Guardian

This graphic novel fills in some of the “missing time” between the novels Relentless and Fearless. It’s not essential to enjoying the Trilogy; instead consider it something akin to a “DVD Extra.” A fun little bonus story for Trilogy fans.

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Super

“Super” was a proof-of-concept for an initiative I started at INFUZEmag.com, where writers were paired with talented artists to create comic books and graphic novels. It’s basically a short story in comic book form.

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Relentless

Grant Borrows’ life has just taken a drastic left turn. There’s another man in the world wearing his face and living his life. What’s more, the man he sees in the mirror is a stranger.

Somehow, he’s been Shifted — his whole life fundamentally altered, in the space of a single breath. But the changes don’t stop at skin-level. Inexplicably, he’s able to affect objects around him by simply thinking about them. And he’s the central figure in a vast web of intrigue that stretches from an underground global conspiracy to a prophecy dating back over seven thousand years. Enemies and allies find him at every turn, but one thing they will all learn is that you shouldn’t push Grant Borrows too far…

Can destiny be undone? The players are ready. The game is in motion. And the pace is Relentless.

In the allegorical tradition of Tolkien and Lewis comes a new myth for a new generation.

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Voices

Written for INFUZEmag.com. It was the very first short story published there.

Jeff was sleeping — which for him meant tossing and turning all night long — alone in his apartment, when a voice whispered his name.

“Jeff.”

He bolted straight up in his bed, looking all around, his heart beating twice as fast as before.

His eyes were open wide, but he saw no eerie shapes, no obvious menace. He must have dreamed it, he thought, allowing himself a nervous laugh. He heard something in a dream and it scared him awake. That’s all it was.

He looked over at his alarm clock and saw the bright red numbers read 3:29. A wave of relief washed over him as he turned back over and closed his eyes.

It’s time.”

The voice was louder this time, though still only a whisper. This time he instinctively reached under his pillow and pulled out the hunting knife he always kept there. He’d never been hunting in his life, but his neighborhood was unsafe, and he often found the knife made him feel more at ease. He flipped it open as sweat formed on his brow.

He reached over to his lamp, breathing quickly now, and braced himself for who or what he might see in his bedroom. But the light flickered on and there was nothing; he was all alone. There was no sound anywhere in his apartment. In fact, he realized with a start, there was no sound at all, anywhere. Even outside, where late at night he usually heard sounds of wild parties, traffic, boom boxes, and the occasional police chase — all was perfectly still.

The silence was so thorough that he was beginning to entertain the idea that perhaps he’d gone deaf, when —

Come, Jeff.”

He jumped out of bed, knife still in his hand, and hobbled down the hall as best he could. He turned on more lights in every room of the tiny, low-rent apartment, until the entire place was lit up, but still he found no one. At the front door, he noted that the deadbolt was still locked, and the chain was still in place. Which was how he preferred it.

“Jeff, you must come. Now.”

Now the voice sounded as if it were coming from outside, further away than before. He glanced back at the door as he realized that the voice was trying to lead him somewhere.

Normally he would never go outside at this time of night. It was early July, which meant that the street gangs would be out in force. Everyone knew it was insane to leave your home after dark. But without entirely knowing why, he knew he was going to do it.

He went back to his bedroom and threw on some clothes, grabbed his knife again and slipped it into his pocket, and then opened the front door.

He paused there, listening hard for anything he might hear — anything at all. But the world was no longer making sounds.

“Hurry, Jeff.”

He turned his head to the left, the direction from which the voice now came. He walked carefully down the steps, turned left, and started walking as best he could. He favored his right leg, limping wherever he went — the result of an old injury. It was an annoyance, but like so many things, he’d learned to live with it.

“Yes, this way.”

The voice grew louder as he walked. He looked nervously around the area, fingering the knife in his pocket. In all of the places he might have typically seen drug dealers or wild parties or even crime in-progress, there was absolutely nothing. No movement, no sound, no people. It was as if he were walking around inside a movie that had been paused. The only sound he heard was being made by the barely-audible squeak in his tennis shoes. Even the wind was dead calm.

But soon he heard something else. As he rounded a corner, up ahead he heard a sound he knew all too well. It was the sound made by two people grappling over something — probably a purse or a wallet. He was used to hearing that sound in his neighborhood, although he always tried hard to ignore it.

Soon he came upon a dark side alley on his left. He stopped short of it and took a slow, quivering breath.

“You must do this,” he heard the voice say. His mind immediately answered, Why? But he got no answer.

After a moment’s hesitation, he ever-so-carefully peered around the corner. And there, his eyes fell upon a sight that turned his blood ice cold.

A young man, probably in his late teens, was kneeling over an elderly man, who was lying in the street. The old man looked up spitefully at the kid, clearly unafraid of him, yet treading lightly nonetheless. The boy was pointing a gun at the old man’s head.

“Just give me the wallet, and you won’t get hurt,” the boy said. “I saw you at the bank today. I know what you have in there.”

