Chapter One Hundred and Thirteen: A Cavourite Knight

The North Sea storm imposed itself on the mediterranean winter just long enough to deposit Jack Lyons and the Catalpa supers in Brocéliande Forest. The roaring waves and moaning wind fell to birdsong and a crisp breeze whispering through bare oaks and birches. Billy St. George shuffled his feet, enjoying the crunch of fallen leaves. “This is nice,” he said.

“Says the boy with fur,” said Mabel, awkwardly trying to rub her hands together without dropping her picture binder. A pair of comic-panel gloves grew over them from her sleeves.

David sighed happily and spread his arms, hints of frost in his costume. “Ah, my homeland.”

“Your mum spoke Occitan, didn’t she?” asked Allison, taking in their landing site. “They’re more southeast of here.”

“Same thing,” said David.

The Crimson Comet looked up through the trees. The sky was showering down the kind of exhausted sunshine that only comes after a rainstorm. The sigh of the heavens. “You know, back in the War, I don’t think I ever noticed how beautiful this country is.”

Close-Cut threw his arm around the superhero, twirling his Saint George’s Cross umbrella in his free hand. “That’s probably because you were busy being shot at.”

Wally,” Ralph said out the corner of his mouth, tilting his head towards Jack Lyons. “Not in front of the hundred year old straight.

“Can we please get on with it?” snapped Arnold. “My mum is waiting for us!”

Jack Lyons clapped. “I must agree with young Mr. Barnes here. His mother isn’t the only one.” He looked at Allison. “Does our little oracle have anything to add before we set out?”

Allison looked warily at the man. Who are you? “So we all know the expedition was looking for King Arthur and Excalibur.”

“Should’ve asked me,” said Mistress Quickly. “King Arthur died years back.”

Jack Lyons arched an eyebrow. “Isn’t that something of an understatement, Mistress Quickly?”

She shrugged. “Depends. How long ago was World War 2?”

Jack Lyons blinked, shaking his head slightly. “Excuse me, ma’am?”

“King Arthur returned in 1941. Surely a good candidate for ‘Britain’s Darkest Hour’ don’t you agree?” 

“What happened to him?” asked Close-Cut.

“Blown up in the Cardiff Blitz. Turns out a king isn’t much on his own.”

“Good lord,” said Jack Lyons. “You didn’t think to tell anyone?” 

“When is a good time during a war to tell a country their legendary hero king lies dead under a pile of Welsh rubble?”

Jack Lyons bowed his head. “God save the King…” 

“Could’ve gotten ugly if He did,” said Mistress Quickly. “England’s out of practise with civil wars. It would’ve been a bad time for a succession crisis.”

“Look,” said Allison, “we already knew the Poms were wasting their time.” 

Jack Lyons frowned. “Now hang on a moment, young lady—”

Allison raised a finger. “I think Starry Knight is why the expedition’s missing.”

“Why’s that?” asked Arnold.

“His file said he had… problems,” answered Allison. “Also, we fight him in six—seven—out of ten versions of today.”

“Great,” said Mabel. “Got that to look forward to.”

“Poor guy,” said Billy.

“We can take him,” added David. 

“Also,” said Allison. “If we walk that way for about four miles”—she pointed eastward—“we’re gonna see something horrible. I’m guessing it’s got something to do with this?”

“You guess?” said Close-Cut.

Allison grit her teeth. “I don’t get context, guys.” 

Miri appeared beside her sister, giving everyone a small wave. “Good morning!”

“Miri,” said Allison, “your range is better than mine. Go scout for Starry Knight.”

Miri nodded. “Okay.” 

She vanished. As she did, Allison quickly shouted after her, “Do it invisible!”

Allison knew for a fact there was only a fifty-fifty chance she’d listen. “Right,” she said. “Let’s go.”

