"The Defense of Avalon"
Written by: Wes A.
With a flash of white light, ten figures appeared. At first they had to wait a few moments for their eyes to adjust.
"Do you believe it possible to blind us even more, friend Dane?"
"Sorry Lord Tyger, I guess you get a bit used to it after a few times. Anyway, here we are: Avalon!"
The group looked around with awe. Before them was a courtyard to a castle that could only be described as majestic. The structure looked hundreds of years old but appeared solid. The Knights were gaping in awe of such a sight. Sersi lightly brushed a hand on the wall, checking if it was actually real. Dane grinned at his companion's reactions. Then he noticed Drake just staring with mild amusement.
"Not impressive enough for you?" asked Dane.
"It's very.....quaint." said Drake in a deadpan tone.
The group made their way inside castle to what looked like a meeting hall. In the center of the room was a roundtable that looked like it could seat several dozen people. Dane motioned for everyone to take a seat.
"So when do we meet the Lady?" asked Drake.
"Lady?" asked Sersi with confusion, "What Lady?"
Dane cursed to himself, he probably should have given everyone a full report before they left. "Oh, I guess I didn't fill you in on all the exact details. You see, I was in kind of a rush to get you all here."
"Knowledge is the ultimate power Black Knight. The first Pendragon knew that very well."
Everyone jumped, the voice came from almost every corner of the room. Lord Tyger jumped from his seat in a flash. His hand rested on the handle of his katana.
"Whose voice doth invade my ear? Show thyself or taste death!"
The air before the assembled group seemed to reshape itself, like someone was twisting it inside out. Within a moment, the Lady of the Lake appeared. She was tall and dressed in all white. Her feet hovered about a foot off the ground.
"Do not worry yourself Lord Tyger. I am the Lady of the Lake, the guardian of Avalon and keeper of King Arthur's tomb. I trust the Pendragon told you why are here?"
"Pendragon? You mean Dane?" asked Sersi.
The Lady of the Lake nodded.
"We're here to protect Avalon against a threat of some kind, right?"
"Correct. The Pendragon and the one called Drake battled a minion of the evil before. They were successful. After that defeat, the evil has remained more cautious, taking more care to gather his forces."
"Excuse me," said Sir Ram, "But who is this evil that we will be fighting?"
"He is an evil that is matched only by the darkest of gods themselves. Twice he has tried to rule this world, he was barely defeated each time. His name is Charnel."
As the Lady said the name, Dane swore that he could see Drake's face go slightly pale.
"Charnel?" asked Drake, "As in the Sumerian God of Darkness, Charnel?"
The Lady nodded. Everyone's eyes at the table was shifting from the Lady to Drake.
"You know about this thing, Drake?" asked Sersi.
"Yes, I do. As you may or may not know, I've been around for a few centuries, I've picked up quite a bit of information in my time. The legend of Charnel is one that predates even the Asgardian time of worship by man. Charnel is one of the Ancients, the beings that existed when the Earth was first formed. They were the ones that were worshipped by man before any other gods or spirits. It's safe to say that they ruled the Earth and it's people. After a while, a war broke out between the Ancients. Many died in the war, and in the end Charnel was the last Ancient standing. For nearly a millennia he ruled the world with terror and fear. Finally, a group of human mages summoned a power that could combat Charnel. That power took the form of a man, who became the first Sorcerer Supreme of Earth. After a long battle, Charnel was defeated and driven into exile on an empty plane of existence. Like the Lady said, he came back and was defeated. I'm not sure how, but from the bits I've heard they weren't easy fights to win."
Everyone in the room was dead silent. Dane could see Sersi looking at him from the corner of his eye. He was the one that brought them all their, it was him that will lead them. Dane took a breath and broke the silence.
"Ok, so how is it that we stop Charnel this time?" he asked.
The Lady of the Lake fielded that question. "The few followers of Charnel have gathered in a small pocket dimension to resurrect him. When he is restored, he will attack Avalon, then the Earth."
