The Knights of Sheba 118 B…Start

Claude hears movement and battle, hears the shuffle of steel on stone, the clashing of blade and armor. Then, as he wakes slowly, he feels the hard ground beneath him, tastes it in his mouth. He is lying face down and breathing shallowly, and everything on him hurts.

He remains still for a moment, willing his head to stop spinning. For him, everything feels a bit like a dream. He is back at home with Shirley, waking up to another dull day in the dish room. He will fix a quick breakfast, fret over his broken bow and consider how he will save the world without a weapon to fight with.

Then he remembers. Shirley is gone, and so are his powers. Geneva had pulled him from a tower, and they fell through a glass dome. The landing was not graceful, and he remembers then how he didn't trust her in the first place. His eyes open, and the world remains blurry for a moment longer.

He sits up. The room he is in is a large, circular dome. A balcony is hangs from the far side, looking out into the salty darkness of the sea. The walls are wrinkled with black stone and the floor an even, hand-laid brick. A demon stands in the center, wrapped in black cloth and wearing a polished steel mask. To the left, Geneva is fighting off a group of other demons.

When she disposes of the last one, she trades words with the masked demon in the center. Claude doesn't hear it clearly; his focus is elsewhere. Near the observatory he sees Shirley, bound and gagged, bruises across her face, blood dried against her lips and nose. A demon stands beside her, holding her by her hair and brandishing a rusty dagger.

Claude struggles to his feet and staggers toward her. His legs feel numb and hardly seem able to support his weight. Shirley is watching him, and she rises when he does, struggling against her captor, who takes notice now and lifts his dagger to Shirley's throat. She stops, and so does Claude.

The demon barks something at Claude, who looks to Geneva to translate and finds her occupied. Another demon has her to the wall, his curved blade wet with her blood. So, Claude looks ahead, into his demon's cruel, broken smile. It runs its dagger against Shirley's neck, leaving a shallow line of rust and blood.

"Stop it!"

The demon laughs and removes the blade. It grumbles something while wagging the weapon at Claude, who can see the blood gathering around the hilt. The demon then grunts and gestures toward the ground, and Claude remembers his bag and slips it from his shoulders. It is heavier than he expected, and that is when he remembers what is inside.

Slowly and carefully, while the demon edges its blade closer to Shirley, Claude slips his hand inside. He feels around while kneeling to rest the bag on the floor. Beneath his jacket, beneath the maps, he feels the cold, reassuring weight of the pistol and grips it tight. With his thumb, he flicks the safety off, and he waits for his opportunity.

Geneva rolls to a stop nearby. The masked demon had just thrown her after she kicked him in the shin. She pushes herself to standing and the demon holding Shirley looks away long enough for Claude to draw his weapon. He levels it, breathes through the shaking of his hand, and pulls the trigger.

The pistol is heavy, the distribution of its weight is different than his bow. Even with both hands firm the recoil spreads through him. His entire body jerks as the bang bounces off the wall. There is a moment of silence and then Claude realizes that the demon's face is gone and has been spread across the back wall.

What is left of the demon goes limp and falls back. Its dagger clatters against the ground. Shirley remains kneeling, blood across her face, wide-eyed, and hyperventilating against her gag.

Claude returns the safety and runs to Shirley's side. He yanks the gag from her mouth and pulls her to him, holding her while she cries and coughs against his shoulder. He kisses her head and whispers to her, "I'm sorry I'm late."

Her sobs die slowly as she collects herself with deep breaths. She leans back to look him in the eyes. Her left eye is swollen and purpled. Her lips are dried, chapped, and bloody. Claude almost touches her face, her bruises, but thinks better. She smiles at him. "I knew you would come. I never doubted you."

He smiles back. "I'm just glad we made it in time."

Shirley looks away, at Geneva staggering around the masked demon's attacks. Its blade scrapes against her chest plate just before it kicks her in the shoulder. Another swipe catches her around the same shoulder and knocks her to the ground. A string of English curses follows her down.

"Is that Geneva?"

Claude glances. "Yes," he says, and he moves around her to tug on the ropes binding her hands. "Come on, let's stand up and get you out of these."

