“It looks nice, Billy,” said Drina carefully. “I like the leafy parts. I bet Mr. Liu would be pleased to see it.”
Jack Lyons nodded. “You should come and show everyone.”
Billy made to step forward, but paused with his foot in the air. “Wait, are you trying to grab me? Like Tom tried?”
Allison shot a glance back at Tom. The older boy threw his arms up. She turned back to William. “Billy, what are you doing?”
“Me and Myrddin are going to save England!” Billy had clearly practised saying the wizard’s name many times. Hastily, he added, “And Wales.” He looked at Myrddin. “We’re going to save Scotland too, right?”
“It would be hard not to,” answered Myrddin. “We are the same island.”
“What about Ireland?” asked Billy.
“If we have time.”
“Save England from what?” asked Allison. “Republicans?” She was a touch too proud of herself for that one.
“Nuclear war!” cried Billy. “And the bird!”
“The bird?” asked the Crimson Comet, still holding the Carnacki battery. He looked at Myrddin. “And you know what nuclear war is?”
“Do you know what an onager1 is?” Myrddin asked back.
“Then I can know what nuclear weapons are.”
“You’re a bit late!” called Mistress Quickly, hands cupped around her mouth like a jeering football2 fan. “Me and the Flying Man took care of the nukes! I made the bloody uranium into glassware!”
“Really?” asked Close-Cut.
“For special occasions,” clarified Mistress Quickly. “But you get as many rads from a plane ri—”
Myrddin’s voice hissed in Maude’s ear, “Eschaton has been dead for a year. You are a fool if you think the nations of the world won’t split the atom again over and over.”
Maude shuddered. “Eschaton” had been her suggestion for Joe’s supernym. He’d snobbishly refused to take one, and now people would forever be calling him “the Flying Man.”
“And how are you going to save Britain from nuclear war, Billy?”
“Myrddin says he can take the island to Fairyland!”
Billy was grinning, which told Allison she knew more about fairy tales than he did. “You’re gonna kidnap gazillions of people to Fairyland?”
“They can come back if the world doesn’t explode!” Billy insisted. “Or once it gets better after, I guess.”
“It will no doubt be a difficult adjustment,” said Myrddin. “But I believe William has the heart and courage to lead us through.”
“We could take Catalpa, too,” suggested Billy. “Then we’d all be safe! And neighbours!”
“Hell no!” shouted Allison.
Jack Lyons raised his hands. “Let’s try and stay civil, everyone.”
“Right, that’s it.” Tom’s outline barged through the police line, filling in again as he approached Billy and the others. “Come on, Billy, we’re going home.”
“No I’m not,” said Billy. “Myrddin needs me!”
Tom scowled. “You’re not even a Pom! How can you be king of England?”
“He is still a child of Albion,” said Myrddin. “Even with the Saxon blood in his veins.”
“I should remind everyone,” said Jack Lyons, “the throne of Great Britain and all her possessions is currently filled.”
Billy tilted his head. “Oh yeah.” He looked up at Myrddin. “What are we going to do with Princess Elizabeth3? I heard she’s nice.”
“We shall discuss that matter later, my king.”
The Crimson Comet shook his head, mouth agape. “He’s nine years old!”
Billy pouted and pointed at Allison. “Allie’s ten and she’s the boss of Catalpa.”
“And you know what?” said Tom. “That’s a bit nuts, too!”
Drina gave a small nod of assent.
“Hey!” Allison cried.
“But at least Allie isn’t dragging us all to the Dark Ages to hang out with the bloody fairies! Whatcha going to do, Billy? Make everyone till the fields for your barons and lords? I thought you were better than that crap.”
“It won’t be like that!”
“All shall have a part to play,” intoned Myrddin calmly. “All shall know their place.”
Billy frowned at the wizard. “You’re not helping.”
Miri cleaved from Allison. “This is stupid! You have to come home, because if you go live in another dimension or whatever, we can’t play together. So there!”
That was the first thing that seemed to give Billy pause. “I mean, you could visit. Myrddin says people from here have been going to Fairyland since forever.”
Miri put her hands on her spectral hips, mimicking both Allison and Arnold’s mothers. “First I have to ask Allie if I can hug you, now I have to go to Fairyland to see you?”
Billy sighed. “Miri, this is important…”
Miri huffed. “Everything’s more important than me.”
Billy gasped as Miri merged with his body. Excalibur glowed in its scabbard. He retched as Miri’s smokey form erupted from his mouth, glaring as she pulled her image back together. “You tried to possess me!”
Drina gave Miri a chastising look. “Miri!”
“He was being dumb.”
Ralph Rivers took a step forward. “Billy—”
Billy growled. That alone sent the Comet, Tom, Jack and the Kinseys all flying backwards. The Carnaki battery fell onto the driveway. Someone listening closely might’ve heard it grunt in pain.
“Stay back!” shouted Billy.
Allison watched Jack Lyons dust off his suit. When she rolled over in the grass, she found her mother groaning and rubbing her side. Allison rose off the ground, glaring fire at Billy. The air around her shimmered in the siren light.