"We must make sure that they do not breathe life into the beast once again." said Lord Gator in his raspy whisper of a voice.
"Agreed" said Dane, "We'll leave in one hour. That should give us enough time to prepare."
Dane stood out on one of the castle's balconies. He looked down at the courtyard to see the Knights checking on their robotic Atomic Steeds. It would be a shame if in the midst of battle they lost due to a faulty engine. Dane also noted how beautiful the island itself was. The grass and forests were pure green, so unlike most of Earth's land these days. Suddenly, Dane felt guilty that he didn't try to spend more time in this place. It would have been.....nice.
"So here you are."
Dane turned around to see Sersi looking at him, leaning against the doorway that led from the castle to the balcony. "Yeah, here I are all right."
The two just looked at each other for a moment, studying each other. Each of them had images of their time together. Although it wasn't more than a year or two, it seemed so much longer than that. They thought about their time in the Avengers, time alone with each other, and then their time apart. Suddenly, the mood between them went from friendly to uncomfortable.
"So, ah....been keeping busy?" asked Dane awkwardly.
Sersi had a sad look on her face. "Dane, we don't see each other for months and that is the best you can do?"
"Well...yeah, pretty much."
The two looked each other in the eye for a minute, then laughed at the lame joke. Sersi walked over to Dane, her hand on his shoulder.
"It's good to see you again." she said sincerely.
"You too. So, are you going to answer my question?" he said with a grin.
"I've been taking relaxing mostly. Went to Rio, stopped a flood, got a tan. Not as exciting as mercenary work, but it works for me."
"We're not mercenary's. We help those who need it." said Dane in defense.
"Dane, calm down. I know that you help those who need it. It must be hard to a profit-seeking team, what with all the other mercenaries out there."
"You mean like Deadpool?"
"Yeah, although from what I've heard Deadpool isn't as much of a bad-ass as he claims to be."
Dane chuckled. "He's out there all right."
"You've met him?" asked Sersi with a raised eyebrow.
"Yeah, it was just before that business with the Master went down. He was a loan from another company."
"Really? So J. Jonah Jameson was right, you really do let ANYbody on your team."
The two shared a short laugh over that. Sersi made no attempt to hide her mischievous smile from Dane. He knew that she was joking with him and he liked playing alone. It felt nice. He almost wanted to tell her how much he missed her, how much he wanted to hold her and love her like he used to. This might be his last chance. It...
"Looks like the Knights are just about ready. Shall we?" asked Sersi, motioning towards the courtyard below.
The two turned to the doorway and began their way down to the courtyard. On the way down, Sersi kept repeating in her mind that it was best to get out of that situation. Dane had moved on with his life, no need to try and burden herself on him. It just wouldn't be right.
There are many dimensions in existence. Some are lush, beautiful places that are teeming with magic and splendor. These heaven-sent places enrich the very soul of your inner being. Tanagar was not one of these places.
The phrase "hell of Earth" is used to describe a place of brutality, pain, and chaos. Tanagar is as close to this as you could get. There were no plants, animals, or water of any sort. All that was there was harsh winds, dirt, and rocks. There were occasional mountain formations that looked hard and craggy. Inside the bowels of Tanagar's largest mountain formation, the priests prayed. They were dressed in armor that were as black as midnight. They had no solid form, in fact, they were little more than spirits anymore. Long ago, they were the minions of Charnel. When their lord was defeated, they went to Tanagar to hide, to wait for the day when the opportunity to resurrect their master returned. Today was that day.
Outside the mountain, dozens of the priests stood guard. They never moved, not one bit. But when the blue portal opened above them, they let out a piercing scream. The Knights of Wundagore burst through the portal, mounted on their flying atomic steeds and their weapons at the ready. Sir Ram was in the lead.
The Knights broke formation and began to attack the priests. Lord Gator swung in low and blasted two of the priests with his electro-mace. Where the two priests stood, there was a surge of red light. Their spirits were gone, their armor silently fell to the ground.
