By Michael Cooley

KRACKKKKKK! The thunderclap echoed ... distant . . . faded like I was hearing it from the end of a long hall. I became dimly aware of the rain, steady and soft dancing across my face, arms, chest and legs.

I feel so stiff. My limbs are so heavy. I must have slept a long time. I would have to ask the sorcerer about the effects of this most unnatural slumber. Even my dreams were odd. Fragments that were so clear and vivid at times, they seemed so real ... and strange. It is difficult to sort them out in my head now . . . visions of fantastical things, and horrific events. I wonder, had the old man imbued me with some of his prescience?

I struggle to force my eyes open. I hear more thunder and the rain makes the distinct sound of droplets striking flagstones. The sorcerer must have brought me back to the courtyard after he finished his incantations. But wait, there is something else now. Some other sounds beyond the thunder and rain. What is that cacophony? That horrible wail, it sounds like a banshee. And those jarring horn blasts, all off key and piercing. The court musicians need more practice, I muse.

The sounds swell, building and surrounding me like a rush of a waterfall as you break the surface of the stream at it's base. My eyes snap open just as another thunderclap roars overhead and lightning flashes across the evening sky. I blink reflexively, to clear my cloudy vision. The muted grey of my surroundings comes into focus ... and I am aghast.

All around me are enormous, looming pillars of stone and glass, rising like spires into the night sky. They literally touch the heavens. They are so tall and I must crane my neck to view their tops. What manner of creature would (and could) build such a thing, I wonder. As I am looking around I quickly realize that I am perched overlooking the edge of a cathedral of some sort. I am at a dizzying height and will my stubborn muscles into action, retreating from the ledge, only to fall back onto the roof of the church with a dull, heavy thump.

The sound is disturbing, like a boulder falling off a ledge. I reach out to right myself ... instead of the bronzed, muscled forearm I am accustomed to, I see a chiseled granite one that ends in a massive, taloned hand. I am dumbstruck for a few moments, staring at this arm that is not mine. Slowly, the cobwebs clear and I begin to remember ... the full moon in the night sky, the calm of the wooded grove where I met the old sage ... it all started to come back ...

It had been over a year since the Knights of the Round Table disbanded. Arthur was mortally wounded battling Mordred. Even though we had won the day, it came at such a high cost. None of the Knights had the will to carry on after that bloody day. The dream that was Camelot had fallen away.

I had briefly entertained the thought of returning to Camelot and spiriting Guinevere away with me to my castle in France, but that would serve Arthur's memory ill and I had vowed to never betray my loyalty to Arthur again. So, I entered the monastery of St. John the Divine seeking to dedicate my life to God, that He may use me to do His will.

I had been in the monastery just a year. My heart and soul were at peace for the first time in many years. The monks of St. John's were very kind and patient with me. I never expected the old wizard to come calling ... assuming he had gone his own way as well. But Merlin never took well to idling about.

He came to the monastery looking quite vexed. He had traveled a considerable distance to find me. And when he did, his message was quite urgent. Merlin has foreseen the time when Arthur's spirit would be called back to the world of men to unite the just and honorable and take up arms against tyranny and evil. Were it any other than the wise sorcerer Merlin I would have pronounced them a heretic, or a fool. But I knew what great powers of portent the sage possessed.

He expanded the tale of his visions, telling me of a grand age in the future ... a return of Camelot! Merlin was unable to predict when Arthur would return, but he knew it was a distant time. He went on to divulge the reason for searching me out. He knew that the world would be changed upon Arthur's return and that Arthur would need help to assemble men of courage and honor to his cause. Who better than his greatest knight to assist him?

I would gladly have given my life for Arthur and to aid him in any manner, but I was skeptical of how I could be of any service to Arthur, or Merlin for that matter. Merlin implored me to leave the confines of the monastery and follow him back the woods near Camelot. He assured me that he had found a way to enable me to meet Arthur upon his return to the world. I acquiesced to the sorcerer's pleas, and we left the following dawn for the shining white spires of Camelot.

The five day ride was uneventful, except for Merlin chattering on about his visions and how Arthur's return would signal a second Golden Age. Yet he revealed nothing about his plan, which filled me with some unease.

