Fanfiction: Quantum Leap crosses over into Knightmare for a fourth time.
Sam had leaped again. All the answers of his previous leap had fragmented and spun away in the wash of blue, leaving the new, old questions. Where was he? When? Who? He was in the dark. Literally.
"Ah. I've been waiting for you."
The voice echoed with an authority, and a familiarity, that made him uneasy.
"You are lost. You did what was demanded of you, but in your heart you cannot find peace."
The voice sounded different, calmer. It was moving closer.
"You are bound to serve but yearn to be free."
Sam's heart was beating.
"You took a life."
Sam's blood ran cold. He remembered. The Honeymoon Express. He had to use that knife. He'd had no choice. But the voice couldn't be talking about him. Could it?
"But you may yet redeem yourself."
Sam opened his mouth then stopped. He had redeemed himself, and it wasn't arrogant to believe so. All the lives he'd protected. He had done what was right. And he would make sure that this person into whom he had leaped would do the right thing as well.
"By turning myself in?"
"Not quite. By submitting to me and carrying out a most important mission." The voice was directly in front of Sam, as memories of it reached the front of his mind." Help me and I will help you..."
A candle whispered itself alight. It illuminated the aged fingers holding it, the wise eyes, the white beard.
"...As you know that I can. Time is short and you must decide now, Gibbet. Do you so pledge?"
The rock felt cold against Sam's palms. He hesitated to stop for long - the unlit drop below him was surely fatal, or worse, bottomless - but he had to catch his breath. He should be nearly there, if only Al would come back and confirm it. And Sam hoped that what he was looking for would be as simple to discern as it had sounded.
"There is a scroll," Merlin had explained, "plain in appearance but inscribed with the highest magic the Dungeon has ever known. The magic can only be cast once, but once is enough to pose a terrible danger. In unschooled hands it could do little harm, but should a powerful and devious presence set eyes upon it, it could be used to spill the deepest secrets of our very existence, and damage this reality beyond repair.
"The scroll is safe only as long as it is missing, or with me, for only I can neutralise its magic. A dungeoneer was supposed to bring it to me, but he went astray and wandered into the clutches of Mogdred, my alter ego, the dark side of my nature." Sam remembered Mogdred from his first leap into the Knightmare Dungeon - a leap that in Knightmare's own chronology was a year away - and counted himself fortunate to have only met him the once.
"If only Mogdred had not spent so much time gloating, he'd have realised what had fallen into his possession. Luckily I am not so laboured and I realised first. I was able to spirit the scroll away, but could not bring it to me: like all the objects of greatest value in the Dungeon, it is lost and must be recovered by a challenger. Another dungeoneer is coming soon but will have his own quest. This is yours, Gibbet. All I know for certain of the scroll's whereabouts is that it may be discovered in rock. But I think I know where."
So it was that Sam found himself, rope around his waist, hanging off the ledge that Merlin had sensed was the right one. Sam had been advised not to use any lights to aid his search, as they might disturb whatever creatures lurked in the pit beneath. The sheer shadow-shrouded rockface would have taken an age for him to scour alone; but with the aid of a gravity-proof hologram, a scroll had been found wedged in a rocky nook. But just as Al had been guiding Sam to it, he'd disappeared. Sam was glad when he heard the whoosh of a portal and saw a man in a jaundiced shirt and measles-ridden tie step through into thin air next to him.
Al apologised for his absence. "Ziggy had to cut me off. She says if I stay too long at a time, my signal interferes with the Dungeon itself. She's reading rooms and pathways that weren't here before. And we don't want Mogdred to realise that I'm here, and Gibbet's you. At least not until the third season. When you're Motley."
"I get it, Al. This is Season 2 of Knightmare and the Dungeon's never seen us before. Now can you show me where the scroll is?"
"Before I do, I got you some information on Gibbet." Al prodded the handlink, which wheezed and blew raspberries back at him as it retrieved the data. "Basically, he was a hired goon who guarded a wellway in Season 1. Got a conscience AFTER he'd put a dungeoneer's lights out."
"But dungeoneers don't really die. They just leave the game."
"We know that, but Gibbet doesn't. This reality is all he knows. He's been wracked with guilt and as long as he's stuck in the Dungeon, he'll never get over it. Ziggy says that if he doesn't find the scroll, he loses his one chance at making a clean break and he-"
Sam shuddered. He could guess. If Gibbet wanted a chance at redemption, then he deserved one.
"What I can't work out," Al continued, "is why Ziggy's saying there's only a 56% chance that you're here to help Gibbet find the scroll."
"We'll worry about the other 44% later, Al. Right now we've got to get that scroll before you have to disappear again."
Al agreed. Following grid references on the handlink, he floated across and down the rock, casting holographic torchlight into the crannies. Soon he spotted the scroll again, and Sam duly clambered toward it. The scroll rustled as he pulled it out. Seeing the red ribbon encircling the parchment, he remembered Merlin's stern warning: "Take the word but do not read it." As he pushed it into his knapsack, he heard Al say his name.
