasionally. It would be good for everyone,” Harry returned.

“That’s good advice,” Nathanael agreed, smiling soberly. “Some humor once in a while to lighten the mood goes a long way in boosting the moral of the people around you.”

“Oh, before I forget,” Harry said abruptly, “Look what I found in my pack. I didn’t even know it was there. It’s a wonder it even survived.” Harry pulled out of his pocket the little hologram generator in a carrying case with several disks in the case.

“Well, I’ll be. It’s a hologram projector from the Temple,” Hannibal declared, taking the little device from Harry as he sat down next to Selina. Removing the device from its case, Hannibal opened it up and was speechless for a moment. “Oh, the Lord is so good,” he chimed. “Look. It has the same disk in it that we used at your house to show you Kaitia.” He then looked in the case and saw in the six disks, each in a special pouch designed to hold them. “Look, there are six more disks too,” he added as Selina, Nathanael, and Harry closed in to watch. Hannibal pulled out one of the tiny disks and looked at it carefully. The one he was looking at was labeled ‘Kaitia.’ Hannibal looked around at them and asked, “You don’t suppose this is what I think it is, do you?”

Nathanael shrugged and replied, “Could be. There’s only one way to find out.”

“You’re right,” Hannibal said, putting the disk carefully back into the case. He then turned his attention to the device. “I don’t know whether this is going to work here or not,” he murmured as he keyed the sequence to activate the hologram generator. For a moment, the device didn’t respond. He sighed and tapped the sequence in again. Hannibal looked at those around him with a somewhat disappointed look when the device didn’t respond. He shook his head and said, “I guess technology from the Temple won’t work....” He trailed off as the device suddenly lit up and began to hum. The little projection crystal in the device suddenly glowed and in an instant, the room was a holographic representation of Kaitia. His disappointment turned to excitement. “It works!” Hannibal exclaimed. “Oh, it works! Praise the Lord, it works!” Everyone else was equally surprised at the device operating. “How’d this get in your pack, Harry?” Hannibal asked with great interest.

“I have no idea,” Harry replied with great puzzlement. “I packed my own pack and I know I didn’t put that in there. The only thing I can figure is that maybe Dennis slipped it in the pack when he came to the hangar that night. But I don’t see how he could have put it in there without me knowing.”

Hannibal scratched his head and turned the device off, causing the hologram to disappear. He thought for a moment, and then Selina gave voice to his thought. “You know, I don’t think anyone put it there,” she stated. “I think the Lord put it there because for some reason He thought we needed it.”

Hannibal bowed his head and agreed. “I think you’re right, Selina. The Lord must have put it there,” he said as he put the device back in the case and closed the case.

“But why would He do that?” Harry asked, still puzzled over the appearance of the projector. “If He wanted us to have it, then why not just get us to pack it when we packed at the Temple?”

“I don’t know,” Hannibal replied.

“Maybe He just wanted to reassure us that He’s still in charge, even down here,” Nathanael suggested.

“Very likely,” Hannibal agreed as he handed the device and its carrying case back to Harry.

“No, you hold on to it,” Harry said, refusing to take it.

Hannibal nodded and Nathanael was suddenly aware of the time. “You two need to get ready now. It’s almost eight o’clock,” he said urgently. “We’ll wait outside for you while you change. Come on, Harry.” Nathanael and Harry went out into the hall, closing the doors behind them.

Hannibal went to the dresser and placed the projector and its case on top of it. “We need to get ready,” he told Selina. “Our audience awaits us.” Within minutes, they walked out into the hall, cleaned up with a fresh change of clothes and their canes in hand. Hannibal wore a different tan shirt over the armored shirt, a fresh pair of tan trousers, and his boots. On his belt hung the dagger he chose at Skull Pass and his sword lay slung across his back. Selina emerged wearing a different dress and trouser combination. This dress was nearly full length, coming midway between her knees and feet. It was deep blue in color and made similarly to the tan dress she was wearing earlier in the day with slits on the side of the dress below her hips to allow for maximum mobility. It had long sleeves that came down to just above the elbows and fit her perfectly, complimenting her natural beauty but not exaggerating it. The four-inch belt she was wearing earlier sat buckled about her waist and the harness for her katana crossed her chest. Beneath the dress she had on a deep blue pair of trousers to protect her legs and a pair of sandals she’d found in the new clothes Nicodemus had provided her. Both she and Hannibal leaned heavily on the canes they carried.

Nathanael, Harry, Xavier, and Amelia met them in the hall. Nathanael looked at Selina and complimented her, saying, “My, you look good, Selina. That outfit really compliments you.”

Selina nodded humbly and said, “Thanks, dad.”

“I must agree,” Harry chimed. “That’s one hot outfit, Selina.”

“I must concur,” Xavier agreed. “That’s a fetching outfit, Miss Selina; very noble and dignified.”

“Thank you,” Selina replied, blushing slightly. “I just picked an outfit out without really thinking about it. I didn’t have much time to choose, you know.”

“Well, you chose very well,” Amelia declared, “But I see you and Hannibal are still limping a bit. Is everything all right?”

“Everything’s good, Amelia,” Hannibal declared. “Thanks for being concerned. These canes are just temporary until the strength fully returns to our legs. Those were pretty substantial injuries we’re getting over.”

“I see,” Amelia chimed. “Just let me know if you need anything.”

“Count on it,” Hannibal replied. “Now where’s everyone?”

“They’re already down there,” Harry replied. “We need to get moving. They’re waiting on us.”

Hannibal nodded and said, “Lead the way, my friend.” Therefore, Harry led them to the meeting with Hannibal and Selina limping along with their canes at a fair clip.

As everyone walked, Amelia noticed Hannibal’s arm and asked, “What happened to your arm?”

Hannibal smiled and put an arm around Selina as they limped along. “Oh, it’s nothing,” he said pleasantly. “I just got a taste of Selina’s claws while she was asleep. It’ll be okay.”

Amelia looked at Selina and reached out telepathically. Selina met her in response and told Amelia telepathically what had happened. Amelia reached out and grasped Selina’s free hand, saying, “It’s all right, girl. But what about of the dream that brought it on? I can sense that it troubles you still.”

Selina sighed and nodded. “Yes, it does,” she admitted. “But I don’t think now is the time to talk about it. Maybe later when we have time to spare we can speak of it, if we have time.”

Amelia nodded and replied, “All right, sister. Whenever you need someone to talk to, I’m always here for you.” She let go of Selina’s hand and asked Hannibal, “How’s the arm?”

Hannibal turned to her and replied, “It’s all right. We used the ointments from the little first-aid kit we brought from the Temple on it. Even though we didn’t put any disks on it, the kit seems to have helped heal it some. Right now, it still feels kind of strange: tingling and itching a bit.”

Amelia maneuvered around next to Hannibal and said, “She didn’t mean it.”

Hannibal nodded. “I know she didn’t,” he stated. “We were sharing the same dream when it happened. I just woke before she did and learned the hard way not to startle her while she’s asleep.” He smiled warmly as he spoke. Amelia nodded knowingly at his response.