Using the dagger, he cuts her wrists free. Shirley stands while he works on her ankles, which are bound by thicker knots. It takes a few more seconds to work the blade through them, but Claude is tenacious. Then, he stands beside her.

Shirley hugs him again. "Thank you, Claude."

"We're not out yet. We still have an entire nation between us and the exit."

"I know, but I feel safe just having you here." They look at Geneva, who is now being pummeled by the masked demon's blade. "She's losing."

Claude picks the pistol up from the ground, where he left it when he reached Shirley. He flips the safety off and smiles. "Not for long," he says, leveling the weapon and staring down the sights. His hand is shakier, but his target is bigger this time.

Across the room, from one of the openings cut into the wall, another demon appears. It is wearing a similar dark robe, a similar steel mask, though the demon is smaller than the one fighting Geneva. In its hand it carries a long spear that has been broken in half and bound back together. The haft is blackened with age; the blade is stained with blood.

The demon hefts up the spear, watching Geneva's movements, and then throws. The effort is clumsy but the result smooth. It sails through the air, with conscious, willful precision. Geneva stumbles back, arms lifted to meet an attack from her enemy, and meets the spear instead. It scrapes across her bracers as it passes and finds home in Claude' stomach.

Claude jerks, fires wildly into the walls. Then, he falls back, the gun landing at his side, the broken spear buried deep in his gut. He can feel it jabbing against his spine. The pain is blinding. It is localized at first but then spreads to his extremities. Soon, he can feel it in his fingers and his toes.

He holding the wall for stability. It hurts to breath, and he isn't even sure that he can. Shirley shrieks beside him, holding the spear, yanking it from his body. After that, it doesn't hurt. Everything goes numb, and his vision fades again.

His last memory is of the second demon disappearing into the hole in the wall.

-The Knights of Sheba-

Geneva doesn't notice that Claude is standing until he falls. She followed the arc of the spear as it passed her by, and she spares only a glance at Claude after it pierces him. Then, she returns her attention to Dantalion's advance. His blade slides across her left bracer as Shirley's shouts fill the room.

She looks away again, finding Shirley holding Claude, working the broken spear from his body. Before Geneva can react, another blow catches her in the shoulder and knocks her off footing. She staggers, briefly, curses again, and, in a fit, punches the blade out of the way. Then, she grabs the demon by the arm as tight as she can and pulls him forward. His mask meets hers, and hers wins.

The steel of his mask folds inward and blood runs out of the eyes of it. Dantalion sways unsteadily, wheezing, and Geneva pulls back and twists, lifting his body from the ground and slamming it onto the floor. His sword slides away, and he lies there groaning.

Geneva stands over him for a minute, watches the shallow movement of his chest, considers that good enough, and runs for Claude. On the way, her armor slides off of her skin and forms into a ring on her right hand. She comes to a stop beside them, beside Shirley who is holding Claude and holding his wound, beside Claude who is barely breathing. She leaves footprints in his blood as she approaches.

Shirley looks up, crying, as she tries her best to apply pressure. Blood runs through her fingers without end. "Geneva! Please, help him! Save him!"

"Okay, okay, just take a deep breath, and," Geneva lifts Shirley's hand and gazes at the open wound. It is narrow but deep, and it looks nothing like blood on the snow. Another wound, Geneva figures, another memory.

"What now? What do we do?"

"Well." Geneva feels her pockets, pulls the coral signet out and holds it up. "Um. We could try this. Ms. O said it could heal"

"Then put it on him."

Geneva looks at Claude's face, pale and sweaty. His eyes are closed, his head lulled to the side. "He's unconscious," she says, "So, it may not work right. I mean, the powers would only work if the armor is on, right? Gah, I don't know."

"Then give it to me," Shirley says. "I can heal him."

"No, no, the armor regenerates the healer, so," Geneva pauses. "But, if we can find the wand, you might be able to channel it into him. So, it might work?"

Shirley extends one bloody hand. "Then, give it to me."

"Shirley, if you put this on, you'll never be able to take it off. You'll become a knight."

"Fine, I can live with that, but I can't live without him." She shakes her hand at Geneva and blood falls from her fingertips. Geneva watches the droplet's descent. "Give it to me," Shirley shouts, and she takes it from Geneva's open palm.

