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“One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”
Seek nothing before honor; Give mercy to those who ask; Seek after wonders; Grant hospitality to anyone each according to their ability; Practice religion most diligently; Defend the rights of the weak with all one’s strength; and Never break faith for any reason.
I just finished off the greatest baseball game of all time. I’ve never played better. I struck out twenty-one Media Knights and hit a home run deep into the woods to win it. I’ve waited my entire life to win the Jackson County Tournament. It’s the one thing I’ve wanted above all else. Most would give up their souls to have a shot at the title. Not the one we play for each year, but the true title—the one most know little about. Even the lesser gods take notice. It should have been my crowning achievement.
As King of the Jackson County Players Association, my final act is to end it. I leave this letter behind for someone to find so our legacy isn’t forgotten. Our secret society that governed the league began years ago, created by the team captains of Media, Insa, Glastonbury, Gainesville, Danton, Hightown Falls, and Heyworth after a deciding play in the league championship game. The captains met at a hidden location after Kay Pelles, considered to be the greatest shortstop in Jackson County history, was called out in the bottom of the seventh inning on a blatantly questionable call by a hometown umpire.
It all started as a one-time meeting to blow off steam between a few team captains, and it turned into a tradition. At the time, none of them could have possibly known how powerful the league would become.
The organization grew in myth and stature when Edward Primus, team captain for Insa, took a corner too wide in his field on his rusting Allis tractor and plowed over a large granite rock at Buckhorn Hollow. It took days to dig it out. Erosion had worn the rock so round and flat; one had to wonder if God had carved it during his spare time, marveling at the world. Nobody questions why we met around it.
As the story goes, the seven dragged the stone to a cave at the edge of the county. Doing the work in shifts, it took ten weeks to move it five miles. The real test was getting the stone to fit through the cave’s entrance, which required a hint of gunpowder and a long fuse. Years later, it was ordained the Round Table.
When the original seven moved on, they handed down their namesake. There has always been a Galahad, Lancelot, Gawain, and Mordred within the ranks. And King Arthur—the prestigious role reserved for the best player to lead the rest.
I’ve often contemplated how the Jackson County Players Association has lasted. And the answer to that question can be found in two simple words: pride and tradition.
Pride in one’s position forced our society to evolve, and it has reached twenty-five strong within its ranks. Not one Knight has missed a meeting in our history, and each has kept his identity a secret to limit influence. There is no other way.
Our society has become so ingrained in the lore of Jackson County that everyone wants to be a part of it. And those who are on the opposite side of the looking glass want to see what is on the other side.
It has been an honor to serve as King. Lancelot, the society’s current Messenger, is now delivering my final letter. Enclosed are the identities of all twenty-five Knights and the words Finale. Guinevere Flees. I hope they all run. Most won’t, and I pray that mercy is given to them.
Lord Acheron has caused so much death. Everyone could use our talisman—our symbol—at the game. The final score was 34-32. Despite striking out so many, not even my fastball could stop its fury. Once I finish this, I will go to great lengths to ensure that it can’t be used ever again. I doubt that will happen. Yet, I still have to try and will destroy the entrance to the Round Table. I will make sure nobody finds our hallowed meeting place again. To get the round rock inside the cave, Edward Primus used dynamite. It’s ironic that I’ll use it to close the entrance for good. I pray it collapses the entire cavern.
My father soon realized my choice. I know he’s working to hide the orbs now. But their power can’t stop the chain of events I’ve put in motion. To think, he was once so happy the day he found me on the doorstep. It was on the same day that one of the orbs began to glow. His efforts won’t matter.
I hope that he and the Players Association will one day at least understand what I have done. There is a reason behind my madness. Perhaps the society will reform again in time. I am told that it has before. Despite my best hopes, I know that none will forgive me.
When I stepped on home plate, I knew I had given up too much. I still remember the haunting faces of the crowd. They’ll be with me forever. I should be celebrating as I write this, but my mother is pulling our things together to flee. Like all mothers, she still stands behind me. Tonight, I was to receive everything I wanted. Instead, I’m getting everything I deserve.
Nothing but respect and honor,
“Why have you wandered?” the old man said.
