It was about 6 AM when David woke up. A light dusting of snow had fallen across the lot where they had bivouacked during the night. It was little more than a dusting of frost on the leaves, but the cold was enough to make him huddle down under the sleeping bag. Farida had curled up against him beneath the thermal blankets. That only made escape more difficult, and the urge to sleep was powerful. But he wanted to put some distance between him, Germany, and epic destinies that he wanted nothing to do with. With great reluctance, and against Farida’s obvious wishes, he pulled himself out of the sleeping bag to embrace the cold morning.
Slipping on clothes helped things marginally. Farida looked up at him, her expression plaintive. “Please carry me,” she murmured. “With the sleeping bag. It’s coooold.”
He eyed her, and sighed. He set up the small camp stove, and began to boil water in one of the tin camp cups. The smell of chocolate filled the air as he poured a scoop into the bubbling tin. Farida’s ears perked, and she reluctantly peeked out from the sleeping bag. “That smells good.”
“It does, doesn’t it?”
“Bring me some?”
“Nope. You have to come and get it if you want it.” He lifted the hot chocolate to his lips, and took a slow, luxuriant sip. “Mmmmmmm. Damn, that’s good.”
“Jerk.” She smiled, and David felt a little bundle of warmth filling him, spreading out from his chest. The feeling had nothing to do with the hot chocolate. It was all about the words said in jest. The things she could say because they were growing closer. He smiled at her, and took another long sip. “Fine, fine, I’m getting up!”
She was dressed by the time she slipped out, and she pressed against him, shivering. In private, it seemed, she could be entirely comfortable with intimacy. He could understand that, and he certainly appreciated it. In public, she was more reluctant. But that was kind of fun, too. He thought of the way she had reacted when he’d embraced her in the bar, and felt very warm inside.
“What are you grinning at?”
“Oh.” He blushed just a little bit. “It’s just… I feel good. Really good, you know? I’m looking forward to this.” He gave her a grin. “How far are we from the train to England?”
“Should only be about three hours drive from here.” She took a deep sip of the hot chocolate, and let out a happy sigh. Her breath filled the air like a cloud of fog. It was warm and damp as it brushed over his skin, making him shiver. “I’ll take the first shift, if you like. It’s supposed to be really cool. We get aboard the train, park our car in it, and it takes us right under the channel.” She giggled softly. “It’s kind of exciting. Taking a train beneath the ocean…” She smiled, and wrapped her warm paws around his arms, shivering a bit with anticipation. “It’s going to be so fun!”
He had to admit, as they got aboard the train, it was a hell of a lot cooler than it had been in his own world. In the human world, the channel tunnel was a work of tremendous mechanical engineering. The same was true in this world, with one addition. Magic wasn’t capable of making a tunnel through dozens of kilometers of rock deep beneath the sea. What it could do, however, was create a transparent layer of rock above the train, reaching all the way to the sea bottom. As the two of them climbed out of their car, they gaped and stared at the roof above the train. It was nearly 9 AM by the time they’d gotten on board, but any annoyance was washed away by the stunning view.
“Tourists, eh?” asked a voice from nearby. He turned away from the spectacle of fish visible as shadows through the shimmering aquamarine light, and towards a pair of older women with broad, white-feathered wings in place of their arms, and rather fearsome taloned feet. They smiled, covering their mouths with wingtips as they giggled. “Yanks?” asked one of them, a woman with short, brown hair. “It’s quite a piece of work. British engineering, through and through! Would you two fancy a pasty?”
Soon, the four of them sat together in one of the train-cars. The women had introduced themselves as Margaret and Darla. They were just returning from a trip around France, and were interested to hear about Farida and David’s plans to visit Hadrian’s Wall.
“Oh, I say, I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard splendid things!” cooed Darla. He suspected the two women were doves. “All of those wild stories about the old human barbarians. Which reminds me!” She gave the two a sly look. “Have you two heard the news? About Aachen?”
“Oh, that’s just a hoax, Darla. Come now, probably something they threw together with computer generated footage. Viral marketing, that’s what it’ll be. Mark my words.”
“What about Aachen?” Farida asked, with far less cool and collection than David would’ve. “I mean, uh. Aachen?”
“Yes. Great big castle pulled itself together on top of the old chapel!” Darla clucked her tongue, shaking her head. “They say that they have a young man on security footage. He walked right up to the throne of Charlemagne, and into the castle. The authorities are looking for him, say they suspect he stole a historical artifact from the building or somesuch thing.”
“Oooh, are you a cosplayer?” asked Margaret, leaning forward and waving a wing towards the sheath. It had shifted in David’s duffel as they had sat together in the train, and now the white silk lay exposed, the silver buckle glinting. “Fancy!” Margaret grinned.
“A little tasteless, though,” said Darla, giving him a bit of a dour frown. “Cosplaying as some human knight or something like that? I mean, I aim to be open-minded, but I can’t say I much approve of that kind of example being set for the children.”
“Oh, bollocks to the children, you don’t even have children, Darla!”
The two of them giggled and exchanged jibes, as David tried to relax. The authorities were searching for them. They’d travelled carefully. They’d have to continue that way. He wasn’t sure exactly what they’d plan to do to him, but none of the possibilities seemed pleasant.
“Oh! I know what that reminds me of!” said Margaret, her eyes widening with a grin. “That inscription on the buckle- It reminds me of the ones on that sword they found up in Newcastle a few weeks back!” Margaret gave David a broad grin. “You heard about that, didn’t you? Some old man was swimming, bonks his head against something metal in the water. A team of archeology students dig the thing up, and find a sword, sitting buried halfway into a stone like one of those chalk fossils!”
Farida and David exchanged a look, eyes widening. Margaret must have taken it for incredulity, because she grinned. “No fooling! And there’s more! The whole thing was as good as new! Not a spot of rust on the blade, not a spot of tarnish on the silver! There are a ton of theories about the thing. Some people say that it’s been preserved because of some quirk of the water. Others think that it might have been something to do with the construction. There are even a few people who say it might be human-made. Interesting stuff, regardless!”
