Legends of Amacia: Path of the Ancients

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Deciding the General's Fate

The late afternoon sun dropped behind the trees when Hannibal finished telling his tale. As they shared dinner, the group continued conversing about Amacia. Eventually, the conversation came back to the General. “What’re we going to do with him?” Morrison asked. “He’ll come after us if we let him go like you want.”

“Yeah,” Sam agreed. “What do you plan on doing to keep him from following and hunting us down like vermin?”

Hannibal sat there as he finished eating, considering their question, not knowing what to tell them. What do I tell them, Lord? he thought.

Don’t worry. You’ll do the right thing, Selina reassured him telepathically while she and Harry gathered the dishes to clean them.

“None of you have anywhere else to go, do you?” Hannibal asked.

They looked at each other and Thomas spoke up. “No, Gulez has destroyed everything we hold dear. And because he has a significant number of troops loyal to him, we’d be hunted because of our desertion. We really have nowhere else to go,” he stated. “It seems that you have a great purpose set before you. I don’t know about the others, but personally, if there’s anything I can do to help you in your quest, just name it. It would be nice to be involved in something that doesn’t require killing. And I’ve always been curious as to what’s up on the mountain.”

“Yeah,” Morrison agreed. “If I can be of some help to you, count me in as well.” Everyone else who wasn’t part of the original party said the same thing.

“You know, Hannibal,” Nathanael said. “I’m having a strange sensation right now. This whole situation seems to be very familiar to me like I’ve been in it before. Somehow, I think they are involved in this, even the General.”

Hannibal looked around at everyone, considering Nathanael’s comment when Harry chimed in. “Déjà vu,” Harry said. “It’s called déjà vu, Nathanael. What do you think, Hannibal? Do you have some sense about this situation because I don’t?”

“I’m not sure,” Hannibal replied, intrigued by Nathanael’s insight. “I feel like a leaf blown about in the wind right now. I don’t know what to tell you other than the General will not die yet. I’m not going to have his blood on our hands. I have more than enough blood on my hands already. Moreover, I think Nathanael may be right. The General does have some part to play in what we’re doing here. Whether it’s good or evil, I can’t say for sure.”

Sam scowled and Thomas spoke up. “I hope we’re not the cause of your indecision,” Thomas said. “It would give us no greater pleasure than to see the General sent to hell. There’s no other person who deserves it more. He has to be dealt with. We all have reason to want him dead. He did this to me and killed my family. Jonathan is my brother and all the family I have left. Everyone here with the exception of your people have had Gulez wipe out their entire families. Justice has to be served.”

“Yes, it does,” Hannibal agreed. “But are you the ones to do it? Are you willing to take vengeance on him?”

“Yes! Yes, I am!” Sam blurted out. “As long as I draw breath and he lives, I’ll have his head for what he’s done!”

Hannibal looked at Sam and, to his surprise, found that he loved Sam as a brother. He reminded Hannibal so much of his younger self. “Then it will happen this way,” Hannibal said soberly from experience. “You torture and eventually kill the General. However, once you’ve done it, the hate and rage you feel doesn’t go away. It festers and grows like a cancer, consuming you until you run out into the night to wreak your vengeance on someone else who may have wronged you in some way. Again and again, you’ll destroy your enemies until one day you will wake up and realize that vengeance is your whole life. You’ll find those little voices telling you to kill will be impossible to ignore and you’ll be at their mercy. They’ll torment you and ultimately turn you into him. Right now, you have a choice. One bad decision can come back to haunt you for the rest of your life. I know that from bitter experience. I wasn’t lying to the General when I said those I killed haunt me. Choose carefully, and if I might make a suggestion: choose life and save yourself a lifetime of grief, pain, and heartache.”

Sam’s hate for Gulez waxed strong. “Easy for you to say,” Sam rebutted coldly. “You didn’t have your entire family wiped out by a madman.”

“Yes, I did!” Hannibal snapped sternly. “There’s one part of the story about my past I didn’t tell you: the part of how I got involved in it to begin with. When I was fourteen, I witnessed my entire family massacred in front of me by people just like the General. We were on vacation in the forests of Washington State. At the time, I was taking karate for self-defense, but had only reached a green belt. We were hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park when we encountered a group of men in dark suits carrying submachine guns. I was scrambling just off the trail like any fourteen year old would, just within earshot when the men appeared with their guns drawn.” Hannibal paused, reliving his old tragedy as he told it.

