Five of the SCI-FI unit had departed from their secret headquarters. Five had been selected for the mission, and five had been sent. Five had crossed the river Feluws, and five had sabotaged Nabero’s supply route. Though careful, they moved with great haste and efficiency, their actions would have benefits for Oberan’s side in the long run. A slight edge could win a war, but a full-blown advantage made it possible to crush the opposition. Without a steady stream of supplies, Nabero’s army was hamstringed.
Five shadows crawled invisible across the field in which Nabero’s castle stood. Five coalesced at the base of one of its towers. Up the side they rappelled, walking up the side as if gravity held no sway over them. Below an open window they stopped, adjusting their climbing harnesses. One searched their pockets, fishing out a pebble and a rectangle of wood and crystal. They touched the translucent surface of the rectangle, tracing a rune on it and the pebble. Then, they threw it through the window, where it bounced once on the stone floor tiles.
On the crystal rectangle, an estimated layout of the room appeared. A wavy plot had moved when the stone had landed, but now it was a flat line. Silence. Another pebble was thrown inside, further this time. The map on the crystal expanded when the new information was added, but the pebble did not detect any noise.
The leader of the squad gestured with one hand, a series of coded signs, and the five of them completed the last vertical bit of the climb. As one, they emerged from the window, silently touching down on the floor. They covered each other, alert and aware. Needing no instructions, they lowered their Cat’s Eye goggles onto their noses, the lenses inside the gadget flashing green for just a moment. Wasting no further time, the four of them headed down the Manifold Staircase, descending swiftly enough to see the Lady Yrmellyn le Fay disappear into the main hall of the castle.
Naturally, they followed, all four of them sneaking into the large room.
Inside the great hall, the four SCI-FI squad members met no resistance, no security. Just a dark room, but the Cat’s Eye goggles made it possible to see. It was quiet and empty, holding nothing but furniture, tapestries, and the four of them stalking forward without a sound.
“Picking up anything?” the Leader’s voice spoke in the ears of the other three.
“Negative,” the one with the crystal pane stated, his voice not carrying though the room, but instead only reaching the ears of his comrades.
“It is too quiet. Where are all the guards?” the last SCI-FI soldier asked.
“Where indeed?” A voice taunted from behind. They whirled around, but even with their special goggles, they spotted nothing. “Over here, little rats.” Behind them, again.
The two SCI-FI soldiers drew their weapons.
* * *
Count Oberan and about half of the forces stationed at his keep rode out that very night. Ser Dancelot insisted they end this war as soon as possible, and forever. King Ruhart, the Peace Maker, Light Bringer, Champion of Justice, Divine Blade of the Old Gods, Knight of the First Dawn, Almighty Smiter, and Head and Founder of the Order of the Square Table had demanded it. Who was the Count to deny?
Riding South-West first before going North-West and then North-East, Oberan and his Chevaliers de Voleur –along with Madame de la Morthe d’Aghaste and Ser Dancelot Forphune—managed to avoid Nabero’s armies. Their berth cost them time, but not lives. Clearing a path with combat would have resulted in the deaths of several of his Knights, maybe himself, and the Madame. Also, it was entirely plausible that they would not succeed in breaking through. Also, all the bridges across the river Feluws had been demolished in an effort to keep Nabero’s army from advancing, so they couldn’t cross directly into South-East South-Eastern Buphone Avenue anyway.
Several odd things stood out when they did cross the border –and the river. First was the quiet. No owls hooted, no insects buzzed. No critters scurried. Only the wind moved the leaves of tree and bush, rustling every so often. There were no shrieks of bats, no leathery wingbeats.
Second was the absence of cattle when they traveled through the countryside. Stables were empty of horses, cows, and pigs. Chicken coops had no chickens in them. Doors were left unlocked and open, swinging in the wind.
Third was the lack of light. There was the moon and stars, of course, but no building the Chevaliers de Voleur passed was lit from the inside. Houses, shacks, mansions or hovels. All dark as pitch. Some had curtains drawn, some did not, but not one strip of light could be seen from outside. Again, doors were left unlocked, gaping mouths of all-swallowing blackness. Not even the taverns and pubs, late hours not foreign to those businesses, were lit.
Additionally, not one person was seen. No drunks outside the pubs, hollering song and calling for drink. No ladies of the night, seductive but simple, displayed their goods. No town guard patrolled the streets. Not in small one-street towns. Not in Center-Buphone Boulevard, the Capital of Nabero’s territory.
No people, no animals, no insects, no light, no sound.
Due to time being limited, no-one dismounted to investigate, but the Chevaliers de Voleur got the distinct impression of the whole province being deserted.
Well, not quite. There was one creature they encountered.