Jeff felt as though he were going to pass out. He knew this scene by heart, word for word. He knew how they’d gotten here, he knew who they were, and he knew what was going to happen next. It was like watching a reenactment, some cruel torment that could only have been thought up in the bowels of hell.

Eighteen years ago, Jeff had been the boy he was now watching. The same clothes, the same gun, the same scenario. He had been 19, and had gone to the bank to beg for a loan for his family. His mother had just been diagnosed with a congenital heart disease and his father was long gone — ran out on the family when Jeff was a baby. Jeff had a decent job washing dishes at a nice restaurant downtown, but his wages would never be enough to cover all of the hospital expenses his mother was adding up.

So in one moment that would haunt him forever, he made the worst decision of his life. While waiting to talk to the loan officer at the bank a few days before Christmas, he’d noticed the old man stuffing dozens of hundred dollar bills in his wallet. After making him wait for over an hour, the loan officer had been very sweet as she told him he had a better chance of sprouting antlers and a shiny, red nose than ever getting a loan. On his way out of the bank, he saw the old man leaving, and that was when he decided to do it. He was only doing what he had to, to help his family, he told himself.

He had spent the rest of his days running from what happened next. He’d suppressed the memory, tried his best to procure one decent job after another, and never, ever committed another crime. But he lived in seclusion, afraid of being found out by someone who knew. More than that, he was terrified of what he might do if tempted again to act on his worst impulses.

And now here he was, watching the great nightmare of his life playing out right in front of him. He had to be asleep. This couldn’t be real.

It couldn’t be.

Do something,” the voice said, forcefully.

He jumped, caught up in the moment. Then he digested what the voice had said and realized that he wasn’t merely a spectator in this walk down memory lane — if the voice was telling the truth, he could interact with what he was watching. But still he hesitated, mortified at watching what he’d done so long ago, what he’d tried so hard to forget. Knowing what was coming next, he didn’t have much time to intervene, yet all he wanted to do was run away and bury his head.

Why is this happening to me? he thought. Had he not paid his penance by living a life in secluded disgrace, forming no meaningful friendships, and avoiding others? Had his mother’s rapid decline and eventual death all those years ago not been enough punishment to last a lifetime? What more was expected of him?

“Do something, now,” the voice said again.

He closed his eyes and blew out a breath out very, very slowly. Then he moved.

In one moment, he reached inside his pocket, pulled out the knife, and ran down the alleyway. The boy’s gun was touching the old man’s head as he said something about not making him do something he’d regret, when Jeff tackled him. The gun flew out of the boy’s hand and Jeff stood up and kicked it away. The boy rose as if he were going to lunge at Jeff, but Jeff flicked the knife open, and the boy hesitated.

“Go home,” Jeff said looking straight at the boy. He was hoping that somehow, his younger self would intuitively recognize him, because he knew he didn’t have time to explain the situation. “Don’t do this.”

“I have to do this,” the boy said. He quickly knocked Jeff’s knife away with one hand and punched him hard in the head with the other. Jeff went down, seeing stars. It was a powerful blow; he’d forgotten how strong he was when he was younger.

The boy ran down the alley and grabbed the gun again, and spun around quickly, just as the old man was getting to his feet.

“I told you to stay down!” the boy shouted. The man carefully got back down on his knees.

Give me the wallet, now,” said the boy, running back up to him.

“No,” the old man quietly stated, shaking his head. Oddly, he didn’t seem at all frightened by this dangerous situation he was in.

The boy walked over to him and placed the gun against his head. “Last chance, pops. Give me the wallet, or I’ll take it from you… after.”

Jeff, still laying on the ground, was stung by those words. It was just as he remembered it. He craned his head upward and saw the knife on the ground, not two feet away.

“Then do it,” said the old man. “Because you will never get it any other way.”

The boy took one step back and pointed the gun straight at the man’s head. Jeff could feel it coming. It was going to happen again.

The boy’s finger touched the trigger, but the old man suddenly came to life, springing forward amazingly fast. In under a second, he had grabbed the boy’s wrist and flicked it, somehow forcing him to drop the gun. The man stuck out his other hand to catch it, and turned it back on the boy.

“Do you really think I have so much money because I’m frugal, kid?” he said coldly. The boy recoiled, startled by the man’s sudden change.

“It took guts to try and mug me, I’ll give ya that,” the man continued. “But you should leave this sort of thing to the professionals. First rule of the game: know how to pick your targets.”

Jeff held his breath, he felt it coming. This was it.

“You shoulda listened to that little voice telling you not to do this.” The man looked the boy in his eyes, pointing the gun right at his head. “Me — I stopped listening to that voice a long time ago.”

He was ready to pull the trigger. But as he watched the boy, who was now terrified and on the verge of tears, he appeared to have a change of heart. He instead angled the gun down toward the boy’s left leg and pulled the trigger. He didn’t notice the knife flying through the air until it was too late.

