Parallel Worlds are ever changing…
Time’s an abstract concept.
And life’s a constant cycle,
Where all realms intersect….
The last verse of the band’s grand finale faded into a tightly linked chain of ethereal rhythms, originating from the keyboard player and the faint shimmer of sound that the drummer was drawing forth gently from his cymbals. A bass undertone joined in while the lead guitarist paused in his playing. The lean figure reached up and grasped the microphone on the stand ahead of him and launched into the final chorus of what the band fervently hoped would be their last encore of the evening,
Powers within control the forces without…
An enchanting melody
A song of pain and grief
A double-edged sword
Forged of the soul…
All just part of the Strand of Grey
Spun from fates’ loom
Caught in the web of destiny…
Caught in the web of destiny
And lost in the maze of fate…
The voices of the other band members melded together and joined in, repeating the last line softly as the lean leather-clad figure at the forefront of the stage began to play his antique Fender Stratocaster once more. The fingers of his right hand returned unerringly to their former places on the guitar’s fret board while the fingers of his left caught up to the band’s rhythms and resumed control of the music before belting out the final line in one last intense refrain...
Caught in the web of destiny…
And lost in the maze of fate…
The melodic lyrics drifted off into an increasingly complex variation of chords and notes that screamed forth from the massive amplifiers towering to either side of the performers; a deep primeval music that danced entrancingly out across the tavern. As the music of his band mates died out completely; everything, and everyone, in the large tavern focused on the electrifying performer. The dark-maned musician seemed to float in a strange symbiosis with his guitar. Cheered on by the enthralled crowd, he continued to play, weaving his own web as if mirroring what he had sung of. It had become a mesmerizing pattern of intricate disarming song. The solo rose dramatically to a crescendo of phenomenal skill that enchanted all around him. Then, in unison with the rest of the band, as they joined back in alongside him, he ended the song on a long echoing note.
There was a hush in the crowd, long enough for the band to exchange quick worried looks with each other. A further momentary pause of awestruck silence seemed to thicken in the room, and then, the crowd stood in unison, applause erupting from them. The guitarist and his fellow musicians felt a surge of relief flow through them and they left the stage amid a long standing ovation. Beer mugs and wine glasses were raised in a boisterous blending of nearly unintelligible toasts. The excitement, accompanied by cheering and hollering, continued for several minutes until finally, it began to peter out and be replaced with the buzz of social conversation.
Behind the stage, the group of musicians wiped the sweat from their hands and brows; Greystrands had been their third encore. A couple of roadies, friends who’d volunteered to help them out for the gig, made their way throughout the sparsely furnished dressing room passing out icy cold brews as they went. There were a handful of other friends present too but no one else. That was the way the band liked it. Led by Richard Challenger’s intense moody riffs, they pored out their energy during their performances and generally didn’t wish to do anything but relax afterward. Already, Chris, the bassist had filled the bowl of a pipe with the weed he’d bought from a long-haired busker at Gatwick Airport. A moment later its heady aroma pervaded the room as he put flame to herb. Dave, the drummer took two beers, opening one for Melissa, the keyboardist, and the other for himself.
Chris looked up from the pipe, and from within his long dangling blond hair, spoke to their silent leader, “Rich, why so glum, man? We were real tight tonight, smooth…’ he paused inhaling deeply, “… as this shit,” he emphasized by hauling hard on the pipe. Unfortunately, he drew too hard and soon found himself coughing violently.
Everyone laughed and despite his own preoccupations, Richard Challenger couldn’t help his reply, “Yeah, I can see that!” and they all laughed again.
As the coughing subsided and Chris wiped the tears from his dancing eyes, Melissa spoke up, running her long pianist’s fingers through her short blond hair as she did so, “All joking aside, Richard, you do seem a little distant tonight. I know performances of yours like the one we just witnessed take you a long way away but I’d think you’d be a tad more, oh say...ecstatic, considering we inked a major record deal this afternoon.”
“I don’t know, Mel, something’s bothering me. Thing is, I don’t know what the hell it is. Bad dreams, I guess,” he moved his shoulders as if to shrug it off but everyone present knew it was still going to haunt him. When Richard’s mind was stuck on something, it was an immovable force.
