BRITAIN: HOUSE BRADDOCK
Issue # 2
They are the Braddocks, a family touched by the divine. The title of Captain Britain has been shared by both Brian and Betsy Braddock, while Brian's wife has adventured as the shapechanging Meggan. And then there is Jamie... a power-mad villain with the ability to re-make the cosmos. These are their tales, of heroism and woe....
Reflections of Life
The tavern was filled to overflowing, despite the fact that the wooden sign on the outside of the door read "Closed for the evening." Many of the people in the room were older folks, the sort who had spent their lives tilling the soil and never attaining much to show for it. They were the bitter, the afflicted. They were traitors, one and all.
Sir Benedict, cloaked in a heavy black robe that hid most of his red-skinned frame, was squeezed into a booth in the back. His eyes took in everything at once, though he longed to draw out his battleaxe and separate a few heads from their respective bodies. King Brian's tenure as ruler of Otherworld had barely begun to crawl out of its infancy but someone, or perhaps several someones, was stirring up the rabble. Though Brian and the rest of the royal family seemed content to allow what they called 'free speech,' Benedict and Opal Luna Saturnyne had chosen the wiser course of action -- to seek out the root of this cancer befoore it could take hold.
"King Brian... Pfah!" someone shouted. "He was the favorite toy of both Merlyn and Roma -- Why should we expect him to treat us any better? He'll be just like them -- all too eager to offer help to his friends and such, but willing to ignore the needs of the common man in Otherworld!"
Benedict made a mental note to remember the face of the man speaking.
"But how do we know that, unless we give the man a chance? Let him prove himself to be a bastard first -- Don't proclaim him one from the start! There's other ways we can get what we want!"
Benedict looked with surprise at the new speaker, a tall youth with dark brown hair and a prickly beard. The youth wore clothes of deep purple and bore a quiver of arrows across his back. Several angry retorts rang out but the youth held up his hand to silence them. "Tell me one thing that the King has done that warrants such action?"
A thin woman with yellowish-blonde hair rose up from the center of the room. She wore a gauzy white dress that seemed tailored for her fit, athletic body. "His brother, the mad Infinitus, sought to remake the cosmos. And what sort of justice does the King deliver? He brings Infinitus back to the castle, where he can be cared for in the lap of luxury! Is this how he protects his people? By coddling the mad, as long as they can claim blood relation to him? And what if the madness infects the King, as well? All of us here know how such things can travel through a family!"
"Bloody nonsense!" Benedict exclaimed.
One by one, everyone in the room turned to look at the large man with the booming voice. Benedict uttered a quiet curse for drawing attention to himself, but he'd found it hard to stay quiet while they prattled on like this.
The blonde woman raised her chin. "You have something to say, stranger?"
Benedict started to reply when the youth surprised them all by drawing an arrow from his quiver and notching it to his bow. "I think he was just commenting on how inane this argument is. King Brian is our lord and master -- and we have taken oaths as citizens of Otherworld to respect that." He pointed the tip of his arrow at the woman's chest, drawing shocked gasps from those around them. "Now... Are you prepared to die in order to remove Brian from the throne?"
The woman hesitated, obviously unsure of how to answer.
The archer grinned then, lowering his weapon. "But you're all speaking of treason! Don't you see? None of us should even be at this meeting, unless we're prepared for the consequences."
"And are you prepared for the consequences, young sir?"
Benedict turned to see a man step into the room. He was squat and heavy-set, with an almost ape-like gait to his walk. But there was no denying the look of intelligence and hate in the eyes. From the clothing the man wore, it was obvious that he was not a native of Otherworld, for he was dressed in a dark suit of the kind that Earthlings sometimes wore.
The archer nodded solemnly. "I am. But I'm not here because of any hatred of the King... I'm here because the time has come for us to rule ourselves. We should approach King Brian and explain this to him, for he comes from a land of democracy. He would listen to us, I'm sure of it."
The newcomer moved forward, his hands clenching into fists. "Is that so? Then you are in the wrong place. Because this gathering is not meant to discuss ways in which we befriend the King and gain his assistance. This meeting is for those who are tired of the weakness and the lies. This is a meeting for those who wish to take power -- and make sure that Otherworld truly belongs to someone who can guide it and protect it!"
The archer shifted slightly. "I see. And you are the man around him we are to be rallying?" He laughed slightly, gesturing at the stranger. "Can any of you truly see that on the throne of Otherworld?"