A few minutes later, they reached the main doors of the keep. Nathanael threw them open and everyone walked out onto a large raised platform at the entrance to the keep with steps going down to the main part of the courtyard one hundred feet from the front doors. On the platform to the right stood the remainder of Hannibal’s team, Carver, and Kahn with Argus standing behind them. On the edge of the platform to the left stood Nicodemus, the elders, Joshua, and the captains of the army of Arionath. Down the steps, Hannibal saw a great multitude of people filling courtyard square, many of which had packs and bags of their most prized possessions. Great torches surrounded the square, driving back the deepening twilight. The people were talking quietly amongst themselves as Hannibal and those with him walked out. The clanging door got their attention and the crowd quieted down as Hannibal limped to the edge of the top step with his cane and looked over the crowd. “There are so many,” he said as Nicodemus approached. Nathanael, Selina, Xavier, and Amelia stayed back behind Hannibal and Nicodemus near the doors, standing with Hannibal’s team.

Hannibal turned to Nicodemus, asking, “Is this everyone?”

Nicodemus sighed and replied, “I think so. There are leaders here from all over Arionath, though the crowd seems to be a little smaller than I figured. There may be some that didn’t come for one reason or another.”

Hannibal looked out into the crowd as they murmured amongst themselves. Clearing his throat, he called out in the Stone Language so everyone could understand his words, “My friends! Could I have your attention?” The crowd hushed and gave Hannibal their full attention. “Thank you for coming on such short notice. My name’s Hannibal Smith and these are my friends.” He motioned for his team to come forward, which they did. Selina stood on one side and Harry on the other. When Selina and Nathanael stepped from the shadows, a rumble of astonishment rose from the crowd, which lasted for a few moments. “This is my team,” he announced, at which time he introduced them. After he introduced the members of his team to the crowd, he continued. “We’re from the surface world and have come here as explorers in peace. However, we have found that in coming here, we’ve been drawn into the dark politics and intrigue of your world. We know of the Emperor and your bondage to him. It has come to my attention that things here in Arionath are about to change dramatically for the worse. We’ve been told that the Emperor is about to overrun this place.” A rumble of fear arose from the crowd and Hannibal raised his hand to hush the crowd, saying, “People…brothers, sisters, please calm down. Our God will not allow this to happen without providing a way of escape for us. If there’s anything me and my team can do to help you escape the Emperor, we will. We’re all in the same boat here. The Emperor is seeking my life and the lives of those who came with me so that makes us allies. My wife Selina and I are leaning on these canes because of a failed psychic assassination attempt by the Emperor himself. But we turned the tables on him and survived. That makes us allies against our common enemy. We’ll do whatever we can to help. But let me get to the point. Even as I speak, the Emperor is massing his forces to annihilate this place and you with it like he did with Khitia. We cannot let this happen, so Nicodemus and I have discussed the problem at length and have come to the decision that the only viable option we have is to vacate before the Emperor gets here. We do not have the capability of fending off the numbers the Emperor is planning to use here. We cannot stay here.” Another rumble arose from the crowd and Nicodemus took up the speech.

“Friends and people of Arionath,” Nicodemus called out. “The outlander speaks the truth. We cannot defend ourselves here in the face of the army the Emperor is bringing to bear. I have discussed it with him and prayed about it to the Ancient of Days. Evacuation is the only option. Our time in this place is coming to an end.”

A voice from the crowd rang out, asking, “Where do we go, Nicodemus? Nearly everyone here has lived in Arionath for generations. What’re you saying, that we have to uproot and flee? Many that are here have never set foot outside of Arionath. Where do we go?” The voice had great concern and fear upon it.

“Do not fear, my friends. The Ancient of Days has supplied a place for us,” Nicodemus reassured the crowd.

“But where is it?” another voice rang out insistently.

Nicodemus glanced at Hannibal and declared, “We’re going to have to relocate to Acheron in the Cimmerian Highlands.” At the mention of Acheron, a roar arose from the crowd as fear spread throughout the crowd like a wildfire.

“Brothers, sisters; please calm yourselves,” Hannibal called out, raising his hand. “I understand that you fear Acheron. But be not afraid. Our God will go before us, secure our goal, and make the way for us to reach it.”

“Are you mad?” a voice shouted from the crowd. “Acheron is infested with demons, not to mention that no one who goes into the highlands ever return.”

Hannibal motioned with his hand to the crowd to calm down and said, “I know your fears of the highlands. That’s why our God has sent us emissaries from that savage land. Xavier, Amelia, could you step forward?” Xavier and Amelia stepped forward and Harry stepped aside to let them stand next to Hannibal. Another rumble arose in the crowd. It quieted when Hannibal introduced them, saying, “People of Arionath. This is Xavier, chief of the Cimmerian clans and this is his wife, Amelia, princess of Hyperborea. They have come offering their assistance in the evacuation. They know the land and the perils of it, making them of great value to us.”

“But they’re barbarians!” a voice shouted out of the crowd, deeply offended that Nicodemus would even allow such people to stand before them.

Hannibal saw it and scolded the man, saying, “Yes, they are, but no more than you or I. It was I who suggested that you all be called together tonight so we could share with you the peril that threatens to engulf us all. I wanted all of you to know from your own leaders about the danger. The danger is very real and imminent. At least twenty thousand Zarukar are massing in and around the city of Kasa Bek to the south and they’re being reinforced by the First and Second Divisions of the Emperor’s army along with some new creatures that have not been seen before that are numbering on division levels. The 5th Division is also moving up through Myria heading towards Frygia and the 8th Division in Khitia is moving towards Khmer Shek. They’re not getting together to have a picnic. I’ve seen the brutality of the Zarukar up close and I know many of you have too. If they breech this valley, they’ll kill every living thing they encounter and raze this city to the ground. If we stay here, we’ll all surely die. It’s an army created to do just one thing: destroy your world and lives. That’s just the size of it. We have a chance to get out of the way. I suggest that we take it. In fact, I plead and urge that you take it. Remember Khitia. The Emperor is ready to eliminate the last remaining elements that are in opposition to him. At least in Acheron, we may have a fighting chance.” A loud murmur arose in the crowd as Hannibal looked at Nicodemus with a pained look.

Nicodemus shook his head and sighed. “They’re not going along with it,” he said to Hannibal.

“I know,” Hannibal said as he unslung his sword.

Amelia, who stood beside Hannibal, saw the ancient weapon and became suddenly interested in it. “Where did you get that blade?” she asked intently.

“My team and I found all of the weapons we have now in the Armory of Bolthor Sai Keleb at the top of Skull Pass on the surface,” he replied.

“May I see it for a moment?” Amelia asked, greatly interested in the sword.

Hannibal nodded and handed it over as he asked Nicodemus, “What’re we going to do? We must convince them the peril is real.”

Nicodemus shook his head and said, “I don’t know, son. I don’t know.”

Amelia pulled the blade from its scabbard and examined it closely, and then gasped in astonishment. The gasp drew the attention of everyone around her. “Do you know what this is?” she asked Hannibal with great wonder. He shook his head no and she sheathed the blade, handing it back to him, saying, “This is the sword of the very first Emperor, the terrible Bolthor Sai Keleb himself. You have the very blade that the original Emperor wielded in the great coup. Legend says it has the power to command the very elements themselves.”

