The Hammer of Hu'Mod Part 10
by "Splatter" Joe Solmo
Grian lead the army slowly across the sandy terrain towards the destination of his holy quest. He told himself he was moving so slowly due to his short dwarf legs compared to the humans that accompanied him. Deep down inside he knew the truth though. It was his reluctance to lead so many people to what could be their deaths for his cause. He had no problem with himself dying while doing Hu’Mod’s bidding, but these others weren’t even dwarves. Why would they lay their life down for a god that wasn’t their own? His only sense of urgency came from knowing that Birell and Sreg were in trouble.
Wind Dancer hadn’t been able to make his way back to the castle for surveillance since the initial visit. Skrat had told the shaman that he could make him invisible, but the wise man said it was too risky. Skrat voiced the opinion he thought the old man was just scared of the magic the youth was capable of.
They marched through the night, with only the stars above to guide them towards the castle. An army makes a lot of noise, but they were hoping that without the added torch light they would remain a secret just a little bit longer.
The remaining brothers mostly kept to themselves as they traveled with Grian for yet another reason, this one more understandable. Moose was focused on the rescue of Sreg, Zeeg had to constantly slow the large strides of the mountain of a man. Skrat was annoyed at first that he couldn’t read on the way there, even giving the ancient ink on the dry, brittle pages a soft glow until Zeeg told him to shut it.
It wasn’t long before they saw evidence of passing horsemen and new patrols were now a possibility. Everyone was on alert with arrows notched to kill any patrol as quickly and quietly as they could. It helped to have Grian in the lead, his dwarven eyes more used to low light settings, being the natural miners his race was.
The darkness of the mountains loomed high above them as they got closer. They could see the fires of the castle ahead of them lighting up the desert night. Not much further and their numbers would be seen by the enemy.
“I could create a fog,” Skrat suggested, but when the Desert Folk looked at him with bewilderment he realized this area was too dry to have natural fog.
“I understand your need to help lad,” Grian said putting a sympathetic hand on the youth’s shoulder. “I want them back safe too.”
Skrat looked up at the dwarf. “I hate feeling useless,” he confessed.
“You’re not useless lad. I am hoping you will come up with a great plan. Your magic is going to come in handy pretty soon. It could save lives,” Grian explained.
“What if I turned as much of the army invisible as I could,” Skrat said. “Let a small group draw them away from the gates, while the invisible ones head right in. There would be no long siege, we could have the courtyard taken without spilling a drop of blood,” the young mage said.
“How many people will that spell work on at once?” Grian asked with an ounce of hope in his voice.
“I don’t know. I never really tried to make it affect and area before, just individual targets. Let me do some calculations,” Skrat said and turned without waiting for a response. The youth was lost in the ranks of the army seconds later.
Grian liked the plan, but was skeptical of it working. After all Birell and Sreg were invisible but somehow they got caught. On the other hand if there was any chance of saving lives on either side, Grian wanted to go for it.
The dwarf looked to the sky and the strange constellations in this part of the world. It looked almost alien in comparison to his homeland. From here only half of the great dragon could be seen, its head dipped below the horizon. This time of year it was fully in the sky above back home. He really had gone a long way, he thought. He looked back from the direction they had come, back to the forest where he had met Birell. Was that a hint of light on the horizon? He hoped the mage could calculate fast.
Expecting Skrat, Grian was surprised when Stone Spear and Zeeg approached from the rows of warriors. “Healer, the small one came up with a plan,” Stone Spear spoke. Zeeg gave him a sideways glance.
“Skrat thinks he could turn at least half the army invisible. Three-quarters of the army with a forty percent probability,” he explained.
“That’s promising. Let’s do it. That would definitely make us look a lot smaller,” Grian said. With his approval Zeeg left to find Skrat to tell him to get started. Stone Spear turned towards the dwarf.
“You ally yourself with powerful warriors, not just of the body and spirit, but of the mind. You are truly a leader,” he said with a nod to Grian.
“Thanks I guess. It was mostly dumb luck,” he replied.
“You think too little of yourself. Luck would not have won you the respect of the Desert Folk so soon. There is greatness in you,” the stoic warrior uncharacteristically said.
“The only greatness in me comes from Hu’Mod,” the dwarf said and bowed to the warrior. “Let’s get this plan going before it gets light out.” Stone Spear nodded to Grian and they halted the army as they went to find the young mage somewhere in the sea of warriors behind them.
