A hungry young news woman finds herself in the midst of a bloody massacre in the middle of a whimsical fantasy faire!
Knightly News by David O'Hanlon
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Jennifer Lake paced the chevroned carpet and rolled her eyes. She checked the watch dangling from her wrist. Thom Braddock texted her to get to his office immediately, yet she’d been waiting thirty-three minutes. Channel 7 News occupied a meager, three-story building. You could get anywhere in the building faster than you could microwave a Hot Pocket and Thom damn well knew it. Jennifer stormed to the receptionist desk and picked up the phone. “Hey!” the secretary whined. “You can’t do that.” “Push the damn button. I’m tired of waiting.” Jennifer put the receiver to her ear and snapped her fingers. “Today!” “Someone’s got their vibrator turned up too high.” The receptionist leaned back in her seat and crossed her arms, pressing her ample breasts to the limits of her blouse. “We both know I didn’t get this job because I’m good at it… just like you. Unlike you, Thom’s not pissed at me. So, sit your bony ass down and wait, princess.” It was true. Thom hired Teagan out of Rowdy’s Clam Shack where she danced under the name Wet Dreamz. Teagan held her hand out with a venomous smile. Jennifer dropped the receiver an inch short and returned to pacing. She took out her cell and checked her texts, hoping someone had sent her a viable lead. They hadn’t. Since the Mercers went on their murderous rampage and killed all those babysitters, Jennifer hadn’t covered anything more exciting than a drive-by. It was as if all the psychos were taking a vacation. The Babysitter Slasher was huge for Channel 7—but her carriage to stardom was turning back into a pumpkin. Viewers were calling for their favorite weathergirl to return to her duties and Thom might grant their wish if she didn’t come up with another winner. The intercom beeped. Jennifer turned and found Teagan looking back at her with a smirk while the intercom called for her attention again. Teagan leaned over and pressed the button, answering in a breathy voice, “Yes, Mister Braddock?” “Send Jenny in,” he said through the speaker box. Jennifer stormed to the door and stepped into the office. Thom Braddock sat behind the oversized desk with his cowboy boots resting on top as he leaned back in his chair. Braddock was every woman’s fantasy—rich, sexy, successful, and dangerous. He was perfect… until he spoke. “Jenny, come grab a seat,” he grumbled. “It’s Jennifer, Thom.” Jennifer sat down across from him. “Like I’ve been saying for six years.” “Jen, let’s not pretend like you’re in a position to correct me.” Thom swung his feet to the floor with a thud and straightened up in his seat. “I have a special assignment for you.” Jennifer’s stomach soured. If Thom was personally handing her an assignment, her time was up. She needed that big story now! “Well, Thom, I’m actually working on some leads.” “You are, are you?” Thom rested his elbows on the desk and steepled his fingers. “Run it down for me. What’s got your eye?” “I’m working the follow-up piece on that robbery-homicide from Tuesday.” “It’s Friday. Who gives a shit about some guy that died on Tuesday?” Thom waved his hand. “Next.” “There’s my exposé on the housing conditions in Diamond Glen.” “Advocacy reporting is for bleeding hearts.” Thom shrugged. “You don’t have one, bleeding or otherwise. Give it to Roger.” “Roger will intentionally overlook gang violence in the Glen.” Jennifer smiled. “I do the piece now, set the scene, introduce the victims. When it boils over, we’re set. It’s good storytelling, Thom.” “Without an inciting incident, it’s shit. Next.” “I… well, I have some new leads in the,” Jennifer paused. She knew better than to say it. She sighed. “I have new information into the Mercer Sex Cult.” Thom pointed at her and clicked his tongue. “And there it is.” “The FBI is still digging up bodies on their property! Three prominent members of the community were arrested for their involvement and—” “And you decided to name drop the state attorney general and a former Vice President,” Thom added. “They were both identified on the tapes,” Jennifer protested. “The sex tapes, Jen. You implied their involvement in the other tapes.” “I said—” “Stop.” Thom held up a hand. “The Mercer train has reached its station. It’s time for you to get off and do some reporting. You’re covering Fantasy Faire.” “Are you fucking kidding?” Jennifer stood up, stomping her heel. “That’s amateur hour.” Thom lifted the plaque from his desk and read it thoughtfully. “This is my desk.” He slammed the plaque like a gavel. “Which means you will sit your ass down and listen to the terms of your continued employment. You were voted Arkansas’ favorite weatherperson five years in a row. Not because you’re somehow better at it, but because you’re hot. This may not be very woke of me, but there’s going to come a time all that goes away and you’re going to want to hide your muffin top behind an anchor desk. For that to happen, you need to learn how to do more than just exploit horrendous murders.” Jennifer slumped back into the chair. “Good, you’re listening.” Thom leaned back and put his hands behind his head. “You’re covering the faire, and you’re taking Teagan along.” “For what? Is there a chance we’ll need to dislodge a golf ball from a garden hose?” “Teagan’s wanted to do more for a long time. I’ve been letting her do man-on-the-street stuff for our online platforms and people love her. The two of you will be able to cover more ground. You’ll expand your resume and she’ll get valuable experience.” Jennifer started to argue, then hung her head. “When do we leave?”