Reaching Nabero’s castle, a small bat collided with Madame de la Morthe d’Aghaste, carrying a small letter. It fainted almost immediately after due to blood loss, missing half a wing. Yremllyn read the message, then passed it to Oberan and Dancelot.
“But he cannot marry her!” the latter exclaimed in shock. “We must stop this immediately! Marquis Nabero has to see reason!”
“Indeed! Forced marriages are illegal! Only the truest of scum resort to them!” Oberan agreed.
“No. Yes! True, but more importantly, it would break the Princess’s heart if he did! Onwards! Thwart the marriage! Free the goose! Keep Lady le Fay single!” Words barely over his lips, he charged over the drawbridge and into the castle. Oberan and his Chevaliers had no choice but to follow.
“Odd. There’s no guards here either,” one of the riders assessed, glancing around the inner courtyard. No torches, sconces or lanterns were lit either. “And the bridge was down. I have a bad feeling about it.”
“I sense Evil is present,” Dancelot remarked, nostrils flaring. “Its stink is most revolting. My nose is used to the clean and pure scent of Justice and Honor. If it wasn’t, I daresay I’d never even have noticed!”
Many of the Chevaliers started sniffing the air at this, though they noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Neither did Count Oberan, but he and his Chevaliers weren’t Knights of Castle Wentaleedl like Ser Dancelot.
“Right. We’ll infiltrate the castle. Keep your eyes and ears open. Marquis Nabero must be captured, not killed. The six of you are to protect Madame de la Morthe d’Aghaste,” Count Oberan ordered. He then dismounted, unsheathed his rapier, and walked up to the front gate. It was unlocked. A firm push made it swing wide open. Ser Dancelot brushed past, sniffing the air like a hound, and vanished into the darkness. The Count glanced at his Chevaliers, beckoned them with a nod, and followed.
* * *
Nothing was working.
The figure did not respond to their attacks, almost as if he did not even realize they were hacking away at him. If not for the bright red of his eyes tracking their movements, they would have thought it didn’t notice anything was going on at all. All that reacted to the slashes of their Oscillating Blades was the parting of his flesh and the twitching and coiling of the tendrils that rolled off the darkness cloaking him.
Yet, the wounds were temporary, closing up in seconds. Veins and nerves and tendons snaked out of the lacerations. They met in the middle and fused back together, pulling the flesh closed. Skin scarred for but a moment, then that too vanished. Limbs that were lobbed off were much the same, reconnecting though tentacle-like insides which pulled the missing arm, leg or finger back to the stump.
What good were blades that could cut anything if the wounds closed immediately after? The two SCI-FI soldiers panted, considering their options. Both soldiers nodded, then each darted into a different direction.
The soft hum of an Oscillating Blade sounded more like a whine, slicing through stone. Feeling danger encroaching, the Leader dived to the side, a dark inhuman shape thundering past by a hair’s width. She rolled and let the momentum carry her back to her feet, eyes scanning the room. Her Cat’s Eye goggles showed the blade of her comrade stuck in the floor. It was silent.
Behind her, the figure loomed. Bigger than before. Less humanoid. Obscured by black even through the goggles, with too many appendages in entirely the wrong places. They moved and twitched like hungry snakes.
SCI-FI Squad Lambda’s Field Leader, codenamed ‘Oh-nine-gee’, upped her Enhancer’s output. A pulse of blue flashed through her armor, and the inside of her goggles showed a warning and several gauges which climbed to critical and dangerous levels. Overheating was unavoidable now.
In the blink of an eye she closed the distance. Two steps that took her further in a burst of speed. A leap launched her in an arc over and past the creature’s shoulder. One swift horizontal slash of her blade. She landed four meters past the monster, skidding a little, then turning. The creature’s head followed her trajectory, severed. Once again her blade flashed. Multiple times. A myriad of lightning-quick cuts. Flesh and bone dropped to the floor in hundreds of perfect cubes.
Her armor hissed. The gauges fell to zero in an instant. She coughed up blood and sank to one knee, her body unable to handle the strain the Enhancer put on it.
“You cannot run, little rat. You cannot hide. You cannot fight. Resist all you want, it will not matter.”
At her feet, the mess of flesh reassembled itself, parts merging together slow enough as if to taunt her. She wanted to raise her blade and swipe at it again, but couldn’t move her arm. Tendril-like organic tubes sprouted from the neck-stump, and like a grotesque spider the whole head skittered away to its body to reattach itself.
“Good show though.”
An infinite nightmare maw filled with rows upon rows of teeth grew from the jaw of the being, stretching far enough to encompass the half of the chamber’s width.
Oh-nine-gee bit down on a false tooth, breaking the casing of her last resort. Bitter liquid escaped immediately, and was absorbed by the flesh under her tongue. Foam bubbled in the corners of her lips, and all bodily functions ceased instantly.