"Right, sorry. So, just put it on and, I don't know, think of something you want to protect."

Shirley slides the coral ring down a red finger and closes her eyes, and the ring blossoms around her. It slides along her form, spreading and engulfing her, coalescing coral plates around a body wrapped in lavender weave. She stares out at Geneva from inside of her helm and, with surprising calm, asks, "Now what?"

"Now, the wand," Geneva says. She examines the armor and looks for something to grab onto, then she points. "I think it's there on your left wrist. Just pull it out and then," she looks at Claude, "Then, I don't know, just, stab it into him?"

"That will heal him?"

Geneva shrugs.

Shirley takes a deep breath, and she grabs her wand by the hilt and draws it from her bracer. It forms into a long, needle-thin blade with a domed guard. She holds it up, says a prayer, and jabs it into Claude's open wound.

-The Knights of Sheba-

Nina paces a circle in front of the gate tree. The sun is setting, but the tree still casts its own faint light. She has her arms crossed and a thin jacket on to keep the chill of an early spring sunset at bay. The air is wet with a fog settling around them, and two days spent in one of the compound SUVs has left fatigued.

She stops and chews her right thumbnail while watching the tree. "It's taking too long."

"It's not," Viness says. He is seated nearby on a fallen log. It was dislodged when Andromalius attacked and was left there afterward. The wood is slightly damp, but it is better than standing for hours. He has his legs crossed and is leaning forward on them looking bored. "It's hasn't even been two full days."

"It shouldn't take two full days. They're in trouble."

"They're fine."

Nina turns on him and glares. "Now you're just being contrary!"

Viness sits up, grins. "Am I?" He nods toward her. "Go ahead, turn around and look."

She turns and finds Shirley and Geneva are standing with Claude hanging between them. All three look tired, pale, and dirty, but they also look very much alive. Nina allows a brief smile before rushing to meet them. Viness follows at a more leisurely pace.

"Ms. Oaks, you're alive!"

"Yeah." Geneva adopts a wry grin. "Glad to see you expected it all along."

"I never doubted," Nina says, and she glares at Viness when he chokes on a laugh. Then, she regards Geneva again, finding her looking older, wearier but also more mature. In contrast, Claude seems as if he can barely stand. He is covered in blood, but so is Shirley, and she is standing just fine. "And welcome back, Ms. Seville."

"Thanks." Shirley gives a tired smile and adjusts her hold on Claude. "And thank you for all of your help."

"In truth, I was no help at all. Ms. Oaks and Mr. Sylvain did all of the work."

"True, but she has already thanked us a couple hundred times each, so we don't mind sharing the love." Shirley blushes, and Geneva says, "It was a long, long journey."

"I would assume so, but you did well."

Geneva shrugs. "I lived," she says, and she looks at Claude, who is breathing shallowly. "Hey, think we can get them home? Claude needs time to recover, and we could all use an early night."

Nina nods and glances at Viness, who steps forward and takes Geneva's place under Claude's arm. Together, he and Shirley walk Claude forward, stopping at the edge of the clearing and at Claude's request. They turn him to face Geneva, who holds her hands up.

"No, not you, too. No," she says, and they exchange nods before the party turns to make the climb up the hill and to the school parking lot. Geneva waves and shouts through her cupped hands, "And, hey, get better, okay?"

Nina and Geneva stand in silence and watch the three disappear over the crest of the hill. Then, Nina, hands on her hips, regards Geneva with another smile. "Congratulations, Ms. Oaks. I believed in you, truly, but I am still proud to see you succeed."

Geneva shrugs and stretches. Then, she winces and holds her side. Nina frowns.

"Are you injured?"

"Nothing a day's rest and a few bandages can't handle," she says.

"Ms. Oaks."

"I'm fine," Geneva says, and under further scrutiny, she adds an emphatic, "Really."

Nina crosses her arms, sighs. "Onto other matters, then, did Mr. Sylvain take the ring?"

"No, but Shirley did."

Nina pauses, blinks, turns her attention back to the hill. "She did?"

"Yeah, I know it wasn't part of the plan, but we kind of had to improvise."