A sly smile spread over the shorter man's face. With a roar that was almost deafening, he raised his right hand and fired a burst of fiery energy at the impertinent archer. The young man burst into flames, screaming madly as he fell flopping to the floor. There were screams and the sounds of outrage, but the little man merely laughed. Benedict steeled himself, fighting down every instinct he had to throw himself into battle.
"This poor, deluded young thing," the man said, nudging the corpse with a boot, "Did not recognize his place. But all of you do, don't you? You that you need a strong ruler, one who will protect you... but also one who will recognize your value. It is you who are the heart and soul of Otherworld! Not some whelp born with a silver spoon in his mouth!"
The blonde woman who still remained nearby whispered "Was... was he right? Are you the man who has been holding all these rallies?"
The man paused before speaking. "Nay. I am Joshua Stragg, known to some as the Reaver. And once, long ago, I held the Sword of Power in my own hands*!" A murmur passed through crowd, for it was said that none but the true heir or one of his chosen champions could bear the sword. Even Benedict found himself intrigued. "And I have been approached by the man who seeks the throne of Otherworld. He is a great man, with experience leading large groups of sentients. Spread the word to one and all that tracts will soon be distributed amongst the masses, detailing the crimes of the Braddocks and the reasons why all of you should follow the new path. The path of the Mandragon!"
(*See Captain Britain Weekly # 1, 1976. The Reaver was the first foe ever faced by Brian Braddock.)
The Chamber of Failures, Otherworld
Brian Braddock wished he had a drink in his hand. He didn't care what really, as long as it was alcohol of strong potency. Since becoming King of Otherworld, he hadn't missed the bottle, not once. But now... Now he did.
The Dark Guard were mostly gone now, having been dispatched to the castle. Captain Assyria and Shamrock remained above the pool, waiting for their liege.
It had been a long wait.
"How many are there?" he asked, staring at the many still and quiet forms that lined the walls of this great chamber.
"Forty-five, m'lord." The man who answered was small and shriveled, leaning heavily on a walking stick. Sammael, Keeper of Secrets, displayed an odd enjoyment over Brian's discomfiture. "Most of them -- around 27, I believe, are male like yourself. The others are either female or of indeterminate gender."
Brian closed his eyes. "Forty-five... Merlyn carried on with these atrocities for so long. And he hid them away down here like they were nothing more than firewood, waiting to be burned."
Sammael grunted. He was watching the king, studying the lines of hurt in the strong man's features. "Why does this disturb you so, m'lord? Surely you did not think that the grand experiment would be without failures?"
"I knew about Jamie, of course," Brian replied. He stepped away from the tubes and their horrible cargo. "But all this...! Did my father know?"
"Some, but not all. Your father was a good soldier and he knew how important this was. The Omniverse needs a strong protector, one of pure spirit and indomitable will. Your father and mother created you, just as Merlyn had hoped -- a man with the genetic stuff of legend. And, tempered through the forge of adversity, you became a hero. And now a king."
Brian let loose a snarl of rage and lashed out with a fist. The blow shattered one of the great columns, sending bits of rock and earth flying through the air. When he looked at Sammael, the Keeper of Secrets shrank away in fear. "These were living creatures, Sammael! One and all! By what criteria were they judged to be failures? Were they all mad? Or did some of them just not want to live their lives as a puppet on a string, pulled this way and that by Merlyn?" He towered over Sammael. "Answer me."
"Most of them were troubled of mind and spirit, yes. But some... some lacked all power. They were weak-willed and slow."
"But why imprison them? Why not let them live their lives in peace, never having to know that they were -- that they were thought of -- as failures?"
Sammael sighed. "You are new to the duties of kingship, m'lord. Merlyn was not. He knew that even from failures could the seeds of victory be taken. These beings," he gestured expansively about himself, "were mined for their successes and were eventually used to help create you. From their blood, from their DNA, strands of glory were taken. These genetic prizes were then introduced into your mother and--"
"What?" Brian felt a rising sickness in himself. "What are you saying?"
"Your father and mother were genetically compatible, m'lord. They, like the others before him, had the possibility of creating greatness. After your brother's failure, Merlyn came upon a final gambit -- he combined magick and science to take elements from all these who had faltered along the path to godhood. These elements were introduced into you, via the womb. Your mother had no idea that her child was being genetically altered. The fact that and your sister were twins was part of it all, as well. Merlyn was running out of time -- he needed to double his chances for success."
