by Philip-Todd Franklin
The crystal ball floating before Morgana le Fay grew brightly for a moment, and in seconds it shattered, sending shards of crystal spewing across the chamber. The dark queen began to scream as shards of her precious crystal sliced into her body before she was able to raise her personal defences. “What in the nine hells?” she said to herself as the red telling signs of her personal shield covered her.
Without giving a second thought to either her many cuts or the loss of her crystal ball, Morgana began chanting in ancient Celtic. Within moments of uttering the last syllable, a reflective surface appeared before her. As she moved her hands and fingers in intricate patterns, a scene began to take form.
Within the reflective surface could be seen the figures of Roger Pendragon, Piskie, and the Brixton Brawler, and a fierce sword battle could also be heard in the background. Morgana continued to listen to the trio speak before a sight within the woman’s hands caused her to scream in much anger. “How did she come into possession of that gem?! Would my fool of a son be that trusting?” she screeched, recognizing the same dark gem she had created and given to her youngest son, Modred le Fay. Morgana quickly closed her eyes and began to concentrate; within seconds she was in communication with her sons Jason Lincoln, Samuel Davis, and Percy Sheldon, quickly trying to express the gravity of the situation.
Jason continued patiently waiting at his chosen position, watching his remaining prisoner troops, when he felt his mother’s mind reaching out toward him. Slowly closing his eyes, Jason began to concentrate, completing the connection between himself and Morgana. Using that link with his mother, Jason could hear the surface thoughts of his brother Samuel and an almost angry, worried screech from Percy.
Matthew le Gros slowly made his way toward the two battling, black-armoured foes, his sword drawn and held out before himself. He walked up and stood behind Modred and said, “Do you need any help with your foe?”
Modred, still vulnerable without his helmet and refusing to take his eyes from his brother Percy, continued to swing his sword in a thrust-and-parry action as he replied, “Thanks for the offer to help, but its not needed at the present.” A small smile crossed his face as he thought about what it must have taken for the other man to offer him help.
Percy was swinging his sword from right to left when he felt his mother’s mind reaching out toward his. Not daring to take his eyes from his foe during the moment it took to complete the connection, he just felt anger building from the unwanted intrusion. Mother, leave me alone. ‘Tis not the proper time for such as this, or hast thou been unable to see these events unfolding? he thought, trying to project the words and emotions of his situation to her.
Matthew moved back just a bit, taking Modred at his word but refusing to leave the present battle entirely. As he continued to watch, he heard footsteps from behind him, and he quickly turned round to see his companions Roger Pendragon and Piskie, along with the Brixton Brawler, standing behind him. Piskie, in her six-inch-tall form, held a bright smile upon her tiny face.
Once Roger and Piskie were able to calm down the Brawler, the three began to make their way toward the sound of armed combat. They arrived behind Matthew just in time to see Modred singlehandedly slip his long sword beneath his armoured foe’s defences and, in seconds, quickly swing his mighty sword up and down both sides of his foe’s head. The result was that the other man’s helmet slowly separated before crashing to the ground in two pieces.
Upon Percy’s face was plastered shock at the loss of his helm, a shock that cost the once-proud man as his brother quickly decked him right between the eyes with a gauntlet-covered left hand, crushing his nose and spinning him round. “Wha–?!” was all he was able to get out before crashing to the ground to join the remains of his own helm.
Modred stood above his brother, feeling very sick inside. His knees slowly became weak, and he could feel his grip upon his sword slacken without caring. In seconds, he crashed to his knees as heavy sobs began to escape from his handsome form.
The Brixton Brawler calmly made his way past the crying man and walked over to what looked like the form of a door in the stone wall before him. After taking a moment to lightly pound on the wall, he reached a spot and began to pound with all his might. In a few minutes a crack began to form on the wall, and after half a dozen punches to the wall, a hallway could be seen beyond.
Roger slowly walked up behind Modred and softly placed one hand upon his shoulder, not knowing what to say to the deeply troubled young man. After a few seconds he turned and looked at his companions. “We’ve got to move on. All England is resting upon our shoulders, and we dare not let this brave man’s personal sacrifice be in vain.”
Both Matthew and Piskie nodded silently in agreement as the trio slowly made their way past their broken companion, each of them casting silent prayers to their new friend and vowing to talk with him further once the sorry business was finally done.
Spring-Heeled Jack, alias Nigel Barry, moved quickly through the old castle, beginning to slowly wrap up what lone convicts he could spot before running into any of the black-armoured guards he knew would be about. Turning down a hall, the speedster entered into what looked to have been long ago a banquet hall that had been redecorated for some other government occupation. It was within this room at the far wall that Nigel noticed one of the black-armoured figures as a shiver went down his spine.