The party made their way through the forest, Allison leading the way. They walked through fields of dead leaves and melting sleet; rough diamonds hidden in gold and amber. Billy had to be stopped from running after a doe he spotted. It started to rain a few times, but only enough to tickle the partys’ skin. Close-Cut didn’t even bother opening his umbrella. For a few metres, the trees off their right opened to reveal a large pond, winter-black with slicks of sunlight playing across its surface. Any other day, it would’ve been a pleasant country ramble. Jack Lyons kept humming. They tried to avoid the many paths and roads that snaked through the forest. People called it a “fairy wood” but Brocéliande was hardly wilderness. Folks of all sorts had been going about their business in Paimpont since the Stone Age. The woods were dotted with cottages, manors, and even old industrial forges. If fairies had ever lived in Brocéliande, they had probably moved out even before the abbey was built. 

As Allison walked, the horrible thing loomed larger in the swarming futures. Clouds of possibility converged together, swallowing other alternatives. She tried to look past it, to the glittering, golden future she was working towards. A crowd of thousands—millions—cheering for Allison and her friends, Billy, for some reason, holding a gleaming sword above his head. Catalpa building higher and better. The sun, hiding behind the storm. That had to be worth some fights and grossness… 

“Bon sang1!

The supers swung around to find three sets of eyes staring at them—one man and two women. Twenty-somethings. They were all dressed in winter hiking gear, collapsible trekking poles in hand. They looked terrified. Jack Lyons stepped forward and spread his arms, smiling benignly. “Bonjour! Nous ne vous voulons aucun mal2.”   

The three screamed, dropping their walking sticks and fleeing into the trees. 

“Well that feels like a bit of an overreaction,” said Mistress Quickly. She looked at Close-Cut. “Maybe they saw your umbrella.” 

Close-Cut grunted. “It’d probably have helped if you weren’t wearing a bug-eyed gas-mask, my dear.”

Allison looked at Jack Lyons. “I’m guessing your bosses wouldn’t want them telling the coppers we were here?”

“Well, no—”

“I’ll handle it.”

Allison kicked off the ground, zooming after the hikers. She closed in on the man, wrapping her arms around his head. “Don’t squirm!” she shouted in French, sending Alberto’s hooks into her prey. He quickly went limp. Allison had to lower him gently onto the leaf-littered forest floor. She called back to her fellows, “Get the other two!”

The Crimson Comet looked sadly at the two fleeing women. He sighed. “Arnold, I really don’t want to risk hitting the poor ladies.”

“Sure thing, Ralph.”

The Crimson Comet appeared in a green flash directly in the women’s path. They screamed anew, turning to run in the other direction only for the hulking superhero to pull them into a very glum bear hug. They thrashed and beat their fists against his invulnerable chest:

Enfoirés! Bande de malades!3

“Enculé4! Espèce de cinglés5!”  

Ralph grimaced. “I’m very sorry, ladies.” Luckily for him, Allison was soon over to send the women to sleep with a touch. They laid the three hikers side-by-side on the softest patch of forest within reach. David had wanted to draw some moustaches on them, but was overruled by way of a smack from Ralph. 

“Will they be alright?” asked Jack Lyons. 

“Yeah,” said Allison. “They’ll wake up in like, ten minutes. Won’t remember us, either.”

“Find anything useful in their brains by any chance?” asked Mistress Quickly. 

“Yes, actually. Nothing first hand, but people and the papers ‘round here have been talking about a bunch of supervillains tearing up the place. Guess it isn’t just Starry Knight.”

Jack shook his head. “Doesn’t sound like Roundtable to me.”

“Have you ever met Roundtable, Mr. Lyons?” Allison asked sharply.

“I’m afraid I haven’t had the pleasure,” admitted Jack Lyons. “But I’ve been told they’re all good tommies.”

Mistress Quickly laughed. “British people causing a ruckus abroad, who’s ever heard of such a thing?”

“Huh,” said Mabel. “I thought you guys all worked at the Phare.”

Jack smiled. “I come and go.”

They moved on. After half an hour, Allison raised a hand at the edge of a clearing. Everyone stopped. “The horrible thing’s just ahead. Billy, you might want to stay here?”

Billy looked at Jack Lyons, thankful he didn’t notice. He wasn’t going to look like a wimp in front of him. Billy puffed his chest. “I can take it.”

Allison sighed. “Fine.” 

