CHAPTER 17: PANGA
The dagger was a welcome addition to Panga’s wardrobe. She wasn’t as vocal about it, but she didn’t like being sent to safety any more than Jadin did. She often thought that her abilities were the weakest of the group. Unlike Alectra she couldn’t manipulate emotions. She could only influence an emotion that she, her target, or people nearby were currently feeling. In addition, those emotions had to be naturally occurring. She couldn’t tag team with Alectra or Jadin. She couldn’t spread Jadin’s ecstasy or an emotion that Alectra had manipulated. The only way she had been able to work with Alectra against the Sherriff, for all the good it did, was because she herself was feeling scared.
Now with the dagger, she could join her friends against any opponent that they faced. This was a good thing against the ogres. Ogres, because, well apparently this world thought they needed more dangers to face than people with abilities who would kill them without a second thought just to preserve their own place here. Jadin and Panga rode out together in their own Return of the King moment against the ten-foot tall giants with oversize heads and oversize clubs. Despite their size, the ogres were slow in both action and movement, making it easier for their horses to dodge between their attacks. Jadin would use her sword to cut the legs out from underneath the ogres with Panga following up as they fell to thrust her dagger into their forehead. One additional feature to their blades, they discovered, is in addition to not killing they also didn’t cause physical wounds. Their victims would still feel the pain as if they were cut, but it required a killing blow to result in the sleeping spell. Evan confronted the ogre's fist to fist trading blows or, when he could, throwing them into each other. Alectra and Eric worked from outside using arrows and concussive blasts to knock the ogres back. Alectra was using a combination of her emotional arrows and light arrows against the ogres. Some turned and ran. Panga could feel their fear as they trampled those behind them. Their size seemed to make them a little more resistant to the light arrows effects. It took more than one to stop them. Trace flew above the battlefield hitting ogres with his lightning bolts and dodging their clubs. He was joined by Mercury. Apparently, he wasn’t content just being their guide falcon. He dive bombed the ogres combatting with Evan, his talons raking their faces, coming away with clumps of hair, and occasionally blinding them with a strike to their eyes.
The remaining ogres left standing finally decided this was a fight they weren’t going to win. They turned as a group and ran back to wherever it was they came from.
“Well, that was fun,” Eric said as they watched them go.
“Everyone okay?” Evan asked gently stroking Mercury’s head who had come to rest on his forearm. He wore a protective pad that provided a safe perch for the falcon.
“Just fine,” Panga said, though she wasn’t excited about being covered in dust and sweat. She was going to look forward to her next chance for a bath. Why couldn’t Merlin have made their clothes dirt resistant?
“Let’s rest here a bit. Get something to eat,” Evan said. “We’re not going to be any good in our current state.”
CHAPTER 18: ERIC
Eric wouldn’t have minded a rematch with the ogres. In fact, he would have liked another go at the dragon. Pretty much anything would be better than what they would be facing now. Mercury had returned to Evan. Given that the only times that was supposed to happen was when they reached their destination or when Evan called him back, this could not be good. They were currently still on the open plains and Evan hadn’t called for a rest. Eric looked up and saw a figure coming down from the sky. “It’s the Bud Knight,” he said.
“Do you ever stop?” Alectra asked him a scolding tone to her voice.
“Not while I’m awake,” he answered her.
The knight was dressed in all black armor. His face shield drawn down so nothing about his features could be seen. In one hand he carried a lance, in the other a pentagonal shield as dark as his armor. At his waist was a long sword. His horse also wore black armor over its head only its muzzle, eyes, and ears visible. Black chain mail armor along its flanks extended from the knight's saddle. Horse and rider glided effortlessly down in front of them the horse taking a couple of strides as its hooves touched the ground before stopping in their path.
“Greetings from the Dark Lords,” the knight said, his voice booming from behind the face shield. “Mordred has ordered me to bring your journey to an end. Your interference in his kingdom will no longer be tolerated. Your bodies shall be sent back to Arthur as an example that regardless of the forces he sends against us, nothing will stop us, and to bring despair to his people.”