Hannibal’s father, mother, sister, and two brothers stood surrounded by seven men in suits and trench coats, armed with M-3 submachine guns and automatic pistols. His sister and brothers clung to their mother as Hannibal’s father shielded his family. Hannibal watched from the bushes above the path, frozen in fright.

“Is there a problem here, sir?” Hannibal’s father asked cautiously.

“What’re you doing here?” the leader demanded.

“We were just taking a hike. That’s all, and we haven’t strayed from the marked trails here. Is there a problem with us just taking a family hike in the woods of this National Park?” Hannibal’s father asked.

“Who knows you’re here, Mr. Smith?” the leader growled, pushing the barrel of his M-3 to Smith’s chest. A sinking feeling of extreme peril filled Mr. Smith when he realized the strangers knew who he was.

“What do you want? Money?” his wife asked hesitantly; the fear in her tone evident. “Here, just take it!” She tossed her purse down in front of them.

“Shut up, bitch!” the leader barked. “I’m asking the questions here.”

“Please don’t antagonize them, Lily,” Smith said softly. Then to the leader, he said with his hands up in a surrender position, “Please, don’t hurt my family. Just take whatever you want and go.”

“I intend to,” the leader answered; an evil smile plastered across his lips. “Empty your pockets…now!”

“Do as he says, everyone,” Smith ordered, handing the leader his wallet. The others emptied their pockets, throwing their money and jewelry on the ground. The leader snatched the wallet and searched it. Not finding what he wanted, he cast it aside…credit cards and cash scattering over the ground where it landed. The leader promptly punched Smith in the stomach with his gun barrel. “You’re not fooling me, Mr. Smith,” the leader roared. “Where’s the Scythian medallion? Where is it? I know you’re hiding it!” Hannibal stared in horror from his hidden vantage point as the attack unfolded.

Smith gasped in pain, falling to his knees. Blood drooled from his mouth as the leader kicked him in the face, sending him sprawling. Lily and Hannibal’s two brothers and sister called to their father only to have the rest of the gunmen push their weapons into their faces.

Hannibal felt rage rising, but his fear kept him paralyzed. He suddenly became aware that the medallion on the gold chain around his neck given to him by his father a few months before had become incredibly cold. He pulled it out, seeing the ancient amulet three inches wide with undecipherable writing glowing softly. Hannibal’s eyes grew wide as he felt it freezing his hand. “What the…,” he whispered as the sound of the killers drew his attention again. Hannibal put the medallion back in his shirt and continued watching from his hiding place in the bushes.

The leader leaned down, grabbing Smith by the shirt with both hands and dragging him to his feet. Slamming him against a large pine tree, the leader choked Smith with his forearm, hissing, “Where’s the artifact, Mr. Smith? Where is it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Smith wheezed. “What artifact?”

“You know which one, Mr. Smith,” the leader growled. “It’s three inches across and engraved with undecipherable glyphs you found in the Scythian burial mound you discovered six months ago in the Ukraine. It was an anomaly in the excavation. Now, where is it?”

“I still don’t know what you’re talking about,” Smith returned with a gurgle. “I’ve handled so many artifacts that it is impossible for me to remember them all.”

The leader punched him in the face, breaking Smith’s nose. Hannibal watched the blood splatter on the tree while his father howled in pain. “I thought to reason with you,” the leader snarled. “Now see how your reluctance repays your family. Maybe this will loosen your tongue.” He stepped aside and nodded to his team. A burst of gunfire from the six other men ripped Lily and the children to shreds in seconds.

“No!” Smith wailed.

“Search them for the medallion,” the leader ordered and his team searched the bullet-riddled corpses of Hannibal’s mother and siblings.

“Nothing here,” one of the men called out. “But we seem to be short one boy. When they left the parking area, there were six of them. I’m seeing only five here, including Mr. Smith. I bet the brat has it.”

“So that’s where you hid the medallion,” the leader crowed. “Where’s your son, Mr. Smith; where’s the rug rat?”

Hate and rage filled Smith’s eyes as he croaked, “Fuck you. Touch him and I’ll kill you!”

