Iron Clad
Prologue
By: Michael Moore


The knight rode swiftly through the trees,
ducking to avoid low branches. The forest was thick
with danger in the past months, and he kept his sword
drawn.

At length, the forest ended, and the knight
tugged at his horse's reins to slow its trot. An
armored figure appeared behind one of the parapets to
the left of the gate. "State your name and your
business in the castle of Arthur, King of the
British!" the figure proclaimed loudly.

"Dost thou not recognize me, gatekeeper? Tis Sir
Gawain of the Round! Has my King become so troubled
by the mage's treachery that he no longer trusts even
his purest knight?" the rider answered.

The gatekeeper could be seen shaking his head,
and replied, "Nay, good sir, but my orders have been
such as to stop all who would pass the gates, even Sir
Lancelot. But I know you truly to be purest of his
knights, and will allow you passage before the King,
for not even the blackest magic could taint your
heart."

Sir Gawain smiled. So, I am still remembered, he
thought. The gate was let down, and Gawain entered
the castle of his Lordship. His horse was led to the
stables as he entered, so as to not disturb the
soldiers moving about.

A squire was sent for him almost as soon as he
entered his chamber, calling him to a gathering of the
Round. Gawain was never one to question Arthur, but
bringing one of his knights to him without rest was
unheard of. Still, he left without question, and was
able to reach the Hall of the Round before the squire
could send word.

When he entered the hall, he noticed several
things. For one, the Queen wasn't by Arthur's side,
as was usual. Next, Mordred and Merlin were also
missing, along with three other knights. Gawain
couldn't hold back a question before taking his seat.
"Where are the missing company, my Lord?"

Arthur sighed, and his gaze was cast down to the
floor. "They were sent to confront the mage, whom as
you know has become great indeed. We believe that he
rallied Mordred against us, into a kingdom he calls
the Circle of Thorns. He has claimed to be a master
of the future and to know all things before they
happen."

Gawain nodded, and sat once again at the all too
familiar position next to Sir Lancelot, strongest of
the Knights. Lancelot shook his hand, and gave Gawain
a grateful smile for coming. It had been too long
since Gawain had been to a formal meeting.

"Now," Arthur said, standing to glorify his
posture. "We have all been delt a great loss these
days. Merlin, my beloved friend and teacher, has been
slain. His nephew, Mordred, has supposedly turned
against us, and finally, several of our bravest
knights have also been taken by this dark wizard, who
calls his domain the Circle of Thorns." Arthur took
this chance to raise his voice and stamped his foot
onto the red clothed table. "We shall not let this
treachery go unavenged! Too long have we sat idle,
have I sat idle, and now our enemy has taken that
which was most dear to us. Whoever he be, his
Circle's thorns shall be cut asunder by the steel of
the King! I have rallied you here, my Knights, to aid
me in one final struggle. For tommorrow, we strike at
the mage's castle!"

There was deafening cheers and applause from the
assembled knights, quite a larger number than is
depicted in our own tales of Arthur. It was not a
round table that made the hall famous, for it was the
hall itself that was round and of great size, the size
of which could easily held several houses. And there
were many long tables aligned to give each man a view
of the King's throne.

But Gawain and Lancelot were not marvelling at
the architecture of the room, but were both still
cheering for their king. It was long since he had
given any form of speech that he had raised his voice
over the din of the knights. "To the Castle Thorn!"
Arthur cried, and the knights joined him. "To Castle
Thorn!" That cry was the last to ever be heard from
outside of the hall.


"Well, what do you make of this mage who fell
Merlin, Gawain? Do you feel distressed, as those of
faint heart often are?" Lancelot asked as they
prepared their horses later that night.

Gawain laughed and replied, "If you would call me
faint of heart, Lancelot, then truly I have been away
from my home for longer than was meant. I served once
in a Crusade against the Saxons, and received a great
honor from his Holiness in Rome. Which of course is
when I received my title, 'The Pure,' not that I
deserve it."

"You deserve it my friend. That will be proven
upon our enemy in the morn. Let the steeds rest, as
we shall soon have to do the same to fight
brilliantly."

"My dear friend, you could go a month and two days
without sleep and still fight as well upon land. But
you're right. I'm getting on in years and will need
sleep to keep myself alive. There is no use in a good
heart if it no longer beats."


The next morning, Gawain was roused from sleep by
another squire and quickly prepared himself for what
could be his final battle. Then again, he though,
every battle I've fought could've been my last.