“Yeah, I think we’ll pass on that,” Evan said. “Start the ball, Eric.”
“Gladly,” Eric said sending a volley of concussive blasts towards the knight. They stopped short of connecting with the knight. The same for Alectra’s arrows and Trace’s lightning.
“Pathetic,” the knight said as he looked down at his sword. It levitated off of his belt and shot out straight toward Evan, who reacted instinctively bringing his hands down on the blade.
“Arrggh,” Evan cried out, his hands coming away with gashes from the blade.
The knight leveled his lance and spurred his horse towards the group. “Ahh sh--,” Eric said. “Everyone get behind me.” He erected his own shield intercepting the knight’s lance. He extended the shield outward, pushing the knight back in the same manner as he had done with Lord Dyson, putting some distance between themselves and the knight.
“Panga,” Evan said not turning his attention from the sword as it continued its attack. He had shifted to his full wolf form which seemed to relieve some of the pain he was in from where the sword had cut him. “Whatever emotions you can sense, influence them. You’re the only one who can touch him.”
Eric wasn’t sure what Panga had found, but the Black Knight stumbled. The sword dropped. The group pressed their advantage. Evan and the girls moved on the knight as Eric, Trace, and Alectra hit him with arrows, lightning, and concussive blasts. Unfortunately, the Black Knight still had tricks of his own. His armor and shield offered him some protection from their attacks. “Panga, look out,” Jadin said as her sword arm turned on her friend.
Panga’s dagger intercepted Jadin’s sword as the two girls found themselves in a sword fight, not of their own choosing. In addition, Panga lost her attention on the Black Knight, releasing him from her influence. He turned his attention to Trace, deflecting a lightning bolt back at him. Trace’s eyes looked in shock as the bolt connected with him and his body absorbed the lightning, something he had apparently never done before.
“Trace, only stun,” Evan said, even as he returned his attention to the knight’s sword which had resumed its attack on him.
Eric understood his meaning. If the Black Knight could redirect Trace’s bolts back on him, the Knight could redirect them towards any of them. Trace might be able to absorb the lightning back into himself, but the others would not be so lucky. Things weren’t looking good. Jadin and Panga were locked in a fight against each other. Their blades couldn’t physically hurt them, but no one knew how long the sleeping spell would last. It could be a few hours, or they could be Sleeping Beauty for the duration. Evan and the sword continued their battle. Evan dodging the sword, and attempting to strike a blow of his own. Eric was pretty sure sword vs wolf wasn’t on any of the parley cards at the sports books in Las Vegas.
“Trace, Alectra, keep him busy. I have a plan,” Eric said.
“You have a plan,” Trace said, incredulous. “Why does that scare me more than this guy?”
“You and me both,” Eric said. “You and me both,” he thought. The idea scared him even more because it involved him doing two things he had never tried before. But, hey, desperation was the mother of invention so no time like the present.
Eric focused and set up a force shield. Every time he had used one in the past, he had remained stationary. He had never tried moving with one before. He would need the protection if he was going to make the second part of his plan work. He began running towards the Black Knight and, to his amazement, he was able to maintain his shield. Running towards an armored guy with a shield and a lance who seemed able to control things with his mind didn’t seem like the smartest thing to do, but he had to be close. The Knight continued deflecting arrows and lightning, some back at Eric, but his force shield held. Eric had a feeling he was just toying with them. That he could end this fight at any moment. Eric was hoping that was just overconfidence. He was about to find out, just as he was about to find out if he could do what he wanted to. He channeled his concussive energy in his fist, and as he approached the knight he swung it in an uppercut releasing the energy at point blank range. Any time that he had used his ability in the past it had always been in blasts of energy or as a push from his force field. This was more like a supercharged punch. The effect was like pulling the pin of a grenade. The Knight was blasted off his horse landing feet away on his back, his lance and shield knocked from his hands.
“He’s down,” Eric said. “Trace, hit him hard!”