“You first,” the leader hissed, pulling a .45 automatic. He pressed the barrel to Smith’s head and pulled the trigger without blinking. Smith’s blood and brains sprayed into the leader’s face as the bullet ended Smith’s existence. Letting go, Smith’s body slumped to the ground. “Pile the bodies and burn them. Leave no evidence,” the leader ordered. “Then let’s find the brat…shoot to kill. If we don’t find that medallion, it’s our asses on the barbecue.”

Hannibal watched as the assassins piled the bodies, dowsed them with gasoline, and set them on fire, throwing brush on top of their burning bodies to help incinerate the bodies. Tears flooded down Hannibal’s cheeks as he watched, refusing to turn away. He gagged his sobs with one hand and beat his fist on the ground with the other as the suited assassins left the scene. He wailed in rage and grief as the strange medallion continued to freeze his chest. Hannibal returned to the present as he concluded the tale.

“I was helpless to do anything about it, paralyzed with fear and shock,” Hannibal explained to Sam. “I still wonder why they didn’t find me. They searched the whole area and walked by me several times without seeing me. It wasn’t until they left that my good luck charm stopped feeling like a block of ice. Sometimes, I wonder if that charm had something to do with them not finding me. Anyway, when the shock finally wore off, I followed them but lost them. I swore revenge and that’s where it started.

“I eventually found out that those men who killed my family were police, military, and secret service agents, so I couldn’t get any justice. I was put in a foster home because I was an orphan. Why those men never came for me after the killing of my family still eludes me. But it was there in foster care that I received my first exposure to the occult world. I dabbled, and then immersed myself in the occult, looking for a way…any way to get vengeance for the murder of my family. My skill as a martial artist grew during that time and when I was eighteen, I went into the military. My handlers immediately saw great potential in me, so I was trained specifically as an assassin. During that time, I located and marked those men who had killed my family and when I was good enough, I slaughtered them one by one. I had taken to my training so well that the murders were classified suicides. After taking out those men, that little voice that urged me to keep killing grew to the point that I was unable to resist it and my career as an assassin officially began. Then that fateful day arrive when I realized that vengeance had become my whole life. So don’t tell me I don’t know what it’s like because I do.”

“Gee whiz!” Jonathan said. “That kind of blows the wind out of my sails for doing the General.”

“Me too,” Thomas agreed.

“If there’s anyone here who should do him, it’s me,” Morrison admitted. “And you know; after hearing that, I too find myself at odds with killing him.”

Selina smiled at Hannibal as he glanced at her; knowing his words had made an impact.

“Well, I just can’t forgive so easily,” Sam scowled.

Ned had listened and watched the interaction between Hannibal and Sam closely. “But the point still remains: what’re we going to do with him,” Ned stated. “I tend to be with Sam, but I really don’t want to be the one to do him. He has done so much to us all. He’s got to pay for it in blood, but I’m not sure I’m the one to do it.”

“I can understand your position, Ned,” Hannibal replied. “I’ve had to wrestle with forgiving those who have done extreme wrong to me. I wanted vengeance, but didn’t feel I was the one to do it on occasion. It’s a start. But if you hold to it and let your unforgiveness and hate fester, you will become that which you hate the most: him.” The latter portion of his comment was aimed directly at Sam, who let it bounce off his hate and vengeance. “We will not kill him. It’s my first instinct to take him a couple of miles down the road and tie him to a tree near the road,” Hannibal ordered. “If what you say is true about his most trusted troops, they’ll search until they find him…one way or another. One thing about where I’m going, if he does manage to follow, he’ll have to follow on foot, which will give us the advantage because I know where we’re going and he doesn’t. He may very well get lost trying to find us.”

“But where does that leave us?” Ned asked pointedly. “They’ll search out me, Thomas, Jonathan, and Sam and kill us. I really don’t relish having to be in a constant guerrilla war with Gulez and his crazed minions. I’ve seen what that’s like in dealing with Morrison.”

“Well,” Selina began, speaking to Hannibal. “What do you think? You’ve told them what we’re doing and where we’re going. We very well can’t let them be captured and tortured into giving up our position. It just wouldn’t be right or strategically feasible. I think they should come along, all of them. I think it’s meant to be, just like everything else about this expedition.”

“I tend to agree,” Nathanael added. “I feel they’re a part of this, whether we like it or not. The Lord didn’t bring them here just for us to turn them away, not under these circumstances.”

