Chapter 1



No matter how you look at it, that was a weird experience! He was sitting at his desk, working on the specifications for a Persian shield for the upcoming epic "Heroes in the Sand," when there was a great FROOOOM! sound and all that disappeared.

The next thing he knew, he was on the set for a Dungeons and Dragons B-production. He knew that it was a B-production, because no self-respecting director would allow so much dust and so many cobwebs to accumulate in the workshop. Furthermore, there was moisture everywhere—the walls were sweating like the inside of a Turkish bath. No first class electrician would allow so much water around his high voltage equipment. Yes, indeed, definitely a low-budget indie production.

And that actor in the filthy robes! It looked like he had been in them for at least a weak. His makeup was atrocious! That scraggly beard and mustache must have been applied by a second level apprentice, it looked like it hadn't been combed in a week, though it did match the wear and tear on the robe.

The props were ridiculous! Here was a human skull and there was a stuffed raven. A big crystal globe was resting on a heavy-duty table. There was a roaring fire in a monster fireplace, making enough noise to drown out any reasonable level of dialog volume. He could go on and on about the slovenly production values.

And last, but not least, here he was inside a giant metal cage! Hey, wait a minute! What was he doing on the set. He didn't even belong to the union! Somebody was going to have his balls in a vise over this one!

This was when the actor made up to look like a two-bit wizard from an old Keystone production came over and sat on a stool near the cage. He asked, "Can you understand me? By the gods, I hope so. This conjuration has taken so much out of me that I couldn't do anything to fix that for days."

That's when Sam Hanks lost it! He began to yell, "WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? I'M ALREADY BEHIND SCHEDULE ON 'HEROES IN THE SAND!' IF I DON'T FINISH UP DAMNED SOON, MY ASS WILL BE IN A TIGHT SLING! LET ME OUT OF HERE!"

"You do speak our language! Thank the gods! Now, just calm down and I'll tell you why you're here."

"WHAT DO YOU MEAN, 'SPEAK OUR LANGUAGE?' OF COURSE I SPEAK ENGLISH!... What the shit! This isn't English I'm speaking! What did you do to me?"

"I conjured you here from another dimension to aid us in our time of need. I was looking for a great wizard, and you were reputed the be the best in the land! When you have finished solving our problems, I think that I can return you to nearly the same place and time you came from. Of course, if you are as good as your reputation claims, you could probably go back right now on your own if I did not have you confined in that brizium cage."

"What's a brizium cage?"

"Brizium nullifies all magic fields, so any wizard or demon confined to a brizium cage cannot escape nor perform any other magic spell. I'll let you out, as soon as you calm down and listen to what I have to say."

"OK. I'm listening. Go ahead."

"The Kingdom of Alieria is under attack by the Empire of Usra. Usra is a conglomeration of small states each controlled by an evil and very powerful wizard. Rumor has it that the Empire is ruled by Evil Incarnate, sometimes called The Devil, but I have no way of knowing that as a certainty.

"Anyway, Usra has attacked and conquered most of Alieria and is close to laying siege to our capital city, Alier. If Alier falls, there is no hope for Alieria. And if Alieria falls, there is no hope for our world.

"The evil wizards have been using powerful magic against our Army, and we good wizards of Alieria have been totally unable to counter them. Their magic simply is too strong for us. We have brought you here in the hope that your magic is strong enough to counter their evil magic and rescue us from an evil fate."

"What do you mean by 'magic?' I don't know any magic! I'm a wizard at special effects and special props for movies. I'm acknowledged to be the best SFX man in the business... OH, SHIT! That must be where you got the idea I was a wizard of magic. Look, I can't help you. I don't know any magic! I don't even believe in magic! Now, send me home!"

"Oh, dear, I have made a ghastly mistake! I have brought the wrong man, and I won't have the strength for another such conjuration for at least two weeks. By then, it will be too late. We will all die a horrible death, even you!"

At this moment, the most beautiful woman Sam had ever seen walked into the wizard's workshop. "Agar, is this the great wizard you have been trying to kidnap for the past week of constant work? He's certainly handsome enough, but he doesn't look like what I think a wizard should be."