Trace unleashed a lightning bolt at the Knight hitting him with one of his most intense charges. The Knight recovered just enough to deflect it back towards Eric, who had restored his force shield just in time to protect himself. However, the Knight had lost his hold on Panga and Jadin. The girls joined Eric, Trace, and Alectra in the fight.
“Nicely done,” the Black Knight complimented Eric as he staggered to his feet, summoning his shield to his hand. “This will not change the outcome of this fight, however. You are all overmatched.”
“Keep telling yourself that,” Eric answered him. “We’re not done yet.”
He unleashed a volley of concussive blasts, joined with Trace’s lightning, and Alectra’s arrows. Despite his bravado, Eric noticed the Knight hadn’t restored his force shield, relying exclusively on his physical shield to protect him. He hadn’t lost his control over his sword. He directed it away from Evan towards Panga who was able, just barely, to deflect it away. She screamed in pain though, as the tip of the blade traced along the length of her wrist opening up a cut.
“Alectra, use your emotion arrows. Without his force shield they might reach him,” Evan suggested, returning to his fight with the sword as the Knight sent it back towards him.
Alectra nocked three fear arrows into her bow, firing them at the Knight. Each one connected as his shield was focused more on the lightning and concussive blasts. Eric would have liked it if the Knight had turned and ran, or dropped to his knees and begged for mercy. No such luck, but the effort of fighting the effect of the arrows caused him to lose control of the sword. As it dropped away again, Evan bounded towards the Knight. Before the Knight could recover, Evan delivered two full strength punches to his head. The armor held; the Knight inside not so much. He collapsed at Evan's feet. Jadin came over stabbing the Knight in the chest, ending the fight for good.
“Sleep tight,” Evan said, tossing a cross pin at the Black Knight’s feet. As it touched the ground, it erupted in a flash of light encasing the Knight in a cage of mythical energy. When he shifted back to his default form Evan clenched his fists a grimace of pain on his face.
“Have Mercury fly lookout,” Jadin told Evan as she pulled needles, thread, and some cloth from the pack she had been carrying on her back. “We’re not going anywhere until we deal with those injuries.”
CHAPTER 19: JADIN
“Thanks for the ride,” Jadin said to Alectra as they pulled into the parking lot of the local college.
“No problem,” Alectra said. “You’re still not going to tell anyone what it is you’re doing here. Not even me.”
“No,” Jadin answered her simply.
“You know I could make you.”
“You could,” Jadin said, a small smile on her face. “But you won’t.”
Jadin got out of the car and looked back in through the window. “See you at 11?”
“Same as always,” Alectra answered, giving her a small wave before driving away.
Jadin watched her go before shouldering her pack and turning to join the crowd. Just another student in college.
“So this was your big secret,” Evan said. He watched as Jadin focused on expertly placing stitches into his wounded hand. She had bandaged up his other hand and Panga’s wrist while she worked on this one.
“Well, I figured given what I do to people’s minds, the least I could do was to learn how to fix their bodies,” Jadin said, not looking up from her work.
“You’re a pretty amazing kid, you know that?” Evan complimented her.
Jadin gave him a shy smile. “We’ve been lucky so far; I thought we should be prepared for the worst. I asked one of the ladies in the castle for some supplies. This was the best they could do,” she said.
It took her a couple hours, but she finally finished each of their wounds. She had used water from her canteen, heated with help from Trace’s electrical abilities, to sanitize the needles before placing the stitches in Evan’s hands and Panga’s wrist. She studied her work making sure everything was right before placing a bandage over the injuries. She wasn’t happy when they decided to move on, but none of them wanted to stay there with the Black Knight. Evan’s wolf form had protected him from losing to much blood where the sword had cut him, but he still didn’t look strong enough in Jadin’s semiprofessional opinion.
They travelled a couple hours further before setting up camp for the night. Evan called Mercury back rewarding him with a mouse from his saddlebag. The falcon flew off into the night to enjoy his meal. Jadin was grateful for his discretion, it was disturbing enough having to watch Eric eat.
“So that’s one more down,” Eric said, “just four more to go.”
