Johannes' carriage sped through the downpour. Rain whipped the shady-looking driver as he lashed the horses. As the carriage went faster and faster, Johannes worried that it would overturn. He was tempted to tell the driver to slow down, but knew he must get to Rome as soon as possible. He nervously sat down and kept quiet. Suddenly, it happened. The carriage, going around a bend, flipped, sending the driver flying, and he broke his neck landing in the forest aside the road. The ropes and bolts that kept the horses fastened snapped, and the carriage stopped. Johannes opened the left door and clambered out. He put on his coat and started down the road on foot. An hour later, several Roman dragoons rode up to him.
"Buona sera, prete! Che cosa è successo al tuo carrello?" said one of the soldiers in Italian; it sounded like a French accent. He sported a massive handlebar mustache and goatee and was wearing a highly ornate plumed helmet.Swiss Guard.
The Priest shook his head. "E 'andato in crash."
The Swiss soldier extended his hand and pulled the Priest up behind him. He said in Italian, "Don't worry, Father. I shall have you in Rome in just a quick ride! Hyah!" The soldiers and the Priest galloped off down the road.
The Swiss Guard, armed with pikes and muskets, escorted Johannes and several other Priests into a massive hall in the Holy See."Noi vogliam Dio, Vergine Maria,
benigna ascolta il nostro dir,
noi t’invochiamo, o Madre pia,
dei figli tuoi compi il desir."
Monks singing the Papal anthem lined the sides of the room. Johannes took his seat and went through the motions as the Swiss Guards goose-stepped out of the building. The doors shut. The singing stopped. A man wearing a black-colored cardinal's uniform stepped up to the podium. There were a couple hundred Priests present.
"Brothers! Fellow members of the Order of the Silver Cross! Buona sera!"
The Priests saluted. "Buona sera, il cardinale Martini!" they said in unison.
Cardinal Vittorio Martini spoke again. "I have word from Brother Johannes Baumschlager that the Sword of Alexander has been found. An Austrian soldier has it, looted during the battle at Banja Luka." A collective gasp came from the Priests. "Yes, the Sword of Alexander, usurped by Muhammad. This item must be brought to the Holy See for destruction. If someone gets his hands on this, who knows what will happen. This sword must be secured. This man, Captain Samuel Kleinheinz, is not likely to give it up, and le monde ne va pas manquer un soldat autrichien. 'The world won't miss one Austrian soldier.' In short, hunt this man down, kill him if necessary. Bring the Sword of Alexander back here. Another matter of the utmost importance to our Brotherhood is that five people fell victim to vampirism in Virginia in the last month. One month and in one location! Any answers to this horrible reflection on our Order of God?"
A man rose to his feet. Bright red hair, thin lips, crooked nose, and a permanent scowl. "Grandmaster!"
"Yes, Brother Crane?" the Cardinal asked, dreading that the infamous Ichabod Crane would go into one of his infamous rants.
"Grandmaster, I and my fellow American Brothers are doing our best. We are too few. Vampirism and lycanism are rampant in the forests in New England. The Indians worship them like their totem pole faces have come to life. It's horrible. I must get more help! Those dratted Anglicans and Puritans don't believe in us! We need the French to assist us immediately, instead of sitting on their lazy rumps in Quebec."
Brother Lefèvre and Brother Moreau stood up and shouted indignantly, "How dare you, Monsieur Crane!" Moreau pointed his finger at Crane. "The glorious Kingdom of France has more than it can handle! I, monsieur, am insulted by what you said! I demand an apology! I'm sure that the Grandmaster will agree!"
Crane took out his snuff box and ignored them, sniffing the tobacco through his nostrils. "Apology denied. I speak the truth. Brother Gottschalk will agree; you Frenchified fops take, but don't give, to our cause."
"Protestant blasphemer!" Lefèvre shook his fist. "Satan-follower! Gottschalk isn't a true member of our Order, the filthy Lutheran!"
Brother McFadden, a Catholic from Scotland, now spoke up angrily. "S'down, Frenchman! Crane is a good Christ-follower, and yew kn' 't! So what if Gottschalk is a Luth'ran? I know yew aren't the good Cath'lic yew make yer self out ta be!"