His horse was ready for him, in a place of honor
beside the King. Only six of Arthur's first
travelling companions still lived, and only two of
those had chosen to remain by his side, as Gawain and
Lancelot did now.

It was a long journey underneath the burning sun.
The knights' armor heated them and many were cooked
to the likeness of a roast. Along the way, regiments
of other soldiers joined them, eager to prove their
worth to the King. There were many archers, and hardy
footsoldiers kept pace with the horses.

As the sun sank into the west, the King's army
had increased from five hundred to well over two
thousand, although many of them were sure they would
die. The Castle Thorn, as Arthur had proclaimed it,
was well fitting to its name.

The walls were covered in rose vines, the buds
having fell gave it the appearance of a moat filled
with blood. There were many cracks in the gate, which
had been cast down and burnt, no doubt by Mordred, who
had been a master of fire. And there was no grass
growing for nearly a hundred yards away from the
walls. The towers loomed behind the walls against the
failing light, giving them the appearance of jagged
teeth in a mouth breathing fire.

The great army gaped in awe at the sheer terror
the struture held on them. Surely whatever could have
lived in this monstrosity would have to be powerful
indeed. But Arthur raised his hand to quiet his men
before they could begin whispering their doubts.

"Do not fear this castle, for I know it well. It
was once home to the Dark Knight, Gregory the Black he
was called. A dark power once ruled here, and still
grasps the remains of its origin. This place will
falter you if you cannot face it. But remember, I
myself faced the dungeons of this place, which are far
more menacing than the surface."

A great murmur swept through the men. The King
knew the castle, and could possibly know secret ways
out of it, or into it. After several minutes of this
tiring confusion, the men's vigor was thoroughly
renewed. They silenced themselves again, and prepare
to cast down Castle Thorn.
Arthur raised his sword above his head, and a
soldier behind him raised Britain's flag. Gawain
raised a crucifix along side them, something that he
had been preparing for since he had first seen the
mage. As these symbols were raised, Lancelot brought
a horn to his lips and blew a great challenge that
echoed on the severed wall of the gloomy fortress.
"Charge!" Arthur cried above the horn as he swung his
sword towards the gates.

And with that, the Final Army of Arthur rushed
forth into the castle. There truly was a mage at work
here, for inside, just beyond vision, great beasts of
fire had lain in watch. They were daunted by the
power of the King's voice, but they quickly overcame
this fear, and attacked.

It was a merciless slaughter. The fire demons
swept through the oncoming tide of weak human flesh.
Many of the creatures were cast down, but always more
came crawling up from the pits that had been dug just
under the outer wall. And still more forms of demons

and corrupt soldiers poured forth from the castle
itself.

Only the Knights of the Round were untouchable.
Wherever they went, the battalion was strengthened.
However, they were losing too many soldiers far too
quickly. With diminishing numbers, Arthur called for
the final charge onto the castle, where the center of
this evil would surely be.

The King of the British never made it to the
steps. On approach, a blast of energy issued from the
tower above him, cleaving him in two. This too, was
Lancelot's doom. In a blind rage at seeing his King
taken from him, he foolishly attacked the doors alone.
However, he was indeed strongest of the knights, and
was able in ten swings to lay waste to the door and
fell before another wave of energy from the tower.

Gawain had no time to feel anger or sorrow.
Seizing the opportunity, he ran into the castle before
a third energy blast could find him. There were no
enemies here, demon or otherwise. Not that any
creature of the devil could harm him, servant of the
Father.

The cold stone corridors were long and dreary.
Gawain couldn't remember afterwards how long he ran
through the castle, or how many staircases just like
the halls he had to climb. All he knew was that by
the time he reached his destination, all energy had
left him.

Looming before him, at the top of the tower where
the energy that fell Arthur and Lancelot had come
from, was a door of marvelous design. It appeared to
Gawain as if the door were made of armor, sleek and
bright. Of course, however strong the door, it was
unlocked. Warily, he entered the enclosed room to
come face to face with his foe.

"So, you have come at last to slay me, Iron
Clad?" the old man asked. Gawain was startled. He
knew that wizards of any kind could live long years,
Merlin himself had been more than two hundred in
record, but at least Merlin held the appearance of a
man no older than thirty. This mage before him looked
well over ninety.

"Do not be fooled by my appearance. Time changes
people in great ways, either direction you move
through it." the mage said, raising himself from his
velvet covered seat by the window. "There's no point
in fighting me, as you well know. I still remeber
your message."

