Rune (Part 1 of 2)
CURSE OF RUNE
inventory script by Paul O’Connor
first of two parts
First Draft: April 2nd, 1995
(for more info about publication history of this issue, see blog post here)
NEW CHARACTERS INTRODUCED THIS ISSUE:
Adrian Beuthen, a.k.a. “CRUSADER”: Born 1150 AD, biological age frozen in late thirties to early forties. In mortal form, he’s 6’3”, powerful build, trim waist, sprinkles of grey in his beard and hair, hair straying to the sides of his head but not entirely bald. Big hands. Tough. His body is covered with scars from sword wounds and torture. He should offer a suggestion of strength through age — while no longer young, Adrian is in no sense infirm or frail. Think of Sean Connery in Robin & Marion.
Adrian was a childhood friend of Richard Lionheart, and a soldier in the Third Crusade. A storm off Cyprus in 1191 while en route to the Holy Land tossed Adrian upon the desolate shore of an unknown island. There Adrian discovered a shrine wherein resided a brilliant light, which promised Adrian in thunderous voice great power if he would undertake a quest. Adrian agreed, and was made into Crusader, and charged to walk the earth in service of justice until evil was driven from Jerusalem.
As a 12th century Christian crusader, it’s not unusual Adrian believed the light in the shrine spoke with the voice of God. Actually, the voice and the light belonged to a fragment of the mothership which assessed Adrian’s personality and couched an offer in terms Adrian could readily understand and accept. When Adrian agreed to accept his quest, he became host to nanotechnological power, which Adrian considers the hand of God. Over the years, the consciousness of the nanotech entity faded, replaced by Adrian’s own ego, but the power afforded by the nanotech has if anything increased.
Adrian can transform himself into the Crusader through a simple act of will, although he cannot remain in his Crusader form indefinitely. When Adrian becomes Crusader he is transformed into a 6’5”, 350 pound powerhouse. His body is sheathed in plates of living armor, and brilliant white fire pours from his eyes. By forming his hands into the shape of a sword’s hilt, he can summon a mystical blade of blazing white energy that shears through armor as easily as flesh. The nanotechnology makes him functionally immortal — at least, he’ll never die of old age, although he could be slain in battle. He is afforded superhuman strength and endurance by his nanotechnology, but his greatest power — and his greatest curse — is the ability to look into men’s souls and weigh the evil he finds there against the good. He is effectively a medieval heavy-metal superhero.
Crusader’s voice should be deep and otherworldly. We’ll need a special balloon border for him; I indicate this with “BALLON FX” appended to most of his dialogue cues.
Ione: Adrian’s squire. She’s a girl about seventeen years of age, attractive in a tom-boy sort of way. Her hair is cut short in “page boy” style. Her clothes are old and soiled but of good quality. She is barefoot and unarmed.
The Burgher: Rune’s pompous flunky. He is short, fat, and round-faced, bulging with life in a time when famine and plague stalk the land. He needs piggish eyes and small hands. He loves to wear a ridiculous hat that he thinks affords him dignity; the effect is exactly the opposite.
Recommended reading: A DISTANT MIRROR, by Barbara W. Tuchman (Ballantine Books, New York, 1978). Excellent overview of the 14th century. The plague imagery in this script is largely drawn from chapter five of Tuchman’s book.
This page resembles a medieval illuminated manuscript. The first letter of the first word in the first caption is oversized and ornate. The page border is intricately detailed with questing vines, demons, and serpents. Figures are flat and face directly out of the page. Conventional laws of perspective are ignored; individuality is suppressed by the allegorical message of the art. See attached photocopied reference for examples of this style.
PANEL ONE: First of a three panel triptych. Abstract figures of personified Death cavort with medieval peasants. In this panel the peasants are relatively healthy, and you can see Death only if you’re looking for him. See attached “Danse Macabre” for reference.
CAPTION: In the Year of Our Lord 1348 . . .
PANEL TWO: Triptych continues. Now Death is evident. Peasants and kings turn to skeletons and fall to the ground when Death touches them.
CAPTION: . . . the Great Mortality stalked the land . . .
PANEL THREE: Triptych concludes. Death is triumphant. Peasants and churchmen lay in heaps beside untended fields.
CAPTION: . . . and a third of the world died.