Hold it together; this isn’t that complicated. Just have to remember not to touch the blade of his sword, he thought to himself as he began to speed across the room, trying to remove as many of the armed men before facing his armoured foe. But he knew that he wasn’t going to make it.
The shock of having witnessed his younger brother Percy taken down by Modred was nearly too much for Samuel to handle. At the moment he was very thankful that he could not be seen beneath his dark, full-plate armour and helm; it would have been almost too much of an embarrassment for the common cattle he was using as troops to see any fear upon his face. Still, his mother’s warning had rang clear and strong in his mind — the attack had started, and their foes had freed some of the Union, the chosen champions of England.
Don’t care how many come at us — anything to keep from standing here shaking in fear, he thought, his hand softly resting upon the hilt of his own sword hanging at his side.
Nightstalker slowly found his way into the Chamber of the House of Commons that Morgana le Fay had claimed for her throne room. Invisible to normal sight, he slowly looked round the room, scouting for any hidden dangers that his companions would have needed to know. Every few seconds he glanced toward the dark queen sitting upon her throne, yet she seemed oblivious to his presence, continuing in whatever activities she was doing. Unfortunately, the ghostly figure had not been as invisible as he had thought, and during his circle of the chamber, Morgana caught sight of him as he passed by the floating, shimmering window before her. His first clue that anything was wrong was when he finished his scouting mission and started to leave by passing through one of the walls.
“I’m afraid that you’ll find the way is locked up tighter than a jar, my uninvited guest,” Morgana said, her voice sounding something like a mixture of crashing rocks and an off-key song.
Nightstalker pressed his hand up against the wall and lightly pressed, expecting to see it pass through. He instead found that the wall was solid, and as hard as he tried, he was unable to force his way through. What has this unnatural creature done? he thought.
Morgana softly chanted, and within seconds twin, shining beams of light raced out toward the invisible Nightstalker, quickly winding round him.
As the bounds tightened, Nightstalker tried to pass through the constructs, only to find that they held him tightly as any rope could have done once he was last alive. Morgana laughed as the bonds wriggled over the invisible spirit, a sickening smile crossing her face.
After a few more moments, Nightstalker was shocked to find a strangely familiar, burning feeling coming from his ghostly chest. In seconds he recognised the burning desire for what it was — the long-abandoned need to draw in a breath of life-giving air. He struggled to take a breath, something he hadn’t needed to do for centuries, but the bonds holding him were still compressing, making it nearly impossible to gasp any air at all. For the first time since the end of his mortal life he recognised the effect now taking over. He was beginning to pass out as darkness slowly covered over his consciousness. His last thought as darkness claimed him was, How has she done this?
And the dark eyes of the young nobleman closed as his invisibility slowly faded, leaving his suddenly solid, all-too-human form lying prone upon the chamber floor.
As his companions caught up to him, Rupert Deane, alias the Brixton Brawler, stopped and turned to look back at them. “Shall we go and finish kicking arse and wrap this bloody mess up once and for all?” he said, a small smile playing at the corner of his mouth.
Roger Pendragon looked at the tall, black, bearded man, thinking, His great strength could come as a big help in the battle yet to come, but those people behind us need to be released before others lose their lives. The sounds of people moaning in pain had returned as the sounds of the sword fight had ended. “I’m sorry, Brawler, but I need you to help release everyone in the cells down. I know you want to finish this battle, but they’re more important than a rematch with your dark foe.”
Piskie smiled lightly at Roger as he spoke, then turned to shine that same flirtatious smile toward her teammate and nodded softly.
Matthew le Gros looked at the big man for a moment but remained silent, understanding the need to finish the battle, since he wanted his own rematch with the dark-armoured man he had battled back in Tintagel, which seemed like ages ago now.
For a moment it looked as if the Brixton Brawler was going to refuse as he glanced defiantly at each of the people in front of him. Then he caught Piskie smiling at him, and he couldn’t help but smile in return, then reluctantly nod in agreement to Roger’s plan. Without another word, he walked over to the first cell, grabbed the strong door with both of his powerful hands, and with little effort ripped it from the frame as if it was made of cardboard.
After watching that event take place, the others quickly made their way up the once-hidden stairway from the dungeon. After reaching the top of the stairs, they noticed that the large wooden door that should have been blocking the passage now stood open.
