The Buccaneer Chronicles:
By Keith Dunn (despite interference by Tony Gallichan and Adam J Purcell)
Part Two - Don't go out tonight for it's bound to take your life, there's a bad moon on the Rise
Chapter Four - All Fall Down
The courtyard was in chaos. The last minute supplies were being added to carts. Loved ones were saying goodbye. Some people seemed to just be running around. In amongst all this activity was an area of calm.
Macfadyan and Blanche were on horseback with Cre'at floating close by. Blanche was back in her shirt and jeans with a sword strapped to her waist, (MacFadyan had long ago regretted the subroutines he had inserted in to this clone). She leaned forward on her horse, almost falling off.
"Right, Macfadyan, what's going on den? Spill da beans!"
Macfadyan started looking around him wildly "What do you mean, " the beans? Hmm? "
Cre'at rolled his eyes and with a mental shrug he floated closer to Macfadyan.
* We know nothing of the Beans! *
"No, no of course you don't. Nobody can. And that's the problem." he paused for a moment as if to gather stray thoughts that were elluding him.
" Now were was I? Erm. Ah yes! We have a twelve day ride to the swamps of Maruti where the location of Rablan's head-quaters will be revealed to us."
"And you believe that do you ?" Blanche asked, incredulous.
" Child, it doesn't matter if it's a lie. Magyar believes he's telling the truth. If you know it's a trap its easer to get out of, you see !"
Blanche rolled her eyes and suppressed a groan. It was going to be one of those days. She had regretted mentioning "beans" the moment the comment had left her mouth. Now she would have to live with the consequence that Macfadyan was going to be ultra pompous for the next day or so, using it to cover his paranoia. One day she would have to chain him to a wall and torture him to find out just what it was about him and beans. The thought of torturing the arrogant git put a vague smile on her face. It was quickly followed by annoyance at the fact that Macfadyan attitude could make her smile at doing such a thing.
Crillia's voice rang out through the din and chaos that covered the courtyard,
"Gentlemen, we leave in five minutes. Say farewell to your loved ones and girde your loins!"
Prince Jalke stalked determinedly into the courtyard followed at a respectful distance by a group of generals and advisers. He approached Macfadyan's group who dismounted to meet him.
" My father has just died from his wounds".
Blanche watched as Macfadyan stared unimpressed for a few moments, then spoke up,
"We only meet briefly last night."
Looking meaningfully at Macfadyan she said.
"We we are all sorry for your loss".
Jalke took a sharp intake of breath as he came to a sudden decision,
"I cannot become king while things like this still happen in my realm!"
With that decision the words started to come easer,
"I have spoken to Aralan's father, King Futrara. He doesn't like what you plan any more than my generals and advisers do. But he has agreed to my wishes and I follow your council."
This seemed to spark Macfadyan' s interest,
" Hmm and why is that?"
"Because many times before mass armies have been lead to their slaughter. It may be time for a change".
Macfadyan nodded in approval,
"As long as you remember that and are willing to try something new you will be a wise ruler".
"However both my generals and King Futrara insist that their armies start to gather at the edge of swamps of Maruti in one weeks time. I have been given an communion icon to call them if we need them".
He lifted his hand to reveal a small communication device. Macfadyan leaned forward to examine the device,
" Hmm, looks like a two way comm device. If, however, I can make a small point? All communication will be monitored. Keep that in mind..."
They both walked back to the generals, Macfadyan talking and waving his hands in a flurry of fingers,
"May I suggest a form of word incription, I've got a few ideas, there based on an old Dalek incription program for when Dalek comm's traffic is being monitored".
There were a few moments of talking and frantic scribbling then Macfadyan rejoined Blanche and Cre'at.
Jalke mounted his horse and his voice rang out around the square,
"Soldiers, men, gentlemen. We ride to destroy Rablan, we ride to destiny and if any one stands in our way we will send them to the blasphemous halls of Santaner to entertain the Judder Man. For at our journeys end lies either death or freedom. We ride for Princess Aralan and freedom!"
Swords were raised in salute and the courtyard echoed and re-echoed with the words,
" Aralan and freedom!"
Half a world away
The citadel towered above the surrounding countryside that undulated into green fields. It was a temple on a massive scale. Monks tiled the fields around the citadel. Dormitories had been built to house the faithful .