PANEL FOUR: This middle panel shows medieval doctors doing their inadequate best to treat a dying patient. One consults an astrological chart. Another drains blood from his patient into a basin. A third is on his knees, in prayer. Death laughs at them all.
CAPTION: Death came into our midst like black smoke, a plague which cut off young and old alike.
CAPTION: In the span of a single night, a healthy man could erupt with horrible swellings, like seeds of black peas, or broken fragments of brittle sea-coral.
CAPTION: It seemed the end of the world. . .
PANEL FIVE: First of a second three-panel triptych, showing a medieval landscape. This first panel shows the town in which our story is set, a medium-sized walled settlement.
CAPTION: . . . until He appeared.
CAPTION: This is the story of a city of the Damned . . .
PANEL SIX: Part two of the triptych. Crusader rides across the landscape, headed toward Rune.
CAPTION: . . . the Hero who failed to save us . . .
PANEL SEVEN: Rune sprawls on a throne, his wings unfurled, his head propped in his palm.
CAPTION: . . . and the Evil One who was our savior.
End of medieval art style. Conventional art style. Three panels, diagonal separation.
PANEL ONE: Rune slouches on his throne, his wings unfurled, his chin resting in one hand. He could be Milton’s vision of Lucifer. He’s bored. He’s surrounded by courtiers vying for his attention.
CAPTION: Rune is bored.
CAPTION: This pitiful court is a far cry from the glory that is his birthright.
PANEL TWO: Close up of Rune’s face. A satanic spark begins to brew in his eyes. The BURGHER stands behind the throne, whispering in Rune’s ear; Rune ignores him.
CAPTION: The Prince of Void takes little pleasure from ruling animals.
CAPTION: Their ceaseless prattling seems like a dull rain.
CAPTION: This life of exile is a half-life at best.
PANEL THREE: Rune leaps from his throne and out an open window, scattering his terrified servants.
CAPTION: The only time Rune is truly alive —
FULL PAGE SHOT (SPLASH): Shot from the city square below a high tower. Rune swoops down from above, his wings unfurled, his jaw distended. He is very close and about to strike. People in the square panic. One woman stands transfixed, staring up at approaching death. A basket of bread tumbles from her nerveless hands.
CAPTION: — IS ON THE HUNT!
TITLE: THE DAMNED
PANEL ONE: Rune hauls the woman into the air. She does not resist.
CAPTION: The woman is eerily silent as Rune hauls her into the air.
PANEL TWO: In silhouette, Rune breaks her neck. Blood sprays from her severed artery. The sound effect could serve as a background, or as the outline of the panel itself if you prefer.
CAPTION: The cracking of her neck echoes like a cannon shot in the narrow courtyard.
PANEL THREE: Rune gracefully circles back down to the courtyard. He cradles his victim in his arms, almost like a dance partner. Her head lolls at an unnatural angle over his arm.
CAPTION: Rune tenderly cradles his victim, her body languid in death . . .
PANEL FOUR: Rune feasts. His body and wings largely mask the gruesome scene. The woman’s arm, outstretched and bloody, emerges from beneath Rune’s huddling form, laying along the ground.
CAPTION: . . . her warm life’s blood willingly sacrificed to her Lord and Master.
PANEL ONE: Townspeople hurry past, stealing covert glances at Rune’s feast.
CAPTION: The others steal furtive glances at the horror in their midst.
CAPTION: Terror is drowned with relief that someone else was chosen.
CAPTION: Merciful Lord Rune has granted them another day of life.
PANEL TWO: First of three detail panels of Rune feasting. His head and shoulders are center frame, but his head is down below our line of sight, sucking life from the corpse.
CAPTION: The thrill is gone long before the blood runs dry.
PANEL THREE: Same angle. Rune pulls his head up from his kill. Black blood runs down his chin, his throat, his chest. His eyes are fully black and devoid of emotion. Behind Rune, a soldier of the watch approaches.
CAPTION: Rune has grown fat on easy kills. These humans are no better than cattle.
CAPTION: Her sweet blood is warm in Rune’s throat, but still he is empty —
CAPTION: — empty —
CAPTION: — EMPTY!
PANEL FOUR: Same angle. The soldier has come up to stand behind Rune. We can’t see his face. Rune snaps out of his reverie. He snaps his head around to respond to a voice from off-panel, the vacant look in his eyes replaced with killing rage.