Jeff’s knife never penetrated the old man’s wrist, but the slight impact it made was enough to push it aside by a fraction. And it was enough. The boy’s jeans popped as the bullet sliced through them, but Jeff heart lept when he realized it had only been a graze.

The man recovered quickly, though, and spun to point the gun at Jeff. But the boy didn’t hesitate. He jumped forward and punched the man hard, three times in rapid succession. The man slumped the ground.

Jeff rose up to his feet quickly as the boy grabbed the gun out of the unconscious man’s hand. He stood up again and pointed the weapon down at the old man.

“Don’t do it,” Jeff said. The boy didn’t react. But he didn’t pull the trigger, either. “He wasn’t wrong. If you had listened to what the better part of your nature was telling you, you never would have ended up here.”

The boy turned to look at him, a strange look on his face.

“It’s not too late,” Jeff said, astonished at his own words. “I think… somehow… we’ve changed it. You don’t have to do it this time.”

The boy looked at him for a long moment, and then gazed back down at the unconscious man. The gun never moved.

He looked back up at Jeff and held his gaze for another moment, and Jeff could see the wheels turning in the boy’s head, trying to reason this out.

“He was going to kill me,” the boy said. “He could try again. Why shouldn’t I just end it now?” He looked back down at the unconscious man.

Jeff began cautiously making his way towards the boy. When he was standing right next to him, he stopped and looked him in the eyes.

“Because,” Jeff spoke slowly, carefully choosing his words, “his life is no longer the one with an uncertain outcome.”

The boy seemed to take this in, so Jeff pressed on. “Your mother needs you right now more than she ever will again. Don’t throw that away.”

The boy looked at him again, now with a face full of fear and sorrow. Finally, he dropped the gun. When he looked back at Jeff, his countenance had changed. He still showed doubt and uncertainty, but his shoulders were set, and his eyes held a new resolve.

Jeff felt as though his heart might burst. It was all he could do not to grab the boy and hug him around the neck.

The two of them held each other’s gaze for a long time. Jeff’s eyes were filling with tears and he couldn’t think of anything to say to fill the moment. But finally the boy spoke up.

“How did you find me?” he said.

“I don’t know,” Jeff said, shaking his head and smiling. “Maybe I’m your conscience.”

The boy watched him for a second, and then nodded. “Thanks,” he said quietly. Then he turned and walked down the alley until he was out of sight.

“No, kiddo, thank you,” Jeff whispered, tears rolling down his cheeks, “Thanks for listening.”

He walked out of the alley and found his way back down the silent neighborhood to his apartment. It was only as he sat back down on his bed that he realized he hadn’t limped on his way home. Smiling again, he laid his head back down on his pillow.

Just before he fell into the first peaceful sleep he’d had in years, he noticed that his clock still read 3:29.

Copyright 2005 ©Robin Parrish. All rights reserved.

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The Untold Story of the Battle of Camlaan

From my sophomore year in college, making me 19 at the time. My English Lit professor assigned an essay based on a historical work, and gave us the option of doing it as prose. I’ve always loved the legend of King Arthur, so I jumped at the chance to put a new spin on one of the most iconic parts of the legend. I’d write it completely differently today, of course — it’s cliched, stilted, and way too formal — but I still like the basic idea behind it. (And it was enough to score an A+ at the time. Wherever you are, Dr. Gleaton, thanks for the encouragement!)

I

In the year of our Lord, Nineteen Hundred and Ninety-Four, a most fantastic happenstance occurred near Winchester, England.

It was a fresh, warm summer afternoon, on that day in Great Britain. The air was brisk and clean, without a single cloud in the crisp, blue sky, which for the gang translated into perfect weather for bike-riding.

If the three of them had had a leader, it would most likely have been Eric. Being the eldest (fourteen), the tallest, and quite possibly the smartest, he was the most qualified person for the position.

He and Laura had been friends since they were eleven. They met when a friend of Eric’s had wanted him to ask Laura to a movie for him. The two had been close friends ever since.

Then there was Miles. He was a new friend of theirs; a black American kid who was here for the summer with his parents. Laura had let him borrow her older brother’s bike.

A cold drop of sweat ran down Eric’s back as he pedaled extra hard up a hill. The three of them had decided to ride up to an excavation site near Stonehenge, where Eric’s father was working. Dr. John Uther was a professor of Medieval Literature at Oxford. But during his summer hiatus he’d decided to join a colleague who was launching an intense study of the mountains and rock formations a few kilometers away from the Stonehenge site. Since that area had already presented artifacts from early Medieval times, Dr. Uther was a natural choice as an interpreter for whatever they might find.

The trio arrived at the top of the hill and skidded to a stop. Miles wiped the sweat from his forehead with the “Big Ben” souvenir T-shirt he was wearing.

The three of them surveyed the layout of the area. About five hundred yards directly in front of them was a large cave that led deep into the heart of a surrounding mountain. It emptied into a large open area, about half a mile in diameter. Off to the right of the cave was a clearing which, with good binoculars, one could get a great view of Stonehenge itself. Tot he left of the cave were several tall trees, but not enough to constitute a forest. Just at the bottom fo the hill on which they were perched were two white vans marked with the symbols of the company sponsoring the dig.

