FALLOUT, PART TWO:
You want me to drink leaves boiled in water?
With a splash of lemon or perhaps milk, your majesty.
In times past, I shared my mission with the natives of this isle.
But that was centuries ago. Who could I trust now?
*Peter Morwood-Smyth, Lydia Duane, and Dr. Arnada pull up in a jeep.*
Well, you could start with them. They're good people. Like you.
THE LAST ENCHANTMENT, PART ONE:
You might be interested in what's at the bottom.
And what might that be?
Two dragons. One red and one white. It's a sight very much worth seeing. If I were you, I'd drain the pool to get a good look at them.
I must begin another quest, to find my friend and teacher, Merlin.
THE CRYSTAL CAVERN:
QUEEN OF NORTHGALIS:
You should thank me really, your pathetic quest was doomed to failure anyway.
And what would you know of it?
QUEEN OF NORTHGALIS:
Because Merlin is not in any of these ancient places you so fervently seek. Even now he roams the earth in his new form! *Laughs* You fool.
Arthur Pendragon sat hunched on one of the many sofas carefully placed throughout the Marter estate. His head, heavy with thought, rested on one fist, as his brow curdled with the perplexing riddle he had been presented. Where could he possibly hope to find Merlin? He had searched far and wide for some clue of his whereabouts, location after location that, for events small or large, had somehow come to be associated with the legendary mage. He had even considered the possibility that his mentor might be awaiting him at some location he had visited in what Arthur was certain had to have been one of his clever disguises. But it was all for naught. A few more possibilities had occurred to the king, but he found it difficult to work up the enthusiasm to visit them. Even disregarding the fact that each seemed to be a long shot at best, the words of Morgana's sister sorceress, the Queen of Northgalis, caused him to discard them. Villain though she was, the Queen had been all too eager to inform the Once and Future King of the futility of his search; that Merlin no longer dwelled at any of his ancient haunts. Arthur had little reason to doubt her words. Had he not been at her mercy? Why would she have bothered to lie to an enemy vanquished?
"Mr. Pendragon?" a high-pitched voice chirped, interrupting his troubled thoughts. Arthur felt a tugging at his sleeve, and turned to gaze into the hopeful eyes of a young, leonine face.
Arthur smiled genuinely. Una and Leo's daughter Lucy was an adorable child, and just the sight of her was enough to drive away his dark brooding. At least for the moment. "Yes, Lucy? What can I do for you?"
Lucy blushed and stammered slightly. "Well, that is, my brothers and sisters are all busy, and I was wondering if you'd like to watch a video with me."
"A video?" Arthur paused for a moment, frowning. Then he remembered. Lucy was referring to a video tape. A recording of one of the visions that could be viewed on the television. "Well-"
As it happened, Lucy's brother Caspian chose that moment to enter the room. "Hey, Little Lucy," he called to her. Then he noticed the box his sister held in her hands and grinned mischievously. "Oh, no, not those Soupy Cyborgs again. Don't you ever get tired of them?"
"That's SUPER Cyborgs!" Lucy snapped. "Super Cyborg Assault Armadillos. And Mr. Arthur's gonna watch with me!" She stopped suddenly remembering that he hadn't, as yet, specifically agreed to do so. "Right?" she asked him, fixing him with a honey-sweet gaze.
"Well-" Arthur tried again.
That, apparently, was enough agreement for the lass. "Great!" she cried out, hurrying across the room to flip on the television set.
King Arthur glanced at Caspian with a raised eyebrow, only to have the unicorn-headed creature offer a wry smirk in return. It would seem that he had been outmaneuvered. No matter. Perhaps a bit of time off with Lucy would help him to sort his thoughts regarding Merlin. King Arthur's eyes drifted back to the television, and then widened. "Wait a moment, please!" he called to the young gargoyle.
Lucy stopped just as she was preparing to insert the tape, a puzzled look on her face. "What is it?" she asked, peering at the screen herself. On the screen was a picture of an impressive hill, blanketed with shrubs and bushes. A number of men and women were walking from place to place carrying equipment of various kinds, while in the background, orange construction vehicles tore away at the earth. "So? It's just some hill-"
"Would you increase the sound, please?" Arthur asked. There was an urgency in his voice that compelled Lucy to obey, in spite of the siren call of the Assault Armadillos waiting in her hand. She turned up the volume.
