You know, when you’re the heir to the throne of a long dead Camelot and one of the last existing links between the magical and technological world, it’s almost an insult that nothing tried to kill you before you turned fourteen.
Okay, that was a bit of a mouthful. Let’s start with something a little easier to swallow—everything started just after Mom left to fight a dragon.
__ __ __
“Peter!” Dad had shouted, “Peter, wake up!”
“Five more minutes,” I slurred.
Dad shouted like he’d stepped on a Lego, “Get down here or you’re going to miss the bus!”
“I’m up, I’m up,” I murmured. Through heavy lidded eyes I managed to get out of bed and grab a fistful of clothes that smelled halfway decent. I grabbed my bag, shoved Excalibur inside (Yes, the actual sword. Yes, it fits in the backpack. It used to be a sheath, but times change. They’re both magical. Try not to think about it).
Dad was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. Arms crossed and brow creased.
Before he could say anything, I asked, “Where’s Mom?”
His eyebrows shot up. “What?”
“Mom’s the one who usually does the scolding, right?” I dashed downstairs and grabbed my shoes.
“She left at three in the morning. Something about a dragon downtown.”
“Why couldn’t she take me?”
Dad looked at me as if he were imagining how I’d look as dragon-barbecue. “It’s a school night, Peter.”
“School morning, now.”
“You have everything?”
“Excalibur in your bag?”
“Homework? Pencils and pens? Gym clothes?”
“Yep, yep and yep.”
Dad gestured me toward the door. “Off you go then. Have fun.”
“I’ll try,” I said, and then slammed the door behind me.
I had math first, when I went to school. And like every other kid on the planet, I hate math. And if sitting through an algebra class wondering when the day would come that someone would come skewer me wasn’t bad enough, I had to sit next to Dawn Cross.
She used to be Don, but earlier this year she started wearing girl-clothes and said she wanted to be called a she. For some reason this has made a lot of people angry.
But anyway she’s this Spanish girl and she’s got this great hair and she smells like lavender and wow her face and that smile and—well, you get the point.
“Peter!” A voice barked, “Are you paying attention?”
I was too distracted by, y’know, everything, to answer. So what should have been “Yes,” actually sounded a bit more like, “Uhhhhhhh….”
“Do you need a moment, Peter?” my teacher asked. She crossed her arms.
Everyone was looking at me. I could feel my face going red. That was it. My life was over.
When I noticed the hulking Black Knight pass by my math class, I wondered just how true that sentiment was. What was a Black Knight doing at school?
He didn’t even have a hall pass!
The whole class was getting impatient. Except for Dawn, who looked like she’d been hypnotized by the door.
Some people started snickering. I swear the room got a million degrees hotter. “Can I use the bathroom?” I asked.
Without waiting for an answer, I snatched up my bag and dashed for the door. “I’msorryIreallygottagobye!”
I doubt anyone saw the Black Knight.
See, when I mentioned the whole one of the last links between magic and technology thing, I was referring to the event creatively named the Split. The basic idea is that after Camelot fell technology and magic went down separate paths. That means only magical beings can mingle with magical beings, and the Regulars, or non-Descendants can’t see the creatures.
I’d mingled with a few faeries before, and Mom had trained me in case any goblins or other magical creatures came to kill me. I wasn’t exactly unprepared.
I rounded the corner after the thing, and the world went watercolor. The land became a blur of color. I felt a tingly sensation like when your foot falls asleep, but the feeling shot up to my ears, and I knew I was entering the Realm.
The world within our world where everything wants to kill me.
Everything settled. The Black Knight had its back to me. “Hey!” I shouted, “Do you want a flesh wound?” (I know, not my best, but I only have so much time to come up with this stuff)
He turned around, armor shrieking, and said, “He told me you’d be in the gym.”
He? Who’s he? I thought. “That’s next period.” I tore off a bracelet I’d been carrying and tossed it on the ground. This the equivalent of throwing down a gauntlet, which basically means fight me or it’s a stain on your honor.
In other words, I just triple dog-dared a black knight to duel me to the death. My heart was a battering ram in the sides of my neck and a jackhammer in my chest. I had only ever fought my Mom in the backyard. And while a lot could be said for my Mom’s martial prowess (think ballet dancer mixed with Spartan warrior) she never went all out lethal on me.
