It wasn’t all work and play. Although we took time to do such things as hunt wild boar with sword and spear, as time went by ‘Morgan’ and Niniane had other concerns that took them away from me and I found myself with a rare days of blissful solitude. These I spent wandering through the paths and glades of Avalon. Although I never saw another soul on my explorations I sensed their presence hidden away amongst the trees. I also took the opportunity to practice my sorceries, here where the material world pressed tightly against the worlds around it and the forces at my command were strong yet biddable. It was during one such day, as I lounged in a breechclout upon a sandy beach of Avalon and played with the sands beneath me, rising them up as structures before releasing them to flow back onto the beach; far harder than it sounds I promise you, that I had my rare visitors.
A raven landed on the beach beside me and cawed my name. I did a double take. It eyed me suspiciously and then repeated itself.
“Yes” I confirmed.
“It’s Sorrow” said the raven.
“No Sorrow. Me, I’m Sorrow.” It said. It took me a few minutes of blinking before my thick skull relented.
“Oh! I knew you were a raven of the goddess, I just never realised it was quite so literal.”
“Here, in this place, by my goddess’s command, this is my form.” I nodded. “I come with news of the outside world…” she continued, cawed once and then apologised. “It’s this place, it does weird things to your vocabulary,” she explained.
“I noticed,” I said carefully, “I think it’s mythic resonance.”
“I’ll take your word for it. But anyway, the outside world. It isn’t good.”
“The entity, it’s on the warpath.”
“When has it not?”
“Ever since you chopped it up in the dreamlands. Gideon thinks you scared it…”
“I scared It?” I said in disbelief.
“Let me finish,” she said, “Scared may be the wrong word, but you certainly forced it to take us seriously. It avoided us when it could and ran when it couldn’t. Mina has briefed Cepha on your little experiment back in November. The thinking is that it may be vulnerable to the Benedanti, hell you may be able to all dream it out of existence for all I know.”
“You still haven’t got to the ‘warpath’ bit.”
“It’s been attacking the department ever since it took you out of the picture. You’re probably the most potent benedanti it has encountered. It probably thinks that with you out of the picture we’re powerless against it. We’ve tried to persuade it otherwise but with limited success. It’s been going for our friends and family…”
“Cutty and the kids?”
“Safe in Slender Falls. It may be able to waltz across Britain’s weakened Threshold but it can’t cross your wards, yet.”
“Thank the almighty fuck!”
“We can’t all put our families there and we certainly can’t run the department from there. Everyone who is not directly involved in the battle is still exposed. Cepha is climbing the walls with rage.”
“Who is running the Op?”
“Doctor Promethium is standing mayor of Slender Falls while you’re officially M.I.A. although that’s due to change in May when you’ll be declared K.I.A.”
“They don’t know where I am?”
“The Goddess has forbidden me to speak of your location and while Cutty dreams of your embrace every night nearly everyone thinks that her grief has clouded her judgement” Sorrow bowed her head.
“You want me to come back.” I said, getting to my feet. I didn’t wait for a reply. “Give me a few minutes to gather some things and you can lead me back to the real w…” I stopped. Sorrow cawed and flapped her wings. At the treeline, between me and the path back to the grove, stood the Slender Man.
For a moment we stood still eyeing each other across the beach. Well I eyed the Slender Man, but I could sense his perception dismissing Sorrow and focusing on me. He rose up on four tentacles and moved towards me like Doc Oc from the second Spider Man movie. I summoned up a shimmering hauberk of verdant arcana and drew a sword of the same substance from the air. “Niles Calder has earned the power of kicking your arse,” I muttered as I coiled myself to charge my foe
Sorrow took flight in my wake as I rushed across the sand towards him. Inky black tentacles swatted at me as I weaved through them. I leaped into the air, raising my sword to strike him down and met nothing. He was gone. I landed and rolled up into a crouch. He’d run again. I..
