"Have you seen the Yellow Sign?"
Queen Cassilda sighed, and leaned her head against her hand. "Provoke me not, Naotalba. The diadem lies heavy upon my brow these past years, and I dread the signal from Carcosa, and I dread another day of war. Let the reign fall to Camilla, let the signal come to her."
Naotalba bowed his assent. "Camilla is recalcitrant as ever, my Queen. Perhaps if the succession were to wait until you received the sign yourself ... "
She looked at him with infinite weariness, shifting her right hand in a dismissive gesture. "I will no longer argue with my daughter; let her have her way. Her younger brothers Uoht and Thale each vie for the diadem, let them have it."
"The choice is still Camilla's, my Queen."
"She still has not chosen one to marry? Does she not know the laws of Yhtill? She strains our patience."
"Perhaps she loves them equally, my Queen, or perhaps she is unable to decide which would best rule Yhtill. The princess is ... often undecided in manners pertaining to ... "
"Pertaining to anything, but she is the eldest, and if she will not reign, she must choose who will reign in her stead. Is there no way to force her decision?"
Naotalba paused uneasily. "The princess does love masques and fancies, my Queen. Perhaps ... a masqued ball ... let her brothers romance her while disguised, that she may choose impartially."
"A masque ... yes, a masque!" Cassilda looked up alertly. "Perhaps a masque will yet deflect the Yellow Sign, if it does not know to whom to appear? Let it be so, my high-priest, let it most divinely be so!"
FDC presents "The Tatters of the King" by Mikel Midnight
Aboard the Aviosub, Frankenstein eyed the map suspiciously. "I don't think a country called Yhtill even exists in my world, not that I am an expert."
The Spider smirked, not knowing monsters were expected to be experts in geography, or in anything other than destruction, although he was certain that his own world was likewise lacking.
"It's an island nation off of Wales, independent since 14th century," the Scarlet Hawk said. "King Aldones was a fierce defender of his small plot of land, and a canny politician besides, maneuvering his way through alliances with the British and the Welsh as it suited him. Yhtill is in the Commonwealth but he kept his crown, although for all his troubles the country has become stagnant, almost detached from time."
"And yet they have enough enemies they need us as bodyguards?"
"Yhtill is at war with a small Mediterranean country called Alar, and has been for a long time ... something to do with mineral rights on a set of even smaller islands" the Knight said. "Alar is about the same size; their feud is almost embarrassingly quaint. Nevertheless, there have been genuine acts of sabotage on both sides. Yhtill is evidently holding some sort of fete which will decide the succession of the rulership of the country, and the risk of terrorism from Alar is something they take seriously. It's a masqued ball; we ought to feel right at home."
The Spider fingered the masque he had designed for his costume thoughtfully; the skin-tight black cowl sported reflective material which concealed the eyes while allowing him to view out unobscured, creating a disconcerting effect.
The Aviosub descended near the ancient royal castle, which was set on the far port of misty Lake of Hali; thin and blank, without a ripple or wind to stir it. They were met by a royal guard of half-a-dozen, clad in florid uniforms, and a man clad all in white, his features concealed behind a pallid masque. "Greetings, Seven Soldiers," said the man. "I am Naotalba, chief advisor to the Queen. Please forgive my conceit, in coming to greet you in the guise of the Phantom of Truth, but the fete is already underway, and all are to remain masqued until the princess has made her decision." He peered at their equipment as they traversed the hallways. "Where do you get those wonderful toys?"
The Seven Soldiers wandered through, looking for suspicious behaviour behind the outlandish costumes, eavesdropping on the conversations around them. "Did you get a load of what she's wearing?" "What is with those stockings?"
At the head of the ballroom was an ancient throne, on which sat a woman who was evidently Queen Cassilda, her eyes covered by a masque of glittering lace, dressed in an antique gown. At her feet sat a younger woman wearing a white bodysuit, a goat-masque concealing her features and a goatskin flung over her shoulders. Before her were two young men, one costumed as a beefeater, the other as a black pirate.