They walked into a campsite.  A young nation of flies buzzed about the stench; decay mixed with rain and new growth. Like compost. Rain pooled on the roofs of tents. Sodden books mouldered on workbenches. Equipment rusted like broken swords in the dirt, the archeological arms of corpses lying strewn in strange ruin. Some were missing their heads or had holes in their chests. Others looked like they’d been torn apart by wild dogs. A few people had been reduced to puddles of crushed flesh and bone, as though someone had dropped a marble block on top of them. 

At the centre was a pit of crystals next to a flat slab of rock. Its lid, no doubt. A man stood at the edge of the pit. Flowers grew from around his eyes, leaving dried trails of blood and dew. Beetles crawled in and out of the grass that erupted out his mouth. His neat philosopher’s beard had been colonized by moss. The only thing keeping him upright were the roots that had shot up through his body.

All Jack Lyons had to say was, “God rest their souls.”

Allison was very glad her mother and Mr. Barnes had stayed back at Bròn Binn, even as glorified hostages. She examined the standing corpse. His waistcoat was tyrian purple. Dr. Merlin. She heard Billy vomiting on his shoes. He was crying, too. 

Told ya. “Could someone take care of Billy?”

Close-Cut put a hand on Billy’s shoulder, gently leading him away from the scene. “Come on, boy, it’s alright.”

Mistress Quickly scanned a few of the corpses, electronic text dancing in her visor optics. She had reduced Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Peroit, and Miss Marple to a few circuits in her helmet.  She pointed at a headless young woman. “This poor girl looks like she was decapitated with one strong cut, but my spectographics can’t detect any metal particles.”

“Gloriana,” said Allison. “She makes swords and stuff out of light.”

Mistress Quickly turned to face one of the mauled bodies. “Teeth and claw marks are consistent with a wolf or wild dog, but the saliva in the wounds has human DNA.”

“Animal Kingdom. Turns into animals.”

Mistress Quickly stepped over to one of the gory human pancakes. “White male, mid-forties. If I’m reading this right, he either took a brief trip to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, or a planet about five times the size of ours. Looks like you were right about Starry Knight, Allison.”

“You know,” said Close-Cut. “I can believe one superhero going nuts and murdering some archeologists. Two, on the same team? Bit less likely, but maybe it was a Bonnie and Clyde thing. Three of them, though? Something’s sus.”

“I don’t see any other superheroes lying around here,” commented Mabel. “Could’ve been more.”

“Maybe,” said the Crimson Comet. “But they also could’ve been in plainclothes.” He thought back to the hikers. “Come to think of it, maybe we should be.”

“I don’t dress down for anyone, dear,” said Close-Cut.

“There’s another thing,” said Allison. She tapped Dr. Merlin on the sleeve, immediately regretting it. It was like touching furry cheese. “Nobody on Roundtable can do this.”  

“I assume you’re going to check the yesterdays?” asked Mistress Quickly. 

“Yep,” said Allison. “Miri!” 

Miri appeared again beside her sister. “Yeah?”

“I’m going to look at the past. Mind the shop.”

“You know, sis, you’re getting kinda bossy lately—”

“Just do it.”

Miri rolled her eyes. “Fine.” Miri vanished. Allison’s costume morphed into her sister’s. 

Once she was sure Miri was firmly in the driver’s seat, Allison stepped out of their shared body. It disappeared behind her, carried away by the flow of days. The sun and moon flickered above Allison’s head like a dying candle. Raindrops flew up into the sky. The corpses rotted in reverse. Flies settled on their birthplaces to shed their legs and wings, before crawling back into their eggs to be collected by their mothers. Then Allison hit the massacre. Robots forged from cars and trucks tore people apart like shoddy dolls. Hail and wind scoured skin and flesh from bone. People were captured and devoured by gigantic globs of coloured, waxy goo. Allison tried to ignore the victim’s faces. Their screams. The shadows of fear and suffering they left on the ether. Instead, she focused on counting their murderers:

Ironclad… Weathermonger… Pāhoehoe… 

Dr. Merlin was begging at the feet of a broad, hairy man in tattered brown skins. His beard was black, riddled with leaves and twigs, his ears faintly pointed. He held a staff carved of light apple wood.   

“Why are you doing this?” moaned Dr. Merlin. “We’re your people!”

In an old tongue—one that made Allison wonder who she’d learned it from—the man spoke. “Stand.”

