Kenneth Crichton is heir to a heroic legacy, one dating back to the first World War. The only son of Jacqueline Falsworth Crichton, Kenneth was always a sickly and disappointing youth, whose only true friend was Joey Chapman, who wore the uniform of Union Jack for quite some time until his death at the hands of Jim Jaspers. Now Kenneth finds himself reborn as a vampire -- and charged with carrying on for both his famous family and for his lost friend. He is....
"I don't understand this... It doesn't make sense."
Ghoul lit another cigarette and leaned back in his chair. It creaked slightly under his weight and one of his protruding ribs poked a hole in the seat's surface. "You're a vampire dressed like the freakin' flag. I'm a rotting corpse who fights crime. What made you think this had to make sense?"
Kenneth couldn't suppress a grin at that. He and his unlikely companion were currently waiting in Jennifer Kale's living room, while the sorceress finished with some private business upstairs. Union Jack had come to her after he'd awakened hours before, only to find that his own face had been replaced by the features of his dead friend, Joey Chapman. Over the course of the last hour, the effect had faded, leaving Kenneth's face once more restored to its natural state... but this was the last in a series of strange events that had shaken Kenneth to his core. He'd heard Joey's voice in his head... had even seen him in a strange quasi-dream... and now this.
Is Joey still alive somehow?
That was the question that kept plaguing him, making even thoughts of Lord Pumpkin and Necromon seem distant and unimportant.
"Sorry 'bout that, guys. My ghostly advisor dropped in unexpectedly."
Union Jack pulled his mask into place before turning to face their host. She was tall and thin, with an athletic build that accentuated her beauty. Long blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail and her blue eyes were twinkling with curiosity. "No problem. It's not like you were expecting us, either."
Jennifer shrugged at that, acknowledging the truth in his words but not holding them against him. She was a night-owl by nature, finding her mind clearest after midnight. That had served her well as the human host for the Spirit of Vengeance, but that relationship had been severed after her allegiance to Gaea came to the fore. "I heard you were dead," she said to Union Jack.
"I got better. Ghoul says you're the closest thing to a Sorcerer Supreme we have these days. Is that true?"
"Not in the least." Jennifer sat down on the couch, casting a quick glance at Ghoul, who was beginning to slough off some of his skin onto her floor. "There's some guy calling himself Doc Strange out there. He's the most powerful mage inside the Barrier."
"Have his phone number?" Ghoul asked, blowing a smoke ring.
"If I did, I'd ask him where he gets off using the name of one my dead friends."
"Maybe he got better, too?" Union Jack asked.
"No." Jennifer leaned forward. "So what can I do for you?"
Kenneth paused for a moment, as if uncertain how to proceed. "My best friend was killed during the recent weirdness. You know about the Jaspers Warp?"
"A bit... I was pretty muddled up by it all, but I recall enough to follow you. You want me to try and reach him via a sťance or something?"
"My buddy thinks he's being haunted by him. Or turning into him. Somethin' like that."
Jennifer didn't even blink an eye at Ghoul's words. Raised since birth as a member of a mystical cult, she'd grown very comfortable with the idea of the supernatural. "You want me to look into what's going on, then. Okay... I need you to remove your mask first."
Union Jack paused. He knew Jennifer was an American, but there was still the chance she'd recognize his face from old society pages. As the only son of Jacqueline Falsworth Crichton, he'd spent his fair share of time in the tabloids... Still, he had to know the truth about Joey....
Slowly, he removed his mask and stared into her eyes. He smiled to her, making it abundantly clear that he was a vampire. "Will your magic work on vampires?"
"Oh yeah," Jennifer laughed. "It'll work even better if you're all ready a magic creature. Now let's get you stripped naked."
Kenneth blinked in surprise, while Ghoul laughed aloud.
Lord Pumpkin paced back and forth, feeling the sting of his ally's disappointment. Necromon was a powerful being, capable of laying siege to Avalon itself... the fact that two men, even men possessed of incredible powers, could have so easily escaped him gnawed at him. In the absence of any desire to blame himself, Necromon had chosen to lay blame on Lord Pumpkin.
