Adam Blake and his small group stood at the entrance of the mound. He scanned the surroundings with his strange eyes. He had distributed the contents of his equipment case to the others. Paul Twitchell still had the mobile phone. Using a map of the mound that he’d drawn from memory, he had gone over his plan with the others enough to be sure they would be able to get their end done. It would be up to him and Cully Morrigan to run down McCabe.
“Let’s get this over with,” said Twitch, shaking from head to toe.
Blake nodded as he went to the main doors. They were covered with grass, which concealed them from anybody who didn’t know they were there. He slapped the covering with both hands. The doors flew inward under his direction. He stepped inside, listening with his keen hearing. The easy part was over.
Mark Sloan, Alec Swan, and Twitch broke off and started down the hall toward the dungeon. Blake and Morrigan started down the marked path toward the crypt in the center of the maze. They moved in silence, prepared for an attack from any side by McCabe’s gunmen. Sloan led the way. The small group passed the work room where he had deciphered the notes and inscriptions. He noted that the papers were gone. Obviously, Reed Horton was helping in that regard. He was a linguistics expert, probably better than Sloan was. He would have made short work of the notes Sloan had written down.
Sloan paused at the entrance to the hall of cells. He pointed at the doors where his fellows had been chained up. Swan nodded, looking down the barrel of the rifle he had retrieved from the roof. The scope told him someone was waiting behind one of the doors on his right. The only thing he could think to do was blow the doors and hope the hostages weren’t killed in the assault when they rushed the door. He reached for one of the explosive grenades he had liberated.
Twitch grabbed his shoulder to stop him.
Floyd Lawton, balked by the crypt door, pressed his body behind a hideous statue in an alcove for cover. He cut off his light, listening as voices came closer in the dark. He waited, eyes adjusting to the pitch blackness.
“All right, Horton,” said Joshua McCabe, waving his light as he talked. “Open the door.”
Floyd tensed when Reed Horton stepped in front of the flashlights with the warped wooden cross in his hands. He wanted to grab Horton by the throat as he suddenly understood how McCabe had been able to orchestrate events. Everything was now clear as he watched the traitorous Horton press the cross to the lock and then turn. He idly wondered if Justin Adams was dead. The group pressed on the heavy door, and it slid out of the way slowly, unused to the touch of man. McCabe led the way inside, grinning broadly at the thought of what he could do with whatever power had been buried.
Lawton got behind the last man in line. One swing of a stolen pistol put the unwary gunman down silently. Lawton warily advanced, wondering how he was going to stop this.
None noticed the statues changing as the door opened. Gray chips snapped off as the stone flexed. Suddenly, a claw cut through the long skeletal fingers of one of the statues. The covering cracked along its spine with a sudden ripple. Long teeth crunched, freeing its wide mouth and narrow chin. Red flame lit the former statue’s eyes as the thing stepped off its pedestal, tail whipping the rest of its prison away with a small crackling like bone snapping.
It moved to the door, pulling it close. It listened at the stone, laughing softly to itself. The mistress would be glad of the company.
Adam Blake and Cully Morrigan paused at the last door, and Blake pushed the door open gently. The crypt lay beyond it over the stone bridge.
“Hold on,” Blake said gently, listening to the space.
“Why?” asked Morrigan, drawing one of his pistols. “The gang has already gone ahead.”
“They activated the guardian,” Blake said, crossing the bridge slowly.
“‘Guardian’?” said Cully, following even more slowly.
“Sir Tempus? I see you have returned after all these years,” said the living statue, walking to block the end of the bridge. “I would have thought you would be dead by now.”
“My name is Blake now, Nebiros. I can’t say I’m pleased to see you,” said the mystery-man. “Would you please move?”
“I think not,” said the muscular guardian demon, his tail whipping. “And I don’t see how you can move me without the aid of Sir Justin or the other scions of Camelot.”
Cully drew his other weapon, grinning as usual. He took aim and fired both pistols until they were empty. He was not surprised to see the bullets bounce off that scaly hide. He was surprised, however, to see Blake leap into the air and kick the creature out of the way.
“You have gotten much stronger than the last time we met,” said Nebiros. “Let’s see how much stronger you really are.”
“I have had some further training,” admitted Blake, standing erect.
Cully slipped past Blake and the demon, reloading his weapons with a series of clicks. He slapped some explosive blocks Blake had provided on the stone doorframe and activated the detonators with his thumb. He rushed away from the door as fast as he could.
Paul Twitchell took a small metal ball from his pocket and pulled out a smaller pin. He closed one eye as he took aim at the small barred window in the door. Twitch uncharacteristically became as still as the stale air. Then he threw the sphere.
The ball hit the bar on the left and bounced inside the cell. There was a moment of shouting, then a small bang, and then some clattering as metal hit the stone floor.
“How do you do that?” Alec Swan asked, running up with his pistol drawn. He held his breath as he peered through the door window. One of the men was laid out against the door. Where was the other one?
A screaming burst of bullets chewed the wood door from the inside. Swan ducked down as splinters scratched his face.
He gestured Twitch closer. They would have to get through the door and take the guy out before he hurt someone. One hostage could hold them back for hours, enough time to let McCabe handle Blake while they were trying to end their situation.
“He’s back behind a support column with a tommy-gun,” Swan said. “Any ideas?”
“Maybe you could talk to him?” Twitch said, shaking all over. “You know, tell him the jig is up.”