"Your majesty, please don't say that word 'kidnap.' It sounds so mundane! Yes, this is the man I was after, but he claims that he knows no magic and cannot help us. If that is true, then we are doomed, because I cannot work another such conjuration for at least two weeks."

"Maybe he's just being stubborn. Perhaps I can convince him to aid us. Stranger, what is your name?"

"How do you do, your majesty? My name is Sam Hanks. I would like to help you, but I do not know any magic. My specialty is illusion and astonishment."

"Ah, Mr. Hanks, that is precisely what most magic is! It provides an illusion of some strange thing or happening and astonishes the beholder. Perhaps the problem is not that you lack the ability to perform magic, but that you are just not familiar with our words we use to describe magic.

"Agar, open the cage so that Mr. Hanks and I can adjourn to a more comfortable locale to discuss this further."

"Very well, Princess Olena, I hope you know what you are doing."

"I'm sure I do, Agar. Come, Mr. Hanks, let us move to my conference chamber where we can sit and converse in comfort. Perhaps you would like some refreshment?"

"Thank you, your majesty. I would be delighted to accompany you."

The two left the wizard's workshop and walked a goodly distance to a very pleasant room outfitted with comfortable chairs, and light and airy in nature. Princess Olena pulled a bell cord and a woman came in.

"Yes, your majesty?"

"Please bring us suitable refreshments, Lady Anne."

"Right away, your majesty."

"Now, Mr. Hanks, Do you have any specific questions while we are waiting for Lady Anne to return?"

"Yes, I do. What is the difference between your kingdom and the Empire that would make me care which one of you wins the coming battle?"

"That is an easy question to answer. Our people are free to do as they like, to live anywhere they choose, and to come and go at their pleasure. Except for the ruling elite, the people in the Empire are slaves. Not merely servants, but slaves. They live purely at the whim of the rulers and have no say in their lives at all. There are other things, but that is the one thing that means the most to me."

"What would happen to you personally, if the Empire wins?"

"To me? I would be raped and tortured to death, as would my entire family!"

"Raped and tortured to death!?! How can you say that so calmly?

"That fate has been hanging over my head for a year. I have simply come to accept it if I cannot find a way to save my people. I have come to believe that, in the long run, I will be getting off easier than they will."

"OK, assuming that I take up your side of the fight, specifically what would you want me to do? Remember, I don't work miracles, it just looks like I do."

"A fair question, Mr. Hanks. The first thing we need is a way to protect our city. We don't have enough troops to man our wall adequately. Somehow, we must find a way to increase our manpower."

"That I can manage, if I can have some help. Will your wizards do what I ask them to do, even if it sounds silly?"

"I think they will, if I make it a personal request from the royal family."

"OK, a common technique used in my business is to have a few people crowd into a small space. We take an image of that and reproduce it many times to give the appearance of a vast number of people. I think that we could do that here. We could pack your soldiers onto a small section of wall and have your wizards duplicate that image around the entire city. That way, it would look like the walls were packed with soldiers."

Princess Olena clapped her hands and laughed. "That is exactly the kind of magic we were hoping for. The evil hoard will not dare to attack if we have that many soldiers!"

"But, remember, Princess, this is just an illusion and the mass of soldiers cannot actually do any fighting."

"Oh, I understand that, but the enemy won't! They will be afraid to come within range, so the illusion will never actually have to fight. See, I knew that you could help us!"

Lady Anne picked this time to show up with tea and cookies, so there was a short break in the conference while the niceties were observed. Lady Anne was dismissed, and the conversation returned to practical matters.

"Mr. Hanks, what other wonderful ideas do you have to help us?"

"Well, I don't know of anything else at the moment. I need to see what I have to work with. It's my guess that your war machines fit in with what I call 'The Middle Ages.' Do you use gunpowder?"

"We do use gunpowder, but not much for war. Mostly, we use it for fireworks in celebrations, that sort of thing. However, we do have a fairly large quantity in storage, so that would be available for you to use."

"Excellent! Can I have a tour of your armory so that I can see the machines and talk to the people who actually use them?"

