Chapter 29: Saboteurs
Meanwhile Nathanael, Ned, Cracko, Sam, Thomas, Harry, Kahn, and Carver were sweeping through the keep and city with Joshua’s elite guard searching for the henchmen of the traitors while Jonathan, Arabella, Xavier, Amelia, and Morrison were helping treat the injured. Jacob, Rebecca, and Crystal had returned to their quarters with Milo and Sharon at the insistence of Hannibal. They locked the doors while the search for the henchmen was under way and talked about what was going on. Aragon stood guard at their door and Vergil, Timothy, and David guarded the entrance to the royal wing.
Harry, Kahn, Carver, and Zachias were searching deep in keep when they cornered three of the henchmen near the main aqueducts that fed castle. They managed to sneak up on them while they were setting explosives on the main pipes. Harry and those with him kept in the shadows as they approached. Harry surveyed the situation and saw two of the henchmen working on placing the explosives and the third kept watch. They all were carrying what looked like some form of gun. “Looks like they’re planting explosives on the pipes to disrupt the water supply,” Harry whispered to Kahn, Carver, and Zachias. “We need to take them before they can set it off. We need a distraction.”
“I’ll do it,” Zachias volunteered.
Harry nodded and he maneuvered through the shadows until he was in position. He motioned to Kahn and Carver, saying, “We have only one shot here. Let’s not blow it.” They crept forward into ambush positions. Then Harry motioned to Zachias and he picked up a stone, throwing it down the passage toward the three henchmen. The one standing guard turned toward the noise and opened fire with his strange weapon. A barrage of energy bolts flew down the passage while Harry, Kahn, and Carver stayed hidden.
One of the henchmen who were setting the explosives scolded the guard, hissing, “What’re you doing? Do you want to bring the whole guard down here before we get done? Go check on it and don’t shoot at anything, you son of a bitch!” He returned to his work while the guard cursed under his breath, moving down the passage toward the ambush. He moved slowly and once he entered the shadows just out of sight of the other two, Kahn pounced like a cat, knocking the man out and dragging him back. Kahn was so quick and efficient in his ambush that there was no noise. The weapon the guard was carrying didn’t even fall to the floor. Kahn handed the weapon to Harry. He motioned to Zachias to move up and they moved up as well. Their stealth was flawless.
The two henchmen planting the explosives didn’t see them coming. As they finished doing their dastardly deeds, the one who sent the guard out looked around and hissed, “Where is he?” Just then as he looked back to his comrade, Harry motioned for them to move in and in an instant, the two saboteurs were captured and unconscious.
Harry searched the men and found a detonator for the explosives on the leader. “Tie them up,” he ordered after he retrieved the detonator. Zachias, Kahn, and Carver bound the men as Harry went to investigate the explosive packages. He examined the pipes and the bombs, commenting, “I’ve never seen bombs like this. It looks similar to plastic explosive, but I don’t think it is. Good thing we caught them before they armed it, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to remove these.” The bombs were very similar to the plastic explosive devices they had brought with them initially. Harry carefully pulled on the first of fifteen bombs planted on the pipes and it came off with some difficulty. Kahn, Carver, and Zachias watched Harry as he removed the explosives. Once it was removed, he told the others, “Go on and remove them. But be gentle. I don’t know what kind of explosive this is. Just be careful.” In minutes, they had removed the devices and bagged them up in the bags the henchmen had brought. Harry carefully pulled the firing mechanisms out of the explosives as they gathered them. Once they had removed the explosives, Harry said, “Hannibal needs to see these. Come on.” They gathered up their prisoners and deposited them in the dungeon before going to find Hannibal.
A half hour later, they found Hannibal, Selina, Nicodemus, Doug, Joshua, and the couriers in the throne room. They strode up and Harry pulled out one of the defused bombs as they walked up. “We found saboteurs in the aqueducts. They had planted a bunch of these on the pipes when we found them. I’ve never seen any explosives like this before,” Harry reported as he handed the two-pound block of explosive material to Hannibal, who looked at it with great curiosity.
Nicodemus, Joshua, Doug, and the couriers gathered around to see the bomb. Joshua took one look at it and swore. “Carite; how many did you find?” Joshua asked.
