Chapter 26: The Wizard's Storm
The Wizard’s Storm
As morning approached, the skies over Arionath were dismal and overcast. Heavy low clouds poured over the western ridges from the southwest. The smell of water lay heavy in the air as the wind remained dead calm. Argus watched the square from the highest tower on the southwest corner of the keep, perched like an enormous gargoyle surveying its domain. The tent city in the square was quiet as was everything else. Argus looked around with some concern as the skies grew more ominous by the minute. The air began to tingle with electricity. While he sat there keeping watch on the square and the city immediately outside the keep, Nicodemus came out, walking to the edge of the parapet. The level of light steadily increased as day approached, but it stayed ominously dark because of the gathering storm. Nicodemus looked out over the square and the city as Argus turned to him. “Good morning, Nicodemus,” he said amiably.
Nicodemus put his hands on the edge of the parapet and replied coolly, “Good morning, Argus. Has all been quiet in the night?”
“Yes, there has been no activity,” Argus reported. Then noticing that something was bothering Nicodemus, he asked, “Is there a problem?”
Nicodemus sighed as he looked toward the gathering storm. “Looks like a storm is coming,” he said. “It’s fitting that foul weather come upon us with what’s going on.” Looking Argus in the face, he said, “This is not going to be pleasant. Be on your guard. Keep an eye to the sky as well. I expect that some of our couriers to the other clans will be coming in today. I don’t know what’s going to happen and it has me a bit on edge.”
“Don’t worry, my friend,” Argus said confidently. “The Ancient of Days has this situation well in hand. This problem will be addressed in a very short order. Just be faithful and stand.”
Nicodemus cracked a slight smile. “Well said, my friend. Well said,” he said soberly. “All of the elders and officials are being called to the throne room this morning so we can root out these people who’re in league with the Emperor.”
Argus looked Nicodemus in the eye and said very seriously, “Be very careful, Nicodemus. If they’re truly in league with the Emperor, then we may have less time than we believe.” As he spoke, a sprinkle of rain began to fall from the dark, angry clouds. “Go on in,” he said. “The rain is coming. Stay inside.” He abruptly turned to the clouds as a flash of lightning lit it up from a distance. A rumble of thunder shook the ground and the tower they were standing on and Argus became very concerned. He began hearing a chorus of fell voices echoing softly on the wind. The sound was only perceptible to his keen hearing for Nicodemus didn’t hear it. “Go now! And get the people under cover immediately. This is no ordinary storm. I must go and see if my suspicions are right. Go now, quickly!” Argus growled urgently. Nicodemus turned and ran into the keep as Argus took to flight, flying directly into the heart of the growing storm.
The skies continued to blacken and lower as the storm approached. A light rain had begun to fall just after dawn. The clouds were black and angry like a great beast ready to attack. Nicodemus, Joshua, and a handful of Joshua’s elite guards poured into the square and raised the alarm. People came out of their tents as Nicodemus stood on the steps crying aloud, “Everyone into the keep! Hurry! Bring only what you can carry! You’re in danger!”
Joshua and his guards quickly spread out over the square and urged everyone along, waking those who were still asleep. A crowd quickly congregated as the light rain began to be blown by a stiff breeze from the southwest. Lightning started flashing and arcing in the clouds. “Quickly, everyone this way!” Nicodemus urged them as he led them into the keep.
Within seconds, an icy blast exhaled out of the cloud and a downpour commenced. Joshua and his people began to drag people to the keep. As they poured up the stairs toward the main door to the keep, a peal of thunder shook the whole city. Then in the midst of the downpour, hail began to fall, growing quickly to nearly baseball size. The people rushed the door to escape the hail. Many were injured or killed by the hail and the crush of the people. Joshua and his guards fared better than the rest because of their armor. With nearly two-thirds of the people under cover, the storm turned from just an ordinary storm to a legitimate tempest.
