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part five.

Part Five
The Realm of the Living, Shaman, the Castle

“We don’t need the Guide of the Dead to fix Death,” Aura elaborated, “we just need the staff. With the staff we can get a new Guide, and we already know where the staff is!”

Kelise and Brock exchanged glances. Neither looked convinced.

“Um, Aura,” Kelise put forward, “unless I’m missing something here, we don’t know where the staff is.”

“I definitely don’t know where the staff is,” Brock agreed.

Aura held her hands behind her back and passed the two pendants between them a few times. After a brief moment, with all eyes in the room on her now, she brought her hands back out and tossed the two pendants to Brock. He caught them and eyed her cautiously.

“One’s a fake.” Aura told him. “Which one’s the real one?” Brock frowned, but didn’t hesitate. He held up the true pendant, which glinted in the light. “How did you know it was that one?” Aura pressed.”

“Well…” Brock glanced at Kelise, who shrugged. “I could feel it. It has a kind of power to it.”

Exactly.” Aura gingerly took the two necklaces back off him. “Powerful magical objects have an… an aura, which is hard to hide. Fakes and replicas don’t.”

“I’m still lost,” Kelise shook her head. “How does this help us?”

“What if the Guide hid the staff before he vanished? So no one could use it to trace him?”

“So what if he did?” Brock asked bemusedly. “We’re back to square one then, aren’t we? Whether we have to find the Guide or the staff, it doesn’t matter.”

“What’s the best place to hide something?” Aura pushed insistently. When the other two shrugged, she exclaimed, “in full view! The Guide hid the staff somewhere no one would think to look, where people see it every day. But you can tell it’s the real thing because you can feel its power when you go near it.”

“Soooo…” Kelise stared at her, still waiting for an answer to the unasked question. “The staff is… where?”

“When we saw the statue of Anapa in Life, he was holding the staff,” Aura explained. “But it was just a statue. A replica. It didn’t have any power. Not like…”

She paused deliberately. Brock’s eyes grew as wide as saucers.

“Not like… oh my god.” He smacked the palm of his hand against his forehead. “The statue of the Guide in the Great Library! It gives off awesome power!”

“All this time,” Kelise muttered, “all this time… and you’re the first person to realise it was there.”

Something about the way she said it made Aura glance sideways at her. Brock, running away with his excitement, didn’t notice.

“The staff in the statue is the real staff!” He chattered, his voice an octave higher than usual. “Right under everyone’s nose where no one would ever look! Maybe the Guide is even nearby - keeps an eye on it!”

A chill settled into Aura’s heart. She continued to stare at Kelise, who stared back, her mouth set in a grim line. There wasn’t a trace of surprise or joy on her face.

“You,” Aura said very softly.

Kelise held out her right hand. There was a tremendous crack like thunder and a flash, and a long, gilded shepherd’s crook appeared in her hand. Her clothes shifted and changed, lengthening to form a single, hooded black robe. The air around the crook crackled with electricity, forcing everyone present to take a step backwards and avert their eyes. Kelise lowered her hood and pulled her hair out of her ponytail so that it fell over her shoulders.

“Me.” She replied calmly, slipping the elastic hair-band onto her wrist.

“K-Kelise?” Brock’s mouth was hanging open, his dark grey eyes wide. He seemed to have deflated, his shoulders hunched forward.

“You’re the Guide of the Dead.” Aura gritted her teeth. “You said you’ve been chasing up every opportunity to find the Guide. What have you been doing? Tagging along with any quest to find the Guide in order to deliberately lead people astray?”

Kelise didn’t deny it. Even now, cloaked in black and holding the gilded staff, she didn’t look… well… evil. Aura had pictured a Guide of the Dead lacking in moral character and sanity, perhaps hunched in a corner, cackling evilly. Kelise simply looked… sad. She rubbed her temples with her free hand, gazing across at them with something very akin to pity.

“I’m sorry you don’t understand,” she said grimly. “But you would if you’d been in the Realm of the Dead in the old days. I worked hard. Me and my lieutenants, we used to ferry people from Life to Death, taking them to their loved ones, helping them settle in… but it wasn’t as great as you’d think.”

