For a moment, it had seemed that nothing would be able to drag her attention way from the prone Cavalier, but Diana noticed movement out of the corner of her eye. At the same instant, she heard a gasp of horror from Hank.
She jerked her head up and round to see the Lich King pushed itself slowly out of its Sarcophagus. When it stood to its full height, it towered over the Mummies in its entourage, and its brittle, shabby clothes hung loosely around its skeletal form and on its head the grown seemed to glow with a light of its own. In one hand it held a long and slender black rod with a white tip that was almost as tall as it was.
Neither Hank nor Diana moved, both frozen with dread. They stayed as still as they could, peeping over the partition wall that hid them. She had never been so grateful for cover before.
The creature in front of them radiated power and majesty, and Diana was overcome by something akin to despair. They had no idea how to defeat it, or how to help their friends. It seemed impossible.
Then an unfamiliar anger burned inside the Acrobat. This wasn't how it was going to end! They had survived impossible adventures before, and defeated things far more powerful that this Lich King! They'd taken on Venger any number of times and won, and a Lich had less power than the Arch-Mage!
Diana shivered as her fear changed to confidence. She drew a deep breath and the dry, dusty air almost making her cough.
It had to have a weakness! And they were going to find it and rescue their friends. Even the naked ones. She shivered again, trying to think about something else.
The Lich stepped forward, closer to the prone Cavalier. As it moved, three of the Mummies beside the Sarcophagus stepped forward as well. These three seemed to be less shambling and thoughtless as the ones she had seen earlier.
'What are they?' she whispered to the Ranger.
'Must be its servants or something,' Hank whispered in reply.
'Or it's fan club!' she muttered without thinking.
Hank blinked at her in surprise, taken aback by her flippant answer, but only for a moment. Then he grinned back, maybe seeing the new confidence in her eyes.
'Whatever they are,' he said, 'we're going to have to do something about them. And quickly! You got any suggestions?'
Diana shook her head, but there was a nagging feeling in the back of her mind that she did know something, something someone had said…
As she glanced round t o Hank, something caught her attention, and she looked back to the Lich King. It seemed to be staring at her! Directly at her. She stopped dead still, looking back at it, hoping that she was wrong.
It kept staring.
She hadn't been imagining things. It had definitely seen her and Hank.
The Acrobat almost let go of the wall there and then, ready to jump down and run as fast as she could. But none of them made any sort of threatening move towards them. None of them, bar the Lich King itself, even acknowledged their existence.
It was like they didn't care.
And after chasing them all around the city trying to catch them… why didn't they care now? A sudden thought came to back her. Why hadn't they tried to catch her before this? Unconscious, helpless, she should have been a simple target. Why hadn't they tried to find her?
'Have you seen what I've seen?' she whispered.
'Yeah,' Hank whispered back. 'Only one option, we've got to get out of here.'
'Wait,' she said suddenly. 'Just a moment. Just wait.' She glanced at Hank, who shrugged back at her. 'They don't seem to care,' she whispered to him.
'No, they don't, do they,' replied Hank thoughtfully. 'They don't care about us.'
'They don't care about us… now.'
'What do you mean?'
Diana wasn't sure, but the first glimmer of understanding had started in the back of her mind. She held up her hand to forestall any more questions for the moment.
'Maybe… maybe they only needed four of us,' she said. 'And maybe it's so arrogant that it doesn't see us as a threat. We don't look like that much of a threat!'
'Maybe is right,' murmured Hank. 'That's a big assumption to base any plan on!'
Ahead of them, the Lich King was still standing, preparing his tools. The Mummies close by hadn't moved, even though this short conversation. They really didn't care less what she and Hank did.
'It's the only explanation,' she said. 'Just look at them!'
Then, without warning, the Lich King lifted its rod. And it roared.
His army did the same and the whole Pyramid filled with a low rumble of sound.
Diana cowered down against the wooden wall, covering her ears as best she could, as Hank did the same. She could feel the noise of the Lick King reverberating through her, making her bones shake and her head feel like it was going to explode.
She had never heard anything like it before, a noise so deep and loud and piercing that it made her body ring with agony. Tears started in her eyes from the pain in her skull.
Just when she though the pain would last forever, the volume died away and the roaring stopped.
For a few seconds, neither Diana nor Hank could move. Like aftershocks from an earthquake, there were still tremors though her body and she felt like she would never be able to move again.