The Abbot approached the alter. He wore the rough, homespun, simple garments of his faith. His short cropped hair was snow white, his red checks and face spoke of a life outside. He knelt down with difficulty in front of the alter, hands razed in supplication. The jewels in the golden icon that resembled a double helix flared green in response. A musical voice rang out the chamber.
"A small force has left Druss Denlock bound for the swamps of Maruti. They are under Chell observation. They also however report a nonconformity."
"Relay all relevant data to us".
The Abbot opened one of the golden gilded boxes on the alter before him to revile touch sensitive controls. He tapped a couple of them,
"It is done !"
"Correlating data. Three subjects do not correlate to Catharsran norm. One mechanized life form, and one humanoid life form, one dual cardio-vascular life form. This is expected we have that last lifeform's time/space vessel in our custody. Order Chell to continue monitoring and continue designated plan."
The Abbot bowed his head,
"I understand "
"In one lunar cycle the Thorus Betan delegation will arrive. You will conduct the negotiation. Our presence must not be revealed!"
"As is your will so mote it be"
The light snapped out indicating the instructions were over. The Abbot rose to carry out his orders.
They were just entering the second week of travel and a whole pattern had become routine. The watch was split between Macfadyan, (who hardly needed any sleep) and Cre'at, (who didn't needed any). It enabled the other members of the group to get a full nights sleep.
At the moment, Cre'at was on patrol while Macfadyan was running a hand scanner around the local plant life. Cre'at floated up behind him,
* What are you doing? *
Macfadyan leaped in to the air, spun around in mid leap and landed spluttering with a hand over one heart,
"Will you stop doing that!? Look can't you emit some noise, some form of hum perhaps?"
* I am in stealth mode. What have you discovered? *
"What? Oh nothing really, just confirming a theory. The prince and his men have a completely different genome from any plant or animal life, indicating that they evolved in a completely different bio-sphere, which proves with out doubt that they were transplanted here. Interesting...."
There came a sudden snapping explosion of breaking wood, indicating that something too powerful to be bothered with the idea of stealth or to frightened was heading their way. In silent agreement with Macfadyan, Cre'at glided forward to investigate, charging his head cannon while he did, as Macfadyan scurried back to wake the rest of the camp. Two women, one only just an adult, and a man burst in to the clearing. They were rapidly followed by twelve Chell, marching forward in unison from out of the under growth. As one they raised their spear like weapons and fired deep purple beams into the camp site. On an unspoken command they reversed their weapons to reveal blade like swords. They rushed forwards to meet the prince and his men head on. Macfadyan hovered around the outskirts of the battle picking off the odd Chell when the opportunity arose with his Dalek gun, using it to block any direct attack by Chell blades that got to close. Every few moments Cre'at would swoop down out of the darkness, head cannon blasting Chell into their component atoms.
After about five minutes all the Chell were reduced to parts. A collective breath was taken, wounds were bandaged and last rights were given for three men.
Half a world a way
Princess Aralan once again looked around her quarters weighing up her pro and cons.
When she first arrived she had been terrified into virtual immobility. All the childhood fears and stories at what the beast Rablan could do to prisoners stalked her mind. But once she had been thrown into a standard cell and left for more than three hours her mind started working again. It took another half an hour of examining her cell closely before finding the key to her freedom. Freedom that only lasted thirteen corridors before she was caught again, but freedom none the less. She had then been thrown into another cell, larger, with a living room, separate bedroom and bathing room. But the Chell on the door, in strange green/ gold livery, made it a cell all the same. Her meals were brought to her as well as some things she requested, books and other entertainments . Otherwise she had been left alone for almost a week. This however had not stopped her multiple escape attempts. Last time she had got as far as the window to the outside world. Revealing wide, undulating fields with a forest in the distance and just visible, a steeple behind it. She got halfway through it before it squeezed shut. Closing like an organic valve, holding her there, before armoured Chell swarmed over her. With out complaint, comment or reprimand she was escorted back to her rooms.
She was currently fashioning a set of supports out of her tray. The idea was to hold the window open when they came for her. There was six of them, they pulled her to her feet and dragged her kicking and screaming down porcelain white corridors. Into a large audience chamber, complete with resplendent throne and several stylised modular chairs. The tables on each side had golden / silver goblets and bowels on them the bowls were full of berries, apples, grapes and snozberries. The Chell stopped at the edge of the chamber and pushed her in then retreated to a respectable distance. She stumbled on to the room looking around widely, slightly at odds(dirty, travel sore, ruffled ) with the majestic surroundings.