Jennifer sputtered her pink lips and pointed at the group of faux-fur wearing drunks sloshing their mead in plastic horns while they sang around a fire. “Vern, get a shot of the nerds singing sea shanties,” she said. Her cameraman, dressed in a kilt for the occasion, went to the bonfire and broke into song along with them. Jennifer threw her hands into the air. Fantasy Faire was a renaissance faire for the roleplaying crowd. Three days of LARPing, table-topping, medieval games, cosplaying, and nightly fireworks displays. Tents for gamers, sales booths, and fortune tellers lined the designated walkways while carts rolled around providing booze and bottled water. Crowds cheered from historically inaccurate bleachers borrowed from the high school as a jousting tournament commenced. Jennifer had covered the opening round while Teagan collected sound bites from the fans. She hated to admit it, but the receptionist was doing a good job. She jumped as a hand closed on her shoulder. Jennifer spun and snorted with laughter. The portly young man wore a fake tiger skin across his torso and carried a foam club on his shoulder. “I am Bodim Gorefist and I have come to free you from the bonds of your brassiere,” he said with a hiccup. “That’s sweet, Bodim.” Jennifer fanned away his ale-scented words. “But why don’t you go roll your dice somewhere else before I free your teeth from your mouth?” “Spear-tease.” Bodim waved her off and staggered away. Jennifer groaned. The whole assignment was a punishment. Everyone was mingling for the time being. There wasn’t anything left for Jennifer until the bard karaoke contest kicked off. She started down the path looking for someone worth interviewing. Three women in movie-grade witch costumes caught her eye. They tried dragging a child away from its parents to playful giggles. Jennifer stopped at a wagon. A young woman in prosthetic elf ears sat outside casting rune stones and giving fake fortunes to a gathered crowd. “Beware,” she hissed. “A dark shadow looms like the barn owl flitting over prey. The Stygian Knight returns from his slumber in the bowels in Erebus. Only the claiming of a new bride will entomb him for another hundred winters.” “Fucking geeks,” Jennifer whispered and continued on. She scanned the crowds when she heard a roar of male cheers. Jennifer pushed between a man and his cow to see what was going on. Her shoulders sagged. Two women wrestled in a pit of mud and one was topless. Teagan sat on the fence that surrounded the pit, filming the event with one hand and swinging the lost garment over her head with an excited squeal. The bare-chested wrestler was a towering mass of tightly wound muscle. The Amazonian flipped her opponent over her shoulder and seized a handful of her hair, pressing her face into the mud until the smaller woman conceded. The redheaded victor stood every bit of six-foot and pumped a fist into the air. The crowd cheered again. She approached Teagan who offered her the skimpy covering she’d lost in battle. “Hold on to that for now,” the Amazon said. “You can return it to my tent later.” Teagan grabbed her mud-streaked hair and pulled the woman’s face down for a kiss. The crowd exploded in cat-calls and wolf howls. Jennifer watched them exploring each other’s dental work and started mentally updating her resume. The secretary was going to have Jennifer’s job by Monday morning.
