by Philip-Todd Franklin
Back in the dimensional realm known only as Avalon, Merlin and the fairy leader King Wingdore had remained within the great chamber since the dark events began taking place in Great Britain on Earth-Four. They had seen her powerful wall of darkness rise into the sky and had witnessed its results on the modern world, and both the fairy king and Merlin had tried to take a more active role against Morgana le Fay since she hatched her dark plans of conquest, from trying to send fairies into the British Isles to the simple protection on the old cottage through the magicks within Excalibur.
Merlin continued to watch the crystal ball before him, his mind distracted by thoughts of the precious charges within the cottage, the dangers that he had placed upon his granddaughter Mary on Earth-X, and the failures to locate his own daughter and her husband. Taking a moment and sighing softly, Merlin tried to concentrate on protecting the very people within the cottage. I may be unable to take physical action to stop Morgana at the moment, he thought, but surely I can help the descendants of my great friend Arthur, even if it’s not the same Arthur that I started with.
Within his crystal ball he noticed beside a figure the same dark-looking armour that Morgana le Fay had so many times before chosen for her warriors. Without saying a word, he continued to watch the small group even as they loaded up two large-looking horses. He arched the brow of his right eye as the female of the group first shrank to six inches tall, whilst gossamer wings began to sprout from her back. Within seconds, the group left the cottage, and from what Merlin could see, they were making their way toward London.
King Wingdore, in agreement with Merlin, had continued to search for his friend’s missing daughter and son-in-law. He was sitting in front of another crystal ball and was slowly scanning across the different universes as well as checking up on Merlin’s granddaughter Mary as well. He had seen many different sights that he knew would be of importance to his friend. Upon one of the worlds, a sight caused King Wingdore to sharply draw in his breath, nearly causing him to spill his coffee as he momentarily gagged on it. I was careful to not observe the same Earth as he, so what is she doing there? Watching the female in the crystal ball, he was able to see the architect of the buildings round her. No — what? That’s not any London that I remember — must be a human university. However, who is that young man with her? These were all thoughts that he knew would be important, but he refused to disturb Merlin with the news until he knew it was safe.
Matthew le Gros and Roger Pendragon, sharing one of the two horses that were heading to London, were trying to converse as the group headed toward its destination.
“Do you honestly feel that we can trust this Modred, Roger?” Matthew asked.
“Actually, his words I don’t trust completely, but I do trust those of Miss Bonham, and it does seem that she has given him her trust,” Roger replied, taking a glance at the other horse that was carrying both Modred and the six-inch-tall Piskie.
“I see,” said Matthew. “I would still feel better if we were to have more of that new group of action-heroes — what was their name? Britons, Freedom, U.K… No, wait, don’t tell me — I remember: the Union.”
“Yes, that is the team, and I would, too, my friend, but no-one has seen them since the wall of darkness went up. Remember, we only have the news that they gave us about what’s taken place in London since we first arrived at my ex-wife’s cottage.”
“I know, Roger. I just don’t feel right round him,” said Matthew. “Still, I will work beside him, but I do plan to keep an eye on him, nonetheless.”
“Not a completely bad idea, my friend,” said Roger. “As the old saying goes, ‘keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.'” And with those words, the two men fell into silence.
Modred le Fay softly shook his head, a look of complete and utter despair hidden behind his black helmet. Tiny Piskie sitting in front of him, they rode in silence, each keeping their own counsel and thoughts to themselves.
At Westminster Palace, Nightstalker materialised without being seen and slowly began scouting the different defences of the palace, whilst looking for an unguarded path through which his companions could invade. He noted the many armed men who were standing on the ancient ramparts and took a few seconds to make a rough, yet very accurate estimate that his friends would end up being overwhelmed by the sheer size of the army. “I must do something to help them, but how can I help, only being able to possess one person at a time?” he asked himself as he began to sink lower into the long-forgotten part of the palace.
When Matthew, Roger, Piskie, and Modred reached London it was already past noon, but the streets were eerily quiet, enough to cause the horses to become spooked at any little sound. Stopping in front of an old apartment building whose front door was smashed in, Matthew signalled for Modred to come up beside him.
As Modred brought the horse beneath him beside Matthew and Roger, he softly acknowledged them. “What, may I ask, is the hold up? If we are to win, we must attack whilst they are not expecting us.”
Matthew nodded as he replied, “I understand your logic, yet we must wait for Nightstalker to return with his report. Remember, any secret way into the palace will be of great help sneaking up on Morgana and her boys.”
“I’m afraid he’s right, Modred,” Piskie said.