SOLDIER (LARGELY OFF-PANEL): Lord Rune —
RUNE (BURST): WHO DARES — !?
PANEL FIVE: The soldier falls back a step but keeps his nerve. Rune’s rage passes as quickly as it emerged.
SOLDIER: Beg pardon, M’Lord, but the watch found another outbreak. A house inside the walls.
RUNE: Of course. You have done well.
RUNE: Show me this house.
CAPTION: Rune is grateful for the distraction. Perhaps this chore will provide some small amusement —
PANEL ONE: Shot from inside a pitiful hovel, Rune and soldiers in the door, throwing long shadows across the floor and over the kneeling form of a young woman, begging Rune for mercy.
CAPTION: — a nascent memory in Rune’s life of eternal sameness.
WOMAN: Mercy, M’Lord. I beg you.
PANEL TWO: The woman draws aside the rags covering her husband, shivering on a straw pallet on the floor. His body has erupted with a score of ugly black buboes. He’s thrashing about in a fever; he’ll be dead soon. The soldiers draw back and cover their mouths. The woman is near hysteria.
WOMAN: My husband is a good man.
WOMAN: You can heal him, with your magic.
PANEL THREE: Medium close-up of the woman’s tear-streaked face, as Rune lifts it by the chin. She bears a striking resemblance to Dyata, from RUNE #7.
CAPTION: But where Rune lusts for new experience, he finds only the past, over and over again.
CAPTION: The woman bears an uncanny resemblance to Dyata, whom he loved.
PANEL FOUR: Rune roughly shoves the woman aside and strides for the door. His soldiers back out behind him, their weapons leveled at the hysterical woman clutching at Rune’s heels.
CAPTION: Once there was a time when he’d lay down with these animals.
CAPTION: But that was a thousand years — and a thousand lifetimes — ago.
PANEL FIVE: Rune watches as the building burns. It is built against the city wall, and stands slightly apart from the other wretched shacks in this quarter of the city. See photocopied reference for a possible architectural style. Soldiers of the watch stand before the building, their polearms leveled, in case the woman or her husband try to escape the flames.
CAPTION: Rune smiles while his men burn the building, heedless of the hysterical cries within.
CAPTION: These fools know nothing of disease or contagion. A simple plague is enough to lay low their mightiest kingdoms.
PANEL SIX: A long, narrow strip across the bottom of the page, showing Rune’s eyes. Reflected flames dance in his eyes. His eyes are narrowed, calculating, evil.
CAPTION: The plague will spread rapidly through these narrow alleys.
CAPTION: Better to burn the entire quarter than risk the rest of the city.
CAPTION: He will give the order at once. Merciful Rune will not let his cattle die.
(FULL-PAGE SHOT): Cut to a high angle shot of a muddy road through a weed-choked fields, where plague has had a free hand. Bodies lay in untended fields and beside the road. The road runs to the horizon, where it vanishes into a line of dense woods. A knight on horseback and his walking squire push their way through a column of FLAGELLANTS headed in the opposite direction along the narrow road. Striped to the waist, the flagellants scourge themselves bloody with iron-tipped leather whips. Most are maimed, one drags a heavy cross through the mud. There are men, women, carts, and some scrappy dogs and cart horses in the procession; this is as much a grim circus as a pack of pilgrims on the march. Everyone should be covered in blood and mud; lots of brown on this page. The knight is a grizzled veteran named Adrian Beuthen, known as the CRUSADER. His squire is a girl in her late teens, her hair cut in page-boy style, named IONE. She leads Adrian’s horse by the bridal; the Flagellants part to let the warrior ride through their midst, but one old crone holds her ground.
CAPTION: Rune’s methods are draconian, but efficient.
CAPTION: Beyond his realm, Death is triumphant, and the pitiful survivors of this Black Death turn to insane measures for salvation —
FLAGELLANT: Mother Mary preserve us!
FLAGELLANT: Christ forgive us!
FLAGELLANT: We are unworthy, O Lord!
IONE: Stand aside, grandmother, and let my Lord through.
CRONE: Which Lord do you mean, girl —
PANEL ONE: Over Adrian’s shoulder, looking down at Ione and the crone. The old woman has clutched Ione’s wrist with one muddy, claw-like hand.