Camilla was bantering with the pair, but seemed genuinely clueless regarding their identities. "Ever dance with the devil in the pale moon light?"
"Only once," the black pirate admitted, "but it was for a very noble cause." The three laughed, as did those courtiers within listening distance.
As the laughter faded, Cassilda stepped down from the throne. "Evening advances," she said as she placed a hand on Camilla's shoulder, "and it is time to choose amongst your suitors. Which of the two will wear the diadem?"
Scarlet Hawk raised an eyebrow. "Well that explains why she won't come over to this side of the room."
"The beefeater impresses me with his steadfastness," she replied, "but the black pirate charms me with his wit. If I must choose one to consort with until the end of my days, it can only be him."
Cassilda slowly raised her arms, "So be it ... the succession to continue the royal line of Yhtill has been decided ... let us all now remove our masques for a moment, so that which of my sons shall next be king may be revealed, and so that they in turn may see the faces of those they will rule."
The guests did so, an aura of merriment felt about the room as identities were revealed, including the triumphant face of Uoht and the glum face of Thale.
Camilla looked up at Frankenstein, as the Soldier stood with folded arms near the family, guarding. "You, sir, should unmasque."
Frankenstein looked down at her, and scowled. "Indeed?"
"Indeed, it's time," said Cassilda. "We all have laid aside disguise but you."
"I wear no masque," he replied.
Camilla's face grew terrified, and she said in an aside to Cassilda, "No masque? No masque!"
Squire blinked, puzzled. "And that would be a bad thing, why?"
"Ah! Ah!" Cassilda pointed at the pouch around his waist. "The yellow sign! It reveals itself to us all! It is the day of the Last King!"
The Knight approached, "Frankenstein, what have you done?"
"What?" To his dismay, one of the symbols of the Sixtystone had begun to shine with a light which pierced through the leather casing. "This is but the Sixtystone from the cloudy depths of Demhe ... "
At the far end of Lake Hali, as if uncovered by the passing of a cloud, a great castle revealed itself. "Carcosa," Naotalba muttered.
The Bowman grabbed the high priest by the upper arm. "What is that city? What do you know about all of this?"
"This talisman indeed bears the nameless Yellow Sign handed down from the accursed cult of Hastur ... from primordial Carcosa," Naotalba replied. "It is the sign of the King in Yellow, the Last King who will ultimately usurp all royal successors thereafter. He is a king whom emperors have served."
"Your masques!" Cassilda screamed to those at the fete, "all must once more don their masques!"
The Knight furrowed his brow, "I remember reading about Hastur in Malcolm Quarrie's British Gods ... he was a benign god of goat herders and shepherds ... "
No one could tell whether the castle of Carcosa sat upon the waters of Lake of Hali or beyond them on the unseen farther shore. "Cyril," the Squire whispered urgently, "look at the moon ... the rising moon is in front of the city's towers rather than behind them ... "
From the gates of Carcosa came the form of a gigantic human wrapt in tattered yellow silk robes, wearing a yellow silken mask, and bearing a smoking brand; by some trick of perspective it neither seemed to stride the Lake like a colossus, nor to move with uncanny speed, yet it but momentarily arrived at the castle of Yhtill. "The Last King has come," it intoned ominously, "the passing down of the diadem is now but mummery."
The Shining Knight whispered, "He scorns a crown, do you see? In truth, he has the look of a King of Rags and Tatters, ragged finery a mummer from my own time would don in mockery of a King, to represent Vice ... "
"The ambition of Caesar and of Napolean pales before that which could not rest until it had seized the minds of men and controlled even their unborn thoughts," Naotalba murmured.
The Scarlet Hawk cursed his decision to leave the Hoverer behind in the Aviosub, as the Shining Knight astride Vanguard, and the Spider using his jetpack, rose into the air to confront the King to his face.
