Books of Prophecy

Under the three skulls


By Corwin

Commentary (and advisory): These are the authentic texts that chronical the beginning of our third age. They contain acts of violence that characterized our second age, particularly under the reign of The Tyrant. Novices and others not of age or of an appropriate disposition shall not read these words. -- The Council of Masters

From the Journal of Lawrence Morgan, September 28

I called the council together at 7 PM. Joe and I came from the gym where we had an amazing workout. Todd showed up with Ric. Todd still hadn't been home. Frank was the last to show up. He went straight for Todd, putting his hand on Todd's shoulder.

"Son, your Dad is worried about you. I think you should go home tonight."

"I'll go back when I'm good and ready," said Todd, turning to walk away. Frank pulled him back.

"I think you're ready tonight," said Frank sternly.

Ric came over, grabbed Frank's arm. Ric tried to pull him away, but Frank held fast. Frank had a determined look on his face, but so did Ric. It was a battle of wills. I could see the muscles in each of their arms struggling for superiority. Slowly, Ric forced Frank's arm off Todd and Frank was forced to back down.

"Nobody tells Todd what to do," said Ric, challenging Frank. Frank looked like he was going to go for Ric. "Ya, take your best shot. I can take it," taunted Ric. "The question is, can you take mine?"

"Nobody is taking a shot at anyone here," I said, claiming the control that was rightfully mine. "Ric, back down. Frank, Todd, deal with this later. We have other business now. I need you to get along."

I was lucky. They listened to me. Ric backed down, and Frank walked away. We sat, Frank and Joe on one side. Todd and Ric on the other. I was in the middle.

"Men, we need to get started. I didn't ask for what happened to me," I said, "I mean, I didn't ask to be the leader, but I am." I stopped. What was I going to say? I needed them to trust me. I needed them to be honest with me. It seemed so easy when I was thinking about this, but now that the situation confronted me, it was hard. I looked at them. Ric looked bored. Todd was staring at Frank, and Frank at Todd. Only Joe was paying attention to me. I took a deep breath.

"Look. A lot has happened to me in the past month. I mean, a month ago I was this wimpy kid who ran from the schoolyard bullies. Now, suddenly, the schoolyard bullies run from me."

I heard Ric snicker. "Heh Larry, you are one of the bullies now. Strength rules, dude."

"That's my point. I've changed. I'm now the leader of this group of guys who have been taught to solve their problems by fighting with each other. There are real enemies out there, and those enemies love this. It weakens us while they thrive." I looked over to Frank. "I don't know much about these enemies. I only know what I've been told. There's more, isn't there?"

I saw Joe turn to Frank. Frank was stone-faced.

"Frank, you know more about this Claudius and his clan, don't you?"

"He needs to know, Frank," said Joe. Frank said nothing. "I know we said we'd never tell another living soul, but times have changed." Joe turned to me. "Frank and I killed Claudius's son."

Frank stood up then. He began to pace, then he said, "Remember, it was in the book. 'I write this now because I must avenge one of my children. He approached me in age and was my favorite. He was my companion through generations, never leaving my side and always being faithful. He was killed by a muscle morph. This muscle morph must have surprised him and was able to drain him. This is unheard of. I must avenge him.' Claudius seeks revenge against me -- against us." Frank nodded toward Joe. "He had forged an alliance with Wayne. I know Wayne suspected. That's why he kepting sending me out on missions like the one to kill Matthew. I was useful, but dangerous. If I had died at Matthew's hands, well that would be one problem gone. Wayne thought I didn't know. He was a fool -- a stupid fool."

'That's why you needed me to kill him,' I thought, but I didn't say it. No need to raise that spectre now. "So, what happened? How did you kill him?"

Frank looked at me, his eyes penetrating into my soul. Then he began. "It was about three hundred years ago. I was still a kid, well, it seems that way. Sure, I knew I was a morph, but nothing special. I was kinda skinny, but strong. I could uproot trees and smash boulders, but I wasn't in the top leagues. Not like now. Not like after. At that time, my main concern was surviving -- staying away from trouble. Keeping my nose clean and my head down. I wouldn't antagonize the other morphs. Never pick a fight. I wanted to live."