Bodim leaned on a tree and rested his club against the trunk. He tugged his loincloth to the side freeing his manhood to the evening chill. “No retreating, my mighty stallion,” he told his shriveled member. “We must dispatch much ale to continue our conquest of buxom harlots.” Bodim urinated noisily against the knotted roots of the tree with a pleasurable groan. A branch cracked behind him and he cast a blurred glance over his shoulder. “Alas, this facility is occupied.” He punctuated his decree with a belch that reminded him of his nutritionally-imbalanced lunch. “Find your own damn tree, fair knight.” The knight stepped forward, his armor plates rattling as he approached Bodim. “What’s this? Doth thou wish to cross swords with the mightiest of barbarians?” Bodim laughed. “How do you even unsheathe your weapon in that getup?” The knight flexed his gloved fingers and reached for the handle of his sword. “Seriously? I’ve got like three pints to get rid of, bro,” Bodim said, out-of-character. “Let me shake it off and we can roll for initiative if you really want to do this, but… you know where my hands have been.” The knight jerked his sword free of the scabbard. The polished blade sparkled in the moonlight in stark contrast to the black plates of his armor. Bodim turned, splashing his stream across the knight’s feet. “Shit! I hope that doesn’t rust,” Bodim snickered and tucked himself into the loincloth before grabbing his club. He squinted at the sword. “What are you a fucking noob? Real steel’s banned.” The black knight swung his weapon, slicing through Bodim’s Styrofoam club. He charged forward while the barbarian gawked stupidly at the stump. The knight’s shoulder-plate struck Bodim, knocking him over the tree roots. The cosplayer whined and sat up. “Fucking aggro much?” The knight aimed his blade at Bodim’s nose. “I give up, bro.” The knight reached up, lifting his visor to reveal his expressionless eyes. The visor clanked shut and he gripped the sword in both hands, raising it over his head. Bodim screamed until the blade split his skull.
“What’d you think of Annoxia?” Teagan asked as she wiped mud from her lips. “Thom said I could do something exclusive for the website. I think I’m going to interview her back in her tent. I bet a lot of people would be interested in hearing more from her.” “Yes, I’m sure she’s a real cunning linguist,” Jennifer told her. “Do you have to be a bitch all the time?” Teagan pulled Jennifer’s arm to stop her. “You see this as some shit assignment, but most of them are. Rex covered the annual coon supper for eighteen years before he made anchor. He still goes out and does it because it’s tradition now. Not everywhere they send you is going to be a bloodbath. You act like local news is beneath you. Get over yourself, weathergirl.” “Fuck you, Teagan. You showed Thom your asshole so he’d stick money in your thong and got a job out of it. You don’t get to lecture me.” “I hope your pussy isn’t as cold as your heart or you’re not going to have a career to fall back on.” Teagan laughed. “You honestly think taking my clothes off for tips is somehow less degrading than exploiting dead babysitters? I used those tips to pay for journalism classes, and yeah, they were online before you go there. But I’m actually trying to be good at this, and I’m having a blast in the process. You’re being a miserable bitch, and getting the experience to match. You think you’re better than me? Then maybe act like it.” Teagan shouldered past her and went to find Annoxia, stopping to talk to anyone she found interesting along the way. Jennifer started after her and stopped in her tracks. The anger wiped off Teagan’s face in an instant as she approached two kids with footlong beards glued to their faces and padding stuffed into their outfits. She knelt and giggled and took pictures with them. Jennifer scowled. She used to do things like that when she was the weathergirl. People would ask her for her autograph and send her gifts on Valentine’s and her birthday. It was a dead-end job, and Thom was right about her wanting an anchor position. Jennifer wandered through the faire, using her digital to capture some B-roll. A group gathered in a candle-lit tent and groaned collectively as one of the players rolled poorly. She filmed them for a moment and then moved along to a pair of geeks battling with foam swords in defense