Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Hagglesmith Rescue - Part V

Escape from the Cellar

The air in the room was filled with nearly electric tension as the wind swirled leaves around the room, and billowed the cobwebs in the corners. A hazy blue light seemed to be coming from somewhere but no one could detect its source. Hermel, Johan, and Jeremy stood pensively in the Five Crows Tavern wine cellar watching the secret door that had just closed on a scene of bizarre and spine tingling terror. Though they had overcome the guards in the room, severely wounding two, and tying up the leader, Charlie, and had successfully freed the Hagglemsiths, they all knew they were still in grave danger.  Perhaps the gravest they'd ever faced, or ever would face.

On the far side of the room just beyond the now closed secret door Hermel had seen a dark seething miasma in the corridor, at the center of which he thought he could make out what looked to be a knight in black platemale walking slowly towards the room in cold and absolute silence. When Johan, having obtained the secret of how to close the secret door from Charlie, who was tied up in a chair, yet smirking to himself, he threw the switch at the base of the wall lamp. The secret door closed as expected, but another secret door opened, through which the party saw torchlight reflecting off the walls and heard numerous footsteps approaching.

Knowing that the horrible spectral Knight was approaching on the other side of that thin secret door, everyone wanted to flee the basement and take their chances elsewhere, and so Johan threw the bolt on the oaken door open hoping they could all escape to the tavern upstairs. Two of the Hagglemsiths hoisted their unconscious brother Rory up and supported him as they made their way to the door.

Johan, looking down at Charlie, sensed the captured and unscrupulous villain was on the verge of yelling out a warning to the men coming by way newly revealed corridor. Without waiting to see what effect that might have he unleashed the power he had been holding in his hands and visited upon the miserable wretch an Invocation of the Elkron of the Sun, known by some in the Temple as ‘The Hammer of Elrdick’.  The man crumpled instantly, nearly imploding, a look of unbelieving terror covering his face. It seemed as though he had been hit by some colossal invisible force, and that all of the many sins of his life had arrived in a single blow to crush his conscience and utterly devastate him. The priests of Eldrik say that those who are so struck down in fact have only themselves to blame, for a sinless man would have nothing to fear from the Elkron of the Sun. Charlie, now destroyed, slumped in his chair, his head lolling to one side, the breath of life snuffed out of him. Had he yelled, thought Johan, Charlie could have easily eliminated their chance to escape. Johan had a wry smile on his face as the moral complexities and convolutions of the priesthood once again came home to him. Hermel signaled for him to open the secret door, thinking to let the spectral knight in the room which he hoped would create enough mayhem to give the approaching party pause, and allow them a chance to escape.

Hermel, was still  in the far corner of the room near the closed secret door where he had seen the miasma, though at the moment he was looking toward the newly opened secret door on the adjacent wall. He saw a troop of men approaching with torches and thought to himself that these must be the people who Charlie had mentioned were coming to exchange a package of some sort for the captured Hagglesmiths.  He wondered what kind of package could be as valuable as four children.  The approaching men were wearing studded leather armor and carrying swords at their sides. Behind them he glimpsed a cloaked figure, but could not make out any details. Before they saw him, he ducked behind a crate, and made his way stealthily out of their line of sight.

At that moment Johan re-opened the secret door by turning the switch on the wall lamp again. The panel in the wall slid open, and instantly the far corner of the room was filled with a dark misty shadow. The wind in the room was whirling crazy circles and spirals kicking up dust devils as papers and leaves fluttered wildly through the air. Into the room silently stepped the knight in platemale so black that no light reflected off of it at all... It almost seemed to be an empty space in the shape of platemale, rather than a man wearing armor. Allen, the unlucky villain who had been critically wounded earlier, began desperately trying to crawl away, dragging himself along the floor gasping for air and moaning in terror. His comrade, Bren, was laying against a crate, half dead, staring into the shadowy miasma and began muttering under his breath to himself, his eyes lolling around in his head. The knight reached downward with a his hand sheathed in the darkest black.

Enter the Villains - Retreat!

There was a moment when the men bearing torches entered the cellar through their secret door, but glancing around and seeing the guards dead or dying, prisoners escaping, the wild wind blowing from nowhere, the ethereal blue haze, the dark miasma within which stood the dark shadow of the black knight, and the look of sheer otherworldly horror on the face of Allen... they retreated backwards with their hands in the air and sealed the secret door shut behind them. They never even took more than a moments notice of Hermel or the others in the room so eager were they to get away. As suddenly as they came, they were gone again. No doubt their vile plans were thwarted that day.