"Heretic!" cried Moreau. He threw his hat on the ground angrily. "Lutherans shouldn't be welcome inside the Holy City! I ask for a vote to ban Gottschalk from our Holy Order!"
Gottschalk, a haughty Prussian, rose to his feet. "Silence! We all have a mutual enemy! We must work together!"
"Blasphemy!" Lefèvre spit in Gottschalk's direction. "We have mutual enemies with the infidel Turks! Does that mean we should invite an imam to Rome? I think not!"
Martini banged his gavel. "Order! We shall have order! Everyone, sit down! Now, all in favor of banning Gottschalk from the order say aye!"
"Aye!" Most all the French, Spanish, Irish, Italians, Poles and Holy Romans raised their hands.
"Nay!" The English, Scots, some Germans, and the few Dutchmen raised their hands. Johannes also voted nay.
The Cardinal banged his gavel. "The ayes have it! Brother Gottschalk is hereby stripped of his titles and his vampire and lycan hunting tools shall be confiscated!"
Crane let loose an angry tirade. "You villainous Frenchmen! You thieving Austrians! I spit in your faces! Grandmaster, I say you are biased and slanted toward the Southern Europeans! All in favor of removing Grandmaster Martini, say aye!"
"Aye!" The same group that had voted to keep Gottschalk raised their fists angrily and shouted.
Moreau was shocked, Martini even more so. An angry shouting match broke out, and someone stabbed Sergei Malinowski in the thigh with a dagger. He let out a scream and fell to the floor. All hell broke loose in the Holy City. Men clutched and threw each other to the ground. Fists flew, and Crane felt Lefèvre wallop him in the jaw, sending him sprawling backwards, toppling chairs and men. A Dutchman, William van Stockhausen, helped him get to his feet, and they tackled Lefèvre and Moreau. Gottschalk and McFadden worked as a team, largely due to McFadden's protestant leanings. Back-to-back, they took on waves of Catholic Priests.
Martini signaled for the Swiss Guards. They stormed in and tried to make arrests. That ended up hurting instead of helping. Anti-Martini men drew their rapiers and had at it with the bulky, slow-moving pikemen.
Johannes made his choice. He drew his sword and thrust it into the shoulder of a pikeman, who collapsed, writhing in pain. He climbed up to Martini's balcony. "Stop, Cardinal! You have betrayed the trust of your Brothers. We are not your underlings, subject to your every whim and complacent with your hackneyed evicting of good members!"
Martini threw off his robes to reveal a suit of armor. He grabbed a broadsword from the crest mounted on the wall. The two men faced each other down, then swung at each other. Martini proved himself very agile, dodging every blow. The duo wound up on the railings, hacking and slashing while they tried to keep their balance on their precarious perch. Martini's skullcap flew off, and his powdered wig followed soon after, revealing his ugly, shaved head. He made a thrust at Johannes's hip, but he narrowly missed, accidentally loosing his grip on the sword, which fell below. In the time it took to recover, Johannes had his sword pointing at his neck.
"Desist, Martini! Now!" Johannes was really ready to run him through.
"Never!" Martini, with lightning reflexes, jerked the sword away from his neck and punched Johannes directly in the left eye, sending him backwards, where he landed on the balcony.
Below them, when Martini had dropped his sword, McFadden was unarmed and surrounded by Swiss. As if by divine providence, the sword went directly through the skull of an unhelmeted Swiss Guard. McFadden grabbed it, pulled it out, and defeated the six surrounding men.
Above, Johannes's sword had snapped when its tip landed directly on Martini's breastplate. Unarmed, the two started throwing punches. Before long, both men's faces were black-and-blue. Blood leaked out of the corner of Martini's mouth, and he was growing weaker. One after another, the younger, faster, more agile Johannes landed punches. Finally, Johannes cornered him. He let loose with a fury of punches. Martini collapsed to his knees in front of the Priest. Johannes gave him a solid, booted kick in the jaw, which sent him smashing through a stained glass window of Saint John. A loud, crashing noise and a scream followed.
