Galadria's Choice: Part Two
The Spectral Knights rarely argued amongst themselves, but this looked like being one of those occasions when they did.
Currently, the six male members of the team were in the main Council Chamber, trying to solve the mystery of what had just happened. As soon as the smoke had dispersed, it became clear that they had another crisis on their hands - Galadria was missing and they had no way of telling where she was, only a well-founded suspicion that the Darkling Lords were somehow mixed up in it. Indeed, Leoric's first thought on noticing that she was gone was that she had been taken to Castle Darkstorm, presumably as bait in some trap; Darkstorm had used Spectral Knights in this way before. But Arzon, though he had scouted the Castle from the air, had reported no sign of the Darkling Lords or of Galadria. "They must have her somewhere else," he had said.
But where? That was what the six of them were trying to figure out, without much success. Then, Cryotek vented his frustration at the whole situation on Leoric, who - he admitted later - deserved it least of all. "You call yourself our leader!" he had demanded hotly. "You don't even . . ."
Leoric tried to calm him down. Cryotek could be rather short-tempered at times, but, aside from an "episode" with Cravex's Totem, he did not usually attack his fellow Spectral Knights, verbally or physically. Maybe the fact that his wife was missing, presumably kidnapped, was putting him on edge; Leoric knew he would feel the same should anything happen to Fletchen. Even so . . . "We're all worried, Cryotek," he said. "But we won't solve anything by yelling at each other."
But, for all the good his words did, Leoric may as well have stayed silent. His followers were soon bickering heatedly, each trying to blame Galadria's capture on one of the others. Confusion reigned for several minutes, making it virtually impossible to tell who was saying what or who was arguing with whom. Finally, Leoric could take no more; Galadria could be in danger and, instead of working out a plan to rescue her, the other Spectral Knights were wasting time on blame-laying and name-calling.
"Quiet, all of you!" he ordered, his voice - rarely raised in anger - cutting through the commotion and shocking his comrades into silence. "Thank you," he added. "Now, let's discuss this properly. Cryotek, you first."
Cryotek turned to face his leader, feeling decidedly embarrassed at his outburst. He coughed, trying to compose his thoughts. "Sorry, Leoric," he said finally. "Guess I'm a little on edge. You see, it's not just Galadria I'm concerned about . . ."
Leoric studied his friend closely. There was something about his tone of voice, especially when he said he wasn't only concerned about Galadria. Cryotek could be a little reserved at times, not given to discussing personal feelings with anyone, but it was clear that something was troubling him. But what? Leoric was reluctant to press for answers, but he knew that was the only way they would find out what was going on. "Cryotek?"
Cryotek sighed. "I guess you might as well know," he told his fellow Spectral Knights.
Gradually, the full story emerged. Galadria was pregnant, but an occasion which should have been a cause for celebration had been marred by dire news from Merklynn. Darkstorm had, it seemed, found out and had decided to use it against the Spectral Knights. That explained their appearance outside New Valarak, but it failed to explain where they had take her . . .
"The Fellowship!" Cryotek muttered bitterly, his fists clenched.
"Who?" This question came from Feryl, who was standing to Cryotek's right.
"The Fellowship!" Cryotek said again. "Those . . . heaps of phylot dung are working with Darkstorm! And he's convinced them that Galadria is carrying the spawn of evil!" He pounded the table in front of him, imagining as he did so that he was punching Darkstorm in the face. And the other Spectral Knights, seeing how close to losing it he was, knew that this was serious. They had to find out more about the Fellowship - and fast. And there was only one way to do that . . .
"Arzon," Leoric said, turning to the young knight, "summon the Bearer of Knowledge - he'll know who this Fellowship is."
"Sure." Arzon hurried out of the room, returning moments later with his Power Staff in his hands. Then, he held it at arm's length as he recited the magic words which activated it:
"A whim, a thought and more is sought
Awake, my mind, thy will be wrought."
Seconds later, the torso of a male humanoid emerged from the Staff, hovering above the Spectral Knights' head. "Did you know there are fifteen planets in our solar system?" he asked in a rich booming voice. "And all had been explored by Prysmosians by . . ."
"Thank you, Bearer of Knowledge," Arzon said, trying not to laugh. This had happened before, the Bearer of Knowledge emerging from his Staff armed with a piece of useless information. And it always seemed to happen right when Arzon needed him to say something relevent to the situation at hand. "I don't need an astronomy lesson. What I . . . we wanted to know is who the Fellowship are and where have they taken Galadria?"
