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part eight.

Part eight
Mount Etna, the isle of Sicily off the coast of Italy, Earth

The warm notes of Allianah’s deep, rich voice was the only sound to be heard in the western wing of the underground mansion hidden in the depths of Mount Etna. She, Rhaegar, Mallos, Tsi, Lorraine, Khasekhemwy and Charlton had gathered in the same dark, windowless room as before. The walls and ceiling were the same solid grey rock, neatly hewn from the volcano itself, but the floor was paved with a darker stone. The only furniture was a single, unoccupied wooden chair which looked as if it might crack under pressure if anything heavier than a child sat upon it. Faintly buzzing strips of electric light clung to the ceiling, but its addition to the room was amateurish in the extreme; the slim, black wires powering them snaked across almost every wall in a confused web. Their colour was greyed by as thick a layer of dust as could settle on such a slender surface. This was a room without solid purpose, whose function was changed intermittently: it may have been a storeroom, a training ground, an archive, a library, a diner, a meeting room or a hallway at any random point in history.

Allianah had been speaking almost solidly for a full twenty minutes, but Tsi suspected that wasn’t the reason for the obvious dryness in her throat. None of them interrupted her, save for Rhaegar every now and again to offer additional details which, for reasons of ignorance of fading memory, failed the Nubian. Mallos had not spoken since their return from the centre of the Earth and was the only one present who didn’t seem to be listening to Allianah at all. Rather, he stared unwaveringly at a particularly unremarkable stretch of wall, his own face mirroring its lack of expression.

“The bat things vanished quicker than they’d appeared,” the Nubian rounded off in an uncharacteristically weary tone, “and the room seemed to brighten a little. When we turned back to – to the others, the dais had cracked and both Aura and the rip were gone.”

She cast a sideways glance at Mallos, but held her silence. Tsi had been the first to see them emerge from the volcanic shafts and had understood then the severity of the situation by the mental condition of the three explorers, particularly the Spaniard. He recognised Allianah’s act of kindness in allowing Mallos to preserve his dignity by neglecting to mention it and, in spite of the Spaniard’s lack of words of expression, he realised that he recognised it too.

A few minutes passed. Tsi held his tongue, knowing that the story would be continued if he was patient. Seeing that the others bar Allianah and Rhaegar had all turned their gazes expectantly to Mallos, he sympathetically dropped his to the floor. The silence did not hold the unending note of continuity he had come to expect from Mallos, which gave him the distinct impression that the latter was considering what to say and how to say it. Unable to stand still, he looked up again and examined the faces of the others in the room. Khasekhemwy was trembling slightly, and he looked strangely small and purposeless in the absence of his parchment and quill – his hands twitched every now and again as if he should like to be taking notes. Lorraine’s eyes were red-rimmed and she had a delicate laced handkerchief pressed to her mouth, obscuring the lower part of her face. Rhaegar and Allianah, warriors, were as impassive as ever – although Tsi thought he could see a hint of empathy behind the latter’s dark, hardened eyes. Charlton was angled away from him and so half his face was in shadow, but the half which was visible to Tsi held a mixture of emotions: shock, pain, sorrow and compassion.

It seemed an age before Mallos spoke. “The creature was feeding on the flow of energy travelling through the rip,” he said in a flat voice which contained nothing of its usual charm or playful quirks. “The rip could only be closed manually by a physical being. Aura reached this conclusion before I did. Closing the rip did not dispel or destroy the creature, only made it withdraw so that the rest of us could leave.”

The explanation was woefully inadequate compared to the long, detailed story Allianah had presented, but Tsi had a strong suspicion that that was all he was going to get. After a respectful pause, he inhaled deeply and told the original fairies the worst: that Earth was no longer safe for them. Before they could leave, however, they needed to spread out across the globe and ensure that all necessary business which required their presence was taken care of. They were to be reunited in what was now safest place for them: Shaman. Everyone listened, but no one reacted. The gloomy chamber seemed to press them in from all sides, whispering death from every oppressive angle. Seven of their number, seven of the nine who remained, now stood in the wake of the demise of their oldest, most powerful, most immortal member.