She didn't see the figure at first, which was strange as the place was almost incandescent with light. He stepped out from behind the massive gilded throne. He was human but he was... wrong. He was dressed in a resplendent cavalry uniform, his hair was slicked back into a pony tail. But his face was too long and wide, with large almond shaped eyes, black like oil spots, that were too far up on his forehead. The smile that split the face was far too vulpine. When he spoke it was with a deep vibrating timber, one that didn't fit his slight frame,
"Greetings, I am Rablan but you may call me Beast!"
He strolled towards and around her, giving Aralan a critical look over.
"I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting, but I'm sure you know how its, affairs of state tend to keep you occupied. Please do sit down and have something to eat and drink".
He made a casual motion with one slender, long-fingered hand and a small three legged table and one of the strange modular chairs started to vibrate and shiver as if they were being seen through a heat haze. Still shimmering they slid across the polished floor towards her. From the opposite side of her, a platter of fruit, goblet and pitcher of wine floated across the room and came to rest on the table .
"Tractor beam " part of her mind pulsed as she unconsciously looked for the beam emitters, knowing almost instantly what to look for. While other parts of her mind convulsed in shock at such a casual use of power, that if not against the laws of the land, then certainly was against the scriptures of the gods.
Grasping another chair, with the same heat haze pulse, he sat across from where she was standing.
"Now princess we have things to discuss, please do sit DOWN!"
Not a hard but an unexpected force hit her in the back of her knees and the chest, coursing her to collapse in the chair.
"There, that's better! I have an offer for you, one that could end this ridiculous war that has washed this world in blood for almost three hundred years".
The oil slick eyes opened wider in supprise,
"Why are you continuing to do this? It's been more than two centuries and you haven't conquered the planet yet, you're hardly likely to do it in the near future are you? So why not just cut your losses and leave. Go back to one of your other planets in your vast empire and leave us alone! We promise we wont come after you!"
The large almond shaped eyes blinked slowly and leisurely.
"Good, good", he breathed.
Rablan sat staring at her for a few moments, then shook himself visibly as if trying to shake off an idea or vision that only he had seen, then continued as if she had not spoken.
"We shall create an agreement that allows me access to your lands as a staging post. From there I can take and hold the entire Siltola planes. Within a few short months maybe weeks, this war shall be at an end. As a reward I shall give you this world as plaything."
She struggled to rise out of her chair,
"What you ask for is against reason and the gods!"
The black eyes glowed in amusement.
"I'm so sorry you feel that way", he said in a voice and expression that meant anything but.
As she tried to get up a much harder force slammed into her, taking the breath from her body and shoving her back down into the chair. Metal bands suddenly slicked out over her arms, calves and neck, restraining her to the chair. A metallic mesh shot out to cover her hand and two contacts slapped out to cover her temples .
She struggled desperately for a few moments as Rablan walked round her to admire his handy work.
She jumped and gasped as a bolt of sheer sexual excitement rent through her, leaving her breathless. Rabalan leaned over her shoulder and whispered in her ear.
"What you are sitting in is a nerve inductor. It gives me control of your nervous system. I can induce any sensation in you I like, positive or negative and leave no tissue damage. That was a mild positive shock. Now shall we discuses this treaty further?"
Aralan sat slumped in the chair unconscious, her hair plastered to her forehead with perspiration. Her skin pale with purple trauma bruises around her closed eyes. There were also bruises around her throat and wrists, evidence of where she had convulsed against the metal stapes holding her in place.
Rablan stood over her, unconsciously wiping his hands on a silk handkerchief, then dropping it on the floor to be picked up by an attendant Chell. He picked up a crystal goblet of water and headed out of the chamber,
"Return her to her rooms".
After stopping at his rooms to change he reported to the comm.'s hub. He stepped up onto the plinth. The room darkened to indicate that the communication had been accepted. A musical voice echoed through the chamber,
"The first subject has been tested and reached a rating of K12!" he told the air proudly.
"That is acceptable. Twelve units are approaching the Marti end of the of the trans-specula corridor".
"I understand, they will be tested and placed in cry-stasis until a larger group arrives ."
"Negative! These units will be processed immediately!"
Shock crept into his voice,
"But you can't plan to activate on such a small cull!"
"There is a Time Lord amongst the units. His capture and conversion has the upmost priority."
