by CSyphrett and Doc Quantum
As Jock o’ Kent ran from Wales into nearby Somerset, his wizard senses told him that the Prince of Wales had been saved by another. That was one less problem for him to worry about. But he still wondered why he should help Edward Constant. The man was walking trouble. Even worse for a Welshman, Constant was English. Still, Edward Albertus Constant was a symptom, if not the cause, of the problems recently plaguing Great Britain. The man might be able to provide a clue as to what was really involved.
The black dog joined the wizard hero as he approached the hill in Glastonbury where Constant said to come. He paused in the early morning air to take in the lay of the land. The dog yapped at him, but he took no notice. Something was wrong.
Jock o’ Kent quietly walked toward twin hills side by side that each held identical abandoned church forts atop them silhouetted against the predawn sky. There were several such hills as these scattered over the landscape of Britain. The problem he had with it was that he didn’t remember Glastonbury Tor ever having a twin next to it before.
The dog trotted at his heels as he walked up to the tower atop the twin hill next to the famous Glastonbury Tor. He could hear movement inside the stone wreck there, and it sounded to his ears too heavy to be a drunken Englishman. Jock walked up to the wooden door of the place and pushed it open so that it slammed against the wall. There was no need for quiet here. He heard a growl behind him and knew he had misjudged the dog.
The wizard hero started to turn, but a giant fist struck him down to the floor. Before he could recover, he was yanked up by his shirt and thrown into a metal cage.
“Let me guess,” said Edward Constant from a matching cage next to Jock’s. “‘Come quickly or your friend will be hurt.’ That sort of thing, eh?”
“Yes,” said Jock. “I thought the black dog was a new assistant. You go through so many of them.”
“He is a new assistant, Jock,” said a voice out of the shadows. “He is my assistant.”
Jock turned to see the speaker, a magician who was dressed in a black cloak and held three golden orbs at the end of a silver chain. His assistant, the little black dog, had grown larger and become more manlike with a transformation of extremities, like that of a were-dog.
“Ladonicus, meet Jock o’ Kent,” said Constant. “Jock, meet Ladonicus.”
“I trust you had fun with the diversion I sent your way,” said the magician.
“Which one?” asked Jock. “The Amazons, the Fomorian giant, the Greek beasties, or Kern?”
“Why, uh, Kern… of course,” replied Ladonicus, momentarily confused by the references to the mythical beings. “I’m afraid Constant didn’t hide the chest containing the demon lord and his horses very well. But now that our introductions are over, it’s time to execute the rest of my plan.”
“No more small talk first?” asked the wizard hero as he pulled off his gauntlets.
“No,” said his captor. “We’ll talk later after my plan is concluded, just before I kill you.”
“Uh, no and no,” said Jock, grabbing the bars of his cage in his massive hands. “The plan is done, and so are you.”
“You’ll never bend those, Jock,” said Ladonicus. He began to swing his chain in a circle over his head. “And soon, you won’t have the strength to try.”
Jock o’ Kent closed his eyes to shut out any and all distractions. He then began to pull on the steel with more than his mere physical strength but also with all of his will and innate power. The two bars quickly snapped under the strain, and the wizard hero smiled as he stepped out of confinement.
“Get him back into the cage!” Ladonicus screamed at his were-dog helper. The black dog leaped at the hero in fury, saliva dripping from its growling mouth.
Jock ducked under the maddened were-dog’s charge, grabbing it by the waist with both hands. He slammed the black dog into the floor, creating a crater. As the assistant were-dog tried to pull itself out of the hole, Jock crushed its skull with one blow.
“Hoorah!” said Constant, clapping his hands.
“I see I underestimated you, Jock,” said Ladonicus, visibly shaken but determined to beat him. “Let me see if I can rectify that.” The magician brought his chain and balls down like a whip. He was caught unprepared as the strongman brought his hands together and crushed the three orbs together into a flat sheet of metal.
“What have you done?” wailed Ladonicus.
“Stripped you of your powers, I would venture to guess,” said Constant, working the lock on his cage for a second, allowing him to step clear. “How does it feel to be a mortal again?”
Ladonicus exploded in a cloud of dust before he could answer.
“We’d better leave this duplicate of Glastonbury Tor before it, too, vanishes like its creator,” said Constant.
“You set this up, didn’t you, Constant?” Jock asked as he retrieved the magician’s gauntlets from where he had dropped him. “Manipulated Ladonicus to release Kern and attract my attention with the black dog, knowing I’d beat him.”
“I’m sure I’m not that cunning as to involve one of my closest friends in something as dangerous as this could have been,” said Edward Constant, taking a drink from a silver flask and trying to look innocent. “I could never do that.”
Jock left the antiques dealer choking in a cloud of dust as he ran off in disgust.
“Of course,” Constant muttered to himself, “I could have said something like, ‘Jock o’ Kent will avenge me.’ Yes, I could have done that.”
