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part one.
IP: 2.30.212.123

PART ONE
Epitome Oasis


The rune stones lay in a group on the ground where their finders had set them at their King's feet. Mordred had made some attempt to group them, placing like with like in the vain hope they could discern some kind of pattern. A small crowd had begun to gather close to the water's edge where it was cool and green and the sound of their conversation took on an anticipatory buzz. Tristan lounged on a nearby rock playing idly with his dagger. Arthur turned when he heard the sound of footsteps approaching from behind and a shadow fell across him.

"Your turn," Morgana smirked as she offered Arthur the jar. He took it from her, his warm hand closing around the unnatural coldness of the glass.

"I'll be back soon," he told her as he tucked it under his arm and tipped his head in the direction of a secluded outcrop of rocks nearby.

"Worried you'll fall over?" Morgana teased him gently restrained a little by his frown.

"Little good ever came of people seeing their king unable to stay on his own two feet."

Arthur gave her little chance to argue as he wandered away. He squeezed Tristan's shoulder as he walked past and exchanged a smile with his son. The heat was starting to retreat a little as the evening clouds rolled in over their heads and the outcrop had been covered in a heavy shade. Arthur perched on a flat rock close to the ground and began to unscrew the lid. It came away easily, almost unnaturally so, as if it had never been screwed shut in the first place. The king wondered, not for the first time, whether little container were imbued with some kind of consciousness. He supposed there must be more to it than simple glass and metal to have gone unopened for so long before Murray found it in the darkness of Gwythr's vaults.

The light escaped from its prison and flew a circuit around the king's head. He felt the magic brush against his consciousness a moment later. Arthur felt his mind brace against the intrusion and forced it to relax. A warmth began to spread through him until something warm seemed to press itself against his pounding heart. The first images came in a series of flashes in time with his pulse; group of six stones, three groups of three and one of four, boom, boom, boom, boom.It happened so quickly Arthur worried he had missed it. The stones were unfamiliar still, and many, although different on close inspection, were alike in passing. The magic seemed to hear him and fluttered in his chest, sending the images through his mind again, flash, flash, flash, flash.

It was like stepping through the mist into a clear morning. Arthur could see Aura sitting on a set of marble steps with the sun at her back and she was smiling. It made the king realise how rarely he had seen the goddess smile. The steps, he observed, were the steps of The Pantheon, but the temple itself was nowhere to be seen.

"Hello," he said, smiling too, "I thought it might be you." Aura gestured for him to approach and patted at the empty stretch of step beside her.

"You know I'm not really here, don't you?" she said as he settled himself on the cold white stone.

"You're dead," the king conceded his smile becoming a more sober frown.

"Yes."

Arthur nodded and stared out to sea. He could see the seagulls flying circles over the water, but they had been robbed of their voices. The sea didn't roar and the birds in the trees failed to sing.

"Would you prefer a different shape?" Aura asked. The king looked up as the goddess began to shimmer and suddenly he was looking not at Aura, but at his mother, Nimueh. She lay a hand against his cheek, her eyes filled with warmth and gentle love. "Or maybe this one?" Nimueh morphed slowly into Lilith and Lillith into Mallos. Arthur stared into the Spaniard's familiar dark eyes until they turned to blue. A stocky fierce-looking man looked across at Arthur with a distant scowl, his forehead creased with worry lines and crow's feet at the edges of his fierce eyes. "A father's touch, perhaps?" he said in a gruff voice.

It took everything Arthur had not to reach out and rest his hand upon the man's broad chest, to feel the pounding of his heart beneath his palm. For years he had longed to see that face, to look into the eyes of the man who had made him. The king felt his hand twitch, and a spasm run through his upper arm as impulse fought reason and restraint. A young woman he had never met sat beside him with her hand rested on his knee. She wore a long white dress, gathered at the waist with a golden chord and her blonde hair fell over her left shoulder in a long twisting braid. She looked at him with eyes of silver-grey so like his own that Arthur could have been looking into a mirror. Unable to fight yearning any longer he closed his fingers around her wrist. She was so cold.

"How long have you wished to look on this face, my king?"

"You are not the first to ask me to choose a face for a messenger," Arthur said, retaining a firm grip on his mother's arm, "but you are the first to show me this one."

"I am what you need," the lady beamed, "let me help you, my son."

