Arik gave a grunt, and his body fell forward as Gunther stepped to the side, and out of his way.
A great gout of flame erupted from his back where Gunther’s blade slipped through.
The flames around Arik’s body grew higher, and pine needles on the ground around the castle caught fire.
The tallest flames licked the castle walls, and crept toward the windows of the manor house connected to the tower.
Near the front of the house, the tarp covering the back of a truck began to burn.
“Well,” Gunther said, “unless we want to be part of Arik’s funeral pyre, I think we should move on.”
Joe couldn’t think of a reason to stay.
* * *
One hour later:
Joe, Gunther, and Albert found John and Giles next to a stream a few miles south of the bridge they’d blown up.
Even near the stream, the density of the trees made it almost impossible to see the night sky. They couldn’t see the burning castle either, but Joe could even smell the smoke through his helmet.
He wondered if anyone couldn’t smell the smoke.
John stopped leaning against a tree as the three of them walked up, and started walking toward them, moving with a grace Joe found almost unnatural.
Giles stayed near the tree, looking up and down the stream, his rifle out.
Almost eye to eye with Joe despite the height the Rocket suit added, John said,”I know you’re not Chuck, but, dammit, did you have to burn the castle down? It’s like a beacon saying, ‘Something’s wrong here’.”
John stopped. Nodding at Gunther, he said, “Who’s he, and what happened to him?”
Even in the near blackness, Gunther’s face didn’t look right.
“Captain, meet the Nazi superweapon. He got burned by a fire giant, and one of my grenades, His name is Gunther.”
“He’s the superweapon? Intelligence never said it was a man.”
Joe said, “I don’t think he’s a man.” To Gunther he said, “Sorry about the grenade.”
“Not a problem,” Gunther said. “I’ll get better.”
John said, “So what now, is he on our side?”
Gunther said, “Technically, I’m on Joe’s side, and I’m with the rest of you as long as you’re with Joe.”
A burned fleck fell off his face.
John eyed Gunther, and then Joe. “What the hell?”
Joe shook his head. “I’ll tell you about it later, but somebody had to make a deal with him, and if it wasn’t me, it would have been Hitler, Himmler, or Goering.”
John looked up and down the stream. “Well, we’d better get moving anyway. Jawing about this isn’t going to get us anywhere. Al, you ready?”
Al closed his eyes, for a moment, and then opened them, saying, “I’m flying the plane to the rendezvous.”
“Then we’d better start marching.”
Once they started moving, Giles walked behind Joe. Gunther walked ahead.
After a few steps Gunther said, “You’re using the Cabal’s potions.”
Giles said, “I don’t know who the Cabal is, but my powers do come from a potion. That’s right.”
“I’ve heard of a way to make them permanent. You’d have to be careful. The design of the device is booby trapped, but if you can get around it, it’d be better than carrying around flasks of liquid all the time.”
Joe concentrated on avoiding tree roots, but said, “What device is this?”
“I don’t know what to call it. The Abominators came up with it.”
Giles whispered, “I’ve never seen anything about any Abominators in my book.”
“No reason it should say anything, and honestly, maybe you’re better off not knowing. The Abominators learned everything they could from my people, and we’re a pretty nasty bunch. I’ll tell you about it some time.”