Just then, a sudden noise from the nearby hallway drew all their attention. The door swung open and a tall lean figure darted through, microphone in hand. Through the doorway, they could see Paul, their sound and light man, and bouncer, holding back a cameraman and several other reporters. Word must have gotten out abot their record deal.
“Hi, I’m…” the intruder began but before he could identify himself, Richard had swept across the room and yanked the microphone from his stunned grip. With a deft flick of his thumb, the professional musician shut off the device.
“Get out,” he told the journalist softly.
“But…I’m just…” but before the man could speak further, the leanly-muscled guitarist grabbed him by the throat, stunning everyone in the room, and slammed him against the wall.
“I said...get out!” he shouted fiercely and proceeded to drag the man back outside. Returning, he slammed the door and turned towards the occupants, stopping abruptly when he saw the speechless surprise on their faces. He wasn’t one, despite his perpetual intensity, to lose his cool very easily.
“Sorry,” he said after a long pause while he sought to sort out his emotions. An expression crossed his face as if he had suddenly remembered something. He looked over to where his leather jacket hung on the wall near the rear exit. “I think I’d better go. I’ve got something I’ve got to do.”
Dave, the drummer stood up, “Wait a minute, man. Are you sure? This is going to turn into some party tonight. Hell, Rich, we’re about to make the big time. Shit! We've made the big time with this deal!”
Richard Challenger nodded, a look of seriousness darkening his already dour visage. “I know, Dave. That’s why I’ve got to clear my head.”
He pulled on his battered old jacket, pulling up the big metal zipper and buttoning it upwards from his narrow waist. Melissa approached him as he did so, a knowing look in her light blue eyes.
“You’re going to do it, aren’t you?” she asked. “You’re going to the Stones?”
“What if you get caught?”
Richard grinned slightly out of the corner of his mouth, returning his own deep brown gaze, “Well, then, I guess the band will get some extra publicity. I have to do it though. I always told myself I would if I ever got the chance. It’s a promise to myself that I have to keep.”
Reaching up, he ruffled her short hair fondly. He smiled, a full warm smile. They’d been friends a long time, a lot longer than they’d ever been an item.
“I promise I’ll be careful,” he kissed her lightly on her high cheek and then he turned to retrieve his bike helmet and finally, the old twelve-string guitar in it’s battered case that he took everywhere with him.
“Whatever else it is that’s bugging you, Richard, I hope it doesn’t affect your music,” he heard Chris say as he left through the rear exit. Luckily, the reporters hadn’t made it to that door yet and he had a brief respite to collect his thoughts.
The thing was, it was affecting his music but not in ways that most people would notice. Their last song, he’d written just before this gig, just after the dreams had returned. He hadn’t been kidding to Chris about that part of it. He was having bad dreams, very disturbing ones. He’d written Greystrands in the middle of the night, having been awoken by the vividness of one of those dreams.
These days, he seemed to be in a constant state of confusion. The young musician, whose star seemed on the rise, didn’t even notice the slow heavy drizzle that had begun to moisten his long hair and old jacket as he walked quickly towards the motorcycle parked in the shadows at the back of the alley. So great were his distractions and his preoccupation with his dreams that sometimes he felt that he was that silken strand of grey from the song, involuntarily and uncontrollably being spun out on the web of destiny.
Richard stopped by the motorcycle and wiped off the leather seat before straddling it. It was a Triumph he’d rented in town here. Not quite the Harley he’d owned at home in Montreal but a good bike nonetheless. With his guitar case slung over his shoulder, he kick-started the old bike and wound out the throttle. Gently squeezing in the clutch, he put the bike into gear with his left foot and rode away.
As he headed north out of the town of Salisbury, he decided he’d do a quick reconnaissance of the area he was heading for before actually going in. He’d seen the place in pictures and even in his dreams before but he’d never actually been there. As he drove, Richard thought of the other dreams...
