“Hank — it can’t be!” Jade protested. “There — there’s no such thing as dragons!”
“I don’t think anyone told him,” Brainwave snapped. “Look at that thing!”
The dragon was huge, larger than an elephant, with great leathery wings that stirred up whirlwinds every time they beat. Its hide was covered with thick magenta scales; its bulbous eyes were a sickly yellow-green color.
“Does this constitute an emergency?” Jade asked Brainwave. Before he could answer, the Knight blasted the dragon with a bolt from his sword. The beam bounced off the creature’s hide, doing no harm.
“More magicks!” the Knight spat. “The Wizard King has found a way to protect his creations from my power sword! Well, come ahead, foul creature! You’ll find the Knight of the Verdant Flame will sell his life very dearly indeed!”
“Take heart, good Knight,” a voice cried. The Knight turned and saw two men riding in, mounted on horses. He recognized them from their attire.
“By the Flame of Life!” he cried. “Do I behold the Duke of Dreams and Thane of the Hourglass?”
“You do,” Thane cried, leaping from his mount. “Here to give aid in battle to King Franklin’s bravest warrior!”
“Well spoken, Sir Thane,” the Knight said. “And truly, I could use the help just now!”
“As could I,” the Lord of Lightning cried, battling his way through the thugs. “I think the Wizard King has bewitched these brigands somehow; they fight like men possessed!”
“Allow me, good Lord,” the Duke of Dreams said, reaching under his purple robe. He produced three glass globes the size of baseballs and tossed them into the midst of the thugs. They exploded into a thick, purplish mist. The guards began coughing and choking, then began falling to the ground in large numbers.
In a twinkling the Lord of Lightning was beside the Duke’s horse. “Marry, ’twas wise of me to hold my breath!” he said. “I’ve heard of that mist of yours, Sir Duke, and now I see everything I heard was the truth!”
“Let us pray that tales of my strength were likewise justified,” Thane of the Hourglass said, leaping at the writhing monster.
The dragon roared as Thane of the Hourglass struck it in the foreleg with a mighty punch. Its leg seemed to buckle, but did not give way. The dragon’s jaws snapped at the Thane, but his mighty leg muscles propelled him to safety.
“My friends, look to the sky!” the Duke called, pointing. “Is it another monster, come to bedevil us?”
“I think not,” the Lord of Lightning said, straining his eyes. “That flier has the look of one I’ve seen before!”
The new winged shape soaring in from above was in fact Sir Falconer, carrying Squire Smallbody with his powerful hands under the lad’s arms.
“Zounds, what a creature!” Sir Falconer gasped. “Are you ready, Squire?”
“As ever, Sir Falconer,” Squire Smallbody said. “Let us deal this hellspawn a blow for justice!”
Silently praising Squire Smallbody’s courage, Sir Falconer zoomed over the dragon’s head and let go. The stockily built Squire plummeted like a missile and drove his legs down as he connected. They struck the top of the dragon’s head squarely, with a loud crash. The dragon seemed dazed, its motions jerky, as the Squire leaped off, to be caught by a timely Lord of Lightning.
“You’ve given me an idea, Squire,” the Knight said, aiming his power sword at a nearby boulder. “Perhaps my emerald light cannot affect the monster directly — ah, but indirectly? We shall see!” The light formed a giant green hand, which picked up the boulder effortlessly, lifted it high, and slammed it down onto the dragon’s head. The creature’s skull exploded with a loud crash, and the whine of rending–
“Metal?” Jade gasped, watching as the dragon collapsed. Gears and springs and other metal parts burst from its rent skull, and a sickly smell of burning oil filled the air. “It — it’s a robot!”
“Makes sense,” Brainwave commented. “On our world, the Wizard uses sorcery. Here, where true science is as scarce as real magic is on ours–”
“My thanks for the assistance, all of you,” the Knight said as the dragon lay wrecked and smoking.
“What is back of all this, good Knight?” Sir Falconer asked. “Who created yon monster?”
“The Wizard King,” the Knight said gravely. “He hides in that fortress, plotting schemes with Warlord Adolphus of Germania against the Crown!”
