by Barnaby

“Behind the tomb! Go!”

Jeffrey shouted the order just in time. He watched as Altas and the Sultan dove behind the remaining sarcophagus just as a flash of lightning struck the sandstone walls behind the spot their heads had just been occupying. He watched as cracks formed in the tomb, and a cloud of sand bellowed forth from the entrance.

Then he felt, as much as heard, a loud boom land to the right of the gravestone he hid behind. The explosion threw him into a stone marker ten feet away. As he lay silently against the stone, his ears ringing and his body bleeding from shards of stone, his assailant approached. Covered in black robes and armor, she appeared to be a moment of darkness itself striding under a bright mid-day sun. Jeffrey’s eyes strained against the sand and the sun as she neared.

She paused a moment, hands clasped in front of her before she spoke. “You are a leader in the Guard, though you are not its Captain. Tell me little man, where is she?”

“She’ll be seein’ ye soon enough, witch,” Jeffrey sneered.

“Come, little man, there is no need for such language. Your life is at an end, as are those who huddle, scared, behind you. Those who have followed you will all die, and then Nujel’m, and soon enough Sosaria, will belong to the Master.”

Jeffrey experimentally twitched his body, assessing the damage he had suffered. Bruised, but not broken. It was an action that did not go unnoticed.

“Still you plan to defy me? You have no weapons, and your Guard is occupied on the other side of the island. You are alone. And now, you will die.”

The dark enchantress leaned closer to Jeffrey, a glowing hand outstretched towards his chest. Just as she was about to plunge it towards him, she noticed movement out of the corner of her eye.

“It is me you want, leave him be.” It was the Sultan, barely clothed and haggard from his months of captivity. Despite his appearance, his voice was confident and commanding.

Their attacker was not impressed. “You are both merely obstacles that need removing. Do not make the mistake of assuming one of you has much more value to me than the other!”

As she shouted at the Sultan, Jeffrey searched the sands beneath him, his fingers finding what he searched for.

“What…” the enchantress began, noticing Jeffrey’s slight movement. It was all she managed before he brought his hand up and cracked a broken piece of gravestone on the side of her head. She stumbled backwards, clutching her head. Jeffrey felt two sets of arms underneath his own, hauling him to his feet.

“We need t’ move,” he growled as Altas and the Sultan helped him steady himself, “the fence in th’ back o’ the grave fell.”

They hurried to the gap in the fence, leaving their attacker behind them mumbling incoherently.

A great distance away, atop the mountains overlooking Cove, a man garbed in magnificent white robes stared in the direction of Nujel’m. The Time Lord, for all his power and knowledge, was unable to divine what the future here held. This bothered him greatly. As if this wasn’t enough, he was soon joined by an annoying reminder of that which he did fully understand.

“HeeHee…a bit high up here, is it not? A bit high, even for a hawk?”

The new arrival cackled and danced behind the him. Though it appeared to be little more than an imp, it was clear he was much more. “What do you want?”

“TeeHeeHee…a small chat only do I want. A question for you I have, an answer I doubt you possess.”

The Time Lord frowned, but played along nonetheless. “What is your question?”

For a moment, the imp stopped dancing, but continued to wear a crazed grin as he asked, “What trouble do you foresee, your portals of time joining those through space that are mine?”

“Your attempts to anger me will not work, imp. I suspect you know there is little I foresee, here. Your actions may have an effect on mine, or they may not.”

“Fear the loss of time, you do not?”

“There can be no loss of time. There can only be change. What concern of it is yours?”

“None. None at all! TeeHeeHee!”

Having just heard the rumor of King Blackthorn vanishing from his Castle, Sir Andrew rushed from the Chamber of Virtues. He knew it was likely to only be rumor, but he wanted to find out for sure – and few others currently in Britain would be able to.

He said goodbye to the monk at the entrance to the Chamber and took the road to the north. He slowed as he passed the memorial to Owain Surrey, a former auger to a former king. He halted in front of the memorial as he heard a voice whisper in his ear, “Sacrifice. Sacrifice.”

The retired knight, startled, look around him. He was alone.

“Stop,” Jeffrey commanded, “do ye hear that?”

