Boulders Falling in the Darke

A Tale of the Knights

The first boulder hit Supreme Commander early in the morning. The boulder broke in half and did largely superficial damage to Supreme Commander’s image.  A massive crack appeared in his perfectly coiffed hair.  The crack ran across his forehead, which was chipped and pitted, and through one of his eyes.  Plus, now the tip of his nose was missing.

It was a cold Fall morning, crisp and clear, though you couldn’t tell that by where the massive statue of Supreme Commander stood.  Supreme Commander had been the leader of the Knights, the world’s greatest team of superheroes, since World War II.  To say that he was a revered icon was an understatement.  Entire generations had grown up under his protection and worshipping him for it.  This particular new statue had been erected in his honor beside the blue-glowing, magical seal over the pit to Hell in the center of downtown Queen City.  That seal was the physical remnant of Dr. Darke, who had sacrificed himself to seal the portal between Earth and Hell.  The Pit was like a block wide sinkhole and occupied the former site of Knights Tower, the iconic headquarters of the Knights.  It was also the site where the Knights had entered Hell to do battle and only half had ever come back.

Knights Tower had loomed over downtown Queen City for decades before it had been ripped from Earth’s crust and dragged into a hellish dimension by a demon lord named Dhrell.  That traumatic event, colloquially called Darke Day, had happened a year before.  The statue in honor of Supreme Commander — the leader of the Knights who had selflessly stayed behind in Hell fighting Dhrell and his demonic horde — had been erected several months ago in a sunless Summer ceremony by a population trying to cheer itself up.

The distraught citizenry needed cheering up.  An eerie column of seething, almost alive black light blazed out of the pit in a torrent and stretched upwards all the way through the blue of the sky until it pierced the atmosphere and flared into the cold darkness of space.  This darkness cast a permanent pall over downtown Queen City.  For the past year it had darkened the center of the once magnificent metropolis and citizens of the city had begun a quiet exodus.  It was unsettling and dangerous to live in the magical twilight haunting the center of Queen City. Worse, during the Darke Day event, when the portal had yawned open like a hole blasted through the center of the Earth and the invasion of Earth by Dhrell had begun with his hellish forces pouring out from their Beyond into the city, many evil things had escaped into the Darke.  Even after Dhrell’s dark legions were driven back and the portal sealed by Dr. Darke’s sacrifice of himself, monstrous things now inhabited the eternal darkness at the heart of this legendary city.  It was no place for normal people.

Now someone was lobbing ballistas at Supreme Commander’s statue.

A second boulder, this one on fire, streaked like a comet through the dark and hit the statue in an explosion of sparks and flame.   The statue shudder violently, cracks appearing in Supreme Commander’s massive legs.  Tar fire wrapped the upper torso of the statue and flames licked at his face.

Knightron, the autonomous sentient robot that was unique in the world, was standing guard next to the portal as he had every day for the past year, when the boulders began falling in the Darkeness.  Knightron was unique in several regards, least of which being that he was a creation of a founding member of the Knights and a current member of the Knights.  He was a living supercomputer, covered in powerful armor designed to look exactly like a shining knight out of legend.

Knightron flew over to the statue in time for the second fiery blow.  He landed beside the statue of his missing in action team leader and sprayed a fire fighting foam agent onto it, dousing the fire.  He then scanned it quickly for damage.  He had an array of sensors and could even measure the interior damage.  The marble statue was near collapse.

These same sensors enabled him to “see” in the magical Darkeness, which is exactly why he posted himself near the portal year around in order to make sure Dr. Darke’s seal did not collapse and the portal itself re-open.  An artificial being, Knightron had no need for sleep.  It made perfect sense for him to remain posted at the portal twenty-four hours a day.

Knightron had tracked the incoming missiles as they flew in and hit the statue. He calculated their path back to Lester Dent Memorial Park two blocks away and was lifting off to investigate when a third boulder came arching his way.  He re-landed before the statue and braced himself for the impact.

The boulder hit Knightron mid-chest, or rather, he caught it.  The boulder broke into fragments and rained debris down around his feet.  Now he took off again, jets flaring from his boots and back.  At the same time he contacted the rest of the Knights, sending an alert and a data packet explaining, plus, including a recording of the unfolding attack.

Knightron flew brightly through the perpetual darkness of downtown Queen City and reached the park within a minute.  He hovered above his goal and twin spotlights suddenly blazed from his shoulders.  Illuminated below Knightron in the park was a gang of young men standing around a fully functional trebuchet, caught in the act or reloading it with the next boulder.

Seeing that it was simply a gang of young men, despite the archaic nature of their vandalism, he sent an alert to the Queen City Police Department.  Then Knightron’s cold, metallic voice boomed out from his speakers in PA mode. “Cease and desist. The police are on their way.”

“‘Ello, Guv’nor!” one of the youths yelled up at the hovering robot. He tipped a hat he wore by the brim.  “Top of the mornin’ to you! Thought we might have crushed your ass.  Alas, we apparently missed….”

A subroutine began to run in Knightron. He was a living database and analyzed the voice.

While the main group continued to reload the trebuchet, a few of the outliers caught in the circle of light below began to run off.

“Citizens, do not seek to avoid prosecution.  I repeat, cease and desist.  The police are on the way.”

An audio message came in from his teammates.  Solar Queen’s voice said, “We have reached the portal. Someone’s been damaging my husband’s statue.  I’m not pleased.  Where are you?”

Knightron updated his location.

The men successfully loaded the next boulder. One man put a flame to the pitch-coated rock and it lit.

Knightron landed in front of the trebuchet.  “Cease, or I will disable this device.”

Four of the men whirled with longbows and fired arrows at Knightron.  He blasted two out of midair but the other two hit him.  The arrowheads were explosively charged and detonated like grenades when they impacted his armor.

Though rocked back a step, the explosions did no significant damage.

“The Merry Yeomen,” Knightron stated. “This explains the Medieval theatrics.”

The Merry Yeomen were a gang of thieves who worked for a villain named Red Scarlock. They had arisen out of the stylized Medieval Queen City Renaissance Faire circuit years ago and called themselves “Robbing Hoods.”  They dressed like Medieval yeoman or extras from a Robin Hood film. Their slogan had been, “We steal from the rich and give to the poor us.”  The Knights had tangled with them many times in the past.

The one who had spoken before doffed his cap again. “At your service, Jeeves.” He then raised his hand sharply.

More arrows were shot at Knightron and simultaneously the trebuchet launched its next projectile. Ignoring the exploding arrowheads as best he could, Knightron attacked the trebuchet.  With the lasers in his gauntlets, Knightron blasted its axle in half, splinters flying, and reached in and ripped the sliding counterweight off the machine. It was too late and the flaming boulder was airborne.

Internally Knightron told his teammates, “Another boulder has been launched.”

For good measure Knightron lasered the long arm of the lever in half and the trebuchet collapsed onto the ground.

“Solar Queen left me here.  I’ll take care of it,” Boulder responded.