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part four

Silver Cove

Tsi, Arthur, Morgana, Zed and Allianah stood at the edge of the beach, their forms semi-silhouetted by the light glancing off the giant walls of water. Mordred was riding amongst the men and women, organising shifts to prevent lapses of concentration while the leaders met to discuss what should happen next. The strength and focus required to maintain the wall of water was so great that teams of ten water-bending practitioners had to take ten-minute shifts to keep it up.

Allianah stood slightly apart from the rest, keeping her eyes on the enormous hole in the earth. Presumably she was here as a self-appointed protector, since Arthur knew she never led decisions. Tsi, who was slightly out of breath, somehow looked less haggard than he had done that morning, as though the battle had rejuvenated him somewhat. Morgana was calmly bandaging a burn mark on her arm, and Zed looked the same as ever. Since most of the attacks were magical, the majority of soldiers either had only scratches and bruises – like Arthur – or had been knocked out cold. A temporary clinic had been set up two miles inland where the seriously wounded and unconscious were being carried, but most people who remained were largely fine.

Nobody verbalised the question which hung ominously in the air: how do we get our magic back?

Had the creature consumed it all? Would killing it restore magic? Could ancient creatures even succumb to death?

Nobody had the answer. Zed frowned at the ocean, clearly deep in thought; Tsi chewed the bottom of his lip, also clearly thinking hard but looking a tad more helpless. Before either of them could weakly suggest a solution, a movement amongst the soldiers to their right indicated a change in shift amongst the water manipulators, and one of them stepped out and towards their little group. The reaction was instantaneous. Allianah’s lips curled back into a snarl, Morgana narrowed her eyes, and even Arthur felt the muscles around his mouth tighten somewhat. The Nubian deity took a step forward as though in challenge, but Zed threw out one large, calm hand to prevent her from advancing further.

Lorraine bared her teeth at them in a somewhat cynical smile, and surveyed Tsi with a haughty expression.

“You’ve obviously done all you can by battering it,” she pointed out. The subtle, smug hint to her tone made Arthur want to punch her. “May I suggest a more diplomatic approach?”

“We tried that,” Allianah snapped. “We went to the centre of the Earth and – ”

“No, she’s right,” Tsi interrupted, causing Allianah to adopt an expression of silent outrage. “Only the creature knows where our magic is and how to get it back. We’re going to have to negotiate.”

“I – ”

“Ancient creatures don’t like original fairies,” Zed overrode Lorraine quietly. “Or powerful leaders, really,” he added with an apologetic look at Arthur. “The diplomat who stands the best chance of success would be one who is neither.”

“I’ll go,” Morgana volunteered in a firm, no-nonsense tone.

“Are you all forgetting that the creature’s now in the centre of the planet?” Lorraine purred. “You can hardly stroll down there to have a chat with it. You’ll have to engage it telepathically to communicate, which will leave you vulnerable to a psychic attack. A million rubles says not a single ordinary fairy would last two minutes against an ancient creature’s psychic attack.”

She shot Arthur a little smile, which he ignored. He and Morgana both shared a look to avoid having to see it.

“She’s right again,” Zed muttered. “Maybe Lorraine should be the one to – ”

“Lorraine wouldn’t hold up against a psychic attack either,” Tsi interrupted again, earning himself an outraged glare from Lorraine this time. “Morgana will go in, but Mallos will guard her mind. As he’s not here, I can say that he’s probably the only person I would favour against the ancient creature in a psychic battle.”

“I agree,” Allianah interjected, a little quickly. All eyes turned to her. “Tsi is correct. Send Mallos with a mortal diplomat.”

You want to give Mallos the limelight?” Lorraine goggled at her.

“No,” Allianah admitted, before adding gleefully, “but he’ll be so worn out by the time he’s done that he’ll sleep for a week.”

Tsi blinked twice and turned to Arthur with a shrug. “That appears to be settled then, as long as you have no objections?”

“None at all,” he sighed.

At Tsi’s suggestion, Morgana reached out with her mind to try and contact her father, frowning a little in concentration. He was easy to find, since he was monitoring the telepathic network and responded instantly to her request. As his mind opened, she caught a glimpse of the network beyond it and appreciated, for the first time, the enormity and difficulty of the task he had been set.