“I know he’s right,” said Modred. “I’m just afraid that the longer we wait, the better chance my mother will have to plan her defences of the building.”
Roger looked at the people with him, silently wishing for the first time since they had left Elainia’s cottage that he had stayed behind to protect his family. He began to add his own two cents to the discussion but was disrupted by an unnatural chill that suddenly appeared, spooking the two horses — Nightstalker had arrived.
“Many men do guard the palace, but the Union slumbers within a dungeon proper with many of noble birth,” said the ghost of the young nobleman. “However, the River Thames will provide a forgotten way into the palace.”
It took less than an hour for Matthew and Modred to secure a place to hide their horses, and the group took shelter within the apartment building after deciding to wait until dark to try to make their way to the forgotten passage into the palace. Nightstalker, to pass the time, told Piskie all that he knew and had been able to understand of the condition of their action-hero companions, explaining that he had not seen Lady Justice in costume anywhere within the dungeons.
As the group continued to listen to Nightstalker, Modred began having a sick feeling within his stomach, believing he knew what had been done to their companions and realizing what might be able to revive them. It was the thought of keeping the devastated action-heroes from attacking him that frightened him enough to disturb him.
Piskie continued to steal glances over at Modred and could tell that something was bothering him. Without wasting a moment, she waited until Nightstalker finished describing the old waste tunnel into the palace and the boat that was not far from their present location, before turning to face Modred and speak. “Do you have any idea what has happened to the others?”
For a moment, everyone looked at Modred, waiting to hear what he had to say. At first Modred remained silent and continued to stare at the floor before rising his head, still refusing to make eye contact with anyone. “An answer may be possible, depending on what took them down. If my guess is wrong, then nothing I could describe would be of any help. Only defeating mother would ever revive them.”
“And just when where you going to share this valuable information — or were you planning on keeping it from us the whole time?” demanded Matthew, his anger and distrust simmering just below the surface, though his voice remained a whisper.
Roger looked at Modred and began to speak, but instead decided to remain silent and listen to all he would say before making a judgement on the situation.
“Modred, if you’ve got an answer that will revive our friends,” said Piskie, “it would raise our possible number of help against Morgana.”
“Truly, Piskie speaks the truth,” said Nightstalker. “If you can help, I beseech you to do so.”
Modred, knowing the answer before he even opened his mouth to reply, decided that, no matter the cost, he would tell them what they would need to know. “I will do what you have asked. I can’t let the possible cost keep me from being helpful. I honestly fear the actions of your friends at first sight of my own dark armour. That is what has stayed my mouth with the answer, but now…” He paused for a moment before continuing. “You will need this to revive them if they were taken down by contact with one of my brother’s swords.” With those words, he slowly slipped the golden chain from round his head and gently pulled his black gem from beneath his chest plate.
Each of his companions looked at the gem that Modred held, only one of them wishing to smash it into powder. Still, none of them said a word as they listened to Modred. “Another special effect of our gems, beyond helping us to remain young, provides a few other powers to the armour and swords that I and my brothers own. You each know of the teleport which, of course, drains my own life-force to power. But it also gives me the ability to see in darkness as if I was in daylight. Plus, for a time I can use it to float from the ground or downwards from nearly any height, likewise pulling power from the gem. In a way it is a capstone to the power of our swords, which still have powers of their own without the gems. They never dull, are able to cut through nearly any substance I’ve ever seen, and can provide light when desired, but it is their ability to stun an opponent that for myself has been of the most worth. And the gem is the only thing I know that is able to revive anyone who has had contact with the blades. Either by luck or design, my brothers and I are immune to the stun effect of the blades.”
Before he had a second to rethink his action, Modred laid his precious gem before Roger and silently crossed his arms.
Roger Pendragon looked at the gem for a moment before reaching out and scooping it into his hands and taking a closer look at the gem. He then slowly placed the chain round his neck, understanding the meaning behind the action; it was the price Modred had paid for trust.
After eating a light meal the group had prepared earlier while at Elainia’s cottage, they sat until nightfall whilst Nightstalker checked both the building and the surrounding area for people, finding ordinary Londoners huddled inside their dwellings, hiding from each and every noise they could hear. He had felt a heartbreaking compassion for the people, though there was little that the noble spectre could do.
“All is still and quiet all round, and ’tis the moment for action,” Nightstalker said as he slowly began floating toward the front of the building. “Come, chaps, let us restore our realm.”
“I’m with him,” said Matthew. “Let’s go have a row.” He activated his own armour and walked into the darkened night, shortly followed by Roger, Modred, and Piskie.