“It’s not going to get any easier,” Alectra said. “They won’t keep underestimating us and we barely got by the Knight.”
“We can do it,” Panga said. “We’re growing as a team, getting more fluid.”
“Panga’s right,” Evan said. “It won’t matter how prepared they are, they won’t know what we can do when we work together. Get some sleep. We’ve got work to do.”
CHAPTER 20: TRACE
Trace watched as the girls rode into town. Evan hadn’t liked the idea of splitting up, but with the town under attack, they couldn’t leave innocents defenseless. Evan turned his attention to Trace.
“Mercury will lead us to the Dark Lord, but we need you to do what you do be best. Use your street smarts, be impulsive,” he said.
Trace smiled at him, joining Mercury as Evan released him back into the sky. He held a charge dancing between his fingertips as he followed the falcon. He didn’t have the falcon’s magically enhanced senses, but he relied on his instincts as he scanned the surrounding countryside looking for their opponent. Evan and Eric rode on below them. There. A movement barely noticeable perfectly camouflaged, but Trace was certain it was what they were looking for. He unleashed a lightning bolt at his target's feet. The figure dodged out of the way, its features shifting, becoming more transparent until a human man stood in front of Trace and his friends. He was unassuming in appearance, an Errol Flynn like goatee on his face. As he surveyed the three of them, Trace could see in his eyes there was no innocence about him. There was madness there tinged with mischief.
“Welcome to the lands of Lord Gray,” the man said. “Just the three of you then. I see my diversion worked perfectly. I must say I’m glad you survived the Knight.”
“You ordered the attack on the city,” Evan said.
“Not ordered exactly,” Lord Gray corrected. “More like I released my toys on the city. You see, I fancy myself quite the alchemist. I’ve been experimenting to see if I could endow others with my ability. I’ve been successful; unfortunately, it has left my subjects quite insane. I wonder what I may create from the likes of you.”
“Let’s see,” Eric said. “Death, danger, death again, experimentation. We seem to get such wonderful offers here.”
“Thanks, but no thanks,” Evan said. “Trace, Eric, let’s give him our counter offer.”
As the three attacked, Lord Gray shifted his form to something the consistency of rubber. He flexed his body in impossible ways, dodging their attacks. Where he couldn’t avoid them his body absorbed the impact. Evan advanced, levelling Lord Gray with a solid uppercut flinging him feet away where he reconstituted his form completely unharmed.
“Fascinating,” Lord Gray said. “You will make such wonderful subjects.”
Before Trace or Eric could resume their attack, Lord Gray shifted to a metallic form, shaping his fingers on each hand to claws, and advanced on Evan. The two traded a series of blows before Lord Gray sliced at Evan’s waist opening up a small cut. Evan responded in pain landing a full strength blow to Gray, but again when he resumed human form he remained unharmed. He shifted form again, this time charging Evan in the form of an African Elephant.
“Back off, Dumbo,” Evan said, landing a solid blow to Lord Gray that sent him skyward.
Trace knew that shot should have been enough to end the fight, but even in an animal form, Lord Gray’s shapeshifting ability seemed to afford him some form of supernatural resilience. He shifted form midair to that of an eagle where Mercury joined the fight. The two raptors engaged in a dogfight keeping the three of them from attacking for fear of hitting their guide. The eagle eventually gained separation, landing on the ground where it returned to the form of Lord Gray. They resumed the attack, but Lord Gray was too quick. He shifted again to the rubbery form, but he made a fatal mistake. He extended his arm to attack Trace in the sky shifting his hand to the metallic clawed form in an attempt to slice him. Trace reacted instinctively, catching Gray’s hand in his own. He absorbed the metal and as Lord Gray retracted his arm, Trace could see the surprise on his face as he attempted to reshape the stump that was left into a hand.
Trace smiled down at him. “Thanks for the hand,” he said.