"Why did you bring me here... Now?" Necromon asked, standing before a large window. He was studying the London landscape as if it were completely foreign to him. "This world is not ready to accept me as its ruler... There are far too many pretenders to the throne. This Adam Crown who has claimed Darkmoor; the ever-present threats of the Red Lord and Victor Von Doom; and so many others. Not mention all those who stand against them. You have brought me into the midst of chaos."
Pumpkin hissed in response, creeping up next to the dread lord. "Your power is far greater than theirs. Combined with my knowledge of this world--"
Necromon's hand shot out faster than Pumpkin could believe. His fist drove hard into the soft, pulpy flesh of Lord Pumpkin's head, shattering it. The dark mage fell to the ground, jerking in agony.
Within seconds, the pieces of Pumpkin's head began to reattach themselves, each shard sparking with the inhuman life of its owner. Necromon ignored them, his mind all ready beginning to formulate new plans. His old enemies -- Dane Whitman and Brian Braddock -- hailed from this place and it would please him greatly to tear it down, bit by bit.
"I was kinda hoping you'd be naked, too." Ghoul leered at Jennifer Kale, who was wearing something that resembled a fantasy-novel heroine come to life. She wore a metal bikini that revealed far more flesh than it covered and was sitting cross-legged on the floor, while a nude Kenneth Crichton lay beneath a blanket before her.
"I'm in my work clothes, Ghoul. Calm down." Jennifer leaned forward, lighting a candle and allowing the thick black smoke to curl upwards toward the ceiling. It had soon permeated the air, making everyone except Jennifer herself a bit light-headed. "Mind telling me why you didn't just go to the Lady of the Lake with this?"
Kenneth looked up at her in surprise. "You know I'm a Pendragon?"
"It's clear as day, if you know what you're looking for."
"I... That's what Joey told me to do when I saw him in my dream. But something didn't feel right about that. I just had a strange sensation*...."
(*See Black Knight: Destiny Walk # 21 for one reason why.)
"Good enough for me. I'm a big believer in hunches." Jennifer rose from the floor, her well-toned body looking sleek and dangerous. "I'm about to cast a spell that should reveal any spirits that are tied to yours. It might be a little disturbing."
Ghoul watched as Kenneth nodded his assent. He wasn't sure what tied him to the vampire hero, but Ghoul liked the guy, nonetheless. Shame this Chapman guy didn't have a body to bury. My power to speak to the dead could have saved UJ a lot of grief.
Kenneth, meanwhile, remained outwardly stoic. The truth was, however, that he was terrified. He wanted so badly to believe that Joey might still be alive, but he also wanted to avoid getting his hopes up. He watched as Jennifer moved her hands through the air, forming her fingers into various mystical signs... her words were barely more than whispers, but each one of them seemed to ignite something in the room, causing little sparks of electricity to lift the strands of her hair.
Kenneth felt a stirring around his body as the smoke in the room began to coalesce into the form of a man, looking down into his own eyes. The face was a bit gruff looking, but more than handsome enough to catch the eye of any woman -- and quite a few men. "Joey," Kenneth whispered, his voice full of emotion. He loved this man more than almost any other on Earth. He was a friend, a confidant and an inspiration.
The smoky figure solidified, standing near Kenneth and watching him with a bemused expression. "This isn't Avalon, is it? You never did listen to me."
Kenneth sat up, staring at his friend in disbelief. "Are you... really alive?"
Joey shrugged, looking so casually cocky that Kenneth felt love well up within him. "Who knows, mate? I've seen better days, that's for sure."
Jennifer Kale stepped up beside Joey, her eyes narrowed. "Something's not right here."
"Ya really think so?" Ghoul asked, rolling his eyes. "Things are looking perfectly spiffy to me."
"Hush, Ghoul." Union Jack stood, holding his towel about his waist. "Ms. Kale, please tell me... Is there some way to restore Joey to life?"