A shudder ran through David. It took him a moment to realize it was not the train car rattling, or even his own nerves. It was the scabbard, hidden again in his duffel bag, vibrating very slightly. “Where do they have it in Newcastle?” he asked, a bit too quickly. He coughed, and hoped they hadn’t noticed the hint of panic in his voice. “I mean, that sounds pretty thrilling, it’d be interesting if we could get a picture of it, and it’s supposed to be on the way to Hadrian’s wall…”
“Well, it’s in the Great North Museum.” Darla giggled. “Oh, you kids. I wish that I still had your kind of spirit and excitement. It’d be interesting to travel with you, see the sights of good old Blighty!”
“Oh, why don’t we?” Margaret smiled brightly. “We’ve got some extra money, and technically, we do have a few more days of vacation. Oh, wouldn’t it just be so exciting to go visit that? What do you say, would you two let us come along? We’ll be quiet as church mice!”
Farida and David exchanged a quick look. She shrugged, and he swallowed. On the one hand, they didn’t seem harmful. On the other hand, they would be around them and might make things more difficult. On the third hand, refusing them might seem more suspicious, and make them remember their faces. After hearing that authorities were likely searching for him, he didn’t want to be caught. “Ah… Well, don’t you have a car? You wouldn’t want to leave it behind, right?”
“Oh, heavens no! We just take trains, mostly. Much easier, that way!” He laughed half-heartedly. That was his last option for putting them off the trail gone. The two of them were going to be travelling all day with a pair of older women who, as far as he could tell, were actual, literal harpies. He gave them the best smile he could manage under the circumstances, and took a bite out of the large pasty. As the pastry shell crunched between his teeth, he had to admit that at least the food was fairly tasty. He and Farida sat and talked with the two women for the next hour as they travelled under the channel. From time to time, he let his mind drift, and stared up at the roof of the train. As the water rippled, the light remained constantly in motion like a curtain. So close, and yet so far, the sensation of pressure was a little bit overwhelming. There was probably a very meaningful metaphor in all of that, but he’d be damned if he was going to reach for it at the moment.
As the four of them bundled into the car, and the two harpies explained that they couldn’t drive, he wondered if it wouldn’t have been a better idea to make a lame excuse and be memorable. He checked the clock. 10 AM. The GPS told him they should arrive there by four in the afternoon if they didn’t stop.
At about noon the next day, they finally came to a stop in Newcastle. Farida’s hackles were raised, and her eyes were narrowed. The two harpies got out of the car as they arrived at the rental car lot, loading them down with several bags full of pasties. Farida gave him an accusing look, and he smiled apologetically. She let out a sigh, and then smiled. “On the plus side, they were right. The Bolton Strid was very impressive.” She wrinkled her nose. “Though I kind of wanted to push Darla in after a bit.”
“She wasn’t that bad, was she?”
“You weren’t the one she wanted to girl-talk with. She was relentless. I’ve never had anyone interrogate me that thoroughly about my sex life. Even my mother had more decency than that! Do you know that she twice asked me if I had tried anal sex with you? She kept going on and on about it, she was obsessed! I think she was hoping I’d say no, so she could convince me to try it.”
David paused for a few moments as he tucked the sheath back into the duffel bag which was containing most of his clothes along with it. It had given intermittent shudders every hour or so, growing ever-so-slightly stronger as they approached Newcastle. “And?”
“Did she convince you?” He gave her a grin, and she flushed, before breaking down into a snort of laughter.
“I don’t know, I think I might need a bit more persuasion than getting henpecked to try that.” She smirked. “Anyway, we should see if we can visit the Great North Museum first. Once we’ve determined whether it’s Caladbolg, then we can figure out… Well, how we’re going to get it.” She frowned. “We’re going to be pulling a museum heist, aren’t we?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. The last time we visited a museum it didn’t exactly wind up being a secretive endeavor.” David took a deep breath. “If things go bad, people might be in danger. So I’ve got a plan. I’ll check out the sword, and you’ll stay nearby, scouting out fire alarms. If it is the right sword, and things wind up going south, you can pull the alarm. That’ll give people warning and empty out the building. Hopefully, that won’t be necessary… But that castle had a one-track mind, and I think would’ve killed Gerlinde if it could do it without hurting me.”
“Why do they have such a grudge against Mystics? Is it just the fact that there was a war between humans and Mystics back when they were last awake?”
David frowned, thinking of his conversation. “I think there’s more to it than that. It’s probably a part of it, but… These were things made by humans. Their purpose, their lives, were given and sustained by humans. And then the Dragonlords pulled all of the humans away into another world. I think that maybe… If we’re lucky, all that it is is loneliness, and lack of purpose. If the problem is something simple like that, if they just need to be reunited with humans to feel calm again, then maybe…” He chuckled. “Man. Well, it’s not like I’ve got a better strategy, right now.” He paused a moment, and then grinned at her. “So, anal sex…”
“Look, just because I’m an Anubis doesn’t mean I necessarily like it in the ass!”
David paused a moment, and then frowned. “Wait. Is that a stereotype? Is there something I should know about Anubii?”
She pressed her lips together very firmly, crossing her arms, and David let it drop. For the moment.
The Great North Museum was a short walk from the car rental place. The air was crisp, even cooler than it had been in Germany. A few errant traces of frost covered the ground as the two walked hand-in-hand. David had wrapped a scarf around his face, as much to hide the completely not-undead giveaway of his breath fogging in the air as any actual discomfort. The museum was much like most museums not designed for children, a large building which appeared to be designed by the same man who’d put together Fort Knox. It was forbidding, as though it was intended more as a place for hoarding knowledge than handing it out. He got the distinct impression that he would be patted down as he left to make sure he wasn’t smuggling any information to those who hadn’t met the building’s standards.
Inside, the building was a great deal more cheery. Some concessions had been made to entertainment, with colorful signs and impressive displays. They took a circumspect route through the first floor, passing through the hall of fossils. David stopped suddenly, staring up.
It was, very nearly, like what he’d expect from a museum back home. The great jaws, the huge eye sockets, the incredible ribs. But where the ones they’d found back home were bipedal, like chickens built on the scale of gods, this was different. A quadruped, for one thing, with four powerful legs spreading out its weight. The neck was different, too, longer, and the tail more sinuous from the size of the bones. Most striking of all, however, were the wings. They were flared out from the spine, long and surprisingly solid bones held in place by wire. It looked too big to be real, too grand to be physical. Like the castle at Aachen.
