Penelope stared at herself in the mirror.
Wow, was all she could think.
She had always been in shape before, thanks to being a tomboy that loved to keep up with the guys. But this was different. She twisted sideways, looking over her shoulder to admire the firm lines of her butt and legs. After weeks of training with Gryffon, her body had the tone of a world class athlete.
The skirt and heels didnít hurt.
"Thisíll get his attention", she said, smoothing a wrinkle in the skirt. "Iím sure they didnít dress like this in his..."
She froze, back to staring at herself in the mirror. She finally realized what she was wearing. High heels, sheer black stockings, tight skirt. A velvet blouse that hugged her in all the right places. Her hair flowing loose, let free from its usual ponytail. Makeup!
"Oh, so what", she said. She rooted through her jewelry box looking for her jade earrings. "Just because I get a little dressed doesnít mean itís a date or anything."
She was pinning the earrings in place when she caught a whiff of the perfume on the inside of her wrists.
"Passion", she whispered, just like those anorexic models in the commercial. "By Calvin Klein." Ohmigod.
She fell back onto the bed, staring at the ceiling.
"This canít be a date. Heís...heís like five hundred years old."
A distant voice registered in the back of her mind. "But those shoulders", said the voice. "What about those gorgeous shoulders?" Penelope squeezed her eyes shut. "I donít care. Iím not dat..."
"And those hands!" said the Penelope voice. "So strong, so soft."
"Yes", agreed Penelope, "he does have nice-"
"Oooh, the butt. Donít you just love the way-"
"Stop it", said Penelope, bolting off the bed. "This is not a date!"
She reached for the phone on the nightstand. "Iíll just call and say Iím not feeling well." Then she remembered he did not have a phone. "Jesus, I canít date a guy that doesnít even have a phone."
She walked out of the bedroom. "Fine. Iíll just make sure he understands itís just a mov-"
Someone grabbed her up from behind, pinning her arms to her sides.
"Gotcha", growled a male voice.
He was strong, whoever he was. Penelope fought to breathe but the man was squeezing her chest tight. She was about to scream out what little breath she had when the words Gryffon drummed into her during their sessions pushed past her panic.
You are the weapon. The true blood of a Knight.
Stamping her foot down hard, she drove the heel of her shoe into the attackerís toes. The man screamed in pain and let her go. Penelope stepped out of his grasp and spun around.
The ears, Gryffon always said. The most vulnerable.
Penelope aimed an open palm blow at the manís right ear.
"Pen", came a shout behind her, "no!"
At the last moment, Penelope recognized the man hopping on one foot in front of her. She altered her aim enough to spare his ear, catching him on the jaw instead. The blow still sent him crashing to the floor.
Laurie ran over to Billy. "Are you crazy?" she yelled up at Penelope.
"Oh god, Iím so sorry. Laurie, I didnít know...Here, let me help."
They tried to lift Billy but he was too heavy for just the two of them.
"Goddamn, Pen", said Laurie, letting her boyfriendís arm fall back to the floor with a thump, "what did you hit him with?"
"I didnít mean..." Penelope knelt beside Billy and cradled his head in her lap. She gently slapped his cheeks, trying to wake him.
Billyís eyes fluttered open. For a second, he appeared to focus on her face but then his eyes rolled up into his head. A thin rivulet of spit wormed its way down his chin. He was moaning something neither girl could understand.
"Maybe we should call an ambulance", said Penelope, setting Billyís head back onto the floor before his drool dripped onto her clothes. She felt miserable for hitting him but not miserable enough to ruin a twenty-dollar skirt.
"Nah", said Laurie. "Iíve seen him like this before. In the Wake Forest game last year, when he ran into the goalpost. Heíll be alright in a couple of minutes."
There was a knock on the door.
"Iíll tell you this", said Laurie, heading to the door, "if that lazy bastard thinks heís not taking me out now, he better think-"
She opened the door.
"Wow", said Laurie.
"Hello miss", said Gryffon. "Iím looking for Penelope."
When she heard Gryffonís voice, Penelope snapped to her feet. In all the excitement she had forgotten about their date...uh, night out.
Hi", she said, edging past her gaping roommate. "I just need a few minutes. We got a slight problem and..."
Gryffon stood in the hallway, almost filling the entire doorframe. He was dressed in a midnight black tuxedo and holding a bouquet of flaming red roses in each arm. He looked like something off the cover of a romance novel.
"Wow", said Penelope.
"Perhaps I can help", said Gryffon.
"Help?" The women looked at each other. "With what?"
"Oh, thereís no problem", said Penelope.
"No problem at all", Laurie agreed.