Johan began ushering Jeremy and the Hagglesmiths through the door out onto a small hallway landing. There they found a wooden desk, a wall mirror, and a wash basin. The floor boards creeked when they stepped out onto them but that did not make a single one among them hesitate for a moment.  Looking to their left they found a flight of wooden stairs and immediately began carrying Rory up to the next floor landing. Meanwhile Hermel, not wanting even to know what might become of Allan or his friend, took a mad dash for the door where Johan was rapidly disappearing through. He could hear the gasping weezing sounds of Allen as he struggled to escape his doom. Then there was a gurgling noise, a horrific hiss and groan, and then silence. Hermel did not look back but darted through the door and closed it quickly behind him.  His skin was crawling from head to toe. He bolted up the stairs.

At the Top of the Stairs

They stopped at the top landing and Johan opened the door just a crack in order to see what was ahead of them. Jeremy clung behind him and they both peered into the Five Crows Tavern. At several tables were  groups of men drinking ales, and talking quietly. At one table sat the same thin man with the brown moustache, and his enormous dull-eyed friend they'd encountered during their first investigation sitting beside him brooding over a flagon of ale. Behind the bar was the burly barkeep who had chased Lido and Hermel out the first time. There were other men sitting at tables whom they had no reason to recognize as none of them had seen them before. All of the men in the tavern were glancing around, and drinking or eating quietly. Only a word or two was spoken here and there. They seemed to have the air of men who were waiting for something to happen.  Johan noted that there was no one between them and the door leading outside to the street, and he thought that there was a chance that they could make it to the exit.  But looking at the Hagglesmiths carrying Rory, who they had not been able to awaken, he had second thoughts about that. They could not move fast enough to make a dash for it, and even if they did, there would be nothing to prevent their adversaries in the bar from catching up with them outside. It looked just too risky.

“We’re trapped,” he thought to himself.

The Barroom Brawl

Suddenly the thin man with the moustache noticed that the door to the cellar was cracked open and two pairs of eyes were peering through.

“What the hell?” he said as he stood up pointing to the door through which Johan and Jeremy were peering. Next to him the large dull-eyed man also stood up suddenly. At that moment all hell broke loose in the bar. Everyone stood up, knocking chairs over and someone dropped a mug of beer which shattered on the ground.

Johan stepped back away from the door, and prepared himself for another invocation of the power of the Elkron. Jeremy crouched down and got ready to run. Hermel withdrew his sword and got himself ready, and motioned for the Hagglesmiths to be prepared to run on his mark.

Johan threw the door open, stepped into the room and walked to a spot that put himself between the men in the room and the path to the exit. Hermel darted into the room behind him and positioned himself next Johan, forming a battle line that protected the path from the stairs to the outside door.

“Run for it,” shouted Hermel to the Hagglesmiths behind him. Jeremy made a dash for the door and leaped outside. They could hear him as he ran down the street shouting for the police at the top of his lungs.

Johan unleashed his miraculous Invocation on the brawny dull-eyed guy. There was a brief pause, when the Hammer of Eldrik landed and then the man slowly fell to his knees with a thud that made the room shudder. On his face was a dreadful expression of grief. He began sobbing hysterically and covered his tear-streaked face with his hands.

“Stand back,” announced Johan, “This is official Guild Business!”

Hermel at the same time leaped forward and attacked the man with the moustache. Regrettably, his attack did not land as the man whirled to the side, and so the sword only clipped a quarter of the man’s moustache, the hairs of which fell to the table. He looked down, felt his moustache with his left hand, and his eyes began to bulge with outrage and anger.

Then the other men in the room charged forward. Two of them attacked Johan, one man stabbing him in the arm with a dagger, and another man piercing his leg with his sword. Down went Johan to the ground with a groan.  The men who did this now were in position to block the line of escape. The Hagglesmiths, seeing this, considered briefly the prospect of backing up and making their way back downstairs. That however seemed much the worse option, and so they heaved Rory more firmly onto their shoulders and tried to make a dash for the door as quickly as possible.  They rushed toward the men anyway, hoping to be able to barge past them somehow.

As this happened, the man with the moustache, boiling over with rage, withdrew a long bladed dagger from its old leather sheath and lunged at Hermel. But as his dagger was plunging toward Hermel’s heart a fly buzzed across the man's face and stung him in the eye. This caused him to twist and catch his foot on a chair leg, and so he went sailing past Hermel and bashed into the man who had hit Johan with his sword, knocking both of them onto the floor. Hermel heard, at that moment, a tiny gleeful laughter in his ear as the fly buzzed past his head.  He looked around and spotted a gas lamp on one of the walls, and thought that if he could get to it, and break it, he might be able to start a fire, and cause enough mayhem to give the kids a chance to escape. Hermel heaved a table on top of the man with the moustache effectively pinning the angry fellow to the ground and tried his best to surge past him to get at the lamp.

Outside a police whistle could be heard in the distance. As the Hagglemsiths were trying to barge past, one of the men grabbed Janet Hagglesmith as she tried to ram her way past into the street.

Johan was on the floor groaning in agony, and bleeding into the floorboards.

Unable to leap over him, Hermel took a stab at the man with the moustache under the table in front of him and stabbed him hard in the shoulder. He shrieked in pain, “Aiiiii you got me while I’m down!”