THE EARLIEST ANCESTOR OF DRAGONS was written on the plaque below it. He stared down at the plaque, and then up again at the creature. Farida crossed her arms, and frowned. “Didn’t you have dragons, back where you were from?”
“Sort of,” he murmured. “Dinosaurs, we called them. They existed millions of years before us. People used to mistake their bones for dragons, I’d heard.” He stared up at the plaster cast, his breath catching a little in his throat. “I wonder if they were really mistakes, now.”
She softly tugged on his hand, and the two of them continued on, passing an ancient mummy who gave rather dry lectures to those who stopped to listen. They passed her quickly, making their way to the exhibit where the sword waited.
The moment he saw it, somehow, David knew it was the right sword. Perhaps it was the way the light gleamed off of the edge, razor sharp despite its age. Perhaps it was the way it seemed to have been forged into the rock, no sign of cracks or crevices. Perhaps it was destiny telling him that he’d found his way home, circumspect though it was. Or maybe it was the way the sheath vibrated in his duffel bag, humming ferociously in a way that was making his teeth chatter together. He clamped an arm around the bag, mostly stilling it, though it still tickled at his arms. Its blade was the color of platinum, so white it almost hurt the eyes, its handle looking as though it had been carved from ivory. The crossguard was made of silver, gleaming as though it had just been polished.
Somewhat more galling was the display around it. The sword in the stone sat on a raised pedestal, with a small set of stairs on it. A donation bin sat in front of it, with “Try to pull the sword from the stone: Five pounds!” Written below was, in fine print, a warning. “While the sword appears to be impervious to the ravages of time and incidental harm, we ask that you not pull too hard; You’d hate to be the one who broke a piece of history, wouldn’t you?”
As he watched, a large bull-horned man grabbed onto the hilt with both hands, and heaved as hard as he could. The stone shifted ever-so-slightly, but the sword didn’t seem to be disturbed in the least by this. David flicked his gaze over to the wall, where an emergency alarm was visible. “Alright,” he whispered. “I’m going to go test my luck.”
“In front of an entire museum?” she asked, her eyes widening a little.
“If it doesn’t work, I won’t stand out. If it does…” He paused. “If it does, life gets a lot more complicated for us regardless, so we may as well give it a try.”
She sighed. “You really need to work on your planning. The last time you improvised it added a new architectural landmark to Aachen.”
“Well, then I must be doing something right, yeah?” He gave her a grin, and kissed her softly on the cheek. While she was too flushed to stop him, he made his way over towards the stairs, walking up where the bull man had been standing. He stared down at the sword, and felt a pit open up in his stomach.
In legend and myth, swords in stones required some level of righteousness. They had to be pulled by the right person. He liked to think he was a good person, but righteous? The sort of person who should wield a sword? He was less certain of that. But this was the only way he’d ever see his family again. He didn’t have the option of getting cold feet and refusing to try, at least. He owed everyone he knew that much. So he reached out.
With his fingers an inch from the sword, there was a sudden crack-snap and flash, like a static discharge. His hand withdrew as though he’d been stung, and the sword began to glow. He was given just long enough to wonder whether he’d just royally fucked something up when it rose slowly out of the stone, hovering in mid-air. People all around the museum room turned to stare in shocked silence, mouths opening. He could see one of the security guards grabbing a walkie talkie, and speaking into it. None of that was audible, however, over the soft tinkling sound that was filling his head like a line of sleigh bells. He realized it was the sword, laughing.
The bright light resolved itself, slowly, into the shape of a woman. An excessively naked woman. She held the sword in one hand. Her hair hung down her back, long and immaculately clean, and silver. Not the gray of a human who’d grown old, but the silver of polished steel. It reminded him of a woman he’d once seen, born with flaming red hair which had turned white before she turned twenty, but which had been no less striking for it. She looked human, although few humans had a body that flawless. He noted, slightly dazed, that she appeared to shave her pubic hair. She stood completely unashamed, her eyes travelling over the room slowly. She had the sort of look David had seen a few times in his life. One that the looker almost never deserved to use. It was a look that told everyone in the room that she could kick their ass if she so chose, and she was feeling mighty tempted.
Several things happened in very quick succession. An unaware observer might have thought they were simultaneous, but David knew better. First, a large security guard with black-furred ears and sharp canines rested a very heavy hand on his shoulder, grabbing him. Next, Caladbolg threw herself forward and slammed her elbow into the man’s throat, leaving him choking and gasping on the floor, her expression like someone who’d just been forced to pick up dogshit with their bare hands. Third, the fire alarm began to ring loudly. David wasn’t certain whether it was because he was in another country or another world, but it sounded very different from fire alarms he was used to. Fourth, Farida grabbed the two of them, and they ran.
Farida was quite out of breath when they came to a stop fifteen minutes later, in the middle of Leazes Park. She slumped down onto her ass, panting vigorously. David was still standing, though he was breathing hard. Caladbolg did not even look as though she’d broken a sweat, standing with her arms crossed and a look of mild annoyance as she studied the two. “I did not object in the heat of battle, because I presumed that you had a plan. But in the future, human, do not let your traitor touch me.”
“Traitor?” asked Farida. She looked more curious than angry. Caladbolg cast a baleful gaze at her. David wasn’t the type to be prone to that kind of wordplay, but there wasn’t really another way to describe the look. ‘Glare’ just didn’t cut the mustard.
“I do not judge humans for giving in to their hormones and accepting those Mystics who betray their own kind. But a being that will betray once will betray twice. I know you are naught but a scorpion on a frog’s back.”
“There were Mystics who fought alongside humans?” Farida asked. Her question and her enthusiasm together seemed to throw Caladbolg for a loop, and the sword opened and closed her mouth a few times before turning back towards David.
“How long was I stuck in that thrice-damned pond?”
“Hoo, boy.” He rubbed the back of his head. “When was the last time you remember?”
“The year of our lord, Five Hundred and Forty Two. My master was slain in battle through basest treachery, and I was returned to await a time of great need.” She frowned. “Are the men of Britain threatened?”
Farida and David exchanged a look. David sighed. “I think that we’ve got a lot to catch you up on. But first… Do you have any clothes you can wear?”