His companions, still helping to support the Lieutenant’s weight, did as he said. They stood on the coast of Nujel’m, far from both the city center and the cemetery where they had nearly died. It was in that direction that they heard what sounded like the start of a furious battle.

“I need to return,” the man who accompanied Jeffrey stated, “it is my duty.”

The third member of the group shook her head, disagreeing. “Your Highness, I mean no disrespect, but the Lieutenant is in no condition to return, and it is because his duty is to protect you. If you should die, all of this will be for nothing.”

“Altas is right,” Jeffrey said through gritted teeth, “Fer myself I am not concerned, but fer us to win this and keep Nujel’m safe, ye must survive, Sultan.”

Weary from fighting and distracted by the sounds of distant battle the three did not notice the small ship approaching until it had nearly reached land. With a masthead the shape of a dragon, it looked like the type of vessel that used to be common among pirates in years long passed.

Jeffrey studied the ship as it approached, assessing it. “No cannons, and no crew that I can see. In any case, be ready t’ run…leave me here.”

The Sultan stood up straighter, hefting his share of Jeffrey’s weight before responding, “We will not.”

At that moment, a single figure appeared on the deck of the ship, and called out, waiving, “Jeffrey! Trying to cheat death again, are you? Why is there a naked man holding you up? I doubt Robert would approve!”

Jeffrey, almost at a loss for words, could barely respond. “What the hell…why…what are YE doin’ ‘ere?”

As the ship was brought close to the shore, the man aboard it turned his attention towards the sounds coming from the cemetery. “I’m heretosaveyou, now hurryupandstopstandingtherelikeafool,” the man replied in a hurried tone, his words running together.

The Lieutenant grinned, and gestured to the ship with a nod of his head.  “Let’s go.”

Frederick the town crier took a deep breath, resting from shouting the latest news regarding rumors of the missing King and the invasion of Nujel’m. As he did so, he watched with curiosity as a monk, or perhaps a healer with his hood up, descended from Heartwood. The man was tall, even imposing. He paused for a moment, staring up into the trees. He turned and saw Frederick staring at him. Frederick nodded towards him as he approached, hoping to turn a moment of awkwardness into one of mere friendliness. The man returned the nod as he smiled and pulled his hood closer around him. As Frederick watched the man pass by, he couldn’t help but think the face under the hood looked familiar somehow.

The battle ended, Captain Olivia studied the body of the slain enchantress. She did not look away as two Guards approached, both the highest ranked enlisted Guards.

“Keenbadger. Tobias. Have we found them?”

PFC Keenbadger responded with a shake of his head, “No, Captain, not yet. But we will.”

“There were signs of another fight that must have taken place just before we arrived. Hopefully…” Tobias said before being interrupted by the Captain.

“The Lieutenant is resourceful, but if the Sultan is not soon seen by his people to be alive and well, we may have failed our mission even as we have won the battle.”

The Captain wiped her sword on the robes of the defeated enchantress, and rose. One hand on the pommel of her sword, and the other on the ankh relic that she wore around her neck, she turned to survey the city of Nujel’m.

“Make sure our wounded are tended to. And keep looking.”

Atop the mountain that held Cove in its shadow, the imp cackled as the Time Lord departed.

“Alone he thought we were. But know better I do! HeeHee!” the imp said, seemingly speaking to the wind. The creature held one of its claws out, and smiled as a small sextant materialized in it. “Time for something new, I suppose it is. New places, new people, you see…”

The imp looked to the sky as the Pentad began to glow softly.

Never the end.

A note from Barnaby:

I apologize for the time it has taken to finish this, and for the manner in which it is written. As long as it took, it is still rushed. And, of course, poses as many questions as it answers – those questions no longer belong to me, if they ever did, for I was only ever played a small part in the tale that some of you have been telling for the better part of twenty years.

There are references here that will likely confuse many, but my hope is that some of them are noticed and recognized. It is often difficult to remember that the stories we hold in our heads are rarely remembered in the heads of others the same way.

The purpose of this fiction is to close out one chapter, while leaving openings for a new one. I look forward to seeing what that one looks like.


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