Hannibal’s interest in the blade instantly became profound. “Really?” he asked. “Maybe we can talk about this later. But right now, we have a more pressing problem right now. These people aren’t going to move. We must get it through to them the urgency of the hour.”

Amelia nodded and said, “I can see that. Let me say something to them.”

“Go right ahead,” Nicodemus said, “Maybe you can get through to them.”

The crowd had become noisy and started to mill about. Nathanael saw they were not paying attention and roared his Kaitia war cry. It echoed throughout the square and struck fear into nearly everyone that present. Every person in the square suddenly became silent and turned to the source of the roar.

“Thank you, my Lynxian prince,” Amelia said to Nathanael. She stepped forward a couple of steps and addressed the crowd like a queen. “People of Arionath,” she began. “I am Princess Amelia Singh, daughter of Odin Singh, the last king of Hyperborea.” She glanced at Hannibal and winked with a slight smile. Turning her attention back to the crowd, she declared, “Up until yesterday, I was called Myra. My whole past was a dream forgotten until yesterday when these brave people helped me to regain a memory that had been lost for over twenty cycles by the Cadre’s vile sorcery. Up until then, I had no idea of who I was or even how old I am. But by the mercy of the Almighty Ancient of Days and with the assistance of Argus and these brave outlanders, I remember everything now and I remember the last time the Emperor launched a great culling of his enemies. I was there three hundred and twenty cycles ago when he swept across the caverns like a plague.” A rumble of astonishment briefly arose from the crowd as she continued.

“My family was slaughtered in front of me as were the remnants of my people,” Amelia reported. “I was taken prisoner by the Emperor and for over two hundred cycles, I was abused and experimented on by the Cadre. Many times, I found myself the plaything of the Emperor, even being condemned to his Harem as his slave. Over that time because I had a strong spirit, I was repeatedly subjected to mind-altering experiments where the Cadre endeavored to seal off my memories in an effort to control me. They succeeded in sealing up my memories but didn’t succeed in controlling me. I was chained and submitted to all manner of horrors while in the custody of the Cadre who tried to break my spirit and will. Then one day, over twenty cycles ago, the Almighty was merciful and I escaped their vile clutches. I had no idea of who I was or where I came from. I fled from them in Kartoom and managed to cross the blistering wastes of Tartarus, the Crags of Shiar, the plains of Elar, the steppes of Zaraphath, and the Taurian highlands to reach the mountains above Xaricar. It took many months of flight for me to get that far, pursued relentlessly by the Cadre’s elite guard the whole way. The point I’m trying to make here is this. I vividly remember the last time the Emperor made a great assault on this world. He attacks with ruthless brutal power without mercy. Those that died during that time were the lucky ones. Those who were taken prisoner were tortured and killed, sent to slave labor, or became fodder for the Emperor’s evil appetites or the Cadre’s vile experiments. I remember when I was captured they swept through with the savagery of a tarok. If he’s meaning to launch another culling, we’re all in the gravest of danger. We must all pull together for the sake of everyone. Petty hatreds, fears, and bigotries mustn’t be allowed to stop us from joining together. Please, heed Nicodemus and the outlander. They mean only to help us. That’s the reason we’re here, to help. Your guardian, Argus, came to us and asked for our help and we’ll gladly give it. That goes for all the clans of highlands. Xavier and I stand for all the highland clans. The Cimmerian Council heard Argus’ argument and decided that helping was the only option with the Emperor preparing to launch another great culling.” Her words reached some of the crowd.

“If we can do anything to help, we will. The Emperor’s time is running out, so he’s been forced into action. This man’s very presence in this place should attest to that,” Amelia said in conclusion, pointing to Hannibal as he leaned on his cane, holding his sword in his other hand. The crowd rumbled upon hearing her last words and began to blame Hannibal and his team for their woes. Amelia sensed it, as did Selina, Nathanael, and Hannibal. Nicodemus noticed it too, from the reaction of the crowd.

Argus sat back in the corner of the platform, observing everything. Finally, he spoke to the crowd. “The princess speaks the truth,” he told them, his deep voice echoing across the square. “I have witnessed every culling the Emperor has unleashed since the Kragonar. His motto is survival of the fittest. If he means to destroy this place and everything in it, he will do it with impunity. Anyone found by his army will die or be captured, and then die most unpleasantly. He’s not going to allow our rebellion against him to stand any longer. He’s coming and he will overrun us if we stay. With the estimated one hundred thousand troops he’s sending, it’s obvious that he intends to obliterate all life in Arionath and turn our fair land into a wasteland like the Blister Fields. As much as it pains me to admit it, evacuation is our only option.” Gasps of horror raced through the crowd at Argus’ grim declaration. At this point, the crowd had begun to segregate into factions: ones who believed what was being said, those who utterly rejected it, and those who believed the danger, but didn’t believe the imminence of the danger.

Hannibal looked the crowd over and said bluntly, “We don’t have much time. I can see that some of you don’t believe our reports. That’s all right. We’re not going to force you to do anything. You all came here based on a belief in Nicodemus’ position as your leader. As far as I’m concerned, everyone here has lived up to that belief. I’d like to thank you all for coming and hearing us out. It at least showed that you were at least willing to hear what we had to say. You all may go home now if you wish. We will be here if anyone wants to speak to us.” The crowd began to mill and Hannibal asked Amelia, “This is really the sword of the first Emperor?”

Amelia nodded and said, “Yes, it’s a fabled weapon, as is everything of the Armory of Bolthor Sai Keleb. It is a very powerful weapon and sends a powerful message.”

“Really?” Hannibal chimed with a wry grin. Handing Amelia the sword, he asked, “Could you hold this for a minute?” Amelia nodded and held the sword for Hannibal. He turned to the crowd as they were beginning to disperse and whistled loudly to get their attention. The ones who utterly rejected the warning continued to leave but the other two factions turned toward the whistle. “Friends!” he called out as Amelia held his sword by its scabbard. “I don’t know how to prove to you who we are or our sincerity. But I’ve heard that you know the stories of the first Emperor and his weapons. I just want to show you something before you go.” In a flash, he pulled the sword from its sheath as Amelia held it and raised the blade up high to the crowd. “I found this sword on the way here at a place called Skull Pass,” Hannibal reported. “We found a secret storeroom filled with weapons such as this and on the door was written, ’Armory of the Divine Bolthor Sai Keleb, 1st Lord of Amacia, Emperor of all mankind.’ I choose this sword from all of the weapons there without knowing what significance it had to the history of your people.” Gasps of astonishment arose from the crowd as he held the weapon up. “Argus, can you confirm the authenticity of this blade? Is this the sword of Bolthor Sai Keleb himself?” Hannibal inquired.

Argus looked closely at the weapon and said, “Yes, Hannibal. It is. Even though I was just a young drake at that time, I remember it and Bolthor. Furthermore, the writings and images about the weapons of Bolthor Sai Keleb are undeniable. That sword has been relegated to myth and legend for over twelve thousand cycles.”

