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part one.

The Silver Cove

Hold your line!” Mace bellowed, gripping the reins of his horse tightly with one hand while he drew his sword from his scabbard with the other. The sound of metal scraping against leather filled the air as the rows of mounted soldiers followed suit. “Hold it!”

The monsters which stumbled towards them out of the crashing waves were vaguely humanoid in shape, although they were covered in reptilian green-brown scales and had eerie glowing blue eyes. The one at the lead paused to study the soldiers intelligently, and with a surge of disgust Mace realised that it had no eyelids. It licked its eyeballs one at a time with a blue forked tongue, unhinged its jaw until its gaping mouth was twice the size of its head and released a bloodcurdling scream. The shriek must have had some kind of sonic power to it: Mace’s sword vibrated, the glass brooch on his lieutenant’s chest shattered and all of the horses panicked instantly. They bolted in various directions, some of them bucking or rearing the unsuspecting riders who had made the mistake of clapping their hands to their ears off.

Mace dived off his horse and rolled across the sand to lessen the impact, accidentally nudging the king, who had had the same idea. The beach was a flurry of chaos. Horses, some still with riders attached, were charging everywhere, and the monsters had chosen that moment to make their assault. Before the men’s eyes, ten of their forty men were pounced on by the reptilian creatures, which snapped their necks with a simple, sharp twist of the head. Mace and Arthur exchanged a brief glance before grabbing their swords and charging forwards.

There were at least a hundred of the monsters to their thirty soldiers, and they couldn’t count on reinforcements. Forces were stretched thin across the whole of Shaman; skirmishes were breaking out everywhere. New cracks had appeared in the sky almost every day for the past two weeks.

“Form up!” Arthur shouted to the men urgently. In the confusion the ranks had broken. The castle guards were trained to fight in rows, those with aggressive magic paired with those without, or with those with only defensive talents. They were stronger like that; the lines needed to hold. “Form up!” the king bellowed again, and finally they recovered themselves enough to begin to scramble to obey. They scooped up their shields from where they had dropped them the sand, and locked them into place side-by-side; a wall of wood, swords and magic directed at the beasts from the sea.

“If we try and draw them towards my men,” Arthur said, turning to Mace, “then you can lead yours round behind them when they move forwards. If you block off the sea, we can trap them between us and take them down. Agreed?” The larger man didn’t speak, he simply nodded, his jaw forming a determined line as he ran off towards his men, shouting orders. Arthur followed suit, taking his place at the edge of the line of men. “Move backwards, slowly” he said, keeping his voice confident and calm; doubt spread like a poison in a battle and make a man’s nerve break. The creatures watched them with their unblinking stares as the block of men walked backwards up the beach. Arthur held his breath, waiting and watching. Yes. The alpha took a step forwards with a hiss, and the others followed suit. Like cavalry troops they started at a walk, before breaking into a run. “Brace!” Arthur shouted, holding up his own shield and pressing his weight into the back side of it, waiting for impact.

The first monster hit with such force that he was forced back a few steps, and all Arthur could see in those moments were his shield and the flailing creatures. He thrust his sword forwards, between the gap between his shield and his neighbour’s. Thick purple goo poured out cold against his skin, sending a shiver down his spine. The creature was not down yet. It renewed its attack in fury, its long tail flicking like the tip of a whip through the air. Arthur thrust his sword forward again; just as one of the men behind him send a fireball at the creature’s head. Both made impact in the same moment, and, as the creatures fell dead in the sand, Arthur was forced to step over it in order to push forwards with the rest of the line. When the next monster hit, the king’s shield splintered, and he quickly replaced the physical thing with a magical one of the same shape so that it still fitted with the line. He couldn’t see Mace, the men were packed too tightly, and the monsters were right on top of them.

Mace had waited for the monsters to make their charge up the beach, and his men had quickly dispatched the stray creature which had decided to make its assault on the smaller group, instead of staying with its fellows. “Quickly,” Mace told his men, leading the way across the sand towards the water, as the last of the strange beasts slid free of the waves. It froze, staring at them, licking at its eyes with innate menace. Handing his sword to the man next to him, Mace pulled his gun from its holster, and fired. The bullet pierced the creature’s skull between its eyes and it slumped forwards suddenly, as if had had dropped to sleep. Mace took his sword back, and led the charge along the shoreline, the foam of the waves splashing against the thick souls of his boots. His men knew what to do, they formed a line which ran opposite to Arthur’s block of shields, and then, when they were all in place, they marched forwards slowly.

The cries and screams of men filled the air, replacing the usual sounds of crashing waves and the incessant calling of gulls. It was a horrible sound, one Mace was sure he would never get used to. He ducked, as one of the monsters threw a royal guard over his head, and the man hit the ground behind them with a sickening crunch. Mace ordered the charge, and his men surged forwards. They hit the monsters as the monsters had hit the guards, and the length of the monsters’ bodies made it difficult for them to turn around with any degree of speed. Mace’s sword sliced into the neck of the first beast he encountered, but it was so thick that it only made it half way. The creature squealed its protest as Mace brought his weapon back again, and brought it down to finish the job. The resultant goo pooled around his feet, and almost made him slip.