"Hmm . . . the Fellowship. Well . . ." And, with that, the Bearer of Knowledge began to explain the Fellowship and their beliefs, their conviction that they had the power to restore the Age of Technology. Cryotek, of course, had heard all this before, but the others hadn't so they listened carefully, waiting for some mention of where the Fellowship had their base of operations. When this information wasn't forthcoming after five minutes, Arzon decided it was time for a prompt.
"All right," he said. "You've told us all you know about the Fellowship. Now, where are they?" Normally even-tempered, he was starting to lose patience; the life of a comrade could be in danger and they were wasting time here, time Galadria could ill afford to lose.
The Bearer of Knowledge paused for a moment. "You shall find them at the old power plant, ten miles east of Jidaja. And, now, my time has come to leave you." With that, he faded into nothingness, his task of imparting information done, the power of Arzon's Staff spent.
The first thing Galadria was aware of when she woke up was a pounding headache.
She struggled to get up, only to find that she couldn't. And, when she had recovered sufficiently to open her eyes, she immediately saw why - someone had chained her to a post. Someone had captured her. But who? And why? She thought back over the events of the last few hours, but it was all a blur, an indistinct hotchpotch of scenes. She remembered the Darkling Lords outside New Valarak, then Cravex flying at her, but whatever had happened after that was a blank. So she had clearly been knocked out before being brought to this place, but where was she?
But she had no time to think about this before a door swung open and a crowd of people marched in, the Darkling Lords among them. Darkstorm, at the head of his followers, bore an expression of smug satisfaction which gave Galadria a strong sense of foreboding; if Darkstorm was so happy, it could only mean trouble for her. And those suspicions were borne out moments later when the rest of the crowd simultaneously pulled up the cowled hoods on the grey robes they all wore. She had fallen into the hands of the Fellowship!
An older man who seemed to be their leader stepped forward, raising his arms and holding aloft something Galadria recognised as an old microphone. "People of the Fellowship!" he declared in a thin but imperious voice. "You see before you a woman who will bring harm to all of us! A woman pregnant with a child who will doom us all! I ask you now - what shall we do with her!"
"Sacrifice!" came the answer, in a voice which sounded suspiciously like Virulina's. And the cry was swiftly taken up by the rest of the crowd.
"Sacrifice! Sacrifice! Sacrifice!"
Just when all seemed lost, two blue-grey balls of energy were suddenly fired into the crowd, forcing them to scatter. The entire Fellowship watched with open mouths as they saw two pods hovering overhead, each piloted by a young knight. What kind of sorcery was this? Only they could restore technology to Prysmos, so, whoever these knights were, they had to be as evil as the woman they had captured. Somehow, they had to be stopped . . .
Galadria, meanwhile, had recognised Arzon and Feryl at the controls of the Hover Pods and instinctively knew that she had to warn them away. This was a dangerous place, especially since the Darkling Lords had the Fellowship on their side. And Darkstorm seemed decidedly annoyed at this intrusion; it took all his self-control to issue orders to his followers, currently lurking in the midst of the Fellowship. "Cravex!" Galadria heard him shout. "Deal with those young pests!" He gestured towards Arzon and Feryl, who were now circling around in the Hover Pods.
"If anyone's going to be "dealt with", it's you, Darkstorm!"
It was Ectar, who had just shapeshifted out of his Fox form while Arzon and Feryl created a diversion. Darkstorm's expression was a mixture of disbelief and fury as, elsewhere in the crowd, Leoric, Cryotek and Witterquick also reverted to human form. Weapons drawn, the four knights ran forward, placing themselves between Galadria and her captors. "Let her go!" Leoric ordered in a tone few would have dared to defy. And anyone foolish enough to try would soon realise the seriousness of their mistake.
But Darkstorm had anticipated this; he knew Leoric well enough to know that the Spectral Knight would never abandon someone in need of help, especially not a fellow Spectral Knight. He quickly moved on to the next phase of his plan. "So?" he said, smiling evilly. "The brave Leoric wishes to challenge the might of the Fellowship? He wishes to allow the birth of a child who will bring doom to all!" The last words were addressed to the members of the Fellowship. "Then he is as evil as this woman!" He gestured towards Galadria, still chained to the post and beginning to lose the faint shred of hope she had had since the Spectral Knights first appeared on the scene.