As Nathanael spoke, Hannibal realized God wanted them to be part of the expedition. “Very well,” Hannibal conceded. “It seems that the Lord has added to our numbers...that is if they’re willing to come with us. But I must warn you. This is going to be a very dangerous expedition. I know you all are much more familiar with the terrain and the people of this area, which is an asset to our cause. The point is, where we’re heading people don’t generally come back from. And who knows what we may encounter once we reach the mountain itself. The hazard level is well into the red with this. If you don’t want to be part of it, I’ll understand.”

“We have nothing left to hold us here, Hannibal,” Thomas stated. “I don’t know about everyone else, but I would be honored to be part of your expedition.”

“I’m in, too,” Jonathan blurted out. “Where Thomas goes, so do I.”

“Sounds like fun,” Ned added. “I’m in. I’ve never been part of an archaeological expedition before. I’ll help in any way I can. Besides, I’m sick of this place. Getting away from here and Gulez will be good for me.”

Hannibal looked at Morrison and Arabella. “I’m with you too,” Morrison stated. “Besides, I’m weary of fighting an endless conflict with that maniac. After a while, making war gets old and wears on you.”

“That it does,” Hannibal agreed. “I know that all too well.”

“I have no reason to hang around here either now that I’m officially the enemy of the state,” Arabella stated. “Besides, somehow I get this feeling down in my gut that I’m supposed to go with you. I’ve had that feeling since the moment I saw you.”

“The Lord certainly does work in mysterious ways,” Harry observed. “It looks like the Lord has more than doubled our manpower.”

Everyone then looked at Sam as he stewed in his hate for Gulez. “You’re going to have to let go of that hate and bitterness, Sam,” Hannibal stated. “It’ll tear you apart. I know it from bitter experience.”

“What’re we going to do with Gulez?” Sam demanded. “Everyone knows that he has to die, but no one seems to have the stomach for it.”

“I think Hannibal’s idea of leaving him tied up beside the road is a good idea,” Morrison said. “I’m frankly tired of the bloodshed. As much as I hate him, I can’t see myself killing him in cold blood, despite what he’s done. It’s just not right.” Everyone rumbled approval of Morrison’s comment.

“He has to die!” Sam bellowed in rage. “Since no one here seems to have the guts to do what needs to be done, I’ll do it!” He jumped up and turned toward the hall.

“No, Sam; don’t do it! You’ll become him if you do!” Hannibal cried out. Sam ignored his plea and pulled his knife, starting toward the hall. Hannibal bolted from his seat and ran after him, tackling Sam to the ground, sending the knife sliding across the floor.

“What’re you doing?” Sam roared as Hannibal endeavored to restrain him.

“I can’t let you do it,” Hannibal said as Sam struggled. “I can’t let you commit cold-blooded murder. It’s one thing to kill in battle, but another to execute someone in cold blood. You’ll have to go through me first. Just let it go!”

Everyone gathered around as Sam kicked Hannibal off him, despite the fact he was quite a bit smaller than Hannibal was. “His ass is mine! Don’t make me kill you because I will!” Sam screamed in fury.

“I can’t let you do it,” Hannibal repeated as they circled.

“Sam! Don’t do it! Don’t stoop to his level! You’re better than that!” Thomas cried out.

Ned, Jonathan, and Morrison began to move forward to restrain Sam when Hannibal ordered, “Hold your ground. He’s out of his mind with rage and doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“Yes, I do!” Sam bellowed. “I’m going to kill that son of a bitch even if I have to go through you to do it!” He lunged at Hannibal with his fists and Hannibal effortlessly slipped around behind him, restraining him with a full nelson.

“Please; control yourself, Sam!” Hannibal pleaded. “I know your pain and hate! Believe me, I know! Don’t give in to it! It’ll make you just like him or worse!”

Sam struggled futilely against Hannibal’s iron grip. Just then, maniacal laughter echoed from the direction of the hall. Everyone turned to see Gulez sitting in the exit with his hands and feet still tied, but not to the chair he was initially tied to. Gulez looked on, laughing hysterically at the fight.

“Look at him! Do you want to become that! Look at him! He mocks us in our division! Do you want to end up like that?” Hannibal pleaded, turning Sam so he could see Gulez laughing them to scorn.