The fight on the floor continued. Men flew on the chandeliers, jumped from balconies, and crashed through railings. Five Priests lay dead on the blue carpet, which was now stained with blood. Malinowski still was helpless on the ground. Fifteen Swiss Guards were sprawled in the huge room, two of them beheaded. The anti-Martini men knew they had to escape. A new wave of Swiss, armed with axes, barged in. It became a war zone. Men fell like flies. Finally, the anti-Martini men made a breakthrough. They escaped through a wooden door on Martini's balcony. They fled outside, sprinting along the walls of the Catholic castle. Swiss Guards were running everywhere, trying to shoot them with muskets. The loyal Priests mingled in, though, which made it nearly impossible to get an accurate shot. The anti-Martinites stormed into an armory loaded with flintlocks. The loyal followers and guards got crowded onto the wall walkway, forming perfect targets. Many of them, especially the Guardsmen, went down from a volley from the rebels.
Alarms were ringing all over the city. The pope, Clement XII, was immediately taken to safety, far away from the violence.
The rebels were now locked and loaded. They stormed into the Swiss Guards' barracks, annihilating many of them before they could even recover from their surprise. They went on. Next, they captured a large palace, where the Swiss put up particularly tough resistance. Finally, they took over the stables, where they commandeered all the horses they needed. They opened the doors and galloped out, fleeing for their lives as Swiss cavalry prepared to mount up. One Priest, Malinowski, who knew he was dying anyway from his wounds, sacrificed himself by staying behind to hold the doors of the stables closed as long as possible. The Swiss finally barged in and ran a pike through his torso.
The precious moments afforded by the Pole helped save the rebel Priests. The next day, they planned, they were to disperse into small groups, ready to go about their old jobs and fight their enemies within the Church at the same time.
An injured man stood atop one of the Vatican turrets. "Giordano, tell the Pope we have this under control. Let the people know it was just a few criminals giving us problems. Scratch all records of this fight out of the records, and make sure no one speaks about it, under penalty of death."
Giordano saluted. "Sì, signore! Are you sure you don't need medical attention, signore?"
"No." Replied Martini. "I can survive a crash through a window. I wouldn't have though, if I hadn't grabbed a hold of that banner when I fell, preventing me from splatting on the ground like an egg. Now, Giordano, make sure I get that Sword of Alexander. When I get my hands on it, you shall be rewarded. And then, amico, I shall make the Pope quiver in his robes! I shall rule all Europa! Hahaha! All of it!"
"That sounds, grande, Signore!" Giordano grinned an evil, wicked grin.
"One last thing, Gio."
"How would you like to be King of Gaul? Or perhaps King of Iberia?"
"I'm your brother, Vittorio, so you better give me more than that!" The two shared a laugh and the brothers parted to accomplish their goals.
Samuel paced about on the foggy deck of the Holy Roman Imperial frigate. He had received leave from Johannes, so he could go to Cyprus. Johannes had to go to some meeting in Rome, so he somehow got Samuel on a frigate to Cyprus. He still wore his uniform and such, and kept several braces of pistols hidden under his coat. A sword hung on his sash. If the Turks wanted The
Sword, they would have to kill him first. If the Turks got their hands on the Sword, all of Christian Europe might fall. Maybe the Americas. Maybe the entire world. The totalitarian Ottomans would not hesitate to crush the world if they had the power to. This was serious business.
As of now, they were supposed to be somewhere around the heel of the boot of Italy. They had seen Italy for the last time four days before. Now, they were in open water. Samuel hoped and prayed the Turkish fleet or some Barbary corsairs would not try to stop the ship.
"Ship ahoy!" cried a sailor in the crow's nest. "Flying Barbary colors! Corsairs to the starboard!"
An Austrian captain immediately spun the ship's wheel, lining up for battle. "Use round shot and prepare for battle, you slovenly seamen!"
Sailors and marines dashed about madly, readying boarding axes and swords, rolling barrels of powder and shot. The Barbary ship had friends; a minute later, a small, custom-built pirate flagship appeared from the mist.
The captain waved his tricorne. "Fire starboard cannons, you dastards!" he shouted in a deep, commanding voice. A huge explosion followed, and 24 guns fired directly into the Barbary pirates.
The Berber pirates shook it off and readied their own guns. With a cry of "Allahu Ackbar!" they let loose the cannons.
"Grapeshot!" the captain cried before being splattered by the shotgun-like bursts coming forth from the enemy guns. He fell dead on the deck, clutching his sword.