Winds began to howl from every direction, driving the hails into a lethal spray. Lightning crackled in the cloud and began to strike the keep and square with great violence, adding to the chaos. Joshua and half of his elite guards who were in the square using anything at hand as shields to protect themselves and the people from the lethal hail, finally gave up and rushed for the shelter of the keep, dragging along those who hadn’t been killed outright by the storm. Bruised and battered from the hail, Joshua and his men looked out in the square from the safety of the keep entranceway. They saw nearly two hundred people who had not been able to reach the keep or other shelter that were dead and buried under a growing pile of hails, which had now grown to grapefruit size, smashing anything in the open. A trickle of blood flowed down the side of Joshua’s head where the hails had struck him. He cursed and with the help of what was left of his men, closed the doors. Leaning against the wall, Joshua surveyed the main hall, which was filled with many injured people, some of them seriously. “How did this happen?” he asked angrily. “We had no warning!” Those who were not injured began helping those who were.
By then, Nicodemus had filtered back through the crowd to Joshua and cried with great concern, “You’re hurt!”
Joshua wiped the blood out his face and sighed. “I’ll be all right,” he replied grimly. “Some of these people need medical attention right now. Where are you putting them?”
“Wherever we can; most of them I took to the arena. How many did we lose?” Nicodemus asked bluntly, knowing there was going to be a grievous loss of life.
Joshua continued to lean against the wall, his head and body pounding and aching from the beating the hails gave him. “I don’t know but I suspect that there may be as many as two hundred that didn’t make it, including some of my best men,” he stated grimly. “This thing came out of nowhere and caught us completely off guard. Had you not come when you did, we may have lost all of them. How did you know that there was a problem?”
“I didn’t,” Nicodemus said as he squatted down to help one of the injured. “You can thank Argus for the warning. Somehow, he knew the storm was going to be bad. He said it wasn’t a normal storm.” Nicodemus mopped the blood from the injured man he was helping as someone came to help carry the man away. Nicodemus shook his head as he rose and said after another great crash of thunder and strike of lightning on the keep, “This is no ordinary storm. I suspect the Emperor is behind this. Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”
“It has to be,” Joshua said as he pushed off from the wall. His face wrinkle up as pain raced throughout his body and he staggered. Nicodemus caught him. “I’ve never seen a storm like this in all my life. It has to be him,” Joshua said as he put an arm around Nicodemus’ shoulder. Nicodemus took the weight and helped him walk away from the door.
“I suspect as much,” Nicodemus replied as they walked down the hall. When they were about two hundred feet from the main doors, the doors suddenly exploded as several strikes of lightning hit it at the same time. The explosion sent pieces of the doors hurtling down the hall in a lethal spray to those within seventy-five feet of the door. The concussion knocked everyone down within three hundred feet of the explosion and killed fifteen people who were within seventy-five feet of the explosion. “Almighty be merciful!” Nicodemus cried out as he pushed pieces of the door off him and Joshua. He got to his knees and checked on Joshua. “Joshua. Joshua! Are you all right?” he asked, shaking Joshua. When he received no reply, he became very concerned and checked Joshua’s pulse. When he found a good pulse, Nicodemus sighed with relief, knowing that Joshua was only unconscious. He pulled Joshua up and laid his head in his lap, waiting for someone to come. He looked out the door and saw the torrential rain and giant hails blowing in the doors. Every couple of minutes, he could hear and feel the lightning striking the keep because of the structure trembling.
Five minutes after the door exploded, Doug and Bruce came running down the hall to Nicodemus. “Are you all right?” they asked simultaneously as they reached Nicodemus, falling to their knees to examine the situation.
“I’m all right, but Joshua has been hurt. The explosion knocked him out. Come on, we need to get him medical attention,” Nicodemus ordered. Doug and Bruce immediately scooped up Joshua and carried him away, with Nicodemus in close pursuit.
Meanwhile, at the same time the lightning destroyed the main door of the keep, the explosion woke Hannibal and Selina, as well as everyone else in the wing. Hannibal woke with a start and looked around. He could hear the tempest howling as well as the hails pounding on the balcony and smashed against the balcony doors, cracking but not shattering the clear thick doors. In the background was a wail coming from the square. He sat up as Selina woke and was aghast to see such a violent tempest outside his room. “Did you hear that?” he asked her as he quickly got up and run to the balcony doors to get a better look.
“I sure did,” Selina said as she jumped up, following him to the doors.
Hannibal looked out and his face fell with great concern. “Oh, my Lord have mercy!” he cried out. “Those people; they’re unprotected!” Without any hesitation, he ran toward the door, scooping up his weapon as he did. Not even bothering to change into regular clothes, he unlocked the door and ran out into the hall in his nightclothes and no shoes. Selina followed suit, bringing her weapon, also having just her pajamas on as well. Upon darting into the hall, he saw that everyone except Jacob and his family had come out. They were all dressed in their nightclothes: Arabella and Amelia were dressed like Selina and the men were dressed similar to Hannibal. All of them were carrying weapons.