Just then, Cravex appeared, forcing Feryl to walk ahead of him. The young knight's hands were tied in front of him and the reason for this became clear as Cravex made his report to Darkstorm. "Got one, Darkstorm! Arzon got away, but I . . ."
"Good work, Cravex," Darkstorm said, cutting across his volatile follower. Cravex scowled but made no comment as Darkstorm turned to address the Fellowship. "So, it seems nearly all those who would destroy you have been caught." Loud cheers erupted as he gestured towards the Spectral Knights. "We should give praise and, to show that we wish to purge Prysmos of evil, this cursed wench shall die!" He beckoned to four men in the crowd. "You four, bind her companions so they cannot interfere," he ordered. He turned to the old leader. "Sulos, would you do the honours?"
But, before any of the five men could make a move, a voice was heard from the crowd. "No! Wait!" Everyone turned to see that it was a young girl, barely into her teens, who had spoken out. She was slender, with brown hair framing an oval face, the hood on her grey robes thrown back. "Sulos, you can't!" she pleaded, ignoring the wave of muttering from the rest of the Fellowship. "You can't kill a mother and child - it's forbidden!"
"He can if the child is the spawn of evil!" retorted Darkstorm.
But Sulos shook his head. "Not if another sacrifice can be found within one hour." He walked towards Galadria and, pulling a key out from under his robes, proceeded to unchain. "Your life and that of your child shall be spared," he told her. "But only if you are prepared to sacrifice one of your friends instead."
"I can't do it, Leoric! I can't condemn my friends!" Galadria was sobbing with fear and despair; there was no way she could save herself if it meant one of her fellow Spectral Knights had to die. "I saw my father - in a vision," she finally choked out. "He . . . he said I would have to make a difficult choice, but I never dreamed it would mean this!"
"Listen, Galadria," Leoric told her firmly. If it had been an option, he would have volunteered his own life rather than see a fellow Spectral Knight condemned. But Sulos had made it clear that the decision had to be Galadria's and only Galadria's. "I'd feel the same if I had to decide between myself or one of you. But I would do what I had to for the good of all the Spectral Knights . . . "
"What . . . what would you do, Leoric?"
But, before Leoric could reply, two men from the Fellowship approached the Spectral Knights, their cowled hoods pulled over their heads. "I fear your time is up," one of them told Galadria, pulling her away from her fellow Spectral Knights. With that, he tied her hands behind her back and began to lead her away. Galadria was overwhelmed with a feeling of despair unlike anything she had felt before, a sense of hopelessness worse even than the day she, Arzon and Feryl had witnessed their fellow Spectral Knights being sealed into a cave and left to die. She had been unable to make the choice between herself and her friends and now she and her child were about to pay with their lives . . .
As she was led away, she heard Darkstorm's voice saying: "Confine her friends so they can't interfere!"
"Leoric, we've got to do something!"
Feryl was pacing the floor in the room where he and his fellow Spectral Knights had been imprisoned on Darkstorm's orders. This room had once served as office facilities for the staff at the power plant and evidence of its previous use was still present. Broken down computers still stood on every desk, the data they contained forever locked from the moment of the Cataclysm. Indeed, a casual glance would have revealed nothing untoward (aside from the fact that nothing technological worked) but the entire room was covered in layers of dust. "Doesn't look like anyone's been in here since the Alignment," Ectar remarked, tracing a line in the dust with his finger.
"Did anyone hear what I said!" demanded Feryl, looking at each of his friends in turn. He was not about to give up; the life of a friend was in danger and his sense of duty would not let him stand by and do nothing. Somehow, they had to find a way out of here . . .
"Feryl's right," Witterquick said suddenly. He walked over to the window, and looked out; down below, he could see the Fellowship assembled before the Darkling Lords, who had the chained Galadria in their midst. "We can't let Darkstorm get away with this! If he's got the Fellowship working for him, any of us could be next!"
But, for the life of him, he couldn't think how they were going to get out of here. And, even if they could, Darkstorm had their weapons and Power Staffs, which meant the odds of their getting Galadria away from here were . . . Witterquick's thoughts were interupted by the sound of a key being used to unlock the door, which, seconds later, opened to reveal the Fellowship girl who had spoken up earlier standing in the corridor, an urgent expression etched on her face. "Quick!" she urged. "There's not much time! Your friend, Arzon, managed to lure the guard away - some knight with a picture of a gorilla on his chest."
The Spectral Knights exchanged glances, each of them thinking the same thing. There was only one person on Prysmos who fit the girl's description - Cindarr. And he was slowed-witted enough to fall for whatever ruse Arzon had come up with.
