Victor leapt from his seat. “That’s it? We’re done?”
The Spectre nodded. “We just need to clean up, put everything back where it was.”
The knights rose from their stools and picked up their weapons, conversing excitedly about all the things Victor had taught them. “Sir Victor,” said the ram knight, from across the circle, “you should cover your ears.”
Victor covered his ears. The ram knight raised his war hammer and thumped it into the floor; a dull, stony crack boomed; Victor felt the shock in the soles of his feet. The stone chairs receded into the floor with a rumble, leaving a circle of coloured cushions, which the stallion knight gathered in the wicker basket. As the knights made their way back to their positions at the sides of the hall, the lion knight patted Victor on the back with his huge gauntlet, nearly knocking him off his feet. “Thank you for answering our questions,” said the lion knight.
“No problem,” said Victor. “Thank you for not killing me. That’s a hell of a sword you have there.”
The lion knight held his sword up in one hand and looked it over. He lowered it and extended it, handle first, to Victor. “Let it be a token of our gratitude,” he said.
Victor was taken aback. “Oh, wow,” he said. “You know, I’d love to accept it… but it’s too big for me. I’ve only got one good arm, you see. I couldn’t lift your sword, let alone swing it.”
“What about mine?” said the wolf knight, passing by on his way across the hall. He offered Victor one of his scimitars. “It’s much smaller and lighter. See how it feels.”
Victor took the sword by the handle and held it up. The curved blade glinted in the purple light. He slashed it down, and then side to side. “It’s still a little long for you to use one-handed,” said the wolf knight. “Hold it up near the hilt, like this.” He demonstrated with his other sword. “That’s it. It will balance better.”
“Yeah, that feels good,” said Victor. “This is great. Are you sure you don’t need it?”
“I won’t be using it,” answered the wolf knight. “I have to go, anyway.”
Victor watched the lion knight and the wolf knight return to their posts and resume their fearsome, statuesque poses. The Spectre of Puberty came and stood at his side. “We’re all packed up now,” said the Spectre. “I’m not sure how this is going to go, so it’s probably—argh, this damn voice—it’s probably safest if you stand back by the stairs.”
“Oh, okay,” said Victor, and he made his way down the hall, along the broad mosaic path, slashing occasionally at the air with his new sword.
Back near the stone staircase, Victor turned to face the hall and waited. The Spectre climbed the steps onto the platform, then turned and stood in front of the throne. He pulled his hood forward over his head, concealing his face, and then sat down, motionless. The room was as still and silent as it was when Victor first entered.
He sat on the bottom stair, as the silence continued undisturbed for a minute or two. Then there was a creak on the right side of the room… and another up the far end… then a soft, jittery rattle from near the pillar closest to him. A dull clang reverberated from the far end of the hall; Victor looked and saw the leopard knight’s arm lying on the floor beside it. A heavy clunk nearby drew Victor’s attention to the lion knight, half-obscured behind a pillar; he stood up and moved around to get a full view of the mighty warrior. His head had fallen off. The great steel helmet that had been so intimidating upon the knight’s shoulders now lay on the stone, leaving a headless suit of armour holding the knight’s massive sword. Victor raised his scimitar and stepped back slowly. A rattle and clunk to his right: the snake knight’s gauntlet and shield collapsed to the floor; a crash at the far end of the hall: the owl knight’s body had detached at the waist and fallen backwards onto the stone in a mess of steel plates. Only its legs remained standing. One crash after another in rapid succession, clanks and thumps and jangling of loose steel—the great suits of armour dismantled piece by piece and fell. Within a minute they were reduced to piles of scrap metal. When the last tinkling of demolished armour ceased, a howling wind raced by Victor and toward the far end of the hall. A second later the Spectre’s long black cloak ruffled from foot to head. The Spectre’s head nodded forward, bowed gradually lower, and then fell right off his shoulders. Still wrapped in its hood, the head bounced off the Spectre’s knee and tumbled forward off the throne. Clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk—it rolled down the steps and then across the floor, slipping out from the hood. The Spectre’s head was no longer human; in fact, it was no longer a head. It was a swirly orange bowling ball. The ball continued to roll, gaining speed, and began to glow. It shone brighter and stronger, soon eclipsing the light of the lava lamp. As it came to the centre of the mosaic floor, the ball burst in a flash of golden light.
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