“Nightstalker, if you will,” said Roger, “please keep an eye on the guards of the palace close to the dungeons whilst we make our way to the palace.” The ghostly nobleman replied with a nod and bowed before him, vanishing after a moment.
The gathered group made their way to the forgotten passage without a single problem. Even Matthew and Modred in their heavy-plate armour had easily made the climb into the tunnel. As the group moved a few steps away from the opening, Matthew slowly drew his sword, and in seconds the glow was lighting the way. All remained silent, keeping their personal worries to themselves.
Nightstalker arrived at the House of Parliament invisibly and began once more to scout out the many different placements of the dark queen’s convict army. After having made a quick check of the army’s stations, an idea began to form in his mind. The fewer of these my companions must face, the better their odds shall be. Without a second thought, he located the largest group of convicts and quickly materialised amongst them, causing havoc and sending the group shouting and running in separate directions.
Slowly the heroes made their way through the tunnel, stopping only twice to check their direction. Suddenly, the path ended in solid ancient brick walls and a round opening within the ceiling. Whilst the group began searching for a way to climb up from the tunnel, Piskie silently fluttered her way through the opening and began to carefully scout the area.
Leaving her companions within the tunnel, Piskie continued scouting the room she had just entered after exiting what looked like an ancient well. After a moment she noticed the empty doorway and the faint sounds of moaning and coughing. Moving silently toward the noise, she peeked her head round and gasped at the sight before her. “Oh, my — no!”
Nightstalker had continued scaring the convicts, and after the last two hours, more than a dozen men had fled from the unknown spectre, many of them passing one or another of Morgana le Fay’s sons, only to ignore their screams of warning or threats of death for desertion. After a while, Jason Lincoln and Samuel Davis had noticed something strange occurring within the ranks of their convict army, and they met between their personal posts to discuss it.
“What could so scare those worthless twits that they should fear it more than the death we have so rightly promised them?” Jason asked.
“If their own reports are believable, it would seem an army of colonial ghosts were attacking,” said Samuel. “More likely they are afraid of the coming glorious battle.”
Jason nodded, looking at his brother. “Let us thus whip up what’s left of our cannon fodder and prepare for those fools and their worthless assault.”
Quickly and brutally Samuel struck out, smacking Jason across his face, his anger boiling forth in his words. “Never speak lightly of battle, little brother. Our foes may be foolish for standing against us, but that does not mean they are fools, and you will live longer to remember that.” Without waiting for a response, he headed back toward his chosen guard post.
The shock of having been slapped burned brightly on Jason’s face as his hands quickly flashed to his own dark sword. Deeply he wished to draw his blade and sink it to the hilt in his departing older brother’s back, but he held his hands and slowly walked toward his own post, thinking, One day, brother dear… one day, and you shall pay.
Piskie quickly flew back toward the well marking the entrance into the tunnel, only to notice that her companions had just finished climbing out. Growing back to her normal height, she motioned for her companions to gather round her as she began to tell them what lay ahead. “It seems we have just made our way into the old forgotten dungeons below the Houses of Parliament,” she said. “It does seem that our information was less than perfect. Our friends are not alone in those cells.”
“What are we expecting to find?” asked Roger Pendragon. Suddenly, he and the others began to notice sounds of coughing and moaning that came from the empty doorway.
Matthew le Gros quickly sheathed his sword, and the chamber was plunged into darkness. Moving as quietly as his plate armour would allow, he moved to the doorway and looked into the row of cells within. “Oh, my…” he whispered.
Modred le Fay had been silent as the group had made its way to the chamber, but now he no longer felt he could keep quiet. “The following cells are filled with the well-to-do of London — the politicians, the businessmen, the television stars and celebrities, the wealthy heirs and heiresses, and, of course, several of the scattered aristocracy. They were the first mother had us round up, and had I known she had this in mind, less willing would I have been in capturing those people.”
“About how many people are within those cells?”
“Each cell holds about twenty-five people, and there are over fifty separate cells,” explained Modred.
“And what were your mother’s plans for these people?” asked Matthew.
Before Modred could reply, Piskie said, “I believe I, and even Modred, would only be guessing, but I know someone who can tell us, and that person isn’t standing down here with us as we speak.”
Roger nodded, perceiving her meaning. “Yes, I agree. Let’s move forward and finish freeing these people, then worry about the why.”
Both Matthew and Modred nodded. Piskie could only smile, seeing Roger slowly take charge as the true leader he had once been as the nation’s leader before allowing himself to become the broken man he had become.
Slowly, the group made their way into the room of cells, looking for Piskie’s missing companions.