They found the mage in the center of a circle of army officers. He was explaining to them what he was going to do, to chase away their fears of magic. Grian could tell as he approached that Skrat was losing his patience.
“Look, it won’t hurt you. People just won’t be able to see you,” Skrat said annoyed.
“But where will my body go?” asked one of the officers.
“It’s still there, you just can’t see it!” Skrat yelled, losing his patience.
“How can I not, will we be surrounded in darkness?”
The mage ran his fingers through his hair and blew out a deep breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. He saw Grian and his face lit up. “Oh glorious leader, can you try to explain to these…people what an invisibility spell does?”
“I’ll give it a shot. Are you sure this will work, Skrat,” the dwarf asked.
“Well there is a seventy percent chance it might wear off before they reach the gate, since it’s such a large number of people. I really don’t think that would happen, and besides thirty percent is still a decent sized number,” Skrat explained defensively.
Grian looked at Skrat sideways for a moment trying to see if the young mage meant that as a joke, but if so he hid it well. The dwarf turned his attention to the Desert Folk who were apparently confused about the spell.
“Brother may I speak with you?” Zeeg said putting his hand on Skrat’s arm. He pulled his younger brother to the side. “I just want to make sure you know what you’re doing. This isn’t just us now. We have to be more careful with these other people’s lives. If you say for sure this will work I will not doubt you again,” Zeeg said.
“I am getting tired of people questioning my ability, brother. Have I ever let you down before? I have been growing stronger and stronger. You have no reason to doubt me,” the young mage said with a little venom in his tone.
“You don’t need to be defensive with me. I trust you with my life. I have since we woke up not knowing who we were. We are all we have, you, me, Moose, and Sreg, and I want to make sure we get Sreg back. That is all. I meant no offense,” Zeeg said placating him.
“I apologize if I am on edge. These savage natives put me on edge,” Skrat whispered.
“I would keep that opinion to myself,” Zeeg said and patted him on the back. Skrat nodded at his oldest brother.
“You’re right, of course,” the mage said and smiled. Zeeg walked away towards the group of warriors listening to the dwarf. Skrat’s smile dropped the second his brother turned his back.
The army moved relatively quietly through the early morning light. So far Skrat’s spell was holding. Just shy of twenty five hundred warriors steeled across the desert sand completely invisible. The remaining army moved from cover to cover waiting for the signal to attack from the gates.
Grian insisted on being in the invisible army, even though Wind Dancer wanted him to lead from the rear. The dwarf wasn’t going to let people die for him while he cowered in the back, he would fight by their side, it was the least he could do.
The sun rising should help them, blinding the guards looking out from the castle. Hopefully it was enough to hide any traces of them moving. He wondered where in the castle Sreg and Birell were now. Wind Dancer hadn’t had an opportunity to scout ahead again, and with the rising sun and Skrat’s talents already stretched, Wind Dancer had to stay with the reserve force.
The castle walls loomed over the dwarf and the difficulty of the rescue mission sank into his bones. The entire invisible force was just to the left of the gate, about a hundred yards out. They watched as patrols galloped out of the big gate, on a regular basis. After the third set left the gate Grian whispered the signal to the commanders behind him.
As quietly as they could, which was pretty quiet for the Desert Folk in their hide armor, they made their way to the gate. Grian had two of the warriors take out the guards on the way in. Thanks to Wind Dancers reconnaissance earlier he knew where the gate mechanism was and had another squad of warriors dispatched to gain control of it, in case the spell wore off and they needed to run.
Grian’s force was in the courtyard before they knew it, without a single drop of blood being shed. He hoped the rest of the operation went this smoothly. Zeeg and Moose split off to search for a jail or dungeon area once they were inside.
Grian climbed towards the ramparts holding the box Skrat had given him with explicit instructions on what to do with it once he reached the top of the walls. He had to flatten himself against the wall to allow a guard to pass on the stone stairs.
The dwarf reached the top of the wall and headed towards the small tower over the gate. Once there he pulled the small box and took the lid off. The box looked empty to him, but Skrat assured him it would work. He raised the small wooden box above his head. “Fa Shalee Vas,” he said, just like Skrat had taught him. Instantly a red light shot from the box into the air. It must have risen five hundred feet up before it exploded and rained down into the castle. As the remnants of the explosion reached the ground it broke the invisibility spell of Skrat’s and soon the din of battle rang out in the keep. Grian looked out into the desert with his hand over his eyes. He saw the rest of the army, his army, charging towards the gate. HE turned and headed down the stairs two at a time.