“Then why do we stand here?” Squire Smallbody demanded, smacking his fist into his open palm. “Let us go in there, and–”
But just then, the dragon weakly raised its head, and opened its mouth. No roar came from its mechanical throat, but a high-pitched sonic whine that instantly had all the heroes clapping their hands to their ears, including Jade and Brainwave. And one by one, they fell to the ground, unconscious.
“Jen! Jen, wake up! Wake up!”
Jade gradually came back to herself, from Brainwave gently shaking her shoulders and calling to her. The world, at first a hazy blur of colors, gradually resolved itself into sharp pictures.
“Hank!” Jade exclaimed. “What — what happened?”
“The dragon,” Brainwave said grimly. “It was equipped with some kind of sonic stunner! Knocked us out, and, I have to assume, all of this world’s heroes, too! They’re gone!”
“They must be in the castle!” Jade said, struggling to rise to her feet. “We’ve got to — oooh…” Jade wobbled, still a little woozy from the sonic cannon.
“Hang on, hang on,” Brainwave said. “We’re not sure of anything yet; we’d better not go charging in half-cocked. Besides, if this world’s Wizard could take out six heroes, we’d better at least have a game plan!”
“Can you see if they’re in there?” Jade asked. “Use your powers, tune in on their minds?”
“I can try,” Brainwave said, closing his eyes. He sat back on his heels, palms resting on his thighs, and concentrated. Jade watched him silently for long minutes. They were unaware that another pair of eyes — dark, shrouded eyes — were watching them.
“Yes — yes, I see them,” Brainwave said at last. “They’re in the castle, all right! I think I’m picking up Squire Smallbody’s thoughts, because he’s the only one I can’t see! They’re all chained to a wall in the castle!”
“All of them?” Jade asked. “What about Da — the Knight of the Verdant Flame?”
“He’s chained, too,” Brainwave reported. “But his chains seem to be of heavy wood, not metal. His power sword is sheathed in its scabbard; probably goes there automatically if he’s knocked out, and nobody else can draw it — kind of like your dad’s power ring!”
“What about the others?”
“The Lord of Lightning has some kind of glass helmet over his head, and it’s filled with a kind of pinkish vapor. He seems weak, like he can barely stand. Thane of the Hourglass is wrapped from head to foot in chains, like a mummy. The others are just chained at the wrists.”
“And the Wizard King? Do you see him?”
“I think so,” Brainwave said. “I see a big guy in black robes, with long, black hair and a bushy black beard, and the most hateful, malevolent eyes I’ve ever seen! If that’s not the Wizard King, it ought to be! I–”
“Hank!” Jade suddenly screamed.
Jade’s scream brought Brainwave back from his mental state. He opened his eyes and found himself staring at what appeared to be a man in clothes similar to those worn by the sheriff in Middlesex. The man’s skin was chalk-white, and his eyes were shrouded by the hood of the cloak he wore. There was an expression of calm on his face — dead calm.
“Do not be troubled,” the man spoke in a hollow voice. “I intend no harm toward you.”
“Who — who are you?” Jade asked, in a tremulous voice.
“I am known as the Ghost of the Moors,” the white-skinned being said. “I once had another name, but it belonged to another life — a life that was stolen by a highwayman’s knife. Now, Ghost of the Moors is the only name that fits me.”
Brainwave nodded. “What do you here, Ghost?”
“I am unable to quit this sphere,” the Ghost said, “until my mission on Earth is completed. My mission to seek out evil, in all its forms, and smite it wherever and however I find it. The great evil being contemplated therein–” The Ghost indicated the castle with a white finger. “–drew me like honey draws the fly. I do not know what form it takes, only that the evil is very great indeed. And I sense no evil in yourselves. Therefore, why would you be in this evil place, save to confront that evil? If I am correct, and our purposes correlate, perhaps we may join our strengths.”
“Indeed,” Brainwave agreed. “The evil within takes the form known as the Wizard King.”
Something like a frown flitted across the Ghost’s expressionless face for a heartbeat. “I have heard of him — a truly evil man, who uses forbidden magicks to accomplish his ends. I knew that, one day, my mission would bring me into conflict with him.”
“That about sums him up, all right,” Jade agreed. “What say we go in there and smite him together?”
The Ghost simply, silently, nodded.
“You sick fiend,” Squire Smallbody spat at the Wizard King. “Why don’t you just kill us now, and quit gloating about it?”
