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part six.

The Castle

As the group started down the corridor towards the main exit, Mallos fell back into step with Arthur and slowed down a little to create a slight gap between them and the deities in front. The King understood immediately what he was doing and adjusted his gait to match.

“This was your idea, was it?” The Spaniard enquired in a tone which implied he already knew what the answer was.

“Oh yes,” the monarch replied, his voice uncharacteristically dripping with sarcasm, “because having you all here is such a delight.”

Mallos shot him a look as though he wasn’t sure whether or not he should be offended by that statement. On Arthur’s other side, Tristan’s bright green eyes flicked keenly between his father and his grandfather. There was a brief pause in which Mallos apparently decided that the situation was too serious for pretence of distress (or perhaps he felt the statement was deserved), and he responded in an unexpectedly blunt manner.

“Zed’s idea?” It was probably the first short, to-the-point question he had ever asked the King.

“He offered two choices; I chose this one.”

“And the other choice was evacuation?”

Arthur nodded once, curtly. Mallos didn’t respond, but instead sped up to the front of the group where Zed was and started talking into his ear in a language which definitely wasn’t any that Arthur knew. By the time they had left the castle and stopped on the front lawn, the two men’s tone of voices and body language indicated that they were in a full-blown argument, albeit a quiet one. It continued for about five minutes, until Zed made a final, firm statement and pointed to the point on the lawn where he clearly wanted Mallos to stand. The latter threw his hands up in the air in the universal indication of a person who was unhappy with the conclusion of the argument but not prepared to fight any longer, and went and stood where he was told. Khasekhemwy went and stood as close to him as he dared, looking extremely apprehensive, while the rest of the originals formed a line on either side of them. This time, Zed put Charlton between Mallos and the others.

First, each member of the group tried to focus their own minds, before reaching out telepathically until they could feel the others. As the self-proclaimed leader, Zed reached out with his magic first towards the enchantments, and was swiftly followed by the others. Caution only lasted a minute or so; before long, Xephyr, Rhaegar, Zed, Charlton and Allianah were throwing their all into the spell, while Khasekhemwy and Mallos furiously worked to focus it. From that point, it lasted about ten seconds.

The ground trembled beneath them, and a bone-jarring feeling which was so loud that it felt like a roar swept everyone on the planet off their feet simultaneously. Their attention broken, the spell lost, the seven deities fell back into their own minds and, one by one, opened their eyes. All around, people began to get shakily back to their feet, and some started running out of the castle. Tristan grabbed his father’s arm and pointed up at the darkening sky.

A face. A terrible face, of thunderclouds and patches of grey sky, flashed like lightning and filled the heavens for a brief second, leaving its image burned into the retinas of all who had beheld it. Almost immediately, a deep purple hue shot out of the ground all around them and burst into the sky, thrusting the darkness backwards. The sky began to lighten, and the purple colour connected to form a firm, visible forcefield which spanned as far as the eye could see across the whole of Shaman.

There was barely time to release a sigh of relief before the ground rumbled again and a gut-wrenching sound filled the air, like the amplified noise of paper being ripped. An enormous crack formed across the purple dome.

Then nothing.

“Well,” muttered Chen from somewhere behind Arthur. “That was anticlimactic.”

Famous last words.

At first, it seemed as if a thick black tar-like substance was oozing in through the gap in the dome. It seeped in, clinging to the walls of the forcefield as it spread inch by inch across its surface. They all watched it come with wide eyes, each one of them still, their stances tense, waiting... waiting. A noise had begun as the tar had appeared, at first on the edge of hearing, but as it spread, the noise increased into a relentless, high-pitched humming. It was not tar at all, it was a swarm of large monstrous insects, packed so closely together and moving in a great co-ordinated swarm that they appeared to move like liquid. The crack emptied. The swarm moved, and the eyes of the originals followed it. A group broke away from the wall, peeling themselves free of their brethren, aiming with alarming speed for the King, the Prince, and Chen. They were each the size of a rugby ball and wasp-like, but their bodies were encased in a thick shining shell, like that of a beetle. Lamprey-like mouths opened, snapping hungrily and dripping saliva down on their targets.

Arthur, his fingers spread out raised his hand, and he, Tristan and the scribe became encased in a forcefield of their own. The creatures at the front bounced off the generated wall, sending shockwaves across its surface. A second group broke away from the swarm, bearing down upon Khasekhemwy, whilst others directed their attentions on Mallos. The group attacking the mortals had initiate attempts to break through the barrier that separated from their intended victims, some chewing upon it with their strange mouths, whilst others beat themselves against the walls, buzzing furiously. The next moment they all found themselves encased in a great sphere, snatched from their perches as if snared in a net. Their cage crackled with blue magic, like electricity pulsing along the surface, and then everything went red. The bug-monsters encaged inside the globe were incinerated. Temporarily safe, Arthur dropped his forcefield and took the opportunity to draw his sword. He glanced to his left as the charred remnants of the bug dropped to the floor around him, and was just in time to see Rhaegar smiling over Charlton’s head.