The thought of a bloodless taking of the castle was just a dream, Grian realized as he saw already the body count rising. He himself had to knock a guard off the wall to get back to the soldiers. With the invisibility spell broke Skrat should be able to help with magic, that should lessen the lives lost, he hoped.
The fighting had already broke into the inner keep, its large stone doors laying in the dirt of the courtyard. Grian dodged the battle as he headed for those doors. The Keystone was close, he could feel it’s presence nearby!
Wind Dancer leapt over the wall, carrying a large stone in his hand. He dropped it down on a squad of Castle Soldiers racing around the side of the inner keep to help in the attack. The stone knocked the heavily armored men to the ground. Two of them lay still, while another yelled out in pain. “Three out of four isn’t bad,” he said as he landed on the roof of the stable. He leapt again for an open window on the central tower.
Birell heard it first, then Sreg. There was a commotion coming from above. Was it a rescue attempt? The both of them sat in a cell one floor down from ground level. The Captain said the dungeons had multiple levels, but so far that was all they had seen. The guards that threw them in here said the Captain would come for them soon.
They took all their weapons away. She could see them from here, in a cubby next to the table where a guard sat ng at the torch burning on the wall opposite their cell. “Once again, I got to say your plan worked wonderfully,” Birell said.
“Well they think we are just some lovers, and not spies, so that part worked,” Sreg whispered as he tried again to pick the lock on the cell door. He had found some small bones in the corner of the room and convinced himself they must have come from a meal and not a prisoner. He had picked better locks than this one before.
Birell stood over him, partially blocking his actions from the view of the guard, but also acting as lookout for him. “That spell wore off at the most inopportune time,” the elf said.
“He did warn us of it,” the ranger said.
“Quiet over there!” the guard called over his shoulder as he placed some worn cards down on the table. He reached for the stoneware jug of ale that kept him company on these boring nights.
Sreg backed away from the lock until he saw the guard start up another game of whatever he was playing. Birell took that time to walk over to the small window the cell had. It was too high on the wall for her to see out of, but she could hear the commotion outside better. There was definitely fighting going on there. “Psst,” she said to Sreg.
He came over near her, listening. “That’s got to be my brothers,” Sreg said. “They get into so much trouble without me.”
Birell rolled her eyes. “If we can get out of this cell we can help them, and Grian,” she said. Sreg nodded and looked through the small pile of bones for the twentieth time to find a bone that would work better.
They took up their positions again at the cell door. Sreg began digging into the keyhole immediately. A particularly loud clink in the lock made them wince, but it seemed the guard had emptied too much of the jug to notice.
A moment later the guard pushed back his wooden stool and stood. He stretched, reaching over his head, almost touching the eight foot stone ceiling. He turned towards them, but they had already moved away from the cell door. “The captain will get to the bottom of you. Anytime now,” the guard slurred and staggered past their cell towards the back of the five celled chamber. He opened one of the empty cells and pulled a chamber pot out of it, carrying it back to his table.
The guard set the pot down on the floor next to his table. “Good enough for the cells, good enough for the Cellmaster,” he said to no one in particular, and began to unlace his leather pants. Birell looked away, disgusted. So far both she and Sreg had avoided that indecency due to a lack of privacy.
Sreg once again started to tinker with the lock. “Wait, till he is seated,” Birell whispered.
“Relax, he is too drunk to notice,” Sreg said. Birell’s eyes darted back and forth between the two of them as Sreg worked. “Almost,” Sreg whispered. She looked down at the ranger. He had his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth while he worked. Birell smiled, thinking it was cute.
She looked back at the guard and saw a flash of something in the dark archway leading out of the chamber. A rope with a small hook shot out of the darkness and wrapped around the leg of the guards chair. Suddenly the chair yanked out from under the guard and he fell face first into the chamber pot.
Birell smiled when she heard the guard curse as he tried to get to his feet. A second later he was dangling by his ankle inches above the ground. Moose held the poor bastard. “Keep him quiet,” Zeeg said patting down the guard for the key to the cell.
“Got it!” Sreg called out and swung the door open with a smile. He looked up and saw his brothers in the doorway and the smile faded. “This doesn’t count as a rescue, I picked the lock,” he said. Birell shook her head and went for her possessions.
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