The reporter, whom Arthur quickly recognized as the same woman who had interviewed Morgana about the Stone of Destiny, was in mid-sentence. "-here with Professor Arminius Fenn, the man in charge of the Dinas Emrys archeological dig. Professor, you claim to have discovered that this hill is, in fact, hollow. Could you explain?"
"Certainly, Regina," a barrel-chested man replied, "Dinas Emrys has an ancient reputation, and I took it upon myself to see how much of that reputation was based in fact. By triggering shockwaves in the ground and recording the echoes that return to us, we found that there is, indeed, an enormous hollow cavern buried beneath the hill. Considering that this area has been associated with the legendary wizard Merlin, we hope that by excavating the area we'll discover more of his artifacts. For that reason, I have asked that my fellow archeologists-"
By this point, the color had drained from Arthur's face. "No..." he said. Then he stood. "I must find Griff and Cavall."
"I think they're in the den, with Colin and Mother," Caspian answered, puzzled. "But why?"
"We must leave for Dinas Emrys at once," Arthur said.
"But what about the Armadillos?" Lucy protested.
Arthur's eyes softened. "I apologize, little one, but this is most urgent." Arthur took one of Lucy's hands and vowed, "Upon my honor, I promise to watch these 'Cyborg Armadillos' with you once I return. I hope that is consolation enough."
"Really?" Lucy beamed. "Okay, I'll see you later!"
"Peter?" Dr. Lydia Duane asked. "Peter, you haven't said a word since the flight in. Are you all right?"
Dr. Peter Morwood-Smyth cracked open a bloodshot eye and scowled slightly at the woman accompanying him. He was trying his best to sleep, and though the bus they were on was not terribly noisy, the same could not be said for his partner. "That, my dear Lydia, is because I am quite nearly dead from jet-lag. Just how do you cope, anyway?"
Lydia, apparently more relieved to have someone to talk to than she was concerned over her partner's troubles, pressed, "I'm worried about him, Peter. Do you suppose he'll get by all right while we are gone?"
Peter groaned, and straightened in his seat. It was becoming clear that sleep was not going to be an option just then. Extended travel affected different people in different ways. Some, like himself, became utterly exhausted. Others become overly energetic, bordering on hyperactive. Just his luck that his colleague happened to be one of the latter. "I wouldn't worry about Nokkar," Peter replied, a bit dryly. "He's managed to 'get by' on his own for the past several thousand years, if he's to be believed. I think he can cope for a week more."
"But he's never been so curious about this world before now!" Lydia insisted. "Suppose he gets it into his head to explore?"
"He won't," Peter answered bluntly. "Remember what he told us before we left..."
The pair of archaeologists stood before the alien, worried looks upon their faces. The creature's exact shape was obscured by the bulkiness of his space armor, but the thinness of his arms and legs led one to believe that the form within was not itself so bulky. Though towering a few feet over his guests, Nokkar was probably not more massive than either. More was difficult to discern, however, as his squarish head, reminiscent of the many stone monoliths that populated his Easter Island home, was the only part of Nokkar uncovered by armor. His sunken red eyes gazed upon the humans before him filled with worry of their own-not for his own sake, but anxiousness for the anxiety of his friends.
All of this save for the worry was lost on the two humans. In the months that they had been studying and being studied by the alien, they had long since ceased to notice his odd physical appearance. Aside from the fact that their interest in his alien body paled behind the interest they had for the secrets within his alien mind, they had come to regard him as a friend.
"Why are you troubled, my friends?" Nokkar asked. His voice was deep and resonant, though distorted, and seemed to carry the weight of centuries behind it.
The female human, Lydia, was the first to speak, "Nokkar, I'm afraid to say that something's come up."
"'Come up'?" the ancient space traveler responded curiously.
"We've been contacted by one of our colleagues," Peter continued, "a man by the name of Arminius Fenn. He wishes for us to be present at his latest archaeological dig.
"We tried to think of a reason not to go. I'm afraid he was most insistent that we be present at the dig. He is convinced it is going to be very important. Further protest might have made him suspicious." Lydia smiled. "Not that he'd ever be likely to guess that our extended stay on Easter Island has anything to do with an alien from outer space, mind you. But he's just the sort we wouldn't want snooping around here, just the same."
"So you have agreed to go," Nokkar nodded.
"It will only be for a week," Lydia reassured him, "perhaps slightly longer if Fenn has actually found something. Then we will return, I promise."