“No?” Aura clenched her fists. “What part of retaining your memories of life and being with your loved ones isn’t so great, Kelise?”

“Oh stop,” Kelise growled. “People aren’t all inherently good, you know. They don’t live pure lives. Everyone thinks that when you die it all becomes about love and being with the people you love, but it doesn’t. People didn’t just take their good memories of life into the Realm of the Dead with them, they took the bad ones as well. They took their hatred and their grudges. You’re lucky, you two - you never saw the Realm of the Dead when it was at war with itself.”

“W-war?” Brock stuttered.

“Wars everywhere,” Kelise shook her head. “So many souls sent to oblivion. Innocent souls. My brother - I told you he was a traveller, but not the kind of traveller you are, Aura. He was a peacekeeper. He travelled between the zones to try and persuade people to stop fighting.” She bit her lower lip, her eyes glittering with tears. “He got caught in the crossfire. Died the second death. I knew then that I had to end the fighting, once and for all.”

“So you stopped doing your job,” Aura snarled. “Let the memories of life fade. Forced everyone to forget everything, even the good parts of their lives.”

Kelise’s hand gripped the hook tightly. “I turned the Realm of the Dead into what it’s supposed to be - a chance at a new life. I help people settle down. Build new starts. I’m a good person.”

“What happened to your lieutenants?” Aura narrowed her eyes. “The ones who knew who you were?”

“I…” Kelise wavered for a moment. “I couldn’t make people lose their memories in Death, only of their lives. My lieutenants…” She lowered her eyes to the floor. Aura made a noise like an animal being strangled.

“You killed them.”

“They were dying anyway, helping fresh corpses into war zones so that the fighting could go on forever and ever and ever,” Kelise snapped. “It was better this way. Collateral damage. But better. I ended it. There are no wars in the Realm of the Dead now.”

“There’s no love either,” Brock uttered quietly, rubbing the corner of his eye.

“Collateral damage,” Kelise muttered again.

“Like us,” Aura said coldly. “Because presumably we can’t be allowed to continue existing now that we know.”

Kelise glanced briefly at Arthur and the black-haired woman beside him, but apparently dismissed them. They’d die eventually and lose their memories of their lives. Her eyes settled instead on Aura and Brock - the former stood stiff-backed with her hands clenched, the latter wide-eyed and tearing up. Unless Aura was imagining it, there was a touch of anguish in the way she beheld them in that moment - but her jaw was set, her hand holding the staff firmly.

“You won’t last here.” She bit her lip. “I’m sorry, I really am. I didn’t mean for you to get hurt. You were just too clever.”

She twisted her hand on the staff. A swirling black portal appeared behind her and Kelise stepped backwards into it, vanishing instantly.


The meeting room was small, cosy. The huge tapestry which the three dead people had been so enraptured with earlier covered one wall to the left; the opposing wall as blank, and the wall opposite the door was lined with windows. A table ringed with six chairs occupied most of the floor space. As Kelise vanished, the death portal closing swiftly behind her, Aura slammed her fists on the table in unconcealed fury.

The tight-knit trio who had trotted across lawn earlier, giggling about kings, had disintegrated. Aura stared unseeingly out of the window, visibly seething. Brock had slumped into one of the chairs and was hunched over, hugging himself. Arthur and Morgana stood by the door, still frozen.

Brock was the first to break the long silence. “She’s right,” he said hoarsely. “We won’t last long here. Corpses can’t survive in Life any more than benders can survive in Death… eventually we’ll fade and die the second death. How are we going to get back?”

Aura glowered silently at the window for another moment. Morgana glanced sideways at her brother; he met her eyes but his face didn’t give anything away.

“Alright,” Aura said finally. She turned back to Arthur and said a little brusquely, “we just need a Master of the Orbis to send us back. Is there one of those around here?”

There was a brief pause before Arthur quietly replied. “No.” Morgana glanced at him again, raising an eyebrow, but he didn’t look at her this time.