The Knights each took passes at the grounded priests. One of the priests leaped onto Delphis's steed when Delphis had made a pass. The priest had a short sword with him. Delphis wrestled with the priest, his atomic steed careening out of control. Delphis activated the gauntlet on his right forearm. The gauntlet emitted to electronic bolt to the priest. There was the same red surge and, as before, the armor dropped. Delphis got control of his steed and readied for another pass.
Delphis turned to see Sir Simian and Lady Vlad dispatched of three more priests with their firearms. He had a smile on his face until he saw more priests coming out of the mountain. Delphis gulped his fear down deep into his stomach.
"I hope we can buy them enough time."
"I hope they can buy us enough time."
Black Knight, Sersi, Drake, and Lord Tyger emerged from a smaller portal inside the mountain. While the rest of the Knights kept the priests busy, the Lady of the Lake would teleport the others inside the mountain. The foursome moved through several tunnels before coming across the main room. Nine priests prayed in a circle around a large vat of green liquid.
"There, that's it." whispered Black Knight.
"What are they doing?" asked Sersi.
Drake answered the question. "That liquid in the vat is a mixture of several magical substances from multiple dimensions. To raise Charnel, they had to get specific ingredients and wait until the cosmos were aligned right."
"So we stop them from finishing that chant, and Charnel stays dead?"
"Mechlah!!" the priests chanted as one.
The mountain itself began to shake. Below, the priests had their arms raised in triumph. The liquid in the vat was rapidly shifting colors.
"Aw crap." muttered Black Knight.
At once, the four charged the priests. Lord Tyger drew his two katanas and slashed four of the priests to pieces. Sersi turned two priests into steam with a touch and another into ice. Black Knight gutted two more with his Sword of Light. Drake stood over the vat, a very concerned look on his face.
"What now?" asked Sersi.
The voice came from the vat. A figure began to emerge, it was large, musceled, with glowing red eyes and skin that was tough as leather. Its mouth showed talon-like teeth, as if in a smile.
The four heroes just stood motionless, unsure of how to attack. Several of the spirit priests burst into the chamber. The quakes had obviously made them aware of their master's awakening. As soon as they saw their master, they bowed to their knees.
"Master." they said in unison.
"Ah, my followers."
Charnel held out his hand. After a moment, the priests "bodies" turned into the red burst of light. Instead of dissipating however, the energy surged into Charnel. As the energy was fed into him, the ancient god grew stronger. He shot up to over seven feet high, his muscles grew, and the talons on his hands elongated. Charnel looked at the gathered heroes with an amused expression, then shot a bolt of energy at them from his hand. Tyger and Sersi ducked for cover, Black Knight tried to absorb the bolt into his shield. The energy was abosrbed, but the impact knocked the armor-clad hero into a wall.
"Run!" yelled Drake.
The foursome made a mad dash into the caverns. They eventually found a tunnel that lead to the outside. The other Knights were in a pitched battle with the other spirit priests. Black Knight ordered them all to consolidate their forces. As the heroes gathered around a rock formation, Sersi saw that Charnel found his way out of the caverns as well.
"Dane, you better look at this."
Several dozen spirit priests surrounded Charnel in a circle. Charnel raised his arms to the sky. Like in the chamber all of the priests were reduced to the red energy, which flowed into Charnel. With each second, Charnel grew in size and power.
"This isn't good, is it?" asked Delphis.
"No," said Drake, "not good at all."
By the time Charnel was done feeding off his remaining followers, he was nearly ten stories tall. His very form crackled with raw energy and power.
"FINALLY, I LIVE AGAIN!!!" bellowed Charnel.
"Dane, what do we do?" asked Sersi.
Dane looked at her and saw the concern and fear on her face. "I'm not sure. I didn't have a plan for this."
Drake took a few steps away from the group. "Well, I guess I'll just have to give you time to think of a plan."