In those few seconds, despair almost took hold of her again. Such a show of raw power was unbelievable! It seemed like there was nothing they could do.
Turning to Hank, she saw a stern expression on his face.
'We're gonna call it's bluff!' he said in a decisive tone.
'I'm going to go and distract them,' he said firmly. Diana opened her mouth to argue, but she was too slow. 'You have to get to the others, Sheila and Presto, and Bobby. Wake them up, especially Presto. We need magic!'
'You're going to distract them?' she managed incredulously. 'That's insane! There are hundreds of them! And you're just going to walk up and fire arrows at them?'
There was a whisper of something, a memory perhaps, in the back of her mind. She knew something. Or she should have known something, anyway, some other way to deal with Mummies, but she was distracted by Hank.
'They don't see us as a threat,' he said. 'Well, let's take advantage of that and show them we want all our friends back. And in one piece as well!'
There was an anxious pause, and Hank seemed to be thinking the same thing as she was, though he probably wasn't as embarrassed about it.
'W-what about Eric,' she muttered, feeling herself go slightly red once again.
'Nothing's going to happen to him,' said Hank firmly. 'He'll be fine.'
As he said the last word, there was another rumble, and a bright tongue of flame leaped out from beside the Lich King. Diana saw the fire rise from a small golden censer that sat nearby. It flickered with orange, and seemed to send a warm but out-of-place glow around the interior. And it seemed to Diana that every single one of the Mummies in the room moved slightly backwards with one accord, away from the source of the fire. Something someone said…
Hank turned to her, and gripped her arm tightly and disrupting her train of thought.
'Get to the others,' he said. 'Wake them up as fast as you can.'
They looked each other in the eye, and for a moment Diana sensed the tremendous pain and worry that being the one in charge always brought. There was no doubt in her mind that the only thing that Hank wanted to do was rush to Sheila's side and make sure she was safe. But he couldn't. He was needed somewhere else. At the moment, going to Sheila was very low down on his list of priorities. And that clearly hurt.
'I'll get them,' she whispered, gripping his hand. 'I'll get all of them.'
Hank gave a slight nod, then turned back to face the arena. With a quick, fluid movement he wriggled over the wall and dropped down to the dry, dusty floor.
Diana's heart was thumping with the speed of a machine gun, but none of the Mummies seemed to bother about him, at least at the moment.
For the first time, she actually thought their plan might work.
Head held high, Hank strode through the throng of Mummies, who seemed to step back out of his way.
She could hardly take her eyes off him, but Diana knew she had a job to do. She had to get to the others. She had to get help.
After waiting for a few seconds to make sure that Hank was alright, Diana swung herself over the wall and dropped down to the floor, ready to spring out of the way of any Mummies. But none of them turned to her and she crept quietly along the edge of the interior, working her way towards the others.
As she moved Diana kept glancing round at Hank, just to make sure he was ok. The Mummies didn't seem to be bothering him, and he had walked all the way from the wall to before the altar by the time she had reached Presto, Bobby and Sheila.
She had crept forward as unobtrusively as possible, even though she still felt glaringly obvious. Presto, Sheila and Bobby were lying side by side, sitting propped up against the far wall. They looked as if they were just sleeping.
Diana stopped, putting her hand on the Magician's shoulder and gave him a shake, but she was more interested in Hank.
The Lich King took a few moments to react to the Ranger's presence.
'Mortal warrior!' it boomed, its voice echoing round the inside of the pyramid. 'Leave us!'
Hank didn't move. Diana was sure she could see him shaking, the unsteady light from the flame seemed to cast long shadows over his face and he held the Bow tightly against himself, as if it would stop the creature just by being there.
Slowly, the Lich King peered down at the Ranger, perhaps trying to see if there was anything to be afraid of.
'By who's power do you come here, and profane my Temple?' it asked. The white tip of the rod began to glow. Diana's heart sunk even further. This wasn't going to work. Why had she let Hank go through with this? Why hadn't she stopped him? This was madness!
Though Hank didn't reply, the Lich King seemed to nod, as if understanding something.
'So, you step forth as the City's Champion,' it said, with what sounded like a sneer in its voice. 'You dare to challenge me?'
It was impossible to guess what Hank was thinking, but Diana knew what she would be thinking, if it had been her.