Samuel raced up to the ship's wheel. "Let's see, what would Themistocles do?" He remembered his lessons about the ancient Greek naval commander. He looked closely but quickly at the main enemy ship, doing mental calculations. He decided to go for it. "Men, prepare to ram!"
One sailor cursed loudly and profusely. He appeared to be English, and the first mate. "What the devil do ye think yer doin'! Ye don't ram vessels like it's 200 BC!" The first mate tried to shove Samuel away from the ship wheel. Samuel punched him out and again grabbed the ship wheel. He drove the frigate straight toward the Barbary main ship. The pirates watched in horror and terror as the bow of the Austrian ship smashed into the center of theirs. Samuel's frigate took substantial damage, but the poorly-built pirate vessel, named Libya, if he had read the plaque on the side correctly, snapped in two. The pirates who were not killed instantly dived overboard, only to be shot by blunderbuss guns the Holy Roman marines were firing.
The second pirate vessel just sat there, not firing, not shouting. The pirates just stared. Finally, to the Austrians' terror, a large group of Barbary galleys appeared from the fog. Doom was imminent.
Samuel looked through his spyglass at the enemy fleet. Things looked impossible. His ship was already terribly damaged and the corsairs would be twice as merciless since he had massacred the flagship. The Turk-paid Berbers closed in for the kill. Suddenly, a huge volley of cannonballs slammed into the left side of the fleet. More ships appeared from the mist. Samuel tried to see who they were, but could not make out the flag at the hindquarters. Six large military ships attacked the pirates viciously. Within thirty minutes, it was over. 3/4 of the pirate vessels were sent to Davy Jones' Locker. An Austrian officer stood beside Samuel. He pulled two small flags out of his jacket and started to use them to signal the friendly ships.
"Who are you?"
The reply came quickly. "The Duchy of Sandonia."
Ten minutes later...
Sandonian marines helped Samuel and other Holy Roman officers climb onto the deck of the Sandonian flagship. Samuel had heard of the Duchy of Sandonia once. It had been formed by Crusaders looking for a base to launch supplies into the Kingdom of Jerusalem. It's flag was a red, Swiss-style cross on a white field. They looked like a cross between Italians and Slavs. A man wearing a ridiculously large tricornered hat and a blue uniform with gold trim dipped his head. "Tislijiet!"
Samuel could speak Maltese. "I am Samuel Kleinheinz, ta 'l-Armata Rumana s-Santu."
The fellow smiled. He switched to Austrian. "Well, greetings. Pleasure to rescue some fellow servants of the Church! I am Admiral Paul Tito, at your service."
Samuel shook his hand, "At yours! Now, would you be so kind as to tell us where we are?"
"Certainly! You're off the coast of our dear duchy! Your ship needs repairs. I insist you accompany our ships to our docks. The Duke, Eduardo IV, would love to welcome Austrians. So many European countries ignore our wonderful country as a backwater. It is a shame. Come, let us show you Sandonian hospitality!"
The Sandonian fleet led the Austrian ship to the island, three miles away. The docks were slow and slothful. It was obvious that the duchy really was a forgotten backwater. The only traders that were there were from the Papal States and one ship from Genoa, home of Christopher Columbus. When they docked and walked the gangplank down to the island, an elaborate carriage pulled up, thy got in, and they raced off to the old Crusader castle that now served as a palace for the Duke and his officials. Samuel asked Tito some questions during the short, eight minute trip. "Why haven't the Turks or Berbers tried to capture this place? You're deep in their waters, you know."
The Admiral looked away nervously. "They... are afraid."
"Afraid? Of what? The castle is mighty, but it's not impregnable."
"Not afraid of that... This place is supposed to be... a 'portal.' "
" 'Portal?' Portal for what?"
"Monsters. I assure you, it is nothing. Just infidel superstition."
"Stop beating around the bush, Admiral. Tell me what I'm in for."
"Sandonian food. Sandonian women. Sandonian welcomes. That is all. I assure you, I don't think any of these claims can be substantiated."
"What claims?! What are you talking about!"
"Eh, some people have... vanished. Not right in front of anyone, or anything stupid like that, but they just went somewhere and were never seen again. Probably muggers and rapers in the woods, I say, not magical hocus-pocus."