My feelings were justified. When we arrived at the hovel that Merlin called home, I insisted he reveal his plan. Apparently, Merlin had carved a huge, granite gargoyle that he wanted to imbue with my soul! I could only laugh, the old man had finally gone mad! He did not find my outburst amusing and assured me that he could in fact perform a ritual that would transfer my soul into this stone statue.

Now, it was I who was not amused. The mage stared at me, gravely serious. I cursed him and his "unnatural" sorcery. Eventually, he calmed me down and explained why it must be done this way. Most of his explanation was lost on me, as I attempted to fathom his request. Merlin prattled on and on about the transient meta-physical state of the soul and the gargoyle as a warding device and guardian against evil spirits ... and soon the gibberish just caused a dull ache in my head.

I could take no more and begged Merlin to stop. He looked at me, puzzled, but quickly realized I was not able to follow his discourse. He smiled and simply stated that 'given the protective and mythical nature of gargoyles, it would provide a perfect housing for my soul. And it would ensure my survival until Arthur's return, as I would not age, nor require food, nor sleep.'

I asked how long I would be confined in this simulacrum? Merlin confessed he did not know the exact date of Arthur's return. But, his incantation would include a trigger that would awaken me when Arthur returned to the world.

I was thoroughly conflicted. This whole affair seemed so ... peculiar, and unnerving. But Arthur was my king, and if Merlin was certain that I could aid him in this age or the next, surely my fealty should transcend Arthur's death. I stared at the chiseled, grotesque statue and told the old man I needed to pray for guidance and that I would return by nightfall. I stumbled off into the woods ... confused and alone.

For hours I wandered the paths of the forest, until I finally ended up outside the majestic walls of Camelot. I gazed lovingly at my former home, where I had spent so many years in the company of great knights and men of unparalleled honor and bravery. Where I betrayed my honor, and my king ... and my friend. The city still shone in the fading sun, majestic and proud. But her heart was gone, her streets empty, her soul ... hollow. I ran my hand across the buttressed walls, it was cool and smooth. I knew what I must do.

Merlin assured me the transfer would be instant and painless. He further explained that the binding process required a great length of time. That after I had entered the gargoyle, I would have until the third full moon to acquaint myself with my new body. I prayed again that evening and prepared myself for what lay ahead. I was at peace.

Merlin came to me as the moon was at it's apex. He had prepared a ceremonial circle around the statue and had me sit facing it. He gave me some foul smelling concoction to drink, which I did. It smelled of stagnant water and tasted no better. Soon I could feel a lightness come over me and a warmth, it was not unlike a good feasting and several goblets of good ale. The woods seemed to fade off in the distance as I heard Merlin's chanting fade into a soft drone in the back of my mind. My eyes were heavy and I couldn't focus. Then, nothing ...

I awoke ... it was morning and my arms and legs were very stiff. My head was still foggy from whatever Merlin had given me. Where was the old man? I craned my head around and was startled as I realized I was in fact embodied in the gargoyle. I raised my hands in front of my face, staring at the powerful, stone hands and arms. As I stood, I felt a huge weight on my back and had to adjust my stance until massive wings unfurled and spread and stretched out. My god, what had I become?

I didn't wonder long, as Merlin strolled into the clearing. "Lancelot, I see you are recovered," he smiled. He seemed much smaller, and I realized I was two heads taller than he. Merlin grinned at his handiwork, pleased that everything had gone so smoothly. He explained that we had best start my training since I had less than three months before the spell would "seal" and I would slumber.

The next few weeks were arduous. Learning to control my new form was a difficult task. Merlin had imbued a great many powers into this new body. The first was incredible strength, I was amazed the first time I plucked a mature elm tree completely out of the ground and tossed it aside like a mere twig. The most difficult task was mastering flight. The process was so foreign to me, and it took a great many "painful lessons" before I could stay aloft.

Merlin explained how I was impervious to disease, toxins and did not need to breathe (a reflex I had kept to this point). I was impervious to extreme temperatures as well. My natural healing processes had augmented, as well as my ability to sense my surroundings. Despite my large size, I found I was unnaturally agile as well. In addition, I was able to climb any surface with ease.

