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part three
IP: 86.31.96.14





PART THREE

Gawain inhaled sharply as he awoke in darkness. His chest hurt, his head throbbed and Scout peered down at him from above.
“Thank Christ, Rhaegar, Mallos and any other bugger listening,” Scout breathed. The sparks crackling between his fingertips flickered and died as Gawain tried to push himself up out of the snow. Scout, as expressive as ever, punched him in the shoulder.
Never do that again!” he told him, folding his arms across his chest, “you had me going for a minute there you little git.” Gawain ran shaking fingers through his hair and tried to concentrate on breathing. His ribcage felt bruised and...cold.

He looked down, his shirt was open. Shivering, he started to fasten it up, his eyes wandering around the clearing. Gawain glanced down at the wound spreading out across his chest, dark and unpleasant. The two pumpkin lanterns flickered in the gloom. Gawain’s crucifix, sword and belt lay in the snow beside him. He reached for them, returning the pendant to its place around his neck. Barnabus, Kyan and Callie were all crouched in the snow nearby. Callie had Altair’s head cradled in her lap. She made soft soothing noises as she stroked his ears. The lynx had fallen onto his side, his wings hanging limply in the snow. As Gawain watched him he started to twitch, and then his pale eyes flickered open. For a moment fairy and familiar stared at each other.

“We’re getting you back to base,” Scout said firmly, “how do I summon your bloody pigeon?” Gawain reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a silver whistle. He handed it over without protest. Scout put it to his lips and blew. They heard nothing.
“I have to go home,” Gawain told Scout, grabbing hold of his sleeve, “I’ve got to go.”
“That’s the plan, mate,” Scout replied, trying to sound reassuring. Gawain could tell from his eyes that he was worrying him.
“Not base,” he managed to croak, his throat felt tight and constricted. “Home.”
“Back to earth?” Scout asked him, closing his hand on his shoulder. Arthur’s face swum before his eyes.
“Not earth,” Gawain insisted, “home.

Scout’s reply was drowned out by Ambrose’s cry. The thunderbird landed on the ground nearby and pushed his head against Gawain’s chest. He winced but stroked the worried bird’s cheek feathers.
“I’m going to go with Guy and the pigeon,” Scout told the little team of scientists, “you stay with Altair. I’ll send someone back for you when I reach base, alright?” They mumbled their agreement, all too shaken to argue. Altair growled.
“Its okay, bud,” Gawain told him. Scout pulled his arm over his shoulders and dragged him to his feet. “You rest,” Gawain continued, “I won’t leave without you.”

---

“I still don’t understand,” Scout said from the middle of the room. He stood with his arms folded and his legs planted firmly apart, ready for a confrontation. Gawain ignored him. He hurried back and forth across the room, emptying the chest of draws and throwing the contents haphazardly into the duffle bag on his bed.
“You can’t get home. We tried, Guy. We tried a hundred damn times!”

Gawain shook his head. “My father said there might be a way. I’ve got to go to Spain.”

“Spain!?” Scout replied, shaking his head, “what the hell, Guy? When did you talk to your father!? ...more to the point how did you talk to your father?”

Gawain shook his head again. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t have time to explain, I need to go.”

He zipped his bag closed and heaved it onto his shoulder. Head down, he marched for the door. Scout grabbed hold of his arm as he passed.

“My brother needs me, Scout,” Gawain told him, imploring him to understand, “I’ll come back when I’m sure he’s alright. Please try to understand.”

Scout glowered at him, and then pulled him into a gruff hug.

“You take care of yerself, kid,” he told him, pushing him back onto his heels. Scout reached into his pockets and pulled out a pair of hop loops. He pressed them into Gawain’s open palm.

“One to get you there…” he said, “and one to get you back to us. Good luck.”

“Thank you, Scout.” Gawain said, with a nod, “I’ll owe you one.”

“Too right you will,” Scout replied, folding his arms again, “just you see you get back here to settle the debt, y’here?”

Gawain grinned. “Yes, boss.”

---

Alliance HQ, Earth

He stood in the lobby of the Alliance headquarters, pacing up and down. Every few minutes he stopped and glanced up at the giant clock over the reception desk.
“Guy, Guy Penry?” a familiar voice said from behind him. Gawain spun around.

“Emilo!” he said, relieved. He hurried over to his friend and shook his hand. “It’s good to see you.”