The network was immense, comprising every fairy on the entire planet. It was so big that anyone who wanted to send a telepathic message wouldn’t have a hope of even finding the person they wanted to contact, unless they were an expert in negotiating such things. Mallos, who was back at the castle, had been picking up on the messages people wanted to send, finding the person they wanted to communicate with on their behalf, and connecting them. A simple enough job, if tens – perhaps even hundreds – of people weren’t all trying to send messages at the same time. He had also been monitoring the messages to make sure people were communicating pictorially, and had intervened to send a warning whenever he picked up on a word-based message. Even now that she’d connected with him, Morgana could sense that she only had a fraction of his attention. Maintaining the telepathic network took most of his concentration. When she proposed Tsi’s idea to him, he was too preoccupied to respond immediately. When he did reply, it was not with words or images, but with a feeling: concern.

‘I’ll be fine,’ she reassured him.

Again, it took a few seconds longer than it normally would for him to respond. ‘What have you got to negotiate with?’

Fair question. Morgana relayed it to Tsi. He sighed.

“Its freedom.” Ignoring the unspoken protestations on the lips of the others present, he rode on. “It knows it’s defeated. We’ve still got the stones; we could defeat it again if we had to. Tell it we’ll set it free if it promises to restore our magic and then leave forever.”

This was accepted far more readily by Mallos than by Arthur, Allianah and Zed, who still looked unhappy. Morgana blocked out their unimpressed expressions by closing her eyes, and reached out with her mind towards the ancient creature.

It wasn’t hard to find, since its was the largest mind present. The moment she touched it, it recoiled and attacked, like a cornered animal. The icy tendrils of its mind gripped hers and, for a horrifying moment, she felt her limbs stiffen under its command – but almost as swiftly it was rebuffed again by an external, more familiar force. It seemed to be surprise more than anything which drove the creature back, since Morgana couldn’t sense anything particularly aggressive in Mallos’ counter-attack, just a firmness. The creature retreated back into its own mind and Mallos to the back of Morgana’s, where she could still feel his energetic vigilance. He must have stopped maintaining the telepathic network in order to focus on this to have responded so quickly; she wondered, rather slyly, how the rest of Shaman was reacting to suddenly being psychically lost at sea.

“Dear me,” Morgana smiled, letting the creature know she was there, “we are in trouble, aren't we?”

The creature hissed. Morgana could feel it softly stroking the edge of her mind, as though searching for a way in. “Unable to face me yourself, little Ana? Need daddy to protect you?”

“As daddies go, he's not a bad one to have around," she retorted, "makes himself useful every once in a while.”

“What would Phoenix think, to see you relying on a man?" it purred, “and a man like that, too.”

Mallos quietly sent Morgana an image of the water-benders, struggling to maintain the ocean wall. She understood. The creature was trying to delay them while it searched for a way out.

“You're losing your touch," Morgana told it, unshaken, “you're barking up the wrong tree. If you're looking for doubts to prey on you won't find them there.” She paused, drawing out the silence for as long as she could. “We're done playing your games," Morgana informed it curtly, “it's time for you to play ours. Restore our magic, and we'll let you go.”

The creature paused, as though considering it. The vibes she was getting from its mind were positive. It seemed promising – until she was hit, full force, in the side of her mind. Morgana had never experienced an aggressive psychic attack before; now she hoped she never would again. The creature was in her head before she or her father had any chance to react, pushing her deep inside herself. She lost her connection with Mallos, and the feeling in her body, and was left feeling like she did whenever she possessed Kraar – a helpless spectator. The creature opened her eyes and used her hand to form a fireball. She could see its thoughts as it deliberated over which of her companions to annihilate first, and she tried desperately and in vain to push against its mind. Its power was overwhelming.

It could only have lasted a minute or so, but it felt like the longest minute of Morgana’s life. She felt the creature freeze suddenly, both mentally and (through her) physically, and heard Mallos say forcefully to it: ‘let go.’ It did, instantly, and she staggered forward as control of her body was restored to her. The others had all moved forward, and Arthur took her arm.

“Are you alright?” He asked, concerned.

“What happened?” Tsi pressed.

“I'm fine,” Morgana snapped, tugging her arm away from Arthur as she regained her balance. When the king gave her a searching look her expression softened. “I'm alright,” she reassured him.

‘It possessed you,’ Mallos told her. She noticed that he’d opened up the connection so that the others could hear too. ‘So I possessed it.’

Tsi paled. “He can do that?” He stared helplessly at Arthur. “When did he learn to do that?”

Morgana smiled and closed her eyes while Tsi was asking Zed if it was even possible to possess someone who was already possessing someone else.

“I told you,” she told the creature, making sure it could sense her growing sense of smugness, “a girl could have a worse daddy, couldn't she? Now, sugar, how about that little deal of ours?”

There was a long, agonising pause. She could sense its desperation.

‘I accept,’ it grudgingly muttered, at last.

Written by Merlin & Aspelta

    • part five -

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