The Paladins: Albion’s Call, Book 1, Chapter 6: Ill Met by Moonlight

by Brian K. Asbury

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“I hate stakeouts.”

Godiva glanced away from her vigil to face Sandie, who was sitting drumming her fingers on the device sitting in her lap. “Do you do many, then?”

“This is my first,” Sandie replied. “And I’ve decided. I hate them. I’m a scientist, not a detective. I shouldn’t have to do this.”

“An odd attitude, considering you volunteered.”

“I know. Remind me not to do it again.”

“So why are you here, then?” asked Godiva.

The black girl frowned. “Because of this thing,” she said, rattling the alien machine. “I’m convinced if I can get it to work, it’ll take us straight to this Mr. D character who’s supposed to be behind all this, and we can put an end to it. I had a word with the Knight, and he said he was sure he could get Billy the Bard to talk.”

“Yes…” Godiva said pensively. “He does seem very sure of himself, doesn’t he? How much do you know about him?”

“Me? Nothing. According to the Super, the other Knight — the old one — called him up and said this new bloke wanted to get involved. You knew the other one, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” Godiva said. “And he was older than most super-hero types, but not that old. I can’t help wondering why he’s decided to retire and let this new man take his place. I don’t think that’s the same Squire, either. I never really paid much attention to him, but I’m sure his voice is different.”

“You think they’re impostors?”

“I don’t know quite what to think. Super-heroes have retired or died and given way to successors before. Look at the new Flash and Wonder Woman, and all the different Green Lanterns! There’s a new Robin, too, by all accounts.”

“Really? I didn’t know that,” said Sandie. “Where did you hear that?”

“I didn’t. But I’ve met the old Robin a few times, and either he’s shrunk, or the kid I’ve seen on the news lately is a replacement. Hello,” she said, greeting a plainclothes officer as he clambered into the van. “Any news?”

The man nodded. “I think so,” he said. “The bloke they called Cairns just went into the warehouse.”

***

Meanwhile, inside said warehouse, two costumed figures crouched behind a pile of discarded cardboard boxes for the second time in two days.

“So, d’you think he’ll show?”

“I hope so, or we’re going to look pretty stupid,” sighed the Knight. He touched a stud on the back of his right gauntlet, and red LED numbers glowed. “It’s almost time. Be vigilant.”

“OK. Um… Perry…”

“Call me Knight when we’re in public, remember?”

“Right. Er… can I ask you something?”

“Yes?”

The teenage Squire stared intently at his mentor. “Just what is it do you think is going on here? These aliens who are being killed — are they like you?”

There was a momentary pause. “If you mean are they the same race as me,” the Knight said, “then the answer’s yes. More or less. I’m actually half-human. That’s why they don’t communicate with me much. My father was a noble and a leader of their people, but he married a human woman, and that embarrasses them.”

“Why?”

“Because where they come from, they have a tradition of keeping the race pure. And yes, I’m fully aware of how stupid that sounds — which is why I’ve been perfectly happy for them to stay away.”

“Until now.”

“Until now. I may not like them overmuch, but they’re still my people, and this has to be stopped. Hopefully we can put an end to it today if I can persuade the Bard to lead us to this Mr. D.”

“Yeah. You’ve got to show me how you do that sometime. You…”

“Later.” The Knight held a finger up in silence. A man had just entered the warehouse.

“Billy? You here?” shouted Cairns. There was no immediate answer. Disgruntled, Cairns closed the door behind him, slipping the padlock into his pocket for the time being. He pulled a packet of Superkings from his inside pocket and lit one — only to drop it in shock as a side door opened and a costumed figure appeared. “Bloody hell!”

“I’m here,” said the apparition.

Cairns backed away slightly as the other approached him. “Christ, you gave me a start, man.” He pulled himself together and studied the newcomer’s odd garb. “Are you seriously going to walk through the streets of London dressed like that? You look like a refugee from Madame Tussaud’s!”

The Shakespeare lookalike came closer. Then it was his turn to jump in surprise as an armoured man suddenly stepped from behind a pile of boxes. “That’s far enough, my friend.”

Both of the other two men stared as the Knight pointed a wickedly sharp-looking sword in their direction. “I’d advise you both that I’m well-armed and quite prepared to use my weapons. Now, I’ll ask you nicely to drop any weapons you’re carrying. In particular, I want you–” He indicated the man in Elizabethan dress. “–to slowly unfasten that belt you’re wearing, drop it on the floor, and kick it towards me.”

The two men exchanged a brief glance, and both bolted for the door — just as it was slammed open by an expanding mass of golden hair. Cairns squealed, ducked, and rolled under Godiva’s hair, but it enveloped the other and lifted him into the air.

“Look out, he’s reaching for a weapon,” a youthful voice called out from behind the Knight. The Squire sprang into view, detaching a short club from his belt and clicking on a catch at its middle. Its ends sprang out, extending it to around six feet, and the teenager used it as a vaulting pole to assist a feet-first leap toward the entangled man, catching him squarely in the middle as he reached for a device depending from his own belt.

Simultaneously, the Knight transferred his sword to his left hand and drew his mace. He pointed it at the fleeing Cairns, and its head flew toward his quarry, trailing a gossamer-thin polymer line in its wake. As it reached Cairns, the Knight gave a tug, and it wrapped around Cairns’ legs, entangling him and sending him sprawling flat on his face.