“So there is someone here who has the will to kill in cold blood,” Gulez laughed as he sat there. “It doesn’t matter. My elite troops will come for me and I’ll have you all hanged by your own entrails. But you, maggot…you had potential. Too bad you deserted. I might have been able to use you.”

“Look at him!” Hannibal ordered. “Do you really want to end up like that: infested and consumed by your own demons?” Hannibal’s words smote Sam’s heart and he ceased to struggle. Sam looked at Gulez as his hate melted. Hannibal slowly released Sam and said with pity, “Gulez’s hate and evil have consumed him. He’ll never know love or friendship. He’s all used up. That’s what happens when hate and vengeance becomes your whole life. The darkness consumes you until there’s nothing left but an empty shell!”

Sam suddenly began to weep and Hannibal put an arm around him. “Yes, let it out,” Hannibal said softly. “Grieve for your lost family. Let it out so it doesn’t poison your soul.” Sam turned and cried on Hannibal’s shoulder.

“I guess I was wrong about you, maggot,” Gulez mocked. “You’re just a sissy piece of shit that isn’t worth the bullet to put you out of your misery. I guess I’ll just have to tear your head off instead and piss down your neck.”

“Don’t listen to him, Sam. He lies,” Hannibal said softly as Gulez hurled more taunts and threats at them all. “Nathanael, could you silence that devil please and put him back in his cage?”

“It would be my genuine pleasure,” Nathanael said as he grabbed a roll of duct tape from the supplies and walked toward Gulez. Gulez saw him coming and fear rose in his heart again. He wiggled and tried to get away from Nathanael, but was unable to. “I think we’ve heard enough of your foul mouth,” Nathanael hissed as he ripped off a piece of duct tape and gagged him. To make sure the gag was sufficient Nathanael wrapped the duct tape all the way around Gulez’s head three times front to back, immobilizing his jaw. Nathanael next tightened the ropes roughly, making Gulez groan. He then grabbed the General by the belt and dragged him with one hand back into room six where he wrapped Gulez’s ankles and arms with the rest of the roll of duct tape. Nathanael tossed away the empty duct tape roll and loosed the inch and a half long claws on his right hand as Gulez watched. Gulez paled as Nathanael pressed those claws against his neck just beneath his jaw just hard enough so he could feel them. With an icy malevolent expression, Nathanael got within two inches of Gulez’s face so he could smell and feel his breath as his eyes bored holes into Gulez’s soul. “You’d better behave yourself, you stupid dog-faced human scum,” Nathanael hissed icily, “or you may find yourself in a worse situation than you’re already in. If you continue to screw with us, I’ll gut and eat you myself. I’m a Lynxian and have no problem eating humans who cause trouble for my family or friends. Think about it, you worthless piece of shit!” Nathanael pulled his claws back and struck him with a stinging open palm strike on the side of the face with his right hand. The strike left Gulez’s cheek bright red and drew tears. “Mark my words, General,” Nathanael warned. “Behave yourself and you may live to see tomorrow.” He walked out and locked the door before going back out to the group. They were once more sitting around the fire. Sam’s friends surrounded and comforted him.

“Is he secure?” Hannibal asked as Nathanael walked up.

“Yes. The snake’s gagged and locked in now. I used the whole roll of tape on his sorry ass. He’s going nowhere now,” Nathanael informed as he sat down. “I also let him feel my claws on his neck and told him if he misbehaved any more that I would personally eat him alive.”

“Dad!” Selina scolded. “You didn’t really say that, did you?”

“I sure did, princess,” Nathanael replied with a savage smile on his face. “He really pissed me off, but I wouldn’t actually eat him. He’s much too tough and stringy to eat and would probably make me sick.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Harry asked, astounded at Nathanael’s apparently malevolent, sadistic actions.

“Of course I’m kidding,” Nathanael stated with a chuckle. “I’d never eat a human, even that sorry excuse for a man. It’s just not proper.”

“But he doesn’t know that,” Hannibal said with a wry smile. “It’ll give him a bit to think about before he opens his big mouth again.” Hannibal leaned back in his chair and sighed deeply. “God, I hate dealing with spirits like that,” he said softly. “They can be such a pain in the ass.”

“Which spirit would that be?” Harry asked.

“Both of them,” Hannibal stated glumly. “But the spirit of anger and revenge that had Sam was really bad to deal with because I fight with it constantly within me as well.”