A great burst of flames filled the air to their right, as Allianah dispatched her own targets, causing more burned bodies to crash to the floor. Mallos, on the other hand, held his arms out invitingly as he took a step or two backwards. The bugs followed him, their teeth champing as they got closer and closer. One moment they were close enough to touch the Spaniard’s face, and the next he stood smiling, the floor around his feet littered with red carnations. A few of them flew telekinetically into his open hand, and he pushed them into his shirt pocket with an unconcerned expression. The other deities, following Allianah and Rhaegar’s example rather than Mallos’, concentrated their magic upon the rest of the swarm. It was not over. Larger creatures had begun to creep in through the crack. Big black panther-like creatures, with silver horns and burning eyes defied gravity to scale their way down the side of the dome like spiders. They were followed by great two-headed hounds that seemed to be composed of poisoned plants. Buried in amongst the vines of their body, it was possible to make out pulsating things, that opened and closed like venus flytraps.

One of the panthers was blasted off the side of the dome by Zed, and another jumped free of the wall on top of Rhaegar. The others continued together to the floor, before advancing upon the awaiting faeries as a pack. Two were intercepted by Allianah, Zed focused in upon another and Mallos appeared in front of the one that stood closest to the left side of the dome. The Spaniard held one of his preferred long Toledo sword, and pointed it with a flourish at the creature’s chest. Khasekhemwy and Charlton moved closer towards Arthur and the others, moving backwards so as not to turn their backs upon the advancing monsters. It seemed to Tristan, who forced a cough to cover a smile, that even Khasekhemwy’s turban was shaking. The prince however, did not have opportunity to smile for long. The plant-hounds attacked suddenly and without warning. Taking advantage of the distraction generated by the panther-beasts, they fell upon the mortals in a sudden clash of teeth. Arthur and Tristan both threw up forcefields, and Charlton stood between them, blasting back the front-most hounds with strong bursts of energy that sent them flying.

Rhaegar’s fist burst through the ribcage of one of the cats, dripping black blood onto his boots as Allianah caved in another’s head with the end of her staff. When she looked up, she scanned the scene, checking everyone’s position. The mortals, with Khasekhemwy and Charlton, were at the centre of the scene. Rhaegar fought on beside her, and Mallos was engaged with three at once on the far side. Zed had turned his attention to the hounds, but was momentarily distracted by a second influx of swarming bugs. Trusting the Dane to hold the flank, Allianah ran further to the centre, taking down two more cats as she went. Arthur and Tristan were both holding blood-soaked broadswords, and fought back to back, their faces wearing matching expressions of determination as they fended off the monsters. Chen teleported out of the way of two hounds as they threw themselves towards him in unison. He reappeared somewhere close to Rhaegar.

A panther collided with the King, knocking him off his feet, its teeth closing around his forearm, leaving the Prince alone. Celidon the cu-sith was furiously engaged with a panther-creatures, blood dripping from his jaws, and Charlton continued to blast away as many of the advancing packs as he could. Tristan kicked a hound in the jaw, its teeth forced together with an audible crack as he was forced backwards until he bumped into Mallos. The Spaniard grinned at his grandson, who drew enough courage from it to smile back. Arthur pushed the carcass of the panther off himself and climbed quickly to his feet, deflecting another with a new forcefield. Charlton hurried over to him and placed his hand over the King’s wound, healing it with a glow of golden light.

The number of monsters was thinning and the faeries were slowly regrouping at the centre of the struggle. One of Zed’s foes exploded in a flurry of red sparks, which, incidentally, matched the colour of the red carnation that had been pushed through one of his button holes. Allianah, as she moved past Mallos and Tristan, found herself with one in her hair. The crack, it seemed, had emptied. They were left with the job of clearing up the remnants of what had already come through. Rhaegar’s axe moved through the air with deadly proficiency, and more and more skulls cracked under Allianah’s onslaught. The bugs were gone, the last of them taken out by Charlton, and Mallos soon dispatched the last of the panthers by transforming it into a rather intricately carved statue. He winked at Tristan as the boy finished off an enemy of his own. It was Xephyr who, having fought alone at the back of the group finished the fight, causing two of the plant-hounds to collide and implode with a simple enigmatic flick of his wrist. They all stood panting as they stared up at the now benign crack, the tense silence finally interrupted by Mallos.

“Well,” he said mildly, “that was probably the most fun plan you’ve ever come up with, Zed.”

Written by Georgia and Merlin

    • part seven. -

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