Brian shook his head. The enormity of it all surprised him, even though it shouldn't have. He'd seen Merlyn's manipulations firsthand for so long... The wizard had allowed Brian to die once -- killed by the Fury. That horror had alloowed Merlyn to rebuild Brian from the molecular level up. And it was all in the name of some unfathomable plan, some scheme, which Merlyn had dedicated himself to.
The sound of flesh ripping made both Brian and Sammael look up. Betsy -- clad in her Captain Britain costume -- dropped to the floor. She was wet, covered by the peculiar purple fluid that made up the pool above. Gasping, she allowed Brian to help her up. "I came as soon as I could, Brian. What is this place?"
"This place belonged to Merlyn, Betsy. It's where he stored his failed attempts at creating you and I."
Betsy looked about her, sensing her brother's horror. Images and words flooded into her mind as she reached out to those who were still entombed. "Brian! They're... alive! I can sense them! It's like they're all in a deep sleep...."
Sammael coughed gently, bringing the twins' attention back to him. "They can be reawakened if you wish, m'lord. But I would advise against it--"
"I don't bloody care what you advise, Keeper of Secrets." The way Brian said Sammael's title made it sound like a stinging insult. "Merlyn is dead and gone. I rule Otherworld now. And these poor souls will find a measure of peace, or I shall die trying."
"What do you mean to do, Brian" Betsy asked.
"I'm going to have all of these people taken to the castle... and then I"m going to try and live up to the vow I took when I became King.. I shall use Excalibur not to hack, but to heal."
The man who wore Basil Kensington's face sat behind a desk in Sycorp's main offices, the fingers of his right hand dancing across the keyboard. Despite the fact that his left hand was little more than a cutting weapon now, he was able to type with one hand at a far faster rate than most experienced typists. He'd trained himself to have the reflexes of an assassin and even though his clothes and mannerisms were now mimicking those of his useless brother, the man known in some circles as the Slaymaster could not hide his full power. The fools in the cubicles surrounding his had noticed it, buzzing about the water coolers with stories about how Basil had been working out, how Basil seemed to charge the very air about himself with an intensity that had brought many of the secreteries to heel....
But none of them knew that the real Basil Kensington lay rotting beneath a bed in his own flat.
Slaymaster paused in his typing, having found exactly what he had been looking for. Onscreen was a list of warehouses and supply storage facilities, with a detailed list of what was in each. There were various rumors on the streets of London that the items currently being shopped about on the Black Market all originated from a common source. And that source was Sycorp. Foodstuffs, heaters, medical supplies... all items that had been in short supply and all were sitting there, hidden, while the price for such things went through the roof.
"But it's time that someone else stuck their fingers in this particular pie, isn't it?" Slaymaster muttered to himself.
"Is this how you see yourself? As a common thief? A killer of ordinary men and women who present no challenge you? I'm disappointed."
Slaymaster spun so quickly that the man behind him never had a chance to react. A jazzler, a small blade equipped with a neurological disrupter, slid out from beneath the killer's sleeve and was pressed up against the man's brown-skinned throat in a heartbeat. "You should have kept your tongue to yourself and slinked away into the shadows, my friend. Now, I have no choice but to kill you."
The stranger showed no fear of death. He was tall and bald, wearing a set of red robes. He was handsome and confident, with eyes that spoke of great intelligence. "Aren't you curious how I managed to surprise you? The great Slaymaster, not even able to sense someone not more than two feet from him. Sad, how the mighty have fallen."
Slaymaster narrowed his eyes, pressing the point of the jazzler harder against the man's throat. He still wore the foppish appearance of Basil Kensington, but there was no doubt that a lion was on the prowl. "Very brave for a man so close to his final breath. If you have something to say, do it, my friend."
"I am Mandragon," he said. He pressed against Slaymaster's hand and the killer allowed his blade to move away from the stranger's throat. "And I have come with an opportunity that cannot be ignored. There is a war afoot in another land, one called Otherworld. It is currently ruled by someone you know well -- Brian Braddock. I believe he killed you once."
"So they say," Slaymaster replied.
"I give you the opportunity not only to gain revenge against the Braddocks -- Brian and Betsy both -- but also a rare chance to find your true destiny. I offer you command of my military forces, which grow larger every day. I plan to seize Otherworld by force."
The assassin started to laugh but held back. There was something in the manner of this Mandragon that commanded respect. "How do you know of me? And what makes you think I would have any interest in this otherworldly war?"
"I know you," Mandragon replied, leaning close, "because there are some who whisper of you as the Captain's greatest foe. To Brian, you struck numerous blows but none as great as the blinding of his sister. To this day, that act haunts Betsy, as well. Your very presence will serve to unnerve them."