The core of my abilities focused on what Merlin called my "Lodestone Effect". Apparently, I was able to harden my skin by force of will alone. This had the effect of natural armor, rendering my immune to all but the most severe forms of attack. Merlin did caution that this hardening would also increase my physical weight as well. My most uncanny ability was the power to walk through solid walls. Merlin warned that this power was only usable to move through stone and earth as I had a natural affinity for those materials.

I spent the next several weeks practicing to use my powers. I discovered that my physical strength coupled with my granite body made my body a powerful weapon. In fact I discovered that with some concentration, I was able to alter my stony, clawed hands into talons of razor sharp steel, potentially deadly if utilized to full effect.

The night of the third full moon was hot, and sticky. The moon hung pendulous in the night sky, casting a watchful eye over the wizard's clearing. It was still and quiet, I could feel something in the air. Merlin sat with me as the moon rose. I was apprehensive, not knowing what to expect. Then I could feel it, like sand pouring through my limbs. Slowly at first, and I told Merlin it had begun. He nodded and rested his weathered hand on my shoulder. Slowly the darkness crept in and his touch faded away ... and I slept ... until now.

How long I wondered, slowly opening my eyes again. I sat hunched on the roof of the cathedral in the warm rain trying to block out the cacophony of noise from the world below. There was someone else nearby, I crouched and peered through the rain. I saw a figure some 30 paces away in a doorway.

He was a bit unnerved (it took me a moment to comprehend the source of his anxiety). I sat back as he approached, a youngish man, well built, dark hair garbed in black trousers and tunic with a white collar. He approached cautiously, muttering something about how it was true over and over. I vaguely recognized the language he spoke as some dialect of Anglish, but I couldn't place his accent.

"Hail," I bellowed deeply, "fear not young sir, I mean you no harm." His uncertainty melted and he managed a child-like smile. "I am Lancelot du Lac, Knight of Arthur's Court."

"You're real!" he almost yelled. "I knew it! I knew it wasn't a myth," he seemed relieved for some reason. "Forgive me ... uh, Sir Lancelot. I am Father Camden Brown, of the Order of St. John the Divine, and Initiate of the Society of the Keepers."

I looked the "priest" up and down. "Father Brown?" I asked puzzled.

"Yes, yes ... oh, I must look sand sound awfully strange. Different than what you are used to, huh? Well," he snorted, "quite a bit has changed, as I am sure you have noticed," Father Brown smiled.

I looked back over my shoulder, "Yes . . . Father Brown, it has." The priest ushered me inside out of the rain. Over the course of the next several hours he explained that Merlin feared my slumber could well outlast his lifetime, so he founded the Society of the Keepers among a few select monks of my old monastery. As the ages passed each generation would train a new group of initiates who were responsible for aiding me upon my awakening.

The priest said that in recent years the Society had begun to doubt the truth of the legend, and that only four members, including himself, remained. He further explained that the other three men were much too concerned with other things to worry about their duties as a Keeper. The young priest talked for hours about the Order and how he came to be a priest, until finally I interrupted him.

He apologized for his endless discourse and siad I must have many questions to ask. I did indeed have numerous inquiries. Tentively, I asked the priest how long I had slept. He scratched his head as he calculated . . . "Well, ummmmm, roughly, fifteen hunnbbbbbledersssss . . . mumble mumble."

"Pardon me, Father. I couldn't understand you," I repiled.

"Uhhh, sorry. It's been quite a long time," he smiled sheepishly.

I narrowed my eyes and scowled, " How long, Father?"

His smile quickly faded, "Uhhh, about w-w-w-one uhhhh thousand five hundred years," he stammered.

Again, I was in shock. Nearly a score of centuries had I lain in Merlin's magical slumber. Could it be? Or was this just a dream, like the other nightmares I had experienced? This seemed real, but those other dreams seemed so vivid as well. How could I be sure.