Suddenly, the wall of shields broke in two; one of the monsters had forced its way between the men, and a second was bearing down upon something lying in the sand far to the right. Mace sent some of his own men to fill the gap, as the guards to the right fought the creature back away from their fallen comrade. They formed a wall of shields, encasing the wounded man in a block of protective wood. Mace’s stomach dropped; Arthur. Mace’s men and the remaining guards surrounded their monster, and the shield’s block on the right held theirs at bay, though they made no move to advance. Mace inhaled sharply between his teeth at the creature’s tail snapped against his hand, drawing blood and forcing him to drop his sword. Wise enough not to struggle to get it back, Mace pulled the knife from its place on his belt and dived forwards, stabbing downwards into scaled skin.

The men pressed in on all sides as Arthur forced himself to sit up. The plates on his left arm had been crushed, and they had been pressed into his skin with such force that the ragged metal was digging into his flesh. The remnants of steel were gilded with blood, and a hard blow had knocked him from his feet, smashing his forehead against a rock protruding from the sand. Dazed, he had been unable to stop the block from forming around him, and the guards had followed their protocols; protect the king. “I’m fine!” Arthur told the guards, picking himself up, ignoring his growing feeling of sickness as blood dripped into his eye. “Take it down!” The block broke apart, and the King made his way to the head of the wedge which formed in its place. They charged the creature as it charged back towards the sea, overwhelming it and trampling it into the sand. By the time it had been successfully dispatched, Mace’s men had already taken care of their monster too.

“Your Grace!” Mace said, pushing through the guards and clapping a hand on the king’s shoulder, “are you all right?” Arthur nodded... but too soon. The sky was pulsating again. The crack through which the reptilian demons had come widened with a tremendous groan.

The men were so focused on the sky that none of them noticed the creature snaking out of the sea towards them. It crouched low and moved fast, licking its eyeballs excitedly and headed straight for the two leaders. Mace and Arthur sensed rather than saw it, and both began to turn, reaching for their swords, at the same time - too late. The creature was already in mid-pounce as Mace was still lifting his sword, its claws extended towards them, when - ker-splat. Out of nowhere the monster exploded, cover Arthur, Mace, and the men nearest them with a fresh and odious shower of goo. Arthur reached up with one arm to wipe the gunk off his face and completed the turn so that he could see who was standing in his blind side.

"You look like mierda," Mallos, his father-in-law and the patron god of Spain, informed him casually. He wrinkled his nose. "And you smell."

"Thank you," Arthur replied with only a subtle trace of sarcasm, while Mace and the rest of the Alliance fairies stood to attention.

Mallos grinned, but it was fleeting. He turned his head to look up at the crack in the sky and didn't even look around when a large, broad black man popped up out of the sand behind him. A second later a tall, dark-skinned woman dressed in leather armour appeared several yards to Arthur's left, closely followed by a smaller woman with soft, blonde curls who was wearing a fashionable green dress which matched her eyes. The deities were arriving. Arthur glanced between them as they appeared, the rest quickly following the first few, and then back up at the sky, frowning. Something was coming; something big. The original fairies would not be here if they didn't sense something worthy of their collective powers to fight, and Mallos was so distracted that he didn't even offer to heal him, which was a first.

"The ancient creature?" Mace asked, apparently thinking the same thing. He spoke respectfully and directed the question at Allianah, his boss.

"No," she replied firmly. "This feels... different."

The sky creaked and groaned, the chasm widening. Something seemed to be moving - writhing - in the darkness beyond it. Arthur looked across at the deities again and saw something which was probably just as worrying as the widening crack: Mallos and Lorraine exchanged glances. The respective deities of Spain and Russia had had a long-standing and violent grudge ever since the latter froze over Shaman, and their relationship was considered to be so explosive that they weren't even allowed in the same building together these days. What Arthur saw in that brief moment wasn't an exchange between fierce enemies, but a quiet, shared, private understanding. While Rhaegar, Xephyr, Khasekhemwy, Allianah, Charlton, Zed, and Tsi stared up at the heavens with something akin to curiosity or apprehension, Mallos and Lorraine made a meaningful connection. Something was going on. They knew what was about to happen, or at least had an idea. Why did no one else?

The crack shrieked and shuddered, clearly reaching its widest point. The writhing mass which had been inside slipped through and began to pour - yes, pour - into the ocean, at least half a mile out from the beach. It looked like... water.

"Oh no," Tsi whispered, barely audible over the thunderous waterfall. Arthur looked across and saw that he'd gone stark white.

The water began to writhe again, rising up out of the ocean. Everyone, deities included, backed up the beach.

"It's the rat!" Lorraine stated blankly, as if the sight had sucked all the emotion out of her.

Before their eyes the water rose higher and higher, and began to solidify. A long, thin body mass formed, covered with scales. Even as it solidified, the water - the thing - the rat kept on growing and rising, reaching impossible dimensions.

"That's no rat," Mace muttered, his voice hollow.

He was right - it looked nothing like a rat. Although its form was still far from clear, it seemed more like a snake.

"The rat, Therait." Tsi answered, sounding dazed. "It's my familiar."

Written by Georgia and Merlin

    • part two. -
    • part three. -
    • part four. -
    • part five. -
    • part six. -
    • part seven. -
    • part eight. -
    • part nine. -
    • part ten. -
    • epilogue. -

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