Apparently, Dr. Merlin understood the command. He rose on shaking feet. He only came to the man’s chest. 

What do they call you?” 

“Al—Alphonsus Summers…”

That’s not all they call you, is it?

The wizard laughed hysterically. “Dr. Merlin! They call me Dr. Merlin.” 

The man tapped his staff against Summers’ chest. “You are not Merlin.” 

Alphonsus screamed as the roots strangled his veins and broke his bones. The man looked right past him. At Allison. In perfect English, he said. “Don’t think I don’t see you, Gypsy child.” The man raised a calloused hand— 

Allison gasped as she was forced back into her body.

Hey! Miri cried inside her. Little warning—  

“They’re being controlled,” blurted Allison. “All of them.”    

“By whom?” asked Jack Lyons. 

“I—I think it’s Merlin.”

“What,” said Close-Cut, pointing at Dr. Merlin’s body, “him?” 

Allison shook her head. “No. I mean the real Merlin.” 

Jack Lyons and the Catalpans spent the next fifteen minutes searching the campsite and the human remains. After that, Jack had Arnold teleport the corpses to Bròn Binn, eyes turned skyward the whole time. Lyons said it was for autopsy and eventual burial. Allison was sure those reasons were true. She was also sure it was so the French police didn’t find anything. She doubted the archeologists and their staff had asked to be buried with their tents and equipment, but they sent those back, too. One thing they found was an itinerary of sites the team had planned on visiting. The flat stone that had ended up spelling their death was near the bottom. Below it were locales such as the Tombeau du Géant, a tumulus said to be the grave of a giant felled by the Knights of the Round Table; the Fontaine de Barenton to the west of the forest, whose waters were said to cure madness; and finally the Tombeau de Merlin. Or In English, the Tomb of Merlin. 

“Surprised it’s so low on the list,” said the Crimson Comet. 

“Perhaps they thought it was a touch obvious,” commented Jack Lyons. “If they were truly trying to find Merlin, that is.”

“Of course they bloody were,” said Allison. “Why do you think they had a bunch of superheroes with them?”

“Language, little lady.”

“Don’t call me that,” snapped Allison. “Never call anyone that. And the reason the tomb is so low is because it’s too old to be Merlin’s. It was built by like, cave-people.”

“Well,” said Jack Lyons, “learn something new every day.”

What Allison wanted to learn that day was how much of this was news to Jack Lyons. Or why a dead man was less of a ghost than her own sister. “We’re going to the tomb,” she said. 

“Why?” asked Close-Cut. “You said it didn’t have anything to do with Merlin.”

“It doesn’t,” agreed Allison. “But most of the futures where we catch Starry Knight involve us going there.”

“You still seem very fixated on Mr. Peake, Miss Kinsey,” said Jack.

“He’s the only one I see us fighting today. I think Merlin took the others somewhere else and left him here.”

Jack Lyons rubbed his chin. “Interesting. Why do you think he did that?”

Allison shrugged. “Don’t know. Maybe he’s guarding something. Maybe he’s just annoying.” 

“Well,” said Jack. “I suppose we’ll find out.”

The group set forth again. 

“Billy,” Arnold said as they walked. “I can zap you home if you want. It was pretty nasty back there.”

Billy shoved his hands into his very practical pockets and looked down at his navy-blue shoes. “Why are you only asking me?”

“You just looked upset, is all…”

Billy looked Arnold in the eye. “You didn’t like looking at the dead people either. Are you going home?”

“I—I need to be here. For my mum.”   

“So I don’t need to be here? I’m just… what? A stuffed tiger?”

Arnold stammered. “No. I mean—you’re not…” 

“Everyone treats you and Allie and everyone like you’re grownups. Why do they treat me like a baby?”

“I mean, we are bigger than you!”

“A year! You’re like, a year older than me!” 

“More like eighteen months,” said Allison from the front. 

“That’s still not much! Miri’s not even one! You don’t treat her like this!”

“Miri doesn’t have a body,” said Arnold. “She can’t bleed.”