She bit her tongue. Arthur’s desire to protect Thoth from having to see a mother who wouldn’t recognise him was admirable, but if Aura and Brock’s lives - or deaths - or whatever - were really in danger… Morgana forced herself not to say anything. Aura would think of something else. If she didn’t, and the danger started to get real, then they could consider bringing Thoth in.

Sure enough, Aura was now scowling at the table with an expression Morgana remembered well. She could almost hear the dead woman’s brain whirring.

“Can anyone else make death portals?” Aura asked. Brock shook his head but Anapa, who Morgana had almost forgotten about, nodded slowly.

“Wait, really?” Brock spluttered at Anapa. The prince shrugged.

“I know the theory, but I lack the ability to pull it off.” He admitted. “It is a powerful spell.”

Aura gripped her silvery-white hair. “Is there anyone nearby with the magic to give you a boost? A really powerful warlock or magician?”

“There’s Mallos,” Morgana suggested. Aura twisted around to look at her, one eyebrow quirked.

“Not Mallos the sun-god?”

Morgana’s heart leapt for a second, but she made it settle. If Aura remembered Mallos, she wouldn’t have described him as ‘the sun-god’. “Yes. I’ll go and get him.”

She turned to exit the room, shooting her brother a quick look as she went. He stepped out of the door with her and pulled it to so that Aura and Brock wouldn’t be able to hear what he had to say before giving her a quick run-down of what had happened when he’d called Mallos earlier. Morgana acknowledged the information with a look, her mouth set in a grim line, and turned towards the wing containing the guest rooms.

There was no answer on the door to Mallos’ quarters when she knocked, but the door was unlocked as always. A quick scan of the three-room apartment revealed it to be empty. Of course - he’d be on Earth for the ongoing trial. Morgana walked around behind his desk, searched the drawers until she found a pen and paper and scribbled down a quick note: Your office, come now. He ought to recognise her handwriting, but she signed it with her name anyway. Carefully, she pulled the yellow, sun-shaped pendant up from its position around her neck and tapped the note against it, muttering his name under her breath. The note vanished. A second later, Mallos materialised in the middle of the room.

“What is it?” He asked urgently, spinning around to face her. Morgana’s mouth thinned a little at the sight of him.

“We need your help,” she told him, trying not to sound too brusque. Mallos was obviously in one of those moods: he hadn’t stopped moving since he’d appeared, walking across the room to the desk and tapping his fingers against it. “Arthur said you vanished earlier.”

Mallos did possibly the worst thing he could have done under the circumstances: he rolled his eyes. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and fiddled with it with one hand, continuing to tap the desk with the other.

“I really don’t have time for his nonsense right now.” He said, making no obvious attempt to keep his words from sounding too abrupt.

“Oh yes, Mallos,” Morgana said, waving her hand, “because Arthur is well known for his insanity.” She set her hands on her hips, her eyes narrowing, “just because you didn’t like what he said doesn’t mean the most down-to-earth man we know has suddenly gone off his rocker.”

“My apologies,” Mallos replied sarcastically. “What’s the crisis? Has the sun fallen out of the sky? Zombies popping out of their graves? Dead people don’t come back, Morgana.”

She laughed sardonically, fixing him with a hard stare. “A few hours ago I would have agreed with you. I know the dead Mallos, but I also know that my brother and half the castle have not been talking to thin air for the last hour.”

“Talking to thin air is the more likely scenario.” Mallos glanced briefly down at his phone. “Or some kind of spell. Polyjuice potion. But the dead don’t just stroll back into the Realm of the Living. It doesn’t happen. ”

“If you’re so sure,” the corner of her mouth twitched, “why didn’t you go with him and see for yourself?”

“Because I’m not his personal magical engineer,” he replied in a tone sharper than he’d ever used with her before. “He can’t just call me every time something unusual happens. I’m not even supposed to be here. I’m not allowed to leave Amarna.”

“No, you’re not. You’re his friend. You know he only calls you when he needs your help. Do you really think Arthur would tell you Aura was running around Shaman if she wasn’t? Does that sound like your friend to you?”

Mallos rolled his eyes again and shifted his left foot slightly in the way he always did when he was about to teleport.