CRONE: — the Lord in heaven who has forsaken us, or this mere man upon his horse, who’ll be rot when he’s dead no different than a low-born serf?
IONE: Let go of me!
ADRIAN: Relax, Ione —
PANEL TWO: Reverse angle, looking up at Adrian, leaning down out of his saddle. He’s weary, and bored; his expression is not unlike Rune’s from page two. Ione rubs her wrist where she’s pulled free from the crone.
ADRIAN: — she’s a flagellant, and she’s half-mad. They would atone for man’s sin by whipping themselves bloody.
CRONE: And how would you battle evil, Sir Knight?
PANEL THREE: Close up on Adrian. Now he’s genuinely weary. All the disillusionment of a man who has fought a losing and ultimately fruitless war against evil for two hundred years must show on his face.
ADRIAN: Two hundred years ago I would have said with a strong arm and a pure heart . . .
ADRIAN: . . . but we’re both too old for that kind of crap, eh, old crone?
ADRIAN: This is the age of evil ascendent. There is a Beast in Jerusalem.
PANEL FOUR: The crone gestures up the road, toward the line of woods in the distance.
CRONE: The Beast is closer than you know. A fortnight past we were refused succor from the city beyond those woods —
CRONE: — then men rode from the city, slaying our men and taking our women.
ADRIAN: You may be mad, but you are a pilgrim. You should not be prey to such evil.
PANEL FIVE: On Adrian, spurring his horse out of the panel, toward us (and toward the woods). Ione runs to keep up. The crone calls from behind him.
CRONE: And what will you do?
ADRIAN: I will find the Lord of this town, and kill him, or he will kill me . . .
ADRIAN: . . . and somewhere some cosmic scale will tilt some small degree, toward God or toward the Devil.
CRONE: Man cannot defeat the Devil, though he try a thousand years.
ADRIAN: I fear you are right, old woman —
ADRIAN: — and I fear it may be a thousand years before I sleep.
PANEL ONE: Back in town, villagers gather around a speaking platform while the BURGHER, Rune’s chief flunky, reads a proclamation. The Burgher wears a ridiculous and pompous hat — something tall and feathered. The base of the platform is ringed with soldiers, their pole arms by their sides. The crowd is already turning ugly.
BURGHER: Hear Ye, Hear Ye, this decree by our puissant and wise Lord Rune —
PANEL TWO: Reverse angle, over the Burgher’s shoulder, looking down on the crowd as he reads the notice. We see shocked and angry faces in the crowd.
BURGHER: — as the Great Mortality has been found within the city walls, and as extreme measures are required to prevent it’s spread —
BURGHER: — the Old Quarter shall be burned to the ground, and it’s residents burned with their homes or turned out of the city.
PANEL THREE: On three of the villagers out of many. Let’s call them Manny, Moe, and Jack. We’ll see them again next issue, so give them some character. Manny shakes his fist while Moe cries out in anger. Jack bends over to pick up a rock or a chunk of loose paving stone.
MOE: Killing us in our homes is no better than the Pestilence — we’re just as dead, either way!
PANEL FOUR: Jack throws his rock, knocking the Burgher’s hat from his head.
MOE: We’ve had enough of Rune’s tyranny!
BURGHER: Guards! Arrest those men!
PANEL FIVE: The guards half-heartedly wade into the crowd, their weapons held cross-wise, to push rather than stab the rioters. The peasants run amok. Riot! On the platform behind them, the Burgher recovers his hat and beats a hasty retreat.
BURGHER: I’ll not have my authority trampled by these filthy peasants.
BURGHER: If you wish to keep your heads — bring me their’s!
PANEL ONE: The Burgher bursts into Rune’s throne room. Rune looks at the Burgher like he’s a bug he’s just found in his soup.
BURGHER: My lord! It’s a revolution!
PANEL TWO: Rune grabs the Burgher by the throat, and bends him half way over backward. Rune is PISSED!
BURGHER: I —
RUNE: Can I trust you with no task, however small?
PANEL THREE: Rune bites a big chunk out of the Burgher’s head, eating an eye and most of a cheekbone. The Burgher feebly clutches at Rune’s chest or arms.
BURGHER: NO — ARRGGGGAAAAH!!