Allison can,” muttered Billy. “You all can…”

They managed to avoid running into any hikers or bewitched superheroes, soon reaching the tomb. It was likely a tomb6 built long before the age of writing and kings. Then, like Troy before it, treasure hunters and what could loosely be called “archeologists” decided it belonged to Merlin, and dynamited it. Now it was little more than a pair of rocks encircled by flagstones and a log fence. Tourists and neopagans in search of an authentic anchor for their new faith left gifts and notes for Merlin. 

Someone had also stuck a sword in one of the stones. It looked like an Iron Age relic that had ignored time itself. Its hilt was gold with two roaring chimeras for the guards. Its long blade glinted in the winter sun.

“My God,” whispered Jack Lyons. “Excalibur…” 

“Nah,” said Allison. “King Arthur got that from the Lady in the Lake. This is the sword in the stone.”

“Does that one have a name?” asked Billy.

“Yep,” answered Allison. “Caledfwlch. Or Caliburnus. Depends what language you’re using7.”

Billy stepped forward. A shift in futures made Allison throw her arm out in front of him. “Don’t touch it.” 

Billy looked at her. Quickly, Allison added, “Nobody touch—”

The storm roiled. The golden probabilities Allison hunted receded. Many evaporated altogether.  

Why—      

A roar echoed over the trees. A great silver meteor dropped from the sky, landing with shocking lightness between the Catalpans and the sword in the stone. Starry Knight rose from his crouch. His ancestral spacesuit was stained brown with dirt and dried gore. In an imperious, if slightly muffled voice, he said, “Who dares approach Caledfwlch?”

The supers exchanged looks. By some silent agreement, Jack Lyons stepped forward:

“Starry Knight—Mr. Peake—I’m Jack Lyons. Sir Edward sent me to check up on you and your pals. What’s happened here?”

Starry Knight laughed. “I am no ‘Starry Knight.’ I am Cai8! Son of Cynyr Ceinfarfog, king of Dyfed9! Brother to the Pendragon himself—” 

“Foster brother,” Allison muttered under her breath.”

“…First Knight of the Round Table!”  

“He at least looks the part, give or take a couple thousand years,” said Mistress Quickly. 

Jack Lyons nodded. “Anthony, I can see you’re not well.”

Allison could confirm that, if not in the sense Jack Lyons meant. Starry Knight had two songs warring within his suit. One was played on a giant’s organ, carved out of a mountain, echoing over forests of coral. The other was a piddling, human tune, martial and little else. It was like listening to a battle of the bands that had forgotten to take turns. Allison had little doubt which one was doing the talking   

“None of us blame you for what happened at the campsite. We just want to get you some help.”  

“I need no help from the likes of you.”

Jack Lyons’ face darkened. “Please don’t make us hurt you.”

Another aristocratic laugh. “Hurt me? You think I fear a crowd of mummers, jesters and children?”

“You should,” said Allison. 

Arnold raised his hand first—a mistake.  At the same time, Sir Cai raised his own heavy-gloved fist. The air between them stretched and warped. The lightning that lashed from Arnold’s fingers fell far short of the astro-knight. It was meant to cross ten feet, not ten miles. Sir Cai chuckled. A grey beam from his palm struck Arnold in the chest. For a moment, nothing happened. Arnold patted himself up and down. Finding nothing amiss, he jeered at the knight, “A nothing beam? What kind of superpower is that?”

Behind Starry Knight’s helmet, Sir Cai smiled. Arnold jerked as silver wires spider-webbed from his body, striking rocks, trees, and even Mabel, binding them all together into an earthly constellation before fading away. Mabel staggered into Arnold’s side, almost knocking him over. A pebble flicked up into the side of his head. “Ow!”

The trees Arnold was hooked to started to shake. Allison could hear their roots strain in the soil. She yelled at Ralph, “Get him in the air!”

The Crimson Comet leapt at Arnold and pulled him into his arms, absconding into the sky. A few seconds later, a dozen trees and a cloud of rock and dirt wrenched themselves out of the ground and raced after them. Mother Nature’s own V-2 rockets.

Mabel screamed as she was pulled into the air after Arnold. She shut up quickly. It was like trying to swallow a leaf-blower business end first.  Mabel sometimes envied Miri and Allison’s flight. This was proving a great vaccine for jealousy. The beginnings of rain battered against her. She and a small, angry forest chased a shooting star over Brocéliande. 