“What’s going on?” Harry asked, “Sound like we’re under attack.”
“The storm from hell is raging outside our windows as I speak,” Hannibal replied bluntly. “It’s twice as bad as the storm that drove us into the pyramid in the Valley of the Zinzera. Thomas, Jonathan; stay here and guard Jacob’s door while we go and find out if it as bad as I think it is.” They nodded and he ordered, “Come on.”
They flew down the corridors and met Aragon, Timothy, and Zachias at the entrance to the wing. The trio saw them coming and Aragon asked, “What’s the matter? Did someone get in?”
“Keep going,” Hannibal ordered those with him as they raced by. “No time now to talk guys. You just stay put and don’t let anyone in. I fill you in later,” he said to them as he briefly stopped. In an instant, he’d left the guards behind and was leading his team and the Cimmerians toward the square. They turned a corner and were suddenly stopped by a mass of people, some of which were gravely injured. “Oh, shit,” Hannibal cursed as he pushed into the throng, which was moving deeper into the keep. Everyone followed him into the crowd. They passed by many with head wounds and broken bones. “Look around and see if you can find Nicodemus,” he ordered as they pressed toward the main hall. Amelia looked on the injured, aghast at the severity of the injured. She didn’t even try to use her ability because there were too many to help. Arabella and Morrison immediately began to help the injured, as did Carver and Kahn. They pushed into the main hall and saw that the door was gone and people were removing bodies.
“Oh, no,” Hannibal said in horror and rushed forward to see. He looked around and called out, “Nicodemus! Nicodemus! Where is he?”
A couple of men carrying a body hesitated, and one of them said, “You just missed them, milord. They were taking Joshua to the infirmary. He was battered pretty bad getting the people out of the storm.” As he spoke, another barrage of lightning hit the keep, making it tremble.
“Thank you,” Hannibal said, slightly relieved as he looked out the broken doors. The hail was beginning to lighten up, but lay nearly eighteen inches deep on the platform outside the door. “Which way?” he asked the man.
“Down to the dining hall, left, then right. You can’t miss it,” the man answered.
“Thanks,” Hannibal returned as the men hauled the body away. “You guys help out here. Selina, Amelia, Xavier, let’s go.” The rest of Hannibal’s team began to help with the wounded and dead as Hannibal, Selina, Xavier, and Amelia made their way to the infirmary. It took them nearly ten minutes to move through the crowds to reach it. Upon entering the infirmary, Amelia gasped at what they saw. There were hundreds hurt, being attended to by an overwhelmed staff. One of the staff passed in front of them, obviously on a mission and Hannibal restrained the young lady for a second, asking, “Where’s Nicodemus?” She pointed to the far side of the room and he let her move on.
They moved through the throng and reached Nicodemus and Joshua on the other side of the room. Nicodemus was sitting in a chair and Joshua was sitting on a makeshift cot while an orderly wrapped his wounds. Nicodemus saw them approached and immediately noticed how they were dressed. The fortress rumbled again as lightning struck. Hannibal rushed forward and squatted down, asking, “Are you all right?”
Xavier tugged at Amelia’s arm and nodded toward Joshua.
Amelia nodded back and approached Joshua. “Step aside, young man,” she told the orderly. Joshua lay in a daze and wasn’t sure what he was seeing as the Valkyrie stepped forward. Amelia squatted down and looked at him intensely, ascertaining the extent of his injuries. “Joshua,” she called to him. “Relax and don’t be afraid.” Joshua was in such a daze that all he could do was nod. She rubbed her hands together as she stood, and then place one hand on his head and one on his shoulder. Joshua groaned as it felt like fire filled his insides. His arm snapped out and grabbed the orderly, squeezing very hard on his arm. The orderly began to groan as Joshua’s hand pressed in like a vice.
This happened before Nicodemus could answer Hannibal and as a result, their attention shifted to Joshua and Amelia. Hannibal watched as her eyes glowed. Amelia held on to Joshua for nearly two minutes. When she released him, her legs buckled and Xavier moved forward swiftly to catch her.