A hush fell over the crowd as they looked on the sword. Then a voice rang out from the crowd, “He has come! Only the great warrior of the prophecy would ever have been able to find that blade!” The man that called out dropped to his knees in great adoration. Within seconds, the whole of the crowd that hadn’t left dropped to their knees and a voice rang out, “Hail to our deliverer!”

Hannibal became very uncomfortable with what was going on and lowered the blade, handing it back to Amelia who sheathed it. When the crowd then began to cry, ‘Hail to the deliverer’ and bowed, Hannibal called out, “Stand up! All of you! Do not give me this reverence and worship. Give it to the Almighty Ancient of Days! He’s the one who should get the worship, not me. I’m but a flawed fallible man and a fellow servant of God like Nicodemus; Worship God.” Amelia saw his reaction to the crowd and was intrigued. The crowd quieted and rose, keeping their attention on him. By now, Hannibal had noticed that the crowd was much smaller, no more than a third of its original size, but still a good five thousand in number. “That’s better, my friends,” he said pleasantly to the crowd. “Just remember we’re fellow travelers with you on the road of life and aren’t any better or worse than you are. We’re all servants of our God.” Then to Nicodemus, he asked, “Do we have place for them tonight?”

The request surprised Nicodemus and he replied, “Yes, I think so. It may take some doing but I think we could accommodate them.”

Hannibal patted Nicodemus on the shoulder, smiling soberly. “Excellent,” Hannibal chimed. Then to the crowd, he said, “Anyone that doesn’t have a place to stay tonight may stay here. If you brought tents, you may camp here in the square or in the city. But do not go out of the city tonight. An ill wind blows and we must be ready for anything.”

“Anyone who needs a place to stay, come forward and we’ll accommodate you,” Nicodemus announced. “All right, we bid you good night. Tomorrow, we will begin preparations for the move. Those who wish to come with us need to either be here by noon or have a representative of your family or clan here by noon.” People immediately began to come forward, mostly heads of families and Nicodemus moved down the stairs to meet them. “Joshua. Let’s find these people some rooms,” he ordered. Joshua motioned to the captains and elders who followed Nicodemus down the stairs to deal with the crowd. Representatives from nearly a quarter of the crowd came forward while some began to pitch tents and still others filtered out of the square into the city.

Hannibal retrieved his sword from Amelia and slung across his back as he watched with his team. Selina came up and latched onto his arm, leaning on him slightly. Amelia turned to Hannibal and said, “You certainly are full of surprises, Beowulf. I didn’t know you could speak our language.”

“It’s a side effect of the teaching machine at Tiamat that nearly took my life,” Hannibal replied, smiling soberly. “Reading and speaking your native tongue was one of the first things that happened. It’s hard to believe that this sword was the proof some of them were looking for as to our identity.”

Xavier stood beside Amelia and said, “Well, those weapons are fabled, just like you.”

Hannibal looked down and sighed. “May be,” he stated. “But I assure you, I’m not a mythical being. And Amelia, I can see now that you have a great deal to teach us.”

“Any time, Beowulf,” Amelia chimed pleasantly. She suddenly sensed how much he disliked that name and immediately apologized, “Oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t call you that. It causes you grief every time you hear it. I’ll try not to do it again, Hannibal.”

Hannibal looked at her with a warm smile. “It’s all right,” he declared. “Beowulf is part of who I am. But I do prefer Hannibal. Still, I have this feeling that Beowulf may still have a role to play in this.”

“So be it, Hannibal Smith,” Amelia replied, returning his smile and patting him on the shoulder.

They stood there for a few moments looking over the dispersing crowd as Nicodemus, Joshua, the elders and captains talked with those who came forward. “Your meeting seems to have shown who’s who,” Argus said as he watched the crowd. “I sensed a good two-thirds of the people didn’t believe you, Nicodemus, or me and as a result, they’re now gone.”

Leaning on his cane, Hannibal limped over to edge of the platform where Argus stood and sighed. “Yes, it seems so, though it doesn’t surprise me. Our warnings fell on many deaf ears tonight. Only those who stayed long enough for me to show the sword to them believed.” His countenance fell dramatically and everyone who was telepathic in the immediate vicinity noticed it. Even the members of his team, Carver, Xavier, and Kahn noticed it from his expression. Selina immediately limped over and held his hand.

Amelia also came over, with a concerned look on her face. “Are you all right?” she asked.

“Yes,” Hannibal said, deeply troubled. “It’s beginning to look like that premonition I had the other day is coming true.”

“What premonition would that be, my friend,” Argus asked.

Hannibal looked around at everyone and shook his head as they waited anxiously for his answer. “The other day after we woke up from the taming of the download,” he stated grimly, “we went out on the balcony and I looked down at the square here. It was filled with people going about their normal business. When I looked down, I got this terrible feeling down in the pit of my stomach that there was going be a terrible loss of life here and I was powerless to stop it. Two-thirds have turned away. That’s going to be a great slaughter. We begged and pleaded with them. They just won’t hear.”

The thought grieved him to his heart and Selina felt it. She put her arm around him and said, “You’ve done all you can. As you said, you can’t make them go to Acheron. It’s something they’re just going to have to deal with.”

“She’s right,” Nathanael agreed. “We’ve done all we can. We’ve warned them and told them what course of action to take. Their blood is on their own heads now.”

Argus sighed, feeling Hannibal’s grief. He looked at him and said soberly, “You did exactly as you were supposed to. I know your grief. I’m their guardian. It’s my responsibility to look after these people. But there’s only so much I can do. I can’t protect them if they refuse my help. I know that grief. Just be consoled in that you have managed to secure a portion of the whole.”

Hannibal nodded and said, “Yes, such is apparently why I’m here. The Lord is securing His remnant of this people for His coming. It’s still doesn’t make it any easier.”

“I know,” Argus agreed. “Believe me, I know.”

As Argus spoke, Nicodemus ascended the stairs with a young man at his side. The young man was carrying a slightly charred leather hat that was a bit tattered and worn with bloodstains on it. Nicodemus walked up and said, “We should have plenty of room for them, Hannibal.”

“Good, good,” Hannibal said; pleased with what he heard. “Now who’s this with you?”

“This young man is called Jacob,” Nicodemus said, introducing the young man. “He asked to meet you.”

Hannibal smiled and extended his free hand to young Jacob, who was barely an adult. “Jacob,” Hannibal said as Jacob shook his hand, “a good name.” Hannibal noticed that Jacob’s handshake was very firm and strong.

“Thank you, sir,” Jacob replied humbly. “It’s an honor to meet you in person, sir.”

Hannibal then noticed the hat in Jacob’s hand. “Where did you find that hat, son?” he asked. “I used to have a hat just like that.”

“I found it near the gateway in the forest of Kasa Bek,” Jacob answered. “We were out on a hunt and we came across a place where there was a great number of dead Zarukar, some of which had been burned to a cinder. I saw the hat lying amidst the dead because it was out of place. I had never seen a hat like it before so I picked it up. When I found out that outlanders, you sir, and your people, had been brought to the city, I suspected that you may know who it belonged to. Is it yours?” Jacob handed the hat to Hannibal and he examined it carefully, looking at the inside rim of the hat where he had his initials marked. He saw the initials H.S. marked on the inside of the hat.