"Do men and soldiers disappear?"
"Then I highly doubt that it has anything to do with muggers and rapers. Who'd mug or rape a soldier? Answer me that!"
"I'm not God, you know. I don't have all the answers to life's mysteries."
"In the little world I call 'Reality,' soldiers and villagers don't vanish randomly! This is preposterous! If anything happens to me or my men, you will have the Holy Roman Emperor knocking at your door!"
"Please, Captain Kleinheinz, you are perfectly safe! Nothing will happen to anyone. You are in for wine, women, and song and nothing else. Please relax, sir."
The carriage pulled up in front of the drawbridge. Cuirassiers sat rigidly on their horses, swords drawn in salute as the Admiral, Samuel, and the others entered the castle. Thirty minutes later, they were brought in before the Duke. After formal ceremony and introduction, Eduardo revealed himself to be a humble, middle-aged man who was willing to talk to Samuel on a level playing field. Soon, the Duke ordered a meal to be prepared. After gorging themselves, musicians came in and played some ball music. Samuel stood off to the side, watching carefully for anything suspicious.
"Captain?" A girl about twenty walked up to him. The Duke's daughter Isabella. She had brown hair and the traditional 18th century dress. "Would you like to dance?"
He stared at several military officers and some guards suspiciously, but they just joined in the Duke's party like anyone else. "Uh, I'm afraid I don't know this one," he said nervously while pouring punch down his gullet with shaky hands.
"Captain, are you all right? Your shaking like a ship in a storm."
"Yes, perfectly fine. Perfectly fine, my dear. If you'll excuse me, I... uh. Nothing. Never mind. I am
a nervous wreck. The stories about this island make me jittery. You are most beautiful and your father is a very kind and generous man, but I can't wait for my ship to get repaired so I can leave."
"If you do, may I come?"
"Because my father isn't as nice as he seems. He has... problems. He's had people beheaded. He blames random people for the vanishings in public, though usually they are dissidents he's kidnapped. I'm afraid one day I'll snap, too. Please, get me off this island!"
This stunned Samuel beyond belief. "All right. All right. Yes. I'll get you out of here. But no one else. The less people who know about this, the better."
She nodded. "Thank you!" She pulled out a piece of paper from under her collar. "This is a map of the castle. It should tell you everything you need to know."
"Good. See you later. I've got to go; don't want to attract suspicion." He walked over to the musicians and pretended to carefully listen.
Samuel was told where his room was and was escorted there by several soldiers. They helped him move his bags and belongings in. The sword was in his trunk, well hidden under clothing articles. The soldiers saluted and left.
Samuel unfolded the map on a desk in his room. He was in the central tower-like keep. Under him was the ball room, on all sides were the rooms of his fellow Holy Romans. Above him was the room of Isabella. Above that, the storage rooms. At the very top, the turret cannons. He and his men would not be able to just walk out with the Duke's daughter. The Sandonians would undoubtedly use the cannons to sink the Austrian ship before they could even reach it. A commandeering of the cannons would be necessary. Time to create some fear.
He knew what step to take first. If he terrified the guards, they would would be jittery and much less likely to want to stand outside and guard cannons in the middle of the night. He took off his uniform and found some black clothes. He took a black blanket and used a knife to cut a mask for himself, executioner style. He was completely unrecognizable. Satisfied with his costume, he looked out his window. It was a long way down. There were vines covering a good section of the tower, and he decided to risk it. Making sure no one saw him, he slowly crawled out the small window and clutched the vines. He made his was up and knocked lightly on Isabella's window. He heard her approaching and she slid the window open. "What are you doing, captain?" She looked sleepy and startled.
"Sorry to alarm you." He put the mask on. "I'm not the captain, though. No one will find out it's me, I assure you. Now, if you hear anything, it'll probably be me. Don't worry. Now, adieu." He kept climbing up until he reached the top. There were several soldiers with muskets on watch duty. Samuel crept over the wall and hid in the shadows. One of the soldiers was marching back and forth along the wall. When he got close enough, Samuel reached out and slit the man's throat silently. The other guards did not hear anything, and kept staring out into space. A large fire was on the rooftop for the guards to cook with and give signals. Samuel stripped the dead guard of non-cloth items and made sure he would burn nicely in the fire. It had to look like he disappeared. He carefully and slowly lured one of the last two guards over behind a crate. Slit.