There was a deep silence like she had never heard before, and the Lich King seemed to be waiting for an answer.
Diana shook Presto's shoulder again, but more half-heartedly. She was too busy staring at Hank.
Finally, the Ranger nodded.
The Lich-King seemed surprised, though it was difficult to tell exactly what it was thinking. But then Hank very slowly lifted his Bow and pulled an arrow. Its clear, golden light cast stark shadows on the walls, mingling with the light from the flaming censer and the green of the torches.
There was no laughter or mockery now. The Lich King growled.
'You have much strength,' it said. 'Enough to master your fear.'
'Release my friends,' said Hank. His voice shook.
'I must have them,' it replied with a hiss. 'I must have them. My four parts shall be of Youth, Purity, Magic and Valour. I must have them all.'
'Release them!' Hank's voice shook again, but more with power than fear. Again, the Lich King tipped forward, looking down on Hank.
'You fight for them? For their freedom? So be it!'
There came another roar, much like the one earlier, but not so deep or painful.
Though she didn't want to, Diana turned back to Presto, frantically shaking his shoulder. She could hear noises behind her, but she didn't dare to look round. For about a few seconds she shook his shoulder before he started to show any sign at all that he would wake up.
Then the Magician moaned slightly and tried to turn over as if to go back to sleep.
'C'mon, Presto!' she whispered, giving him another shake. 'C'mon! Wake up!'
'Uh,' he murmured.
'C'mon! Wake up, wake up!'
Diana frowned. This was taking too long for her liking. Still shaking Presto, the Acrobat turned back to glance at Hank. The Lich King loomed over him like a great tidal wave of grey, with magic glittering at the tips of his bony fingers and lights dancing around the ground. Hank fired more arrows, but they almost seemed to past straight through the Lich King. They needed something more, Hank couldn't stand up to him alone. She turned back to the Magician.
'Presto wake up! NOW!' she hissed at him. He twitched slightly, and Diana shook him harder.
'Uh! Di…ann… na?' he mumbled, his eyes fluttering.
She shook him harder, virtually shoving him back and forth, but she didn't dare try any harder, as she was afraid she might hit his head against the wall!
'WAKE UP!' she hissed in his ear, wishing she could shout, or tip cold water over him! 'We need your help! Wake up! WAKE UP!'
Much to her relief, Presto half-opened one bleary eye.
'Uh?' he said. 'Di-ana?'
'Get up! Get your Hat! There're Mummies. And a Lich! We need your help!'
Presto turned over groggily.
'Not me,' he murmured, closing his eyes again. 'Wake me when it's over.'
'Presto!' snapped Diana, shaking him again. 'Stop sleeping, you have to help me!'
She raised her hand to give him a good, hard slap across the face, but suddenly stopped.
There was that feeling again.
She didn't have to wake him up. She didn't have to ask him, as she already knew. He'd already told her. She just couldn't remember… It was so close she could almost feel the memory pushing itself against the front of her head.
It was infuriating.
She knew. It was all here. She didn't need anything else.
Someone had said it.
Presto had said it…
What was it? They had been all standing together. Presto had said something… Presto had said something to Eric…
'We'd better hope that it's "might",' said Eric, with a heavy sigh. 'We really don't want to meet anything like that! Not while the others are missing.'
Presto's lip curled up in distaste, but he nodded.
'Oh, relax guys!' said Eric suddenly, and in his best sarcastic voice. 'The best way to deal with the Undead is to get away from them as fast as possible!'
'Or cremate them,' added Presto.
Her breath caught. That was it. Presto hadn't been being sarcastic, he had really meant it. Fire! That was what they needed!
The whole realisation had only taken a fraction of a second. Diana whipped round to look at the Lich King as Hank struggled to stand up. There, just in front of the Lich, beside the altar (and Eric) was the censer, and the bright orange flame.
It was the only fire in the whole area, the rest of the torches had the eerie green glow to them. The Mummies had all seemed afraid of it when it was lit.
She was up in a moment, reaching for her Javelin and letting it extend. She didn't stop to let herself wonder if she was wrong. She was right.
Fire was the answer. Maybe it wouldn't do much harm to the King itself, but it would certainly make those Mummies think twice about attacking; they were as dry and dusty as paper.