“Whatcha gonna do, Allison? Use your Alberto powers on me?”
The grass combusted under Allison, bright crescents of lava spinning around her. “Maybe! After I beat some sense back into you! You hurt my mum!”
Billy spotted Mrs Kinsey, only now sitting up. His eyes widened. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Mrs Kinsey—“
“You’re gonna be!”
“It really isn’t that bad, hon—”
“I’m gonna grab you by the tail and spin you ‘round my head!”
“If you’re so intent on violence, young lady,” said Myrddin, “I might have a way of settling this dispute quickly and cleanly.”
Billy and Allison both looked at the wizard. “What?” they both asked, nearly in unison.
“Simple,” he replied. “The way champions have put rest to conflicts since men discovered the hardness of wood, bone, and metal. A duel.”
Rock Cannon/Gawaine stood on the lawn behind the hotel. Thick trails of black powder snaked through the grass from either side of him, curving and meeting again to form a wide circle. He jumped backwards as the circle exploded into a rainbow ring of fireworks. When the sparks and smoke cleared, they were left with a circular trench. The terms of the duel were simple: single combat, with no outside assistance for either Billy or Allison. Billy had insisted it not even be till first blood4. Instead, the first child knocked into the trench lost. If Billy won, the Catalpans would return to Bròn Binn empty handed. If Allison won, Myrddin would free Roundtable and submit himself to custody.
The two children sealed the deal with a spit handshake, Myrddin watching intently. It put Allison on edge. How could Myrddin think this would turn out well for him? Allison had the combined fighting skill of dozens. Her flesh and bone were thoroughly posthuman. She could conjure lava and make the air boil. She could fly. She could control minds. Billy wasn’t even good at soccer. He wasn’t even using the magic sword. Myrddin had to have a trick up his sleeve. The fact Billy was still wearing Excalbur’s scabbard made her uneasy, too. It was either pointless, or secretly clever. Still, this was her best chance of ending things quickly.
Myrddin bore Billy into the ring on invisible wings. Allison simply leapt across, her flight lending the movement a kind of eerie grace. Torchless flames bobbed and floated around the ring. On Allison’s side of the ring, the Catalpans were watching gravely. Mrs Kinsey was torn. On the one hand, she was obligated to support her daughter, and she was fighting for a good cause. On the other, she was also beating up a sweet, smaller boy. Nobody who loved either child wanted to see this. Meanwhile, on Billy’s side, Myrddin’s band of possessed superheroes were whooping and cheering:
“Long live the king! Long live the king!”
Myrddin, though, was silent. As a gesture of good faith, Bedwyr was presently binding his hands and covering his mouth, lest he work his sorcery. Billy and Allison stood opposite each other, feet fixed to the ground, Allison far more expertly. “I don’t want to hurt you, Allie,” Billy said.
“Then give up,” said Allison. Honestly, she couldn’t quite return Billy’s sentiment. He was being dumb. She would beat him sensible again. Her pleasure. And he’d hurt her mum.
As part of the negotiations, Mistress Quickly had won the right to start the duel. She raised her multi-gun into the air. Her mask amplified her voice when she shouted, “En garde!”
At the flash of the laser blast (to which Bedwyr gasped), the children screamed and ran for each other. Allison had expected an easy fight. She was surprised to be the first to be knocked flat. She charged Billy with all the speed her legs could muster, going for an easy clothesline to send him sprawling from the ring. The first shockwave simply took her legs from under her with a yelp.
And then he kicked her in the face.
She barely felt it, but still. Allison was thankful Billy was wearing shoes. Myrrdin’s knights cheered. The Catalpans were gripped by a stunned silence.
Billy looked down at her, his eyes glassy.
“I have to win, Allie,” he said, his tone apologetic. “I’m sorry.”
She would have answered, if another bark of sonic force hadn’t sent her scrambling to the side. She reached out for a song. Comet. Tried to blast herself towards Billy with Ralph’s tempestuous flight power. Nothing happened. The song was there—inside her— but she couldn’t touch it. She tried for Arnold’s. Same thing. “Time out!” she shouted.
Against all reason, Billy halted.
“What?” he asked.
“Why aren’t my powers working?”
Billy looked back at Myrddin, frowning. “You said you wouldn’t mess with Allie.”
“She may use whatever power or skill is within the ring.” Myrrdin explained, his mouth momentarily unbound by Bedwyr. “No more, no less.”
“That’s not fair!” cried Allison.
“So you should be allowed to pilfer the might of all your friends, while my king must fight alone?” He shrugged. “Make do with the three strains of enchantment inside you. My liege shall still best you.”
Like hell he will. Allison frowned hard. “Time in.” She took a hold of Billy’s song, letting the electric riffs vibrate through her. Mercury matter-mist bloomed in her hand just long enough to twist the air into sand. She flew at Billy, throwing the sand into his eyes. Billy screamed, throwing his own shimmering field up in front of him like a wall. It evaporated to reveal an actual wall of rough stone. It stopped her short, but only for a moment, and he still had to clear his eyes.