Gray scowled up at him before pressing his attack. He shifted form from rubber, to metal, and various animal forms. Regardless of the shifts he made, Gray’s hand would not return. Evan continued to pound him with his fists doing his best to avoid any more injuries from Gray’s claws. Evan had shifted to his full wolf form which minimized the damage Gray had inflicted on him earlier. Eric had moved closer pummeling Gray with concussive blasts. Trace weaved around above them carefully placing his lightning bolts to avoid his friends. Anytime Gray attempted to regroup by taking a flying form Mercury met him, forcing him back to the ground. Gray’s resistance was beginning to weaken. One final punch from Evan combined with a concussive blast from Eric sent Gray flying backward. Trace took his opening and released a full intensity bolt. Normally Trace wouldn’t risk a bolt of that charge on an opponent, but he wasn’t taking any chances. This time Gray didn’t get up. Evan came over and imprisoned him as he had done with the Knight. Trace knew they were all gassed, but taking time to recover wasn’t going to happen.
“Trace, fly on into the city,” Evan confirmed. “Help the girls any way you can. Eric and I will follow on horseback.”
CHAPTER 21: ALECTRA
“Ahh!” Panga cried out, doubling over in pain in her saddle as the group reached the outskirts of the city.
“Panga!” Evan had jumped out of his saddle and rushed over to her side.
“I’m fine, Evan,” Panga said. “Just give me a minute. The city’s under attack. The amount of fear from the citizens overwhelmed me. There’s also a lot of madness there. It’s chaos.”
“So what do we do?” Alectra asked. “The Dark Lord we’re after is here, isn’t he?”
“He is,” Evan said, closing his eyes as he considered his options. “But we can’t let innocents be harmed for the mission’s sake. Panga, you, and the rest of the Big 3.”
“We hate,” Alectra started to say.
“When I call you that,” Evan turned to her as he completed her sentence for her. “Deal with it,” he said as he turned his attention back to Panga. “You and the Big 3 help the townspeople. The rest of us will pursue the Dark Lord.”
The first thing Alectra noticed as they approached the city was the archer. He had been mauled to death doing his best to defend the city. Alectra dismounted, not to pay respects to him, but to pick up his remaining arrows and place them in her quiver.
“What are you doing?” Panga asked her. “We have our own weapons.”
“Do you want to trust that against something that does this?” Alectra asked her gesturing to the archer.
“We don’t have to kill,” Panga said.
“We don’t, Panga,” Alectra said. “Or are you going to influence me like you did with the dragon?”
“That’s rich coming from someone who manipulates emotions,” Panga said.
“STOP IT!” The intensity in Jadin’s voice shocked them both. The argument was over before she said another word. “We’ve got a job to do,” she said. “Let’s get it done.”
Alectra defiantly picked up the last of the arrows before joining them as they rode on into the city.
The city looked like it had been hit by a tornado. Some buildings were completely collapsed, others had holes in the walls, carriages and carts were scattered across the roads. Unfortunately, there also were more bodies. As they spurred their horses faster they found the cities attackers. Four creatures that were laying waste to everything in their path. From what Alectra could tell two of them were humanoid in appearance. One appeared to be made of iron, the other of stone. The third was a werewolf in appearance very similar to Evan in his full strength form. As they approached the creatures the fourth shifted form into a lion. In front of them were terrified villagers. Archers were firing arrows, but they were more of an irritation than something that would stop their advance.
“We have to get them away from them,” Panga said, as she and Jadin rode towards the creatures, sword and dagger drawn.
Alectra fired her light arrows up into the eyes of the werewolf and lion as Panga sliced her dagger at the stone and iron men. Jadin rode forward encouraging the villagers to follow her away from the fight. Alectra focused on the wolf and lion as they turned on her. She fired more arrows at them, but they were too agile. They dodged between the projectiles and leaped towards her, forcing her to pull her horse away from them. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Panga engaged in a dangerous game of dodgem with the two elemental men. Guiding her horse between their attacking fists while looking for an opening for her blade. Alectra nocked two blue depression arrows into her bow and released them at the beasts. Both hit their mark but neither the werewolf nor lion hesitated in advancing on her.