"I was living in London. That's where I met Joe. I was in London City, walking down Hart Street just outside the Church of St Ghastly Grim. Joe was walking the other direction. I felt him as we passed. I sensed his power. I knew what he offered."

"I sensed Frank too," said Joe. "Actually, it was Francis back then. I was new to the scene, and had only encountered one or two morphs before. Like Frank, I wasn't anything special. I had some power, maybe able to double or triple a morphs strength. That's nothing for a battery. As we passed, I felt the inner yearning I have when I'm around morphs. I stopped, and turned. Frank did the same. Then Frank walked into the churchyard. I followed and joined him."

"'They say Mother Goose is buried here,' he said. Not the greatest pick-up line ever, but it worked. We laughed. Made jokes about the skulls over the entranceway. Laughed at some of the names on the stones. Silly stuff."

Frank continued. "I was careful in those days. Joseph and I became close right off the bat. Kinda like Eric and Todd have. We were kindred spirits. We clicked. Being with Joe tripled my strength. I could take on a lot more of the morphs, and this made me dangerous. I knew this. So did Joe. We kept our friendship quiet. We didn't want anyone to know that Joe was feeding me power, making me stronger. We succeeded. Well, we thought we did."

"When you're with a battery and your power increases, other morphs know. I guess we feel it or something, but we know. Joe and I used St. Olave's as a meeting place, thinking no one would thing to look for us there. That was our mistake. We should have moved around more. It made us easy to find."

"We had been meeting for about a year I guess," said Joe. "It was right after Wayne had convened a Carnival, as we called them then. I was there with Frank. Frank didn't do anything exceptional, well, not that I remember. We had been to several before and no one took any notice of us. Not this time. I guess Wayne noticed us. He had someone waiting for us the next week when we met in the churchyard. It started out normal enough. We always played it as a casual encounter, walking, looking at the head stones. Then we heard it."

"It was the sound of the iron gate closing," said Frank. "We turned and saw a solitary figure wearing a black cloak. His back was to us as he took an old iron rail and bent it around the posts, locking the gate. I assumed he was a morph the way he twisted the inch-thick metal. Through the cloak I could see that he had a thick back and powerful arms. As he turned, I got a full glimpse of him. Even in the bulky clothes of the day, it was clear he was heavily muscled. His chest pressed against his shirt, and his waist was thin. He legs pulled against the fabric as he walked. He had big hands and a bull neck. He was classically handsome. I stared at him, but did not recognize him from the Carnivals. There was something else. I didn't sense his power like I would another morph."

"'What have we here? Looks like a couple of buggers out for a stroll.' He approached. His walk and stance were threatening," said Frank.

"Sorry kind sir, we'll be leaving. We didn't know that someone else was about," said Joe. "I, like Frank, preferred to avoid the conflict. Outside the gate, the street was deserted."

"'No, I don't think so,' said the stranger. He removed the cloak and draped it on a nearby stone. His broad shoulders and massive upper arms stretched his shirt tight. 'You have been noticed, gentlemen, and those I serve can't have that. It is a matter of family honor, now.'"

"'We mean no dishonor to you or your family,'" recalled Joe. 'If our presence here somehow offends, we will be off.' Frank grabbed me then, pushing me back. He whispered to me, 'I'll handle this.' I fed him power to take on the big stranger."

"The stranger smiled an odd smile," said Frank, a distant gaze in his eyes as he recalled these past events. "I approached. 'Step aside, sir, or I shall be forced to move you.' He laughed at that. 'How typical little morph. You have no idea what you are up against do you.' It was 200 years before the Marquis of Queensbury, but there were still Rules of Honor, and this stranger knew them. 'There may be no penance for your crimes, but look upon me and see.' He unbuttoned his shirt, revealling a chest covered in dark hair. There was a deep ridge between two large mounds of pec muscle. His stomach was equally hairy, with the ridges of his abs causing the hair to part and thicken as it outline the massive muscle. He pulled his shirt over his boulder-sized shoulders. His traps rose high against his neck and his arms were thick with muscle. In many ways, he looked like Joe does now." I saw Frank wink at Joe.

"'Sir, you look powerful, but looks can be deceiving. I may be smaller, but I am strong.' I took off my shirt, revealing my hard buff body. My arms and chest were inches smaller than his, but I felt powerful and strong, thanks to Joe. He looked at me and smiled. 'Yes. I can smell the power on you, and you,' he nodded to Joe. Next he raised his arms. I took them freely."