Caladbolg waved a hand lazily towards the sheath. “I suppose, if no more battle is expected of me.” She waited patiently, and David took the hint after a second. He withdrew the sheath, and reached out, taking the sword from Caladbolg. She watched him quietly as he slid the blade in. As he did, white light formed around the woman, slowly congealing into dozens of delicate ribbons of silk. They tightened around her body like a mummy’s wrappings, clinging skintight to her body. A delicate silver broach fastened itself to the bindings around her throat, shining silver in the afternoon sun. She rested a hand on her throat, smiling imperiously. “So.”
“It’s been nearly 1500 years, and the world of humans and Mystics were split apart by the Dragonlords. There are no humans in this world. I was brought over, and I want to get back home. A palace told me that you could help me do that.”
She was silent for a few seconds. Then she nodded. “Yes, that sounds suitably epic.” She crossed her arms, and gave David a look up and down, frowning. “You will not wield me directly in this. You are not worthy. But I will help you and ensure your safety. I will see you safely to your home.” She nodded her head slowly. “That is my offer to you.”
“That sounds great,” said Farida. “However, we’ve kind of made a huge scene, and we were trying to stay quiet, so maybe we should stay out of the public eye for a while. I’m going to suggest we hike along the wall. It should take us around four or five days to make it to the far end of the wall, at which point things will hopefully have calmed down, and our theft of a major historical artifact will be less fresh in people’s heads. “
“I do not fear them. Send an army against me, send legions, and I shall cut them down. They shall remember to fear the Hard Cleft.” Caladbolg’s voice was steady, and completely unafraid. David got a curious sense that even had she known the extent of modern military technology, she would’ve been just as confident. There was a kind of humming tension in the woman, practically begging to be unleashed. He really didn’t want to see it unleashed.
“Yes, but. But! We can achieve our goals just as easily by being subtle.” He reached for an appropriate metaphor. “A sheathed sword can speak just as loudly, right?” He was fairly sure that didn’t make any sense, but Caladbolg nodded as though he’d just dispensed a great wisdom, beginning to walk with the two of them along the path.
On the first evening, the three of them sat down around the camp stove as David prepared marshmallows. Caladbolg frowned. “I don’t require food.”
“Do you enjoy it?”
“I… suppose that I can, from time to time.”
“Then I’ll make you one.”
She frowned, but didn’t complain further as the camp stove flickered merrily. A small portable charger was recharging their phones. David checked the time for the third time in as many minutes. 8 PM, and they hadn’t been chased down. Farida had spent much of the day checking her phone to see if there was any news about them. They’d taken a relatively sedate pace, resting every hour or so before setting off again. As far as Farida could tell, the theft had been reported, but nobody had gotten a good description of the two of them. There was, however, a general assumption that they were the same ones responsible for Aachen, and note was made of increased security in museums through Europe.
“The Grave Robbers, they’re calling us. Clever, really.” Farida sighed. “Man, if my parents ever find out about this, the lecture I’m going to get about Anubis stereotypes…”
“Absolutely worst comes to worst, we have to explain what the heck we were doing. It’ll be bad, but I promise, you’re not going to jail or anything over this, Farida.” David smiled bracingly, and Farida laughed.
“Oh! I’m not worried about that. If nothing else, I’m betting that they’re not ready to deal with that sword. No, it’s just…” she grinned. “God, this is insane! I mean, I never thought I’d have an adventure like this! Sure, it’s scary, and a little bit unnerving, but it’s also the coolest thing ever!” She smiled, and turned her head towards Caladbolg. “What do you think? Is this the coolest?”
“Mmm. A journey to help a single human return to his home with the help of an overly excitable traitor. No, I cannot say that this is one of the more impressive stories of my existence.” She sighed softly, leaning back on her hands. “It’s all rather a profound disappointment, but then, humans tend to do that.” She gave David a look, and he couldn’t help feeling slightly defensive.
“Look, why am I not a worthy wielder?”
She sighed. “Let’s see.” She held up a hand, and began to count off fingers. “Not born of the blood of kings. Not an experienced sword-fighter. Never killed anyone. Your grand quest boils down to ‘Please get me home.’ Working with a traitor Mystic. Are those enough, or should I keep going?”
David frowned. “You don’t like working with the Mystics.”
“A Mystic led to the death of my last owner. Stealing my scabbard,” she hissed softly, her eyes turning downward towards her lap. “Responsible for his death, even if she didn’t strike the fatal blow herself. I am not particularly inclined to forgive them.”
“And, so, what, you want me to kill them all?”
She snorted. “No. I am a sword. My purpose isn’t to kill anyone, though I am good at that. My purpose is to keep my owner alive. Even if I may not think you are worthy of wielding me.” She stared off into space across the camp stove.
As they’d begun walking, she’d taken the sword and sheath from him, and they had disappeared. A part of her form, she explained, as long as she had one shape in the world she didn’t need to manifest the other unless she wanted to. He’d not been quite sure how to process that information, and had settled for taking her at her word. He lifted the marshmallow, toasted golden brown and delicious, and held it out to her. She frowned at the metal skewer, delicately removing the marshmallow from the tip. “This is very sticky,” she said, mouth twisted in annoyance. Then she popped it into her mouth. Her expression looked at first shocked, then contemplative, then slowly melted into blissful. “Mo’ pleath,” she managed, through a mouthful of gooey white sugar. That brought forward a smile.
As the three of them sat around the stove, David looked up towards the stars. They appeared to mostly be the same as they were on Earth. The same stars over the same world with the same kind of people in it, just a little bit different. “So if you found a worthy wielder, and they wanted to wage a crusade against the Mystics… would you do that, Caladbolg?”
His expression hardened just a little bit. Of course she would. She was a sword. She’d do whatever her wielder was telling her to. That was the nature of a weapon. It didn’t choose who to cut. He wasn’t angry at her, so much as he was angry at the situation as a whole. If it meant bringing people into contact with violence like that-
“Your last wielder. Was that King Artorias?” asked Farida, her eyes curious. Caladbolg frowned.
“You knew Artorias?”
“Of course. He’s famous. The Rightful King of England. A lot of people think he was a myth, since he was human, but he’s a popular figure.”