“I’ve tried influencing them with the villagers' fear,” Panga said as she continued sparring with her own opponents. “But it’s not having any effect. I think their minds are too broken. They aren’t like us. They weren’t meant to have this kind of power.”
As they continued the fight, Alectra hoped Jadin would return soon. Four against two wasn’t good odds. She released a light arrow that should have hit the lion right between the eyes, but it shifted form to an eagle. It flew straight at her with talons targeting her eyes. Alectra dropped off her horse rolling away to avoid the wolf’s fangs, but she cried out in pain as its claws slashed at her shoulder. That’s when Jadin rode back into the fight. She jabbed her sword into the back of the stone man leveling the playing field before dismounting. Alectra and Panga raced over to join her, one to each side.
They enjoyed just a brief respite as the eagle landed beside the werewolf and the iron man returning to a human form mirroring their own battle stance. As the creatures resumed the attack, Jadin and Panga met them midway. Panga matched up against the werewolf as Jadin squared off against the iron man. The shapeshifter took the form of a tiger and leaped at Alectra, forcing her to roll away to avoid the teeth and claws. She grimaced in pain as she nocked a light arrow into her bow. This time when she fired it the shifter was unable to avoid it. The tiger dropped off to sleep. That’s when she heard Panga’s scream. Alectra looked over to see her thrown down on her back. There was a look of terror in Panga’s eyes as the werewolf readied to spring at her. Alectra could tell that she was in no position to defend herself. Alectra reached into her quiver and drew one of the archer’s arrows. This was not the time to take a chance with a light arrow and this would still be a challenging shot. They had already seen how resilient these creatures were against the arrows, but if she could hit it at a weak point… Alectra nocked the arrow into the bow and released it just as the wolf leaped at Panga. The arrow sailed through the air and impacted the wolf in the ear and penetrated into its head. The werewolf fell harmlessly at Panga’s feet.
“You can thank me for it later,” Alectra said coldly as Panga looked over at her.
The two joined Jadin in her fight against the iron man. Alectra could see she was holding her own against him. She stepped aside as the iron man threw a punch and swung her sword down on his arm. The arm hung uselessly at his side as he continued his attacks. Jadin couldn’t find another opening dodging and using her sword to parry the monster’s blows. Alectra sent a pair of light arrows up into his eyes, forcing him away from Jadin as Panga reached him, jabbing her dagger into his side ending the battle as the iron man collapsed to the ground.
CHAPTER 22: ERIC
For once, Eric didn’t have a snappy quip ready. As he and Evan rode into the city they saw the devastation caused by Lord Gray’s experiments. They joined up with the girls. Jadin had already set up a medical area where she was treating the injured which included Evan, Alectra, and Panga, who had suffered a cut just above her stomach where the werewolf had slashed her. Eric watched her briefly as she worked. He had never seen Jadin so confident and focused. She moved from patient to patient treating their wounds with no concern that her ability may affect any of them.
He and Trace joined the villagers as they gathered the dead and placed their bodies in what may have been a warehouse. Over the next few days, there would be more funerals than they cared to count. Before the end of the day Trace and Eric hitched their horses to a cart with the three remaining creatures and carried them to Lord Gray’s stronghold. The villagers showed them in which direction to go, but refused to join them. They found the cells that Gray had held them in and placed them back behind closed bars. They didn’t know if the cells would still hold them when they woke up from the sleeping spell, but they were victims as much as any of those they had terrorized. Perhaps Merlin’s magic could cure them once the final Dark Lord was defeated.
When Trace and Eric returned to the city they joined their friends for a feast. It was a somber affair, far from a celebratory event. Despite being among the best food they had tasted in this land, they ate their meal away from the citizens in silence.
Two days later they rode out of the city. Before they had left, Jadin had replenished her medical supplies. They paused just outside the city where they had first arrived.
“Never again,” Evan said as they looked back down on the city. “We’re bringing an end to Mordred’s rule. No other city will suffer like this.”
He released Mercury into the sky. From this point on, they would be united on this quest. They rode on as a team on a mission.