I moved quietly through the shattered ruin of Covent Garden, gun in hand. Overheard squadrons of winged demons flew, their tandoori-red flesh glistening in the crimson light. “Toby Jug, this is Beermat, what’s your position?” Toby Jug was an old callsign I hadn’t used in years. I looked back at the rest of the team, we were a rag-tag bunch put together for what amounted to a last ditch assault. With a sinking horror I knew where I was. “Twenty meters from the Hell Mouth and closing” I heard my voice say. I heard other teams echoing my comment across the radio. This was a suicide mission. We were going to valiantly throw ourselves at an unbeatable foe to give the department enough time to pull the world’s arse out of the fire and then save our skins when they fixed things in the edit. Only it didn’t quite work out that way.
The edge of the Hell Mouth gaped before us and we took shelter behind fallen rubble. Reddish light and the screams of the damned echoed up from the pit before us. Even as an avowed pagan the evil that emanated from that pit scoured at my soul. A vast demonic form, revelled in the pit, huge and red skinned, black horned and limitlessly evil; I’d never be able to look at Tim Rice again. The Morning Star, the Lord of the Flies, the Deceiver, the Adversary, Old Nick, the Prince of Darkness, the Great Beast, Lucifer, Beelzebub, Satan. The Devil himself.
We rushed forward, expecting resistance; we met none. We had been expected.
“KNEEL” the beast ordered and one by one we fell to our knees. Some of my colleagues had ended their own lives rather than surrender. I tried to call upon my faith in my Gods and Goddesses but here in this place my faith was but a candle that guttered in the wind, and then went out. I fell to my knees. “SERVE ME”. No that’s not what had happened. We had fallen to our knees but then salvation had come. The day had been won… We had… I looked again at the dark thing that writhed in the pit before me, inky tentacles clawing at the sky and something beyond description at it’s heart. It was not the great beast; it was evil yes, but it was a far lesser evil. Something slapped into the palm of my hand and I reflexively grasped it. Caladmae’r. I pushed the sword point into the ground and used it to pull myself to my feet, apologising to Danu as I did so. It was almost impossible to stand, so great the weight upon me, but I knew my foe had made a mistake and it strengthened me.
“Non Serviam!” I yelled, defying the creature before me. “I! WILL! NOT! SERVE!” I punctuated my defiance with my sword and lightning crackled down.
I stood upon the beach of Avalon, the sky storm-dark above me, Caladmae’r held aloft. Before me my Goddess battled my foe, ravens blackening the sky. Others fought beside her, faces I seemed to half know but the identities of whom were a mystery to me. The Slender Man was man no more but a mass of black tentacles that battled the gathered forces on all sides. Bodies lay scattered where they had fallen and held aloft by the black psudopods I spotted Ninian struggling with tentacles that were throttling the life from her. I cried out to her and then hurled Caladmae’r towards her, hoping that she had spoken truthfully about the blade’s properties. The sword lanced towards her blade foremost, slicing the tentacles that held her aloft. She and the sword fell into the black mass. I was already running forward across the beach towards where I feared her corpse lay, slain by my hand. Then Caladmae’r rose from the dark tentacles, held aloft by an unseen hand, then fell again. The tentacles convulsed once and then fell still upon the sand.
The fallen tentacles withered and smoked, flames igniting along them. From out of the fire and smoke Ninian walked, the blade of Caladmae’r balanced over one shoulder. Her robe was shredded, revealing the unbroken sweet flesh beneath. She smiled at me as we neared one another. Again she presented me with the sword, this time thanking me for my intervention. Again I took it. My Goddess neared, her face in shadow even against the pyre of the fallen Slender Man.
“This time the False Gods have gone too far” she said, her eyes burning like twin red suns. “This violation of Annwn cannot go unavenged.”
“The Slender Man is dead,” I said, looking at the burning remains.
“No, he is just banished from Annwn and all of its isles,” Ninian said.