"Thanks," Witterquick said as he and his fellow Spectral Knights followed the girl out into the corridor. "Where is Arzon, anyway?"
"Getting your Staffs and weapons." The girl nodded in the direction of a side corridor, then turned to look at the Spectral Knights.
As she awaited to her doom, Galadria felt an odd sense of peace; she no longer feared death and the tears she had shed had been for her unborn child. If only she had been able to make the choice Sulos had asked her to make, she would now be free. But it would have been at the expense of one of her fellow Spectral Knights and she knew she would never be able to live with herself under those circumstances.
Sulos, flanked by the Darkling Lords, was waiting for her at the gallows - her eyes were drawn to the noose despite her attempts to avert them. The assembled crowd watched with baited breath as Sulos took her hand and led her towards the platform; few could believe such an attractive young woman could be evil, but Darkstorm had given them his word. . . Everything seemed to happen at once. Sulos had blindfolded Galadria and placed the noose round her neck - Galadria herself was bracing herself for the final jerk, trying to focus her mind on her fellow Spectral Knights so that her last thoughts would be of them.
Darkstorm grew impatient. "String her up, Sulos, and be done with it!" he ordered.
But, even as Sulos pulled the lever and Galadria fell through the trapdoor, Feryl barged through the crowd until he stood at the foot of the gallows. Before anyone could stop him, he fired a bolt of energy from his dagger, which burnt through the rope holding Galadria and sent her plunging to the ground under the gallows. "Now, Arzon!" Feryl called, hurriedly assuming his Wolf form and disappearing before the Darkling Lords could react.
"Stop them!" yelled Darkstorm as Arzon swooped down in his Eagle form and carried Galadria over the heads of the astounded Fellowship. This was not working out as he had planned. Those infernal Spectral Knights were, once again, making him look like a fool - and how had they managed to escape anyway? Had that stupid dolt Cindarr let them out? If so, he was in for big trouble . . . Darkstorm sometimes wondered why he bothered keeping Cindarr on his team - true, he was the strongest of the Darkling Lords, but his intelligence left a lot to be desired.
But, moments later, the Darkling Lords found themselves surrounded by Spectral Knights, all of whom had their weapons raised ready to attack. "I think you'll find they're out of your reach," Ectar informed them, nodding in the direction Arzon had flown with Galadria. The pair were still visible, but only just . . .
"Not if I can help it!" retorted Cravex, assuming his Phylot form and flying after Galadria and Arzon. He was swiftly followed by Mortdredd, who boarded the Sky-Claw and took to the air in hot pursuit, smiling to himself as he did so; if he succeeded in bringing down Arzon and Galadria, Darkstorm was sure to reward him handsomely. Then again, Mortdredd was blindly loyal to Darkstorm and would have gone after the two Spectral Knights anyway if he thought doing so would please his leader . . . With slow deliberation, he pressed a button on the Sky-Claw's control panel; seconds later, a large winged creature materialised from the vehicle and took off after Galadria and Arzon.
But Mortdredd's moment of triumph was not to be; before the creature could attack, it was hit by two balls of blue fire and vanished instantly. Glancing in the direction the fire had come from, Mortdredd saw Cryotek and Feryl gaining on him in the hover-pods. As the two Spectral Knights drew level with each other, Cryotek flashed a quick thumbs-up signal to Feryl. "You take this toady," he told the younger knight. "I'll deal with Cravex!"
Feryl did not need telling twice. He leapt from the hover-pod onto the Sky-Claw, intent on bringing the vehicle down before Mortdredd could present too much of a problem. Mortdredd, meanwhile, seemed unaware that he had picked up a passenger as he steered the vehicle in the direction Arzon had flown with Galadria. It was what Feryl had hoped would happen and, before Mortdredd realised what was happening, he whipped out his dagger and focused its magical energy in a bid to disrupt the vehicle's circuits and bring it down.
It did not take long for Mortdredd to realise something was wrong. Something was sending the Sky-Claw out of control - the vehicle was in danger of crashing. And, no matter how hard he pulled back, he could not regain control. The source of the problem became clear when he glanced round and saw Feryl directly behind him, the latter's dagger glowing with magical energy, energy which was disrupting the Sky-Claw's circuits . . .
"AAAAHHHHHH! Get away from there!" Mortdredd yelled as he realised what Feryl was trying to do.