Roger Pendragon had begun to regain the courage he’d once had as a young man and as the prime minister. Thus he stuck his head through the opening without waiting for anyone else. And he was stunned by what he saw. Tied and gagged near the opening were two escaped convicts, each of them with the same stunned look that Roger wore on his face. After noticing that the room was otherwise empty, he exited and motioned for his companions to join him. “Seems our other friend has been busy since he left the cells.”
Both Matthew and Piskie smiled at Roger’s dry humour as they glanced down both directions in the hall.
Matthew looked at Roger as he continued to watch down the left hallway. “Where to now, Roger?” he asked.
Roger looked for a moment at the identical halls before coming up with an idea. Slowly he pulled out the black gem that Modred had given them and that Piskie had returned after reviving her fallen friends. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the gem for a few seconds, and as a result he felt a gentle tug coming from a target on the right, which he knew was not moving.
Then, without warning, a cold chill ran right down his spine as a result from another pull that came from the left — this target, on the other hand, was on the move. As Roger opened his eyes, he quickly turned to the left just in time to see the same black-armoured figure that he had seen at Tintagel. Oh, my, he thought.
Before Roger could say anything, Matthew was already moving into action, his long, shining sword flying free of its scabbard as he quickly silently moved toward his old foe.
For just a moment, Samuel Davis felt once again a moment of fear before he calmed himself. I’ve destroyed others who were better than this piece of rubbish, he thought. I should hold no fear of him. With a mighty scream, Samuel pulled his sword from its scabbard and started running toward Matthew, his only thought to finally finish the original battle with this pathetic excuse for a knight.
“Go! Find the real problem behind this, Roger,” Matthew cried as he spun, bringing his glowing sword round to block the black sword in Samuel’s hands. “You’re the only one who can end it. Remember, it’s not for us but for your precious kids and wife!”
Roger started to pull out his own sword at his side as he heard a voice within his left ear. “We’ve got to continue,” said Piskie. “If we don’t, everyone’s sacrifice will be in vain. All those people down below will have died without being avenged.”
Nodding softly, he watched for a moment as both fighters spun and twirled in action, their swords clashing into each other nearly as many times as they barely missed their targets. She’s right. I must trust in Matthew. With that last thought, he quickly turned to the left and took off at a dead run, with Piskie trying to hang on tightly.
Jason Lincoln, left fully in charge of the dregs of the convict army, broke off contact with his mother and slowly opened his eyes, only to see each convict standing guard with him tied and gagged, which scared him more than he wanted to admit. Still, he reached at his side to remove his own glowing black sword, only to grasp nothing but empty air. “What?” he said.
Spring-Heeled Jack was standing behind the shocked Jason as he said, “Are ya missin’ something, lad? Could it be that ya lost yer best mate?” said Nigel Barry, grinning.
Jason quickly twisted round to face the voice behind him, only to stare into the face with pointed ears and glowing eyes. He swung his arms at the strange-looking, twisted figure behind him, only to feel a sharp wind spin round him, then the sounds of his own dark armour falling to the ground. Before he had time to realise what had just happened, he was struck by something he could no longer see.
Spring-Heeled Jack began running round the frightened warrior faster than he had ever tried to move before, his blows landing so fast against his foe that in less than a minute Jason began to panic.
Jason, thinking of his own safety, vanished in the blink of an eye in a flash of darkness and smoke, leaving Nigel looking at the empty air that he continued to swing into for a few seconds after his foe had vanished.
“This time our battle shall not fall to you, my dark opposite,” Matthew le Gros said, his sword ringing hard against Samuel’s helmed head.
Samuel quickly backed away from his foe, trying to regain his wits. “Why are you trying to protect the cattle of this island so badly?” he snarled. “With your strength of arm, you should be ruling over them. Why, in another life… I… we could have been friends.”
“You may be a worthy opponent, but I’m afraid we’d never be friends,” retorted Matthew. “Your kind is never able to defend anyone but themselves.” And the battle between the two evenly matched foes continued, each swapping scratches and cuts, blows and slices.
Roger Pendragon and Piskie moved quickly, soon completely leaving behind the sounds of sword battle as the pull from the dark gem grew stronger with each step. “We’re almost there,” Roger said as he soon slowed to a walk, which ended before a pair of double-sized doors.
Piskie dived from Roger’s shoulder and slowly fluttered over to the door. She hovered over at eye level and tried to glance into the room. At her six-inch height, she was able to get a full glance round the room, and she gave Roger as much detail as was possible, gasping in shock when she noticed the solid-looking figure of Nightstalker passed out on the floor.