Slaymaster reached up and pulled away the mask hiding his features. The sleekly handsome visage of the Slaymaster was revealed at last, though a sneer gave his face an almost demonic slant. "I want the opportunity to face the female Captain Britain alone. Her death must belong to me. Do you understand?"
"Do you fancy her?" Mandragon asked, chuckling.
Slaymaster's smile faded and his eyes grew cold. "Brian Braddock is not a true warrior. He is clumsy, like an ox. But his sister... When I clashed with her on the Beyonder's world*, I felt an almost kindred spirit. We are fated to die in one another's arms."
(*In Pendragons # 16 & 17)
Mandragon nodded, though he privately wondered if recruiting this Slaymaster might not prove to be a mistake. Still, what does it matter if he is a bit mad? That will only make it easier to remove him from the board when I am done using him, he mused.
Castle Braddock, Otherworld
"I'm worried about him, Betsy. He pushes himself too hard."
Betsy glanced at her sister-in-law, the shapeshifting beauty named Meggan, and smiled broadly. "That's our Brian, Megs. If he thinks he has a smashing good idea, he throws himself into it and there's no stopping him."
Meggan placed a hand over her swollen belly and nodded. Everyday, it seemed, the new life within her seemed to grow larger. "I suppose you're right. But with all this business of running Otherworld and helping Jamie, he's barely had time for me as of late."
Betsy didn't reply, sensing the other woman's loneliness and pain. That's the real reason she came to get me. Not that she really wanted my help in finding a nanny for their baby, but because she wanted a friend to talk to. Probably explains that bizarre vision she had back at the Manor. Not that she'll talk about it much, but I know it upset her. Don't you worry, luv, she whispered mentally, I'm here for you.
Seeing Meggan's grateful smile, Betsy reached out and squeezed her sister-in-law's hand.
The two women stepped into a large chamber in which a dozen or so women stood whispering to one another. Most were older, matronly types but there were a few who seemed to be in the prime of life. Meggan smiled gently at all of them. "Hullo, everyone! I'm Queen Meggan," she said, blushing sweetly. The title of 'queen' was still something of a novelty to her, Betsy realized. "And this is King Brian's sister, Lady Elisabeth."
The women all curtsied as one, giving Betsy hope about them. They seemed comfortable with courtly manners and were all seemingly at ease with receiving instruction from the queen herself. And I'm not detecting any deception on any of their parts. Ordinarily, I wouldn't push this deeply, but given the fact they're going to be taking care of my little nephew or niece....
Betsy's inner monologue came to an abrupt end when she realized that Meggan had some sort of mental shield in place. It allowed surface thoughts to be ready easily, explaining why Betsy hadn't noticed before, but it prevented any further probing.
Before she could wonder any further, Meggan had already moved forward. She seemed eager to begin the interviewing process and Betsy set aside her concerns for now. Whatever Meggan's reasons were, she was sure they were good ones.
"Life used to be so much simpler, Saturnyne." Brian Braddock downed the last of his hot tea, feeling the sting as it slid down his throat. He and Opal Luna Saturnyne were in one of the grand chambers located beneath the castle, only a hundred feet or so from the vault containing the Forever Crystal. "I remember a time when my biggest concern was whether or not Courtney Ross would ever find me attractive. And now, look at me. I'm pondering whether or not to re-awaken a group of total strangers, each of whom contributed to the genetic melting pot that is me. I sometimes think I'd give anything to turn back the clock... To be young and cocksure again."
The gorgeous blonde woman, draped in a skin-tight white dress, smiled smugly at that. Courtney Ross was another variant of Opal Luna Saturnyne and Brian's continued infatuation with the deceased businesswoman was a source of great personal pleasure to Opal Luna. "I think you'd be better off leaving things be, my lord."
"Don't call me that."
"...Why not?" she asked, surprised evident in her features.
"Because you knew me before," he whispered. "Right now, everyone reacts to me as the King. That's well and good, but I need friends, too. I need you and Betsy and Meggan. I need to have time where I'm not 'my lord' -- I'm Brian. Do you understand?"
"Of course I do... Brian." Opal Luna looked around the room, at the twenty or so 'failures' that had already been brought back. The others would arrive later this evening. All of them were still sealed in their personal pods, dreaming of who knows what. "You didn't answer my comment, though. Why awaken them and risk unleashing another Jamie Braddock on the omniverse?"
