Disclaimers: Own nothing except the ones I made up, which isn't much...LOL. Only writing for fun, the rights belong to the owners of the LXG characters, Fox and whoever else.
PG to PG-13 rating for violence and some language
Mentions bits of my story "LXG 2: The Sequel" Also characters from "King Solomon's Mines" are used as well for my literary muse.
This was writtenfor an LXG fic challenge....
THE CRUCIBLE OF FEAR
"We all live in fear of something
We all disappear like nothing
We all live in fear of something
We all equal less than nothing."
From "Less than Nothing" from Demon Hunter
A soft breeze flew across the conning tower of the submersible craft, the Nautilus. It's creator, Captain Nemo smiled under his dark, heavy beard and mustache, enjoying the beautiful day that spread out gloriously before him.
Taking a deep breath of the clean, fresh air, the former native of India couldn't imagine anything spoiling this perfect day, but the clanking sounds of someone climbing the ladder up to the deck shattered that illusion. The crewman who decoded the messages sent to the Nautilus' state of the art equipment was before Captain Nemo seconds later, a piece of paper held out expectantly.
Nemo took the message and sighed. It was a urgent plea to come to Africa. His fellow passenger and teammate, Allan Quatermain, would have to be notified immediately. The renowned hunter and adventurer loved that continent more than his homeland of England, and whoever had sent that message obviously knew that as well. Quatermain wouldn't say no to Africa.
Glancing at his subordinate, Nemo gave the man an order in his deep, rich voice. "Tell the first mate to set an immediate course for Africa."
"Yes, Captain," the crewman nodded, quickly leaving to do as ordered.
Taking one, final breath of fresh air, the captain smirked before turning to go back inside. "Did you catch all of that, Mr. Skinner?" he asked to the seemingly empty tower.
A soft chuckle met Nemo's ears, signaling the presence of gentlemen thief, Rodney Skinner. "Guess I should be getting the others?" the totally invisible rogue answered in his cockney accent.
"It would be appreciated," Nemo smiled. "I will summon Mr. Quatermain."
"There goes my sunbathing," the thief groaned to himself, heading down the hold after the captain.
"Do your recognize the name?" Nemo asked Quatermain as the seven members of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen gathered together in the captain's strategy room.
Quatermain's eyes took on a faraway look as he answered. "It's an old friend of mine."
"Who is it?" Special Agent Tom Sawyer spoke up. The youngest member of the seven, Tom craved adventure, and a trip to Africa sounded exciting, not to mention get him back on dry land again. There wasn't much to do aboard a submersible ship.
The old hunter glanced over at his youthful protege, giving him a stern look. "I'm going alone, so I won't bore you or the others with the details."
"But," Tom began to protest.
"Thomas, it's final." Quatermain looked around the table, challenging anyone else to defy his authority as leader of the group. "It involves ancient history, none of which you are familiar with."
"Bet I read about it," Sawyer grumbled under his breath, referring to the many enthralling stories he had read as a child growing up in Missouri about the legendary Allan Quatermain.
Rolling his eyes, Allan frowned in consternation. "The Allan Quatermain in those infernal magazines of yours would be too afraid to tie his shoes, let alone face the dangers I did."
A tiny smile lit on the American spy's handsome face. "All the better reason to let me come along...set me straight on how things really happened."
"Maybe Mr. Q has a secret to hide?" half-vampire, Mina Harker inserted coyly.
"I, for one, would be more than happy to stay on board than to roam around in that godforsaken land," the dashing immortal, Dorian Gray, commented.
"It wasn't all that bad," Dr. Henry Jekyll pointed out in a quiet tone.
"And when were you ever in Africa?" Dorian sniped in the doctor's direction.
"When we buried Allan," Skinner replied. "Course you weren't there, 'cause you were dead yourself."
"Don't remind me," Dorian growled.
"What? No pleasant memories of Hell?" the invisible man shot back.
"Gentlemen, please," Nemo interrupted. He turned his attention back to their leader. "If Quatermain wishes to answer this summons alone, we must honor that."
With an authoritative air, the adventurer stood at the end of the table. "Thank you, Nemo," he acknowledged with an appreciative nod of his grey head. "Yes, I do want to meet with this person alone." Casting a deliberate look in Sawyer's direction, he continued brusquely. "And there will be no further talk on the subject. If you'll excuse me."
The six remaining members watched the older man leave the room, each exchanging glances of curiosity. Who was this person who had asked them to Africa? And why was Quatermain so hell bent on going alone?