He stepped from the line of pine and oak trees that wrapped around the crest of Baydon Hill and began to playfully whistle Dukas’ L’Apprenti Sorcier.
After the first stanza, he walked toward the center of the clearing while a pack of cardinals, bluebirds, and robins soared around the hill’s peak before dispersing and landing amongst the tangled branches of the trees.
The birds sang, and he seemed to whistle thanks in harmony as a reply. The old man stopped to tilt his head to the heavens and smiled. He pulled on the rusted gold chain attached to his belt, sliding the watch out of his pocket and into his hand.
And on a clear and near-perfect summer day, a bolt of lightning hit the center of the grass field with great force, leaving a dead brown circle within an ocean of green. There was not a cloud in the sky.
“Right on time,” he said with disdain. Lightning was the hallmark of his master’s power, spontaneous and unpredictable. “How bold you have become to wield the old world magic.”
The man stared at the Timex’s face—the glass was cracked and the second hand had lost its will to move long ago—and dropped it inside his pocket. The cracked image of the bolt burned into his eye, but he did not blink. He brought his hands to the lapel of his grey sport coat, adjusting how the jacket fell on his shoulders, and placed his hands in the pockets of his dress pants.
A woman with skin as pale as ivory approached from the bolt’s point of contact. She wore a red, flowing silk gown. Her black hair bounced wildly across her face, and the grass immediately turned stiff and dry under her high heels. The air smelled of chocolate.
She stopped a few feet away. The old man grimaced. “Morgan LeFey.” He knew she was one of Acheron’s sirens, one who had risen through the ranks, and her piercing eyes revealed that there would be no elegant seduction on this afternoon. She was all lust and rage, which was why Lord Acheron had selected her to do his bidding.
She pushed her tongue between her lips as if to hiss in response. But instead of lashing out with her curved red nails, she showed restraint and said, “I have so many names. Why do you choose this one?”
“I felt it fitting,” he answered. “Considering, I suppose.”
The woman straightened her gown and licked her lips. “How do you find me?” When she said the words, the air up and left; the heat chased away the breeze. The birds vanished and the sounds of the forest along with them.
At first, the old man didn’t move. And then his lips parted, giving way to his sly smile. He loved playing the game of the cosmos.
She brushed her hands across her hips. “The dress was created by the mistress Victoria,” she announced, then pointed to the old man’s feet. “I dress the part, but you wear plain white shoes. There is no swoosh. No puma. And how do you keep them so clean?”
The old man brushed aside the insult and asked, “Where have you come from?”
“You should be grateful I meet with you at all, considering your fashion sense.”
“Where have you come from?” he asked again.
The woman breathed in disgust and answered, “From roaming the earth and going back and forth in it.” She stared into his eyes for a fleeting moment. “I have seen storms and havoc.”
“Are you the cause, Morgan?”
“Rhetorical today … I know you have been across the earth. And where is your companion? Where is your beast?”
“Ramón?” He laughed. “Waiting for Cerberus to come back and play, lying on his back on an inner tube, floating down the River Styx.”
The woman spat, and the ground turned to fire from the spray. The blaze grew and circled around the old man. She clenched her fists, commanding the fire to strangle its prey, and screeched, “The three heads of my cat will dine on that filthy animal!”
The old man calmly raised his hand to shield himself. The fire flickered, smoldered to ashes, and disappeared. “Enough of the pleasantries. Besides, you do know that Ramón is as invincible in battle as he is fickle. Are you prepared?” he asked.
The woman straightened and brushed her hair away from her eyes. “I see you have chosen this place once again. I’ve been preparing my champion, and I imagine you have considered yours. I’m sure he is pure of heart and good to the core of his being,” she said, licked her lips again, and winked with disdain.
The man grabbed his lapel and pushed his chest forward. “He is that, and I assure you much more. He is one of the keepers of the seven orbs. And rightful heir to one of the last two orbs yet to be claimed.”
“Orbs … A pitiful ploy to level the playing field. If only those that wield them knew what they could truly do,” she said. “But it does not matter if he’s the rightful heir. There are other means to gain power over an orb and you know it. You’ve seen it, remember?”