Looking Jacob in the eye, Hannibal chimed, “Son, this is indeed my hat. I had marked my initials on the inside right there.” He pointed out the initials to Jacob before putting the hat on. Putting his hand on the boy’s shoulder, he said with great gratitude, “Thank you for returning it to me. What can I do for you to repay your kindness?”

Jacob was speechless. He didn’t even think that there would be a reward for the return of the hat. “I don’t know. I never thought about it. I guess just meeting you is reward enough,” Jacob replied after a lengthy pause.

“You’re a good man, Jacob. Most would have either just kept it or wanted reward for returning it,” Hannibal stated. He thought for a moment, and then asked, “Are you staying with us, son?”

Jacob nodded and said, “Yes, we are.”

“You have a family then,” Hannibal surmised.

“Yes, sir,” Jacob answered. “I have my wife and little girl with me here tonight. Nicodemus was kind enough to offer us a room in the keep.”

“Where are they now?” Hannibal asked.

“They’re on the other side of the square with a friend of mine who had brought a tent,” Jacob reported.

“Please bring them here,” Hannibal said politely. “I’d like to meet them.”

Jacob was taken back for a moment, and then replied, “Yes, sir.” He darted off the platform and went to retrieve his wife and daughter.

“He’s a very nice young man, Nicodemus,” Hannibal declared pleasantly.

“Yes, that he is,” Nicodemus agreed. “He lives not too far outside the city. He’s a very skilled hunter and tracker, which is why he goes out with the hunting parties. He has no extended family though. The Zarukar killed his parents and her parents several years ago in a raid. It was one of the very few times that they penetrated the valley.” As he spoke, Jacob returned with his wife and daughter.

When they approached, the young lady bowed as did the little girl, who was no more than eight years old. The woman was about Jacob’s height with a petite build. She was slender and looked strong and healthy, with clear, beautiful brown eyes, which was the prettiest thing about her. The woman wasn’t dazzling beautiful like Selina or Amelia, but her looks did hold their own in the presence of Selina and Amelia. Clad in a plain brown dress with sandals on her feet and a shawl on her head, she stood there with her little girl clinging to her hand. The little girl was a picture of innocence, without a care in the world: a very pretty little girl with long brown hair. “This is my wife, Rebecca, and our daughter, Crystal,” Jacob said in introduction.

Hannibal looked at them with a pleasant smile on his face and in his heart. He held out his hand to her and said, “It’s an honor to meet you, Rebecca.”

Rebecca shook his hand firmly and replied, “Thank you, milord. I’m humbled that you wish to meet me and my daughter. Never would I have even dreamed that I would be allowed into the presence of the great warrior, much less actually touch him. I’m deeply honored that you stopped to pay attention to little insignificant us.”

Hannibal looked Rebecca in the eye and said, “No one is insignificant in the eyes of the Lord our God. He’s who you should be calling Lord, not me. I’m but a man, a humble servant of His, like Nicodemus. Still, it’s good to see someone with a proper spirit on them. It’s quite refreshing. Is this your daughter?”

“Yes, sir,” Jacob replied as Rebecca nodded. The little girl clung to her mother, awed by Hannibal’s presence.

Hannibal squatted down slowly using his cane to steady himself so he could look the girl in the face, literally coming down to her level. “What’s your name?” he asked the girl softly, holding out his hand to her.

The little girl looked up at her mother, and then at her father with hesitation. Jacob said, “It’s all right, Crystal.”

After a few hesitant moments, the little girl replied, “Crystal, sir. Are you really the one Nicodemus has told us about?”

Hannibal sighed, glancing at everyone and said, “It seems so, little one. Let me show you something. It’s a secret.” She ventured forward and touched his hand as her curiosity overcame her fear of him. He held out his hand with the wedding ring on it and said gently, “I’m just a regular guy. You see this?” He showed her the ring and her eyes got big.

“My, that’s a pretty ring. Where did you get it?” Crystal asked. Selina and the rest of the group stood back a few steps as Hannibal interacted with the child.

“Yes, it is a pretty ring. I got it from my wife. She’s one of a kind, like this ring,” Hannibal told Crystal. “Would you like to meet her? She’s here now.” Selina smiled softly at Hannibal’s cunning as he dealt with the little girl.

“Is she pretty?” Crystal asked.

“Yes, she is. She is very pretty, just like you are,” Hannibal stated, smiling warmly. “Would you like to see her?”

Crystal nodded and said, “Yes.”

“All right then,” Hannibal replied. “Are you sure? She’s unlike anything you can imagine.”

Crystal’s curiosity rose dramatically and she said with great anticipation, “Yes, please let me see her, please.”

Hannibal smile and winked at Rebecca and Jacob, saying, “Before I call her forward, I must warn you that she’s not what you’ll expect.” Jacob nodded, as did Rebecca. He looked into the child’s face and could sense her eagerness and anticipation, so he called out, “Selina, come over here. I have someone I’d like you to meet.”

Selina limped forward with her cane and stopped in front of Jacob, Rebecca, and Crystal. Jacob and Rebecca stared, stunned into silence when they realized that Selina was his wife. Selina squatted down next to Hannibal and looked at Crystal with a pleasant smile. “Hi, little one,” Selina purred. “I’m Selina, his wife.”

Crystal’s mouth fell open with wonder. She looked Hannibal in the face and exclaimed, “She’s a cat!”

Hannibal smiled and nodded. “Yes, she is,” he replied. “She’s a cat. That’s my secret. I have a cat as my wife.” Crystal looked at Selina with wonder. “Go on and touch her,” Hannibal urged. “She doesn’t bite.”

Crystal looked to her parents for permission and Jacob nodded, saying, “It’s all right, Crystal.” She slowly reached out and touched Selina’s arm, which Selina presented to the little girl.

Crystal touched her arm and stroked it. Her eyes lit up with wonder and excitement. “Dad, she has fur!”

“That I do, little one.” Selina said. “Do you want to know something else? Come close and listen.” Without any fear, the child stepped over close to Selina, who said, “Listen close.” She purred for Crystal and her face lit up in ecstatic joy. “Mom, Dad! She purrs!” Crystal almost shouted with excitement. She looked Selina in the face and asked, “Where do you come from?”

Selina smiled and said, “I come from a place far, far away. Do you see Amelia there?” Crystal nodded and Selina continued, saying, “I’m like her in a way. Like her, my people and country no longer exists and like her, I, too, am a princess.”

“A princess! Wow!” Crystal exclaimed. “Could you tell me about where you came from?”

Selina smiled and said, “Sure, little one, but not tonight. There’s too much going on tonight. Later on, we’ll talk about my people.”

Crystal threw her arms around Selina’s neck and said with a kiss, “Thank you!” Then she looked at Hannibal, who had been squatting there watching her interact with Selina. Crystal threw her arms around Hannibal’s neck and hugged him.