Before everyone's eyes, Drake's form changed. His skin turned scaly, his body elongated, and wings sprouted from his back. His overall form grew exponentially. By the time he was done, Drake was no longed a well-manicured man in a pinstripe armani suit, but a large golden dragon. Everyone, except Charnel and Black Knight was in awe.
"A DRAGON?!" exclaimed Charnel, "I THOUGHT YOUR KIND WAS LONG EXTINCT."
"I thought the same of you." said the metamorphosed Drake.
Drake opened his large maw, releasing a torrent of fire that was as potent as hellfire. Charnel roared in pain as his left arm was engulfed in flames.
"ARRGHHH!! YOU'LL PAY FOR THAT, BEAST!"
In his right hand, Charnel formed a ball of energy and flung it at Drake. Being more agile, Drake managed to avoid the onslaught. He brought his tail around and hit Charnel with a mighty slam. The old god was once again surprised by his foe, but was no less determined. Charnel grabbed Drake's tail with his right hand and sent a powerful wave of energy coursing through the dragon's body.
"HHRROOOOOOAWWW!!" roared Drake in pain.
On the ground, the heroes watched the two titans battle. Although their ally fought bravely, they knew that Drake couldn't hold out forever. Black Knight's mind was racing, trying to think of a way to beat Charnel, but he couldn't think of a thing. Suddenly, Lord Tyger whipped his head around, furiously sniffing the air.
"Tyger, what is it?" asked Sir Ram.
"I smell magick approaching."
As if on some cosmic cue, a portal opened no more then a few feet from their gathered position. Floating above the portal was a small aboriginal man in a loincloth. He appeared to be spinning a string in the air, which was the source of the portal.
"What the hell-?" asked Sersi.
"Not what, who."
Out of the portal emerged a cyborg. He stood well over six feet tall, his a yellow skull mask for a face, red dreadlocks for hair, two horns on his head, and a blue metallic substance that made up most of his body. The cyborg turned to the heroes, then to the fight between Drake and Charnel. If it were possible for a cyborg to sigh, this one would have done so.
"Wonderful. Nice to know that a hero can have all the power in existence, but still needs the Calvary to back him up."
"Who are you?" asked Black Knight.
"Name's Death's Head, Housewares."
"Forget it. How long has Charnel been up and at ‘em?"
"Only a few minutes." said Black Knight, keeping a close eye on Death's Head for any sudden movements.
"Ok, there's still time. How long can the salamander on steroids keep him occupied?"
Sersi looked over to see Drake wrapping his oblong-shaped body around Charnel and squeezing with all his might. Despite his best efforts, it was obvious that Drake was in over his head.
"Not sure, a few minutes at least. Why, you here to help Charnel?"
If he were able, Death's Head would have snorted in amusement. "Hardly. I'm here to save all of our asses. All I need is two things. The first is a clear shot."
"For what?" asked Lord Tyger, who had his katanas drawn.
Death's Head held two metal disc's about half the size of a frisbee in his left hand. He extended it out so all could see. "So I can put these on him."
"What will those do?" asked a curious Delphis.
"Why do you people ask so many damn questions?! It'll get rid of him, ok? Now, are you with me or not?"
Everyone turned to Black Knight. To be honest, he wasn't sure about this guy. He just showed up and it didn't look like anyone had ever heard about him before. Then again, he had a plan and that was a hell of a lot more than what they had right now.
"Ok, what else do you need?" asked Black Knight.
"After these are planted on him, they're going to need a charge to be activated. I can provide one, but I need one of you to hit the other at the same time."
Black Knight smiled. "I can do that."
The group turned to see the dragon form of Drake fall to the ground. Charnel stood before his fallen foe, wounded but still standing.
"I APPLAUD YOU BEAST, FEW HAVE GIVEN ME SUCH A CHALLENGE BEFORE."
"Really?" yelled Death's Head as he emerged from the rocks, "And here I thought you said I was the only one for you."