"This is an excellent opportunity," continued Nokkar. "For too long, my eyes have been turned to the stars. I know almost nothing now about this world, except for what little I've seen on this island, and what the two of you have told me. My ignorance nearly led to the destruction of several innocent beings. I must take advantage of this to learn more, to prevent any future such mistakes."
Seeming to sense his intent, Peter frowned, "One moment, Nokkar. We've talked about this, and we agreed that it would be best for you to remain hidden a while longer, until we find others trustworthy enough to entrust with your secret. Not all humans are benevolent creatures. For you to come with us would-"
Nokkar held up a hand and interrupted, "I understand, Peter. It was not my intention to travel with you, but I still wish to see the things you have been telling me. I wish to see for myself the advances humans have made in technology. The cities they have built. The cultures they have formed. But I need not see them firsthand."
With that, Nokkar stalked over to what appeared to be a featureless blank wall, and placed his hand upon it. The seamless surface split open in the liquid fashion possessed by many of the alien's devices, and a platform extended covered with a number of tiny spheres. The alien took two of them, and the wall sealed itself shut once more.
"What are these?" Lydia asked, as Nokkar dropped one into her hands.
"They are recording devices," explained Nokkar. "They create three dimensional images of the surrounding area while in use. If you carry these with you, when you return, I will be able to see what you have seen."
"Remarkable," said Peter. "Like tiny, 3-D camcorders."
"I will instruct you in their use," Nokkar said. "And I will await your return." The alien's slit of a mouth curled slightly into one of his rare smiles. "I do not think the days will be as lonely, knowing that you will be returning when they are through."
"Oh, of course," Lydia relaxed, patting her purse slightly. Within, the spherical alien device was even then recording their surroundings, though the seats of the bus bore little of interest-but who could say just what Nokkar would find interesting? "How silly of me to have forgotten. I'm rather giddy right now."
"So I'd noticed," Peter sighed. "Really, the one I'd be more concerned about is our dear colleague Arminius. Imagine, calling us from half a world away! Has he gone insane?"
Lydia chuckled. "With envy, most likely. You know how jealous he became when he learned of our discovery of Merlin's cave. Vowed that he'd be the next to make the next great Merlin discovery. How could he gloat properly, if we were not there to witness it?"
"You're probably right," Peter sighed tiredly. "Just as long as he lets us get some sleep, first. With that, Peter sank back into his chair, determined to sleep regardless of distraction. Lydia, mercifully enough, allowed him to do so.
The train sped quickly down the tracks under an overcast night. No one noticed the three figures riding atop the train. Only two gentlemen inside knew of the gargoyles hitching a ride. Colin looked across the compartment at his companion. Arthur, grim-faced and dour, said little.
Colin Marter finished reading an article in 'Archeology Today'. That month's issue covered Merlin folklore in the British Isle. The cover story was the excavation at Dinas Emrys. "So you think there are real dragons under Dinas Emrys?"
Arthur nodded. "That's what Merlin told me."
"You don't know?" Colin closed the magazine.
"It was long before I was born, back when even Merlin was only a lad." Arthur retold the tale. "Back then this was Snowdonia and Dinas Emrys was called Dinas Ffaraone, King Vortigern tried building a fortress on the hill. Every night, however, the ground would tremble and shake and the foundation collapsed. The king's soothsayer told him that only the blood of a fatherless child would calm the earth. Vortigern sought the boy Merlin since he had no human father. Merlin saved himself by telling the High King the true cause of the quakes. Beneath the hill there was an underground lake. In that lake, two dragons slumbered. The King dug under up the hill, drained the lake and found the dragons. They awoke and resumed an eternal feud."
"How were they stopped?"
"They exhausted themselves fighting each other. Merlin instructed Vortigern to bury the dragons, keeping them trapped, and later returned to cast a spell that would keep them that way. Thus they have remained."
"That was more than fifteen hundred years ago." The retired captain shook his head. "Surely the dragons have died by now. How can any animal last that long?"
"Morgana, Nimue and hopefully Merlin are still around after all that time. And I myself have lasted nearly as long in a similar slumber. It's possible."
"And you're afraid the excavation will somehow awaken them again."
"Merlin had a moral with the story, 'Let sleeping dragons lie.' It's been my experience that people of this age don't listen to warnings left by the past."
Griff fingered the braid of Brianna's hair. He smiled, picturing her smiling face and her beautiful eyes.
"Don't burst," Una laughed.