Caladbolg stared off into the distance. “Artorias… He never wanted to be famous, you know. He had his vices, I should know as well as any, but he never sought to be the legend who would last fifteen hundred years. He did not commission statues or paintings to ennoble him. He would have been satisfied simply to know that England had survived his death. To know that he’d made a difference to the people under his rule. But…” The sword in its sheath materialized in her hands. She slowly ran her fingers across the white silk scabbard, staring down at it. Just when the silence was about to grow awkward, she sighed. “I am glad people have not forgotten him.” Her fingers tightened a little more around the silk, and she hunched forward a bit. “I’m… really glad.”
There was a soft silence, as David toasted another marshmallow. He handed it over to Caladbolg, and she ate it hungrily, popping it into her mouth. She didn’t speak again for a while.
“Hey, Caladbolg. David and I are going to go into town for a little bit. Okay? Just stay here, and we’ll be back soon.”
Caladbolg’s head snapped up, frowning. “And why do you not wish me to accompany you? A trap? Some planned betrayal?” The sword slid out of the sheath just a fraction, and her clothes loosened as though in sympathy.
“No. We’re just going out for a polite little date, and when you were with us at lunch, you threatened to decapitate that guy for bumping into David. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of him and make sure no nasty Mystics do anything to harm him.”
Caladbolg narrowed her eyes. “Fine. I will allow that. But if you need me, simply whistle twice, and I will be there.”
“You can teleport?” David asked, an eyebrow raised.
When she didn’t elaborate, Farida and David stood up. David shut off the camp stove, and the darkness was profound. He hadn’t realized, really, just how dark Britain could be. The sky had a glow from Newcastle, but was otherwise almost pitch black. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he realized he could see the pinpricks of stars in the sky, thousands of them gathering together. He and Farida walked, hand-in-hand, through the darkness. After perhaps five minutes, the nearby town came into view, and he finally voiced the question.
“What did you want to talk about? Are you worried about Caladbolg? Or Gerlinde? Is there something-” He was cut off as her lips met his. Her paws intertwined with his fingers, and she kissed him for a very long time beneath the cold stars. And when the kiss finally broke, it felt as though it hadn’t been nearly long enough.
“It’s been nearly two full days since we had some time to ourselves.” She squeezed his hands gently, her eyes warm. “It’s funny, you know, I’ve gone years without a guy touching me. But now, two days feels unbearable. What sense does that make, huh?”
“Not a lot,” he murmured. “But I can understand the feeling.”
Her arms went up around his shoulders as she kissed him again, hungry and pleasurably warm in the brisk night. As they parted once more, the two walked below the countless stars towards the nearby town.
“I heard the bloke had flaming red hair. That he was one of the ancient Wights of the old days, a human hero who had woken angry with the Mystics of the world! He took up the sword to smite us down, and slay scores! The woman’s one of the Black Dogs of Britain, come to toll a death knell for our country! It’s an ill omen and a half, I’ll tell you that!” The goat-legged man nodded ferociously at the bar as Farida and David sat in a corner booth, sharing a platter of fries with white vinegar. It was nearly midnight, and the men seemed to finally be close to wearing themselves out.
“Nah, nah. Way I heard it, she was the brains of the operation. One of those bloody pakis from Egypt-“
“They’re not a bloody Paki if they’re an Egyptian, Dilver!”
“Wotever! Point is, she’s an Anubis, I heard!” Farida stiffened across from David as the man at the bar nodded his affirmation to the watchers. “It’s bloody true! She’s a damn Anubis, and she’s behind it all! Working with one of the ancient Pharaohs reincarnated as a mortal man! They’re not seeking to annihilate Mystics, they’re seeking to rule them. Conquer us and use us as slaves, one and all! Like the fucking Romans and the fucking Dragonlords and the fucking Pakis!”
David and Farida shared a roll of the eyes. “Sorry,” David said, smiling apologetically. “The place looked nice, but-“
“I hear,” declared one of the men, “That it was a couple of Yanks.” Both of them stiffened. “Bloody spies.” They relaxed. “Here on behalf of those bloody tossers at the Central Intelligence Agency, seeking to loot the national heritage of Britain from right beneath its nose! They’re probably already in some secret Black Ops helicopter winging them back to the States, with our birthright!”
That, at least, seemed to be a common theme agreed to by all of the drunken individuals they’d listened to on the train. Whoever it was who had stolen the sword from the Great North Museum had to have been well-connected, and they had to be gone by now. The sword had been pulled cleanly out of rock it had bonded with on a molecular level, and it had disappeared. Whoever was responsible- And the police suspected whoever was responsible for Aachen- they would surely not be so foolish as to stay in the EU, let alone Britain, after two massive high-profile thefts of items that would be impossible to disguise from the police.
“Turns out us not knowing what the hell we’re doing is something of an advantage,” David muttered, smiling. The two of them sipped cold water, and Farida’s foot rose and fell across the side of his calf at a constant rate. She smiled politely with her elbows on the table, her eyes cool and dispassionate. It was a front, David knew. Her tail thumped every time it struck the leather padding the back of the booth. Her eyes were excited as she rested her claws lightly on the table, clicking them to a soft rhythm that only she knew. Despite the somewhat off-colour commentary from the other men in the bar, she seemed to be enjoying herself immensely. As the men at the bar finally filed out, seeking another pub to continue their crawl, the two finally relaxed.
“Sorry about that. The lads are starved for entertainment, and their palate’s a bit evolved, if you know what I mean.” The red haired waitress wore an elaborate metal collar around her throat, lifting up around her chin like some kind of medieval armor. From the way one of the drunken lechers had tried to tug on her hair, David was willing to be that she was a Dullahan, and that knocking her head off was the equivalent of giving her ass a pinch. “Personally, I think it’s all just archaeologists having a laugh, like Piltdown Man. Whole thing seems a lot like their kind of humor.”
“Or lack thereof,” Farida said, smiling. “And actually, we were wondering if there was maybe a private room or anything like that?”
The Dullahan woman looked between the two of us, her eyes widening. Then a salacious, knowing smile spread across her lips. “Aaah, THAT kind of privacy. Nod nod, wink-“
“Yes, precisely that kind of privacy,” said Farida, dropping her voice. “We’ve just needed to get a little time just the two of us. If you know what I mean?”