Charnel's face contorted in anger. "YOU!! I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN! YOU WILL NOT BE SO FORTUNATE AT BESTING ME AS YOU WERE THE LAST TIME, MINION!!"
"Actually, it was the last two times, but who’s counting, right?" asked the cyborg calmly.
Charnel unleashed a massive energy bolt. Death's Head leaped out of the way just in time. As he was in mid-air, his right forearm turned into a powerful plasma cannon. Death's Head let out an energy blast, hitting Charnel directly in the chest. The blast barely phased the angered demi-god as he let loose another energy bolt. Again, Death's Head leaped out of the way. Black Knight and the others knew it was time.
"Knights, take to the air and distract Charnel. Sersi and I will attack from the ground. Go!" ordered Black Knight.
The Knights took to the air on their Atomic Steeds, pelting Charnel with their energy weapons. The blasts did little more than distract Charnel. Sersi made a force bubble to protect Black Knight and Death's Head on the ground.
"I take it you know this guy?" Black Knight asked Death's Head.
"One of my bridge club members." deadpanned Death's Head as he handed Black Knight one of the discs. "Plant this on his right side, I'll take the left one. Then, when I give the signal, hit it with all you've got. It'll need a charge to automatically start."
"Got it. Sersi, lower the force field."
As the shield lowered, the two heroes made a mad dash to either side of the beast. Black Knight looked up to see Lady Vlad hit with one of Charnel's eyebeams. The Knight's Steed was destroyed and the knight herself hit the ground. He hoped his friend would be ok. He pushed the thought into the back of his mind as he threw the disc onto Charnel's right rib. On the other side, Death's Head aim was also true.
"Now!" shouted the cyborg.
Black Knight channeled the blast his shield absorbed from Charnel in the caverns. It was very powerful and would be plenty for this task. The energy went from the shield to Black Knight's sword, which released the blast and hit the disc square in the middle. Death's Head fired his forearm cannon and hit his disk as well. The two discs glowed with power, each enveloping a half of Charnel's body. The demi-god stopped fighting the Knights. His face had a look of fear on it.
"W-WHAT IS THIS?! NO. NO! NOOOOOOO!!!!"
Charnel's body was slowly being torn in two, each side dissipating more and more as it was separated. With an animalistic howl, Charnel was literally ripped apart from reality. Within moments, there was nothing left but a slight crackle of energy in the air.
The heroes stood still, their gaze not moving from where Charnel once stood. Only the howl of Tanagar's winds could be heard. The group jumped as they heard a groan. They turned to see Drake, now in human form, shaking his head as he got up.
The group just looked at him, not saying a word. Drake went from face to face, until he spotted Death's Head and the small aborigine. Drake extended his hand. "Hello. Don't believe I've had the pleasure. Name's Drake."
The large cyborg shook Drake's hand, then nodded his head over to the small aborigine a few feet away. "Death's Head. The Yoda with a tan is Gateway."
"Charmed. Think you could tell me what happened?"
".... Well, good for us."
"Isn't it, though?"
Black Knight was the first among the star-struck heroes to speak. "Excuse me, but what exactly were those discs?"
"Time travel devices. Each one transported half of Charnel to another time."
"You did this before?" asked Sersi skeptically.
"Didn't seem to work very well the first time."
"Yes, well, this time I've taken certain precautions to make it work right this time." said Death's Head confidently.
"And those precautions would be?" asked Sersi impatiently.
"Ones that work."
Sersi was about to press the matter further, but Black Knight took ahold of her arm. Sersi knew that Dane would look into the matter. "Perhaps we should head back to Avalon and tell the Lady of the Lake that her island won't be destroyed today."
"Good idea," said Death's Head, "You guys want a lift? Shorty over there can get you pretty much anywhere through out the space-time continuum."
"Sounds good to me." said Dane with a shrug.
Gateway made another portal, this one leading to Avalon. The group gathered their weapons, made sure everyone wasn't seriously hurt, and stepped through the portal, leaving behind the rocks, sand, and victory.