"Because they deserve the chance to live." Brian looked at her, clasping his hands behind his back. He looked regal and strong, but there was a hint of the old Brian in there -- hurt but unflagging. "And because keeping them in that Chamber of Failures smacks of Merlin and his manipulations. I won't be that sort of man."
"You never could be, Brian." Opal moved towards him quickly, placing a hand on his chest. "Through it all, you're a champion. Merlin succeeded in that. I've never known a man of more noble character."
Brian placed a hand over hers and the two of them stared hard into each other's eyes. Opal's mouth parted, her tongue teasingly wetting her lips. Brian felt himself leaning forward but stopped at the last moment, their lips so close that each could fairly well taste the other. "Opal... This cannot happen. Ever."
He pulled away, leaving her confused and angry. "You know you want it, Brian. The woman you fell in love with all those years ago, she was just a copy of me!"
"No. She wasn't." Brian held her gaze for a moment longer. "And this never happened. We will remain friends and we will not speak of this. Do you understand?"
Saturnyne tilted her chin up, her lips drawn thin. "Of course... my lord."
Sir Benedict staggered back into the castle around midnight. His entire body ached from the travel and he found it somewhat difficult to breathe. Sagging down to rest on the floor, he pondered again the things he'd seen in Everpeace. Men and women agreeing to take up arms against the King, a horrible little man named the Reaver in service to the Mandragon, whatever that was....
This was the stuff of nightmares.
Footsteps in the hall made him look up. Instinctively, his hand flew to his battleaxe, but when he saw who approached, he relaxed visibly. "Ah... It's good that it's you. I have news for the King. There is treachery afoot." The red-skinned man rose on unsteady news. "I made the trip from Everpeace to here in record time, I think." Benedict dabbed at his brow, wiping away sweat. It was then that he noticed how strangely quiet the hallway was. "Er... Is there something wrong? Don't you care to know what I've learned?"
"I think I already know," the woman answered. Raising a hand, she brandished a small stone, of the deepest black in color. "But I can't have you telling anyone else. Not yet."
And Sir Benedict's world exploded in a crescendo of pain and horror.
Epilogue - Darkmoor, England
figure in the striking red costume burst forth from a rip in space, flying
forward thanks to the power of the Star-Sceptre. A relatively recent gift
from Merlin, it was the symbol of how far a young man named Brian Braddock
had come since that cold, wintry night nearly two years ago. On that evening,
he'd fled from Joshua Stragg, aka the Reaver, and found himself standing
before the mighty Merlin and his companion, the Goddess of the Northern
Skies. Offered the choice between a sword and an amulet, the physics student
had made the only choice that seemed appropriate. He'd eschewed the symbol
of war and instead chosen the amulet, transforming himself into the legend
known as Captain Britain.
Now, Captain Britain looked about himself with growing concern. He'd been in New York City just a few seconds ago, having finished an earlier, impromptu team-up with the American hero known as Spider-Man*. He'd planned to enjoy as much of the city as he could during his brief visit, using the Star-Sceptre to take to the air and gain a better view.
(*In Marvel Team-Up # 65-66.And, yes, I know that the pic at left doesn't actually depict the Star-Sceptre but man, dig those craaaaazy threads, huh?)
But how in the name of the Queen did I end up back in Darkmoor? he asked himself. Merlin? Did you bring me here?
There was no voice to answer the young man's queries and he was left to stand amidst the fog-enshrouded standing stones and wonder -- What great force had brought him back to England? And did it mean that some vile threat to his nation now awaited him?
Taking flight once more, Captain Britain began to head towards his London home once more. Perhaps there, near the Thames University which he attended, he would find his answers....
To Be Continued....
Next Issue: "Reflections of Life" continues, as our themes of identity and responsibility continue to rise to the fore. Who is this young man claiming to be Captain Britain? And how does his presence spell danger for the members of House Braddock? Plus: King Brian and Meggan find themselves the targets of a foul new attack....
We've got our first letter, from Black Knight: Destiny Walk scribe Gary Dreslinski:
Man, I read Cap #1 last night... you really *are* doing your best work in years, maybe ever. The whole Chamber of Failures thing!!!! I'm really looking forward to this! Really liked the notes at the end as well.
Thanks, Gary. Coming from you, that's high praise, indeed! I'm really enjoying myself with the various titles in the Pendragons Universe and I'm glad that's coming through in the work itself. As you've noticed by now, I'm approaching this series as a team book, of sorts. The ensemble cast will all get a chance to shine before it's all over and done, but the main focus on the book -- thematically, at least -- will be Brian Braddock.
Keep in touch,