* * *
Lady Yrmellyn le Fay and Darkmoon Doc arrived in Nabero’s War room without trouble. Except for the lantern or candelabra they might have brought, no lights were lit inside the halls or rooms they’d traveled through. They’d encountered not one guard, knight or servant, nor any sign of them. Mother Goose waited for them inside the covered cage, trembling in uneasy sleep.
She roused quickly though, most glad to see her would-be rescuers. Unfortunately, Nabero had expected an escape at some point. The cage was welded shut and the little door could not be opened. Mother Goose told them as much:
“I am happy you two came,
Though stuck I am all the same,
Marquis Nabero, you see,
Expected some to rescue me
My cage is sealed shut,
And the metal can’t be cut,
But Darkmoon, I see you’re swole,
So grab the cage as a whole
Yes we do not have a key,
But once outside I’ll be free,
Make haste and do not wait,
Oh no! We’re too late!”
“Going somewhere, Silly Goose? I cannot allow that to happen.”
In the door way stood Comon Siwell, smiling without humor in his eyes. He took a deep breath in through his nose, face turning to Lady Yrmellyn. For a moment his features seemed to twist into a horrible nightmare made flesh, but reverted an instant later. The grin spreading across his lips went from ear to ear.
“You have it, don’t you? I can smell it. The World Canvas.” He took another lungful with gusto, as if the scent intoxicated him. “Hand it over, and I will spare you. No, I will let all three of you live. Nabero too, if you want. Up until you try to hinder me, of course. But that is only fair, isn’t it? What say you? Good deal, no?” He extended a clawlike hand, fingers wriggling invitingly. “Please, give it to me.”
“Don’t!” the duck spoke, stepping in front of Yrmellyn, ready to fight. “Let us to engage in unsafe activities!” he intoned his classic catchphrase. “Lady le Fay, this here is a Dangnabbit, you must not give it what it wants!”
“Darkmoon Doc,” Comon Siwell smiled, “What a pleasant surprise. I will feast upon your flesh and use your bones to pick my teeth. And when I’m done with you, I will eat her--” he gestured to Yrmellyn. “—and claim the World Canvas still.” Once more he addressed the Lady. “Unless you hand it over peacefully. This is your last chance. Oh. Perhaps you are thinking to rely on the Doc’s capabilities as a Dangnabbit buster? I am sorry to snap you out of your delusions, but I have grown a thousand times more powerful than last time we clashed. I ate all my kin, you see. As well as a whole lot of people and animals. Let alone the feast of war and fear and strife our dear Count and Marquis prepared for me!” A pause. “You cannot defeat me, Darkmoon Doc. My power eclipses yours by a significant margin.”
To stress his point, the form of Comon Siwell shifted and stirred. It grew and twisted. Arms and legs elongated, horns and spikes and tentacles sprouted from various places. His whole body grew gaunt and pale, but tall and harder than steel. Claws tipped his fingers and toes, darkness clung to his back like a cloak. Bones poked through his skin. His eyes turned into pools of the blackest black. All-swallowing voids that burned red in the middle. Comon Siwell became too tall for the room, having to hunch over when his head reached the rafters. It progressed into a full on bent at the waist, spine parallel to the ceiling.
His jaw unhinged, opening up too far. It widened and widened and widened, stretching more than any orifice should. Rows upon rows of sharp and wicked teeth were ordered in circular layers, going on further than an open mouth should allow. Even in the room itself there should not be enough space for the depth of the maw, so far down did it stretch. When peering in, one could not even see the throat itself. In the middle of it all lolled a prehensile tongue resembling a tentacle. Saliva dripped out in bucketloads at a time.
It covered the entire space above the heads of Yrmellyn, Mother Goose, and Darkmoon Doc. The ceiling and its rafters were no longer visible. There was no gap between the mouth and the walls. Looking up, there only was the endless expanse of Comon Siwell’s insatiable eldritch maw.
His hand remained expectantly near Yrmellyn, fingers as long as she was tall, claws half as tall still. An entire row-row-rowboat could fit within his palm with ease. The boney fingers wriggled with impatience.
“Come now. Hand it over. Live. I always keep my word.”
Daring doc of mystery, champion of moonlight.
Swoops out through the shadows, Darkmoon owns the night.
Somewhere Comon Siwell schemes, but his number's up (3-2-1)
Darkmoon Doc (when there's Dangnabbits you call DM.)
Darkmoon Doc, Let us engage in unsafe activities.
Darkmoon Doc (Darkmoon, Darkmoon Doc)
Moonlit night and he appears, master of surprise.
Who's that cunning mind behind, that shadowy disguise.
Nobody knows for sure, but Siwell's out of luck, cause here comes
Darkmoon Doc (when there's Dangnabbits you call DM.)
Darkmoon Doc, Let us engage in unsafe activities.
Darkmoon Doc (Better watch out you eldritch beasts.)