Allison circled back while the boy-king rubbed them clear, then tackled him from behind. Billy reached behind him and grabbed her by the hair, pulling hard enough to pull follicles free. A complete schoolboy move, but effective. Allison screamed before she drove her knee between his legs. He dodged with a frankly impressive degree of agility, but she still made contact. He squeaked.
Why am I doing this? Allison asked herself. She managed to get a hand on the nape of Billy’s neck and tried to worm her will into him—
It was like touching a live electrical outlet with her tongue. Inside of her, Miri and Alberto grew faint, like shadows withering in candlelight. She flinched away, remembering Miri’s attempt to get inside Billy.
Did you not see Miri’s fuckup, Allie?
There was no time out this time. She hesitated, and that gave Billy enough time to sink his claws into her wrist, hard enough to draw blood. Her fingers flexed instinctively, and his neck was free. Billy snarled at Allison. “Cheater!”
Even that was enough to rustle her hair.
Billy vanished. Allison couldn’t even figure out where his song was coming from, as though the ring was equipped with surround sound playing Billy’s soul. Somewhere to the left, she heard a deep breath. She took flight, just in time to brace herself against Billy’s voice. She threw her internal momentum against the onslaught of sound. It was like walking backwards against a hurricane. She turned around to see Billy pop back into being, still roaring. Slowly, Allison was pushed back, the ground beneath her being stripped of grass and topsoil. When she was just over the edge of the pit, Billy ran out of breath and bent over gasping. Allison looked down and smiled grimly. “You really think you can get me down there?’
Billy knew Allison thought he was dumb, or at least not as bright as her. For once, he was glad for that. He dug his feet into the ground. Matter mist crept out from under his shoes, weaving between particles of soil and rock and flowing out from the trench wall. In the deep shadow, you couldn’t make out the scattering of silver glitter. Allison didn’t notice when she inhaled it. Inside her lungs, oxygen turned to nitrous oxygen. As it worked into her blood and brain, she started to giggle, her flight becoming shaky. Billy raised his hands, more matter-mist erupting from in front of his palms. It reared above Allison, condensing air into something much heavier.
The Crimson Comet shouted, “Look out, Allie!” but the sound of his voice didn’t make it past the trench’s outer wall. That would be helping, after all. Heavy chains dropped on top of Allison. If she’d been in a fit state, she could’ve kept afloat. Right now, they threatened to overwhelm her. She thrashed and yelled like Marley’s ghost, and that was when a final, ragged shout from Billy shoved her hard down onto the trench floor—
Allison felt grass beneath her cheek. Grey, weary light momentarily dazzled her wide, dark-drinking pupils. Allison tricked her body into thinking she was lifting a car off her mother or best friend and threw the chains aside with a grunt. When she got up, she found her friends, Lyons, and the SAS troops milling confusedly about her. They were back on Bròn Binn. The Phare was swinging its arclight blade across the sky. Allison couldn’t tell if it was early morning or evening. It reminded her of falling asleep sick in the afternoon, and waking up not knowing if she’d slept for a day or an hour.
“Good going, Allie!” cried David. “You lost to Billy.”
“He had a dumb magic sword thingy helping him! Like to see you try!”
“Sure, I’d win!”
Mabel was looking up at the sky. “Does anyone know the time difference between Scotland and Cornwall?”
“Officially, there is none,” answered Jack Lyons. “Nature disagrees, but not this much.”
The sound of hurried footsteps and martial, circular breathing. A fresh batch of soldiers were running up to them, aiming their guns at them. Allison threw her arms up indignantly. “Hey! We were invited!”
The soldiers parted for a disheveled looking Sir Edwards. The skin under his eyes was grey for lack of sleep. “And where the hell were you?”
Jack Lyons fielded that one, “Tintagel, if you’ll recall, Sir Edwards. I’m afraid we failed to capture Myrddin or secure the St. George boy.”
Sir Edwards shook his head. “You’re telling me! You’ve been gone eight days! The country is on the brink! We’ve had to send the royal family to Canada! We’re governing out of regional fallout shelters!”
“But we were just—” Allison grit her teeth, then snarled, “Friggin magic!” At least she knew what Myrddin’s trick was. Except, that didn’t make sense. Allison still had to lose first. Maybe that was the trick. Assuming Billy was a complete pushover. Allison suddenly felt both mean and foolish.
Mistress Quickly did the sums in her head. “I’d say we could’ve made that with a light jog? Assuming we could walk on water”—Maude raised a finger as David opened his mouth—“all walk on water.” She sighed. “I’ll say this, he didn’t factor in breaks.”
“Wait,” said Jack. “You’re saying he made us walk back?”
“Who bloody cares?” Sir Edwards yelled. “What are you going to do about London?”
One by one, the new arrivals turned to look at him.
“…What’s wrong with London?” asked Allison.
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1. An ancient, torsion-powered Roman catapult. ↩
2. American, European, or Australian, take your pick. ↩
3. A force of habit on Billy’s part, as Elizabeth the Second had ascended to the throne in 1965. ↩
4. Not that that would even work, given the scabbard’s properties. ↩