They always began the same with a brilliant explosion of light and colour. Then he’d see the mountain, it’s twin peaks towering over the nearby landscapes. He’d see it, as if through the eyes of some high circling bird, just as he’d look down and see himself as well, far below. Always, he was heading toward the mountain, sometimes on a horse, sometimes on his beloved Harley. A twelve-sting guitar would always be strung across his back, just as it was now. Sometimes, it would be the old one he carried on the bike and had rebuilt wth such painstaking precision.
Always though, there was the Sword. Whether he carried it in his hand or in a scabbard on his steed or even at his side or across his back, it was always there; as if it were part of his very soul. At that point, the dream usually varied. What happened then never re-occurred the same. The only thing that remained consistent throughout it all was his eventual assent of the mountain and the maelstrom of emotion that it stirred up, crossing over even into his waking hours, sometimes for days at a time.
It was only about an eight mile drive from town so it didn’t take him long to get there. Richard wasn’t sure when, during that time, that the rain actually stopped and the skies began to clear. Time and distance were but an annoyance in his current state of fugue.
A damp wet mist cloaked the benighted moors. It wasn’t very conducive weather to be playing in, he found himself thinking, as a familiar landmark rose up from the expanse. Ahead of him lay a circle of upright standing stones, three circles actually. Richard Challenger had finally arrived at Stonehenge and in so doing had fulfilled a promise to himself that he’d made years ago when just a street urchin busking on the streets of Montreal.
A lone figure had seated himself within the circular configuration of massive stones. He strummed experimentally on the twelve strings of his old guitar. The slender form seemed dwarfed by the four concentric ranges of megalithic monuments. Within the innermost horseshoe of upright lintelled stones was a horizontally laid slab of micaceous sandstone. The blue sarsen of the standing stones contrasted with the other stone whose origins were not quite as local. It was on this, the altar stone, that the musician was seated. One of the uprights had fallen across it an indeterminable time before but he still managed found a perch to make himself comfortable.
The man himself was not extraordinary in appearance, but upon close inspection, his deep brown eyes shone with intelligence and a strong vital inner will. The sparse growth of hair on his face, little more than a youth’s, was the same dark shade as his long tousled mane and neatly trimmed goatee. Tight faded blue jeans and a worn leather jacket accented the general shabbiness of his appearance. When standing, he was more than a couple of inches short of six feet, not especially formidable or intimidating to look upon. Yet, his lean mass of tightly compacted muscles sat itself proudly on the altar stone with a majestic mien that belied his pariah-like appearance. It was that same innate regalness that attracted his fans, a sense of self and confidence he did not even realize he carried but which was readily apparent to others when he was on-stage.
Cross-legged on the massive horizontal centre stone, he had his guitar in his lap. Richard Challenger, self-professed and self-taught student of the arts, wasn’t sure exactly why he had wanted to come and visit the ancient and mysterious Stonehenge so badly. It was a symbol, he supposed, a goal he had set for himself long ago.
It had been in an old cathedral in Montreal, where he had first felt the sensation one felt in the presence of antiquity. Notre Dame was one of the oldest buildings in North America and the energy had suffused him with a sense of ancient power...the power of history. Stonehenge was thousands of years older. It made his skin tingle; he felt himself swallowed up by the history of it all. Keen interest in the British Isles and all its long years had intrigued him from an early age. Richard had thought while in that cathedral that its history was nothing as compared to that of something like the great Standing Stones of Britain, its existence so brief in the scheme of history. Someday, he had told himself, he would go to Stonehenge and play his guitar at it’s centre, all the time feeding his creativity with the inspiration of thousands of years of history to spur him onward. And now on a dark night at the peak of the Summer Solstice, he lived the dream.
The moon had not yet risen fully and the earlier cloud cover hadn’t completely retreated. Darkness blanketed the chalk downs and the night air was still thick with moisture. Richard couldn’t even see the fret-board on the neck of his guitar but years of practice had eliminated any need to actually see what he was doing. Music was felt not seen. It was heard not spotted across a distance. Melded with the music on an intuitive level that even he didn’t understand, the words came to him, flowing freely from the collective consciousness…
The weight of ages lay upon them,
The eroding winds caressed their forms;
The blood of many still doth stain
The Stones of Power that still remain.