I must have muttered my last thought out loud, for the priest replied, "This isn't a dream, Sir Lancelot. It is the year 2004 and you are in New York City." I stared blankly at him. "Please, follow me," he said as he led me down to the catacombs beneath the cathedral and into a hidden chamber filled with scrolls and books.

"You have missed a great deal of history, Sir Lancelot. The world is nothing like you knew it in the sixth century." I nodded without really comprehending what the young man was saying, noticing instead the incandescent spheres of light that were spaced along the ceiling of the vault. I marvelled at how brightly they shone and wondered how they kept from igniting the wood. Father Brown noticed me staring at the fireballs and explained that mankind had harnessed a power source called electricity and that fueled the lights. He attempted to explain the science of it, but quickly abandoned his explanation.

He pushed some sort of illuminated button on a small box and a panel in the wall slid away to reveal a large darkened window. The priest pressed another button and the window lit up brightly, and images of bizzare people and things shuffled across it surface. He explained that this was a television and it projected images that were sent to it through the air or stored on a shiny disk called a DVD.

He sat me down in front of the device and told me that it would be easiest and quickest if I watched what had transpired in the world over the past 1500 years. He said I should stay in here until he returned then he would answer what ever questions I had. I nodded at him and quickly focused back on the television, mesmerized . . .

I watched intently as the miraculous picture box displayed a broad history of the last 15 centuries. The priest later told me that I had watched the "videos" for 5 full days. I was amazed at the advancements that mankind had made. This technology was beyond what I could even fathom.

I spent many weeks sequestered in that library . . . learning about the world of the 21st century. Even after seeing it and reading about it and badgering Father Brown with endless questions, I could not fathom it. Why had I come to this place and time? I knew that Arthur had not returned . . . I felt absolutely sure he was not here in this age. I was an anachronism, a relic of a bygone era . . . no more than a myth, or a fairy tale told to children. I felt alone and lost.

It didn't help matters that I had to keep myself hidden away, like some monstrosity. Curse that wizard for talking me into this! Without Arthur to serve I felt utterly useless and trapped. I urged Father Brown to consult with his superiors, that I might find some guidance from them. But after several failed attempts to get the Bishops to listen to him, I realized that they were too busy with their political maneuverings within the church to pay any heed to Father Bown . . . or me.

I was rapidly losing my patience, and my wits. Father Brown did his best to assure me that he would get the Bishop's to listen to him. I grew tired of skulking around the church, lurking in the shadows like some wretch. I felt like a prisoner in the dark labyrinth under the cathedral, but the priest gave me warning on several instances. Telling me that I was not ready for the world . . . and likewise, the world was certainly not ready for me.

But my patience had worn thin . . . and I wanted to venture out and explore this new world. Despite the priest's warnings, late one summer evening I left the safe confines of the cathedral. I had made several short flights at night while the priest was occupied, so I had a fair sense of my immediate surroundings. On many of my reconnaisance flights I noticed a large park to the east of the church. I heard Father Brown refer to 'Central Park' in many conversations. I assumed that this was the park I had seen.

It was a new moon. The sky was as black as pitch, but the city was still alive. People walked on the streets far below, and those horseless carriages (cars I later learned) navigated the paved avenues, honking and screeching and creating such an awful noise. How could people endure such an assault on their senses on a constant basis?

I blocked out the sounds of the city below and leaned my face into gentle evening breeze that was blowing in off the ocean. I could only barely smell the salt through the acrid stench of the city. The city pulsed, vibrant and alive. But there was a foul tinge on it's breath, death and decay just below the surface . . . easily overlooked.

I launched myself into the empty air in the shadowy side of the cathedral. I had grown to love the sense of freedom and weightlessness that flying brought. I set my sights on the Central Park and circled overhead before I found an empty clearing with no one around. I landed silently and surveyed the gently rolling hills. For a moment it reminded me of the countryside around Camelot in the pale moonlight, but my nostalgic musing was interrupted by the blaring noise of car hors in the distance.

I wandered along the edge of one of the cleared paths, careful to remain out of sight. The park seemed eerily vacant for such a lovely and idyllic spanse of ground amid the chaos of the city. I wandered on, looking for some signs of life, hoping to observe some interaction between the people of this age.