Hannibal returned Crystal’s hug and said, “You’re a bright young lady, Crystal. Pay attention to your parents and do what they tell you. They’ll not steer you wrong. I’m very pleased to have met you.” At that, he slowly rose, pushing himself up with his cane and presenting Crystal back to her parents. Selina pushed herself up with her cane and stood beside him. He gazed into the faces of Jacob and Rebecca and saw the question written all over their faces. “I can see that you are wondering how this happened with me and Selina,” he said, smiling warmly.

“The thought had occurred to me,” Jacob stated, nodding. Rebecca had latched onto his arm as she looked at Selina with a sparkle in her eye. “Well, I’ll tell you what. Since you’re going to stay with us, why don’t you come to the meeting tomorrow, all of you. There you will have your answers. Is that all right?” Hannibal asked.

“Yes, that’ll be great,” Jacob stated.

Hannibal looked Rebecca in the eye and asked, “Is that all right, Rebecca?”

Rebecca nodded and replied humbly, “Yes, milord.”

Hannibal sighed, smiling soberly. “Good” he answered. “Rebecca, can I get you to do something for me?”

Rebecca nodded and asked, “Yes, milord. Anything you wish.”

Hannibal looked her in the eye as he reached out grasping her hand. “Could you please call me Hannibal?” he requested humbly. Rebecca looked into his eyes with amazement and wonder at his request. A small smile crossed his face as he said, “It is perfectly all right to call me by my name. I’m not a ruler or royalty that you should bow or give worship to me. You can respect me just as well by calling me by name.”

Rebecca blushed and looked down in embarrassment as she finally understood. “Yes, my l..., I mean Hannibal,” she said, catching and correcting herself.

Hannibal smiled and reached out, gently pushing her chin up so she could look him in the face. “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you,” he apologized. “I didn’t mean to. It’s all right. Be at peace.”

His apology surprised her and tears began to well up in her eyes as she struggled to keep composure. Rebecca looked him in the face and said, choked with emotion, “You’re such a kind and gentle soul.”

Hannibal glanced at Jacob, who had moved in, putting an arm around Rebecca. Crystal saw the emotional state of Rebecca and clung to her leg, saying, “Don’t cry, mama.”

While this was going on, Selina gently probed Rebecca’s mind to see what was troubling her. She immediately found that Rebecca showed signs of terrible abuse by people more powerful than she was. Jacob was the exception to that rule.

“It’s all right, Rebecca,” Jacob cooed in her ear.

Selina immediately relayed that information to Hannibal and he acted. With the knowledge he received from Selina, Hannibal asked, “You’ve had a hard time with people, haven’t you?”

Astonishment crossed her face and she broke emotionally. Bawling like a little girl, Rebecca cried, “Yes! Many people who were supposed to be my friends did things to me, horrible things that bear not repeating. Jacob is the only man I have ever known who has treated me justly and loved me just for who I am.”

By now, Nicodemus had moved in and was standing very close to them, saying, “It’s all right, Rebecca. I don’t know who did these things to you, but I assure you that you’re safe here.” He put his hand on her shoulder and gave a caring smile of confidence.

“Thank you, Nicodemus. You’ve always been there for us,” Jacob said as he tried to comfort his wife.

Hannibal suddenly realized something more sinister was going on around them than just a distraught young woman. His telepathic ability surged into action without any warning and he saw into her mind. For a few moments, he stared as if into outer space as he saw the abuse and who had caused it.

Selina immediately sensed what was going on with Hannibal. She held onto his arm and asked, “What are you seeing?” It was a legitimate question, for by some strange coincidence, his ability was not allowing her to see what he was seeing in this instance and she knew it.

Amelia also sensed what was going on and moved up next to him, looking into his eyes. They were a blank. “Something profound is going on here. I sense that he’s in a telepathic trance but I can’t tell what is causing it or what he’s seeing,” Amelia said. “Argus, can you sense anything?”

“Leave him be,” Argus warned. “Don’t interfere. He’s being touched by a higher power. It’s allowing him to see something we’re not privy to.”

By now, Rebecca had calmed down and was looking at Hannibal with some concern for his welfare. At first, he had a blank look on his face as he surged through her memories without her knowing it. Then his face fell in dismay and the episode ceased as suddenly as it started. He closed his eyes and shook his head. “Whoa. Where did that come from?” he asked aloud.

“What did you see?” Selina asked.

“You didn’t see it?” Hannibal asked in a puzzled manner.

“No, something was blocking me from seeing it. It is strange. Usually, when you use your telepathic ability, I can share it with you because of our link. This was somehow different,” Selina replied. “I couldn’t see a thing.”

Hannibal rubbed his face with his hand and said, “Oh, boy.” After a pause, he said to Selina “You have to see it. Look. It’s there.”

Selina searched his mind intensely and suddenly found what he saw in his short-term memory. She gasped in horror and cried out, “My god! That is so terrible words can’t describe it.”

“So what did you see?” Xavier asked.

Rebecca clamped onto Jacob’s hand with hers and asked with great anxiousness, “What is it? What did you see?”

Hannibal gazed into her eyes with great compassion. “I don’t know how, but I suddenly saw what you experienced and who did it to you,” he stated. “It’s just like what Amelia saw when she first touched me with her healing ability. Only this time, I’m the one who’s getting to see. I promise you that you’ll be safe from those people. They’ll not ever touch you again and pay for what they did to you. You have my word on it.” Everyone noticed the sternness and sincerity of his tone as if he knew exactly what had happened to Rebecca.

Rebecca’s face filled with astonishment as she suddenly knew that he understood what she had endured. Throwing her arms around his neck, she hugged and kissed him on the cheek, crying, “Oh, my great deliverer! You have freed me from the fear I have lived with all my life!”

Hannibal returned the hug in a fatherly way and said, “I didn’t free you. The Almighty has wrought this deliverance. Give the praise to Him.” He then presented her back to Jacob and said, “Keep her close, Jacob, and love her. She needs your strength and your love much more than you know.”

Jacob, who had been watching with as much amazement as everyone else, nodded and said, “I will. She’s the most important thing in the world to me.”

“I know,” Hannibal stated. “That’s why I said what I did. She’s still deeply wounded emotionally and mentally by what she endured. She needs you more than you know.” He then turned to Nicodemus with a grave look and said in a very grim tone, “Nicodemus. We have a serious problem here. I saw the faces of those who abused this poor woman. They’re in the midst of this very house.”

Nicodemus’ face became very concerned. “This is not good,” he declared. “But I know you speak the truth. I have suspected as much. We have to talk privately.”

“Yes, we do,” Hannibal agreed. “If it’s okay with you, I want you to let them stay in our wing, just across the hall from Nathanael and Harry. I’m concerned that someone may do something unpleasant if they think that their cover is blown. The people I saw are high-level people in the city, some of which are within these very walls. Tell no one where they’re staying and post your most trusted guards at the entrance to the wing. No one but you, Joshua, and those of us presently staying in that wing are to be allowed up there. I hate to say it but I’m getting a very distinct feeling that we may have another traitor or traitors in our midst. We must ferret them out before we move.”