After a time, the young player paused in his song and thought once more of where he was. It was the height of the Summer Solstice and he was here, making music in one of the oldest constructions known to Man. In the morning, when the sun rose, it would appear to rise directly from the Helestone, a huge slab of standing stone which guarded the only way across a broad circular ditch that surrounded the original embankment. It was too bad that he couldn’t stay to see the sight; too bad he couldn’t stay much longer, as a matter of fact.
Two hours; two hours he had stolen from all the ages that mighty Stonehenge had seen. The security car passed by every now and then but they didn’t come in to the site and their headlights gave away their approach each time so Richard had more than enough time to hide each time they did. He'd heard that their presence was to deter any new vandals from defacing the stones since they had taken down the fence that had formerly surrounded the circle. The clever youth had hidden the Triumph in a grassy field nearby before approaching on foot. All he had on him was his guitar and his guitar case. Even the roach from the joint he’d smoked had been disposed of outside the grounds. This area had been desecrated enough already. He wouldn't add to it even with such a small piece of waste.
He began to pack up his guitar in its weathered but still sturdy case. He did it slowly, holding hard to the feeling of grandeur that being in the ruins brought to him. He didn’t want to get caught despite joking about it earlier with Melissa. He had no problem with the publicity part of it. Any press was good press when you’re a rising star. He just didn’t want to get grouped along with the crazy dirt-munchers and graffiti artists whose antics had forced the fence up around the stonework for years.
The graffiti was unforgivable. Would one place an insulting tattoo on the dead body of their grandfather and leave his casket open for all to see? What the ignorant bastards had done to the ancient stones was unforgivable. They had stood for longer than mankind had been recording their own history. They deserved their dignity. The neo-druids and crazy cultists were better than the vandals but not by a lot in some ways. Stonehenge predated even the Druids. It was born in the Neolithic age of man. It had been added to substantially by three distinct races of people. Modern man should have been trying to preserve and restore the great enigmatic construct; to be the fourth race in its creation, not its destroyer. Its very existence was a tribute to what man can achieve even in primitive times. It had other worth as well; among other things, it had proven to be a solar calendar of sorts, predicting solstices and solar eclipses.
He started to exit the inner circle of stones, took one last look behind him and would’ve left at that point had he not seen the play of lights on the road that ran closely by the Stones.. He could see a security vehicle, a small economy car but behind it was another vehicle, a cube van. Curious, he stepped back into the shadows beneath a standing stone within the circle.
The van drove up towards the causeway and halted just before the Helestone. The security vehicle reversed and drove away. At the Helestone, the rear van door slid open and a single figure exited. The door closed back up and the vehicle made its way around the great megalith and continued on toward the first circle of stones. If it were not for the time of night and a brief glimpse of the figure at the Heel Stone, Richard might have believed them to be government officials or a team of archaeologists but if so, when did dark hooded robes become government issue?
The Dodge halted once more, just yards away from where Richard crouched. Even in the darkness of that British night, the young musician could still discern the logo on the side of the otherwise plain white vehicle. Winged Courier Corporation it read, in black outlined letters on a background of silver wings. A private courier.
What could they be delivering to Stonehenge at his time of night?
None of it made any sense, which was even harder to deal with as he desperately concentrated on remaining unmoving and unseen. He willed himself not to shiver, even though the dampness had seeped through to his bones and there was something even further chilling about the whole situation.
What the hell was going on here?
Five more strangely garbed figures poured out of the van. Two of them held back momentarily to retrieve something from the interior of the vehicle. It was a long burlap sack filled with something not too heavy but not exactly light either. Richard Challenger found himself wondering as to the nature of its contents. As frightened as he was, he was still morbidly curious as to the truth of the scenario playing out before him. As he tried to discern any detail about the almost formless oblong shape within the bag, a strange uneasiness came over him.