Diana dived forward, swinging her weapon round as she moved. The Javelin connected with the censer giving a resounding clang like a gong. The whole thing toppled over, spreading the red-hot coals over the floor.
The Acrobat rolled past and sprang up as faster as she could. She caught a momentary glimpse of the Lich King glaring at her, its eyes were white dots in the sockets of the skull. Even if she had wanted to, Diana had too much momentum to stop. Instead, using the end of the Javelin, Diana flicked one of the red-hot embers up, as if it were a hockey puck, and sent it flying towards the nearest Mummy.
It was dead on target.
But much to her surprise, the smouldering coal punched a hole straight through the chest of the Mummy. Flames burst across it, and as it flailed its arms the flames seemed to leap across to the others of its kind standing close by.
Diana didn't watch; she flicked another coal across the cave, sending more fire with it. Flames leaped from Mummy to Mummy, sending a plume of acrid smoke up into the air.
There came a deep roar that almost knocked her off her feet. She staggered as pain crashed through her body in a way she could never have imagined.
'Get down,' bellowed Hank from far away. 'Diana! Get down!
But she couldn't move, she seemed to be pinned in the air like a fly in amber, frozen for all time. She couldn't even see what was happening. Tears were squeezed from her eyes, and she couldn't breathe. She felt blood thudding in her ears and her heart pounded so hard she thought that it might explode.
The roaring stopped abruptly, and Diana toppled to the floor, gasping for breath, her chest aching. She could hear the distinctive whoosh of Hank's energy arrows, but didn't have the strength to turn round. It was all she could do to keep swallowing air. But fortunately the pain subsided to manageable levels within a few seconds, and she looked up.
The cavern was so filled with smoke it was a wonder any of them could breathe at all! The ground as covered in streaks of grey ash, but there were virtually no Mummies anywhere; the last few were at the back, smouldering but not moving.
Closer to where she sat, the Lich King and Hank were still fighting. They seemed to have reached some sort of stalemate; Hank couldn't destroy it with his arrows he could only slow it down, but the Lich King couldn't stop Hank from firing either, the loss of its army seemed to have drained some of its power. But that situation was not going to last forever. Hank was going to get tired eventually, probably sooner rather than later.
She had to do something to help.
Her gaze fell on the glowing hot embers that lay close beside her. It had worked once, there was no reason why it shouldn't work again! Even if fire didn't kill it, it would at least buy Hank a little time.
The Acrobat pushed herself up off the ground once again as fast as she could, moving forward to get herself closer to the coals at the same time. For all she knew the Lich King would be able to let about yet another roar, and she didn't know if her body could stand that again.
As before, she pushed the end of her Javelin under an ember and flicked it up, on target, straight towards the Lich King. It struck just below its shoulder, and the thin layer of shabby clothes burst suddenly into flame.
It roared once more, but this time the sound had none of the power of before. It was angry!
She saw a rain of golden arrows fly past. Each time one hit, the Lich King staggered back, the flames rushing all over its body. There was a strong smell of hot metal and burning cloth.
More arrows slammed into it and the creature began to fall backwards. As it fell there was one last, muffled roar, then a huge plume of smoke and dust billowed up.
The crown hit the ground with a clang, and then there was silence.
After a few seconds, the Ranger, flopped backwards, exhausted, to the ground, and Diana too breathed a sigh of relief. As she looked up, though there was still a haze of smoke, she realised that she could see the stars. The whole Pyramid had disappeared, it had just vanished and there was mo sign that it had ever been there.
Hank and Diana looked at each other through the wisps of drifting smoke. Hank gave her a tired but proud smile.
'That was fantastic, Diana!' he said.
She grinned, but didn't reply. Hank was too busy looking past her to where Sheila and Presto and Bobby were lying. Then there was a frantic bleat from close by, and Uni came galloping towards Bobby.
Just behind the Ranger, Diana could see Eric, lying serenely on the altar, his face more peaceful than she had ever seen. For a moment she didn't dare take her eyes off his face. He was still naked, she knew, and the thought made her blush once again. Fortunately, Hank stood up, and started over to the others by the wall, and Diana followed, glad of the activity.
The Ranger knelt down beside Sheila, taking her hand very gently. She shifted slightly in her sleep, and gave a tiny smile.
'Do you think she's gonna be ok?' Hank asked.
Diana shrugged, and opened her mouth to tell him what had happened with Presto, when there was a new voice beside them.