PANEL FOUR: Rune throws the Burgher aside. The Burgher holds his hands over the bloody wreck of his face.
RUNE: Thank your weakling god that I haven’t time to eat your wretched soul.
RUNE: This riot is no threat to me, but this city must learn what it means to disobey my orders!
PANEL ONE: High shot from behind Rune as he swoops down on the riot in the square below. Peasants scatter where Rune’s shadow falls across them.
RUNE: Flee! Run for your worthless lives!
PANEL TWO: Rune is in the midst of the crowd, breaking necks and backs. The pikemen of the city watch draw back a pace. They wanted to put down the riot, but the didn’t want to slaughter their fellow citizens.
RUNE: You have challenged my decree —
PANEL THREE: Rune hurls some poor bastard into a wall, breaking his body into a horrible heap.
RUNE: — and none may challenge me and live!
PANEL FOUR: Rune is alone in the square, save for the dead and dying. Even his guards have run away. Manny, Moe, and Jack crouch in the shadows, peering out at the enraged Rune. They’re afraid, but resolute. Rune has gone too far.
RUNE: Never forget that you are my slaves! You live by my sufferance; you die at my command.
RUNE: I AM RUNE! I AM THE DARK GOD!
CAPTION: Rune’s enraged howls fall on dead or dying ears; even his soldiers have run away. The peace of the graveyard descends on the city square —
CAPTION: — but in the shadows, rebellion brews.
PANEL ONE: Cut to a forest clearing. Ione and Adrian pass beneath the rotting corpse of a thief, hanging by his neck from a gibbet. The corpse casts a long shadow across the pair. There’s a notice tacked to the gallows. Ione reads it.
ADRIAN: What does it say, girl? You know I cannot read.
IONE: He was a thief, m’Lord Adrian. By Lord Rune’s order he is to hang by his neck until the rope rots —
PANEL TWO: Several soldiers, dressed in colors similar to those we’ve already seen on Rune’s guards, step out of hiding, their swords drawn.
GUARD: — or until his neck gives way, whichever comes first.
ADRIAN: Then this is the demesne of Rune?
ANOTHER GUARD: Indeed it is, and none may enter . . . a measure against the Great Mortality, which often travels beneath fair guises —
PANEL THREE: A soldier roughly pins Ione’s arms behind her back, while another advances upon her. Another soldier points his sword toward Adrian.
GUARD (CONTINUED): — and this is as fair a guise as I’ve seen in many a day.
THREATENING GUARD (TO ADRIAN): Leave the girl and be on your way. You cannot defeat us all.
PANEL FOUR: Close on Adrian’s eyes, as they blaze with white fire. The composition of this panel should be deliberately similar to that of Page Six, Panel Six.
ADRIAN: Oh, I don’t think so . . .
PANEL FIVE: Adrian has transformed into Crusader. We see Crusader from behind, and in silhouette, offering only a tease of his appearance. His mere appearance is enough to panic the guards. They run like hell, dropping Ione at Crusader’s feet.
CRUSADER (BALLOON FX): TELL YOUR LORD RUNE THAT CRUSADER IS COMING!
CRUSADER (BALLOON FX): TELL HIM THAT I WILL LOOK INTO HIS SOUL —
PANEL ONE: Rune’s army awaits Crusader before the walls of the city. All told, there are fifty knights and one hundred men-at-arms.
CAPTION: “ — AND THAT IF I FIND HIM EVIL, I WILL SEND HIM SHRIEKING DOWN TO HELL!”
CAPTION: Crusader’s brave words still echo in Rune’s ears, magnified a thousand-fold by his hysterical guards.
CAPTION: A single man is coming to judge him, and to kill him.
PANEL TWO: On Rune standing atop a rise behind his army, his banner flapping overhead, attired in exotic armor with a great battle blade at hand.
CAPTION: Rune is amused. This boastful fool has excited his curiosity.
CAPTION: Perhaps Rune will let Crusader live, as reward for ending his boredom. His court could benefit from a jester.
PANEL THREE: Long shot, from behind Rune. We can see the battlefield, and Rune’s proud army standing ready. Across the field, Adrian and Ione have emerged from the woods and come onto the field. Adrian is in his mortal form.
CAPTION: Across the field, a single knight and his squire ride into view.
