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part seven.

The Castle

One of the maids had lit a fire in the great hall. It crackled merrily, oblivious to its companions’ distress as it sought to warm their aching limbs. The tension in the room was so thick that Zed felt he could have sliced it with a knife.

He was alone with the King, the Prince and, at Zed’s request, the King’s sister. The Lady Morgana stood between her brother and the fireplace, her dark eyes glinting as they reflected the warm, orange light. She had thus far said nothing. The Prince, whose presence Zed was having difficulty appreciating given the stressful circumstances, had wisely taken a small step back to give the adults the stage. Arthur’s stony expression had not changed since they had defeated the last of the monsters and he stared pensively into the fire. Celidon, the green fur around his muzzle still stained with blood, lay stretched out on the rug at the King’s feet, his green eyes closed and his breathing steady.

At the Brazilian’s orders, the other deities had spread out across Shaman to check that none of the monsters had escaped their fate. Khasekhemwy, Charlton and Chen had been sent to rebuild the pantheon. The physical presence of the white marble building would become symbolic of the day’s events; designed to resemble its predecessor, but on a much larger scale, it grimly reflected the need to accommodate more than it had ever done before. Ironic, really, that the originals should be seen in such great numbers when they had never felt closer to extinction.

“Your Majesty,” Zed began slowly, in a deep, tranquil voice which had an instantly calming effect on the atmosphere. Still, the deity’s words caused Arthur to start a little, dragging him suddenly from his musings. Slowly his brow relaxed a little, and he turned his face towards the Brazillian, his expression faintly expectant. “I must apologise both for what has happened and for what I am about to say,” Zed began anew, “I can offer very little explanation for what has happened, but I will do my best. I’m sure if you are interested in the magical mechanics, Mallos or Khasekhemwy will be able to offer you a more insightful commentary.” The King shook his head dismissively. He had little interest in the intricacies of enchantments and gestured instead for Zed to continue. The deity shifted his weight and adopted an appropriately grim expression. “It appears that Aura didn’t leave you without a last line of defence. As you are aware, the ancient creature was weakening the protective barriers that Aura placed around Shaman at its creation, and our plan was to strengthen those barriers. Unfortunately, our combined act of magic had a beaconing effect across the worlds, and before we had a chance to strengthen the barriers, the creature homed in on us and broke them down completely.”

He gestured to the window, through which the great, purple dome could be seen arching far over their heads. All the other eyes in the room followed his example, and Arthur frowned again at the fresh reminder of their predicament. Morgana’s face portrayed little and Tristan gazed out with a wide-eyed curiosity. It was not a strong hue – merely tinting the sky lilac – but it was conspicuous by the huge crack which splintered across it. There was no gap: the two edges forced themselves against each other, providing a fractured glass effect. It was an effect which shattered the perception of normalcy, and all eyes were invariably drawn to it whenever they were cast towards the heavens. As they gazed upon it, Zed swore he could see a glimmer of movement on the other side of the dome. It was too brief to grasp, like the imprint of an image left by lightning, but it was there. An ethereal life.

Shaking his head, he drew attention back into the hall, and the royal family shared glances amongst themselves, shared understanding passing between them. There were hard times ahead again. “The dome, I believe,” Zed pressed, “represents Aura’s final defence. It was a powerful enchantment designed to be automatically erected if, and only if, all of the other spells broke down. I should tell you,” he locked eyes with the King, “that it is beyond my own magical capability and, I suspect, beyond the magical capability of anyone on this planet. We can’t break it down. And, like all last resorts, it comes with a catch.” His mouth set firmly. “Nothing can get in… but nothing can get out, either. Everyone here presently is stuck here.”

Silence filled the chamber while Zed allowed the notion to sink in. Evidently the thought must have already struck Arthur, however, because there was little pause before he proposed his first question.

“If it cannot be broken down, then how did those monsters get in?”

Zed grimaced. “Through that,” he gestured to the crack. “I said we cannot break it down. Perhaps the enchantment would have been strong enough to keep the creature out permanently if Aura were still alive, but as she is not…” he sighed. “Spells weaken when the person who cast them dies. The creature has already managed to crack the dome, and we must prepare for the inevitable eventuality that it will, at some point, break it down entirely. Those monsters came through the crack that the creature made at the point when the spell was weakest: when the dome cracked.”

“Then that will happen again?” Tristan glanced at his father as he spoke, his fingers curling around the raptor tooth on the cord around his neck. He suppressed a shudder, and turned away, crouching down and occupying himself instead with attempts to lure his puppies out from beneath the nearby table. The King cast a curious look momentarily in his son’s direction before his attention was recaptured by Zed’s reply.

“Almost certainly,” the deity said, “the dome will continue to crack until it is broken, and with each crack there will be… unwelcome guests.

“The more immediate problem comes from in here, not out there. I’m sure you’re aware by now that the originals… don’t really get along,” he gave a very small, very sheepish smile. “I’m sure we can minimise disputes by splitting antagonists up as much as possible. Rhaegar and Xephyr will remain in the pantheon, joined by Lorraine and myself. Lady Morgana,” he turned to her apologetically, “might I ask your permission to allow Allianah, Khasekhemwy and Charlton to take up residence in the Commune? I would not suggest it if I did not trust all three to behave appropriately.”

Morgana studied the deity before her with a polite expression of neutrality, before shrugging her shoulders. “If you wish,” she said, smiling with a light in her eyes, the corner of her mouth twitching a little in amusement. “I’m sure we’ll get along famously.”

“Which leaves…” Zed sighed again, and turned back to Arthur. “I have one final and rather large request, Your Grace. I do not believe it is wise for Mallos to take up residence with any of the other originals for an extended period of time. I would be humbly grateful if you would consent to ask him if he might stay here in the castle. I should warn you, however… if he is led to believe the request comes from me rather than you, or that I am attempting to keep him apart from the others, he is liable to… be difficult.”

Arthur gave a wry smile, his eyebrows lifting in unison. “I think Tristan may be of use to you in this situation,” the King said, nodding in his son’s direction. The prince looked up, raising his eyes to look between Arthur and Zed, as he prized his hand free from Cafall’s jaws.

“I can try,” he said, with a smile of his own, “but I make no promises.”

From beyond the window, a loud creaking noise seemed to vibrate through their bones. Zed glanced apprehensively at the purple-tinged sky.

“Try is all we can do now,” he muttered grimly.

Written by Georgia and Merlin

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