Gryffon shrugged. He nodded at the room behind the two women. "Is he well?"
The girls turned around. Billy had gotten to his feet, leaning on a chair for support. He saw the three of them standing by the door. He took a deep breath and stepped away from the chair. He gave them a weak wave of his hand. "Iím okay", he said, smiling. "No problem."
He crashed face first onto the couch.
"We should go", said Penelope.
"Are you sure?" asked Gryffon. "That man looks-"
"Go, go", said Laurie. She took both bouquets from Gryffon. "Have a good time." She pushed them through the door.
"I want every last detail", she whispered into Penelopeís ear just before she shut the door.
"Gryffon", asked Penelope as they headed towards the movie house, "what are we doing?"
"Walking", he answered.
"No, I mean what are we doing? You and I?"
Gryffon stopped. Penelope stopped beside him. They faced each other under the streetlight.
"What are we doing?" said Gryffon. "Is that what you mean?"
"Yes, exactly", she replied.
"Ummm...And walking is not the correct answer?"
"No, I mean...Look at me. How do I look?"
"Of course the truth", said Penelope. "Unless you think my legs are too skinny or something like that."
"The truth then", said Gryffon. "You are the most beautiful women I have ever seen."
"I am? Really? Wait, see thatís what I mean. What are we doing? Going to a movie, thatís what. And look how Iím dressed. And you. Thatís a Migliani tux, for godís sake."
The ranger looked down at his clothes. "Is this not proper? The shopkeeper assured me it was perfect."
"Shopkeeper? Where did you tell him you were going?"
Gryffon frowned. "Three weddings and a funeral. Just like you said."
"Three wed...?" Penelope burst out laughing. "Gryffon, thatís the name of the movie."
Gryffonís frown deepened. "And this is not to your liking?"
Penelope took his arm and started walking. "No, Sir Gryffon", she giggled, "you look wonderful. Thatís the problem."
The thoroughly confused look on his face made her start laughing again.
After the movie, they stopped at the local coffeehouse. Neither noticed all the stares they were getting.
"I started reading another of the Tales this morning", said Penelope. "I think compassion was a lot different in your day."
"Different?" said Gryffon. He took a bite of his donut. "The virtues havenít changed. Only the way people honor them. There was a time when..." He stopped because she was giggling again.
"Iím sorry", said Penelope, covering her mouth. "Itís just hard to take you seriously when your chin is covered in powdered sugar."
She grabbed his arm as he lifted it to his face. "Not on the tux", she said, handing him a napkin.
"Tell me the story", he said, wiping his mouth. "Then we can talk of how you think compassion has been altered."
"Donít you remember it. You were there."
For the briefest of moments he avoided her eyes. When he did look up, he looked too calm, too comfortable. His eyes had lost that wariness, as if he worried about putting her at ease. She knew him well enough to know he only did that when he was hiding something.
"It was a long time ago", he said.
Penelope decided to play along. "Alright. Well, it starts in the city of Nujelím, just after..."
It was calm all around the beach. The waves splashed gently against the shore and a lone seagull sang his tale of the sea. Wildboy kept vigilance over the shore of Nujelím. It was after the ball and there was a slight chill in the air and a quiet breeze that ruffled Wildboyís cape. The lonesome knight gazed at the openness of the sea and let his mind play tug-of-war with his emotions. On one side was the all-familiar numbness that comes with being a fighter, yet on the other side was something completely new...Caring. Or was it more? He could not tell. Of course Wildboy knew caring, in fact, he would say he knew love. For he loved his fellow Sunset Knights. Sam, for her leadership qualities. He was thankful he had the opportunity to clear her of the charge of murder. Billbo, for his honesty and his willingness to help. No matter what, he knew he could count on this knight for help. Gryffon, for his hunger and humor, which both never seemed to run dry. And all the other knights for their devotion to duty and their undying loyalty. He hopes that when the time comes his loyalty would be as strong. Yet his thoughts tonight only lay on one knight.
"Enough of this, these are thoughts better suited for my chambers. I have..."
"An Ex Por"
Wildboy knew that ancient tongue for he spoke it himself. But before he could react, the faint blue gleam of a magical blanket wrapped itself upon him, holding him in place. Wildboy let out a mental scream for letting himself be caught off guard. As he flexed his arms to break free of the magical grasp, a numbing sensation followed by extreme pain forced him to abandon his attempts. A familiar voice whispered in his ear.
"I told you I would find you again, and now that time has come. Although I wasnít invited to that little shin dig, I knew the Sunset Knights were."
"You were lucky to escape me once, donít tempt fate...Cragan" said Wildboy through clenched teeth.