“Don’t you dare,” Morgana said, closing the gap between them. “Stop trying to run away from this. You don’t get to stick your head in the sand and pretend like it isn’t happening. Arthur needs you. It’s you or Thoth, Mallos. She doesn’t remember anything and your friend wants to save a teenage boy from the pain of not being recognised by his own mother.” She went to touch his arm and then thought better of it. Her fingers skimmed the wood of the desk.

“Come downstairs now. I’ll meet you down there.” Morgana marched towards the exit, pausing in the doorway. She hesitated, glancing back over her shoulder. And then she was gone.

Morgana strode down the corridors without looking back to check that he was following. After a brief pause, she heard the door slam behind her and thumping footsteps, indicating her displeased father had opted to do as he was told for once. He didn’t say anything to her or try to catch her up, so she continued as if he wasn’t there.

The door to the meeting room was still pulled to. Morgana paused over the door handle for a second, giving him a second to catch up, before pushing it open. The scene inside was pure chaos.

A couple of guards were darting in and out with completely random things: a scarf, a set of coloured pencils, an odd sock. Aura’s friend Brock was selecting items and throwing them into a black backpack at his feet while simultaneously trying to peer over Aura’s shoulder. Aura herself was leaning over the table, her hand whizzing across a piece of paper which someone must have supplied to her. Anapa was at her other shoulder, his jaw slack and his eyebrows raised. Arthur was the only person in the room who looked as if he hadn’t moved an inch.

“This isn’t going to work!” Brock was saying loudly as Morgana pushed the door open. “You can’t possibly remember the equation, you only saw it for a second!”

“Shut up, I’m trying to think!” Aura yelled back over her shoulder, not even looking up from her paper. “When’s that god guy getting here? I’m almost done.”

Morgana glanced behind her. Mallos had frozen in the doorway at the sound of Aura’s voice and was now staring at the scene with an expression she’d rarely, if ever, seen on him before: total shock. The colour had gone from his face. Still without looking up, Aura threw her pen on the table in frustration and tugged at her hair in a very Aura-ish manner.

“Thanks!” Brock told the guard who had just handed him a strip of colourful fabric. He shoved it into the full backpack and tugged at the zips. “You’re sure we’re okay to take this stuff?” He asked, directing the question at Arthur. Morgana’s brother simply nodded.

Aura grabbed the pen again, looking up for the first time since Morgana had re-entered the room. She spotted Mallos in the doorway but spared him no more than a passing glance before returning to the paper.

“Hey sun boy,” she called across the room, scribbling furiously on the paper. “Could use a hand over here.”

Arthur glanced at the doorway with a glimmer of sympathy in his grey eyes. Hearing Aura address him jolted Mallos out of his shock. He backed out of the door, shaking his head, and vanished round the corner. Arthur gave Morgana a look. She sighed, her expression softening, and nodded. Sparing Aura another glance she turned and followed Mallos back out into the corridor beyond. She found him sat on a windowsill further down the hallway, his head in his hands. He didn’t move or look up as she approached.

“Dead people don’t come back,” he said in a hollow, quiet voice, slightly muffled. Morgana approached and perched beside him on the windowsill.

“She always was extraordinary,” she began gently, “like you.”

He didn’t appear hear her. “Dead people don’t come back,” he repeated, like a broken record. He jumped off the windowsill and slammed his fist against the wall. “They can’t come back. If they could, why didn’t she come back before when - ”

He broke off, his voice cracking. Morgana smiled sympathetically.

“Take it from a girl who’s been talking to ghosts for half her life… the dead don’t know why they do the things they do anymore than we do. It doesn’t work like that. The important thing is she’s here now.”

Mallos flattened his palm against the wall, possibly to try and steady it: his arm was shaking slightly. He still wouldn’t look at her.

“But if she could have come back she would have.” His conviction was wavering; she could hear it in his voice. He was just repeating things he must have been telling himself for years. “Because she wouldn’t have left me on my own if she had a choice.”

Her heart went out to him despite herself. She rested a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“Maybe she couldn’t until now. Obviously something has changed on the other side to bring her here. It could be a second chance for both of you, and surely that’s a good thing?”