"Certainly, I can arrange for that in just a few minutes." The princess pulled a bell cord, and Lady Anne came into the room. "Lady Anne, please ask General Zaxos to join us as soon as he is available."

"Yes, your majesty."

A few minutes later, a man came in and bowed. "How may I serve you, Princess Olena?"

"Wizard Hanks, may I present General Zaxos? He is the head of our army and can provide you with all the information and assistance that you may need.

"General Zaxos, this is Wizard Hanks, the great wizard that our Wizard Agar has been trying to find to help us."

Zaxos bowed and said, "It is a great relief to see that you are finally here and willing to help us in our hour of need. Just tell me what I can do, and I will do anything within my limited power to aid you, Wizard Hanks."

"Thank you, General, but let's cut come of the formality. Please, just call me 'Sam.' My specialty is illusion, but I do know some other tricks, so I hope to be able to help you. Though, of course, your men will still have to do the fighting."

"Very well, Sam. Please call me 'Herc.' Yes, we understand about wizards never actually being in the fight. Their skills are too valuable to risk to chance."

"Well, I did spend a couple of years in the Marines, so I won't be a total loss if I have to fight. May I see your armory; I would like to see what your military machines are like."

Herc took Sam to the armory and showed him an array of ballistas, onagers, and trebuchets, as well as some other, presently less useful items, such as battering rams and turtles. Sam said, "I'm impressed. You have some very useful items, here. What kind of ammunition do you use?"

"We use solid darts for the ballistas and stones for the onagers and trebuchets. Why, do you have something else in mind?"

"Yeah, I'm imagining what it would be like if you were hurling explosive charges at the enemy, instead of rocks. And, what if every missile looked like 20."

"By the gods, Sam! You are a genius! When can we start getting ready to repel the siege?"

"I think that the first thing I need to do is to interview the wizards who will be helping me. Let's have a meeting of all the potential helpers, and we can sort them out from there."

"An excellent idea. The wizards fall under Wizard Agar's purview. He should be the one to set up the meeting. I'll contact him and ask him to set something up for this afternoon. In the meantime, I'm hungry. How about you, Sam?"

Sam was treated to an excellent lunch in the Officer's Club while Agar was getting the junior wizards together. At lunch, Sam explained the kind of explosive ammunition he wanted manufactured to replace the stones. He asked for thin-walled barrels, about 1 to 2 gallon capacity, lined with rocks and other things to act as shrapnel. He didn't know what he wanted as a fuse until after he had talked with the wizards; however, he thought that a contact fuse arrangement would be appropriate.

The meeting with the wizards went well after the super buildup he got during the introduction. He asked for a show of hands to see how the skills were divided. About 30% of the young wizards were skilled in illusions, about 60% could handle starting fires, and the rest has various other skills that Sam would work on utilizing as the siege wore on.

He first explained about his idea for the illusionists to populate the city walls with massive army forces. They all thought that this was a hilarious trick and were looking forward to trying it. Sam warned them not to embellish the illusion, but to keep it to a simple multiplication of conventional forces. Later, they would try extra effects if they were needed.

Sam asked the fire specialists if they could set off a gunpowder charge while it was still in the air. They answered that this was a simple task, so he was ready to launch his bombs. Specifically, Sam wanted to assign one wizard to each trebuchet or onager. This wizard would watch his own bomb in flight and set it off when it was 50 feet off the ground. He thought that this would give the best shrapnel coverage. If he had any illusionists to spare, he would assign them to duplicating the explosions to make the coverage even more frightening.

If he could work out a suitable napalm formulation, he would replace some of the shrapnel charges with fire. Depending on the situation, he would use one or the other, or sometimes both types of ammunition.

A few of the wizards were skilled at teleportation. These Sam planned to use as couriers. Without radios or telephones, these would be a God-send. Sam planned to have his command post (CP) in a high tower where he could see and control the entire battlefield. The teleporters would be his lifeline. This whole production was starting to look like fun! Too bad he couldn't film it and keep it in his resume.

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Story tagged with:
Magic / Fiction / Science Fiction / Humor / Violent /