Richard glanced around at the men. All wore the same long black robes, their features hidden by heavy cowls and the deep shadows of the night itself. One bemused sardonic part of his mind thought that they all looked like extras out of some cheap B-grade horror flick. Another, more superstitious part of the young artist wondered if they were the mad priests of some dark god. Whichever, or if they were even something else, they had both connections and money. He just couldn’t see the British government letting anyone drive up to one of their most revered historical sites in the middle of the night; unless they just bribed the security guards, which wasn’t beyond the realm of impossibility either. The strangers would still have to have some substantial resources though. The guards wouldn’t risk a fairly prestigious if sometimes boring job unless it was worthwhile to them financially.
Why go to the bother though? Richard couldn’t help but wonder as he reached up with one long fingered hand to wipe away the moisture gathering on his brow. Were they just some rich pagans performing some ancient Druid rite in hopes of inspiring fertility? Such things were often referred to in connection to the Mid-summer Solstice and in more than one ancient culture.
He knew he could not leave until he knew the truth. His curiosity and yearning for that truth drove him. Despite the artistic streak that that ran through the youth, he had a keen analytical mind, self-honed as part of his own self-education. Just because he had never even finished high school people assumed his knowledge was limited but most people did not understand the determination of someone like Richard Challenger.
Still, he had to admit, he hadn’t quite figured out what was occurring here.
One of the newcomers wore a wide crimson sash about his waist and a small satchel hung from it. There was a Celtic symbol on its face, a stylized sun. Whatever was going on, it was concerned with the solstice. The symbol seemed to confirm that. The robes were anachronisms of an earlier more primitive time and Stonehenge had long been home to many religious and spiritual rituals. Despite obvious trepidation, the rising star of Parallel Worlds found himself growing more intrigued all the time.
The two men carrying the burlap burden moved forward into the inner circle of upright stones and placed it on the exposed portion of altar stone. As they did so, Richard realized then what the contents of the sack might be. It was probably a sacrifice, a small sheep or maybe a pig. The druids and others who had performed rituals within these stones had often performed such deeds to please their gods and the powers of nature.
He felt a sudden concern for the senseless murder of some innocent livestock.
The other men were busy as well; two of them were busy lighting torches they'd brought with them. They’d been placed in the ground at either end of the altar stone. A third was busy sketching a chalk circle about twenty-five feet in diameter around the horizontally laid rock, trying not to let the one fallen across it impede the design. The chalk glowed as if mixed with some phosphorous substance. The man with the satchel had reached into it to remove something. For a brief moment Richard thought he saw a handle, like that found on some sort of ceremonial knife, but it was not this object that the man drew forth.
When the others’ tasks were finished, they retreated to the outer perimeter of the chalk circle where they were joined by the last man, the first out of the vehicle, who had completed his tasks, which included lighting another fire at the base of the Helestone. Having done that, he returned to his comrades. The first man moved forward and handed him what he had removed from his satchel. It was a mask, etched in metal; it’s features hidden as he accepted it from the man in crimson and black, holding it face down, carefully.
The man in the sash then stepped back and moved toward one end of the altar. Simultaneously, the others were removing other masks from their own robes. They too held them face down and Richard wondered if this was a symbolic gesture to ensure that no spirits were invoked before their proper time during the rite. The musician had read a lot of history, especially about the British Isles over the years but he didn’t know many details of the specific rituals of some of the more pagan cultures. He knew only enough to be fascinated by it just as he was now witnessing it.
The man farthest from Challenger whom the other had given the first mask to brought it upwards revealing the ornate face painstakingly crafted upon it. Even in the dim flickering torchlight, Richard could see the detail carved upon it. It was a depiction of a silver moon, human-like features personified upon it. The stranger placed it over his own shadowed visage and began to intone in strange ritualistic words.
“Though it be the peak of the Summer Solstice, the Celebration of Life, it will soon be the ending of its season and then the time of the Autumnal Equinox will be upon us. It is in wait of this that the Cold Moon now rises.” At that moment, the real moon broke away from its confining cloud cover and a brisk wind seemed to spring up from nowhere.
The hidden observer tried to shake it off as coincidental but the tingle of hair on the nape of his neck refused to go away. He turned his gaze toward the others who stood around the perimeter of the thaumaturgic circle. Each had placed a mask on their heads and thrown back their cowls. All were the same. All were grim bone-white masques of death, grinning skulls that made Richard shiver uncontrollable despite any rationale he attempted to maintain. As one, in a chant-like monotone, they too spoke.