“Of course,” Emilo smiled, “why don’t you come back to my office. We’ll have a chat.” Gawain nodded, following him eagerly down the corridor. His boots, still caked in the dirt of Umbarra II, squeaked along the floors, attracting scandalised glances from a few of the scribes tapping away at computers in the rooms they passed. When they reached his office Emilo swiped his card through the reader on the wall and the door buzzed open. His friend settled himself in the high-backed chair by the window and gestured Gawain towards the smaller chair opposite. He perched on the edge of it and within moments his leg started to bounce.

“I’d forgotten you did that,” Emilio smiled, nodding at Gawain’s knee. “You seem agitated, Guy.”

“I need to find Mallos,” Gawain told him, “and I know you’d be breaking a hundred rules if you told me where he was right now, but this is urgent.”

Emilio frowned. “And you can’t go through the proper channels because…?”

“Because by the time I’ve filled out the form and waited for someone to type it out in triplicate, it could be too late.

“You look ill,” Emilo said, shifting in his chair. He wasn’t smiling anymore.

“I’ve had a rough couple of days,” Gawain said, running his hand through his hair and leaning back in his chair. “You know I usually wouldn’t ask for something like this, Emilio. But this is family.

His friend sighed and began to massage the bridge of his nose. He reached for his keyboard, tapping away at the keys.

“If this goes badly, Guy,” Emilo said, “and Seba'iqer has it traced back to me…”

“I know I’m asking a lot,” Gawain agreed, “but I’m desperate.”

Emilo looked up from the screen and fixed him with a final searching look. Apparently, Gawain looked just about pathetic enough to satisfy him. He hadn’t slept in days and stood out like a sore thumb in his mission wear. He looked about five hundred years out of date sitting surrounded by computers, glass and chrome.

“Mallos is at his residence near Madrid,” Emilio told him. “It’s about twenty miles from the city, out on the moorlands. If you can see it, you certainly won’t miss it.” He smiled. “I’m trusting you here, mate. Do not make my life difficult.”

“Thank you!” Gawain enthused, shaking his friend’s hand, “I owe you big time.”

He leapt out of his chair and strode back towards the door.

“Guy…” Emilo called to him just as he was about to step out into the corridor, “one final piece of advice?”

Gawain cocked an eyebrow.

“Change into something that doesn’t make you look like an extra from lord of the rings before you go anywhere, okay?”

---

Madrid, Spain

Emilio hadn’t been kidding. Mallos’ estate was huge. It sprawled out across the countryside for miles. Gawain stood at the end of the driveway staring down towards the house in the far distance.

“I hate being invisible,” Altair muttered from somewhere on his left. “And this lotion has ruined my fur.”

Gawain rolled his eyes. “It won’t be for much longer,” he promised, reaching out to stroke his familiar’s head. It took him a moment to find it. “Be honest though, Alt, you’d stick out like a sore thumb.” The lynx huffed. “Besides,” Gawain pressed, “I don’t hear Ambrose complaining.”

There was a long drawn-out pause. “That’s because Ambrose can’t talk.”

Gawain’s smile died in the corner of his mouth as he focused on the house again. This was a terrible idea. He fidgeted in his unfamiliar clothes. The jeans and checked shirt had been bad enough but the boots were murder. He hated new shoes. The only good thing about the entire ordeal was his new bag, a rucksack made from a light khaki-green canvas which was almost as effective as a poppins bag.

“Are we just going to stand here all day?” Altair demanded.

“What if he doesn’t believe me?” Gawain asked, licking his lips. They’d gone very dry all of a sudden. “Why should he?”

“Worse thing that can happen,” Altair said, “is he can slam the door in your face, or have you thrown back here on your arse in this delightful dust we’ve grown so accustomed to. You’ll be no worse off than you are now.”

He sighed. Altair was right. He was being a coward. Gawain took a deep breath, hitched his bag strap higher onto his shoulder and set-off along the drive.

He stopped again when he spotted the water fountain.

“This is ridiculous!” he said, running his fingers through his hair in his disbelief. The house was bigger and more imposing up close. Who even needed that many windows? Or that many pillars?

“Which do you think is the front door?” Gawain asked Altair, continuing to take in the expanse of brickwork starting down at him judgmentally. It looked scarier than Shaman’s Castle ever had, and it was a long way from the tents and barracks he’d spent the last ten years sleeping in.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Altair replied, bumping against his leg.

“Duuuude!” the Lynx enthused, kicking up some of the gravel with his paws as he scrambled backwards. “How many chimneys!?!”

“Dear God,” Gawain agreed, craning his neck to get a better look.

To his right something creaked. He looked towards the nearest tree and found one of the branches drooping comically under the weight of some unseen creature.

“Wait there, Ambrose,” Gawain said, looking back towards the nearest door. He took a deep breath.