“Fifteen,” Harry answered. “I pulled what I thought was the detonators from them just to be safe. They’re right here.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out one of the detonators that had been put in the explosive material and handed it to Joshua, who examined it closely as Nicodemus looked on.
Joshua’s face fell and another curse rolled out. He handed the tiny device to Nicodemus and said, “This is the Emperor’s handiwork for sure. Harry, you may have save us all. Fifteen Carite bombs where you found them would have destroyed the whole castle.”
“Just how powerful an explosive is Carite?” Selina asked.
“Carite is the most powerful explosive known to us,” Joshua stated. “You see this block of material. This is capable of vaporizing anything within a thousand-cubit radius of it. It’s easily capable of taking out this portion of the keep.”
“Shit!” Hannibal cursed as he grasped the destructive power of the substance. “That’s some punch. How stable is it? Can you jar it or strike it to make it go off?”
“Carite is fairly stable,” Doug said. “The only way to set it off is with a detonator like the ones Harry removed or with a flame. But with a flame, it doesn’t work as well as it does with a detonator.”
“Really,” Hannibal said, very interested in its qualities. “Can it be molded into a shaped charge?”
“Yes,” Joshua stated. “It is like clay. You can mold it into whatever shape you want.”
“I tend to agree,” Harry said. “From what I saw down there, these charges were shaped in order to get the maximum damage to the structure it was attached to. It was also difficult to get it off the pipes. It was almost like the material was magnetic or something.”
“Magnetic plastic explosive,” Hannibal announced with great interest. “Now that’s a new one on me. Where is the trigger?”
Harry reached into his pocket and removed a device the size of a small calculator with several buttons and lights on it. “I think this is it,” he replied. “I took it from the goon who was apparently in charge. Looks like a trigger to me.” He handed it to Hannibal, who then showed it to Selina, Nicodemus, and Joshua.
“Fascinating,” Hannibal breathed as he looked at the strange little device.
“That’s it,” Joshua stated. “That’s the trigger.”
“They didn’t have just explosives,” Kahn announced, handing the confiscated gun to Harry. “They carried some strange weapons too.”
“Hannibal, I think we’ve just graduated to the next level,” Harry declared. “Watch this.” He aimed the gun at the wall up high where there was nothing to damage and fired the gun. An energy pulse flared out of the end of the gun and hit the wall, making a small hole and sending a spray of fine rock dust out into the room. When Nicodemus saw it, his face fell with great concern, as did Joshua and Hannibal’s faces.
“That’s definitely a problem,” Hannibal said sternly. He looked at Nicodemus and said, “Don’t breathe a word about this to anyone: not about the guns or the explosives. It’ll just cause undue panic. What we need to do is get some intelligence on the Emperor’s capabilities, to find out what his army is using as weapons.”
“Yes,” Nicodemus agreed. “That would be prudent. Until we find out, we should expect the worst.”
“Agreed,” Joshua replied.
Just then, one of the couriers spoke. “Excuse me, but I know something about the weaponry of the Emperor’s Army,” he stated.
“All right, tell us,” Nicodemus replied. “What do you know?”
The man stepped forward and replied, “I have seen the weapons of the Fifth Division that is moving up through Myria. At the time when I saw them, they didn’t appear to have weapons such as this. They were mainly armed with the usual weaponry, including some heavy mechanized weapons, but nothing like these things. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have them. I just didn’t see any.”
“Hmmm,” Hannibal said, rubbing his chin. “We need to confirm it, not that it matters at this point. This place is compromised. We need to move quickly. From what I’ve heard from the couriers, the lands where the Divisions are moving, everything on two legs is being slaughtered. Word needs to be sent to them to get out of the way and to try to come to Acheron. Have we anyone from Cushar or Zin here yet?”