Swan looked dubious, but stood up next to the window. “Hey, you in there!” he shouted through the bars. “If you throw down your weapon, we’ll let you go!”
“Why should I believe you?” asked the gunman, aiming at the door.
“We’re not police,” Swan said. “We’ll gladly trade your freedom for whoever is alive in there with you. Of course, if you kill anybody, deal’s off.”
“How do I know you’re telling the truth?” said the gunman.
“A gesture of faith on both sides, I guess,” said Swan. “You let our people go, and we’ll throw down our weapons.”
“We’ll do what?” whispered Twitch.
“OK, I’m for that,” said the gunman.
Floyd Lawton clubbed another man down as he worked his way down the line. The group had reached a door into a chamber, a yawning pit that descended out of sight into darkness. They crossed a narrow bridge to an enclosed chamber on top of a pillar in the center of the pit. Floyd paused at the door instead of entering the chamber. He peered inside, pistol in one hand in case he was spotted. A sarcophagus dominated the center of the room. Joshua McCabe lit the torches set in the walls to have better light for his examination. The top of the stone box was carved into a stylized woman with her arms crossed over her chest.
“Open it, Horton,” said McCabe, gesturing at the tomb. “Let’s see what’s hidden inside.”
“Are you sure?” asked Reed Horton, examining the marks along the edge of the lid. “There is a warning about disturbing the body.”
“We didn’t come all this way to stop for a mummy’s curse,” declared the mastermind. “Open it.”
Horton shrugged, putting the papers he held on the ground. He knew better than to argue. He felt the edges of the lid carefully. When he thought he had located the right spot, he picked up the journal and leafed through it. He paused when he found what he was looking for. Horton began to speak words. Each word seemed to come alive, echoing unnaturally in the eerie chamber. Small cracks spread across the top of the lid, or perhaps in the air just above it. Horton said the last word, making a cutting gesture with one hand. A crackling answered his decree. The cracks faded from sight, leaving the lid unblemished.
“Let’s take the lid off,” he said, wiping the sweat from his brow. He placed the book down beside the box carefully.
Four of the men grabbed the stone lid and lifted it off the coffin. A cloud, perhaps of dust, erupted from inside the coffin. The lid was leaned beside the box as McCabe leaned closer with the magnetic gun ready. He didn’t know how much good it would do against organic material, but he was ready nonetheless.
A gloved hand lifted from inside the box and came to rest on the edge. An armored figure sat up abruptly in the coffin. The head was bare, simply a discolored skull, and then as they watched in awe, skin and then the features of a face grew to cover the blackened bone. Long black hair descended from the stern-featured head.
“I see I have been rescued at last,” she said. “How shall I repay such brave knights?”
“What’s going on here?” McCabe said, brow furrowing over his small eyes. “No one said anything about a woman.”
“This isn’t just a woman,” Horton warned. “According to the notes, this is Morgan le Fay.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” McCabe said, glaring at the spy. “She didn’t exist!”
Adam Blake and Nebiros barely looked away from each other as the two charges cut a small divot in the thick door. Cully Morrigan scratched his head, trying to come up with a new plan with the limited amount of equipment he had.
“You feel that, Tempus?” the scaly demon gloated. “The mistress is awake.”
Blake used the wall of the inner chamber as a springboard. He seemed to gently step against Nebiros’ head. He dropped straight to the stone floor as all of his striking power was absorbed by the demon. The creature flew across the chasm and embedded itself in the far wall.
“Can you kick the door down?” Cully asked. “Those fancy explosives didn’t do that much.”
“I see,” said Blake, eyes momentarily more green and glittering than usual. “Keep an eye on our friend.”
Cully nodded as he stepped away from the door. That thing must weigh five hundred pounds, and Blake punted it like a football across that ninety-yard gap. Just how strong is he? Cully wondered.
Blake felt the damage to the door with his fingers. He placed his body to shield what he was doing with his hand as he punched. The cracked stone flew inward, leaving a gap wide enough to walk through.
Nebiros dug itself out of the opposite wall with a scrabble of claws, easily leaping to the bridge. Then the guardian ran at the two adventurers on all fours. Cully emptied both pistols into it as a distraction. He knew small-arms fire wouldn’t do anything but scratch the thing’s scales.
The guardian demon reared up. It was twice as fast as any normal human, and its claws could shred steel armor like a cook peeling potatoes. “You are dead, foolish human!”
Two hands grabbed the tip of the demon’s tail. Suddenly, it was flying through the air again. The wide shoulders hit the still-intact upper part of the door, while the lower half went through the open bottom half. Its chin slammed against the stone floor with a snap.
“One day you are going to tell me how you can do that,” Cully declared as he took a block of plastic explosive, molded it like a ball, and set the detonator. He flung the makeshift grenade against the creature’s head as hard as he could. The bomb went off, punching the big thing through the air like a giant’s right hook.
“I have been trained by a man known as the One,” said Blake, moving to the broken door with his usual mechanical grace. (*) “It allows you to channel your chi into the physical world in a casual way.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: Dragonmage: The Dragon of New York, Chapter 4: The Master’s Lessons.]
“What’s chi?” Cully asked, searching his pockets. He didn’t have anything left to handle the big lizard.
Blake stepped through the broken door silently. The demon would have to be dealt with before he gave Cully lessons in unlocking his potential.