“Very well,” Nicodemus said grimly. “No one but us will know of the arrangement. Jacob, Rebecca, stay close to Hannibal and his people. You’ll be safe in their care.” Jacob nodded, completely aghast by what he was hearing.

Nicodemus turned and looked at the square, which was now a small tent city with people camped out. The captains and elders had taken care of those who had come forward. Joshua climbed the stairs and noticed Nicodemus’ grim face and asked, “What’s wrong, Nicodemus?”

Nicodemus sighed and shook his head solemnly. “Our problems are more serious than you know,” he stated. “Find your most trusted men and bring them here at once.”

Joshua looked into Nicodemus’ eyes and knew there was a serious problem, so he replied, “Yes, sir.” He darted from the platform on a mission as Hannibal’s team and Xavier and his people had gathered around Jacob and his family.

“Good move, Nicodemus,” Hannibal said.

Nicodemus looked at him grimly and sighed. “At this point, I make no assumptions,” he said bluntly, “You have provided evidence for my hunch. The guard will be approved by you.”

Hannibal nodded and suddenly felt that he had missed something very important. Turning to Rebecca, he asked very softly and gently, “I hate to ask you this, but I must. When these people abused you, were you alone or where there others in your position as well?”

The question smote Rebecca’s heart and she grieved, but answered the question. “I was not alone. I was one of many these monsters abused. Sometimes they had three or four of us together in the same room, abusing all of us at the same time,” she replied with tears. “Many times they had us bound so we couldn’t resist and gagged us so our cries wouldn’t be heard.”

Amelia came forward and asked carefully, “When was the last incident that you remember?”

Rebecca suddenly relived the incident and began to cry, getting out between the sobs, “Two months ago!”

Jacob’s mouth dropped open and a curse rolled out. “What! Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked pointedly.

Rebecca looked at Jacob and cried, “I couldn’t tell you. They said that if I ever said anything, they’d kill you and Crystal, and then sell me to the Emperor!” By now, Selina had stepped forward and held on to Crystal’s hand to help keep her calm in the face of what was being said.

Jacob wrapped his arms around Rebecca and asked softly, “How often did this happen?”

Rebecca looked into his face with tears running down her face and cried, “Every time you would go hunting. They said if I told anyone, they would assure that you didn’t return from the forests. They also said that they would kill whoever I told as well.”

Arabella became indignant at what she was hearing. “This is not right! Whoever these guys are, they cannot get away with it,” she growled with great anger.

“Amen to that,” Ned agreed with as much indignation. “Sounds like these guys are in need of some old-fashioned justice.” A rumble of agreement arose from Hannibal’s team.

“Yes,” Hannibal agreed. “If there’s any time when justice needs to be served, it’s now. But just remember, the Lord’s justice is much better than anything we could ever do. Trust me, the Lord is not going to let this indignation stand. Just by Him showing me what He did, He has already put His vengeance into motion. These men are in some serious trouble now.”

“You have great faith in your God, don’t you?” Amelia stated. “I haven’t seen that kind of faith in over three hundred cycle…since my parents were alive.”

Hannibal put his hand on Rebecca’s shoulder and said, “Don’t worry. You’re safer with us than anyone else on the face of the Earth. We’ll flush out these Cretans who did this.” Then to Amelia, he said, “Yes, princess. My steps are set before me by the Almighty. I just follow the path He has put before me. This is but part of the path.” As he spoke, Joshua returned with Aragon, David, Timothy, Vergil, and Zachias. They walked up and Hannibal made a quick judgment based upon what he saw in Rebecca’s mind and based upon her reaction to them. When she showed no fear of them and their faces didn’t match up with what he saw, he said, “All right; they’ll do, Nicodemus. Okay Joshua, guys: let me fill you in on what’s going on here.” He looked around and found they were alone. All the elders and captains had left the square and the nearest tent was almost a hundred yards distance. “This is what the situation is. We have more traitors in our midst. They’re responsible for abusing many people, including Rebecca here. I know what they look like and know that some of them I’ve seen in the keep. If they believe that they are discovered, they may try and do something we’ll all regret.” Hannibal explained.

Joshua clearly understood what Hannibal was saying. “This is the problem, isn’t it?” he asked Nicodemus.

Nicodemus nodded and said, “Yes, I have suspected that something like this was going on for some time but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Now, it has been clearly shown to us by the Almighty Ancient of Days.” Then speaking to the five, he declared, “This does not leave this place. Say nothing to anyone about what you’ve heard. I want you guys to take up the guard at the entrance to the royal wing where Hannibal and his people are staying. Jacob and his family are going to stay in that wing with them. No one is to know of their whereabouts until we find these men. Moreover, no one but Joshua, Hannibal, his people, Xavier, and his people, and me are to be allowed in there. No one else is to be allowed in. Use lethal force if you must to guard the wing. No one goes in there but them. Understood?”

“Yes, sir, Nicodemus,” Aragon said.

“No one is going to get by us,” Zachias agreed.

“No one is to know what’s been said here tonight,” Hannibal said sternly, “No one.”

“Don’t worry, Hannibal,” David declared. “Our lips are sealed. No one will know or get past us.”

Hannibal reached out and patted David on the shoulder saying, “Good man.”

“I think we should go back to our quarters,” Nathanael suddenly blurted out. “This situation has become much more complicated. We have to come up with a means to deal with it.”

Hannibal nodded, saying, “Good call. Jacob, did you bring anything when you come here?”

“Yes,” Jacob replied, “We have a couple of packs with clothes and some food and water sitting back there with our friend.”

Hannibal thought about it for a second or two until the Holy Spirit prodded him in the ribs, whispering, “Do not get the packs.”

“Don’t worry about the packs right now. We’ve got you covered,” Hannibal stated. “We can get them tomorrow.”

Jacob looked down and said, “All right. If you think we don’t need them. But I would like to get them back. We have some of our most precious possessions in there.”

“We’ll get them in the morning,” Hannibal assured him. “I just don’t think it is a wise idea to get them now. Do you trust the people you left your belongings with?”

“Yes,” Jacob replied. “We’re close friends with them. I’ve known them for a long time.”

“Good,” Hannibal answered. “Knowing your stuff is with someone trustworthy is helpful.” Then turning to Argus, he said, “Be watchful tonight, old friend. There are foul doings afoot here that we don’t know the complete scope of yet.”

“I will,” Argus assured him. “You’ll be the first to know if something happens.”

Hannibal nodded, saying, “Good.” Argus then lumbered out of the corner into the open where he could open his wings, which he did. In a second, he jumped and flew away into the darkness of the night to keep watch. “Okay people. Let’s go,” Hannibal ordered and Nicodemus led everyone away into the keep with Hannibal’s team and the Cimmerians creating a perimeter around Jacob, Rebecca, and Crystal.

As they walked away into the keep, a lone figured watched from the shadows about a hundred yards distance the whole time Jacob and Rebecca were with Hannibal and his team. He scowled as he watched them go into the keep. Abruptly turning, he disappeared into the shadows of the keep.