of a damsel’s honor. A petting zoo closed for the night to a chorus of children promising to come back the next day and visit their favorite goats. She spotted Vern knee-dancing with a group of barbarians painted with woad. An elderly lady fanned herself and played coy to the mock-proposals of young men who jockeyed for her attention. The bimbo was right. Everyone was having a blast at the stupid event, except for her. Jennifer sighed and prowled the grounds, stopping to sample Attila the Hungry’s homemade mana bars. The combination of honey, nuts, and peanut butter reminded her stomach it was empty. The organ vocalized its need for greater sustenance and Jennifer got another of the bars to hold her over while she found something more filling. A bard stumbled by strumming his lute and belting out lyrics about a reporter named Lake who was as wet as her namesake. Jennifer snickered and recorded the rest of the performance until the bard, distracted by his flirtations, backed into a burly knight in battered armor who lifted him by his violet cloak. The reporter laughed as the men exchanged nerdy insults. Jennifer’s eyes drifted to another figure in the background, however. The rune-casting elf girl from before was making rounds between food carts and building a plate. Jennifer went and joined her at OK Brewing’s What Ales You? and tapped her on the shoulder. “I’m Jennifer Lake with Channel 7 News. I was wondering if I could buy you a pint for a brief interview?” she asked. “I think that’s the best proposal I’ve gotten today,” the elf said. “And the first one that didn’t involve a penis.” They both got a mug and found a picnic table where the fortune teller ripped into her snacks while Jennifer improvised a camera stand.
“Before I came here, I thought this place was just for nerds. You’re, well, obviously not what I expected to see. What brings you here?” Teagan asked “I’m a huge nerd.” Annoxia laughed, roughly towel drying her hair. “I’ve always been tall and athletic. Boys didn’t want to date me in high school. I excelled at sports so the girls didn’t want to hang out either. One day, some of the losers asked me if I wanted to have lunch with them and they were talking about Dungeons & Dragons.” “My dad and uncles used to play that,” Teagan said. “They were everything they wanted to be when they played and I liked that, so eventually I wanted to join. I beat a bunch of the jocks arm wrestling and took their lunch money,” Annoxia remembered with a wide smile. “Once I had enough, I bought a rulebook and read it religiously. That’s how Annoxia came into existence.” “That’s awesome.” Teagan jotted it all down in her comp book. “I see someone strong and beautiful, and I didn’t think about how there could be a downside to that.” “I appreciate that.” Annoxia sat on the cot and tossed the towel next to the battery-powered lantern. “Have you ever done any role-playing?” “Just in the bedroom.” Teagan snorted. “Can you show me how to do it?” Someone screamed for help, making Annoxia jolt from the cot. “You might have a more exciting story than me,” the Amazonian said.
Vern wiped the brain matter from his eyes. The horse neighed and kicked one of the barbarians in his blue-streaked face. The rider, adorned in black armor, swung his mace, and bashed open another skull like a gore-filled pinata. A couple of players discarded their foam swords for branches and tried pummeling their attacker. The sticks clacked and pinged against the steel plates. The sickening, wet splat of the spiked club pulverizing flesh sent Vern running. “Help! Someone help me!’ he shouted. The freedom of his kilt aided his flight. The noise of the karaoke contest guided him back to the faire as he continued calling out for anyone. Hooves beat closer. He chanced a look back and saw the knight—a shadow against the distant glow of the party’s fire. His pursuer slid free the wooden lance from the horse’s saddle. A ring of tents sat illuminated by a firepit. He angled toward the gathering, hoping to find safety in numbers. Vern tried shouting again, but his lungs were fighting to keep him moving. The metal point of the lance hit the base of his skull, knocking his teeth out as it tore through his mouth. Vern’s feet pumped in the air as the momentum lifted him from the ground. The lance hit a tree, shattering into splinters and leaving Vern in a heap around its roots.
