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part two.

The Pantheon

It was a still evening. The wind bothered no one and the clouds slept still upon the air. It was remarkable only in its extraordinary blandness. The sky itself was of deepening grey, tinged with the dull glow of the last light of the setting sun, and Thyri and Rhaegar looked up at it from their place on the pantheon floor. They lay side by side, on a nest of furs and blankets. Gar’s right arm was folded back beneath his head whilst Thyri lay naked across the other, her fingers interlocked with his as she rested her head against his shoulder. They had not left their rooms, candles illuminated the growing gloom and the dogs slumbered upon the rug by the fire. Rhaegar had made the sections of the building between them and the sky translucent, so they could see out at their pleasure, but nothing could get in. He could feel the beating of Thyri’s heart through the warmth of her skin and in a rare moment of contentment, Rhaegar felt at peace.

The pantheon exploded suddenly into a flurry of noise and lights. The Dane’s eyes snapped open as the ceiling returned to its usual opaque marble. Thyri’s eyes, wide and green, looked at him in alarm and her fingers curled against the skin of his chest. The caterwauling of the sirens was piercing, but it was not enough to distract Rhaegar from his purpose. He held on tight to Thyri, pressing her protectively against his chest as he freed his other hand from behind his head. He slipped two fingers under each of the collars of his two dogs, and then, in the blink of an eye, teleported away. He gave no thought to Tsi, alone in the chamber deep within the bowels of the pantheon, nor to Xephyr and the priestesses who tended him. The pantheon’s guards slipped even further into irrelevance in his thoughts, and for Tsi’s scribe there was nothing at all.

He had taken them down onto the beach, and he set Thyri down gently upon the sand, she was clothed now in an elegant dress of deep purple. They could still hear the siren in the distance, loud and relentless as it ripped through the calm of the night.

“What’s happening?” Thyri asked him in Old Norse, the words coming easier to her tongue than English.

Rhaegar shook his head, listening hard as he tried to discern some clue between the wailing of the alarm. He sensed the ignition as it happened, and the explosion was so intense that it caused the ground to shake. A cloud of smoke, and the orange gleam of fire filled the sky as shrapnel of all shapes and sizes and great chunks of marble were thrown in all directions by the force of the blast. A great lump of stone hurtled towards the little party on the sands, and Rhaegar threw his arm up into the air, his palm turned towards the sky. The stone bounced off the invisible forcefield he had conjured, rolling a little way before coming to a halt. More chunks landed around them and smaller pieces descended like rain as flames crackled in the distance.

“Men to me!” Mace dropped free of the cliff face and landed neatly upon the beach, followed by his familiar. He took a few steps back in order to peer up at his guards. Rhaegar looked too. He could see them all clinging to the rock face like insects, making their way steadily downwards to join their Captain. They came quickly enough, given the distance, and lined up neatly to be counted. “Wilson? Jack? Marnie?” Mace asked when he was done, his forehead creased in a frown. The guards looked down sadly at their boots and shook their heads. Their Captain swore. Rhaegar looked at him, and their eyes met, as they shared a recollection of a past conversation about lost lives. “Are you all right?” Mace asked Thyri gently as he made his approach over the sand.

“She’s safe,” grunted the Dane defensively.

“That wasn’t the kind of all right I meant.”

Thyri smiled at the soldier and rested a hand on his upper arm, “I’m fine,” she reassured him. Rhaegar turned away with a growl. “Rhaegar,” Thyri said a moment later pointing down the beach, her other hand finding its way onto his arm again.

He turned, looking in the way she indicated. His eyes scanned the sands until they found Chen. The scribe looked hunched, his walking irregular, but he was unmistakably alive. Too impatient to wait for Tsi’s assistant to reach them, Rhaegar clicked his fingers. Chen disappeared from his place further down the beach and reappeared in front of the Dane, right beside Mace. There was a tremble in the scribe’s hands and a slightly wild, bewildered look in his eyes. As Gar studied the strained features of his face, Thyri took a step away from her lover and put her arm about the scribe’s shoulders.

“Tsi...” Chen managed at last, the name catching a little in his throat.

“Tsi?” Rhaegar prompted impatiently, his voice rising in volume, “what about Tsi?” He wanted confirmation. He wanted to know if what he feared had happened with the monster was true.

“Gone... he saved us.”

“Saved us from what, I wonder?” another voice came from behind them all, calmer and more controlled. Rhaegar turned towards Xephyr slowly.

The other original was right. Tsi had been in combat with the monster when the alarm had been triggered. It stood to reason that it had been he who had detonated the Pantheon and that meant...that meant that the monster had gained significant ground. It was coming. The ghosts of the whispers that Gar had heard deep within the centre of the Earth began to chant inside his head again, the memory that had plagued him since Aura’s demise. Chen released a small noise… of grief? Of exhaustion? Gar couldn’t tell, but the scribe sunk down into the sand. Xephyr looked up at the cliff, the light of the burning ruins of the pantheon reflected in his dark eyes, almost as if hypnotised by it, his expression inscrutable. His priestesses flanked him on all sides, and one was looking at him with a mutinous expression on her face. Stepping past Chen, Rhaegar made his way over to the original’s side.

“Have you considered,” Xephyr asked gently, “that this might be an opportunity?”

The Dane shook his head. He didn’t know what he thought, not yet. “Or maybe the cage just got smaller,” he replied. The corner of Xephyr’s mouth curved upwards in the smallest of smiles.

“Perhaps,” he said, “either way, it begins now.”

Sighing, Rhaegar looked back over his shoulder at Thyri who was once again in conversation with Mace, “yes,” he agreed, “it begins.”

Written by Merlin

    • part three. -
    • part four. -
    • part five. -
    • part six. -
    • part seven. -

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