'Congratulations my children,' said Dungeonmaster, appearing from behind the Sarcophagus.
'Dungeonmaster!' said Diana and Hank together.
The old man gave a slow bow, and smiled at the two Young Ones. His gaze fell on their immobile companions.
'Do not worry, all is well with your friends,' their Guide said. 'They sleep for now but they will, very soon, recover.'
Dungeonmaster turned to Diana and gave her a bow.
'And my congratulations to you, Acrobat, on your courage, skill and ingenuity.'
A wide smile spread over her face as she blushed yet again, pleased at the praise from their Guide.
'Yeah, Diana, whatever made you think of fire?' asked Hank.
'Just a chance remark,' she replied with a shrug. 'I'll have to thank Presto later!'
She glanced down at the sleeping form of the Magician as he sat propped up against the wall, his Hat askew and a tranquil expression on his face. Diana gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder and he smiled in his sleep.
'But what about the Lich King?' asked Hank. 'Where did it come from? Why did it need us? And what for?'
'This creature has slept in this necropolis for a thousand years,' said Dungeonmaster slowly. 'It's origin is shrouded in legend, and it was a fearsome enemy of the Realm, even I could not had guessed that such a creature had risen in this city. But now Kish may sleep in peace. You have done much more than you realise in setting these spirits free from evil.'
There were many questions still unanswered, but Dungeonmaster didn't seem interested in telling them any more; a situation that she had noticed happening more and more recently. But she still wanted to know more, and the mention of evil had reminded her of an important question.
'But what about those statues of Venger?' she asked suddenly. 'Why were they broken and defaced?'
The Guide gave her a curious look, and frowned so much that she almost regretted asking.
'Not all that is evil align themselves with Venger,' said Dungeonmaster sombrely. 'And you would do well to remember that, my children.'
Hank and Diana looked at each other, but by the time they looked back their Guide had gone.
'That's just typical!' said Diana with a huff. 'He's getting worse! He's…'
She checked herself, and didn't continue with the diatribe that she could have said; she was beginning to sound more like Eric than she was comfortable with.
'Yeah!' said Hank. 'He was never that good at answering questions before!'
'And what are we gonna do with them?' she asked, jerking her thumb at their sleeping friends. 'He didn't really give us an answer.'
'Guess we'll just have to let 'em sleep it off!'
In the silence that followed, both Hank and Diana looked across to the Cavalier as he lay. Her blushing seemed to have stopped, and she was able to think more rationally about Eric. At least at the moment.
'I suppose you'd better go cover him up, he might get cold,' said Diana.
Hank grinned at her.
'I can't even start to think about what he's going to say when he finds out what happened to him.'
Diana grinned back. If any of the others woke before he did, he was going to get the teasing of a lifetime! Especially if it was Bobby!
'Eric's not gonna be very pleased.' They looked at each other and the grins turned to giggles.
'But at least he got to sleep through the danger!' added Hank.
'Trust our Cavalier to get himself into this!' said Diana through the laughter. 'Is there anyone else who could attract so much trouble?'
Still laughing, Hank gathered up Eric's cape from close by and went over to cover the sleeping Cavalier.
Settling back comfortable to wait as he friends recovered, Diana watched Hank draped the cape over Eric. She gave a wicked smile. She was never going to let him hear the end of this one! Not for a long, long time!
The white Rocs kinda appeared by accident, but their description and the bad omen they portend come from the Monstrous Manual.
Also the design of this story, with its low level house was inspired by the X-Box game "Gauntlet – Dark Legacy", especially the desert level.
Once apon a time, a long, long, LONG time ago, I had a dream which involved part of this story, where Diana and Eric are forced to hide in the old house and then Eric is overwhelmed by the Mummies (I had in fact been playing Gauntlet: Dark Legacy a little bit TOO much, I think and it had leaked into my dreams!). For a long time I was going to use it in the Season 3 finale, but that turned out to be set in a different sort of place, so this was shunted backwards. But I am very pleased it has finally found a good use.
And finally – I'm sorry for the delay in finishing this one off - I have found it really hard going in places, especially getting it to the end, and I'm relieved it's over!
Next : Serendipity - Part I
The Young Ones travel to the sacred Monastery at Esagil for a very special party and the chance to relax for a while in safety. But as always, it doesn't go quite as planned.