“What was that you were saying earlier about the ‘Stygian Knight,’ when you did the thing with the rocks?” Jennifer asked. “They’re runes, not rocks.” The fortune teller, Elodie, laughed and took off her elf ears, massaging the cartilage with a happy groan. “The Stygian Knight is part of the game lore. The creators just released an entire adventure module around his return, so it’s playing a big part in a lot of the events at this year’s gathering.” Jennifer pursed her lips. She didn’t do any research before coming out, reenforcing the idea that maybe she wasn’t a real reporter after all. She cleared her throat. “I didn’t know there was a game,” she admitted. “I kind of made a snap judgment about the whole thing, to be honest.” “A lot of people do.” Elodie patted Jennifer’s hand. “We celebrate all fantasy here, but it’s our collective love for Dragon Spawn that created Fantasy Faire. The Stygian Knight is a character from the game that’s always been in the background. There’s only two ways to get him to go back to Erebus, the underworld. The most common is to satiate his need for love. A woman becomes his bride for a century. It’s used a lot to write off characters that people are tired of or whose players have moved on.” “What’s the other way?” “He can be bested in combat, but only by a virgin.” “Why a virgin?” “Well, for starters it rules out most of the heroic fighter types. It makes the campaign shift focus to the clerics, paladins, and wizards. It also helps a lot of players with their self-image.” “How so?” Jennifer sipped her ale and leaned on the table. “Virginity and masculinity are seen as incompatible.” Elodie popped a cheese cube into her mouth and shrugged. “Everyone assumes players are virgins. They treat it like it’s the worst insult they can come up with. So, the creators made the virgins the heroes.” “Perhaps against the Stygian Knight,” a voice said. Elodie groaned. Jennifer looked to the new arrival, decked in polished armor with a flowing, crimson tunic over it. The man didn’t wear a helmet over his angular, handsome face. The reporter focused on his features, trying to remember where she recognized him from. “It takes a real man to defeat a horde of orcs or a bugbear. A man such as I.” He put his hands on his hips heroically. “I am Aldous Francisco, Lord of Gygax.” “More like Lord of Ball-sacks,” Elodie grumbled around the rim of her glass. Aldous ignored them both when he noticed the camera. He slid onto the bench beside Elodie, nudging her to the side to get into frame. “What are you filming?” he asked. “An interest piece, so I don’t know why you’re sitting,” Jennifer told him. She snapped her fingers. “Wait a second. You’re Francisco Reed, the quarterback for the Little Rock Riot.” Aldous straightened and cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, miss. I never break character.” The screaming interrupted the impromptu interview. Jennifer snatched the camera off the table and recorded the people running away. She recognized the screams. They were the same kind she heard at every major story of her short career. She watched the crowd flee, taking steps closer to them. Elodie grabbed her arm. Jennifer looked at the woman’s hand and pulled free. “A good reporter runs towards the danger.” Jennifer sprinted into action.
The dwarf was keening, trying to keep his guts in as Teagan crawled over him with a whispered apology. When she’d screamed, people filed out of their tents—straight into the Stygian Knight’s path of violence. He bashed their heads with his mace, sending the survivors fleeing in terror. The next camp came running to help them, only to turn tail at the sight of all that carnage. Annoxia prepared for battle as the Knight dismounted. Teagan recorded the event. The Knight dropped his mace into a fresh pool of blood and drew his sword. Annoxia looked around for a weapon and he charged while she hesitated. His sword flashed in front of her face. Teagan gasped as a lock of red hair floated in the firelight. The Amazon dropped low and lifted the Knight into the air, tossing him into the bonfire in an explosion of embers. He rolled away from the flames. His sword slashed through the air to keep her back. Annoxia kicked the hilt, knocking the weapon away. The black knight’s knuckle guard cracked against her jaw. His gloved fingers twisted in her hair and blade sprang from under his gauntlet with a cold schnick. Annoxia blocked his arm, stopping the point against her throat. The black helmet battered her face until she stumbled away. The Knight lunged with the concealed knife, plunging it into her tightly muscled abdomen. The sword sparked off the side of the Knight’s helmet. He staggered away. His own weapon rushed toward his visor. The Knight sidestepped and slashed with his