Laura’s arm stretched out as she pointed to a group of about ten people standing just inside the mouth of the cave. “Isn’t that your dad?” she asked.

Eric scanned the area intensely, wiping dust from his eyes. His eyebrows popped up and he called out, “Dad!! Hey Da–”

An immense explosion erupted from inside the cave. Despite their distance from it, the ground shook so hard that Miles lost his balance and toppled over, banging his head on the ground. It continued to quake, and Miles continued his fall all the way down to the bottom of the hill.

Had it not been for the loud thud that Miles’ head had made on the ground, the others might not have noticed his fall. For in the same split second, both of them had become horrible aware that the cave’s entrance was collapsing.

Eric darted down the hill after Miles, giving no warning to Laura, who scrambled down after him. Eric dropped his bike and ran out ahead of the vans. A large cloud of smoke and dust billowed from the cave in a way such that it appeared that the mouth of the cave had coughed.

In the meantime, Laura jumped off her bike and helped Miles get to his feet. She was inspecting the forming bump on his head when Eric’s shouts of “DAD!! DAD!!” jolted them back to the crisis at hand.

Laur and Miles ran up beside Eric and followed his gaze out to the expanding cloud that was rapidly heading their way. Eric’s terror-stricken eyes frantically searched the interior of the cloud for any sign of life. He covered his eyes with a hand so that he could see through the shower of tiny rocks that fell like pouring rain.

As the cloud finally reached them, they all started coughing heavily. Laura wisely started to climb up on top of one of the vans, to escape from the gritty air. The other two followed suit.

The air up there still caused them to cough, but their visibility returned. What they saw would forever be embedded in their memories. As the cave collapsed, it showed no mercy to those who were trying to escape. Boulders larger and heavier than bowling balls rained down on the archeologists, stifling their cries for help.

The trio watched from atop their makeshift surveillance spot. Stunned and unable to help, their hearts went out to the terrified victims. Eric was still searching for his father, the despair in his heart telling him what his logical mind already knew: his father had been buried alive with the others.

Finally, graciously, all the tumbling stopped, and the dust cloud quickly dissipated. For a long, gut-wrenching moment, no one said a word. And then, in a delayed, stupefied reaction, others who had been in the clear ran in to thelp.

Eric, Laura, and Miles hoped down and ran in to help as well. Neither Laura nor Miles dared say a word until it had been confirmed to be true. They didn’t want to believe it, especially since Eric had already lost one parent to nature. Eric’s mom had died two years ago during a boating accident. That was the last time Eric had been on a boat of any kind, swearing never to get back on one.

Some wenty minutes after the crash, the police and ambulances arrived and damage assessments were complete. Surprisingly, the police made no arguments about the kids’ pitching in; they’d welcomed all available help. Equally surprising was the fact that so far, they had found only one fatality. Mrs. Marian Wells, wife of the founder of the dig, had suffered a crushed skull.

Hours later, only one person was unaccounted for: Dr. Uther. Eric slowly walked up to the police chief. “Constable, has anyone found my dad yet?”

The captain placed a hand on Eric’s shoulder and very delicately said, “I’m sorry, son. But I’m afraid that the only place your father could possibly be–”

Eric nodded towards teh completely covered entrance to the cave, and finished the sentence. “–is in there.”

He no more than got the words out of his mouth when a nother explosion, this one of even greater proportions, erupted from the cave. The last thing Eric remembered was being thrown back about ten feet by the force fo the explosion. Then he lost consciousness.

II

Laura and Miles were standing at the back of one of the many ambulances. Only two had left with patients in need of emergency care. Of the three that were left, Miles was currently of the opinion that he had arrived upon the one that enjoyed inflicting pain upon its patients more than relieving it.

His grimace turned into a full-blown frown, and his eyes doubled in size. “OW!!” he yelled as a nurse applied some kind fo foul-smelling ointment to his head.

Oh come on!” Laura taunted him. “I thought Americans were supposed to be all brave and strong and whatnot.”

He glanced warily up at her and could only manage a sarcastic evil eye that would make any American proud.

It was at that moment that the second explosion hit. Laura caught Eric’s backward leap from the corner of her eye, but then she, like everyone else, was blinded by the most intense white light she had ever seen.

What happened next was hard to make out. Through the brilliant light, she and Miles could bare see the tall figure of a huge man, followed by a smaller one. Both of them emerged from the cave, the taller one shouting something at the top of his lungs. But the bright light was “humming” with a blaring power so strong that he could not be heard.

It took Laura and Miles a few seconds to recognize that the smaller man was Dr. Uther, Eric’s father. Then suddenly both the light and the humming ended, and there was an eerie silence.

Eric awoke with a start, his memories instantly flooding back into his consciousness. It was only when he attempted to stand that he felt an acute surge of pain in his right leg.