"Luck? You fool, why do you think I never travel alone. You humiliated me once, I will not let you do it again."
Then next thing Wildboy heard was metal slamming against his head. A trickle of blood seeped into his mouth and he could taste its saltiness. Darkness began to creep into the corners of his vision. As he fought to stay awake, he saw Cragan standing with two unknown men. One was well built with a goatee. His battle scared armor was custom built to suit his form, and he held his weapon as though well trained in its use. The other was a balding man. His face ravaged with age. He had a long unkempt beard and a tattered robe. His hands were that of a scholar, but his eyes had a mystic stare to them, as if he could see the unseen. The laughter coming from the men was the sense Wildboy faced. Then, nothing but blackness.
"Hail all, whereís the...?" Gryffon announced as he walked through the castle doors. He stopped in mid stride as he noticed the castle seemed empty. He looked around cautiously wondering that maybe he had the day wrong. Walking slowly toward the dining hall, Gryffon caught a flicker of light out of the corner of his eye, then a dozen plus men and women seemed to appear out of no where.
"SURPRISE! AND HAPPY SUMMER SOL..." but before the knights could finish their greeting Gryffon was scaling the nearest wall hoping to be able to reach the nearest window.
"Whoa, slow down there ranger," said Xeep grabbing onto the back of Gryffonís boot. "You think you could reach that window, itís 15 feet to the sill"
"Damn you Ar-Kane. Who put you up to this, Wildboy?" Gryffon gasped trying to catch his breath. "What ya tryin to do give me a heart attack?"
"Actually, this was my idea" Samantha said as she worked her way to the front of the crowd. "If I had known you were going to react like that I would have never suggested it. I figured, seeing how you got us started in celebrating Summer Solstice you wouldnít mind a surprise. And as far as Wildboy, none of us have seen him for about a day and a half now. We thought he would be arriving with you, you know how he hates to miss a party. I am sure he will show up before the ale is gone. Come I think you were going to mention...food was it?" Smiling, Sam led the nights into the dining hall.
In the center of the dining hall was a great oak table built by the tree elves of Fire Island. It was given to the Sunset Knights for helping rid their temple of the evil Daemon Boralic. It was a heroic day followed by a great feast given by the elves. Ever since that day the Knights have eaten off this table. And because of its solid construction will for many more seasons. Blue and gold tapestries hung the length of the great table. Behind the head of the table contained a tapestry of Sunset Knights Code-of-Arms. The north side of the dining hall seated a table of fine foods. There were breads from four different cities. The wine and ale were brought in from Serpentís Hold, were travelers and traders can always be found from all across the land and seas. There was Yew Stew, and Skara Brae yams. In the center of the table placed on a bed of lettuce was a boar roasted to perfection. Off on the corner of the table was Billboís attempt at a Papua Pizza.
As the knights positioned themselves around the table and prepared for the toast they offer at every solstice, they noticed that one chair still remained empty. Their attention was quickly drawn away when Sam tapped the side of her fine crystal goblet with a polished silver fork.
"It is the season for giving" Sam began. "For giving thanks for the change of the season and the end of planting crops. For giving back to our world that which it has given us. It is also a time for rejoice and festivities" At this point there would normally be hollering and yelling, mostly started by Wildboy. A warning stare would soon follow from Gryffon, who took all the Solstices seriously. Today, however, there was silence.
"The Solstices are a time to remember our roots and a time for looking to our futures. Silently we will all give our personal thanks before our feast." With that the knights bowed their heads and gave their private thanks.
After they gave their thanks they began to eat. The food was passed around quickly and eaten even quicker. Everyone got up for seconds, and some for thirds. The only thing that seemed to stay untouched was the Papua Pizza. Everyone was hoping Billbo didnít notice, but no such luck.
"Hey save room for my pizza" Billbo announced, "It is rather good, I cooked it myself" Azreal let out a short groan, but caught himself before anyone noticed.
"Iíll hafe some, ofer here Billfo" Gryffon said thorough a mouthful of food. "plafe it right neft to the pig"
"That boy will eat anything" Xeep said leaning towards Azreal.
"Heís better then having a dog" answered Kevlar overhearing the conversation. With that all three started to snicker.
When the dinner was done and all the knights could barely move the entertainment moved to the throne room of the castle. This room was the most familiar, to all the Sunset Knights. This is where all business was handled. The guild stone lay quietly in the corner of the room shining of a mystical light, as if it were blessed by the fallen knights of the past. A band hired from Lord Britishís Conservatory of Music, The Majestic Bandoleers, set up in the south east corner of the room. One of the main reasons the Sunset Knights hired this band, which was often, was because of the ballad created about them. As soon as the Knights entered the throne room the ballad was played.