“Here goes nothing…” he muttered under his breath, striding forwards at long last. Stopping on the top step, he pressed the doorbell with one of his shortened fingers, moved back and waited.

He promptly forgot how breathing worked.

After a brief pause, the door swung open to reveal a man who must have been in his mid to late forties, with pale olive skin and a shock of dark hair which was going grey at the temples. He had penetrating brown eyes which ran all over Gawain’s body, drinking in his appearance. His face remained professionally neutral.

“Good afternoon, sir.” He offered politely in Spanish. “Duilio Alvarez. How may I assist you?”

Of course there was a butler. If you needed so many windows, you definitely needed someone to open your front door for you.

“Hola señor” Gawain replied. He hesitated, realising he probably should have thought about what he was going to say next. “Urm...Mi nombre es Guy Penry. He venido a hablar con Seba'iqer.”Urm...my name is Guy Penry, I have come to speak with Seba'iqer.” He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out his badge. Flicking it open he held it out for the butler to see.

A slight frown creased the butler’s forehead. He opened the door wider and invited Gawain to step into an entrance hall which looked like it had come right out of a magazine. White marble floor, check; wide staircase curving round into an open balcony on the second floor, check; expensive stone statues on either side of the door, check.

No sabía que señor Mallos tenía una reunión programada con un representante de la Alianza hoyI was not aware that Señor Mallos had a meeting with scheduled with a representative of the Alliance today.” He raised an eyebrow. “Si pudiéramos ver su carta de Señora Allianah confirmando la cita te llevaré con él de inmediatoIf I could see your letter from Señora Allianah confirming the appointment, I will take you to him immediately.

“You should have seen that one coming, really…” Altair mused, his voice echoing around inside Gawain’s head. He slammed the connection closed avoiding the temptation to swear.

No tengo una cartaI don’t have a letter,” Gawain admitted, “o una cita or an appointment.” He sighed heavily. “Seba'iqer no me estará esperando pero es importante. Estoy aquí... Seba'iqer won’t be expecting me, but it is important. I’m here…” Gawain paused, searching for the words. “Estoy aquí en un asunto de familiaI’m here on a family matter.

Alvarez studied him carefully for a moment.

No hago promesasI make no promises.” He sighed, giving a small gesture for Gawain to follow.

He led him up the spiralling staircase to the next level. The ceilings were high and beautifully adorned and the corridor itself seemed to stretch out for eternity. A space so large should have felt cold, but the rich wooden floors and amber walls gave it an inescapable essence of welcoming warmth. Sunlight streamed in through the long windows. It was like a very glamorous rabbit warren. Gawain followed Alvarez through a door into a large room, and then out onto another corridor. He squinted at the strange paintings as they passed, a striking jumble of colour, shape and stylish simplicity. He was so busy staring at one of them he almost missed Alvarez disappearing through yet another doorway. On the other side of the room was another door, followed by a third corridor. He hoped he wouldn't need to leave in a hurry, he'd be rattling around for days. Finally, Alvarez brought him to a halt outside another door, and knocked carefully before pushing it open.

He heard his voice, low, slightly strained and speaking in accented English, before he saw him. Mallos was standing behind the mahogany desk of the surprisingly simply-finished office, a mobile phone jammed under one ear while he scribbled something on a piece of paper with his free hand. The desk and chair, a set of wooden filing cabinets, a low coffee table and a sofa made up the room’s only furnishings. Along the wall to the left, hand-drawn images, largely representing people, hung in carefully placed frames. Gawain realised with a jolt that several of them showed Tristan’s smiling face. He looked older than he remembered, he’d filled out, shed a lot of the puppy fat and gained definition in his face. But that grin...Gawain would have recognised that grin anywhere.

“...No, no, no, this isn’t designating,” Mallos was saying, scowling down at the paper. He didn’t even look up when Alvarez stepped into the room, encouraging Gawain in after him with a jerk of his head. “I am the Acting Chairman while Tsi is absent.” Pause. “I did not say that, Lady Dahshoor.”

He rolled his eyes expressively and looked up for the first time. His eyes slid briefly over Gawain, barely taking his appearance in, before he nodded his head back towards the door in an unmistakeable gesture for go away. Alvarez indicated for Gawain to take a seat on the sofa and then stood with his arms folded in the doorway, staring his employer down. Mallos stared right back at him, ignoring Gawain.

Gawain didn’t sit. He didn’t think his knees would bend even if he told them to so he stayed where he was. Fighting gorreth monsters in the pitch-mines of Tycrone was a walk in the park compared to this. He thought his heart was going to burst.