But he stood nonetheless, suddenly taking in what was happening all around him. He was in an extremely dazed, dream-like state, so much so that he really wasn’t consciously aware of what was going on.

Later he would remember seeing his dad throught the blazing light, screaming something at him. He couldn’t remember the light actually ending, but obviously it had, because all of the other images he could remember were in normal daylight. He recalled seeing a tall, old man with a flowing white beard, clad in odd-looking clothes. There were several shouts of the name “Vivien,” although Eric knew no one from the archaeology team who answered to that name.

The trees caught fire somehow, and there was lightning, though it would only occur to him later how bizarre it was to have lightning bolts on a clear day. Then he remembered his dad running towards him, but being knocked back by an immense surge of power that came from the tall figure at the center of the intense light. Only later would he realize that he had been knocked back again, and lost consciousness for a second time.

When their eyes finally readjusted to normal sunlight, Miles thought that he must have been knocked unconscious by his earlier fall, and that he might still be dreaming. Laura almost thought she had stepped onto some strange movie lot where a scifi flick was being filmed.

For now they could see everything, but it still made absolutely no sense. The tall man actually had on a conically-shaped hat, which made him appear taller than he really was. He wore a silken, black robe of some type. And though he was obviously very old, his eyes overflowed with rage and anger, and he continued shouting the name Vivien. It was obvious that this Vivien was the very source of his anger.

In his mindles fury, he produced marvels from himself. There were clouds all around him of strangely-colored smoke, small explosions, electric currents flowing from his hands. He set the nearby trees on fire with seemingly nothing but will power. He conjured gale-force winds, which were responsible for blowing down Eric and his father. Until that happened, Laura and Miles had been so entranced by this wizardly man to even notice them.

Ultimately, the tall man was able to focus his fury into one last mighty surge of power. He placed the tips of his fingers together, creating a ball shape with his hands. Within this small cage, a solid sphere of pure light formed, floating there with quiet energy. As he spread his hands apart, the ball grew bigger and bigger.

He took this sphere in one hand and hurled it with an incredible force against a very large boulder. His manner proclaimed that with it, he was throwing away his reason to live.

Whatever the sphere was made of shattered into trillions of sparkling, gem-like fragments. These bits formed a very large, life-sized portal.

The wizard prepared to jump through, but as he was halfway through it, another man crashed into him from the other side, both of them landing back on the ground. The portal began to flicker, weakening in its stability. Just then another stepped through from the other side, this one clad in armor.

And then the portal collapsed.

III

“I had passed out at first. But then I saw him — he didn’t notice me — and I hid behind a boulder. He was fuming — literally. And then there was this light that was beyond intense, and it was coming from him!” said Dr. Uther. “Somehow he created an explosion which freed us from the cave. For the record, I believe that he caused the first explosion as well.”

One of the archaeologist’s heads dropped. It was Dr. Wells, whose wife had died in that first explosion.

“I’m so sorry, Henry… Anyway, I don’t believe it was his intention to cause all of this havoc.”

“Or to kill my wife?!” Dr. Wells said, fuming.

“No, Henry, I don’t believe so. He didn’t seem to be in control of himself.”

“But John,” said another member of the team, “you can’t honestly believe that this man is Me–”

“I do. Look, it fits! It fits with the legend. Look at what he can do! Who else could it be?”

“But still…”

The police chief spoke up. “Look, you lot. We have got to keep this thing to a zero percent chance of publicity until we know anything for certain. That means you all keep your mouths shut real tight. Now what about those three kids, any chance they might realize who you think these strangers are?”

Dr. Uther looked as if he hadn’t thought about that possibility. “Well, I doubt that Laura or Miles could figure it who they are. But as for my son Eric… actually, yes, I suppose he could.”

After questioning by the police, Laura and Miles found their way over to the ambulance that Eric was occupying. To their surprise, he was already standing again, but on two crutches.

They both glanced down at his leg, now in a cast. He nodded at them. “Yeah, it’s broken.” He wasn’t too happy about it. “Guess I’m done biking for the summer,” he added.

They all stood there for a minute, not quite sure what to say, or what to make of everything. Finally, Eric’s dad popped his head around the corner.

“How are you?” he asked, with a worried look.

“I’ll be okay. Actually, I think we’re all more interested in those three people. Who are they? Where did they come from? And where are they now?”

Dr. Uther’s eyebrows went up at all the questions. “Well, let’s see. We don’t really know… We’re not sure… And in one of our work vans. Anything else?”

Eric shook his head and smiled self-consciously.

“Good,” his dad replied. “Now I want the three of you to go and wait in that police car right over there,” he said, pointing. “In a few minutes, an officer will come and take you home. And whatever you do, don’t mention any of this to a living soul.”

Miles sighed heavily, and rubbed his aching head. “I don’t think we should be doing this, you guys.”

“I just want to get a better look at them, then we can go,” Eric chided.