To Mabel’s credit, she didn’t drop her binder; it was practically a body part. Allison came flying to her side. Some of Billy’s mercury smoke bloomed in her hands, evaporating to reveal a branching metal chain with a thick spike on one end, and two manacles on the other. 

“The heck is that for?” Mabel tried to shout over the wind. She could barely hear herself. Allison fell back slightly, slipping the mannacle around Mabel’s ankles and closing them with a long pin. 

“What’re you doing?”

“Grounding you!” Allison pulled Mabel downward by the chain, her unnatural momentum warring with Arnold’s swollen, discriminating gravity well. Twigs and branches scraped and snagged at Mabel as they descended through the forest canopy. When her feet were only an inch off the ground, Allison used Żywie’s old tricks to flood her muscles with adrenaline, forcing the spike-end of the chain deep into a tree trunk.

Mabel floated at a slanted angle, chain taut, picture-binder held tight against her chest. She frowned deeply. “You couldn’t have put me facing the right way?”

Allison flew back towards the Tomb, calling back, “Make us some monsters, will ya?”

Close-Cut was taking on Sir Cai hand-to-hand, the dynamic circuitry of his suit multiplying his strength ten fold, eating blows from the possessed superhero and turning it into might. He whacked his umbrella against Starry Knight’s helmet, electricity crackling across his helmet with every blow. Sir Cai managed to land a hit in Close-Cut’s chest. The bottom fell out of his stomach as he floated up into the trees.

“Goddamnit!” he shouted, trying to push himself down by flapping his arms as Sir Cai pointed and laughed. A laser-blast  hit the knight’s shoulder. He screamed as molten metal and fabric fused to his skin, swinging around to find Mistress Quickly aiming her multi-gun at him. She fired again. This time, the bolts of light were caught in a gravitational lens, warping their spectra to uselessness. Sir Cai roared, two points of cold light burning behind his helmet visor.

The air around Mistress Quickly shimmered. Her shoulders grew heavy as her suit glowed with the strain of spreading gravity’s impact on her across the multiverse. Maude rolled to the side just in time to see the grass where she’d been standing flatten, twigs snapping as rocks were ground into powder, as though the air had become a millstone. She spotted David. The boy had turned himself into an ice sculpture. 

“Don’t suppose you can suck the blood out of his brain for a second?” 

Nope,” David hummed in his glass harp voice. “Can’t touch anything inside his stupid spacesuit.”

“Of course,” said Mistress Quickly. She reminded herself to try and replicate the effect, assuming they beat this idiot. 

Sir Cai was only a little disappointed by the black lady’s escape. Sure, it was satisfying to watch people… collapse under his invisible weights, but this new body still had such wonderful magic. He wondered if this was what Myrddin and his fellow blasphemers felt like. No wonder they risked damnation—    

Sir Cai’s revelry was cut short by a punch to his side by a ruddy-skinned cyclops. Before he could regain his bearings, a time-lost crusader slammed a mace into his back, forcing him to the ground. Sir Cai looked up at the monster and knight, with his strange helmet and vivid blue cloak.

“Surrender?” asked the crusader in a Pepé Le Pew accent. 

Sir Cai was awash with nostalgia. It was like questing with his brother again. He answered this unexpected kindness by charging at the figures. He soon found they—and the other beasts and monsters that soon joined them—ignored the magic of his host. He had no sword, only his fists. That was alright. It was like being a boy again.

Near the fence, Billy invisibly watched the mad superhero fight Mabel’s minions. “Sir Cai” was laughing. He was having fun. And he wasn’t helping. He was a super. A new human, even if that was now a bad thing to say. Wasn’t he supposed to be strong? Brave? His friends were. What could he do? Starry Knight was sick, or possessed, or something. He couldn’t just turn him into something shiny. His roar could hurt everyone. He was useless. Dumb. A baby.

He still had to try. Billy looked at the sword in the stone. It was some kind of magic. Merlin put it there. How couldn’t it be? 

Sir Cai had a giant ant in a chokehold10 when something hard and fast struck him in the visor. His world cracked around a metallic yellow pit. The glass didn’t shatter completely. It was designed to remain airtight on the surface of the Moon. 