Shining Knight drew her sword, "Are you a god?"
"I am the Unspeakable One, Him Who Is Not to be Named," it said, "who can not rest until I have seized the minds of men and controlled even their unborn thoughts. I needs must send my Stokers to reign you in, who would address me so to my face." The King in Yellow pressed its brand to the earth, which cracked open to reveal a man clad in colorful 18th century garb, a man in orange and black with a spherical helmet, and another man in a dark blue bodysuit with paler blue swaths trailing behind him from around his waist and over his face, concealing his identity.
The Knight felt a chill down his spine. "That's the uniform of Daniel Cormac... the original Jack O'Lantern ... but he died ... "
The Scarlet Hawk nodded, "I think I recall the other ones: the Gay Ghost, who was a member of the Crime Crusaders Club, and Jim O'Donnell, who fought crime during the 40's under the name Banshee ..."
He was interrupted by the Banshee's scream, the scream of one who had stayed too long in a place where what the living had seen was surpassed a thousandfold. The scream was joined by the other pair, and it send shivers down the spines of the living; what could be seen of the faces of the Banshee and the former Earl of Strethmere was wan and gray of pallor, as if representing an animated corpse.
The Scarlet Hawk faced down Banshee's attack, and the rest of the team divided to face the remaining two. Had the zombie-like creatures possessed the full clarity of mind of the originals, the Seven Soldiers would have become but more dead bodies for the King in Yellow to animate.
But their victory in battle against the undead former heroes was not the deciding factor in the war. "Yhtill and Carcosa are now the same city," the King in Yellow continued, "that is part of the price of this alliance against Alar; the other is the fixing of the masques." As he spoke, the Yhtillians realised that the masques they had donned at their Queen's insistence had become permanently affixed to their faces, and upon the forehead of each one burned the Yellow Sign.
Cassilda heard Camilla's agonised scream, and watched as she knelt down on all fours, bleating like a lost goat, and Cassilda cried bitterly, "Not upon us, oh King, not upon us!"
The King in Yellow for the first time directly acknowledged the former queen, asking "Victory has its price; did you think to be human still? It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
Bloodied but unbowed, the Soldiers looked aghast upon the Yhtillians as they continued the celebration of a masque in a grotesque manner, as those whose lives are little higher than the beasts, their tortured eyes matching Cassilda's moans of horror. The King in Yellow turned impassively and walked, as he had arrived, back to Carcosa.
The Shining Knight sheathed her sword, unbloodied from her battle against the dead. "We can not allow this to continue."
Frankenstein looked around him at the celebrants. "O miserable mankind, to what fall degraded, to what wretched fate reserved..."
The Knight shuddered, "No ... back to the Aviosub ... we're going to follow that so-called Last King to whatever hell he comes from."
Later, as the Aviosub accelerated skywards, the Squire glanced down. "Cyril ... the castle ... look at the castle ... "
The lands surrounding Carcosa were dark and twisted with corruption, a corruption which by now encompassed Yhtill. As they watched, it began to spread towards the mainland, the Welsh landscape falling under its shadow. "My god," the Bowman said, "it's not going to stop until it encompasses the whole country ... "
"If it will even stop there," the Spider pondered. "He said he was the Last King; who knows how far he means to take his ambitions?"
Cassilda stood before her throne, watching the silver aircraft soar towards the east, and clawed at her throat as her lips uttered a song of helpless despair.
"Along the shore the cloud waves break
Readers are encouraged to consult the original story arc of The King in Yellow, written by Robert W. Chambers and available online.
DC has already made claim to the Fox characters Phantom Lady and Blue Beetle, so I figured there'd be little harm in including the Golden Age Banshee; moreover he paired well with the Gay Ghost and Jack O'Lantern to represent 'DC Ireland' (although I think I had portrayed Keith Everet as Scots in the Crime Crusaders Club ... oh well).