They were standing at the rear of the van which housed the three newcomers. They had gone to the police car as instructed, but Eric and Laura just couldn’t stand the excitement, so they’d snuck back over to peek in the van. Eric and Laura had always shared an extreme curiosity in all things that they were supposed to stay away from — it was one of the traits that made them such good friends.

Laura helped Eric get some leverage, and then he neatly hoisted himself up onto the back bumper on his good leg. From there, he could see into the van. And what he saw took the breath from his lungs.

It was a moment before he could say anything.

“No… It couldn’t be… Could it?” he whispered.

His friends’ eyes grew wider with each of Eric’s comments.

“What is it, man?” asked Miles.

Eric’s thoughts intensified, and his expression changed to one of disbelief and astonishment.

“Eric, you’re killing us!” exclaimed Laura. “What is it?” Her shout brought him back to the moment. He placed a hand on the door handle for support, and the door promptly sprang open, depositing him on the ground.

The trio looked inside the van at the strangers. The tall one who’d been so angry was laying on the floor, unconscious. The one wearing armor reached for his sword, realizing with a nasty expression that it wasn’t there. The remaining man stood from where he had been perched over the elderly gentleman. His face bore many scars; some still bled, even now. Yet his countenance told of kindness and wisdom beyond his years, and the fire in his eyes spoke of a youth within him that his weathered body deceived.

On a sudden instinct, Eric dropped to one knee, grimacing through his pain. He yanked Miles and Laura down with him.

“You may rise,” said the standing man.

“Thank you, my lord,” replied Eric. “I am called Eric, son of John. These are my companions, Laura and Miles.”

The man acknowledged each with a short nod. “Please enter,” he said.

When they had done so and properly closed the doors behind them, he seated himself once more. But even sitting, he was taller than all three of them, and his presence was powerful, commanding, and unable to be ignored.

“I am Arthur, King of the Britons,” he proclaimed. He observed with slight amusement as Eric descreetly reached up and closed Miles’ gaping mouth.

“This,” he hesitated a moment as a flicker of some obscure emotion passed over his face, “is Sir Lancelot, my most valiant and trusted knight. And this,” he gestured to the floor’s sleeping occupant with a tinge of weariness, “is Merlin the magician.

“Perhaps you could render us some assistance, Eric son of John. We are quite confused about what has happened to our surroundings, how they have changed. And also about Merlin’s presence here — he is supposed to be dead, you see.

“My knights and I were waging a fierce battle.” Arthur looked down sadly. “Some of my finest and most beloved men had fallen. I myself was locked in single combat with the vile Sir Mordred–”

“–who was trying to claim your throne,” Erick picked up, excited and unable to restraing himself. “Except secretly, he was actually your own son, but nobody knew it.” He’d gotten so wrapped up in the excitement that he’d forgotten to whom he was speaking.

“You are correct,” Arthur replied slowly, eying him with great suspicion. “No one knows that, indeed. So how could you?” The tone of his voice made the implication quite clear. Lancelot stood threateningly to his feet.

A commotion arose from the floor; Merlin was regaining consciousness.

“Merlin! My dear old friend…” Arthur began. “How is it that you are still alive?”

Still somewhat befuzzled, Merlin seemed to be trying to get his bearings, and couldn’t quite find his voice.

“I can tell you!” Eric offered. “His true love, Vivien, trapped him inside that cave over there with the very magic he taught her. He’s been in there in some kind of suspended animation for a very, very long time. During their excavation work, my dad and his friends must have upset the place where Vivien left Merlin. But as I said, he was never really ead. Just kind of… well, asleep.”

Eric’s voice grew louder as his confidence swelled. “I’d have to guess that it was Merlin’s rage that created the portal which linked this time with the one from which he came. But when he tried to jump back through the portal to his own time, your majesty and Sir Lancelot accidentally came through from the other side instead.” He shook his head in amazement. “The two of you were transported forward in time some one thousand, five hundred years. In one step.”

“I’ve been asleep that long?” Merlin asked groggily.

“Yeah.”

Miles spoke up for the first time. “So Rip van Winkle here caused the whole thing ’cause he was ticked at his girl?”

Arthur turned to Eric. “How is it, my young boy, that you know all of this?”

Eric paused for a second, trying to put it into terms that they would understand. “My father is a professor, a teacher, of Medieval literature — the writings of your time period. He’s told me the famous stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table dozens of times. But until now, there’s been no proof that the legends were true.”

There was a long moment of silence as Arthur puzzled over the situation. “Merlin, my friend, we must return. We cannot leave the country to be over-ridden by Mordred and his men!”

“I am truly sorry, your majesty. There is nothing I can do. My power was used up in my inane fury. I am far too weak to repeat the performance.”

“But we must return! We must!”

“Is there any other way to conjure a portal through time besides your magic?” Eric offered. “Suppose we could supply you with the power to do it again?”

Miles leaned in close to him and said, “You wanna hook him up to a two-twenty line?”

Eric rolled his eyes.