“A boy is foolish,” the Black Knight’s voice was metallic inside that helmet. He drew his sword, which was as black as his armor. “A boy does not want this fight.”
“A boy is sick of archaic warnings.”
He charged for me; and for all that clunky armor, he was surprisingly fast. He pulled his shield a shield off his back.
He thrust down, and I sidestepped, throwing Excalibur between us. I felt the impact-vibration in my arm. “Is there some sort of rule against wearing anything but black?” I asked, “Did I miss that in Knight’s Code 101?”
I will neither confirm nor deny that that is a real thing
We fought with an intensity that throws all formal training out the window. In a life-or death battle, it’s hard to remember Mom’s advice. If they use this attack, use this counter, if they counter your counter with their counter, attack with this.
That’s not what’s going through your head when you’re facing an undead monstrosity hell-bent on killing you. It’s more along the lines of ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod I’m going to DIE!
I told myself to thank Dad for reminding me to wear enchanted laundry. (Tough as steel, light as cotton-polyester fabric. On sale today from your local back alley witch!)
I stabbed Excalibur toward the visor, where it got stuck. With a few tugs it came off, his visor with it.
“Woah,” I said. “You already have a flesh wound.”
The Black Knight’s face was a bruised purplish color, and his eyes seemed to pop out of his head like the wolf from that cartoon. He growled, exposing yellow teeth.
He smacked me with a gauntleted fist and the ground rushed up to meet me. I bounced back quick enough, but my ears felt muffled and everything was blurry. He brought his sword down on me just as I dragged Excalibur into its path, blocked the oncoming slice of death.
“Thinkthinkthinkthinkthinkthinkthink.” I lunged at him. The zombie-knight sidestepped and I overreached. His shield rammed me between my shoulder blades. I hit the ground and my sword skittered out of my hand and landed down the hall.
He paused, taking a defensive stance while I reached for my sword.
Apparently Undead knights still fight with honor. Who knew? I took up my sword and picked an offensive stance.
“Yield,” said the creepy Undead Thingy.
“Of course. Here, give me a sec and I’ll surrender your obviously superior strength and just—” I struck Excalibur’s flat against the knight’s helmet. He stumbled back, and I beat the other side before he could recover. “Whoops. My hand slipped.”
He let out an asthmatic growl, like only a creature with decaying lungs could. We bound swords, broke apart, and then entered another bind.
Then he twisted his sword against Excalibur and managed to tear my shirt. Okay, I thought. So this guy can cut through steel-tough T-shirts. This is fine. I performed the mental equivalent of an eye roll.
“That was my favorite shirt!” I said, and pressed forward. He parried my attacked and smacked the flat of his blade into my ribcage. I doubled over, but told myself to address the fact that I couldn’t breathe later. I evaded his blade with a forward-and-diagonal step, and threw my sword in a slant towards the small of his back.
Impact. He arched, and with another swipe I cut his legs out from under him. The Black Knight toppled.
I threw myself on top of him, pinning his arms with my knees as I poised Excalibur just above his bruise-colored nose. “Yield.”
“I’ll die first,” the knight spat. “Kill me.”
Can undead things be killed twice? I took in a shuddering breath. “If you insist.” How many people can boast about killing a zombie?
Wordlessly, he crumbled to dust in a neat, Black Knight shaped pile.
I did it.
I sheathed Excalibur in my backpack and felt that tingling that meant I was leaving the Realm. The world solidified around me and I was back in school.
Next stop—the nurse’s office.
It took a few minutes to get to the nurse’s office. She’s a chubby woman with stretch marks all up her arm. And she never spoke. She warbled.
“Can I call home?” I asked, “I’m feeling sick.”
“What feels sick?” she asked.
“My—my stomach hurts.” I put on my best whiny voice. “I’d like to go home.”
She picked up the phone. “What’s your number?” She rolled the cord around her finger.
I gave her my Mom’s number.
There were a few rings, and the nurse explained the situation. I could hear Mom’s muffled voice on the other end. The nurse passed the phone over to me. “She wants to talk to you.”
“What’s going on?” Mom said, her voice clipped.
“I don’t feel good—.”
“What’s really going on?”
“I can’t say it here.”
“Oh god—Peter! Did something come after you?”
“I just told you I can’t say it here.”
“Questing Beast? Troll? Werewolf?”
“You were closer on the second guess.”