Charlton broke the cold silence by clearing his throat. Even Lorraine abandoned her contempt for the open Christian as she gazed at him, hoping for hope. “Sure an, I know you fellas don’t believe in it,” he stated sincerely, “but there’s humans and fairies and all sorts of people everywhere, in every world and every time, who believe in a kind of heaven. Now, maybe there is and maybe there isn’t, but there’s one thing I know for sure: Aura wasn’t happy with her life. She never has been. We can hope that, wherever she is now, it’s a better, happier place than here.”

It was a pretty speech, and one that Tsi appreciated enormously. Lorraine managed to give a small smile and even Allianah’s face softened slightly, until Mallos crossed the room in two quick strides and punched the American in the gut. While Charlton doubled over and before any of them had a chance to react, the Spaniard had exited the room, his face clouded over in a rare display of anger.

Over the years, Arthur had become convinced that there was no such thing as an original fairy with convenient timing.

Half an hour before, one of the guards had rushed in with news that a civilian had stumbled across an entrance to Smuggler’s Caves, the pirate lair. Arthur had rallied every available guard and was on his way down to the armoury when Khasekhemwy popped out of mid-air, his turban wobbling an inch from the king’s face. The two guards accompanying him reacted instantly by thrusting the Palestinian back and, overwhelmed by the day’s events, the deity burst into tears. Arthur ordered the guards to stand down, apologetically helped the weeping man back onto his feet and, between the deity’s sobs, learned that the rest of the originals were due to arrive at any moment. All of them. If it wasn’t too much trouble, could he please meet them in his office, please?

By the time they arrived at the office, Lorraine and another man Arthur didn’t know were already there. Khasekhemwy had not stopped crying all the way; the unknown man – who introduced himself sombrely as ‘Charlton of the U.S.A., my good sir’ – took him gently by the shoulders and steered him to the corner of the room. If the Palestinian’s tears had not been enough to convince Arthur that something was very wrong, the mood in the room was: Lorraine’s eyes were red as if she’d been crying too and she avoided eye contact with the others, and Charlton’s expression was strained. Arthur just had time to send one of the guards to ensure that everything was ready for the pirate raid when a knock on the door hailed the arrival of Allianah, Zed and another unfamiliar man. The last wore a subdued and somewhat harrowed expression as he entered, and met no eye in the room.

Zed introduced the man simply as Xephyr before looking directly at Arthur and rumbling, “Tsi asked me to inform you that you may wish to have your government present.”

The king offered Xephyr a stiff nod of greeting before focusing his attention upon Zed. Sighing, Arthur muttered his understanding. Something in his eyes withdrew, leaving a steady shrewdness in its place, as he turned to search the room for someone able to carry a message to the appropriate parties. It couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes before Phoenix, Flynn, Tristan and the captain of the royal guard arrived, but it felt like much longer. None of the deities would say anything about what was going on, and most of them ignored him completely. Finally the door opened to reveal a weary-faced Tsi, followed by Gwythr and a tall blonde man Arthur had to assume was the Rhaegar Tsi had mentioned before. Mallos and Aura were conspicuous by their absence.

As if he’d read his mind, the first thing Tsi said was, “Mallos will be late. He’s got a lot of people to meet with.” He checked his watch and looked apologetically at Arthur. “I am truly sorry to impose on you like this, but we had little choice. As of several hours ago, the council is homeless. I’m also sorry to have to be the bearer of bad news.” For some reason, he glanced at Tristan slightly warily before confessing, “Aura is dead.”

He paused for a minute to allow this to sink in, before giving a brief outline of what was happening on Earth and what had happened on the reconnaissance mission. Arthur’s expression did not change until he noticed Tristan move. The King fixed his son with a hard look, which prompted the prince to sink back down into his seat, his arms folded across his chest. Looking slowly between Rhaegar and Alianah, Arthur's attention finally returned to Tsi, his brow slightly furrowed in a frown.

“What do you plan to do?” he enquired gravely.

“Kill the monster, obviously,” Allianah replied promptly.