“What agents?” Mallos asked down the phone in an innocent tone of voice. “Maybe we should discuss rogue criminal units on Shaman, harassing the son of Aura while under the impression that they’re working under the Church’s orders, my lady.” Longer pause. “I quite understand. Have a good day.”

He took the phone away from his ear and tapped the red button.

“For Zed’s sake, Alvarez.” He rolled his eyes again, this time at his butler. “Can you not disturb me when I’m kissing ass?”

“My apologies, señor,” Alvarez’s eyes twinkled, “but this gentlemen wishes to see you regarding urgent family matters.”

Gawain tried a smile. It didn’t work very well. The corner of his mouth twitched a bit but that was about all he could manage.

“Bit pathetic, really,” Altair mumbled in the back of his mind.

“Only family matters I give a damn about right now are my own.” Mallos muttered without even looking at Gawain, bending over his paperwork again.

“That’s...that’s kind of the point, Sir” Gawain managed, forcing his tongue to work, “my name’s Gawain.”

It felt strange to say. It had been years since he’d used it, even longer since he’d really felt like he owned it. It still didn’t quite feel like it belonged to him. He’d been Guy Penry for so long.

“My father sent me.”

Mallos froze. He glanced up, his dark eyes settling on Gawain’s face, taking his appearance in properly for the first time. His pen slipped out of his hand. There was a long moment of silence.

“My Gawain?” He asked in a very different tone of voice. Behind Gawain, Alvarez quietly backed out of the room and shut the door behind him.

That sounded even stranger. He’d never met his grandfather, he’d just heard stories.

“Yes, sir.” He nodded.

Mallos stepped out from behind the desk slowly, moving around towards his grandson. He placed a gentle hand on Gawain’s shoulder and frowned for a second. Gawain felt a tingle, like static electricity, and Mallos withdrew his hand sharply and swore colourfully in Spanish.

“Arthur sent you?” He repeated after a moment, running his hands through his hair.

Gawain nodded again, rubbing at his shoulder. The hairs on his arms were still standing on end.

“Yes sir,” he said again, “he said if anyone could help me get home, it would be you.”

“Arthur’s dead.” Mallos responded bluntly.

Gawain looked down at the floor, shuffling his feet. His eyes burned.

“I know,” he said, his voice cracking a little. “I was on Umbarra II with my team, and I...well, I had a bit of an unfortunate run-in with one of the Obsagor. My Captain said my heart stopped and well...something happened. Something...connected. I saw him.” Gawain tapped at his temple with the stub of his index finger. “You can take a look, if you’d like?”

His grandfather ran his hands through his hair again and kept them there for a moment, staring at him. He shook his head.

“No, I believe you.” He paused. “I just ran a DNA test. You’re Arthur’s son. And this is exactly the kind of stunt Arthur would pull on me.” He took a breath and exhaled slowly. “Arthur asked me to send you to Shaman?”

Gawain breathed a sigh of relief. His shoulders relaxed. It felt as if something heavy had just been lifted from his shoulders. He finally managed a proper smile.
“Thank you!” he enthused, his fingers danced through his hair again. “Yes. The people who kidnapped me, I don’t know what they did. I tried for years to get back home. I tried hop-loops, I paid men to open portals for me, I did everything I could think of. I can get to any world you can think of except Shaman. I’d given up hope of ever getting back…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “But father said that Tristan needed me. How could I walk away from that?”

Mallos nodded slowly, his eyes narrowing. “What people?”

“I never got names,” he said, “and I was pretty out of it for a while.” He held up his hands showing Mallos his fingers. “Frostbite,” he explained, pulling a face. “They had to remove them. All I remember is a mosaic on the floor and…” No. Gawain shook his head. “Look, that doesn’t matter right now. I’ll tell you everything when we get there. Can you take me to Shaman?”

“Yes…” He hesitated. “But… Shaman is… a mess, at the moment. And very dangerous for a son of Arthur. I can take you, but before I do I want you to know that you have a choice.” he studied his face for a moment. “You can stay here.”

Gawain shook his head again. “If I wasn’t sure,” he said, setting his jaw, “I’d have stayed on Umbarra II.” He met Mallos’ eye. “I can look after myself,” he promised, “I’ve been looking after myself for a long time.” Sighing, he glanced out of the nearest window at the world beyond. When he looked back his mouth was set in a line. “How’s Tristan doing?”

Mallos nodded slowly again, like that was the answer he’d expected. “Not well.” He admitted, reaching up to rub his temples.

“Then I think that settles it,” Gawain said, “don’t you?”

“You are definitely your father’s son.” Mallos sighed. “Tristan made the same choice.”

He held out his hand.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Gawain grinned, reaching out to take it.


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