Jack Lyons stood in front of Starry Knight, his pistol still smoking. “Be gentle, Mr. Barthe,” he said. “I still think a good man is inside there.”

But then, it wasn’t designed to be shot, either

Mist seeped through the fissures in Starry Knight’s visor. It coalesced into water, forcing its way up Anthony Peake’s nose and down his throat. Sir Cai’s broken world melted. He staggered and sputtered, grabbing the stone without a sword in it and blindly hurling it. He managed to hit Jack Lyons, sending him hurtling into a tree. It snapped in half behind him—   

A strange sound. Iron sliding smoothly out of rock. Caledfwlch was hovering shakily in front of what was left of the Tombeau de Merlin, blade raised skyward. 

The water inside Starry Knight’s helmet went still. At the same time, Sir Cai fell to his knees. “My God…”

Billy appeared beneath the sword. “Um, is this supposed to happen? Did I break it?”

“A new Pendragon… a new king…”

Billy vanished in a swirl of autumn leaves. So did the sword.

The water in Starry Knight’s ears shrieked. “Billy!

The Crimson Comet swooped above the scene. A streak of green lightning forked down and hit Starry Knight square in the helmet. It vanished, water spilling out and revealing a middle aged, scarn man with grey temples. Allison burst screaming out of the trees and wrapped her arms around Peake’s head. Sir Cai gasped, “We shall have a king again…”

Allison hissed in his ear. “Sleep.”

Sir Kai slumped forward. Allison didn’t bother catching him. The sound of many trees falling on the woods did not go unheard. Close-Cut yelped as he fell to the ground. Allison straightened and dropped to her feet. She was smiling. The golden probabilities had brightened again.

“That wasn’t too hard,” she said. She looked about at the other supers. “Everyone okay? Where’s Billy?” She cupped her hands around her mouth. “Billy! You can stop being invisible now! It’s over.”

David reformed into flesh and blood beside her. “H—he’s gone, Allie.” 

“What?”

Close-Cut dusted himself off gravely. “He pulled the sword from the stone. It… took him away.”

“Oh. Oh, God…” Allison bit her lip. “I told him not to touch it…” 

Mabel emerged into the circle. Her costume had already regenerated from her trip through the skies and trees. Her nose, however, was bleeding. “Did we win?” she asked. “Where’s Arnold? And Billy?”

“I’m sure Arnold Barnes is still safe with the Crimson Comet,” said Jack Lyons. “However, I’m afraid William has been taken, and we don’t know where.”

Allison’s patience ran out. Billy was missing. Billy. God’s favourite. There was no room in her universe for any more mystery. “Lyons,” she said. “Can you just tell us what your deal is?”

Jack Lyon’s face twitched uncharacteristically. “My deal?”

“You died in 1902. Your gravestone said so. What are you doing here?

Everyone looked at him. 

“Questions have been raised,” said Mistress Quickly. “And we’re in no mood for secrets.”

“Unless you eat suckling babes or something, I’d just cough it up,” said Close-Cut. “We’ve probably seen odder.”

Jack Lyons sighed. The Crimson Comet descended into the circle, Arnold still in his arms, much to the boy’s clear embarrassment. 

“Crikey,” said Ralph, “hope they aren’t all that tough.”

“Ralph,” said Jack. “Do you remember France? You and me, I mean.”

Ralph frowned. “Yeah,” he said, “You were brave.”

Jack Lyons looked right at the superhero. “I’m not the Jack Lyons you met in the war, Mr. Rivers. And he was not the first.”

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1. Literally “Good blood!” usually used to express shock or anger.

2. “Hello! We mean you no harm!”

3. “Bastards! Bunch of sickos!”

4. Insult meaning roughly, “person who has been fucked in the arse.”

5. “You psychos!”

6. Specifically a Neolithic dolmen, a kind of single chambered burial chamber.

7. Welsh and Latin, respectively.

8. Commonly rendered as “Kay” in modern English.

9. A petty kingdom in southwest Wales during sub-Roman Britain.

10. Well, for a human. Starry Knight didn’t have enough arms to cover the creature’s spiracles.

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