“There may be merit to this idea,” Merlin said. “But I’m afraid there is a hitch to this plan. This power source must be an object that originates in our own time. It must be something from our century, in order to create a stable gateway from here to there.”

Lancelot spoke for the first time, his voice filled with uncertainty. “Something like a piece of my armor?”

Something subtle passed between Arthur and Lancelot at that moment, something not entirely benevolent. No one but Eric noticed, for it passed as quickly as it had begun.

Merlin stared at Lancelot’s armor. “Yes, that’s the right idea, except that a simple piece of metal armor contains no magical properties.”

A light clicked on in Laura’s head, which popped up quickly. “What about that sword? Excalibur! Wasn’t it an enchanted sword?”

“No, no,” Arthur replied. “That won’t do. I left my sword lying on the ground on the other side of the portal.”

“But wait,” said Eric, “according to the legends, Excalibur is supposedly still around. It’s in a lake somewhere, I think.”

“Why on earth would my sword be in a lake?” Arthur asked in disbelief.

“Well… That’s a little difficult to explain. When you were dying, you were quite adamant about having it thrown into the lake. No one really knows why. But according to the legend, it still rests there to this very day.”

Merlin regarded him. “Do you recall the name of this lake?”

“Uh, let’s see… It’s something like, Avo… Alvon… It was kind of like Avon.”

Arthur looked him in the eye. “Avalon?”

“Yes! Avalon!”

Arthur made a quick decision. “Very well, then we must travel to the Lake of Avalon at once. I know of its location.”

Eric, Laura, and Miles looked at each other, each realizing that one of them was going to have to drive the van.

Eric glanced down at his leg. “Sorry, can’t work the pedals.” He hobbled forward and strapped himself into the passenger seat up front.

Miles looked at Laura and said, “You’re older than me.”

“Only by two weeks, you coward,” she replied, grinning. “But I wanted to drive anyway.”

As she started to make her way up front, she heard Arthur say, “There’s something you should know, my dear.”

She turned to face him. “Oh, I’m perfectly aware of the primeval customs related to women in your century. If you have an objection with a ‘maiden’ taking you to your precious sword, you can stuff it. Your majesty.”

Arthur’s expression altered only a fraction, the edges of his lips curling. “I was referring to the situation outside.” He pointed towards the back window.

Laura and the others glanced outside. The entire falley was filled with police cars.

“I want you to get full profile pictures of all three, and a few group shots, too,” Dr. Uther told a young girl with a very large camera. She looked very eager to please, nodding at his instructions.

A young police officer ran up to Dr. Uther. “I’m ready to drive the children home now, Doctor.”

Dr. Uther glanced at him distractedly. “They’re in your patrol car.”

The young officer looked nervous. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-one. “No, sir, I’m afraid they’re not.”

Laura turned the ignition, put it in gear, and punched the gas. They broke through the police car barricade without slowing down, creating quite a commotion.

Arthur knelt up front between Laura and Eric, giving directions on how to reach the lake.

Dr. Uther nearly doubled-over as he watched the van carrying the Once and Future King go speeding off into the sunset. He saw someone jump into the other van out of the corner of his eye. The second van bolted off after the first, followed by dozens of screaming police cars.

IV

Eric’s mind was racing over the implications of waht they were attempting. He didn’t really know why they were doing this. Of course he realized that it was the right thing to do. And Merlin had saved his dad’s life, sort of. After endangering it in the first place. But there was something else. Some undefinable, immovable force that urged him to continue. Even though his dad would flog him for this. Even though the police were only a few miles behind them, not giving up the pursuit.

He was also considering the strange barrier that presently existed between Arthur and Lancelot. He knew what it was all about, what he couldn’t figure out was how to remove it.

By the time they reached the lake, it was well after dark. They could ever-so-faintly hear sirens slowly but steadily becoming louder. Merlin was able to walk now, and he told the others to stay back with the van as he got out and approached the water.

He stopped at the edge of the foggy, eerie waters, his arms oustretched. He strained as if pulling on something, using every last scrap of power he could conjure. From nowhere, a boat appeared through the haze, and very slowly made its way to the shore. Merlin turned and motioned for the others to join him.

As they were walking in his direction, a gunshot went off.

A high-powered rifle shot rang out across the shore. For a split second, everyone was quiet, trying to assess on their own what had happened. Until Arthur fell.

Merlin deftly cushioned his king’s fall. The shot had pierced Arthur in the shoulder, and blood was gushing out onto everyone. Merlin busied himself attending to the wound as best he could.

“I see that in this century,” Arthur gritted through the pain, “you have far more powerful weapons.”

“Is he dead?!” a voice called out. It was Henry Wells, foundeer of the dig. His manic voice proclaimed that the death of his wife had caused him to snap completely.

“Dr. Wells!!” Eric shouted angrily. “Do you have any idea what you just did?!”

“Yes! And I’ll do it again!!”

They all crouched behind some trees near the edge of the water for cover.