"What message would that be? I have not spoken
words to you 'till this moment, witch. And mine shall
be the last you hear." Gawain replied. "Indeed
though, clad in iron mail as I am, even your magic
cannot defile me."

"First the message you want you remember. Then
your death. You told me, in City Hall in Paragon
City, 'You will meet me again Harold. Your gravest
mistake was letting me live, and know you'll know why.
Iron is master in my world.' And with that, you
released me and pushed me through a portal in time,
which is how I came here. But I intend to return the
favor."

But before the wizard called Harold could even
cast his spell, Gawain rushed forward with his sword
drawn. This man was as fragile as he looked, for the
blade swept through his middle, cleaving him just as
his own magic had cleaved Arthur.

Withdrawing his sword from the carcass, Gawain
turned to find a torch to burn it with. But before he
could grab it, the wizard used his final breath. "Now
I realize, my folly, Iron Clad. Indeed, I let you
live, but not in this time. Kill me before this
mistake is made again." With that, the mage uttured
words beyond the writing capacity of mortal man, and
all the world went black for Sir Gawain.


When he awoke, he found himself in a bright room
on a soft bed, in loose clothing. There were people
in white clothes all around him, and something else
had been forced into his left arm.
He groaned and sat up, feeling awkwardly queasy.
Whatever that mage had done to him, he would have to
continue his healing excercises to recover. But as he
tried to stand, one of the people in white clothes
rushed to him.
"I'm sorry, sir, but you can't stand yet. The
doctor says that your condition is too unstable.
You'll have to lie back down, but he'll be happy to
learn that you're awake." When the young man tried to
gently help Gawain back down, the knight resisted.
"Now sir, you really have to,"
"I do not have to really do anything, lest you
have some great power that I do not. Believe me, the
doctors may have fine medicine indeed, but they have
not the skill to treat wounds as I have. I will sit,
but bring whoever this doctor is to me." The intern
shrugged and went to find the doctor. It wasn't too
often that patients resisted the kind of aid he
needed.
The passing nurses and interns eyed him
curiously, but didn't think much of it. They had seen
plenty of stranger things in this city. It took the
intern about an hour to convince the doctor to see his
star patient, and by the time they had returned,
Gawain was in a meditative state, focusing his body to
heal itself.
"Hello, Mister John Doe." the doctor said,
extending his hand. "I'm Doctor Lee. Why did you
request to see me?"
Gawain snapped out of his trance and took Lee's
hand, suddenly remebering just yesterday when he had
grasped Lancelot's in the same way. "I am not John
Doe, good doctor, but Gerald Gawain, if you please.
And I have asked for you so that I may request my
immediate release from this place. I will of course
require my armor and sword back for that."
Lee jotted something down on the clipboard at the
foot of Gawain's bed. He replied before he looked
back up. "I'm sorry Mr. Gawain, but I just can't do
that. You've been in critical stasis for more than
six days. I just can't let you loose into the world
yet."
Gawain smiled. "I see. You still believe me to
be in danger of sudden death. Well, check your
instruments. I believe you'll be quite surprised at
what you find. I personally feel like twenty gold
florins."
Lee had to frown. Usually his patients didn't
want to released when they realized how much free food
they could get. But, he checked the earlier reports
and referneced them with the various monitors around
the bed. When he started, he believed that Gawain was
utterly crazy. But as he continued, his eyes grew
wider and his mouth gaped. When he finsihed, he
turned to look at Gawain in the eye.
"You shouldn't be alive. No one can have such a
quick recovery, not even the Statesman. You were in
critical condition for God's sake!"
Gawain stood abruptly and seemed to tower over
the much shorter Doctor Lee. "Use not thy Lord's name
in vain, doctor. I am a holy man, and will hold you
to the Commandments."
"Yes, but," Lee stammered. What could he really
say? Here was a perfectly healthy middle aged man,
coming out of a virtual coma and fit as a fiddle. If
he even dared to think about publishing this, the
other experts would go crazy.
"Now, where have you kept my horse? I am anxious
to ride again."
Lee snapped out of his daydream. Horses? Who
rode horses these days except for some police
officers. He noticed that Gawain hadn't yet looked
through the window to his left, down at the hustle and
bustle of Paragon City. "Uh, sir." Lee said, pointing
to the window. "I think that you should take a look
outside."
TO PART 1 >
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