“Regardless, you did well,” Selina congratulated. “I don’t know how you managed to reach Sam, but you did. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“You know,” Hannibal said as he remembered the incident. “I don’t know how I did it either.”

“The Lord moved,” Harry suggested.

“Looks like it,” Hannibal agreed. “So, are you coming with us Sam? You’d just as well being everyone else is coming along.”

Sam looked up as he wiped his eyes. With great respect, he said, “Yes. You kept me from making a terrible mistake. I’m with you as long as it takes me away from that sadistic pig.”

“Very good,” Hannibal said with satisfaction. “How many does that make, Nathanael?”

“Ten, Hannibal,” Nathanael said. “That makes ten members of our little band.” The sun had set and darkness gathered on the airfield and in the hangar.

“I don’t mean to pry,” Jonathan began, speaking to Hannibal. “But how did you get here anyway? The airfield is a wreck and we didn’t see any signs of aircraft touching down out there.”

“How I got here isn’t important,” Hannibal answered, quickly glancing at his original team. When he looked at Thomas, seeing the pain he was suffering from the broken leg, Hannibal debated silently whether to take him to the Temple to fix it. Sweat beaded on Thomas’ brow as he gently pressed on the splinted leg to relieve the pain. “What’s important is Thomas’ broken leg. How’s the leg feeling, Thomas?” Hannibal asked.

“It hurts like hell, and these burns aren’t making it any better,” Thomas replied, his pain evident. “I could really use some industrial strength painkillers.”

“Don’t we have some of those, Nathanael?” Hannibal asked.

“As a matter of fact, we do. Let me get some,” Nathanael said, rising and heading for the supply boxes.

“Now that we’re all going the same direction, let’s have some formal introductions,” Hannibal said. “It’ll make things run smoother if we know a little more about each other.”

“I agree,” Nathanael said as he returned with a couple of high-powered painkillers and a cup of cold water. He handed it to Thomas, who immediately thanked him and took it. “It’ll take those pills a few minutes to work,” Nathanael added.

“Why don’t we start with you, Thomas?” Hannibal suggested after Thomas took the pain medication.

“All right,” Thomas said. “My name is Thomas Calahan. This is my brother, Jonathan Calahan,” he said, gesturing to Jonathan. “I’m one of the best trackers around and been a soldier in Gulez’s army for eight very long years. I’ve acquired various skills because of it; skills I’d soon have not learned. I never wanted to be a soldier, but was forced to as you have found out.”

“I’m Ned Slaughter,” Ned said. “While in the army, I was what you would consider Special Forces. I was pressed into service ten years ago when Gulez drafted every able-bodied man in the extended area. At first, I refused to go, but when he took my family hostage, I had no choice. Now in retrospect, I should have figured he was going to kill my family anyway. But as you know, hind sight is twenty-twenty.” Hannibal nodded in agreement.

“I’m Samuel Harrison,” Sam announced. “I grew up just down the road from here and was drafted six years ago because I knew all the native languages in this area. The General needed someone to act as a translator for the natives. In fact, the only tribe he’s consistently not harassed and exterminated is the Zinzera.”

“Why didn’t he go after them?” Harry asked.

“Well, for one, they’re a cannibal tribe who inhabit the wilds west of here,” Sam explained. “They’re highly aggressive and territorial, protecting their land with a hand that rivals Gulez’s brutality. Anyone who has ventured into Zinzera territory inevitable comes out as someone’s bowel movement. Gulez has lost many troops in that area. He’s repeatedly sent squads in there and usually, none return.”

Hannibal’s eyebrow rose when he heard that. “You can speak the language of those natives?” he asked.

“Yes,” Sam replied. “But not too well. The only one who I know of who could speak it fluently was a man named Cracko. But I haven’t seen him for several months. I can only assume that he’s dead.”

“Cracko,” Hannibal stated. “What else do you know about him?”

“He’s like us,” Thomas said. “Gulez drafted him and held his family hostage like us. It was rumored that Gulez had his family roasted alive on a grill three months ago and since then, Cracko has been nowhere to be found. Gulez has had his Special Forces units scouring the bush for him but they haven’t found him.”

“Let’s not forget that he’s a damned Ninja,” Jonathan added. “Cracko knows how to be invisible when he wants.”