"But the last Rablan gave his life for in excess of one hundred and sixty units! You can't expect me to die for merely twelve!!" The musical voice became many, all in harmony with it.
"You will obey. You will obey us in all things. You will obey without question!, OBEY,OBEY, OBEY!!"
Part of his mind, the part that was buried from the mental conditioning, the genetic tailoring, gean splicing, electronic grafting and alien organ implantation, the small part of him, the speck that was still human, gibbered and screamed at the unfairness of it all. He had only been Rablan for eighteen months. If they would only give him a chance, he had many years left in him. A big fat glycerol tear escaped his eye as he bowed forward arms across his chest.
"As is your will so mote it be."
The lights snapped back on, The meeting was over.
It was once again evening, the campfire had been set up and the smell of roasting meat wafted across the camp. They were camped at the edge of the swamps of Maruti, about half a days ride from their destination proper. The atmosphere in the camp was a relaxed one. Macfadyan had managed to teach guard captain Almaur chess and they were passing the evening hunched over the chess board trying to ignore the helpful advice, suggestions and comments from Crillia, Cre'at and Blanche, who had learned far more than she had let known. Macfadyan looked around, playing for time as he thought out his next move. For a beginner Almur had an instinctive grasp of tactics.
"You know this would be a wonderful place for a picnic !"
Cre'at thought for a few moments,
* But we do not have any ham! *
Macfadyan winced inwardly, not wanting to get in to another ham fiasco. Not after last time.
Blanche watched Macfadyan as he made his move with an unnecessary flourish and then sat back to study the two adults they had rescued a few scant days ago. They were somewhere in their late forty's, the lined faces and slight scattering of silver in their hair spoke of a life spent mostly outside. Macfadyan had spent a lot of time with all three of them. He was with Notas when he has tracked down and killed the wild beast that was now roasting on the fire that was being attended to by his wife Scylla. He had swapped recipies, made hints, and had taken advice from Scylla. Once their seventeen year old daughter, Erinyes found out just who Jalke was and decided she would make the perfect wife and consort, Macfadyan started giving her advice about how best to romance him and, much to her annoyance, had taken great delight in her all but chasing Jalke for the past three days. Tonight for instance, Jalke had taken refuge in his tent with orders not to be disturbed, on the pretence of planning their next move.
There was a rustle of canvas and a waft of scented air. Jalke suppressed a sigh of frustration and turned to face her. With a slight smile on his face to defuse the annoyance of his words he said,
"Erinyes, I gave instructions I was not to be disturbed tonight ".
He took in her image as she carried the tray of steaming food and a tankard of cooling ale. Her blouse was tight and her unbraided hair cascaded down on to her neck and shoulders. It was time to sit her down and have a very serious chat about duty, but more importantly about love and life bounds.
Outside Macfadyan got up and stretched. Then he excused himself from the chess board. He picked up a plate of food and some drinks and headed towards Magyar's tent. The tactical ability of these people was astounding. Most of them had picked up the rules after one demonstration and were coming out with gambits that would have a master snapping his board, vowing never to play again. Of course, it was all down to his tutoring skills, they couldn't take any real credit. But even so...
Macfadyan rapped on one of the tent poles,
"Magyar, are you decent?"
From inside the tent came a wet voice,
"Macfadyan, it's started!"
Placing the food on the ground he turned with purpose towards Jalke's tent, his hand methodically going through his pockets looking for his Dalek gun which he eventual produced with a flourish. Something thwacked on the back of his head and he dropped like a sack of potatoes.
Jalke had just finished talking. He had been gentle but firm and had tried his best not to hurt her feelings, as she sat on the bed with her head in her hands,
"But what if she is dead, what if Rablan has had her eliminated? "
"That hasn't happened. If it did I would know and besides, I would still have to go to bring her back to be with the ones that love her, even if it means my life".
"But you don't understand. I was made for you !"
She looked up instead of brown her eyes were white on white, with her pupils standing out stark in contrast. As he watched in horrified fascination her hair faded from brown to blond, through white to silver, eventually resembling clear filaments. She seemed to shrink slightly as the blood drained from her complection, leaving the flesh to took on a blue/white appearance. And from the puckered freckles around her wrists a one foot spike of bone shot out with the minimum of mucus.
"You see the Rablan told me that if I couldn't turn you aside from your quest, I was I was to kill you, even if it pains me to!"
They stood staring at each other for a few moments waiting for someone to loose there nerve and scramble to do something first.