“Let the coming of the Winter of Entropy envelop the land and all the myriad dimensions of existence.” They paused in unison as well and then raising their voices they shouted, “Slay the Sun! Slay the Sun!” They formed a chorus of this final line and more quietly, they began to repeat it, over and over again.
The man in the sash pulled his cowl deeper over his own unmasked features and reached once more into the satchel at his waist. A faint moaning seemed to arise from somewhere but Challenger had no time to determine its source before a blinding flash of lightning lit up the night and a roar of thunder silenced the groans and everything else in its rage.
None of the would-be druids, or whatever they were, even flinched at this. Richard however did not fare so well. He barely maintained his camouflage in the deep shadows of the standing stone as the six men aligned themselves across from each other, the one with the moon mask directly opposite the unmasked man who withdrew two objects from the seemingly bottomless satchel he had. He grasped the objects between the thumb and first two fingers of each hand. Delicately he brought them up above his head as Richard’s caught them in fine detail with his artist’s eyes.
He saw the thick calloused hands with their hairy knuckles wrapped around the red gold of two half-circles about the size, combined, of a dinner plate, a part of him couldn’t help but think ironically that the scene would make a great album cover; two hands clutching the two halves of an intricately wrought sun and bringing them up suddenly into the night sky.
“Yes!” the man who seemed to be their leader screamed. “Yes! Slay the Sun! But let it not be the death of eternal rest but rather the insurrection of Order and the reign of absolute Chaos. Let burn the light of the Shadowflame!”
The torchlight fluttered in the strong wind, illuminating the twin pieces of the sun and casting fluid shadows that made the objects seem to flow as if alive toward each other.
Then, Richard heard the sounds again. They were groans...louder this time. They were like the moans of one awakening slowly from a deep but troubled sleep full of bad dreams. Richard knew those sounds. He knew that feeling. He felt it almost every morning. Growing horror replaced the morbid fascination he had felt. He knew where the sounds were coming from.
As the stunned musician’s well-trained ears pinpointed the source of the sounds, his gaze turned slightly from the hands of the mysterious worshiper to the burlap sack upon the altar stone. It couldn’t be...but even as he told himself this, Richard Challenger knew that what his instincts told him was true.
It was a human sacrifice they had brought with them.
A thousand thoughts flashed through his mind. This couldn’t be happening, he told himself but, not even then, did he truly believe that lie. Richard knew two distinct unchangeable things about his own character, even at such an early stage in his life. One, he was a survivor. Two, he was a realist. He knew what was before his eyes was no delusion, no drug induced hallucination. Christ! He’d only been smoking pot.
There were more sounds. This time they were words, muffled through the burlap but clear and concise enough to make out even at the distance that the youth was from their point of origin.
“Help me! Please! Help me! What is happening? What do you want from me?” the plea was torn desperately from a woman’s throat; young and frightened, if Richard’s keen senses were still as accurate as ever.
Every nerve in his body was afire with the desire to act...…but how?
There was a sharp crackle like that of electricity and the tiny fragment of time in which revelation had paralyzed the boy shattered into motion. The chain of action and reaction, propelling him inescapably toward a destiny he had never imagined for himself, drew his gaze to the glowing sun in the hands of the man that the young watcher knew now must be some whacked out fanatic. Richard started involuntarily as the golden disc rejoined for a moment then burst into countless tiny little metal fragments.
The one who had held the shattered device leapt back nimbly and unleashed a bestial cry of primordial hunger. He reached into the embroidered satchel at his hip one last time and removed the knife that Richard had glimpsed before. Its bony handle had been smoothed to fit the grip of a human hand. At a guess, it’s curved wickedly barbed blade stretched nearly eighteen inches from base to tip.
Awareness of what was truly about to happen began to dawn on Challenger. There were no camera crews. This wasn’t some fantasy film or documentary shoot. That wasn’t a lamb on the altar, at least not of the four-legged kind. It was a human sacrifice and the stunned musician was about to be an unwitting and unwilling witness to it.