“But he will fall to Caladmae’r” my Goddess said, fixing me with those burning orbs. Then I saw it.
Slenderfalls, a vast Operator Sigil carved into the surface of the world. “The Place Is Marked.” From across the world they ran from an enemy more imagined than seen. In ones, twos, threes and more they arrived at a place which should look like a prison but instead was a place of ultimate refuge. “The Runners Will Come”. A point of bright light filled the sky, passing across the sun and out-shining it. “The Brightest Star Will Eclipse The Sun.” Then, pinned to a boulder in the very centre of Slender Falls lay the Slender Man, like a butterfly under glass or a sacrificial victim upon an altar, Caladmae’r through his heart. “Slender Falls”.
I shook my head to clear it and found us back in the grove.
“I must leave” I said.
“You’re not ready,” my Goddess said, “I have taught you but half of what you need.”
“Then I must thank you as my battle is half won already, the rest I must do on my own.”
“But only your male side has learned, your female side must…” she raised her hand in some arcane gesture but Niniane stayed it.
“Morgana, He must go.” she said.
“My family, my friends, my people, are in danger,” I said, “By my absence they are in danger. I cannot remain here in blissful sanctuary as long as I know that. There is no sanctuary for me as long as I know that.” Two ravens landed on the grass either side of me.
“We can teach him, Mother…” one of them cawed.
“…The secrets of witchcraft and battle…” the other clarified.
“…To walk with one foot in the the world of the living and another in the world of the dead…” said the first
“…but reside in neither until his time.”
“Yes, a champion and wizard…”
“…a warrior and warlock…?”
“Did you just call me a warlock?” I asked.
“You are of norse blood yes?” the first raven said, “I smell it upon you.” The second didn’t wait for my reply.
“It is from vardlokkur in the old norse,” she said, “It means spirit caller.”
“A talker to the dead.”
“A necromancer, lovely.” I sighed.
“Do not deny your nature!” Ninian interrupted the ravens with a laugh
“His nature! He is one of my swords and I did not know it until now!”
“You what?” we all looked puzzled at her.
“He is Niall Caled-dor,” she giggled “Champion Always-Hard!” She was still in a state of undress and I found it unkind for her to mock me so.
“ENOUGH!” my Goddess’s cry silenced us. “It is decided.” she said, “He will return to the world. Keelie and Zandra will accompany him and complete his training. Niniane bring forth suitable garments and bring with you the scabbard.” Niniane sighed.
“You and I are both here, if you wish to sheath him…”
“THE Scabbard,” the emphasis was clear, “The Scabbard I left in your care.”
“Oh that scabbard!” Niniane descended back into her pool. My Goddess approached me. I knelt. She caressed my face and I kissed the palm of her hand.
“Always you leave before you are ready.” She whispered, “I worry so.” I looked up. This goddess, known far and wide for being cold hearted and vicious worried for me?
“I will return my love…”
“Aye, with your shield or upon it.” She said then sighed.
“I’ll be with you as soon as I rejoin Cutty,” I said. She gave me an odd look.
Niniane rose from the pool carrying a bundle of clothing and I dressed. Much of it was British Army surplus; boxers, socks and boots. The trousers, not breeches as I expected, were black denim and I recognised the manufacturers. The same was true of the t-shirt, which carried the logo of an SIS front company known for its exports. There was also a double breasted duster style coat in brown oilskin. The height of fashion for the late 19th century I’m sure. There was also a fedora of a matching hue. I examined it and realised it was a reproduction of a prop from my favourite series of adventure movies from my youth. I’m either a bullwhip or a pair of six shooters short I observed as I examined the coat. “I’m also going to need something heavier than a t-shirt. It’s freezing…” I stopped. Just what time of the year was it?
“Check your inside pockets” Niniane said. I did so and discovered my Deep Pocket with all my ID’s and other important things within. That left only one thing. I slipped the coat on and examined the scabbard.