A golden rod appeared in her right hand as she waved her left through the air in front of them. Golden sand swept up the steps until it brushed against the tips of their toes. Arthur's mother began to draw a series of symbols, tying some together with elaborate loops.

"It feeds on words," she explained pointing to the first set, "wherever you go, wherever you hide it will hear you, and it will know. These first stones will help you to communicate with your friends through pictures. You must learn to think in images without giving them names." She pointed to the next combination. “And this one will enable every fairy mind on the planet to connect, no matter the distance. Project your thoughts in images without using the spoken word.”

Arthur nodded. It made sense.

“You cannot destroy this creature,” she continued softly. “Only overpower it, return it from whence it came, and take steps to ensure it cannot return.” She gestured to the remaining combinations. “This one will give you divine command of the elements, so that you can part sea and earth as a god would. This one will give you control of gravity, and this one…” she gestured to the final combination. “If used delicately, this one can create boundaries which even an ancient being would struggle to cross over. Be warned, however – ancient magic will not restore to you that which has been lost. You will have to find another way, once the monster is defeated.

Arthur’s expression changed very slightly, and the lady laughed. It sounded like as fresh and pure as a waterfall.

“All living beings have their weaknesses, my king,” she smiled, her eyes twinkling. “And the dead have more weaknesses even than the living.”

She gave his hand a gentle squeeze, and melted away into the air. Arthur blinked twice, and the dry desert backdrop swam back into view. The little blue bottle sat in his hand, uncorked and empty, having breathed its last.

--

The rune stones glowed unassumingly as the small crowd of people gathered around them, unnaturally quiet in spite of their conflicting personalities.

They were a motley bunch at best. The four royals – Arthur, Mordred, Morgana and Tristan – stood closer to the two captains of the royal guard, Birch and Flynn, who had brought along a couple of the promising young talents they oversaw. Also with them was the captain of the Alliance guard on Shaman, Mace, and Caldera, who was both a member of the palace guard and the Alliance. Presumably, she was here to represent some kind of diplomacy between the two organisations. Peppered about and largely keeping apart from each other were the eight original fairies, headed by their Chairman, Tsi, who was leaning wearily against a palm tree and frowning at the stones.

“This is going to take magical prowess rather than military experience,” he noted.

“Military expertise would be better applied to the groups which will be directly attacking the ancient creature,” Arthur corrected him tactfully. “I agree that practised magicians will be needed in each group.”

Tsi nodded. “Rhaegar and Allianah can go with the elemental combat team. Lorraine can help with them too until the cage is needed, and then she can switch to that. Khase – ” he turned to see the Palestinian deity cowering behind the very tree he was leaning against, and softened his tone somewhat. “Can you help with the visual communication? Yes? Zed and Charlton, if you help out with the gravitational manipulation, and Mallos – the telepathic network.”

Mallos frowned at him. “So I don’t get to fight?”

“Can you just…” Tsi threw up his hands in exasperation. “Not give me a headache right before a battle? Most people on Shaman have never practised telepathy before, and the network will be so big that it’ll be hard to find each other through it. If you can maintain it and patch people through to each other, that’d be a big help.”

“Like a telephone operator?” Mallos asked incredulously, while Rhaegar’s purple eyes gleamed with malicious delight.

“Flynn and Birch,” Arthur began calmly, although he had to conceal a little smile. “Can you divide the guards into groups according to their expertise?”

Allianah nodded. “Mace and Caldera, you do the same.”

“Mordred can lead the elementalists,” Arthur continued, “all that remains, then, aside from assembling the forces, is to locate the creature.”

There was a long, pregnant pause.

“Well, I suppose, anyone can contact it by thinking of it in words,” Tsi offered, a little lamely. “Maybe it would come out if we asked?”

“It would come out if it was sufficiently annoyed,” Zed added thoughtfully. “Mallos, you’d know which buttons to press, wouldn’t you?”

“Hey, don’t ask me; I’m just the telephone operator.”

Zed grinned and slapped him on the back, almost causing his knees to buckle. “Thanks Mal, knew we could count on you. Try not to annoy it so much that it comes out and flattens Shaman, okay?”

Noting the calculating expression on his father-in-law’s face, Arthur was glad, in that moment, that he wasn’t the ancient creature.



Written by Merlin & Aspelta

Replies:
    • part two -
    • part three -
    • part four -
    • part five -


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