“Well, the bathroom’s got a lock on it, and we don’t ask any questions about what we find in there.” David snuck a peek at Farida, and decided right then and right there that the bathroom was not going to be a satisfactory choice. “Or, if you’ve got a little extra cash on you… Well, the owner and her husband aren’t in town this week. There’s a nanny-cam, but I ‘accidentally’ knocked it into the hamper a couple of days ago, so as long as you’re out by 8 AM, you could feel free to have a screw on a married couple’s bed.”
The room was nice. A large king-sized bed arrayed with a set of green pillows, a comfortable looking blanket atop it. David carefully set up the candles the Irish girl had given them, lighting them with a match and then spreading the flame out across each of the wicks in turn. It gave the room a warm, romantic texture. The soft light on Farida as she undressed made her seem all the more alluring, shadows cast by her tail and her paws keeping him from seeing more than a fraction of her body. She was grinning coquettishly as she slowly spread herself out across the bed, her ears flicking slightly. “So… What do you want to do?”
“No anal. I haven’t had a chance to really clean myself up.” He considered arguing, but mostly just to tease her. Instead, he gently dug his fingers into her thighs. Slowly, he lowered himself onto the bed, tugging her legs over his shoulders. The soft mattress made it easy to press his nose up against her crotch, planting a few soft kisses on her skin. Each time he did, a soft little shudder ran through her. He could feel her legs tense, pinning him to the bed, but he didn’t mind being stuck this close to her. The scent of her body was relaxing, and the sight of the fluid trickling down her thighs was doing wonders for his morale. He played his tongue slowly across her crotch, teasing her lightly, feeling the way she quivered at the slightest touch.
His eyes went up towards her face, and he enjoyed the way she shivered and squirmed. She opened her eyes, and blushed. “Don’t look at me like that. It’s embarrassing.”
He lifted his head slightly, one hand teasing across her clitoris to let him speak. “That’s why I loo- MMPH!”
With a single smooth movement, she shifted her hips. Her ankles locked under his armpits, she easily flipped him around with her, until he lay on his back, her hips pressed against his face. He was briefly put under a substantial amount of very intimate pressure as she lifted herself to a sitting position. She leaned back, one paw resting on his crotch, her thighs tensed to keep her hips just a hairsbreadth away from his pace. “You should be more careful about teasing me, you know,” she growled. He could hear the zipper, and then his manhood was being squeezed intensely, her eyes hungry as her tail wagged. Each time it swept back and forth, it brushed against his manhood, sending a little wave of pleasure through him. He was breathing faster, which meant the scent of her body was filling his head. Even after a day without showering, she smelled sweet and refined.
“Mmmph,” he tried to say, but she just pushed her hips down. He decided to focus instead on making her feel good, slurping and sucking noisily at her tight slit. Her body tasted faintly earthy, a little bitterness mixed with a great deal of sweetness, almost reminiscent of dark chocolate. His eyes closed, losing himself in the warmth of her hand and the smoothness of her movements. Her shins rested across his arms, pinning his wrists down effortlessly, her posture a perfect setup to leave him totally helpless. No need to fight, to struggle, to be in charge. She’d be able to keep control of the situation without any effort at all.
The thought sent a surge of pleasure through him, his breath quickening. It took everything he had not to give in right there and orgasm. Instead, he focused on the taste of her soft pussy, running his tongue across the warm lips of her labia, then plunging it inside of her. The rough texture of her womanhood clenched around his tongue, giving him a chance to slurp and stroke it hungrily with the tip of his tongue. The movement of her hips grew more ferocious by the second, her eagerness growing more obvious as she shook, body swaying.
It was all too much, as she arched her back. Her hand kept up a steady rhythm throughout, and before he knew it, his own body was reacting predictably. His back arched, her hand catching every splatter of semen across the soft, warm pads of her hands, white staining the black fur as she let out her own moan. The flow of juices became a torrent, and he found himself coughing a bit, her sexual fluids dripping down his cheeks as she bit her lip. A loud moan rung out through the air.
Both David and Farida went stiff. Their eyes turned, as one, towards the closet. Neither of them had been the one to moan. Farida pulled off of his hips in a motion that left David’s back arched, and threw the closet open.
Inside, wearing nothing, the sheath sitting by her side, Caladbolg sat. She didn’t show any particular sign of being ashamed, or contrite. She simply stared levelly at the two, her sopping fingers resting on her thigh. “I want it to be very clear that I was not watching for any kind of self-pleasure.”
“Really.” David rolled his eyes.
“Yes. The two of you are engaging in very dangerous sexual acts. Do you know how easy it is for face-sitting to end in tragedy?” She stood up primly, her arms crossing in front of her chest. “I wanted to make sure that the two of you, primarily David, were not assaulted while here. I was keeping an eye on you. It is part of my duties.”
“And the whole line about being able to teleport?”
“I can’t teleport. I just thought if you knew that I would follow, you would order me not to.”
“For good reason.”
Caladbolg crossed her arms, standing up, the sheath gathering in her hands. Her clothes appeared around her, the delicate silk wrapping tight around her skin, though it was nearly see-through along her inner thighs. “You are the only human in this world. For all I know, you are the only human who will ever again visit this world. If something were to happen to you, I would never again know sapience. I would fall into a torpor, and be gone, forever. Surely you can understand how I cannot let you be put at even the smallest risk while this state of affair continues.”
“I don’t giv-” He paused. He DID give a damn about just that. Pain in the butt though Caladbolg was being, he was willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt when they’d spent nearly fifteen centuries trapped in a lake. “I can’t just have you following me and staring at me to make sure that I’m not getting in trouble all the time! I mean… think about Farida!”
“I don’t know if it really bothers me,” Farida said, shrugging. “I mean, it’s like having sex in front of the family dog, right? It might be embarrassing at first, but it’s not like she’s going to tell anyone. Right?”
Caladbolg opened and closed her mouth a few times, her expression completely unreadable. “I would not… put it… precisely the same way. But yes, I would much rather that you have sex in front of me where it is safe than attempt to sneak off and expose yourself to harm.”
David ran his fingers down his forehead, trying to wipe away the aggravation. It had been a really good session with Farida. Frankly, he wanted nothing more right now than to go for another round. But doing it in front of the pious sword woman seemed both wrong, and slightly careless. And he certainly hadn’t missed the fact that she’d been jilling off furiously while watching him, which sounded like a complication waiting to happen. “I’ll compromise. We can’t have you as a sword all the time-“
“That would be cruel!” Farida said, frowning, her arms crossed.