Blanche looked up from the chessboard to see Macfadyan sprawled on the ground. Scylla had already dropped the log and was marching towards Notas, who had a glow beginning in her eyes that had little to do with the fire light.
"What the buggering bollocks is going on over there?"
Everyone turned just as Scylla clasped hands with Notas. The glow in their eyes increased to a fierce roaring light were there was none. Everywhere around the campsight the twinkling lights of a Chell beam-in started. The subroutines that Macfadyan had inserted into this Blanche clone to help her survive a little longer kicked in and her voice rang out with command and authority.
"Cre'at keep them buisy, the rest of you grab your weapons and keep moving, don't give them the chance to get a lock on you!"
Cre'at roared out of the crowd of people, head cannon blazing.
The Chell had learnt from their last encounter and all of the plasma weapons were aimed at Cre'at. Bolt after bolt struck his metallic shell knocking him further and further out of the clearing. Notas and Scylla, both still holding hands, picked weapons, their eyes still shining with a brilliant radiance giving them a glowing halo. They turned to attack the nearest person with both swords who happened to be Blanche who was hard pressed to defend herself. There was a massive explosion and Cre'at tumbled off into the undergrowth leaving a fireball in his wake. The heat washed over everyone in the clearing. For Blanche the next few minutes were a long corridor with blades flashing at the end of it. They slowly pushed her back, with sweat pouring off her as she tried moves she didn't even know she knew in a attempt to throw them off but to no avail .
With a snapping hiss, a blade of pure light sliced through Notas's wrist that held Scylla. The lights in their eyes died. As Notas turned to deal with this new threat, Macfadyan pulled the light sword up and back-handed him with it, across the throat, sending the head spinning across the clearing. Taking advantage of the distraction Blanche slashed wildly at Scylla, coursing her to tumble to the ground and lay still, a puppet with her strings cut.
The undergrowth behind the Chell exploded to reveal a singed Cre'at who opened fire on them.This was now personal as far as the Sot'm was concerned. As one, Blanche and Macfadyan ran to Jalke's tent only to see the thing that was Erinyes dive out of the tent followed by a bloodied Jalke. Macfadyan started forward but Blanche held him back,
"No, he must finish this himself. But feel free to stop anyone or anything else from interfering ".
Annoyed at the fact that Blanche had the cheek to try to issue him with orders, no matter how much sense they made, Macfadyan stood there muttering obscenities and making casual and contemptuous flicks with his sword at any Chell that passed within range.
Erinyes and Jalke circled each other wearily. Jalke aware of his surroundings but concentrating on Erinyes, whilst Erinyes, looking around nervously and seeing that the Chell were being defeated, relaxed and retracted her spikes.
A look of horror suddenly seeped over her features. Her arm spikes shot out again and she leapt into battle with an anguished cry, attacking in an unreserved fury.
After a lighting display of parries and faints, Erinyes seemed to throw herself on Jalke's blade and with a sigh and strange half smile, she died.
Macfadyan pressed the stud on the hilt of the sword which retracted with a snapping hiss.
"Hmm. Interesting little trinket, didn't think it would come in quite as handy as it has, though". He then went to look for his Dalek gun. Blanche just stared at him open mouthed.
People started clearing up and tending to the wounded. Cre'at floated up to Macfadyan.
* Is this why you spent an unusually long amount of time with the newcomers? You knew something like this would happen? Overbalance the bi-podual seeds *
It took a few minutes for Macfadyan to work out what Cre'at had said and once he had, he shot the Sot'm a look of pure venom.
"If Magyar and Jalke are to be believed, the previous attack by the Chell was atypical. They usually T-mat in, not walk and in greater numbers. So I gave the facts to Magyar".
Blanche who had strolled over to see what was going on, piped up,
"Wot you mean, barf features"?
"You know since we visited the American colonies, your vocabulary has deteriorated hideously. Magyar is an organic probability calculator. It was he who suggested that Notas, Scylla and Erinyes were artificial and a deliberate plant."
* They were plastic flowers? *
Ignoring him, Macfadyan started to walk back to the cooling corpses of Notas and Scylla. He picked up the severed hand and started probing the wrist. Blanche started groaning and looked away,
"You mean he can see in to the future?"
"What? Oh no, no, no, no, no. He merely calculates and extracts the most likely facts that could happen. No one can see in to the future!"
Blanche look at Macfadyan curiously.
"Then how do you explain him seeing us arriving?"