dagger. Teagan’s shirt split down the middle. A thin gash from her navel to collar opened. The Knight’s killing blow stopped an inch short. His helmet cocked to appreciate the view. He slugged the neophyte reporter across the jaw instead. Jennifer watched as the Knight slung Teagan’s unconscious body over the back of the horse and set off to toward the stage of the karaoke contest. She ran to the campsite, filming the bodies. Annoxia groaned and tried to get up, only to fall once more. Jennifer helped her sit up and gave the warrioress her phone. “Call for help. If I let him kill the boss’ secretary, I’m definitely out of a job.” Jennifer collected the mace from the blood puddle and sprinted after the Knight. En Vogue’s Free Your Mind grew louder as she caught up. Terrified screams replaced the catchy lyrics. Jennifer took cover behind a large speaker while she filmed the Knight’s rampage. Her would-be suitor cowered beside her, pulling his purple cloak around himself. “He’s killing everyone,” the bard whimpered. “You noticed that too, huh?” Jennifer crawled past him to the anachronistic DJ booth. She flipped the switch on the side of the generator, casting everything into darkness. Jennifer switched her camera from video to still and inched along, letting the moonlight guide her toward Teagan’s captor. The horse stomped around while the Knight laughed at whimpering victims bleeding out beneath him. Jennifer took a deep breath and prepared herself to do something stupid. Teagan groaned. The Knight twisted and grabbed the back of her neck. “Shush, wench,” he shouted. Jennifer paused. She expected a growl—something deep and fierce, not a nasal squeal echoing from inside the obsidian helmet. She scoffed and charged straight at the horse. The camera unleased a burst of flashes. The horse reared back, rolling Teagan from its haunches with a plop. The Knight screamed and clung to the steed’s neck. Jennifer flashed it again and smacked its shoulder with the mace. The horse bucked wildly, bouncing the Knight and launching him into the air. Jennifer heard the satisfactory clanking of his armor bounding across the field. The lights came back on with a sudden roar from the generator. The bard stood, shaking at the booth with a smile stretched across his face. Teagan pulled the remains of her shirt together and tied them in a knot around her midriff as she joined Jennifer. They approached the fallen form of the Knight. He started to stir as they drew near. Teagan heard the schnick of the blade and jerked Jennifer’s head out of the knife’s path by her ponytail. Jennifer swung the mace as hard as she could. The Knight dropped to his steel-plated ass and wrestled to get the dented helmet off his head. The ragged metal tore open his cheek between the thin line of a patchy beard and a spray of acne. He sobbed as he worked a broken tooth free and spat the remains to Jennifer’s feet. “You stupid cunt,” he squeaked. “You shouldn’t have done that!” The Knight clamored to his feet and drew his sword. Teagan ran away. “Thanks for the help, Teagan!” Jennifer gripped the club handle, wringing it in her fist. “I’m going to make your incel ass famous. The Knight’s Sword Goes Limp—how’s that for a headline?” “Bitch!” The knight swung wildly. Jennifer backpedaled and met his blow with one of her own. Their weapons clashed again. Jennifer braced as the Knight spun and unleashed a powerful slash that knocked her to the ground. The Knight aimed his blade at her heart. “I guess I’ll still be penetrating one of you uppity bitches tonight,” the Knight laughed. “I cast fireball, motherfucker!” Teagan shouted. She knelt next to a large, narrow cylinder. She held up a remote control. Jennifer’s eyes followed a red cord from the cylinder back to the squat, concrete bunker behind the secretary. The realization dawned on her and she rolled away from the Knight, covering her face. Teagan pressed the button. The mortar shell fired with a resounding thump and slammed into his breastplate. The Stygian Knight flew through the air on a trail of sparks and disappeared beneath the karaoke stage. The explosion knocked over the stage-lighting and set the decorative skirt ablaze in a multi-colored flash. The wooden structure ignited instantly. Teagan went to Jennifer’s side and helped her to her feet. “Guess you got a real story out of this after all,” she said. “Yeah,” Jennifer rubbed Teagan’s shoulder. “I guess we did.” Sirens wailed in the distance. The two reporters raised their cameras to film the Knight’s funeral pyre. The stage collapsed atop his remains, setting embers adrift on the breeze. “It’s a real hot knight, huh, weathergirl?” Teagan nudged Jennifer’s ribs. “Don’t push it, secretary.” The End
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