CAPTION: He cannot possibly survive what will happen next. Rune will have to seek elsewhere for a jester. But an easy kill will provide a useful diversion for his mutinous troops.
PANEL FOUR: Low angle shot of Rune’s knights spurring their horses to the charge, rocketing off across the field, while Rune points toward their target.
CAPTION: The soldiers grin and set spurs to their mounts in response to Rune’s silent command.
CAPTION: Each would outrace the other — the first to claim the stranger’s head will win Rune’s favor . . .
PAGES FOURTEEN & FIFTEEN: In small panels down the left side of the page, Adrian sends Ione to safety, holds his ground, and transforms into Crusader just as the cavalry charge breaks upon him. He grows considerably larger, and his flesh becomes plates of living steel. Brilliant white fire leaks from his eyes and the corners of his mouth. He forms his hands into the shape of a sword’s hilt, and a blade of living white fire appears. In the two-page spread framing the smaller panels, he whirls his blade in a wide arc, cutting men and horses in twain. The next wave of cavalry comes up short in panic, and succeeding waves plough into the second. With one blow, Crusader has turned the brilliant cavalry charge into a seething mass of terrified men and horses bolting every which way, trampling each other in their horrified zeal to escape the armored titan.
ADRIAN: Get to safety, girl. This field is no place for you.
IONE: But I’m your squire — and a squire’s place is at her lord’s side!
ADRIAN: Ordinarily, that would be so —
ADRIAN: — but you are a girl, and no ordinary squire —
ADRIAN (TRANSFORMING TO CRUSADER): — while I am less than a man —
CRUSADER (BALLOON FX) (AS HE CUTS THE ENEMY CAVALRY TO PIECES): — AND FAR FROM AN ORDINARY LORD!
PANEL ONE: Rune is carried back through the gates of the city by the press of his panicked soldiers.
RUNE: Stand and fight! Your Lord commands you!
PANEL TWO: Soldiers stream past Rune on either side. Most of them have dropped their weapons and shields — they’re running like hell to get away from Crusader, who is visible just inside the city gates, hacking down soldiers as they run. The soldiers are utterly panicked.
RUNE: If you haven’t the courage to fight one man —
PANEL THREE: Rune grabs one of his soldiers, and bites open his throat. Lotsa blood.
RUNE: — then your blood shall fire my warrior’s heart —
PANEL FOUR: Rune hurls himself onto Crusader. This is the first time our principle characters have come together; the moment toward which the entire issue has been building. It should be a large panel, dominating the page. Crusader stands amidst piles of dead soldiers, his armored body streaked with blood and bursting with holy light. Rune is charged with rage and energy from his kill as he pounces upon Crusader, wielding his own great battle-blade in two hands. Those soldiers who still live bolt every which-way, trying to escape the two super-warriors.
RUNE: — and Rune will show mere men how a god makes war!
PAGES SEVENTEEN & EIGHTEEN
Big battle pages as Rune and Crusader slug it out in the city. Roland has suggested that I leave interpretation of these pages to the artist, a suggestion with which I heartily concur (the panel directions provided above are at best suggestions; I yield to the artist in visually interpreting this script). Rather than offer a panel-by-panel description of these two pages, I’ll first list the things that MUST happen (for storytelling purposes), then the things that COULD happen (if they seem interesting to the artist). Then I’ll provide captions and dialogue, which should be located by the penciller as best suits the composition of the pages.
THINGS THAT MUST HAPPEN:
1) Rune should swing his sword at Crusader a couple times, first notching it, then breaking it. We need this for a couple reasons. First, we’ve never seen Rune fight with a weapon before, and it will be neat to see. Second, we want to show that Crusader’s armor is supernatural. Even skillful and mighty blows by Rune cannot rupture Crusader’s armor.
2) Rune’s armor, while exotic, is no match for Crusader’s blade of living fire. Rune’s old armor is quickly blasted apart in the struggle . . . so while Rune begins the fight armed and armored in medieval heavy metal style, he is quickly restored to the half-naked flying demon to which we are accustomed.
THINGS THAT COULD HAPPEN:
A super-powered fight in the tight streets of a medieval city offers plenty of opportunity for incidental mayhem. Buildings can easily collapse, there are statues to break, fountains to shatter, panicked peasants to scatter every which-way, horses that can stampede. An upset lantern, torch, or blacksmith’s fire can create a fast-moving blaze that parallels the building fury of our combatants. Inventive angles are possible, sighting down past gargoyles or the Gothic spires of churches, or past the hanging wares of open-air markets.