“I remember,” the old man said. “But the son will not necessarily make the same choices as his father.”
“After the earlier failure, you go back to the Sheridan well?” The witch brought her hand to her face and tapped her fingers against her cheek. Like a careful scholar, she seemed to ponder a deeper meaning behind the old man’s words. “I wouldn’t go near that family, but that’s your choice. Let’s finish it this time. I don’t want any technicalities to disrupt the game.”
“Technicality is in the eye of the beholder,” the old man countered.
The woman dropped her hands. Her eyes grew wide. Death began to overtake the grass across the clearing like a brown tidal wave.
Perhaps thinking of previous wars waged, the old man smirked. “We will follow the rules of the Players Association, a compilation of literature from all corners of the earth through history and across time.”
“Don’t throw the rules at me, old man. I know them as well as you. And I can only imagine that you have been preparing your champion, but this time I want a fair game. No outside interference. No magic talismans. Remember, your consolation from not finishing our last game?”
The old man paused before taking a deep breath. “No magical talismans,” he whispered.
“You grow weak from your champion’s past failures. You are so old now. I can finish you this time.” The woman smiled. She seemed pleased. “No outside assistance from anyone. We shall see how your champion does without his talisman. We shall see how he fares against my champion on an equal playing field.”
“Very well then, he is in your hands, but do you agree that this is a battle between two champions?”
She stood silent, as if measuring a con man with whom she had done business before. Her eyes glanced from the tips of his pure white shoes to the top of his greying head of hair.
The old man gave her his best poker stare.
Finally, she said, “I cannot compete any other way. I agree.” The woman smiled; her lips were cracked and chapped from spitting fire. “But he is mine, do not forget. We shall see how he does when the storms come. We shall see how he does without his friends. We shall see what he does when I take what he has and put him on his own. We shall—”
“Yes, we shall,” the old man interrupted. “It is good to see you again, Morgan. I wish you all the best.” The old man nodded. He dropped his hands into his pockets, turned away from his adversary, and began to walk to the forest that hid the clearing.
“Why you choose this game I will never know. Why you choose this place I will never know.” She laughed as he walked toward the trees. Like a serpent, she flicked her tongue. “Would you like a going-away kiss?”
The man kept his stride and brought one hand up to wave goodbye. The sound of thunder shook the earth, but the man continued to walk. He did not stumble and seemed to walk on air a few inches above the ground. He did not look back. He knew she had vanished along with the cloudless storm.
The old man stopped a few feet from the edge of the forest and raised both hands in the air, like a conductor preparing to lead his orchestra. Sometimes the subtlest gestures can do the trick. The brown patches of grass created by the witch turned a lush green. He smiled as the birds and crickets chirped once again, breaking the cold silence, and he disappeared into the thick foliage.
Lance Sheridan leaned against the bleachers at Knight Field. “I’m old,” he whispered under his breath. Pointing to his son, Lance said, “Unlike that hayseed on the mound, I just don’t have the heart anymore.” He wondered if he had once looked like Jason, who now kicked up dust storms around the pitcher’s tower. His son seemed like a feather in the wind as he danced from rock to rock, seemingly weightless in the breeze as the whirlwinds surrounded him.
Deep down, Lance knew that his son looked more like his mother. He had the same freckles dotting his nose and cheeks. If not for the thin white stripe in the center of his black head of hair and that certain birthmark, Jason wouldn’t look anything like his old man. Lance rubbed the three dark blotches that made up the Orion’s belt on his left forearm. Then, he pulled at his hair. The Sheridan family curse continues, passed down from father to son …
J. Scott Bradley
The Dark Harp
The Day Life Breaks (Coming in 2021)
Text copyright © 2006 by J. Scott Bradley
Jason Sheridan, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of © J. Scott Bradley
The Dark Harp Publishing Rights © Second Act Fables Cover Art, Book Design and Interior Illustrations are copyright © and trademark of Second Act Fables.
All rights reserved. Published by Second Act Fables.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, or stored, in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher.
For information regarding permission, contact Second Act Fables, Attention: Permissions Department
Library of Congress Control Number: Pending
Designed in the U.S.A. First Edition/And Constant Changes, January 2006
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