"What?" Griff came out of his reverie.
Una pointed to the lock of hair. "The one you're so sweet on. You look like you're about to burst. You're really taken with her."
Griff felt a little hesitant. Do you talk about the love of your life with your old girlfriend? Still, why keep it a secret. Griff smiled he couldn't help it when he thought about Brianna. "I don't mind saying I'm anxious to find Merlin, so I can see her again."
Arthur, Colin and Cavall found a small clearing in the woods and waited. The tall heather grass bent in waves as the night wind picked up. Griff and Una spotted them and landed.
"The site shut down for the night. Nothing seems out of the ordinary." Griff reported.
"Good," Arthur said, relief in his voice. They weren't too late. "Little we can do tonight. Griff, Una, take Cavall and find a place overlooking the site to spend the day. We'll try talking to whoever's in charge. Hopefully, we can come to some sort of agreement and be on the night train to London tomorrow."
"And if we can't?" Una asked.
"Then let's hope this is one legend that will remain a myth."
"What a wonderful night's rest!" Lydia exclaimed, stretching and yawning as she and her partner strolled toward the Dinas Emrys excavation. "I was sleeping like a log the moment my head hit the pillow!"
Peter looked back at her, the remnants of dark circles still present beneath his eyes. "Sure, rub it in," he snorted. He had barely slept at all, spending all night in a fitful slumber as his body insisted that it was supposed to be awake while his mind tried to convince it that sleep was the better option.
Lydia glanced back at him and chuckled, "Peter, considering how poorly you travel, I'd say you're in the wrong line of business."
Just as Peter was about to respond with a snide and irritable remark, a robust voice called, "Ah, there you are! Welcome, Dr. Duane, Dr. Morwood-Smyth." Dr. Arminius Fenn nodded to each in turn. "You slept well, I presume?" Peter opened his mouth to turn the biting retort he had prepared for Lydia onto this new target, but wasn't given the chance. "Good, good! Now, come along, and I'll give you a personal tour of our little project, here."
Peter shut his mouth, rather disgruntled, and glanced at Lydia. Lydia shrugged back, well aware of the difficulty of getting a word in edgewise when conversing with the talkative Dr. Fenn. With little alternative, the two of them followed their guide. Arminius, for his part, burst into a lengthy, rambling lecture on the history and legends of the area, both of which his two companions were quite familiar with.
Lydia took advantage of Arminius's inattention to broach a question to her drowsy companion. "Did you remember to bring your camcorder?" she asked, too quietly for Arminius to overhear.
"You mean Nokkar's sphere? Of course." Peter patted his pocket. Then he grimaced. "Though I'm not sure this is the sunniest side of human culture we're showing him." He gestured.
"What?-" asked Lydia, confused. Then, following his lead, she looked in the direction they were traveling. "My word!" she exclaimed.
The three of them had arrived at the site proper, and the sight was...breathtaking, in a way. The ancient landmark stood as it always had, but now sported an ugly gash in its side. Yellow vehicles scratched at the wound, deepening it, as trucks hauled the excavated material away. Arminius Fenn, apparently at the end of his pointless monologue, turned and grinned broadly. "Magnificent, isn't it?"
"Well, er," said Lydia, a bit flustered. "It's a bit more...intrusive than we're accustomed to."
"I suppose it might seem that way to an archaeologist used to dealing with smaller-scale digs," Arminius granted, with just the faintest hint of a condescending tone to his voice. "But I assure you, we've taken every effort to ensure that the landscape is disturbed only as far as it need to be. Take a look." Arminius gestured towards an area where the heavy vehicles had temporarily pulled away. A pair of men were positioning an odd, cylindrical device on the flat, freshly uncovered ground. One of the two loaded what appeared to be a bullet shell of some kind into the top of the device, and while the two braced it, the device fired the shell into the ground with a loud "thump". Nearby, a man entered a few commands into a computer terminal, as several others scrutinized the screen, scribbling in their notebooks. "By examining the contents of the ground before we dig, we are able to learn the best places TO dig." A bit of excitement entered Dr. Fenn's voice. "We've very nearly reached a man-made partition covering an enormous cavern! It is my hope that we'll find more of Merlin's artifacts inside. Tell me, my friends: What sort of treasures do you suppose we'll uncover?"