A misty haze hung over the land as the Nautilus pulled into the port of the African city of Capes Town, foretelling the humid day awaiting the visitors. Sawyer pratically lept off the gangplank, anxious to be on firm ground once more. He gave the man behind him one of his disarming, lopsided grins.
"C'mon, Allan," Tom called out cheerfully.
Quatermain stood at the end of the deck, glowering at the enthusiastic youth. How in the hell did he allow himself to be talked into this change of plans? If that boy didn't wipe that annoying, triumphant smile off his face.... Huh! That was no boy, that was a masterful manipulator under those blonde bangs. A good ear boxing would take care of that!
"All you had to do was say 'no'," Nemo commented, noting the sour expression on Allan's features.
"I did, many times," the hunter answered back lamely, "but he wouldn't accept any of my reasons for him to stay aboard."
"You never leave the door open a crack, you should close it completely."
Watching the young man he had come to view as a surrogate son stretching his limbs in eager anticipation of his journey, Allan pointed in Tom's direction. "You know how the lad was getting stir crazy, all those weeks at sea," he explained in defense of his relenting. "He needs to move about a bit on land."
"He can't say no to Sawyer, pure and simple," a voice said out of the blue.
"No one asked you, Skinner," the explorer growled. "And yes, I can bloody tell him 'no'."
Nemo and Rodney chuckled to themselves. It was no secret to anyone that Sawyer and Quatermain shared a unique bond, akin to a father and son relationship.
"Like to see the both of you do any better," Quatermain muttered under his breath as he pulled his hat down further towards his face. Hefting Matilda over his left shoulder, the renowned adventurer ambled down the gangplank, casting a glare back at his two tormentors, who were still wearing their smug grins.
"Thought you were never coming," Tom said with a cheeky wink. "You ready?"
As the young spy turned to start walking, he noticed the sudden, hushed atmosphere of the noisy port town, the citizens stopping their activities to watch whatever was happening up ahead. Looking back at his mentor, Sawyer's hazel eyes questioned everyone's odd behavior. Was something going on? Giving his protege a knowing smile, Quatermain held his index finger to his lips, and made a shushing sound.
The throngs of people began to collect on one of two sides of the area, making a narrow path straight to where the Nautilus was docked. Up on the submarine's conning tower, the rest of the League gathered, watching the proceedings around them in curiosity.
"It must be someone of great importance," Jekyll guessed, his blue eyes taking in the looks of reverence in the local's faces.
"We sure didn't get that kind of response when we arrived," Skinner laughed. "You'd think the Queen herself was here."
"Or maybe a king," Nemo said with a smile, watching the stately figure of a man walking through the pathway of natives. Having been raised in a royal household himself back in India, the captain knew about the regal air the stranger modestly held.
"A king?" Dorian Gray's eyebrow rose in interest. "This is more acceptable. We should be greeted by royalty, no matter how common they appear."
Mina rolled her eyes and jabbed the immortal in the ribs with her elbow. She squinted against the bright sunlight, making out the person beside the so called king. "Isn't that other man the same one who was chanting at Allan's grave? His name was Majeel wasn't it?"
"You know, I think it is," Rodney agreed. "I thought he was some crazy loon, and here he had connections the whole time."
Down on the ground, Sawyer and Quatermain were hidden by the excited crowd, the hunter grinning slightly to himself. He could sense Tom's frustration and puzzlement behind him, but when the boy found out who was coming, his longed for adventure would soon be forgotten.
After trying many times to peer around the unmoving masses, Sawyer returned his attention to Quatemain, hoping the older man had some idea what was happening. Before he could ask his question, a few natives moved aside, allowing the American a better view of who was coming. His eyes widened in recognition, and a big smile encompassed his full mouth.
"Mr. Majeel!" Tom greeted loudly, waving his hand above his head. The elderly African man had taken a special interest in him after they had brought Quatermain's body here for burial, giving him Allan's gun, Matilda, as well as comforting words of solace. But the thing he was most grateful to Majeel for was bringing his mentor and father figure back to the living.
"Thomas," Allan warned in a near whisper as the people became quiet, all their eyes upon him and Sawyer.
The American agent didn't respond, pushing past some people to meet Majeel face to face. Grasping the shocked witch doctor's hand, Tom shook it vigorously. "Sure is great to see you again!" Turning his gaze to the stranger beside Majeel, the youth grinned. "Hello, Mister," he said in an amiable tone, holding his hand out for the man to shake.
The crowd echoed in a mass gasp of horror, alerting Sawyer to a possible gaff on his part. "What?" he asked, gazing around. "Only tryin' to be friendly."