With an annoyed sideways glance at Blanche, Macfadyan pulled what looked like a metal filament out of the severed hand, making the whole hand twitch and Blanche grab her stomach and start running for the forest bushes.
"You see, Cre'at? As I thought they are two components of a big bomb. Put them both together and by holding hands they build up enough energy to achieve critical mass and then boom! You know sometimes I amaze even myself . What's wrong with Blanche?" he asked, innocently.
Cre'at's detailed explanation to that question put the whole camp off the idea of eating anything for a few hours.
They set off early next morning, deeper into the swamp. As they progressed further the tree line thinned out. Loosing their leaves, becoming dead, spidery fingers pointing skywards. Progress slowed as the ground grew soft, treacherous and bog riddled. The air grew gradually more quite as the bird and insect life was left behind. A ground mist sprung up, the clouds in the direction they were heading were boiling and turbulent with the occasional lightning flash. The chatter and talking amongst the group stilted and quit as the tension in the air took on a physical force. Except for Macfadyan who seamed oblivious to every thing.
"You know, someone has gone to a lot of trouble to set all this up!"
In the centre of the swamp was a standing stone complex and Macfadyan's eyes took on a new light of unshakable curiosity.
"What do you make of them Cre'at ?"
Cre'at floated closer while Macfadyan rummaged in his pockets for his sensor probe. The rest of the troop spread out trying to find dryer, firmer ground in case they were staying more than a few hours or it had to be defended.
The standing stones seemed to be covered in runic script. Macfadyan and Cre'at spent a few moments wondering around the entire sight, making a few closer examinations of the larger stones and mentioning their recent adventure in Jersey. They both met by a low down alter-like stone that was also covered with the rune-like inscriptions and two hand-like indentations,
* Artificial! *
"Did you notice the direction of the silicates? They don't follow a natural progression!"
* It is the quarts tepesate. They are arranged like logic gates. *
"There are latent energy forces flowing through all points of this circle."
* Major power lines are flow through this alter stone. It could some form of activator. *
They both looked at the alter closely for moments then at each other and then at the same time said,
While all this had been going on, the others had made camp on a slight rise in the ground, that was to one side of the stones, as it was the only relatively dry piece of land that was definable. The first flicker of flames were being nurtured from the dry kindling that they had collected along their route. Once things had been established Blanche made her excuses and left to answer the call of nature. She headed of towards some scabrous trees and bushes some way off. After adjusting herself, she turned round to head back when she noticed a gleam from some tufts of grass and earth, that when pulled back revealed a larger hole or warren. It was then the instincts and skills that made her the best sneak thief in nineteenth century London kicked in (despite Macfadyan's best attempts to augment them out of her) and she slid down the hole. The small mud clad tunnel soon gave way to metal. It was this she could see from the outside. It developed into a service tunnel with access panels imbedded in the walls and opened up at the top of a vast cavern sized chamber, alive with activity. Beneath her on the camber walls and floor was a Chell production line. Arms and legs were being assembled onto bodys. Pale, white maggot like worms, as long as a man's arm, fat segmented and the colour of dead flesh were being lifted by mechanical hands and placed into elongated heads. Which were then attached to the now familiar Chell body. They then marched to what looked like massive cargo lifters, which began a long rise to the roof of the chamber.
"Oh bloody Hell!!"
She turned and scrambled back up the tunnel, slipping over when she reached the mud.
Above, Macfadyan had brought Magyar over to see the alter stone. He was sitting on a form of sedan chair peering myopically at it to see if it stirred any memories in him. Macfadyan and Cre'at stood over him discussing possible meanings behind the symbols, to see if that helped his memories.
It was then that a scratched, mud smeared Blanche, came staggering towards them. Gasping, short of breath, she began waving wildly with one hand back the way she came. The other hand, much to Macfadyan's horror, grasped his arm with muddy fingers, leaving prints up and down his sleeve.
"Chell! (gasp!), 'ole bloody nest of em,(cough!), 'undreds on the way up now!"
Macfadyan with a look of disgust firmly disentangled her hand from his sleeve while making a the nessecary mental re-adjustment to Blanche speak.
"So that's somewhere between twenty and a hundred is it? Better run down and tell Jalke and Crilla that we're going to have some company".
With a groan of protest she pulled her self upright and staggered off.
"Right! Cre'at, Magyar, let us see if we cannot figure out this little puzzle box."