Nina nods after a lingering silence. "Well, if you think it is best, then I trust your judgment." She fixes Geneva under another one of her heavy gazes. "And she understands the responsibilities expected of her?"

"I told her all about it," Geneva says. "Like I said, it was a long trip, and Claude didn't have much to say on the way back."

"Yes. He did seem unwell."

"He's fine, or he will be." The sun has set now and above them the sky is a black void. Surrounding the forest there are pockets of light, where the city shines into the darkness. Near the gate tree, the only thing they can see the effulgence of its bark. "So, you have another knight now."

"I do," Nina says, "But that doesn't mean you can quit, Ms. Oaks."

"Please, I wasn't even considering that. At least, I wasn't considering that right now. I was going to give her a few days to make sure she would work out."

"Ms. Oaks, you made your decision."

"I know I did." Geneva takes a deep breath. The fog hugs them now, surrounds them on all sides. The cold of it soaks into their clothes, into their flesh, and into their bones. Geneva's stomach rumbles, and Nina looks at her. "Sorry, guess I'm a bit hungry. Haven't had much to eat in," Geneva pauses, "Uh. Well, I just haven't ate."

"I see. Then, I will take you out to eat as a reward."

"What? Really?"

Nina nods and walks away, leaving Geneva to trail after with a more conservative gait.

"Cool, thanks. And Ms. O?"

"Yes, Ms. Oaks?"

"Think we can get ice cream afterwards?"

"Of course, if you would like."

Geneva smiles. "Oh, I would like," she says, following Ms. Olivia up the hill and to her SUV. "I would like very, very much."

-The Knights of Sheba-

Seere sits alone in his darkened chambers, eyes closed, breathing shallow. He wears a dark robe tightly around his thin frame. A cold, wet breeze drifts in through his open window. Outside, he can hear the storm raging, the rain water pelting the shingles. Waters leaks through in places in the roof, but Seere pays it little mind. He is waiting.

His chamber door opens, and he looks to find Yima standing in the doorway. She carries a torch with her, and her travel cloak is dark and wet. She leaves a puddle in her wake as she crosses the room. Outside, thunder roars.

Seere rises in his seat and adopts a smile. "And how did it go?"

"Not entirely as planned," Yima says, undoing her cloak and leaving it in the most recent puddle. She crosses the room and throws a steel mask onto the table. "I had to improvise."

"But Dantalion is dead?"

"The girl didn't do it, though she made a good show of one of his doubles."

"Ultimately, his death is all that matters. Good work."

"There are other doubles," Yima says. "And they will know that you tricked him. That the lance was a fake."

"The lance wasn't a fake," Seere says. He examines the mask closely and then rests it on the table beside his maps. "It is simply old, perhaps too old to function as it should. And it was broken."

"But I mean to say, they will never trust you."

"And neither did he," Seere says. "None of the nobles do, even those that are fake. That is why they are so easy to manipulate. They assume that my lies are on the surface and that they can see each one of them. They believe I can be manipulated in turn."

"I suppose." Yima stares out at the storm. "Whatever the case, this is only one victory, Salamand."

"Yes. This war is far from over," he says, and he leans back in his chair and closes his eyes, a smile stuck on his face. In his mind, he pictures the map of his world and imagines his own expanding territories. Soon, he will hold the bulk of the south. "When this storm passes," he says, "We will continue our efforts."

Yima glances back at him, and then stares out at the storm. She can see the vague outline of Dantalion's former holdings, the mountains overlooking the sea. "It's not like you to rest."

"Tonight I must mourn," he says. "So much noble blood has been spilled these last few months. It seems almost as if someone is hunting them." He folds his folded hands on his lap. "Besides, I enjoy the sounds of the storm."

Yima snorts. "Now, that is like you, to enjoy the chaos."

"You are free to join me, to stay tonight."

Yima takes a deep breath. "I would prefer not to, but I have nowhere else to go." She settles on the table and stares out the window. Cold air fills the room. Cold rain slips through the rafters. She shivers, even beneath her leathers and furs. "It has been building for some time, hasn't it? This storm."

Seere pats her thigh. "Oh, dear, the real storm hasn't even begun."

The Knights of Sheba Season One...End