On the Nautilus, the spy's teammates groaned. In his youthful haste, Sawyer had greeted an underling before the king himself, showing disrespect.
"I cannot even think of facing the king now," Dorian moaned in humiliation.
"Give the kid a break," Skinner broke in. "Hell, I didn't know he was a king either."
"That is because you are an imbecile, like that boy down there," Dorian huffed.
"Tom didn't mean any harm," Jekyll added, though his face was flushed with embarrassment for his young friend.
Sensing the native's growing ire, Quatermain grabbed Tom's arm, pulling the blonde agent behind him protectively. "Forgive my protege, your majesty," he offered in the direction of the king. "I failed in informing him of who you were."
Your majesty? Tom's cheeks turned crimson as he heard the adventurer speak. That was why the people were so excited...a king was coming! 'Way to go, Special Agent Sawyer,' he chastised himself in his mind.
The king smiled, and grabbed Quatermain's forearm in a warm greeting. "It is good to see you again, Allan."
The hunter returned the smile and grip. "Same here, King Umbopa. It has been many years."
"Too many." Umbopa wrapped an arm around Quatermain's shoulders, leading him in the direction of the Nautilus. "You must come too, young one," he said to Sawyer, who stood sheepishly off to the side.
Majeel came up beside the young man and ushered him back to the submarine, shaking his head with a grin. "It is not as bad as it seems," he offered sympathetically.
As the four men walked up the gangplank and into the Nautilus, the crowd began to stir in curiosity, wondering who in the world were these strangers to draw the presence of an important, African king.
The League and their two guests assembled in the strategy room to discuss the sent message, after the proper introductions had been made. King Umbopa noted Sawyer's continued silence, and was about to calm the agent's discomfort when Quatermain nudged him gently.
Leaning in, the seasoned explorer winked and whispered conspiratorially. "Don't let the boy off the hook yet, Umbopa. I think this is the longest he's ever been quiet. Let's enjoy the peace a while longer."
He knew his old friend was only jesting, but the seriousness of his mission diminished his humor. "Be careful what you ask for, my friend. It could become permanent," Umbopa said sadly. Noting the look of worry that crossed the master hunter's face, the king continued. "The evil spirit of Gagool has returned."
"Gagool?" Tom finally spoke, "Wasn't she the priestess who served under Twala?"
"Yes, Thomas," Allan said curtly. Those damn books on his adventures...if he didn't quiet his protege now, they'd be stuck hearing about those misconstrued stories for hours. "Let the 'king' finish."
The American agent's eyes grew big in realization. "Oh, sorry."
Umbopa gave Sawyer a warm smile. "Today, I am only a friend. Feel free to speak."
"Okay your lordship," Skinner chimed in, "so what in hell are we talking about here?"
"Skinner," Nemo growled next to the invisible thief.
"Your young comrade was right, Gagool was a high priestess under the man who took my throne," Umbopa replied. "Though she died years ago, I'm afraid one of her descendants has discovered her dark powers."
Allan ran a hand over his well-aged, but handsome features in consternation. "Bloody hell," he muttered. "Do you know who it is?"
"An African native now residing in England. He's only known as Twazul."
"Is this Twazul threatening to usurp your throne?" Mina surmised.
"Not only that, he wishes revenge on three others he sees as the ones who destroyed Gagool," the king answered solemnly.
"Sir Henry Curtis, Captain Good, and Allan," Sawyer inserted, casting a concerned glance at his father figure. "Do you have any information on how or when?"
Majeel came up behind the spy and spoke. "Only that he will destroy the men's families through them."
"That is why you must travel to England and stop Twazul," King Umbopa insisted.
"I will," Quatermain vowed. "I handled Gagool, and I can handle her second rate relative."
"Be cautious with your confidence, Twazul uses fear against his enemy."
"This Twazul's magic tricks won't scare me," Allan huffed indignantly. "Besides, I have no family for him to threaten."
Giving the others in the room a polite smile, King Umbopa rose from the table. "If the rest of you will excuse Mr. Quatermain and myself, I would like to spend some time alone with a friend I haven't seen in many years."
Leaving the League and Majeel back in the strategy room, Quatermain led Umbopa to his cabin, assured of some privacy to discuss what was truly on the king's mind.
The remainder of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen watched nervously as Majeel hovered near Sawyer, his dark eyes never leaving the American's face. Swallowing hard, the Secret Service agent tried to make small talk.
"Are you coming with us, Mr. Majeel?" the spy asked.
"No, I must stay and protect the king," Majeel answered, still staring.