“Hmmm,” Hannibal murmured. “We might be able to use that skill if we ever encounter him. All right…Who’s next?”

“I guess that would be me,” Morrison said. He proceeded to tell who he was and a little about himself, and then Arabella did the same. “Okay, now it’s your turn, Hannibal,” Morrison said after Arabella finished.

“So it is.” Hannibal answered. “Well, anyway, my name is Hannibal Smith. As you have already heard, I used to be an assassin and a wizard. Now, I’m a Christian and an archaeologist. I’ve been a Christian for almost twenty-seven years and an archaeologist for almost thirty years. I’ve been around the world more times than I can count. I have a doctorate in archaeology with Master’s Degrees in chemistry, electronic engineering, and astrophysics. I also have a 9th Degree Black Belt in several of the oriental martial arts.”

“Whoa,” Sam breathed, “You’re a Kung Fu master?”

Hannibal chuckled. “Yeah, you could say that,” he answered. “I’ve studied extensively of Shaolin White Crane and Northern Long Fist Kung Fu along with Okinawan Ryukyu Kempo, Tai Chi, and several other systems. I even developed my own martial arts system, which only a handful of people have ever seen.”

“Would you teach us your system?” Jonathan asked politely.

“I don’t know,” Hannibal replied. “We’re not in a good position to do that right now.”

“I agree,” Nathanael stated. “Learning a new martial system takes time…time we don’t have right now. Besides, Hannibal hasn’t taught his system to anyone beyond me and Selina and even now, we’re just getting started.”

“I understand,” Jonathan stated. “I’m just looking to learn more about the martial arts so I can protect myself better from louts like the General.”

“That’s a good reason to learn,” Hannibal admitted. “And seeing the General, I can understand your desire. Maybe when we’re not under constant threat by the General I’ll consider it.”

“Thank you,” Jonathan replied. “That’s all I can ask.”

“You’re welcome,” Hannibal replied. “The martial arts I’ve learned have been both a blessing and a curse. It allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the human body…in both ways to destroy it and preserve it. I tend to use the good aspects of my martial arts training to strengthen myself and try to keep the killing aspects of it on a very tight leash. In a way, the martial arts have helped me to become the person I am now. Even when I was steeped in my revenge, I was always an explorer at heart. It was something my dad instilled into me at a very young age…the desire to explore and find the truth. Not to sound corny or anything, but I like to see myself as one of the last great explorers of this time. I’ve seen things in my travels most of you can’t even dream of. And finally, I must say a strange fate brought these two into my life and an even stranger fate made this one my wife,” he stated, referring to Nathanael and Selina as Hannibal grasped her hand.

“You and her are married?” Ned asked in amazement. “How did that happen?” Thomas, Jonathan, and Sam chimed in too, wanting to know how that came about.

“It doesn’t matter right now,” Hannibal said. “Maybe when I’m sure I can trust you fully, I’ll tell you then.”

“But you can trust us,” Thomas protested. “We won’t turn on you. You showed us we’re not alone in the universe with these two cats.”

“I’m sure you won’t,” Hannibal replied. “Let’s just leave that story for another time. It’s a rather long one and when I tell it, I would like to be able to tell all of it and not just piecemeal it. For now, just trust me. She, by some strange twist of fate, is my wife.” Hannibal turned to Harry, who continued the introductions, detailing who he was and how he became entangled in Hannibal’s world. The circle closed with Nathanael and Selina.

“I’m Nathanael Milineus,” Nathanael announced. “And this is my daughter Selina, whom you just found out, is married to Hannibal. We’re Lynxians from a planet on the other side of the galaxy called Kaitia, which lies approximately eighty-five thousand light years from this planet. I was brother to the king and his high advisor, which makes Selina a real princess and heir to the throne. She and I were among the top researchers on our planet.”

Nathanael’s words stunned the newcomers to Hannibal’s team. “Eighty-five thousand light years,” Arabella said slowly, trying futilely to comprehend the distance. “I can’t even image such a distance”

“Whoa,” Thomas said softly. “Me neither.”

“Wow!” Sam exclaimed. “Real alien royalty…did you have space ships and phaser guns?”

Nathanael chuckled as Selina fielded the question. “Yes, we did,” she said. “We had ships with faster-than-light capabilities armed with what you would consider advanced weaponry.”

“How large was your territory?” Ned asked.