Lydia and Peter glanced at each other once more. It was clear that Arminius had already decided that he was about to make a breakthrough in archaeological history. "Well," began Peter, "as you know, the legends that associate Dinas Emrys with Merlin focus on an incident in his childhood. I'm not certain that he would have accumulated much in the way of artifacts by that time."
"I suppose you might find a dragon or two," Lydia smiled.
Arminius laughed, "Ha! Very clever! A dragon indeed. Well, we'd best be moving on. There's more I've yet to show you."
The two dignified gentlemen were a stark contrast to the multitude of squealing and laughing children barely being kept in a single, coherent herd by a gaggle of stressed-looking teachers and aides. At the front of the horde, a casually dressed man in a fedora cheerfully explained the history of Dinas Emrys, utterly oblivious to the fact that none of the children behind him were listening, or the fact that even had some wished to, his voice would have been more than drowned out by their chatter and laughter.
Near two the two dignified gentlemen, one teacher was being harried by a dozen or more children. "I'm hungry, Mrs. Watkins!" "I hafta use the WC, Mrs. Watkins!" "Mrs. Watkins, that man's got a SWORD!" (One of the two gentlemen hastily pulled shut his trenchcoat, which had been briefly opened by a stray gust of wind.) "Mrs. Watkins, I'm BORED!" "Can I have a drink of water, Minnie?"
The teacher sighed, and said, "Wendy, how many times must I tell you. My name is Minnie Watkins, but you are to call me Mrs. Watkins. All right?"
The young girl's forehead wrinkled with thought. "But Mrs. Henshaw calls you Minnie."
"Mrs. Henshaw is an adult. You are a child. You should call me Mrs. Watkins, just like the other children do."
"Okay, Minnie!" Wendy called cheerfully, disappearing into the seething mass of children.
"Mrs. Watkins, that man's got a SWORD! It's in 'is coat!" a voice called again, even more excitedly.
"Of course he does, um..." Mrs. Watkins eyes focused sharply on the child. "You're not in my class."
"No, Mrs. Watkins," the child grinned happily. "I'm in Mr. Gulliver's class."
Mrs. Watkins rolled her eyes. "All right, let's get you back to the rest of your class then, shall we?" Under her breath, but just loudly enough for the man in the trenchcoat to hear, she grumbled, "Someday, I'll discover who was DAFT enough to decide to send three classrooms' worth of seven-year-old students to an archaeological dig, and then..." Minnie Watkins moved out of earshot.
King Arthur adjusted his trenchcoat once more and turned a pained expression on his companion, an impeccably dressed fellow resting slightly on his cane. Colin Marter met his gaze with an amused lift of his eyebrow. "You did ask for the most immanent tour," the dapper man said drolly.
"So I did," Arthur sighed. Then his gaze hardened. "Look, over there! It's that fellow from the television program. Arminius Fenn. Come, my friend, we haven't a moment to spare." Colin nodded, and hurried after the Once and Future King, only a slight limp betraying his artificial leg.
The man known as Arminius Fenn had just dropped his fellow archaeologists off at the main tent that had been set up at one side of the dig. He was quite pleased to know that the two of them would be there for his moment of triumph, a moment long overdue, in his opinion. Desiring to get a status report on the dig, he had poured his guests some tea and left, promising to return shortly. All in all, Dr. Fenn was in extremely high spirits. All that was about to change.
"Professor Fenn!" a voice called. Arminius turned to see a handsome fellow with a neatly trimmed beard, clad in a trenchcoat. The man was followed by a dapper, well-dressed gent who was supporting himself with a cane. Neither was in the least bit familiar. Perhaps they were tourists. Well, whatever the case, they would have to leave. The area he was traveling through had many pieces of delicate equipment, equipment he'd rather not see the unwelcome visitors disturb.
Still, he was not about to let this unexpected arrival dampen his spirits. "Hello. Yes, I am Arminius Fenn. How may I help you? Have you become separated from your tour group? I'm afraid this area is off-limits."
The bearded man shook his head, a trace of urgency clear in his eyes. "No, we are not tourists. I have come to you with a warning. You must cease your excavations here!"
Arminius Fenn gawked at the man. "You cannot be serious."
"I am quite serious. If you continue in the fashion you have started, you could very well unearth more than you have bargained for."
"Absurd," Arminius scoffed. "The only thing I stand any chance of unearthing here are artifacts, artifacts that could revolutionize what we know about the magician Merlin. And those I have taken well into account, I assure you."
"Please, hear me out-" the man tried again.