Frank paused. For the first time, I saw fear on his face. He frowned. "His touch was cold. I tried to back away, but suddenly, I felt weak. Through my hands, I felt my strength leave my body and go into his. My power -- my muscle, he was draining it. His body pulsed with size, and I was getting smaller. My hard body softened and my muscular definition began to vanish. 'Yes, you were strong, weren't you? But not any more.' He threw my weakened body to the ground and stood over me. His form was larger than seconds ago as he added my strength to his own. I looked up, his massive chest was like a cliff above me that blocked his face. I simply heard him laugh. I tried to get up, but felt so weak, I could barely more. Joe screamed, came running toward me, but the stranger knocked him back. His muscles flexed as he lowered himself to me, lifting me off the ground. Once again, I saw his face. He closed his eyes."

"'Yes, your master is right. You are dangerous. I see that. Should you live, you would certainly play a part in the curse. Before I kill you, I will tell you this. There are many prophecies and many curses. Some I have made myself. The future is constantly in flux and victory is never certain. My family is prepared. We will survive. You won't.' He opened his eyes and looked at me. I felt it again, the coldness as he drained the remaining power from me."

"He had knocked me down, but not as hard as he thought," said Joe. "Or maybe I recovered faster than he expected. Whatever the reason, I got up and ran toward him. His back was to me and he didn't see me. I saw Frank. He looked skeletal -- so weak. I was so scared. I threw myself at the stranger, wrapping my arms around him and grabbing Frank. He needed power, and I tried to give it to him."

"That's when it happened," said Frank. "I don't know how. I don't know why. Well, maybe I can guess. This stranger, this vampire, was trapped between Joe and me. He and Joe are opposites -- vampires drain power, batteries give power, morphs are power. I've never heard of the three meeting, but we had -- we did. The stranger screamed. The coldness stopped. He tried to push us away, but Joe held tight."

"I couldn't let go," said Joe. "It was like my hands were glued to Frank. I couldn't let go if I wanted to."

"Suddenly his hands felt warm, then hot. I began to feel strong again. More than that. I felt the heat radiate through me, from his hands into my body, causing it to grow and become strong. I felt my body become heavier as he was forced to lower me to the ground, his strength waning. The stranger's arms shrank and his chest became shallow as mine expanded. His pants became loose around his legs as mine ripped through my pants, unable to contain the expanding muscle."

"I felt it too," said Joe. "It hurt, but in a good way. I had always felt like I had a charge, a power I could give. As I held him, I felt this charge grow. It was like I was changing from a spark plug to a nuclear generator. The energy was growing inside me, and I was keeping it. My clothes became tight around me, the burst at the seams as my muscles grew powerful."

"His dying words," said Frank, "as we felt the last of his awesome power ebb from his body into ours were these. 'Father, avenge me.' Maybe it is just my memory playing tricks, but I could swear that a rook flew away as he died."

There was silence for a second, then I asked, "So, this is when you changed?"

"Ya. I didn't learn who the stranger was for several decades. Apparently he had drained hundreds, maybe thousands of morphs. All that power, well, it flowed into Joe and me. I became the second strongest morph. Only Wayne could beat me, and then only barely. Joe is the most powerful battery around. We learned that we could pass some might into normals. It's like we can tap into some source of strength and give it to them. Nothing like a real morph, but..."

"Like you did to me and my Dad?" asked Todd.

"Ya." Frank paused and looked at him. I thought I saw a tear in his eye. "Son, I'm sorry that you and your Dad are fighting. Your Dad and grandpa, well they had a fight right before he died. Your Dad never got over that. This is a dangerous game, but you're right. You are a man now and you have to make these decisions for yourself. Look, I'll talk with him. Make him see that you're growing up."

Todd nodded.

I guess we talked about this for another half hour or so. Mostly, I think we were trying to understand what Frank and Joe had just told us. I'm still not sure I do understand. Anyway, Frank left to go to Mark's house. Todd went home with Ric. I'm writing this at Joe's apartment. He's in the bedroom and calling for me. It's getting late, and tomorrow is another day. •

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