Lorraine rolled her eyes. “You are such a thick-skulled soldier, Allianah. Obviously, as Interspecies Ambassador it’s my right to – ”

“Now hold up just a minute here, ladies,” Charlton exclaimed. “I do beg your pardon for interrupting, Lorraine, but you can’t seriously suggest we attempt to reason with a murderous - ”

Order disintegrated. Allianah and Lorraine both leapt out of their seats and began a very loud, very aggressive argument in Russian while Charlton tried to separate them. Zed took over comforting Khasekhemwy, who was still sobbing in the corner, while Xephyr watched the women with sidelong scorn, Gwythr hid a smirk behind his hand and Rhaegar glowered at the table. Tsi spent a good ten minutes trying and failing to regain control of the situation before the toll of the last twenty-four hours shone through and he finally snapped. A yelled “Sit down!” shocked the other originals into submission, since none of them had ever heard him shout before. Allianah, Charlton and Lorraine sank quietly into their seats, Khasekhemwy paused in mid-sob, Xephyr flinched, Gwythr’s eyes narrowed and Rhaegar lifted his face expectantly.

“We are not deciding anything until I hear Mallos’ report,” the Acting Chairman scowled forcefully at his council. “The Aurans are in uproar. They account for just under three-quarters of all Earth fairies, and most of them are refusing to accept that she’s gone. If they carry on the way they are, the humans are going to notice and our cover will be blown… if that happens our only options would be to face persecution from the humans, to go to war against them or organise a mass migration to another world. We’re on the brink of World War Three here, so we are not going to do anything until we have all the facts.” He turned to address the Shamanites, softening his voice slightly. “While we’re waiting, would someone please send for Aura’s son? He needs to be informed.”

Tristan made to get up again, but was held in his place by Arthur’s stare; the captain of the guards went instead. As the door clicked sadly shut behind him, Phoenix leant forward.

“So… what is this monster? Isn’t Earth safe for fairies anymore?”

“The honest answer is, we don’t know,” Tsi replied tiredly. “It’s a creature of ancient magic and seems to be able to manipulate divinity, which isn’t an uncommon power amongst ancient magical creatures. We can subdue it, but it will take every ounce of divinity at our disposal and time we just don’t have if we stay on Earth. We need to work together but from afar to take it down. As for the other fairies – no, anyone who isn’t an original shouldn’t be in too much danger.”

“Why not?” Flynn frowned. “Surely fairies are all the same.”

Lorraine snorted in derision, but Tsi ignored her. “Basically, yes,” he agreed. “But we think that this creature has a power over words. Written words, spoken words… if I were to describe or name it, I would open a portal for it to step into this world. I’m not going to do that,” he added hastily, noticing the expressions on some of the fairies’ faces. “We think the reason the creature may be singling us out is because we know the most about it. The less you know, the safer you are. Most of the fairies on Earth are oblivious.”

Two things then happened at once. There was a flash of yellow light and Mallos appeared in the room, dressed as usual in black clothes and an unreadable face. At the same time, there was a brief knock on the door before it flung open, revealing one of the younger guards who had been stationed as a lookout at the front of the castle. He was out of breath from running.

“Just – saw – Mallos – outsi – ” he started to wheeze, but broke off as he spotted that deity regarding him with curiosity. The guard’s face coloured red. “Uh – sorry.” Before anyone could react, he ran back out and shut the door loudly behind him.

“Mallos.” Tsi looked relieved and, following what he’d said only moments before, Arthur noted that he had good reason to be. Asking Mallos to stay behind had been taking a huge gamble, especially after they’d just lost one deity. “What’s the situation on Earth?”

Mallos unrolled a parchment which had appeared out of thin air and spread it across the table while scanning the room in his familiar, shrewd manner. He raised his eyebrows slightly at Tristan and his gaze lingered for a moment on Gwythr, but otherwise gave no indication of recognition to anyone else.

“Delicate,” he responded after a moment. “Put simply, our enemies are uniting. In spite of the extremity of their differences, they are prepared to work together to see the mutually desired end of destroying the Council of Originals once and for all.”

    • part nine. -
    • part ten. -
    • epilogue -

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