"And why should I do that?" Arminius responded. "With such an outlandish request, you're either a looney, or a saboteur inflicted upon me by a particularly daft competitor. Oscar! Bernard!" two burly men, dressed in the uniforms worn by the scattered security guards in the area stepped up behind Arminius's unwanted visitors. "Please escort these two gentlemen to the gates. Now."
"But-" the man tried again.
His companion placed a hand on his shoulder. "Come, Arthur. It seems clear to me that we have worn out our welcome."
Frustrated, his partner nodded and the two of them left without further protest, pointedly guided to the entrance by Oscar and Bernard. Arminius nodded firmly, but was seething with rage. "How dare they attempt such an outlandish stunt?" he muttered. He shook his head in disbelief and once more resumed his journey to the center of the dig. Unfortunately, he found himself utterly unable to recover his cheerful mood.
Just outside the entrance to the archaeological dig, Colin Marter took a moment to dust off his impeccable attire. "Well, that did not go entirely as planned," he mentioned.
"I agree," Arthur sighed. "I have known men like this Fenn. They can be very difficult to convince of anything they do not wish to believe. Considering that our reasons for wishing the dig to cease would be difficult for most anyone in this day and age to take seriously, our mission seems all but impossible."
"Very true," Colin replied. "The best advice I can offer would be to return to town and attempt to devise a new strategy." Arthur nodded glumly, and the two of them turned to depart.
The pub was doing a brisk business. A football tournament was on the telly and half the town crowded around the bar rooting for their team. Arthur returned with their drinks. Darjeeling tea for the captain and a cup of coffee for the king. Arthur strained to look at the soccer game being played.
"At least one thing hasn't changed." Arthur nodded to the crowd, "A love of sport."
Captain Marter smiled over his tea. "It's not jousting but it has its moments."
The two looked out the window. The sun was close to setting. They finished up their drinks and made ready to leave when Arminius Fenn and his two colleagues entered the establishment. The three went to a booth on the other side of the pub. Colin looked to Arthur, but the king was already on his way.
"Oh, great!" Professor Fenn spotted the two nutters who disturbed things earlier, coming toward them. "Look, you two. I'm not here to get into a debate with you. We just want to have our meal in peace."
"You don't understand-" Arthur began, but Colin tapped him on the shoulder.
"Please," Colin took the forefront, "Professor Fenn, might we have a minute of your time? After that we won't bother you again this evening."
Fenn looked at them crossly, but at last shrugged. "Anything to get rid of you two."
"Thank you," Colin pulled up a chair. Arthur did the same.
"Professor Fenn, you are aware of the legend about the hill, Dinas Emrys."
"Yes," Fenn answered in a bored, irritated way, "That's why we are doing this dig."
"Then you are aware of the two dragons also detailed in the legend. Are you prepared to unleash that terror?"
"The dragons are just a myth." Fenn said dismissively.
"It's all myth to you." Arthur said hotly. Colin quickly covered.
"Why is the dragon part of the legend myth to you, but the other parts like Merlin and Vortigern's castle real?"
"We have physical evidence of the castle, its ruins, and we have corroborating evidence of Merlin in a number of texts."
"And what about the Chronicles of Joram?" Arthur questioned him. "He was an eyewitness to what happened here. Or is he just another myth."
Peter and Lydia looked at each other, but said nothing. Fenn smiled indulgently, "My dear man, you must take every account back then with a grain of salt. Joram was soothsayer to the king before Vortigern fired him for incompetence. He would certainly write such fantasies to cover his own bungling."
Professor Fenn cut off, Arthur before he could speak, "Bottom line, do you have anything to prove your claim other than fanciful notions? Give me one hard fact."
"This isn't a matter of facts and numbers." Arthur said calmly, "This is about belief. You study my time, but you don't believe in it."
"All we're asking is that you go slowly. Be circumspect about how you proceed." Colin said quickly so the others wouldn't catch Arthur's slip up.
"And I'm to take the advice of two strangers? I've studied and planned this dig for years. What credentials do you two have? Are you a member of the Royal Society, an Oxford Fellow? No? Then this discussion is over."
A loud beeping went off. Fenn looked at his pocket, checking his beeper. "That's the site. They've found something." Arminius got up, but Lydia and Peter didn't.
"Coming?" Fenn asked his colleagues.
"We'd like to stay. We're terribly famished." Lydia Duane explained. "Call us if you need anything."