In Bavaria, Jack Bicci awoke at dawn and began retracing his steps. He armed himself with nothing more than a small pole, as he had noted the three-inch fangs and the claws the manticore possessed and decided to take an elementary precaution.
He found the hole again easily and rammed the pole into the burrow, hoping to entice his prey out to the surface. The staff did not reach to the end of the lair as he had hoped. How far did the tunnel extend?
Jack walked along in a grid pattern, searching the ground carefully. He was rewarded by finding another hole in the ground, which was obviously an escape exit. He scanned the surrounding woods with his keen senses and spotted a small track in the soft loam. The ammonia scent drifted to him. He started walking.
He still thought a human intelligence was behind the strange mythical creature straight out of a medieval bestiary, and his theory was given substance by a set of fresh automobile tracks on a service road he discovered after a few more miles of walking. The car had come from and headed back to the highway leading through town from the tracks.
Jack smiled as he memorized the tread pattern. If the car was still there, he would find it. That was a sure thing. Now what he did after that he was still deciding on.
Using his mini-jets concealed beneath his suit, Jack Bicci flew into the town nearby, a burg named Sauerlach, and began his search at the hotel parking lots. He inspected every tire he saw until he finally found the car he was looking for and tapped it as he went into the hotel.
The lobby was richly adorned in red and brown. A lush red carpet covered the floor to the steps leading to the other two stories. Two little flags, one the Bavarian state flag and the other the flag of West Germany, hung on two small staffs next to the registration desk. The hotel clerk was a stocky man who had lost most of his hair and had small eyes slightly magnified by his glasses. He glared at Jack when he walked into the lobby.
Jack went to the desk, smelling the strange ammonia in the closed lobby. The air conditioner had pushed the smell all over the room. The creature obviously had to be in the building. “I was wondering if you knew who owned that blue BMW outside in the lot,” Jack said in perfect German. He gave the clerk the license number.
“Sir,” said the clerk as if he’d been asked to betray his own mother. “It is against hotel policy to give out information on our lodgers.”
“I see,” said Jack. “Thanks anyway.”
The billionaire technologist walked toward the exit, deciding that there was more than one way to skin a cat. Walking around the corner of the building, he used his mini-jets to swiftly fly up the outer walls of the building almost to the sloped roof, then entered a third floor window. Now to track that smell to its source.
He began his search slowly, alert for any sign of his quarry, and noted the smell wafting up from below. He descended the stairs, following the smell and listening to the rooms as he went. He stopped in front of one room when he thought he heard the sound of a weak kitten and listened at the door.
Jack Bicci used a pen knife on the hotel door lock. It sprang open for him easily, and he slid the door back silently. The strange mewing became a tiny humanlike growl. Jack saw a man leap up from the plain wooden chair provided by the hotel. The man’s hands were behind his back. Jack thought he knew what was in the man’s hands.
“Hello there,” he said in German as he entered the room. “My name is Jack Bicci. I’m wondering what you know about a strange creature that’s been terrorizing Wesley Ajax’s ranch.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” replied the tourist with a slight French accent. “I don’t have any such creature.”
Jack smiled. “Well, I just happen to know that you do. Would you like to talk to me about it, or should we just keep on playing this little game?”
“Doctor Diabolique does not talk to inferiors,” said the round-faced man. “I get rid of them.” He brought both of his hands around, hurling the miniaturized predator at his persecutor. The manticore began to grow as it flew forward, its hideous three rows of teeth snapping in the air in anticipation.
Jack knew the thing would go for his throat and ducked to one side, swinging his arms in a circle. His hands grasped the manticore’s neck, then before the creature could swing its spiky tail at him, he redirected it to the floor with a solid thump, following through with a stomp. He heard a snap, knowing his attack had been fatal.
“Whew! Now let’s try that again,” he said, turning his full attention on Doctor Diabolique, who had drawn a strange-looking pistol.
“Let’s not,” said the doctor, firing the pistol.
A beam of light shot from the barrel of the weapon. Having guessed it would strike him in the chest, Jack used his mini-jets to leap over the line of fire a millisecond before the beam shot out and pushed his hands below his feet, now high in the air. Doctor Diabolique tried to turn on the billionaire inventor, but Jack used one of his hands to twist the weapon out of the doctor’s grasp as it discharged a second time. Jack landed agilely on the floor once again, prepared to strike his opponent.
He was instead surprised to find the man shrinking from the blast. He stepped back quickly, watching as Diabolique shrank out of sight, disappearing into the thin carpet in a green glow.
“Looks like Wesley’s problems are over,” Jack Bicci said to himself as he walked from the room.
Jock o’ Kent arrived back at the shipyard in Cardiff, Wales, only moments after he’d left Glastonbury Tor. He still had work to do of the more mundane kind in his civilian identity. He began at one end of his work area and started cleaning, assembling, and loading, as well as all the other things he had planned to do before being called away. When he was finished, he smiled at the good job he had done and went home.
When the crew comes in this morning, he thought to himself, they can do without me for a while.
Jock Gruffudd headed for home as the sun shone on a new day.