Godiva retracted her hair, freeing her now-unconscious victim. “That was too easy,” she said.

“You’re complaining?” laughed the Squire. She came forward to retrieve the object that the costumed man had dropped.

“This is an ordinary gun,” she said.

“What?” said the Knight, approaching them.

And, I didn’t hear any quotes from Shakespeare,” Godiva added. She bent down and pulled a bald wig from the unconscious man’s head.

“A decoy?” said the Squire.

“It seems so.”

The Knight looked around. “That isn’t the only puzzle. I planted proximity alarms at the entrances. No one should have been able to get in without tripping them.”

“Another teleportation device?”

“I don’t know. I suggest–”

The door opened, and the three braced themselves for action. However, it was Sandie Bremmer who entered, carrying the alien device she had been nursing in the van. “Look at this,” she said. “It’s lit up like a Christmas tree. I think it’s reacting to something in the warehouse.”

“Sandie,” began Godiva, “you should stay in the van. It isn’t safe in here. The man we just captured is not the Bard.”

“Indeed,” a voice rang out from above them. “False face must hide what the false heart doth know.”

They looked up to see a second man in Elizabethan costume, standing on a gantry that ran across the centre of the warehouse. “Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania!” he called out as he shone a bright white light in Godiva’s face.

“I can’t see!” cried Godiva.

“We’ll see about that,” said the Knight. “Squire, take care of her. And you — get out of here!” he shouted to Sandie.

“But–” began the startled forensic scientist. The Knight ignored her and flipped a switch on his mace. The head and its line retracted, flipping the hapless Cairns around like a child’s toy, and the Knight pointed it up at the gallery and hit the switch again.

“How far that little candle throws his beams!” cried the Bard, ducking under the mace head as it whizzed past his head. He turned his blinding beam on the Knight.

“I don’t wear this visor for nothing, madman,” muttered the armoured avenger as the built-in lenses compensated. He hit the switch on his mace yet again and was yanked off his feet as the line pulled him up to the gantry.

“The raven himself is hoarse that croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan under my battlements,” said the Bard, reaching for a second weapon as the Knight pulled himself onto the gantry.

“Whatever,” the Knight said, drawing his sword.

“Down, thou climbing sorrow,” said the Bard. “Thy element’s below.” He pointed the device at the gantry ahead of him, and the metal disappeared in a shower of tiny fragments.

“What the hell?” said the Knight as the walkway in front of him started to disintegrate. He started to back up, but the entire structure began to sway under his weight. He stopped, but it lurched violently to one side — and the metal in front was still crumbling rapidly.

There was only one course of action possible. He hurled his sword at the Bard’s weapon and leaped over the side as the gantry finally toppled over. The armoured hero fell into the pile of cardboard boxes behind which he had been sheltering earlier.

“Are you all right?” He looked up to see the Squire running toward him.

“I’m fine,” he said, struggling to regain his feet “I’m just a bit winded. My armour protected me. Look out for that lunatic, will you? And why are those two still here?” He pointed at Godiva, who was being tended to by Sandie.

“I’m going to be OK, I think,” said Godiva. “My vision is clearing already.”

“Even so…”

There was a muttering above them. “Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”

“What’s he on about now?” said Sandie.

“Perry — I mean the Knight — knocked that gizmo out of his hands with his sword,” said the Squire. “I think he hurt him.” He withdrew a dagger from his tunic. “And it’s time to hurt him some more.” He twisted the pommel ninety degrees. “A special job, I think.”

He hurled the dagger upward. It missed the Bard but embedded itself in the ceiling, where it proceeded to emit a high-pitched screeching sound. The Bard screamed.

“What the hell is that?” Godiva yelled, as she and Sandie both clapped their ears over their hands. The two men pulled them away toward the back wall, and the sound lessened.

“It’s OK,” said the Knight, “it’s directional. It’s not so bad here.”

“But bigmouth Billy Bard is feeling the full benefit of it,” smirked the Squire.

Indeed, the Bard was convulsing in pain from the screeching weapon and seemed to be almost reduced to his knees. “Godiva,” said the Knight, “can you reach up and grab him from here? Will your hair extend that far?”

“Yes,” she replied. “But just one problem — I can’t see him. Everything’s still pretty much a blur.”

“Damn! Then we’d better find another way up there, and fast!”

“I’m with you, boss — I mean, milord!” said the Squire.

However, as they started for the door by which the bogus Bard had entered, the sonic scream suddenly died. They looked up to see the real Bard holding the Knight’s sword and panting heavily. Pieces of the shattered dagger clattered to the ground. “Is this a dagger I see before me?” he panted.

“Damned if I’m going to let you use my own bloody weapon!” growled the Knight. He held out his hand, and the sword vanished from the Bard’s hand to appear in his.

“How on earth did you do that?” gasped Sandie.

“Are you still here?” shouted the Knight. “I told you to get out!”

“But–”

“Out!”

Sandie scooped up the alien machine and started toward the door. Then the Bard’s voice rang out once more: “Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow.”

“Look out!” cried the Squire.

A shaft of purple radiance shot from a new device in the Bard’s hand — straight toward Sandie Bremmer. She screamed as it struck the alien machine in her hands.

And then the entire warehouse was engulfed in a huge explosion of smoke and flames.

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