“It really would not be,” Caladbolg interrupted. “The form of a sword is perfectly comfortable to me. Being sheathed at a human’s hip is where I am naturally happiest.”
Farida frowned. “Oh. Sorry for being, uh, insensitive.”
“Because the POLICE would probably be very suspicious of any swords. But, when we ask you for a little privacy, please give it to us. Okay? Just… When I tell you to leave us alone, just stay a little bit away. Give me some space. And that way, I’ll be able to trust you when my life is seriously on the line.”
Caladbolg’s head lowered. “You don’t want me to be by your side all the time?”
“Don’t you dare guilt-trip me. You have been harping on about my not being a worthy wielder since we got you, I am not going to stand for you acting like I’m a total jerk for insisting you have some boundaries set.”
The young woman lifted her head, white hair framing her eyes. “You have things to live for beyond being a worthy wielder. I have nothing save for being a worthy sword.”
Farida leaned in slowly. “You cad. Look at how you’ve hurt her.”
David turned, a protest on his lips, and saw the teasing smile on Farida’s face. The protest died into a cheerful laugh, as he sat back down on the bed, grinning a bit. “Just a bit of privacy. That’s all I ask. Besides, we’re going to be hiking hard for a few days. It’d be really nice to get a chance to sleep in a soft bed for once.”
“I will give you privacy if what is what you really want, human. I suppose.” She sighed softly, and turned around, sitting down, her arms crossed, facing away from the two of us. “There. I will not see a thing.”
David let out a soft groan before Farida grabbed him by the shoulders, dragging him back towards the bed, apparently not willing to wait for any further privacy before she began again.
Six days later, they arrived in Whitehaven. Farida’s paws were sore, and David’s feet blistered. Caladbolg seemed almost obstinately unfazed by the long hike. Farida had, through some wizardry of online phone searches, found a tramp freighter docked there. On the Thursday a week and a half after arriving in Germany, around noon, they arrived in town. The captain of the ship was, blessedly, not making them work their passage. The large cargo ship sat in the bay in the crisp mid-day sun, loading what David could only assume was enough alcohol to drown a small town, from the captain’s demeanor. A burly Oni, his nose would have been red even if his skin was not, and he seemed to have some difficulty standing straight on land.
“Are you sure this is safe?” David murmured, for the third time, as they made their way aboard. The ship was not one of the great super-tankers of the sea, but it was huge, and felt rather safe. It had to be at least two hundred feet long, and sat solidly in the waters.
“Aye, lad, aye, don’t worry! This is one of my favorite trips. We’ll steam down the coast of Britain, cross the channel, stop in Vigo in Spain, then we’ll be in Naples in about a week. Nice and quiet, romantic for you and your…” The oni’s eyes flickered up to the two. “Traveling companions.”
“Don’t worry about it, son, I know the feeling, though I must say the girls were never as pretty as all that. Live your youth to the fullest, if you know what I mean.” The man gave a bright-eyed wink, before striding out of the quarters, leaving David with embarrassment filling his head.
“It’s not exactly going to be a cruise line. There’s not a ton to do, and the food sucks. But it’s safe, and things will have quieted down by the time we get there.” Farida sighed, sitting down on the somewhat cramped bunk. “I’m sorry I couldn’t do more, but-“
“I’ll find a way to pay you back for everything you’ve done. I don’t know what it’ll be, I don’t know how long it’ll take, but you’ve done more than I ever could have asked for, Farida.” David sat by her side, smiling, and squeezed her palm. “I’m really lucky that you were the one who found me in the woods.” He leaned over, and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek. They went onto deck as the ship prepared to cast off, and watched with interest as the coastline receded away, turning into a distant haze on the horizon. This remained entertaining for the better part of an hour. The next two days were spent primarily bundled down in their rooms. Farida read, and Caladbolg trained. She claimed to feel ‘rusty’, although David was fairly certain that was sword humor.
David, for his part, took to runs around the cargo containers. He’d gotten chased enough times that the next time, he wanted to be prepared. He was hardly going to become a master of parkour overnight, but his body responded well to the runs, and the blisters from their walk across England were gone by the next morning. The ship carried them at a sedate and lovely pace down along the coast of France, then around the great bulge that was Spain. The days were long and pleasant, and each time he returned to the cabin, he found Farida asking dozens of questions about Caladbolg’s past.
“It doesn’t bother me, human,” Caladbolg said. “While she may be a Mystic, it is important that my story be remembered. In this degraded age, it seems few have kept proper records of my time. While a Mystic being the one to memorialize me is unusual, it is hardly without precedent.”
“It’s fascinating, David. I used to think that humans and mystics were supposed to be at each other’s throats, but there was a lot more crossover between the two factions than the stories say. Mordred was a human with mystic leanings, Morgan Le Fay-” He tuned out a little at this point. The specifics were actually pretty interesting, but they’d discussed it a few times now, and he didn’t have a whole lot to add.
“Oh, we’re going to be docking at Vigo tonight. I was planning on going ashore to do a little supply-gathering, get us some things we’ll need. Are you and Caladbolg going to be alright aboard the ship? I thought, well… It might be better for all involved if you don’t go ashore until we get to Italy. Spain’s a notoriously sunny country, and a vampire would stand out a lot around here, you know?” She gave David an apologetic smile, but he just nodded.
“Makes good sense to me. Besides, we’ve had kind of a lot of excitement with me around. Who knows what kind of crazy human artifacts might be left behind in this place, eh?” He gave her a bracing grin, and then took her arms, kissing her gently on the cheek. “Do you want to take Caladbolg with you? It might be safer that way.”
Caladbolg frowned. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? What if something were to happen to you?”
“I’m on board a ship with one other person, and we have no reason to expect any trouble. What do you think is going to happen?” David smiled. “It’d be good for you two. You’d get a chance to talk more about these things, and bond a little. I know we’re kind of thrown together by circumstances, Caladbolg, but quests tend to go better if everyone involved is getting along.”
“And you’d like a little time to yourself?” Farida asked, giving David a teasing smile.
“Well, that’d be nice, too.” He gave a smile.