“Our people had an immediate reach of twelve hundred light years with an extended reach of nearly a two thousand in every direction of Kaitia,” Nathanael said.

“Man. That boggles the imagination,” Morrison said.

“It does indeed,” Thomas agreed. “How then did you get here?”

“That’s a story for another time,” Nathanael said, looking at Hannibal out of the corner of his eye. “How we got here and how Selina became Hannibal’s wife are two stories that are inexplicably linked. One can’t be told without telling the other. Maybe later we can discuss it.”

“I sure do look forward to hearing about that,” Jonathan said.

“Never fear,” Hannibal replied. “We’ll eventually tell you all about it. But I think you can understand my predicament. I just met you and a bond of trust must be formed first.”

“Does it have anything to do with how you came to Argentina without any apparent aircraft?” Thomas asked.

“You’re smarter than you look, Thomas,” Hannibal commended. “It does, but as I said earlier, I’d rather not share it right now because of that trust issue. We’ve only just met. I have to be sure of your intentions before sharing such sensitive information.”

Ned rubbed his chin, considering what Hannibal had said. “Yeah, I think I do,” Ned replied. “You have some majorly classified information that may jeopardize the safety of others if it’s shared with someone untrustworthy. Lives are on the line. I’d do the same thing in your position.”

“You have a good sense about how to deal with sensitive information, Ned,” Hannibal congratulated. “Indeed, I do. There are people associated with me who’re depending on me to keep their whereabouts secret. Let’s face it. I’m not exactly popular with the masters of the universe. In time, when you’ve proven yourselves to me, I’ll tell you all about it.”

“Fair enough,” Sam said. “Now that all the introductions are done, would you mind telling us exactly where we’re heading? What you’ve told us so far is that the lost city is somewhere around the mountain. How’re we going to reach it?”

Hannibal looked at his watch and saw it read 10:30 pm. “Not right now, Sam,” Hannibal answered. “I’ll tell you in the morning. We have a big day tomorrow. Is there any chance of the General’s guards attacking tonight?”

“I doubt it,” Thomas said sleepily. The pain medication was taking effect, making him sleepy. “Your guns mowed down a good portion of them this morning,” he reported. “The rest were scattered around the province and not there in the attack. It’ll take them some time to congregate and decide on a course of action.”

“How many elite troops does he have?” Hannibal asked.

“Oh, about a hundred I think,” Morrison said. “Is that about right, Thomas?”

“Yeah. It’s roughly a hundred men. Thirty of his elite troops were with us when we came this way. I don’t know how many of the elites survived,” Thomas replied.

“I don’t think we have to worry about those particular troops who were with us when we came up here,” Ned informed. “They would’ve been right around the General and were most likely mowed down by your guns.”

“I’m not so confident in that,” Jonathan said. “I know when Gulez found himself in trouble, I’m sure he’ll have sent at least a couple of those elites to bring reinforcements. How long it’ll take them to do that is anyone’s guess because a great deal of those squads are still scattered around the province taking care of dissidents in addition to searching for Morrison and anyone who would even think of assisting him.”

“All right then,” Hannibal replied. “In that case, I think we probably ought to post a watch tonight. Harry, Nathanael, John: can you take the watch tonight?” They agreed and Hannibal turned to his new arrivals, stating, “They’ll watch tonight. I didn’t plan on having more than four people so we didn’t bring that many supplies. I do think we’ve got some extra blankets we can let you use though.”

“That’ll be fine,” Ned said and the rest of the new comers agreed. Selina rummaged through the supplies and found four blankets, passing them out.

“Good night, fellas,” Selina said as she handed out the blankets. “See you in the morning.” They thanked her as each received a blanket and they made themselves comfortable around the fire. Harry took his place at the first watch as Selina and Hannibal retired to their tent. Arabella brought out a pillow and an extra blanket for Thomas. She helped him to get comfortable and then retired to Harry’s tent.

Nathanael stood beside Harry for a moment and whispered, “Keep your eyes open, Harry. Something doesn’t feel right.”

Harry acknowledged Nathanael’s warning with a nod, saying, “All right.” Nathanael then retired to his tent. Thomas fell asleep almost immediately and Sam, Ned, and Jonathan talked quietly for a nearly an hour about the strangeness of Hannibal and his companions before falling asleep themselves.

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