Joshua sighed as she let him go, all his pain and injuries healed. “Thank you,” he said gratefully. “I had no idea you could do that.”
“You’re welcome,” Amelia replied wearily. “I just wish I could do it for everyone.”
Selina grabbed onto her arm and helped Xavier hold her up. “It takes a toll on you when you use the healing gift, doesn’t it?” she asked Amelia.
“Yes,” Amelia replied as her strength returned. “It drains me every time I use it.”
“Then only use it in emergencies,” Hannibal instructed. “It’s not something to be trifled with.”
Amelia nodded and returned, “I will.”
The keep shook again as another lightning strike hit it. Hannibal then turned his attention to Nicodemus and asked again, “Are you all right?”
Nicodemus nodded and said, “Yes. You can thank Argus for the heads up about the storm. Somehow, he knew it was going to be bad and warned me to get the people under cover. It would have been a lot worse if we hadn’t any warning.” The fortress shook again. “I think we’ve been attacked,” he speculated.
“How bad did we get hit?” Hannibal asked. “How many died in the storm?”
Joshua shook his head and said, “We lost at least two hundred to the hail. Maybe another two hundred or more are injured. I’ve never seen a storm like this in all my days. It was like someone was controlling it. The lightning kept hitting where it could do the most damage.”
Joshua’s comment sank deep into Hannibal’s spirit. His face fell and he knew what the implications of it were: the Emperor had means to conduct weather war on his enemies. “This situation is getting better by the minute. Now not only do we have a traitorous element to deal with, now we have the Emperor in potential possession of a weather machine,” Hannibal growled.
“We don’t know that,” Selina returned. “But it’s a grave implication if he does.”
Just then, a man strode up and said to Nicodemus, “The storm has passed.”
Nicodemus nodded and the man left. “Come. Let assess the damage,” Nicodemus ordered. “But first, you all need to go and get dressed.”
Hannibal blushed slightly and said, “I guess we should. I was so concerned about the storm and the people that I plum forgot to get dressed.”
Nicodemus waved them away, saying, “We’ll meet you out front.”
Hannibal nodded and he, Selina, Xavier, and Amelia went back to their quarters to get dressed. When they got back into their wing, Thomas and Jonathan were still guarding Jacob’s door. He stopped and briefed them before going into his quarters to get dressed. A few minutes later, they were all dressed and Hannibal stopped at Jacob’s door, knocking three times. A few moments later, the lock grated and the door opened.
Jacob stepped out and asked, “What’s going on? The whole castle was shaking this morning.”
Hannibal informed him what had happened and he was flabbergasted. “Right now, I don’t think you or Rebecca should be seen after what has happened. There’s such an uproar right now that something bad could happen very easily. I’d like for you to stay put for now. We’ll send something up for you to eat. Is there anything in particular you’d like?” he asked.
Jacob shook his head and said, “Not really. Anything you bring would be all right.”
“Very well,” Hannibal said as Harry strode up the hall with a sword in his hand. His clothes were bloody from helping the injured.
“Morning Jacob,” Harry said amiably as he turned to go in his quarters.
Hannibal called out, “Harry, come here a second.”
Harry turned and walked over to them. “Yeah, what do you want?” he asked.
“How are the injured?” Hannibal asked.
“I think everything is under control,” Harry said. “Most of the injured are being tended to by their own people. In fact, most of the team is not far behind me. They were coming to get dressed like I’m fixing to do.”
“Good,” Hannibal said as he saw Nathanael, Ned, Sam, Cracko, Arabella, and Morrison walking up the passage toward them. “Go on and get dressed, Harry. Then I would like for you and Jonathan to go get Jacob, Rebecca, and Crystal something to eat. At the moment, I don’t think it is wise for them to come out.”
“All right,” Harry said. “I’ll just be a moment.” He turned and went into his quarters. Nathanael was right behind him.
Turning to Jacob, Hannibal said, “Harry and Jonathan will bring you some food. You can open to them.”
“All right,” Jacob replied. “We’ll wait here for you to come and get us. But if you could, try and find out where my friend and his family are. They were camped out in the square with our belongings. I fear for their lives because of what you said. Please find them. His name is Milo and his wife’s name is Sharon. They were the friends we came with.”
Hannibal nodded, asking, “Do they have any children?”