The nurse raised an eyebrow.
“Witch? Goblin? Is it humanoid?”
“You already said that.”
“I’m on my way.”
My parents are sort of the reason I never have anyone over. Or—I never would if I had anyone to bring over. I mean, the whole weapons-hanging-from-the-walls thing is bound to get people chatting amongst suburbia.
I wish I was kidding. There are swords, spears and ancient paintings of knights who died somewhen around forever ago. Mom even threw a few breastplates on the walls.
This had actually prompted Dad to go through a phase where I had to wear plate mail beneath my clothes every day until I was ten. After a few months of arguing, Mom came up with the enchanted laundry solution.
“So, honey,” Mom said, dropping her purse on the couch. “How was school?” I have to hand it to her, the words only sounded a little forced.
“I told you, Mom. Someone sent an Undead Knight after me.”
“Yes, but was there anything else? Anything suspicious? Someone had to conjure him.”
“I got nothin’. This is a first.”
“Let’s hope it’s the last.” Mom knelt to be at eye level with me. “Honey, give me something. Did you kill it?”
“I mean, yeah,” I pulled on my shirt, displaying it for her. “But he ruined my shirt.”
I’m not sure if it was just me, or if I actually saw my Mom smile. “I’ll get you a new one,” she said. She headed over to the kitchen.
“What are you doing?” I called after her.
“My father had this tradition, which he got from his father, and his mother before him. When a Descendant beats their first enemy, it’s time for a good old fashioned, Camelot-style feast.”
I wetted my lips. “Sounds good. I’m good with that.”
Mom made meatballs to celebrate my victory. Even Dad came home for that. I inhaled them as soon as I sat down at the table.
Dad, on the other hand, picked at his meal like he was eating spinach. “How did your day go, Peter?” he asked me.
“Killed a Black Knight,” I said with a mouthful of spaghetti. “Just in time. All in all, it was a successful foil of the first attempt on my life. Not that it didn’t scare me half to death.”
“It managed to get a few good strikes in. It almost killed him,” Mom added. Yes, point out the Flaw of the Day. “But he killed it.”
Dad turned to Mom with this weird sneer on his face like Mom had just recited the facts of Dragon-training. “What matters is that he killed it.” He squared his shoulder, all proud-like. You’d think he did it himself. He could announce I took a shower all straight backed and chin pointed upwards. “That’s all that matters, Helena.”
Mom finished her meatballs and pushed her plate aside. “I’m just saying he could’ve done better, Ross,” she said. “Speaking of which, Peter, you haven’t trained yet.”
“Mom! I killed a Black Knight! Isn’t that enough?”
“You know the rules. Seven days a week.”
“We’re using the flail.”
“The flail, Peter.”
The flail is like this spikey ball-thing-on-a-chain with a handle attached to it. It provides the opponent with a ranged attack, and with a sword (which I use because Mom’ll ground me if I use anything else yet) it’s hard to get in close to attack a foe.
Mom swung the flail overhead. She had her hair up in a bun and wore an enchanted bathrobe. The only way she could’ve looked more like a stereotypical mom would be if she had that green stuff on her face with the cucumbers over her eyes.
At least our neighbors can’t hear all this commotion. Fighting with magical weapons tends to do that.
I dodged the flail and made a dash toward Mom, who sidestepped and swung again. It hit my back and I fell on my stomach. Dad watched from the doorway, laughing to himself.
I never got how any sane man could marry Mom. Hey, I’m a Descendant of King Arthur and I constantly fight off monsters. Why don’t we get married?
“Get in close!” Mom said. “Get in close!”
Forget about that, I thought. I rushed her and tackled her. We tumbled to the ground in a tangle of limbs.
Training ended soon after that.
Dad ruffled my hair as I came into the house. He knelt down to be eye to eye with me. “Hey, I know we don’t spend much time together—”
And by that I think he meant absolutely no time together.
“—but I’m gonna change that. Tomorrow I’m taking you to the zoo!”
I bit back my annoyance. Had he stopped counting birthdays after four? Dad stared off into space like he was estimating how much that would cost him. “Or something.” He clapped me on the back and led me inside. “Come on,” he said, “Nine o’clock. Time for bed.”
I am the only Descendant of a legendary hero who can fight monsters on a daily basis, yet still have a nine o’clock curfew.