Ten minutes later, Nicodemus led them to the royal wing where Hannibal was staying. They stopped at the room given to Jacob and his family. “This is your room,” Hannibal stated as he leaned heavily on his cane. “Nathanael and Harry are right across the hall. Selina and I are next to them and Ned, Sam, and Cracko are right next door. Just down the hall are John and Arabella, and then Xavier and Amelia with Kahn and Carver on the end.” He noticed that Jacob didn’t have a weapon. “Nicodemus, they should have a weapon,” Hannibal said bluntly.

Joshua stepped forward and unbuckled his sword, handing it to Jacob saying, “Here; take mine. Keep it close.” Jacob was speechless as he took the sword. Joshua and Hannibal looked at each other and Hannibal nodded with satisfaction at Joshua. “All right, guys,” Joshua said to his elite guard. “Go to work.” The five men slipped away to take up their positions as guards.

“Is there any other way into this wing?” Hannibal asked.

Nicodemus shook his head and said, “No. The only way in is the way we came up here.”

It seemed to placate him for the moment as he stepped into Jacob’s room, looking around. Selina followed with Jacob, Rebecca, and Crystal. Nicodemus, Joshua, and Nathanael followed them. Xavier and Amelia stood in the door while the rest dispersed to their quarters, weary with the long day they had spreading the news of the meeting.

Everyone watched as Hannibal searched the room thoroughly. Selina knew what he was looking for: any evidence of a secret passage, so she started looking as well. “What are you looking for?” Nicodemus asked.

“I’m just checking to see if there is anything out of the ordinary,” Hannibal replied, limping slowly around the room on his cane. For several minutes, he and Selina searched as everyone watched. When he found the room secure, he and Selina stopped searching. “Look like it’s good to go,” he said as he approached Jacob and Rebecca. Looking into their faces with the most serious look, he said sternly, “Lock your door tonight.” Then to those around them, he stated, “That goes for the rest of us. Lock your doors and keep your weapons ready. This is a very volatile situation and I suspect that it may only get worse. That goes double for you, Nicodemus. We’re dealing with more than one individual here. Who knows what they may attempt if they suspect that we’re on to them.” Turning to Jacob and Rebecca, he said bluntly, “Do not open to anyone tonight. I don’t trust anything at this point. I’ll come for you in the morning.” He got in close to Jacob and Rebecca and whispered in their ears, “You’ll know if it’s me at the door because I will knock only three times. I’ll not say a word, just knock.” Jacob nodded that he understood and Hannibal backed away saying, “Fear not. You’re well protected here tonight so try and relax. I’ll call on you in the morning. Okay people; let’s give them some peace and quiet. Everyone out. Remember to lock this door.”

Everyone went out and Jacob stopped in the doorway with Crystal hanging on his arm. “Thank you, Hannibal,” Jacob said gratefully.

“You’re welcome,” Hannibal returned in a lighter, more pleasant tone. Jacob cracked a smile and shut the door. The lock rattled and clunked as he locked it. Hannibal looked around at everyone, and then said to Nicodemus and Joshua, “Be careful tonight. This is the witching hour when great evil can occur. May the Lord be merciful and allow us peace tonight. We’ll deal with this problem first thing in the morning.”

Nicodemus nodded and said grimly, “Now isn’t this something. Did you know that the Sabbath began as darkness fell? What a terrible sign indeed to find this out at this time.”

“Sabbath?” Hannibal asked with rising interests. “Really, I didn’t know that. Well, it just goes to show that the Lord has work to do. I’ll see you all in the morning.” Nicodemus stepped forward and suddenly hugged Hannibal, surprising him. Hannibal returned the embrace as Nicodemus said, choked with emotion, “The Ancient of Days is so good to have sent you when He did. I love you, my son.”

“I love you too, my brother and friend,” Hannibal replied. At that, the group separated and Hannibal called to them as they moved away, “Lock your doors. Nicodemus, we’ll talk in the morning. We have much to do.” Nicodemus nodded as Joshua escorted him away. He then went and knocked on the doors of those who didn’t hear him say lock the doors. When they answered, he warned them to lock up, which they did.

Finally, he and Selina were alone in the King’s Chamber with the doors locked. He leaned his cane on the nightstand and removed his sword and daggers, sitting them down in a chair before going to sit on the bed. He rubbed the side of his head, weary with the sorrow and toil of what had happened. His face was drawn and downcast. Selina likewise sat her cane next to the nightstand and removed her weaponry. Sitting down next to him, she purred, “You’re feeling overwhelmed, aren’t you?”

Hannibal nodded and grieved, sobbing softly, “Seeing that reopened old wounds that I thought were long since healed. Lord have mercy; this thing has taken on a life of its own. Not only do we have people who don’t believe, but we have traitors who could cause much more damage than the Emperor could ever do. Oh, how I wish I was just an ordinary man with an ordinary life.”

Selina felt his heartache and grief. She knew there were no words that could be said, so she put her arm around him and drew him close, embracing him gently. “I didn’t ask for this! I didn’t want this! I never wanted to have this kind of responsibility,” Hannibal wept, putting his arms around her and burying his face in her shoulder. He cried and she purred for him.

“Shhh; that’s right, my prince. Let it out,” Selina cooed. “It’s going to be all right. You’ll see.” She rocked him gently as if he were a distraught child, purring and cooing in his ear trying to calm him. His grief was profoundly deep and it bubbled like a pot of boiling tar. The grief was so deep that it began to affect her. She empathized with him and shared the grief. After several minutes, she began to weep as well as she began to understand why he was so grieved. Her purr managed to calm him in about ten minutes and he suddenly realized that she was crying too. He looked her in the face with his own tear-stained eyes and she bawled, “Oh, my sweet prince. I understand it. I know why you’re so grieved now. You have such a gentle heart for such a terrible burden.”

Hannibal rubbed his eyes and said, “Thank you, my precious angel. I needed that. You have such oneness with me that’s almost scary. Thank you, my sweet princess.” He gently placed his hands on her face and kissed her ever so gently on the mouth. He let all his love for her come out in the kiss and she melted in the kiss.

After he let go, Selina sat there with a look of ecstasy on her face for a few moments, and then threw her arms around his neck, embracing him tightly. “Oh, you still have it, my prince,” she purred. “You haven’t kissed me like that since the day you woke up from the teaching machine. Oh, how I love you. It passes beyond all words.”

Hannibal began to smile slightly and said, “Yes, my precious angel. I feel the same way.” He suddenly laughed and added, “How could I hide it? Our minds are welded together. We know each other unlike anyone else on the face of the Earth.”

“You’re so right, my prince,” Selina agreed as the grief began to slowly lift from both of them. “Come, let’s go to bed.”

“Not yet,” Hannibal answered. “After all that unpleasantness, I think a dip in the tub would be most beneficial. Maybe it will finish fixing these limps we have. Besides, I just love seeing you wet. You’re so sensual and sexy when wet.”

“I like the way you think,” Selina replied in a sultry tone. “Come on. That bath is just screaming for us.”

“I’m right behind you,” Hannibal chimed as he and Selina stood up. They linked arms and limped together into the bathroom to take a hot bath.

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