At the door Janet Hagglesmith was struggling with the man who held her sturdily by the wrist. She cocked back her hips, and hurled a heavily booted foot directly into the man’s groin sending him flying backwards smashing into the other man behind him, bowling them both over. She cocked her head, smiled, and brushed her fingernails on her old torn shirt.

“Serves you right, grabbing at a defenseless girl like that!” she said as she turned and followed her siblings out the door into the street. Again a police whistle was heard, this time much closer.

Meanwhile in the bar the fight continued ferociously. Hermel was trying his best to get at the lamp on the wall in the hopes that could start a fire. He wound up surrounded by adversaries including the burly bartender who had charged out from behind the bar carrying a heavy club in his right hand. Hermel hunkered down into a defensive posture and yelled, “Back off or I’m going to hit this lamp and burn your place down for real.”

The bartender did not hold back, but heaved forward and tried to smash Hermel in the head, but the blow bounced off his shield. The barkeep bum rushed Hermel and bashed him into the wall, which inadvertently caused him to hit the lamp with his sword sheering off the bronze nozzle. A fly buzzed across Hermel’s line of sight just as a jet of flame from the broken lamp seemed to follow the fly’s trajectory toward the barkeep’s head. The flame caught the man’s hair on fire, and so he hurled himself to the ground in his effort to extinguish it. From the side, however, one of the other men tried to attack him but his blow went wide and the blade of his sword cut a gash in the wall behind him instead. Again Hermel heard a strange high-pitched laughter in his ear. Meanwhile outside in the street the sound of police whistles and many feet running in the direction of the tavern was heard.

Hermel thought about making a break for it by leaping over the barkeep, jumping up on the bar and running down its length to get away from the other two men in the hopes that this maneuver would catch them by surprise and allow him to escape. But he decided that would be just a tad bit too risky, and so he hunkered down again and hoped to defend himself until those nice police men from the street came busting in.  And that’s just what happened next.

The Barnstormers

And so it was that Drake Barnstormer and his fighting men came bursting into the Five Crows Tavern and subdued everyone still fighting in the bar.  As it happened Barnstormer had been tipped off to the fact that there was contraband being traded out of the basement cellar, and that a kidnapping ring involved, and so he had been expecting to raid the place for some time.  He just needed solid evidence, or nothing would get through the slow, ponderous and grinding court of justice at the top of the hill.  Now he had all the evidence he needed now to prove the barkeep, the man with the brown moustache and the other members of his gang were running a kidnapping and extortion ring, and drug cartel out of the old tavern. The villains were tied up, and corralled onto a police wagon that came rolling up a few minutes later.

Still standing in the far corner of the bar, Hermel marveled as he finally got a close look at the fly, who had landed on the back of his hand for a moment. Peering carefully downward he saw that on the back of the fly was a tiny yellow spot. Focusing his vision even more carefully he saw that the yellow spot was a tiny man tethered to the back of the fly, holding the insect by a pair of reigns. The tiny man waved his arm emphatically and laughed with great cheer. It was, Hermel suddenly realized, Wuton, the mystery man. At that moment the fly flicked off his hand and flew through an open window, laughter trailing off into the distance, and as he did so the jet of fire still shooting out of the bronze lamp on the wall suddenly ceased. Hermel stood staring out the window in amazement.

The kids were all ok, and even Rory had finally been revived.

“What did I miss?” he asked blearily.

“Come on, lets go get some rat sticks. I’ll tell you all about it on the way,” said Janet, his sister, as they trotted off down the street, having made an agreement with Drake to show up in court on the appointed date before they left. Their testimony would be key to the forthcoming convictions. Hermel, who had miraculous invocations of his own, healed Johan with the mystical power of his Healing Stone, and so the wounds were closed up and Johan brought back to health in a short time. Jeremy was delighted and was last seen dancing around the Hagglesmiths as they went off to find a rat stick vendor. Lastly, there stood Hermel talking with Drake as they walked slowly away from the tavern.

“I have to say,” said Drake with a tone of subtle dread in his voice, “that in all my years I never saw anything quite so horrible as what we found in the basement there.”

Hermel, who didn’t really wish to know, listened quietly.

“I’ll never forget it. That poor bastard was laying there, the left half his body shriveled up like a prune, so old and dried out that his hair on that side was snow white and his skin had nearly turned to dust,” he concluded with a shudder. “And maybe the most frightening thing of all was his comrade, Bren, I think his name was, who we took out mumbling over and over to himself with those crazy eyes, saying ‘There’s no time left… there’s no time left… there’s no time left.”

Hermel shuddered too, and they both walked off in search of a better tavern in which to have a drink. And as they did Hermel was thinking to himself, “I know I shouldn’t do this … but I can’t help wondering what ever became of those two irksome little Hobbits after all?”


Previous Episode: The Hagglesmith Rescue - Part IV
Next Episode:  The Happless Hobbits

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