"Sam... I gotta go."
"I'll be fine, Al. Merlin said he'd know when the scroll was found and he'd meet me at the top."
"Alright. Take care, buddy. I think I hear sn-" The hologram was snuffed out. But Sam listened and with some alarm, added the "-oring" for himself. Whatever was at the bottom of that pit, Sam needed to stay off its breakfast menu. His arms still ached and his hands were getting sore but he clambered as fast as he could.
Finally, Sam's right hand, breathless face and left hand reached the ledge. A milk-white pair of slippers were waiting for him. From somewhere atop them came Merlin's voice, hushed yet jubilant.
"Well done, Gibbet. The Dungeon is a safer place, thanks to you. Now, may I see the scroll?"
Sam felt entitled to a hand up onto the ledge first, but didn't want to offend the wizard. Sam held the scroll up for him to see.
"I shall need to inspect it more closely. Things are not what they seem in this place, and Mogdred may have planted fake scrolls to deceive you."
Sam was hesitant. Despite Merlin's thorough briefing, he hadn't mentioned that possibility.
"Come now, Gibbet. Hand me the scroll. You are wasting time and I must be certain."
"So must I. You said yourself, things aren't what they seem, and the fate of the entire Dungeon could lie in this scroll. But you already know that, Mogdred."
A scowl of blackest malice carved itself into the face of Merlin. Like the flapping of a raven's wings, the blackness spread across his robes as the disguise was shed. The beard turned to wisps of smoke and blew into the face, blenching it. Mogdred glared. Then he spoke.
"When did a peevish little guard develop the audacity and stupidity to defy Mogdred?" Sam wondered who it was he had pledged Gibbet to in the first place. "Only I can grasp the true power of that scroll. It belongs with me. If it didn't have that bearded fool's magic all over it, I could take it for myself and leave you to your fate. Which I believe is waking up as I speak." The snoring had stopped.
"Give me the scroll, young servant, and you will be saved. I will even share its power with you. No more hiding in the dark. The dark will be yours to command. For war or for peace, it matters not to me."
Sam's leg was quivering. He wasn't sure how much longer he could keep his footing. Mogdred was standing on the rope and a low growl was rising from below. With a shaky breath, he began to extend the scroll.
"You're right. Like this scroll, I need to belong somewhere. Somewhere I can make a difference." A pale hand was reaching for the scroll, savouring the moment of triumph. "And sometimes you only find your true purpose when you're lost in the dark." Sam whipped his arm away and flung the scroll into the void.
Mogdred howled. Unable to abide defeat, he vanished - but not before zapping the ledge. Sam's feet flailed as the rockface shook. Screaming with exertion, he hauled himself onto the ledge, untied the rope and raced as best he could across the quaking ground. As the bewildered, angry face of a huge troll loomed out of the darkness, Sam sped through the doorway.
Sam smiled as the real Merlin offered Gibbet his congratulations, seconded by the hologram standing nearby. Ziggy had weakened Al's signal to what she considered a safe, non-disruptive level, making him almost transparent.
"The scroll is quite secure in the troll's pit. It will probably be destroyed by the creature before it can ever be found."
"Yeah, I bet he's using it right now to wipe his nose," contributed Al. "Or his-"
"And now, your reward." Merlin gestured toward a tall archway. The lettering above it read 'WAY OUT', and the portcullis in front of it faded away. "This portal will take you to the lands beyond Knightmare Castle. The next adventure is yours and yours alone."
Al relayed information from the eructating handlink. "Gibbet settles in the village of Greenshades. Raises a few chickens, makes arrows for the local Greenwardens. One of their trainees, Gretel, takes a shine to him..."
"Thank you, Merlin."
"Good luck to you. Though I sense we may meet again."
"Or already did," murmured Al.
"Now, off you go! Another quest has begun, and it is his time now," finished Merlin.
Sam wanted to ask Al about the other 44% but couldn't with Merlin watching. Why hadn't he leaped? Was someone else depending on them? Shrugging to adjust his knapsack, he nodded at the men of magic and stepped through the portal.
As Sam left the Dungeon behind, it was still changing. Maybe Al had caused this, maybe not. Rooms rearranged and routes rewrote, like a deck of cards being cut and shuffled. Completely unaware of this, a troll was using his unwieldy digits to unfurl a roll of parchment that had hit him on the nose. When the scroll was fully open, a single word glowed off the page, rising like a contented sigh and settling harmlessly in his mind. It was a mind too shallow to do anything much with the word, even to retain it for long, but the simple creature knew what had happened.
As the troll ruminated on the TRUTH spell he had just acquired, the shifting of the Dungeon connected a quest path to his pit, and he watched as a dungeoneer stepped through onto the ledge.
"Where am I?" asked Akash.
Drassil | December 2011