Like a stealthy Japanese warrior, he crept up behind the last guard and plunged his dagger through his neck. Samuel set down the belts and rifles to make it look like they had disappeared into thin air. He burned the bodies.
The next day...
In the morning, everyone was terrified. Three soldiers had "vanished" on the central turret. The troops were near mutiny against their officers. No one was willing to stand watch. Samuel's plan had worked. The cannons would now be unmanned, leaving him free to dash for his ship with his men and the Duke's daughter. Time to move.
Things had gone awry.
To put it 'nicely.'
When the guards had disappeared, soldiers checked on the safety of the guests. Of course, Samuel was not in his room, and the guards quickly put two and two together. At 10 o'clock in the morning, soldiers entered his room and arrested him. He was quickly brought before the Duke.
The Duke sat on his silver chair. His hand made a fist when he saw Samuel. "I offer you my hospitality and give you a king's dinner and you reward me by murdering my guards at their posts? Outrageous! You shall pay for your disrespect!" He got up on his feet, put his hand around Samuel's throat, and lifted him off the ground. "You vermin! You shall be hanged at 12 noon in the dungeon and your men shall be shot! Guards, take him away!"
The periwig-sporting soldiers grabbed him by the arms and dragged him out. They went down halls and floors until they reached the dungeon. "In you go, murderer!" They shoved him down the stairs. He stumbled and fell face-first onto the hard, cold, slimy floor. He picked himself up and looked around. It was huge. Cell upon cell, person upon person.
"What the..." Samuel raced by the cells looking inside each one. "What are you all doing in here?"
One ancient fellow wearing rags and sporting a long, gray beard answered, "Dissidents. Some of us didn't like the Duke, and this is what we got. Others... are to be sacrificed."
"Sacrificed? What are you talking about?"
"'Tis true!" The old man's eyes widened as he told his story. "This here island is the home of the Beast. The Minotaur. Every month, five of the youngest and plumpest of us are tossed into the Labyrinth. To be eaten. To be sure, I won't be going there in my condition, but I pity the fools who will."
"Wait, wait, wait. The Minotaur. Half-and-half bull and man?"
"Son of Satan himself, he is."
"And that's why people are abducted?"
"Aye. Indeed. Now, I'm no Philosophe,
but something tells me you're going to be executed."
"Yes. Two hours."
"Well, my boy, how would you like to get out of here?"
"You know a way?"
"Aye. In a couple of seconds, a new group of guards will come down here and lock you in your own cell. Overtake them. They have the keys. Get them and free us prisoners! We could overrun the guards at the armory and rebel. I'm almost certain at least half the soldiers will join us. Do it, son. Do it."
"It shall be done!" Samuel saluted. Already, he heard the sound of soldiers rounding the corner.
"All right, pig! Into your cell you go!"
Samuel held his hands outward as if to allow them to drag him, but as they reached for them, he swiveled around, planted his hands on the ground, and did a backwards kick into the faces of two of the guards. The last guard aimed his musket, but couldn't get a clear shot. When one of the kicked guards tried to get up, Samuel kicked him again in the forehead. Grabbing the man's rifle, he put a bullet in the chest of the third one. The first one whipped out a dagger, but Samuel did a spin to avoid the attack, put his hands on the man's back, and shoved him violently against the cell door of the old prisoner. The gray-bearded dissident grabbed the dagger and shoved it into the soldier's chest. Samuel felt the pockets of the dead troops and found the keys. He unlocked the old man's cell door. "Hurry, I'm sure they heard that shot!" Samuel said nervously as he opened the door of another cell. Samuel tossed the old man a key. "Unlock them, hurry! Can't do them all by myself!"
Within thirty seconds, ten prisoners were free. They searched around for makeshift weapons and watched the halls while Samuel and his friend unlocked the others. Within the next ten seconds, soldiers could be heard coming down the halls. The prisoners knew they would be mowed down if they faced them head-on, so they waited at the corner to pounce. When the soldiers reached the corner, they slammed into them with a loud battle cry. Fighting for revenge, they beat the Duke's men to death with chair legs, fists, and boards. Soon, more of the prisoners were free and their number reached thirty. More guards showed up and were swiftly overtaken. Now, with some equipped with bayoneted muskets, the prisoners continued their riot and advanced closer to the largest set of dungeon doors. The guards knew they were now outnumbered, so they called for backup. Dozens of troops raced along the castle halls, all heading for the dungeon.