Within moments of the first man reaching the stone circle, the first Chell had broken through the surface of the swamp. They eventually stood around the stones watching, waiting.
"What are they waiting for?"
Jalke stood next to Macfadyan, staring round at the Chell.
"What? Oh, them. Its just another test to see if we are intelligent enough to do the right thing and use our escape route or just plain stupid primates and try to fight our way out."
While everybody was watching the Chell, Magyar had retrieved a knife from the inside recesses of his sedan chair and used it to scrape the surface layer of skin from his hand. It revelled a set of metal contacts splayed at every joint of the hand. With horror and fascination he kept looking from his hand to the alter stone. With a slight sucking sound he slid of the chair and began crawling carefully towards the stone alter.
Crilla walked up to Macfadyan and Jalke,
"How many would you say there were?"
Macfadyan had just finished a quick head count, when a massive subsonic roar burst over their heads. They whirled round to see the space above the stones buckle and distort, as if reality itself was being poured down the drain. Blanche staggered towards them through the fierce wind that was blasting about them, her words were snatched away as soon as she shouted them.
"What is it?"
Cre'at was the first to answer,
* An energised trans-spacial conduit *
This was met by a blank look from Blanche who turned to Macfadyan for help in a translation.
"Wrong! Completely wrong! It's more of a time/ space corridor. But with the temporal deviation in abeyance of course".
She turned back to Cre'at, her face still clouded. Seeing this Cre'at made a mental adjustment downwards by several degrees.
* It is a magic door *
"Well, why didn't you say so? Lets use it and get the buggering hell away from here then!"
"Well now, that's a novel idea! I hadn't thought of that one!" Macfadyan sighed,
" Cre'at, you and Blanche get everyone moving. Jalke, help me with Magyar!"
Magyar had leaned against the altar stone, using it to keep himself upright. The runes on all the stones were shining with a yellow golden light, looking more like the etchings on printed circuit board. The skin on his hands and arms was blackened and burnt. Wisps of smoke were rising from what was left of his hair and mouth, the skin on his face was boiling. His clear purple eyes snapped open as they approached, uncontainable energies burned in his eyes. He forced his words out through clenched teeth
"Its to late for me! My Prince, when you find the Lady Arulan remind her of my warning. Macfadyan, you will save my world but don't over do it."
Blue flame started to play over his erupting flesh, a scream finally ripped from his mouth as his body was consumed. Jalke and Macfadyan turned and as one dived through the closing portal.
Half a world away
He lay sprawled across his bed, hair in disarray, an empty wine decanter lay just within reach of his fingertips. Rablan was doing what any doomed man would do and had spent the last few nights drinking himself into a stupor. His brain pulsed with something more than just a headache. He opened one blood shot eye and glared at the servitor that was standing over him. It pulsed another message into his brain that was interpreted by his implanted circuits. His own voice echoed around his brain,
"Twelve subjects have entered the time /space corridor at the Marti aperture. Their E.T.A. is ten minuets. "
Rablan tried to pull his wits together,
"Delay their progress for about twenty minutes. Oh, and relocate the corridor's exit from the reception area to the containment facility and have a Chell group there to great them.
Within fifteen minutes he was washed, changed and examining himself in the mirror. Straightening the cavalry uniform he made sure that the gold braid fell correctly. He looked himself in the eye,
"Inside my heart is breaking, my makeup may be flaking, but my smile still stays on. On with the show!"
He turned and strolled from the room.
The room was porcelain white, sterile and antiseptically clean, a large open area with doorways leading off. There were a number of freestanding consoles dotted around the room. Reality ripped and rent asunder. Crillia and Blanche came yelling out of the portal quickly followed by the rest of the men, and lastly by Jalke and Macfadyan. They took up defensive positions.
Rablan strolled casually in to the room,
"Its customary for people to knock before gaining entrance".
Crillia pulled his sword and charged forward. With a casual wave of his hand Rablan sent a pulse of shimmering air towards Crillia that sent him flying back into the wall. Macfadyan instantly pinpointed the tractor beam projectors. Rablan sighed deeply,
"Oh dear you are going to be petty about this and I had such great things planned. Oh well, no matter".
Again there was another casual gesture and thick snake like bolts of electricity lashed out of the walls, arching across the room to earth in Macfadyan and the rest, coursing them to jerk and judder and, finally, to slump to the ground. Cre'at was the last to collapse but only after every bolt had attached itself to him.
And then there was silence.