Jacob shook his head, saying, “No, they had a little boy, but he died several cycles back in a freak accident.”
Hannibal sighed, saying as he put a hand on Jacob’s shoulder, “We’ll find them one way or another. I pray they made it into the keep before the hail fell. We’ll search for them.”
Jacob smiled and grabbed Hannibal’s hand briefly saying, “Thank you.”
At that, he went back into his quarters, closing and locking the door. Hannibal then turned to Thomas and Jonathan, saying, “If you don’t mind, could you keep an eye on things here while we straighten out what’s going on?”
“Sure,” Thomas said. “We’ll take care of things here.”
Hannibal put his hand on Thomas’ shoulder and said, “Good man. I hope it won’t take too long to assess the damage the storm did. Come on. Let’s go find out how bad this situation really is.” While he was speaking, Ned, Sam, Arabella, Morrison, and Cracko had disappeared into their quarters to get dressed as well. Hannibal, Xavier, Selina, and Amelia left and went to the main hall again.
Nicodemus and Joshua, along with several others were standing in the demolished doorway waiting. Hannibal and those with him walked up and looked out into the square. “Holy cats!” Xavier exclaimed as he saw nearly two feet of hail ranging from the size of golf balls to grapefruits covering the square and everything in it. Arms and legs protruded from the lethal ice. In places, the ice was stained crimson with blood. The ice was beginning to sublime, creating an eerie fog over the square.
Hannibal looked at Nicodemus and saw tears streaming down his face. Hannibal put his hand on Nicodemus’ shoulder to comfort him, and then carefully pushed out into the icefall. A few steps into the ice, he stopped and picked one of the bigger hailstones up and looked at it with great fascination. “Whoa,” he murmured, examining the hailstone. Nicodemus, Joshua, Selina, Xavier, Amelia and those who were with Nicodemus when they got there watched Hannibal examine the stone. Hannibal’s face suddenly fell as he felt a vile familiar darkness emanating from the hail. A soft swear escaped his lips as he abruptly threw it aside. Pushing through the ice out to the edge of the platform, Hannibal gazed briefly at the square turning red with the blood of those who didn’t make it. A troubled sigh escaped his lips as he turned around to look at the keep entryway.
“Holy shit!” Hannibal exclaimed as he saw the whole frame of the doors blackened and charred. Turning to the square, he scanned the area much closer and saw numerous places were lightning had struck and melted the hails…burning and charring anything near it, including people. He also saw piles of stone rubble from the keep itself heaped up at the base of the walls. Turning his attention up the wall behind him, he saw dozens of holes in the side of the keep where the lightning had struck it. He stared at it with a grim look on his face, and then scanned the square again before pushing back to Nicodemus. Upon reaching him, Hannibal declared, “It’s bad enough. I’ve never seen a storm dish out such punishment on a single structure. Fortunately for us, this place is very well built.”
Nicodemus nodded and replied, “I’m just glad that we had a secure place to hide and that we didn’t lose more people.”
“You said earlier that you believed the storm was an attack,” Hannibal said. Nicodemus nodded and Hannibal continued, “It’s beginning to look like that. But I won’t know for sure until I get an aerial view of the keep and the city. What’re you going to do with the dead?”
“I guess we’ll try to identify them and see if they have any living relatives. If so, we’ll help the relatives deal with the bodies, otherwise, we’ll cremate them,” Nicodemus said sadly. “I need to get people on it immediately before the bodies become a problem.”
“Do that,” Hannibal said. “And before I forget, try to find Jacob’s friend Milo and his wife Sharon. He’s very worried about them with good reason.”
Nicodemus turned to Joshua and he said to those who were with them when Hannibal and his people arrived, “You heard him. Go. Find Milo and Sharon and get busy with the cleanup.” The men went back into the keep in search of help and Milo and Sharon.
Hannibal then asked Nicodemus, “When and where were you planning on dealing with the traitors?”
“In a couple of hours in the throne room; all I did was call a meeting of all the elders, captains, and officials who keep this city running smoothly. I didn’t give any indication that anything was wrong.” Nicodemus stated. “But I can’t help but think this storm has something to do with this meeting.”
“God only knows,” Hannibal replied. “Come on. Let’s do what we can until then.” At that, they all went to work, taking care of the injured and dealing with the dead. A makeshift morgue was set up in the dungeon.