"A legend is told
That is true and bold
Of the men and women of
The Sunset Knights"
"People would come
In their hearts they would hum,
By their sides
We would join the fight"
"And many would say
Till this very day
And no one
Would argue the fact"
"They are led by a queen
As everyoneís seen
Who always did seem
To know how to act"
"Evil will be rid
No matter how well hid
If it is close
There will be a fight"
"With all our hopes and prayers
We thank the evil slayers
May God bless all
"...KNIGHTS!" the crowd yelled. Everyone enjoyed the ballad immensely and showed their appreciation with their cheering and whistling. The band changed tempo and moved into more appropriate music for a dance. Samantha and Sargon took to the cue with perfect precision and began dancing. The rest of the knights took notice and paired up. Billbo and James were the only two left without a partner. The two looked at each other for a moment, then with a shrug of the shoulders, joined in with the rest of the guild. When the other members noticed the couple another cheer went out. Billbo and James stopped, took a bow, and continued on with their dance.
Soon the celebration pushed the early morning hours and the crowd began to thin. Samantha and Sargon took up their positions by the door to see the knights and their guests out. Thanking them for coming and wishing them a safe journey home. On the back of everyoneís mind, as the evening came to a close, was where is Wildboy.
The stone floor felt cold to his face. Wildboy slowly lifted his head only to feel a sharp pain stabbing him in the back of his skull. His hair was matted down and one of his eyes was sealed shut with dried blood. Wildboy reached up to feel the back of his head when he noticed his hand weighed more then it should. Immediately he spotted the shackles wrapped around his wrist. Instantly, all his combat senses came to full alertness. Wildboy jumped to his feet and tripped over the chains connected to his ankles. He realized all his extremities were shackled. After Wildboyís eyes adjusted to the darkness, his surroundings became clearer to him.
The cell was a twelve by twelve room. A small, bared window was on the east wall letting in the moonlight. On the opposite wall was a large wooden door with a sliding eye slit. There was a pile of straw in the corner of the room. The air had a musty sent as if a decaying body was once the sole resident here. The chains that held Wildboyís arms and legs were chained securely to the east wall, two feet below the window. The memories of the events that brought Wildboy to this desolate place came rushing back to him. He could feel his anger boiling within him as the need for vengeance coursing through his vanes. Wildboy began tugging at the chains that bound him to the wall.
I have to get out of here; these walls seem to close in on themselves.
With that thought Wildboy began to pull with more vigor. The metals chains began to clatter against the wall and themselves. A light appeared behind him and splashed against the wall. Wildboy quickly turned to face the light, only to catch the eye slit on the door close.
Well, they know I am awake, what happens now.
As if to answer his thought the door opened and light from the torches in the opposite hall came flooding into the room. Three dark shadows stood in the doorway. As Wildboyís eyes adjusted to the newfound light he recognized the man in the center.
"CRAGAN!" he said as he charged the door. Wildboy got to about three feet of the door before the chains reached their end. His arms snapped back from the force of his charge. Pulling taught against his chains, Wildboy leaned as close as he could to Cragan.
"You do realize you will die for this, donít you?" Wildboy said through clenched teeth. "I will not let a single one of you live for this." He added after noticing the other two men.
Even having him chained, Cragan couldnít help but shiver at the man that stood across from him. The other two just snickered. Cragan knew this mans strength and cunning. He would have to keep a close eye on this one. For the first time, after looking into this manís eyes again, did Cragan think that maybe the money wasnít really worth this.
"It seems to me, my friend, that you over estimate you situation. Letí s not forget who is in chains here. You see, you arenít making a lot of friends here. I was offered a lot more money for this job, but when I found out you were the target...I told them it wasnít necessary."
"So why ainít I dead yet then?"
"Donít rush you destiny, fool", spat Cragan, "Your time will come soon enough, after we find out what we need. Gargranon, bring him. Aristinoth prepare you magic, it might be needed."
"Well, shall we be doing this the easy way or the hard way?" Gargranon said to Wildboy as Cragan and Aristinoth disappeared down the poorly lit hallway.
"Donít be a daff, of course we are going to be doing this the hard way you oaf", replied Wildboy sarcastically. "Just give me a minute to compose myself."
Wildboy woke up with a shooting pain in his right eye. He opened his eyes slowly and realized that the right eye was swollen shut. Wildboy didní t become aware of the plate gauntlets on Gargranonís hands till it was too late. He took a quick glance around the room and noticed his surrounding have changed. He was no longer in the small, damp cell. Instead he found him self strapped at the arms and legs to a large table with thin silk rope. The ropes, which were deceivingly strong, were wrapped around two heavy cranks at either side of the table. On the walls of the room hung weapons and tools for various types of torture. Above the stretching rack was a pendulum with a razor sharp axe blade at its base.