Feeling his friend's unease, Skinner decided to cut in. "Now myself....I'd rather be staring at Mina instead of Sawyer...," he jabbed, hoping to draw the witch doctor's attention away. His white, grease smeared face grinned broadly when he heard the vampiress's disgusted 'humph' beside him.
"I am preparing," Majeel responded, his eyes remaining fixed upon the agent. Waving his gnarled, wooden staff before Sawyer's face, the witch doctor demanded, "Sleep, young one." Instantly Tom went slack, his eyes closing in slumber. Majeel caught the youth's body and laid him back gently in the chair.
"Hey now!" Rodney yelled in alarm, rising from his seat.
"Silence!" Majeel commanded, stopping the thief from moving forward.
"I-I can't move!" the invisible rogue cried out to the others.
"None of you can," Majeel explained. "Do not worry about the boy, I am trying to protect him from the harm that Twazul wishes to impose."
"We can take care of our own just fine," Skinner informed the witch doctor hotly.
"Your fight is not with me, it is within yourself," Majeel warned ominously. "You will all have to face your greatest fear before you could ever hope to help anyone else." Placing a hand on Sawyer's head, the medicine man sighed. "I can only give you this bit of hope."
"You surely don't mean Sawyer!" Dorian snarled. "He has the least chance out of all of us to survive. He'll need us, not the other way around."
Majeel shook his dark head and grinned knowingly. "And that is your own will to survive speaking," he said to Gray. "I am aware your future is linked to him, but sometimes what is viewed as the weakest link is actually the strongest."
Dorian rolled his brown eyes dramatically. "Pardon me if I find absolutely no comfort in your reasoning."
"If you find the courage to face your deepest turmoil, you will begin to understand." Majeel waved his free hand for quiet, and began to chant as his staff hovered above Sawyer's sleeping form.
The rest of the League could only watch helplessly in concern and fascination as the witch doctor wove his elaborate spell. How could all that mystical mumbo jumbo help their youngest member? Or them for that matter?
"We're not here to talk about old times," Allan said bluntly, gesturing for Umbopa to take a seat across from him. "How serious is the threat? Is this Twazul that powerful?"
"Oh, now we take it seriously," Umbopa mocked, taking his chair. " was all the brave talk for the others?"
"I didn't want any doubts when I faced Twazul myself."
"You are determined to do this alone?"
Quatermain looked away. "This is my battle. I don't want to draw attention to the others and endanger them."
"That is very noble, but don't you think they will be targeted anyway?" the king pressed. "Weren't you all chosen for your unique abilities? Why can they not battle by your side instead of waiting to be attacked?"
Sending Umbopa an irritated scowl, the great hunter drummed his fingers on the table. He knew exactly where this was headed, but didn't want to concede. "None of them where there, they didn't face Gagool...."
"You didn't face Gagool before then either," the African king pointed out. "For a man who despises games, you are trying to play a masterful one now."
"I have my reasons," the explorer replied testily.
"Refusing to admit the truth will not diminish what is true."
"I know what the truth is," Quatermain countered. "I chose to protect them from it."
"Ignorance of danger is no protection." Umbopa rose from his chair, shaking his head in disappointment. "I expected this reaction of fear...."
"It's got nothing to do with me being afraid," Allan contested angrily, "didn't I already agree to stop this Twazul?"
"Your son's tragic death has blinded you so badly that you fear the one thing that can bring you peace, and sadly Twazul will use that to his benefit." The African king walked over to the door and opened it. "That is why I took matters into my own hands."
Allan bolted from his seat. "What did you do, Umbopa?"
Giving his friend a sad smile, he exited the adventurer's cabin, stopping in the hallway to turn and face Quatermain. "I asked Majeel to give the youngest a special blessing from harm." He could see the relief that flooded over Allan's face at that bit of information.
"Thank you, Umbopa," Allan replied gratefully. "I will admit I was a bit worried."
"I did not give this blessing only because I feared for him," Umbopa responded, "but I'm glad I could offer you a respite from worry."
"Then why did you do it?"
"Because he lives in the future, not the past...and if Twazul succeeds in his plans, the young American will be the only one left to fight."
"I'll stop that bugger before I have to call in anyone," Quatermain insisted. "I don't want Sawyer anywhere near him, blessing or no blessing."
Sighing, King Umbopa went back into the strategy room, knowing his friend was not dealing with the issue of his fear. His arrival was met by stony glares from the others as Majeel finished his ceremony on Tom. Seeing the looks of anger and anxiety on the League's faces concerning their teammate, the African monarch prayed inside that it would be enough of a driving force to allow for victory over Twazul.
It had to be, or all hope was lost.