Samuel handed his key to a young boy and gave him instructions to free the others. Then, he grabbed the sword he had taken from one of the dead guards and went to rejoin the fray. He led them to the doors, where they started ripping them down. Thud.
Down the wooden doors went. Surging into the palace screaming loudly and cracking skulls, the now fifty prisoners clashed with and overwhelmed the guards taking shots at them. They had to hurry, for soon the reinforcements would arrive. Quickly, Samuel and the escapees battled their way through the halls, trying to reach the armory. The bodies of soldiers littered the floors and blood was smeared on the walls. Samuel pulled out his map that the Duke's daughter had given him; he had hidden it in a slit in his jacket. He saw they were very close to the armory. Waving his sword as if leading his Austrians into battle against the Turks, he plowed through and cut up several officers and unlocked the armory. The rioters poured in and grabbed what they needed, namely swords and muskets. Now outfitted properly, they were ready for anything. The members of Samuel's crew especially took the lead. Together, they confronted the Duke's reinforcements in the halls outside the ball room. Musket smoke filled the air, and the moans of the dying and wounded filled the ears. It was an intense and bloody, but swift, showdown. Within five minutes, thirty soldiers lay dead.
Samuel waved his bloody sword again. "Advance!"
"Hurrah!" The escapees raced to the ball room, where there was more intense fighting. Men sword fought on the tables, hit each other with chairs, and blasted each other with muskets. Samuel used his sword to collapse a table that supported three officers, and they went tumbling to the floor to be finished off by the fury of the rebels.
Finally, the soldiers were fed up. They wheeled a cannon into the entrance of the ball room and readied it to obliterate the rioters. Life passed in slow motion. Samuel dashed as fast as he could toward the artillery men. Splat.
Off went the head of one. Aagh!
Down went another. In just 15 seconds, 10 artillery men, the whole crew, were dead. Samuel waved his sword victoriously, "Quick, turn it around! Turn it around! Turn it around!" Using brute strength, the prisoners wheeled the clumsy war machine around. The advancing soldiers watched in horror as the cannon was aimed at them and lit. With a huge explosion, the cannonball crashed clean through them, in a gruesome display of blood and carnage. It hit a wall and exploded. The storm of fire and shrapnel took out any who survived the initial shot. The prisoners shoved the cannon out of the way and trampled over their corpses. They raced up the spiral staircase up to the floor where Samuel and his men had spent the night. After wiping out the soldiers on that floor, they advanced to the Duke's daughter's floor. They crashed the chandeliers, broke the windows, and destroyed the more than abundant paintings of the Mad Duke Eduardo. Soldiers formed a barricade outside the entrance of her room and fired into the crowd. Some were killed, but still they overtook the guards. Samuel instructed the rebels to go to the next floor, another armory, and that he would take care of Isabella. They cheered and rushed up to the next floor.
Samuel used a stray musket to smash the knob off the door. He looked around the room. "It's me, Captain Kleinheinz! Where are you?"
Isabella peaked around the corner and sighed, "Oh, thank the Holy Mother, it's you! I was afraid it was the rebels coming in to kill me. How did this start?"
"I overtook a few guards, grabbed their keys, and me and some old fellow freed the others. I also found out what causes the vanishings, but I'll tell you later. All's I'll say now is that your Dad is a cult-following nut. For now, put on something else. If the rebels see you in that royal-style clothing, they'll probably kill you. I've got to sneak you out of here without anybody knowing who you are after I make sure the Duke is finished. I'll be out in the hall, guarding the doors. Let me know when you're ready." He closed the door. He loaded his musket and pistol and stood on watch. He also to get the Sword. Earlier, the Duke had confiscated all of his belongings. That just gave him one more incentive to finish Eduardo off. A minute later, Isabella appeared wearing a dress cut off an inch above the knee, a pair of boots, and a corset top. Samuel gave her a sword and pistol and pointed up the stairs, "Come on! Do you know where your father likely is?"
