The revelry lasted long into the night, but Coop was not one to stay around until the end. After a few toasts to his name had been made, he stepped discretely from the campfire and made for his bed, leaving the others to forget their cares, their fears for just one night.
The next morning, he roused himself early and packed quietly, adding the minimum of his gear to the saddlebags, before stopping to gaze at the horizon, where something filled his gut with a sense of unease.
"Ever the vigilant one, Coop. I should have known you wouldn't wait for us to finish." A large man, talking with a rough Australian accent addressed the knight from over his right shoulder.
"You know as well as I, that we cannot let our guard down, gamejunkie." Coop turned around and faced the giant of a man, his features hidden largely behind a huge black beard. "Anyone who lives as long as you should know this."
"Easy now - I'm not that old." He looked at the younger knight with stern eyes, a hint of playful mischief behind the rough exterior.
"Something is stirring this trouble up. It feigns weakness, so that we might be lured in, one by one."
"Aye. You think we can take it on?"
"If we can't then it will claim my life as its prize. I will not stand idly by and watch the portal fall. The king does not want my sacrifice, but the people might need it, so that someone else makes a stand, in my stead." Just then, a massive rumble of thunder accompanied a huge bolt of purple tinged lightning roared up to the sky and the two men stood looking toward the source for a moment.
"TO ARMS!" Yelled gamejunkie, as he stepped back into the camp, grabbing his massive sledgehammer from where he had left it on the floor. As the camp roused from the slumber and started packing in a barely organised chaos, Coop merely rolled his shoulder over a few times, as he whistled softly. His steed, Dawn Chaser trotted up to him and nuzzled his shoulder, affectionately. Coop stepped to her side and withdrew a long double-headed glaive from aside the saddle. Picking up his helm and wiping the worst of the dried grime from the visor, he slid it over his head, comfortable in his blinkered view of the world, seen through the tee shape of his eye-slits.
In the distance, the tower loomed, threateningly, almost beckoning the knight to his doom.
Some hours later, five hundred troops, headed by knights and distinguished soldiers took the field trotted toward the tower, which now stood before them, piercing the dark sky in all its twisted, malevolent glory.
"The whole place reeks of corruption. I don't like it," said gamejunkie, as they moved closer, looking at various deformed monuments, scattered around the local area.
The small force jumped as one man, hearing a voice echoing around the tower and the desolate wasteland surrounding it. "It comes to talk to us, my sweet. Pray, what does it want?"
"I want you to stand before us," Shouted Coop to the deserted area before him. Another rumble of thunder echoed around the area and with a purple flash of lightning, a figure, hunched over itself stood there, coughing, as the smoke cleared. The voice came from this creature's mouth, but it echoed, just the same, as it hobbled towards the line of men. All the while, it stroked a cat, snuggled up in the crook of its arm, strangely wearing a coat of green fur.
"It has its wish. Now why does it want us here?"
Coop removed his helm and slid from the saddle, taking a few paces ahead of Dawn Chaser, he stood there and regarded the haggard old man, sensing something was not quite right. "Your presence has blighted the land. The portal is dying around us and your tower is the route of this corruption."
"It would have us leave, my sweet. Its demands are toothless, for it lacks true conviction."
"The King and the Prince have decreed that the balance be restored. I shall fulfil their command."
"It makes threats it cannot carry out. It lacks true conviction, as it will not sacrifice itself to see it done." As the hunchback decreed this, Coop noticed that the cat appeared to be mouthing something. In one smooth movement, he placed his helm on and drew his pole arm, standing ready. The knights reacted to this, drawing their weapons, standing ready. As they did this, another clap of thunder and flash of purple light greeted him, as the figure disappeared. "So far to climb, so little time," the figure, now atop the tower taunted.
The patter of raindrops started and the ground became saturated. Coop stepped back and mounted Dawn Chaser, readying himself.
"Coop, it's raining cats and dogs now."
"No, just cats." Coop started to advance, with the booming laughter of gamejunkie behind him, waving his sledgehammer over his head as he followed suit, the pace increasing towards the tower. As Coop predicted, the raindrops started to mutate, when they hit the floor and started to stand up as a hoard of bright yellow cartoon cats. Still the pace of the knights quickened, as they started to advance on the tower, cutting a swathe through in triangle formation.
With little regard for his own safety, Coop approached the door of the tower and dismounted, hitting the ground hard, but managing to roll to a stop, picking himself up and swatting a few cats away. gamejunkie slowed and dismounted, as the knights fought in earnest around the field. Dawn Chaser galloped around, stomping on cats unfortunate enough to be under her hooves.
"Stand back!" He bellowed and brought his sledge into the doorframe, with a crunch, sending splinters of what was once a fortified door across the base of the tower.
"Right, try to stop them from coming up the tower and I'll see if I can deal with the wizard." As he turned to advance up the stairs of the tower, an unfamiliar voice hailed him
"Coop!" Called the young man, rather unimaginatively. "What if it's a trap? Let me accompany you, good sir." This young man was no grizzled war veteran - this was someone who had heard the name mentioned and was so inspired, that he grabbed a sword, to accompany the army to fight in the hour of need.
"If you accompany me and it is a trap, then that just makes two bodies, instead of one, kid. You want to help, stay with gamejunkie - watch the door... and my back." He turned once more and entered the dark doorway.