Then, a thousand fragments of thought came together in a precise micro-explosion inside his skull. A choice, irrevocably, was made. He found his feet dragging themselves slowly out from underneath the lintel piece of the Standing Stone that had formerly hidden him. Unnoticed, his eyes widened as the would-be executioner slashed along the length of the burlap bag fiercely and swiftly but so deftly that the creamy flesh of the naked figure within was revealed in its entirety yet not a mark was left upon it by the flashing blade.
Everything slowed to an inexorable crawl. Richard saw the broad forearm of the man revealed in the dim light as he raised the dagger high above his head. The girl squirmed as she realized what was happening. A fleeting image of long-dark locks was all the young man glimpsed before he realized what he himself was doing. The next instant, he had rushed out and brushed past one of the men forming the circle around the altar, launching himself at the knife-wielder. At the same instant, a fraction of eternity before the killer recognized the presence of Richard Challenger’s intrusion into the ritual, he finished his incantation.
“ Master of Jet and Crimson. Accept my offered sacrifice.” He brought the blade down sharply and swiftly but it never reached its intended target as two long-fingered hands wrapped around the man’s thick wrists and deflected the blow just enough that it struck point first into the ancient altar stone instead.
Time seemed to slow around Richard Challenger as he instinctively sought to stop the fatal blow of the knife just moments before it should have struck its frantic victim. He had known for a brief instant what futility was all about, utter helplessness. There was no way he would reach the altar stone in time but a part of him would not accept that. And it was that part of him that reacted. He felt a blast of fiery pain through every synapse in his body which seemed to last for a lifetime and then, he seemed to move outside of time itself. The sensation lasted only the tiniest fraction of a moment, his body continuing to lunge toward the intended sacrifice but it was enough. The thick knuckled knife wielder had been thwarted. A spark of metal against stone and small fragments of both shot upward at the impact while the terrified woman looked on, her wide green eyes just inches away. As he moved, a trail of multi-coloured threads seemed to dance around him and then around the others. He felt energy pulse along them and he drew it into himself and it was that, somehow that gave him the strength and speed he had needed. He sensed this but had no time to process it.
As sudden as Richard’s appearance had been onto the scene, the knife-wielding fanatic reacted almost reflexively, annoyed at the interruption but still determined to finish the deed he had come to Stonehenge to perform.
“ I won’t be stopped,” he muttered, his silver-grey gaze focusing in on this unexpected intruder. The look in those cold eyes struck Richard Challenger to the very core of his being. From initial surprise to the irritated attention of a man about to swat some pest that had distracted him, the expression changed swiftly in those chilling orbs.
Separating the hands that had jointly grasped the sacrificial knife, the fanatic yanked them upwards, twisting his forearms just enough to break the hold the young musician had on them both. Desperately, though irreversibly off-balance, Richard managed to maintain his grip on the hand that still held the knife at the same time somehow managing to sprawl between his opponent and the bound struggling figure on the altar stone.
He managed to slow the inevitable descent of the knife once more but his foe literally had the upper hand, his leverage much greater through his superior positioning. Time slowed again but not as before. Whatever had occurred previously did not repeat itself. Instead, seconds seemed to crawl by as the robed man casually forced his hand downwards inch by inch. Richard’s wrist began to bend backwards and his forearm was pressed almost into his face when the razor sharp point of the knife pricked against his flesh and unnoticed by either combatant, several drops of the youth’s blood fell downward.
Only the young woman saw what occurred next twisting her leg just in time so that the blood fell on the stone beneath her rather than on herself…
It did happen again, that sense of dislocation he had felt before accompanied by strands of colour all around. It was as if he was stepping outside of reality and it was stronger than before; he seemed to shift beyond Time again and now Space as well. This time, though, he was not alone...
There was an explosion of blue light that infused all three figures. Lightning flashed downwards from the sky, striking the entire stonework in a surge of electricity before one powerful stroke struck the glowing forms over the altar stone and an instant later there was only a smoking massive block of stone embedded horizontally in the ground and laying pretty much as it had for the last few millenia. The other robed figures could only look on in astonishment and fear...