I had almost given up my quest, when I heard a muffled voice slightly off the path ahead of me. I crept closer and peered through some shrubs ...

I observed a small group of 4 young men surrounding an obviously frightened couple. Two of the men brandished small knives in a menacing manner as the accosted the couple. Even though they were well out of the range of normal hearing I could easily overhear their conversation.

"C'mon dude, give us the Rolex and your wallet ... and you, bitch, all the jewelry and the fur coat!" The man sneered at the couple as the the others egged him on. "We ain't got all day! Hurry it up!"

The couple nervously handed over their belongings. One of the muggers shoved the items in a bag. The leader of the motley crew kept looking the woman up and down. I knew he wasn't nearly satisfied with just the valuables they had stolen.

"Eddie, keep a watch on the path path man. I think we have some time for a little fun," he laughed.

The woman recoiled behind her male companion and he shielded her from the men, "You have our money, just let us be," he spat at the thugs.

"Yeah, but a robbin' rich fucks like you always makes me horny," the man grabbed his crotch lewdly. "And your ol' lady is fine. So step aside, or I'll cut off the little balls you do got!"

The man glanced nervously at the men as they started to circle the pair. He was panicing, I could tell even from here. There was no chance he could best these thugs.

I rushed from the confines of the shadows towards the couple and their would-be attackers. I could have easily blind-sided them, but knew that even these contemptuous ruffians should be allowed an honorable surrender. "Stand fast there!" my voice bellowed like rolling thunder as I made my way to the edge of the shadows. All of them were stunned and searched the dark clearing for the source of the booming voice.

""Return these good people's belongings, lest you come to regret a most unwise decision." I edged further into their field of view, a hulking shadow emerging through the darkness, until... "Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" the woman screamed and feinted. Her companion caught her, barely. The group stood agape, in semi-horror as I stepped fully into the light. "Return their things...NOW!" I commanded.

One of the men simply bolted, like a frightened doe. I cast my gaze back to the other three men. Eddie reached into his jacket and pulled out a revolver. "Fuck you, you halloween-lookin-mutha-fucka!" He discharged his weapon and advanced towrds me. There was a noise like a loud cracking bang, then another and another. I was vaguely aware of something striking me ... like small pebbles thrown by a child.

Once again, they were all aghast as I simply stood there. Apparently they had expected a different result. "This is your final warning. Relinquish their property and surrender, or face my wrath ..." I hissed.

Eddie fired his gun three more times with the same effect. "Very well. You were warned." Before Eddie could even react I had lifted him off the ground and tossed him 10 yards with almost no effort. I turned in time to see one of the other thugs swing a large branch that snapped across my shoulder (I didn't even notice it.) I picked him up by the throat and tossed him on top of Eddie who was lumbering to his feet. They collapsed in a pile.

I turned to face the final man and saw that he had severely wounded the gentleman and had his knife at the woman's throat, using her body as a shield. "What the hell are you?! Some kinda mutant freakaziod or something? Back off or I'll slice her from ear to ear<" he warned.

The woman's companion was grievously wounded, he required immediate attention or he would not survive. "Let her go," I ordered. I saw the blade of his knife press more firmly upon her neck. My eyes narrowed, "Only a coward would shield himself with a helpless victim," I spat.

"Whatever, you freak! Now back off, or she bleeds!"

Before he could even finish his threat I was upon him. My stony fist crushing his hand around the knife it grasped so tightly. His agonizing cry echoed through the park as he collapsed in pain grasping at the limp and pulpous mass that was once his hand. "Are you alright, milady?" I helped the woman to her feet. She was in complete shock. "Your companion is direly injured, he needs a physician or a healer."

She regained clarity, "Oh my god, John..." she fumbled around in the bag and pulled out what I later learned was a mobile phone. She spoke frantically into it as if someone could hear her, and I was certain that the strain of the nights events had shattered her sanity. She kneeled over John, crying, looking up at me in desperation.

I knelt beside them and examined John quickly. He had been stabbed in the abdomen. "I can do very little, milady. We can slow the bleeding by binding his wound." I ripped several long strips from her fur coat. John grunted as I tied them in a crude field dressing around his stomach.