But Feryl's only response was to shoot Mortdredd a triumphant smile. "You're going down, Mortdredd!" he told his enemy.
"Oh no, Feryl!" Mortdredd retorted, still struggling to regain control. "You're the one who's going down!"
"Not if I can help it!" Feryl raised his glowing dagger above his head, then brought it down on the body of the Sky-Claw. Just as he had hoped, this disrupted the vehicle's circuits to the point where it was impossible for Mortdredd to maintain control, sending the craft on a collision course with the ground. Seconds before the inevitable happened, Feryl dived off the Sky-Claw, assuming his Wolf form as he did so, taking advantage of the creature's agility to land harmlessly on the ground.
Suppressing a wolfish grin as the Sky-Claw was brought down, Feryl hurried off to reinforce the rest of the Spectral Knights. There was little time to spare - somehow, the Spectral Knights had to not only defeat the Darkling Lords but also convince the Fellowship of the folly of trusting Darkstorm. Only then would Galadria and her child finally be safe from them . . .
"Good work, Feryl," Ectar said to the young knight as the latter reverted to human form. "But where's Cryotek?"
"Chasing after Cravex," Feryl replied grimly. He and Ectar were backed against each other, their weapons drawn ready for action, as were Leoric and Witterquick. The four knights were surrounded by members of the Fellowship, all of whom had their hoods pulled up and were chanting in unison. None of the Spectral Knights wanted to harm any of the Fellowship members, but, unless they could convince them of Darkstorm's evil . . .
Leoric raised his Power Staff. "People of the Fellowship!" he declared. "You cannot trust Darkstorm! He is using you for his own ends!"
"Prove it!" Darkstorm shot back. This had been his plan all along - to have the Fellowship capture Galadria so he could use her as bait in a trap for her fellow Spectral Knights. And Darkstorm was never one to pass up a chance to exploit human weaknesses; he was a master at manipulating people in order to achieve his goal, namely control of the Magical Light. Unfortunately, his plans never seemed to work out. Well, not this time . . .
Before anyone could stop him, he whipped out his Power Staff and began chanting the words which activated it:
"By what creeps, what crawls, by what does not
Let all that grows recede and rot!"
Darkstorm's Demon of Decay emerged from its Staff and flew towards Leoric, its sole purpose to envelope the Spectral Knight and cause him to age rapidly. Leoric, who knew from past experience what the creature was capable of, quickly leapt out of the way, assuming his Lion form as he did so, and knocked Darkstorm off his feet. Deprived of its intended target, the Demon promptly turned on a random member of the crowd, the girl who had helped the Spectral Knights escape.
"Fania!" a woman cried out in horror as the Demon began to wrap its wings around the girl.
But, before the creature could do its deadly work, a double volley of energy blasts blew it to pieces, leaving the girl called Fania blinking in confusion but completely unharmed. Everyone in the crowd looked up to see Galadria and Cryotek flying overhead in the hover-pods, with Arzon following close behind in his Eagle form. "Need any help?" Cryotek called as he and Galadria drew level with their fellow Spectral Knights.
Leoric swiftly reverted to his human form but kept a close eye on Darkstorm in case the Darkling Lord tried something. "Now do you see?" he asked the Fellowship. "The woman you condemned as carrying the spawn of evil just saved one of you - and from the power of Darkstorm's Staff!" Glancing at the Fellowship, he could see expressions of doubt on several of their faces; clearly, Galadria and Cryotek's actions had given them something to think about.
At length, Sulos stepped forward and stood face-to-face with Darkstorm. "Darkstorm," he said levelly, drawing himself up to his full height, "you came to us claiming you could protect us from a dangerous enemy. But I now see that the enemy is you . . ." He paused. "You will take your knights and leave this place!"
"And what if I were to refuse?" Darkstorm was determined to make it clear he wasn't beaten yet.
"Then we will fight you!" Sulos declared. "All of us! And we will make sure you never desecrate our territory ever again!" And, to show that he meant business, he nodded towards his people, several of whom whipped out weapons they had concealed under their robes. Blades glinted in the light of the Three Suns as the Fellowship started to advance on the Darkling Lords . . . Darkstorm quickly realised that his knights were outnumbered; they wouldn't stand a chance against so many, even with their magical abilities. Not for the first time, he was forced into an undignified retreat, his plans to rid himself of the Spectral Knights thwarted. And, as the Darkling Lords disappeared over the horizon, his parting words were:
"You win this round, Spectral Knights! But don't think you've won the war!"