“All in good time, my tiny friend,” the Wizard King sneered. “Your death will come in due season. But my goal was to capture, not kill, as many of the Kingdom’s heroes as I could. I must say, though, even I did not expect six of you.”
“You planned this?” Sir Falconer demanded.
“Of course,” the Wizard King said smoothly. “Why else would we leak the information of my headquarters to King Franklin’s spies? Ah, I see the surprise on your faces. Yes, we knew of them, the spies. They were so valuable, feeding them false information as we did. And now we have the six of you. Adolphus’ alchemists are anxious to study each of you, learn your secrets. Once they do, Adolphus will have an army of men like yourself to march on the Kingdom!”
“You’re a traitor to the Crown!” Knight of the Verdant Flame cursed, straining at his wooden chains.
“And what has the Crown ever done for me, but persecute me for my beliefs and my experiments?” the Wizard King snarled. “No, Sir Knight, the Crown is the traitor, and I will dance on its grave!”
“You will visit no grave this night, save perhaps your own, Wizard,” a sepulchral voice boomed through the castle.
The captive heroes and the Wizard King watched as the eerie, white-skinned figure walked through the castle wall to appear in their midst.
“The Ghost of the Moors!” the Knight gasped, straining in his chains. “But — but I thought he was only a legend!”
“I’ve heard the same said of you, Sir Knight,” remarked Thane of the Hourglass.
“Be you now free, to strike in the cause of justice,” the Ghost intoned, with a flourish of his hand. Instantly, the chains and other binding devices vanished, leaving the heroes free to fight.
“Meddling specter!” the Wizard King spat. “You’ll not snatch victory from me so easily!”
No sooner were the words spoken than dozens of armored warriors, armed with swords and maces, charged into the room. The heroes instantly joined them in battle, and quickly the room was a boiling mass of limbs and bodies.
Jade and Brainwave had hung back, watching from the window, at Brainwave’s insistence. “Hank, look!” Jade gasped, watching as Squire Smallbody ducked a sword-thrust from one warrior, and the blade sliced through the body of another. Not blood but black oil spilled from the wound. “The Wizard’s men — they’re robots!”
“The battle is going pretty one-sided,” Brainwave commented, watching the Knight bowl over six robot warriors as the Lord of Lightning kayoed another four. “But, you know, one member is still missing from the gathering.”
Suddenly, a bright, golden light shone over the young time-lost heroes. Jade turned her head to stare into a shining golden mask. She gasped sharply.
“D-Doctor Fate!” she stammered.
“No,” the golden mask said, simply.
Jade and Brainwave stared past the golden helmet and saw billowing blue robes beneath them. The robes floated in the breeze as the being hung suspended in air, floating so freely that Jade wondered if there were a body beneath them at all.
“I am not the Doctor Fate you know, Jennie-Lynn Hayden,” the apparition spoke. “I am known as Goldenhelm the Mage.”
“You — know our names?” Brainwave asked.
“There is little I do not know, Henry King Junior,” Goldenhelm said kindly. “And I know you seek a way to return to your homeworld.”
“Can you help us?” Jade asked anxiously.
“I can,” Goldenhelm said with a small nod. “I can help speed you on your way back to the world and time from whence you came.”
“But — but what about the battle here?” Jade asked. “The Wizard King, the heroes? We–”
“You have set the wheels in motion for a golden age of heroes to dawn,” Goldenhelm said. “You have done what was destined of you to do. There is no further need for your presence in this world.”
“You knew?” Brainwave demanded. “You knew we would come here, do what we did?”
“As I said,” Goldenhelm said, “there is little that I do not know. Now, prepare yourselves for the journey back.”
As a golden light began to shine from Goldenhelm’s forehead, Jade looked back through the window of the fortress, taking one last look at this world’s heroes. What she saw made her gasp with surprise. “Hank — look!”
The Wizard King had taken a direct hit in the chest by a bolt from the Knight’s sword. He fell to his knees, clutching himself with pain. His form shimmered, like a heat image, and seemed to collapse in on itself. It changed; gone was the form of the tall man with long black hair and bristling beard, replaced by a tiny, shrivelled dwarf with a bald head and thick, round glasses.
“Hank — he wasn’t the Wizard at all!” Jade said with awe. “He was–”
“The Wizard… King,” Brainwave whispered.
And then everything vanished in a blaze of golden light.