“Caladmae’r will never fit in that” I said. It was the traditional size of a scabbard; evidently intended for a much shorter sword. “And even if it was the right size how would I draw from it?”
“It once held Caledflwch” Ninian said. I looked puzzled. Caledflwch was the same size as all of the Caladbulic, that is to say a two handed blade, or hand and a half if you were strong and skilled enough to briefly wield it one handed. Then the penny dropped and I took a step back from Ninian and the scabbard.
“No, no, no” I heard myself say. My goddess’s hand upon my shoulder halted me,
“It is the Scabbard of Arthur” she said, but I’d already figured that out for myself. Caledflwch was the most fearsome of the Caladbulic, a radiant sword so fearsome that many armies would surrender upon seeing it drawn. But its sheath was more fearsome still. Whomever had the scabbard would share it’s properties; they would be impervious to harm, a true superman. Even if they were hurt they would not bleed and their wounds would heal in moments. Indeed it was said that they could not die. Morgana had stolen the scabbard from Arthur, used its power to permit the green knight to survive decapitation and then given it unto the Lady of the Lake to keep it from Arthur forever more.
Now she wanted me to take it.
I could not decline but nor could I accept. The scabbard was too great a burden, more so even than Caladmae’r. A sword that would cut all I hated from the world as-so-long as I could strike it, and a scabbard that would put me beyond all mortal limitations. I could become a true monster; none could stand against me and prevail. I could conquer the cosmos and rule… I would be fearless… I. I understood the what was offered and why. I hoped that if the power began to corrupt me it would be withdrawn as easily as it was granted.
“Unlimited rice pudding” I quoted and reached out with a shaking hand to grasp the offered talisman.
I reached out for Caladmae’r and Niniane took my wrist. “Call your brother, Caled-Dor” she said. I did and the hilt slapped into my hand. I half smiled and tried to sheath the blade in Arthur’s Scabbard. The sword slid in far deeper than I would have expected. I then slid the scabbard into the deep pocket in my coat. Keelie and Zandra took up stations upon my shoulders, one on each. “Take my hand Caled-Dor” Niniane said with a wry grin. Again I did as she bid and she led us into her pool, I had a brief chance to wave goodbye to my goddess but when I turned she was gone.
As we entered the pool I was surprised to discover that it did not wet me, more so that I could breathe. A few moments later we rose out of another pool, a swimming pool in the back of some beautiful two, no three storey house. From the pre-dawn scent of the air, the noises and vegetation I guessed us to be somewhere in the northern Americas, west coast-ish; possibly California.
“Ventura, California,” Niniane confirmed, she pronounced it Kalyfernah. “I maintain a home here as I sometimes consult for [REDACTED].” I smiled as she led us in. “I’m gathering you’ll be wanting to head north as soon as possible. It’s an 18 day walk from here to Slender Falls.”
“Niniane, you are joking about me being one of your swords, right?”
“No. Caled-Dor was lost at sea. It must have rusted away.”
“How is that even possible?”
“Well given enough time even a calabullic blade will corrode in seawater…”
“No I mean how can I be the reincarnation of a sword?”
“Oh. Well even swords can have souls. All of the calabullic swords do. When those swords die the soul moves on to its next life. You’ve been a great hero numerous times in the last thirty millennia, and once one of my swords. Oh and you were Mervin during the fall of Anglesey.”
“I’m afraid we haven’t had time to create a Legend for you so I’m afraid you’ll have to go wandering around a police state without the relevant paperwork.”
“Sounds like I have enough legends to last me several lifetimes. I’ll just use my department ID to mesmerise anyone who stops me.”
“Just try and keep out of trouble.” She went to kiss me and one of the ravens cawed loudly in my ear. I bent and pecked her on the cheek.
“Until we next meet” I said somewhat hoarsely and let myself out.
Tales of my travels are best kept for another time. Suffice that within a month I had made my way back to Slender Falls.