"I have to learn to keep my mouth shut," Wildboy said aloud to himself. "Nothing good ever seems to come from my smart ass remarks."
"That is the smartest thing I have ever heard you say."
"Judging from the scars on you body it would appear that you are not stranger to pain", Cragan said as he emerged from a dark corner of the room. "Good, we wouldnít want you passing out after the first minute, now would we."
Sitting in the shadows made by the campfire, Malikaye sat cleaning his days catch. He was marveling at what a great night it was. Never before has he been able to trap that many fox. As Malikaye reached for his wineskin he noticed for the first time a keep positioned in the middle of a clearing at the base of the mountain.
What a desolate place that must be. Glad Iím nowhere near those gates.
Just then a scream shattered the silence. Malikaye stared at the keep in horror. He wasnít sure what made that sound, however, he was quite sure he didnít want to stick around to find out. As quickly as he could, Malikaye packed up his things and started heading down the other side of the mountain. Away from the keep
The Sunset Knights sat at the same table they celebrated at for the summer solstice. But judging by Samís face, there was to be no celebrating this night. As the last of the knights took their seats, Sam began her meeting.
"Friends I have some horrible news" Sam said solemnly. "It seems that one of us has turned up missing." Everyone looked at each other and knew who was missing. "Wildboy has been missing for a week now and even though he goes out on his own quite often, he lets always lets us know beforehand. Speaking with Undomiel, we believe, that Níjelum was the last place he was seen. With this information I asked that the Níjelum guards to have a look around the island to see if they could find any clues to his disappearance. This is what they found."
Sam placed a valorite gorget on the table. A murmur rose quickly from the knights. Each giving glances from the gorget, to each other, and back to the gorget.
"But how can you be sure it is his?" Billbo asked, his voice giving away more emotion then he would have liked. "There are many valorite pieces around this land, milady, are you sure it is his?"
"Aye, my dear knight, who else do you know that would have ĎIf you can read this, you are about to dieí engraved in gold on their armor?" Sam said with a pained look on her face.
"Then we must find who is responsible for the atrocity!" yelled Kevlar.
"Aye!" James, Ar-Kane, and Iron Skull shouted simultaneously.
"I agree, but first we must plan on how to begin our search, and most importantly where", Sam said. "This world is vast and he can be anywhere"
"If you will excuse me, milady, I must get some fresh air" Billbo said while getting to his feet. Sam gave a lone nod to the knight. Billbo left the room in silence and headed to the front door. As he opened the thick iron doors his eyes grew wide in surprise. In front of him, a man stood holding Wildboy up by his neck, while have a light crossbow pointed at his back. Behind him stood two, not so friendly looking, men.
"Excuse me good sir, my name is Cragan, would this happen to belong to you?" Cragan said with a sneer. "If you would be so kind and inform your fellow guild mates that dark days are ahead."
"What do you mean by that, scum?" Billbo said through clenched teeth. Billbo took a step closer but stopped quickly as the man pressed the point of the bolt into Wildboyís back. The unconscious Wildboy didnít even flinch as the tip pierced ever so slightly into his back.
"Now now, I wouldnít try anything if I were you. My finger could slip and then we would have a mess wouldnít we. Oh, how rude of me, let me introduce you to my associates. Aristinoth and Gargranon, you will know more about them when the time comes. But for a parting gift for you, you get to witness the death of a comrade." With that Cragan pulled the trigger. The bolt blasted through Wildboy's chest splattering blood onto Billboís robe.
"NOOOOO!" Billbo screamed. Time seemed to slow down, every second seemed like an eternity. Cragan dropped Wildboyís limp body and stepped through the portal created by Aristinoth. Billbo rushed to Wildboyís side. He knelt down next to his wounded friend and propped his head up onto his knees. Wildboy slowly opened is eyes. "Bill...Sunset...Knight....Forev..." He whispered into Billboís ear then died. Billbo looked down at his fallen friend in disbelief.
Billbo scooped up Wildboyís lifeless body and place it over his left shoulder in one quick motion. Then charged through the main entrance to the castle. With his vision blurred from the tears he barely made it though them. Billbo rushed through the thrown room past the Undomiel and Xeep who happened to be gathered there. They instantly picked up pace behind him as they rushed into the dining area, where the rest of the knights were gathered. With a sweeping motion of his right arm, Billbo cleared a space on the dining table. He gently placed Wildboy onto the table for the rest of the knights to see.