Both Joey and Kenneth blinked in surprise. There was no hesitation or doubt in Kale's voice. It was Kenneth who said "But... Why?"
"Because if I managed to make him solid and whole again, I think you'd die. He's a part of you, Kenneth. I don't know if he's a memory given some kind of sentience or what, but he's basically a part of your soul... Wait a minute, I think I'm beginning to understand. There's a spell attached to this, but it's been spun so artfully that I almost missed it!"
Joey glanced at his old friend and frowned. "Don't do anything that puts you at risk, mate. Just promise you'll take care of your mum for me."
Kenneth ignored that comment, still feeling uncomfortable with the knowledge that Joey had become lovers with his mother. "Who did this?"
"That would be me," a voice said from the darkness.
Everyone in the room jumped as lightning cracked outside, briefly illuminating the room in full. A long rumble of thunder filled the air, as the Pendragon known as Wynter came into view. He wore long robes, which rustled about his gaunt, pale form. His long white hair hung loosely about his shoulders and an enigmatic smile danced upon his lips, as if he were privy to more secrets than he would ever choose to share.
Kenneth let out a shout of pure rage. He jumped for the mage, but felt himself caught in the air by Jennifer's spell. It held him tight, even as he unleashed a torrent of venom at the magician. "You bastard! I should have known you were involved in this! If it wasn't for you, I'd still be dead! At peace*!"
(*See Pendragons # 40 for more on this.)
Wynter's expression never wavered. "You are a sign of change in Avalon, Kenneth. A darker Pendragon than any who have come before... But you also had doubts and self-loathing. So I took your memories of Joey and fashioned them into a companion of sorts, someone who can counsel you and make you stronger. He was always your guardian in life and now he can be the same in death."
"But he's not real!"
"What is reality, other than what we choose to make of it? He exists within your mind and your soul. Be happy for that."
"Let me down," Kenneth hissed at Jennifer and he felt her bonds loosen on him. He pointed an accusing finger at Wynter. "Stay out of my life, magician!"
"Give it up," Joey said. He gripped Kenneth's arm, holding tight until the slimmer man turned to face him. "It's the best of both worlds. I get to go on to heaven and a part of me stays here to torment you for eternity. Fair exchange for all the headaches you gave me."
Kenneth closed his eyes, feeling weak and confused. "I loved you so much, Joey."
They embraced, each finding a strange sort of comfort in the other. Joseph Chapman slowly disappeared, melding once more with Kenneth, leaving Union Jack standing there alone. He felt the strength of Joey in his heart and made a fist. "Ghoul. We're leaving. Jennifer -- thank you." He glanced at Wynter, his eyes flashing. "The next time I see you... I'm going to kill you. That's a promise."
There you have it. The conclusion to a grand experiment that ultimately fell flat on its face. I figured that since I'm so prolific, I could belt out a scene a week with no problem. Big mistake. In addition to all the fanfic I write, I work 40 hours a week... and balance a happy marriage... and am finishing up work on the fifth volume of the Marvel Encyclopedia series (coming your way in April '04!).
I quickly fell behind and ended up belting out sub-par work that only increased my dissatisfaction with this particular area of the Pendragons Universe. So I've elected to end things with this issue, freeing up Kenneth and his cast to pop up later on in our flagship title, The Pendragons and other places. Look for Ghoul in Black Knight: Destiny Walk, Department F.66 and more -- the dead guy's very popular, it seems. Kenneth himself seems destined for a meeting with the other defenders at Avalon at some point, so his future seems clear. Necromon and Lord Pumpkin will no doubt return to plague us all another day. And Magpie & the Werewolves of London will continue to lurk in the underbelly of the Pendragons Universe -- their campaign against Union Jack should come to a head in The Pendragons.
Will there be a third Union Jack series here at the Pendragons Center, following on the heels of this one and the earlier Werewolves of London? Considering how downright cool that UJ costume is... Yeah, probably. :-)
See ya in the funny pages!