“Playing with our minds! Our minds!” reiterated Underwood in a trembling voice.
“Stand your ground man,” McKeevor soothed his old comrade, “our perimeter is safe again. Be ready for the next attack and buck the lads up, don’t let them see your fear.”
Aside from one or two groans from the Assistants who had received some injuries, only Roundtree’s ritual could be heard in the ancient manor house. The peers tensed expectantly: the Monk had to make a real attack in force if he seriously wanted to prevent the ritual’s completion!
The fabled Ritual Cup had been traced to the forgotten hamlet of Niejetzie, Latvia. While not at first obvious, two things eventually became clear: first, that the Monk felt in complete control of the Academy’s challenge, even though no fewer than seven peers and 11 assistants were present; second, that the hamlet was populated by revenants of ancient times, kept alive – and under the Monk’s control – by the Cup’s power.
Finding the Cup had taken a bit of doing, and the arrival of a Red Squad had been a distraction for a time. While scouting the Reds, Cross and Shen Lu had been ambushed by the Monk. Cross’ mind had been invaded, perhaps drastically.
Now the peers had the Cup, and had retired behind the barricades McKeevor had erected in the Manor. McKeevor, the ex-Sar’Major, had demonstrated why he was in charge of defences just a few moments ago, when the Monk infiltrated the perimeter, took possession of one of the assistants, and attacked McKeevor. A few seconds later the “Renfielded” assistant lay dead and the Sar’Major was re-establishing a tighter perimeter.
In the center of the Manor Hall, Underwood and Partridge had constructed the necessary ritual circle and were working with the Cup. It made concentrating outward a little hard. Cross, McKeevor, Shen Lu and most of the surviving assistants peered out into a rising mist. Perfect for an undead attack!
Observing the traditions, the Monk sent the hosts against the Manor. Appearing out of the mists the undead occupants of Niejetzie walked calmly forward, on three fronts.
“Open fire!” McKeevor snapped firmly to his Vickers crew, and the heavy machine gun chewed into the mass which veered, heading toward the main doors.
Wilson waited, broadsword at the ready, near the servants’ entrance at rear of the Hall. He could hear a group of undead scratching and pushing at the sturdy old door. Underwood waited near Wilson: the chain-clad Slayer seemed as good or even better cover than the heavy walls of the Manor.
Shen Lu composed himself and waited near the main doors. His time with these white devils had been uncomfortable at best. None of them understood his role or motivation, and he was content to leave it that way. It would take Lao Tze himself to educate these white dogs into the civilised ways.
“Fire into the barricade! They’ll have it down in a trice I doubt, so make siccar now!” commanded McKeevor, and he, Cross and an assistant poured fire through the boards, wreaking damage on the undead coming through the west wing and unable, even had they been willing, to take cover. “Move the Vickers lads, have it sited down the hall from the great hall,” McKeever demanded, and his HMG team dragged the heavy weapon past their cover positions into the great hall.
Shen looked around. The main doors were holding, the east wing did not seem to be under attack, McKeevor was clearly in control on the west wing, Wilson was happily waiting guarding the rear: but no-one was really guarding the upper level where the mezzanine dominated the great hall. Then his attention was fixed, as the main doors buckled!
The Vickers hammered again as McKeevor, Cross and the last assistant dodged back into the great hall. Undead milled into the machine-gun fire and slumped away.
With a joyful cry, Wilson hacked through several undead attempting to get across the servant’s parlor to the great hall. Underwood readied himself: he had warned long and loud about the wisdom of this mission – to the point where even his old comrade McKeevor began looking blackly at him – and he could not wait to say “told you so!” as his comrades were torn asunder.
As Partridge and Underwood’s chanting and swaying grew to a crescendo, a misty shape formed on the stairs. “It’s Mas… the Monk!” Cross squealed. “He’s in the Hall!”
Shen, Wilson and McKeevor threw themselves toward the grinning Great Old Vampire. The ritual had to be completed! Partridge, leaving the last stage to Underwood, threw bolts of energy into the Monk.
“Well done you servants of light!” hissed the Monk, “now my time has come!”
“It has at that, you evil beggar!” screamed Cross, lining up his shots, but in his head the Monk’s voice was telling him something else.
“Success! Now fall you vampires and ghouls! Let light triumph over darkness!” bellowed Roundtree in an unnaturally loud clear cry. The deadly danger inherent in the ritual had not deterred the eminent scholar and arcanist: and now, life in the balance, he enacted the final piece of the ritual. The mist fell back as though from a divine wind, the undead falling and melting away into so much ancient dust, as the centuries caught up with them. The most recent victims, three Red Squad goons and two Academy assistants, fell more corporeally dead. The Monk dissolved into mist with a great cry.
But after, when the Academy peers and assistants came to congratulate their man of the moment, they found Cross standing sorrowfully over Roundtree’s body.