Ten minutes after they left, he was already rather sorry he hadn’t pushed to go with them. True, they were in somewhat cramped quarters, which had been a little bit frustrating. But without them around, he found he was surprisingly lonely. The companionship of the two over the past week had been constant, and even being separated for a few hours was leaving him feeling a little bit lonely. It made him think of the goal still waiting for him at the end of all of this.
Starting out, he hadn’t really had any expectations that he’d find his way home. It had been a way to take his mind off things, a way to show that he cared about his family, his friends, everyone back home. Now, however, it was within reach. He might actually be able to find a way out of this place. It was a bit more ‘epic heroic quest’ than he’d anticipated, but that wasn’t a bad thing. He took a slow, deep breath, and opened his door, walking out onto the deck. The sun had set an hour or two ago, and the stars were coming out, glowing in the sky. He stared up at them for a few minutes, picking out each of the constellations.
He wondered for a little while how the two worlds could have stayed so close together. The stars were obvious enough, they wouldn’t be diverted by a mere change in population. But the cities? The cultures? For all of that to remain the same? The more he thought about it, the more hopeful it made him feel. If the worlds were that much alike, how different could monsters and humans be?
Then he frowned, resting his hands on the rails on the stern of the ship. Was that a good thing, or a bad thing? After all, opposites repulsed one another. He sighed, and shook his head. The sound of unsteady footsteps were approaching, no doubt the captain boozed up to the gills to the point where he lost his sea legs again. David turned, and let a smile spread across his face. It stopped halfway through.
The old man stumbled towards him, unsteady, his hands out. A pair of holes were visible on his throat. The man slumped to the ground, breathing weakly, his hand still reaching out towards me. “Lad… run…”
Laughter echoed out across the ship’s deck. David twisted, spinning, his eyes wild as he stared, trying to find her. The ship’s running lights created pools of light, destroying night vision, providing so many places for her to hide. “Gerlinde. I’m surprised you were able to track me down this fast.”
“Maybe it was fate. Something told me to come here. A woman with beautiful eyes… She said I’d find you if I came here, two days ago.” She stepped forward out of the darkness. It seemed to cling to her like an extremely erotic negligee. She wasn’t wearing anything, but the darkness hung around her body, preserving her modesty somewhat. “You keep running from me, David. Are you frightened?” She laughed softly, stepping closer. David took a couple of quick steps back, and she smiled. “What is there to be afraid of?”
“Death by blood loss.”
“Oh, that?” She smiled, gently reaching down to ruffle the oni’s hair. He was still breathing, but it was shallow. “Come now. I have more self control than that. I don’t need to drink that much of your blood. I can make do with… monsters.” She licked her lips slowly. “But we both know that it’s more than just that. We were meant to meet each other. We were meant to be together. Think of all that you do to make me strong. Think of all that we can be together. You can sink into my embrace, and enjoy the sweet sensation of being fed upon.” Her lips glittered red in the light from the city, her eyes twinkling merrily. “Don’t you want that kind of thing? Don’t you want to feel how good it can be? Just close your eyes… relax…”
David felt his right knee buckle slightly. A wave of exhaustion was rolling over him, and he watched with a faint sense of unease as the vampire approached him. Her movements were gentle, like someone trying not to spook a skittish animal. That was an amusing thought. After all, he wasn’t a skittish animal. As she continued speaking, offering her reassurance, he felt himself leaning back against the rails. Her lips dipped down, moving towards his throat, as she opened her arms in an embrace.
He thought of Farida.
In a single burst of movement, he ducked under her arm. She was supernatural, but still just a young German woman underneath all of that, and was shocked enough by the movement that he could sprint away. He leapt up, one foot landing on the railing above the cargo deck, and jumped onto one of the containers only a few feet below. A second long jump took him to another container, and then a third to the ground below. He landed in a roll, and was up again, sprinting as hard as he could towards the gangplank. If he could get into the city, where there were more people-
“You realize this was a little predictable, don’t you?” Gerlinde stood on the gangplank, hands on her hips, a smirk on her face. “Come on. You’re fighting this awfully hard. Why do I scare you so much?”
“Because you’re not giving me much choice, here.” David took a couple of steps back, and glanced over his shoulder, at the prow of the boat. “Call me crazy, but you haven’t exactly been demonstrating your good intentions. Trying to hypnotize me, chasing me constantly, somehow finding me on a boat from several countries aw-“
David stopped mid-sentence and broke into a dash, trying to surprise her. It apparently worked, as it took a couple of seconds for him to reach the prow, leaping up onto the railing, and staring down at the black water way-too-far below, with no interference from Gerlinde.
“Come down from there, right now!” David turned carefully, keeping himself balanced, aware of the twenty-meter plunge behind him. “You could get really badly hurt if you fall off there! Come down!” He closed his eyes, fighting the compulsive voice. “Look! Please. Just-“
There was a slow, silken noise, and light blossomed. David opened his eyes, and stared. Caladbolg stood at the gangplank, the blade in one hand, glowing and casting light, Farida just behind her. Caladbolg was also stark naked. Gerlinde took a couple of steps back from the radiance, cringing reflexively from it, and giving David a quick look. “What do you think you are doing to my human?” she asked. At that moment, it struck David how very much her voice sounded like that unsheathing sword. Silky, soft, a hint of rasp that could make almost anything sound like a threat. She took a step forward, and Gerlinde retreated back a few more steps.
Then Gerlinde grabbed one of the cargo containers littering the deck. Her feet dug into the ship’s steel decking, her arm tensing, and the cargo container lurched forward at a surprising speed, rolling across the deck with a sound like movie thunder, but a thousand times louder. Caladbolg’s eyes widened as it flew towards her, and David felt a sudden sick fear for her and Farida.
Things happened in a curious snapshot fashion. The light of Caladbolg’s blade was occluded by the onrushing cargo container. Gerlinde turned and leapt towards David. As she hit him around the midsection, he saw a sudden line of light bisect the cargo container, each side rolling off and away. Farida and Caladbolg stood in the light, Farida’s eyes widening, her hand reaching out towards him. Caladbolg’s eyes blazing with righteous fury, the sword held directly out in front of her. Then there was a rushing sound, darkness surrounding him as they twirled through the air. And then there was a terribly loud splash, cold water all around him, dragging away his strength, two ice-cold arms clutching him tight. The last thing he saw were the stars glittering in the heavens.
Everything went black.