“No, not yet,” Joshua answered. Just as he finished speaking, the doors of the throne room clanged open and three men walked in, being escorted by the elite guard. Everyone looked toward the door to see the newcomers. One was a giant of a man, nearly seven feet in height, with a deep red skin and moderate length hair that was matted with blood and filth. He had no facial hair and was dressed similarly to the Cimmerians with skins and armor. He had a huge blade strapped to his back. The second man was average height, about five foot ten. He had deep-bronzed skin and short black hair. He had a closely cropped beard and was wearing a suit of mail armor and a cloak hung snugly about his frame, cleverly concealing a number of knives and a short sword. Slung over his back was a quiver of arrows with only three arrows, and in his hand sat a formidable bow. He too was splattered and caked with blood and filth. The third man looked oriental in nature. He was small compared to the other two, only five foot seven in height. He had on leather trousers and a mail shirt with no sleeves. Strapped to his back were a pair of swords and on his waist were a couple of knives, one on each hip. He had coarse black hair that was closely cropped. He too, was bloody, as if he had been in a fight. All three were formidable men, but the smaller, oriental one looked the most dangerous. They walked up and stopped just in front of the group. Nicodemus and Joshua didn’t seem to recognize them at first as they stood silently. Then the red-skinned man spoke.
“Nicodemus, it’s been a long time. I wish we could have come under better circumstances,” the man said as Nicodemus searched his memory for the identity of the man and his companions. The man saw the confusion and asked understandingly, “You don’t remember me, do you?”
“Your face is very familiar, but I can’t seem to remember who you are,” Nicodemus said, embarrassed by his memory lapse.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” red-skinned man replied. “You’ve had a lot on your mind recently. After seeing what happened to the keep this morning, it’s perfectly understandable. Let me see if I can refresh your memory. Forty cycles ago, you paid a visit to Cush to see my parents. Do you remember a little boy?”
Nicodemus thought hard, and then his expression beamed as remembrance came to him. “Corso; is that you?” he asked in amazement.
“Yes, Nicodemus; it is I,” Corso answered, pleased that Nicodemus had remembered.
“Oh, my, the Almighty is truly merciful. How you have grown!” Nicodemus exclaimed, stepping forward and hugging him. “It surely has been a long time. How are your parents?”
Corso frowned slightly and said, “They’re gone, Nicodemus, killed some twenty cycles ago by a raid of the Emperor’s raiders in search of slaves and fodder for the Cadre.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Nicodemus apologized. “Corso; I still find it hard to believe. The last time I saw you, you were just a little stump.” Corso nodded as Nicodemus continued, asking, “Who’re these fellows with you? I don’t recognize them.”
“This is Joel,” Corso said, introducing the bronzed-skinned man. “And this fearsome-looking fellow here is Liu. He is from Zin.” Corso pointed to the oriental man as he introduced Liu.
“Zin,” Joshua breathed with amazement. “I didn’t think there was anyone left in that place.”
“Oh, we’re there,” Liu replied coolly. “There aren’t many of us though. Our people had to flee the Emperor when he sent the Seventh Division in there. We ended up fleeing into the mountains of Cushar and to Cush itself.”
“How many of your people are there, Liu?” Hannibal asked.
“There were about a thousand of us before the incursions by the Emperor. Now we are but three hundred,” Liu said bluntly, with great hate for the Emperor.
“Which brings us to the matter at hand,” Corso said coldly. “The Seventh Division is now moving on Cushar and Cush. We desperately need your help.”
“Did my couriers get through to you?” Nicodemus asked.
Corso shook his head and said, “No, there was no one. We came here by horseback and as you can see, we had some problems getting through. Kasa Bek is overrun with the Zarukar and the Xenians with the 1st and 2nd Divisions reinforcing them as I speak. I came with a party of thirty. We three are all that got through. I beg of you, help us if you can.”
Hannibal cursed under his breath and said, “Then you’re unfamiliar with the situation we’re facing.”
Corso turned to Hannibal and said, “No, I’m afraid not. And who are you?”
“I go by several names. But you can call me Hannibal,” he said, introducing himself. “My people and I are from the surface.”
Corso’s jaw dropped as Nicodemus answered the question that was all over his face. “Yes, Corso,” Nicodemus declared. “He’s the one the prophecies speak of: the Beowulf. If you doubt it, just take a look at his wife: the beautiful feline Selina.” Nicodemus motioned for Selina to come and stand beside Hannibal. She took up position beside Hannibal as the three warriors were absolutely flabbergasted at the revelation.
“This is Selina,” Hannibal said introducing her.
They stared in awe and fascination at them for a few moments, and then Corso said, “So the rumors are true. The Eleven have finally arrived.”