“Eric!” cried Merlin. “What are we to do? If you truly know all about the King’s life, then surely you know that only he can row out onto the water and retrieve Excalibur!”

Eric should his head, not knowing what to say. “Maybe Lancelot could give it a try.”

Lancelot looked up at the others with uncertainty. He finally came out with the completely formal response, “I shall do my best to serve God and King.”

Another shot was fired.

“Dr. Wells!” called Laura. “You have to stop! Is Dr. Uther with you?”

Arthur’s weary head popped up.

Dr. Wells gave no response.

“Who — who was that you inquired about?” Arthur asked Laura.

“Dr. Uther,” she replied. “Eric’s father.”

Arthur looked upon Eric with new eyes. “Your surname is Uther?”

Eric nodded.

“My father’s name was Uther Pendragon.”

Merlin looked back and forth at them both. “If the boy is a son of yours through many generations… He could retrieve the sword!”

“Me?!” cried Eric.

Arthur gave it the nod.

“Me?”

“If you truly are of my line,” Arthur said, “then you must know of wright and wrong, of duty and comitatus. You must do this.”

Eric looked at his friends. Miles didn’t get it immediately, but he could tell Laura knew what he was thinking. He’d vowed never to get on another boat for as long as he lived.

Betray his mother’s memory, or save his ancestor’s life? Finally just nodded and said, “All right. I’ll give it a try.”

Eric descended toward the boat waiting in the water, which wasn’t easy with a broken leg and a madman’s reticle pointed at him. Merlin followed him closely.

“Young Eric…” Merlin spoke quietly. “If we send Arthur back in his present condition, he will not stand a chance against Mordred.”

Eric stopped. “He’s not supposed to stand a chance against Mordred. This is the Battle of Camlaan we’re talking about. It’s Arthur’s final showdown with his son. Arthur defeats him, but receives his own mortal wound.”

“But,” Merlin interjected, “what if he’s already received the wound that will kill him?”

“I don’t think he has. But this might be a part of it. He probably has strength enough to defeat Mordred, but the strain will no doubt be too much for him to bear. In any case, he has to die in that battle; it’s already recorded that he does.”

Merlin carefully helped him into the boat. The sirens grew louder, but the five of them were helpless. They could neither see Eric nor hear him.

In short order, the boat returned to visibility. Eric clumsily got out of the boat on his own, limping along painfully while using the jewel-encrusted sword to lean on.

The sirens became very loud, and they could see lights flashing at the top of the bank. Merlin ran up and took the sword from Eric, which looked even bigger in his teenage hands. Merlin took the sword in both hands and began tracing a large circle in the air. Faster and faster he went.

“Hold it! You’re all surrounded! Put your hands up!” came a loudspeaker call from the police.

Merlin ignored this, continuing his circle until finally it became a huge ring of light. Eric and the others recognized this instantly as a time portal similar to the one they’d seen earlier that afternoon. When it was done, Merlin dropped to the ground, spent.

Lancelot helped Arthur to his feet, but Arthur forced himself to stand on his own, turning loose of Lancelot’s help. Eric grabbed Lancelot’s arm and whispered, “You’ll have to make up for Arthur’s wound. He may not have strength enough left to defeat Mordred. But you do. If he falls, you’ll need to finish the battle in his place.

Lancelot mulled over these things, glancing ahead at his king. He nodded once. The king ordered his first knight to jump through the portal, but Arthur himself paused at the entrance.

“My young friends, I owe you a debt of gratitude which I’m afraid I shall never be able to repay.”

Eric bowed his head. “Think nothing of it, your majesty. But please, sir, you must remember to get your Excalibur into the lake, or all of this will unravel.”

“Quite right, quite right.”

Eric whispered closely to the king’s ear. “Lancelot really is sorry about what happened between him and the queen. He’s already punishing himself more than you ever could.”

Arthur faltered for a moment and then whispered back, “I know.” Then he spoke aloud again, for the benefit of the others. “I thank you, and bid you farewell. God be with you,” he said. And with some effort, the King of Camelot stepped through the portal, his head held high, and it promptly closed.

Spotting his dad, Eric called out and put his hands up. Recognizing his son’s voice, Dr. Uther asked the police to put away their guns; the commotion was over.

Merlin’s body was carted away for a proper burial, but Eric, Laura, and Miles — along with Dr. Uther — unanimously requested that he be buried back inside the cave where he’d been found. It was his proper resting place, after all.

When they were preparing to go home at last, Eric’s eyes fell to the ground. There lay Excalibur. He bent down as best he could and picked it up.

Excalibur. The real Excalibur. The magical sword that dreams, myths, legends, and fantasies were made of.

He threw it as hard as he could towards the lake. It arced up nicely, tumbling end over end, slicing through the air.

At the last possible moment, a ghostly white arm shot out of the lake. The apparition caught it, waved it three times in the air, and then plunged it deep into the water.

Copyright 1994 ©Robin Parrish. All rights reserved.

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