"But... without you, who will we follow?" Upon hearing this, the knight paused momentarily.
"Someone else will take up the cause. I can't live forever." gamejunkie swung his sledgehammer around in a massive arc, as more of the yellow felines descended on the pair. The young man stood alongside him and started to carve through the fight, as his hero climbed a dark tower.
Taking the steps two at a time, his legs and chest began to burn, but still Coop pushed onward, reaching a trapdoor to the very pinnacle of the tower, where he hoped that the wizard was still awaiting him. Still lurking in the darkness, he looked around, spotting the hunchback, standing, looking over the edge of the tower, still leaning on the staff and cradling the cat in the crook of his arm.
"Magyar, give up. It is over." Coop stepped forward into the storm, as the wizard spun around excitedly, mayhem in his eyes.
"It knows us? But we knows it better. Could have just pushed us to our deaths. But no, too much pride, it has." From this distance, the cat's eyes were a very vivid yellow and the hunchback's were just the same, spinning wildly, as it pontificated at the knight.
"Surrender and this will all be over." In his right hand, the long, golden pole arm glinted against an illumination of lightning overhead.
"Outnumbered we are, my sweet. A mighty weapon of gold, it has, when all we has are our SPELLS!" As it yelled the last word, a giant flaming ball of yarn leapt from the staff straight for Coop. In a split second, he turned and crouched, as the flaming ball bounced up off the shield that he wore on his back, sending the ball tumbling down towards the cats and knights below. With a look of shock on his face, the hunchback stepped back, as the knight strode over to him. Despairingly, he tried to fend off a blow with the shaft of the weapon, wielded like a quarterstaff. Blow after blow was traded between the two, Coop by far the more advanced warrior, having spend the best part of a decade on his crusade to protect the lands of the portal. Another flicker of the magic, combined with a flash of lightning dazzled the knight for a split second and a searing pain lanced into his side, as the green cat clawed at him, viciously.
The drops of rain, falling on the height of the tower had slicked the black marble and neither man was moving freely any more. Coop tried to press home an advantage and both men tumbled to the floor. As they rolled, their weapons became entwined and the hunchback fell over the side, suspended only by his quarterstaff locked with the glaive's haft. Still the madman giggled, almost triumphantly.
"We cannot be defeated!" From a position now on top of the tower, the cat shed sparks from Coop's helm, as its claws lashed out once more. Coop was too preoccupied to notice, as his strength held the wizard suspended hundreds of feet from certain doom. "It cannot make the sacrifice!" Slowly, Coop felt the unnerving sensation of being pulled closer and closer to the edge, across the marble.
"Time to ground your power." Coop looked the madman in the eye and for a split second, saw realisation and blind terror, as he let go of the weapon in his hands, allowing the hunchback to slowly start his descent to ground. He watched for a few seconds, as the figure fell, turning over and over, while screaming obscenities. Triumphantly, he rolled over, onto his back, breathless.
The cat was not impressed and began tearing at the tabard he wore over his armour. Dissatisfied with finding a chain shirt beneath, it moved upwards, trying to find some flesh to rend. The gap between the shirt and Coop's helm looked very inviting to the feline seeking vengeance.
Suddenly, the knight disappeared and was replaced with a rushing wind in the cat's face. The cat was aware of a stinging sensation, somewhere around its tail, though that problem was not as immediate as the ground that was approaching at near terminal velocity.
It is a largely accepted fact, that cats will not demise from a fall from a great height. Taking into account the speed of the fall and the shock that the cat felt, one could be forgiven for feeling that this was an exception to the rule.
Rolling a little and bouncing from a few corpses of its fallen brethren, the green cat picked itself up and gave the feline look of loathing toward the tower. It was the sort of look that says "I meant to do that", which cats make all the time, when the unexpected happens to them. Slowly turning around and surveying the local area, the last thing that it saw was a hoof descending on it from about four feet.
"I thought I told you to stay down there." Coop was still lying on his back, breathless and now unarmed.
"Yes, but I'm not a part of your army." The young man looked at the older knight, as he sat up gingerly.
"I never did ask your name, did I?"
"Jones. Sergeant. 347519." Sergeant Jones saluted Coop in a way that he had seen a lifetime ago.
"You're not from around here, are you, sergeant?"
"No, sir. Something happened, a long time ago and I ended up in the middle ages."
"I guess that we have something in common, then. Keep it to yourself, though."
"Of course. I've done that for the past four years." Helping Coop to his feet, Jones helped to make him look a little more presentable, before they made their way down the tower, where gamejunkie was marshalling troops, as the fighting petered out.
"I think something is wrong with your horse, Coop. She looks a little lame, or something."
"Maybe she just stepped in something. I'll get the smith to take a look at her. Oh, by the way, this is..." His voice faded out
"Call me ZJ." The young man said, clasping hands with gamejunkie.
"Always glad to have another man on the team!" gamejunkie's voice boomed out across the field.
"Don't let Gagsy hear you say that. She'll throw a fit... possibly of giggles."
"So, what will you do, Sir Coop? The enemy lies vanquished."
"Some of the enemy lies vanquished. There is only one thing to do. Get a weapon, head out and keep the portal safe."