I tensed, someone else was coming! I crouched defensively between the couple and the shadows. I scanned the darkness slowly. There was something out there. "Show yourself." I called out into the night. I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye. Then there was a bright amber flash of light and I felt as if I had been struck by a charger at full gallop.

I shook the cobwebs from my head and rolled to my feet. I studied the landscape intently, bracing for another attack. Another flash of movement. I followed it with my eyes as the culprit made his way behind a stand of trees. I knew John's precious lifeblood was trickling away and that I had to get he and his companion to safety ... quickly.

I concentrated a moment and felt a brief surge of energy as I focused my power, like Merlin had taught me. I sensed the wave of energy as my granite form increased in density. The stone skin that replaced flesh and plate mail was even stronger, I was stronger ... and more deadly.

I positioned myself between my assailant and the couple. "Stand your ground and fight like a man, coward!" I yelled towards the trees. Another flash of amber and a bolt of energy struck me. Reflexively, I recoiled, but nothing happened. I felt a brief sensation and it was quickly gone.

I heard some cursing from the trees as a large, muscular man with wavy, black hair stepped out of the shadows. He was dressed in black trousers and a black tunic. Everything he wore was black except two bright orange bracers on his forearms that glowed slightly. "Nobody messes with my boys and lives to tell about it," he spat at me.

"Surrender peacefully," I said "There's no need for further bloodshed here. I have to get the man to a physician."

"He can friggin' bleed all over the park for all I care! You on the other hand are gonna pay for messin with Thunderbolt!" He raised his arms and let another bolt of energy fly. I stood my ground as it struck me with no real effect, except the mild tingling I felt before.

Needing no further provocation, I lept at Thunderbolt. Landing a mighty punch into his chest. I had only swung at about half strength, to warn him, but I could hear and feel his ribs crack even through his armored chestplate. Thunderbolt flew backwars 20 yards and lay sprawled across the open field. He was alive, but not moving.

I was a little shocked at the power that I had packed into that punch. I quickly focused back on John and the woman beside him. He was looking pale and she was frantic, muttering about the paramedics and the police. I remembered from the DVDs that I had watched that the police were the local constabulary. No sooner had I turned to check on John, than I heard the wail of a siren from an appraoching two-wheeled chariot known as a motorcycle.

The police were arriving, and I made my way towards the noisy motorcycle to appraise the officer of the situation. But, I still wasn't accustomed to the effect my appearance had on average people. The police officer nearly crashed as I came towards him, apparently afraid that I was the enemy. After a few tense moments, and quite a bit of explaining from John's companion (Linda was her name, I later learned), the officer realized that I was indeed a friend.

Officer Burton radioed in a Lifeflight unit for John and some sort of special transportation for Thunderbolt, who still had not regained consciousness. Within the hour there were a score of police officers in the park. Most kept their distance, but a few were sufficiently curious enough to come by and ask me a few questions.

Apparently, Thunderbolt and his gang of thugs had been terrorizing the park for quite some time. The officers seemed happy that I had stopped him and his gang, as he was a meta ... a human imbued with super-human abilities.

I was trying to answer all the questions that the officers had, when I saw Father Brown making his way through the crowd of police. He was obviously unnerved and could barely speak, "You were supposed to stay in the library. How am I going to explain this to the Arch-Bishop? You could have killed somebody. What were you thinking?" He kept jabbering away as Officer Burton interjected that I had saved two people's lives and helped apprehend a powerful and dangerous meta.

Father Brown stopped his tirade briefly. Long enough to realize that I had indeed helped that couple and brought a villan to justice. Officer Burton suggested that we leave before the press arrived, if we wanted to maintain a low profile. Father Brown shook his head and feebly tugged at my arm as we hastened away from the throng of people.

As we walked away, Officer Burton said there would be some official inquiries made, and that some officers and government officials would come by to talk to us in the next few days. I tried to stop and thank the Officer, but Faher brown was already tugging at my arm again, and lecturing me on my responsibilities and using my powers ...