Nicodemus nodded and Hannibal began to brief them. “We’re in serious trouble here too,” Hannibal reported. “The 5th Division is moving up from the west through Myria and Frygia. To the east, the 8th Division, which sacked Khitia, is moving westward toward Arionath’s eastern border at Khmer Shek. Then there’s the matter of the Zarukar and these new guys you call Xenians. They’re massing in Kasa Bek and are being reinforced by the 1st and 2nd Divisions from the Plains of Blood as you reported. The Emperor is coming after us here. Apparently, he means to annihilate Arionath and everything here, down to the last child. The storm this morning that cause the damage you saw was apparently caused by the Emperor’s Cadre to soften us up for the main assault. They mean to obliterate us. We had heard rumors of movement in Zin but it was unconfirmed until now. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we’re totally incapable of helping at this point beyond telling you that we are planning to evacuate to Acheron for the time being. We’re still dealing with traitorous elements inside our own gates here. As I speak, a roundup of those who are loyal to the traitors and the Emperor is taking place. We just now foiled an attempt to destroy the castle with these.” Hannibal showed the explosive device that Harry had handed him. The news hit them like a hammer. It didn’t take Corso long to realize the implications. “I really wish we could do more. But we are up to our eyeballs with our own problems,” Hannibal declared, obviously hurt that he couldn’t do something to help.
“My god,” Joel breathed. “The Emperor is launching another culling.”
Nicodemus shook his head sadly and agreed. “Yes. The culling has already begun,” he said sadly. “Khitia was just the beginning. Many will perish before this is over.”
“But my people,” Corso cried angrily. “What’re we to do? We can’t take on the 7th Division. We don’t have the manpower or equipment to do so. They’ll wipe us out.”
“Corso, I understand your concern for your people,” Hannibal stated. “I truly do, but you must realize we’re in the same boat here. We cannot deal with them no more than your people can deal with the 7th Division. That’s why we’re going to evacuate to Acheron. We have to get out of the way. That’s what you and your people are going to have to do. I would suggest that, if it is at all possible, you need to get your people to Acheron. At the very least, escape to the mountains. The army will have a much more difficult time getting to you and your people if they’re in the mountains.”
Corso looked Hannibal dead in the face and said coldly, “You want me to move three thousand people over two hundred leagues through hostile territory? Are you insane? I’d just as well hand them to the Zarukar on a silver platter!”
Hannibal nodded and said, “I can see your point of view. It was just a suggestion. I’d be hesitant to do that too. All I can tell you is to get them out of the way. Acheron is where we’re heading with whoever is willing to go. In a very short order, this valley is going to be overrun and every living thing here is going to be destroyed.”
Corso plopped down on the stairs of the dais and despaired. “I thought we’d be able to get some kind of help,” he moaned, knowing very well that what Hannibal was saying was true because of his losses in getting to Arionath.
Hannibal looked at him as Liu and Joel stood there trying to comprehend the perilous situation that faced everyone. He then looked at Nicodemus and asked, “Is there any way to get those people out of harm’s way? Is there any other route they might take?”
“No, not that I know of,” Nicodemus said sadly, “however, Argus might know of a way.”
Hannibal’s demeanor changed with the suggestion and hope surfaced. “Argus, hmmm; I need to talk to him then. If you will excuse me,” he said, heading for the doors. Within seconds, he was gone.
Selina stood beside Nicodemus as he said to Corso, Joel, and Liu, “Come on. Let’s get you cleaned up. You’ve had a long hard journey. The least we can do is to offer you some hospitality while we still can.” Then to the rest of the couriers, Nicodemus said, “Thank you gentlemen. We’ll meet back here in a couple of hours.” Turning back to Corso, Joel, and Liu, he said, “Come on. Let’s get you guys a good hot bath and something to eat.” Corso rose and followed Nicodemus and Selina.
“I’m going to check on the progress of our man hunt,” Joshua declared.
“Good idea,” Nicodemus replied as they walked away. Harry turned to Joshua and asked, “What’re we going to do with the bombs we found?”
Joshua thought for a moment, and then said, “Let’s take them to the armory. It’s the only safe place I know of. Come on.” Joshua then led them away to the armory to deposit the explosives and the strange new weapons.