Morgana couldn’t recall ever seeing her father with his guard down. Whatever part of his brain kept his facial expressions and body language in check must still be in shock. He took his hand away from the wall and leant against it instead with a stooped shoulder. The other hand hung by his side, slack. He stared down the corridor with unfocused eyes, distant, unseeing.

“But she didn’t - she didn’t know who I was.” He managed to get out after a moment. Morgana nodded sympathetically.

“She doesn’t remember any of us. Things have been crazy in there today but it sounded as if we help her to fix the problem that brought her here, there’s a chance we could help her find her memories again too. There’s hope, father…” she took his hand in hers and gave it a squeeze, “and we all need a little bit of hope now and again. Even you.” Morgana glanced back towards the door to the meeting room where Arthur was waiting.

“Come on,” she said kindly, giving his hand a gentle tug, “let’s go and sort this mess out together, okay?”

He didn’t respond verbally, but gave a sort of half-shrug and followed her back into the room.

Arthur looked up as they entered the room and made eye contact with his sister, his expression questioning, is he alright? Morgana shrugged sadly. She didn’t know.

Fortunately, they were spared the stares of the other members of the room: the guards had left and Aura was trying to explain something complicated-sounding to Brock and Anapa, pointing at the paper she’d been writing on. None of them looked up as Morgana and Mallos re-entered.

“I am sorry, but this is beyond me,” Anapa said, shaking his head.

Brock just shrugged helplessly. Without warning, Aura picked up the paper, crossed the room and shoved it into Mallos’ hands. She put her hands on her hips and lifted her eyebrows.

“This is the warlocks’ equation for expanding a death portal to fit more than one person through,” she told him. “Make sense?”

“Sense?” Mallos repeated, not even looking at the paper.

Aura glanced briefly at Morgana as if to say, seriously? This guy? “Pay attention, Mallos,” she scolded. “I don’t want to die the second death here.”

Mallos stared down at the paper. It took him a little longer to scan than usual. Aura crossed her arms and glared at the ceiling while Arthur and Morgana watched carefully.

“Is that four meant to be a three?” The Spaniard said finally, gesturing to the paper. Aura snatched it back.

“Oh yeah.” She pulled the pen out of her pocket, leant the paper against her knee and scribbled over part of the equation. “Good now? Can we go?”

Mallos gave another funny half-shrug. Aura seemed to take that as a ‘yes’, because she grabbed the backpack off the floor and hooked it over her shoulders. Brock scuttled over from his position by the table and stood nervously next to her, shoulders rigid and eyes darting. Anapa glided around them.

“What do I need to do?” He asked Mallos, lifting an eyebrow.

The solar deity didn’t respond immediately, still looking at the paper like he’d been frozen in position. Aura shot Morgana another look - this time a little softer, more questioning. The latter smiled back gently.

“Probably best if we merge minds,” Mallos muttered to Anapa. “Just direct my magic.”

“We really appreciate all this, by the way,” Brock offered, glancing around the room at all the living people. “You’ve saved our… um… deaths.”

“Yeah, and don’t worry,” Aura’s eyes followed Mallos’ hand as he dropped the paper onto a side-table, “we’ll have the Realm of the Dead fixed by the time you all get there.”

She tried to give Mallos what was obviously meant to be a comforting smile, but he wouldn’t look at her. A slight shift in Anapa’s facial expression indicated that they must have forged a psychic connection. Instinctively, Morgana took a step backwards and flattened her back against the wall, followed swiftly by Arthur. A split second later, a flash lit up the room and a crackling sound caused the hairs on her arms to stand on end. A strong, forceful wind pressed her back against the wall, making it difficult to see the swirling black mass which had appeared in the centre of the room. The air felt electric. Another crackling noise heralded the arrival of a stronger wind which made Morgana’s boots slip slightly.

One of the deceased people - it was hard to tell who over the noise and chaos - shouted something. Holding hands, Aura and Brock sprinted toward the death portal and leapt into it, vanishing instantly.

To be continued.

Written by Aspelta and Merlin.

    • part six. -

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