RUNE: Tell me your name, fool —
RUNE: — that I might taunt your wailing widow when your bones are dust!
CRUSADER (BALLOON FX): MY NAME IS CRUSADER, DEMON, THOUGH I HAVE NO WIFE TO MOURN ME —
CRUSADER (BALLOON FX): — SHE HAS GONE TO HER REWARD, HUNDREDS OF YEARS AGO!
RUNE: You will join her soon, in Hell!
CRUSADER (BALLOON FX): I WOULD GIVE ALL TO SEE HER AGAIN, IN HEAVEN OR IN HELL —
CRUSADER (BALLOON FX): — FOR IT IS MY FATE TO WANDER THE WORLD, UNTIL EVIL IS DRIVEN FROM THE EARTH.
CRUSADER (BALLOON FX): IT WAS A CRUSADE I DESPAIRED OF EVER COMPLETING —
(AS RUNE STANDS WITHOUT THE PROTECTION OF ARMOR)
CRUSADER (BALLOON FX): — BUT NOW I SENSE THE END OF MY QUEST MAY BE AT HAND!
PANEL ONE: Rune leaps upon Crusader. Rune’s furious attack catches Crusader by surprise.
RUNE: Do not confuse rupture of my armor with defeat, mortal.
RUNE: For while you are no greater than the armor you wear —
PANEL TWO: Rune forces back Crusader’s head. His fangs seek Crusader’s throat.
RUNE: — Rune is more — far more — than accoutrements of feeble steel!
PANEL THREE: Crusader locks eyes with Rune.
CAPTION: Crusader locks eyes with Rune, and peers into his soul —
CAPTION: — seeking evil as he has done so many times before.
PANEL FOUR: On Crusader’s face, wearing an expression of pain and great responsibility.
CAPTION: Then to him will fall the crushing judgement — how much evil is truly evil?
CAPTION: To what degree must a soul be black, before it deserves to feel the searing white fire of Crusader’s flaming blade?
PANEL FIVE: On Rune’s face, a mask of fury.
CAPTION: But with this demon, Crusader expects no ambiguity. Surely, this must be a creature of pure evil.
PANEL SIX: An abstract panel, showing a small Crusader staring up at a huge-god-like Rune, framed against the horrific image of a mushroom cloud. Crusader cannot see Rune’s soul, but he can glimpse a portion of Rune’s fate . . . and he misinterprets it.
CAPTION: But in Rune’s soul Crusader sees neither good nor evil —
CAPTION: — but only Void —
CAPTION: — and dark shadows of horrors yet unborn.
CAPTION: Truly, this Rune must be Satan Himself —
CAPTION: — and if Crusader can slay him, he will be released from his oath of servitude, so lightly entered into two hundred years before!
PANEL ONE: Crusader impossibly presses back Rune’s fatal embrace.
CAPTION: A wave of faith surges through Crusader —
RUNE: How — ?
PANEL TWO: Crusader hurls Rune from him; gets to his feet.
CAPTION: — faith borne by the joy of a traveller at last in sight of home.
CRUSADER (DIMINISHED BALLOON FX): Time to die, demon!
PANEL THREE: Crusader readies his flaming blade. Rune’s jaw distends, revealing his full compliment of fangs. His eyelids flutter back, and his talons urge forward.
RUNE: I am beyond life and death. I AM RUNE!
PANEL FOUR: Rune leaps at Crusader; Crusader meets him in mid-air with a masterful cut of his blade. The blade enters Rune’s chest just below the left armpit, and comes out somewhere near his right hip. He is damn near cut in half.
RUNE: I AM THE DARK GOD — *!
PANEL FIVE: Looking down one Crusader standing triumphant over a (seemingly) dead Rune. Townspeople cautiously close in.
CAPTION: He was Rune. He was a prince in his world, and a King in ours.
CAPTION: He was evil incarnate, a foul devourer of worlds, a drinker of blood who reveled in human misery. He created nothing; he destroyed everything he touched.
CAPTION: Rune thought he could never die.
CAPTION: He was wrong —
CAPTION: — and the world will never be the same.