She bit her lip in concentration. "Um, probably in the South Tower. He goes there a lot. He has a big library there where he spends time brooding. Plus, the barracks are over there."
Samuel nodded, "All right. Let's go help the prisoners upstairs, then we'll deal with your father." They ran up the stairs. When they reached the next floor, they saw the bodies of dozens of soldiers and rioters. Above, on the very top of the tower, were the sounds of more fighting. When they climbed more stairs, they saw severely outnumbered soldiers being pushed over the side of the tower to their deaths. Civilians in the town had now received word of what was going on and they grabbed their farming implements and torches and headed for the barracks. Apparently, Eduardo was universally loathed. When the last of the soldiers were finished off on top of the tower, ropes were thrown over the side and the prisoners repelled down to the bottom to aid the villagers. Now a couple hundred strong, the rebels advanced toward the south tower. Some of the soldiers, like the old man had predicted, had thrown off their coats and joined in the assault. Musket volleys came from the barracks, but the thirty or so guards were soon overtaken. Cheering once again, they stormed the South Tower. The Duke's cavalry force tried to defend, but, even though they inflicted a good number of casualties upon the rebels, were pulled off their steeds and gutted.
With only a few men left, the Duke ran from room to room, trying to find a way to escape. At last, he saw a free window leading to the outside of the castle. From there, he would only have to get in a carriage, drive to the docks, and sail away. He bowed to the statue of the Minotaur he kept hidden behind a bookcase, grabbed the Sword he had confiscated from Samuel, and had two of his knights help him repel to the ground below. When the knights tried to follow, the Duke realized the rebels would be on his case far too quickly if the rope was left. Someone had to stay. He held up his pistol and shot the rope midway to the bottom. Helpless, the knights had no choice but to fight to the death. Rapiers in hand, they awaited their deaths at the hands of the rebels. The one who had already started climbing down fell to his death.
The Duke climbed onto the driver's seat of one of his carriages and whipped the horses into going at top speed. Just a couple minutes later, he was at the docks. Rushing onto one of his private sloops, he told the crew a story about how the villagers had ruthlessly murdered his army and daughter. Furious and becoming more dedicated to their glorious leader than they thought they ever would, they sent men to sabotage the other boats, hoisted the anchor, and set sail, heading deep into the Mediterranean Sea. The rebels were till trying to overwhelm his knights, and were far too late to prevent his escape.
"Now, what's this sword thing?" the Duke muttered as he stood next to the helm of the ship.
Back at the castle...
Samuel drove his sword through the last knight. A muffled curse came from the man's mouth before his eyes rolled up into his skull. After realizing the Duke had escaped, it was his turn to curse. "I swear, I'm going to kill that man!" Samuel shouted while sheathing his blade. He organized the victorious rebels into cleanup squads and questioned a few prisoners, including one knight who had surrendered. "What's this Minotaur cult garbage?"
The knight laughed. "Oh, that. Superstition. The Duke is extremely entrenched in mysticism. He thought that the local seaside caves were the legendary labyrinths and that our numerous earthquakes were caused by the beast. He tossed people in. They just died of starvation or suicide, I assure you. He thought the Minotaur did it. What a joke. I also assure you I felt no loyalty to him. I'll join the new government, actually. I'll tell you anything and everything. For instance, there's a large gold stash behind that bookcase over there. And behind that other one, a carved statue of the Minotaur. Once again, what a joke. I think I know where he went, too."
"Where?!" Samuel fingered his pistol anxiously.
"Though he did not tell his Catholic company, he was close friends with Sultan Abdallah of Morocco. My guess is he's heading there."
Isabella spoke up: "Wait, Abdallah? The Abdallah that's been dethroned multiple times?"
The knight grinned. "What can I say? The Duke has a great choice in friends."
Samuel scowled. "We're going to Morocco."
After the ships in the dock were repaired, including the Holy Roman frigate, which the villagers insisted on calling Justice Bringer, after what it caused, Samuel, a few of the ex-soldiers, all of the Austrians, and Isabella set sail for the Muslim kingdom of Morocco. Little did they know what had happened in Rome. Samuel was now a wanted man, and he did not even know it. Johannes had problems of his own. The Justice Bringer was on its own.