Arminius nodded and departed giving Colin and Arthur a disdainful look as he left.
"You really mustn't mind him." Peter spoke to Arthur, "Fenn thinks a bit too highly of himself and not nearly enough of others."
"He's a pompous windbag." Arthur grumbled.
"Why can't he see reason?" Colin shook his head.
"Well, we'd like to hear more." Lydia stared at the two men, "Especially about the Chronicles of Joram. There are only three copies of that text in existence. Only tenured scholars can look at it after numerous written requests. How do you know about it?"
"We read a translation of it," Colin said unconvincingly. Arthur started to squirm in his chair.
The cavern beneath Dinas Emrys was a masterpiece of art, magic, and engineering. The cavern itself was an enormous, perfectly round dome, half white, and half black. At one of the corners where white and black stone walls touched the white and black floor, a glowing rock had been placed, flaring as brightly as the sun. At the opposite end of the room, the other union of white and black, there rested a similar stone, identical in shape, yet somehow siphoning the very light from the room around it. Had any been present to witness that second stone, they would have found it to possess a blackness so intense that it was almost painful to observe. The end result was that between the two stones, one end of the room was as black as the darkest night, while the other end was as bright as day. It was in the center of the cavern, illuminated by the twilight of the opposing stones, that the objects of greatest interest lay slumbering. At the center of a large, shallow, and perfectly circular lake were two tremendous beasts, half-submerged, and curled around one another like slumbering kittens.
One of the beasts, referred to in legend by the name of Albion, was an enormous brute, huge and bulky, and dwarfing his companion in spite of the fact that his companion was himself considerably large. The larger dragon was shaded a blood-crimson color, with just a tint of gold, from the front of his snout to the tip of his muscular tail. The body, though not supported by them now, possessed four stocky legs, each ending in a bluntly clawed foot. Upon the beast's back were folded an enormous pair of ribbed wings. The magnificent beast left little doubt as to why the people of Wales had adopted it's shape as the symbol of their country-his power and presence were like a palpable force. As the creature's body heaved with each peaceful breath, smoke curled from his nostrils.
The other dragon, Fafnir, was thin and serpentine, and though smaller than his companion, was much longer. His body was purest white in color, though the tip of each scale darkened to an icy blue shade before terminating. Fafnir's hind legs were slender, but powerfully muscled, while his forelimbs were thin, wiry arms ending in viciously taloned hands that nonetheless looked quite capable of doubling as a second pair of feet. Long, streamlined wings rested against the creature's body. While he did not appear as powerful as his large, red companion, Fafnir made up for it with an aura of speed and lethal ferocity. The water near Fafnir's sleeping head was coated with a thin sheen of ice.
The overall impression of the room was one of carefully prepared balance. This balance was rudely disrupted by a dull boom, followed by a section of wall on the black side of the room near to the dark stone crumbling into powder. As the dust cleared, a human shape could be made out in the entrance.
"Well, what is it?" Arminius Fenn asked eagerly.
"We seem to have broken through, sir," an aide replied.
"Excellent!" Fenn replied, rubbing his meaty hands together. Inwardly, he crowed, wishing more than anything that his colleagues Peter and Lydia were there to witness his moment of triumph. In spite of his excitement he maintained a relatively calm outward appearance, however. "Well, gentlemen? Shall we see what monumentous discovery we have uncovered?"
Arminius Fenn and his men moved into the room, two of them carrying a portable floodlamp, while the rest sported flashlights. The beams of bright light stabbed forth into the darkness, and for the first time in a thousand years, the amount of light in the room outweighed that of the dark.
"This room is enormous!" exclaimed Fenn. "Spread out. We must see what we can find-"
The rotund man was interrupted by a low, rumbling growl. The sound spread through the room and seemed to grip each intruder by the spine. "What was that?" Fenn asked, trembling in spite of himself.
In answer, the two men carrying the floodlamp tilted it towards the source of the sound. The light cut through the unnatural darkness generated by the dark stone illuminating a lake, with a small island at its center. A very sinewy island. An island that seemed to be moving.
When the island lifted its head and cracked open a slitted eye, Arminius and his collegues needed no further prompting. The archaeologists fled.
From their vantage point overlooking the entrance to the man-made tunnel burrowing into Dinas Emrys, Una and Griff could hear the low rumbling that heralded the dragons' awakening. The two glanced at one another, worriedly. When a half dozen screaming archaeologists emerged from the tunnel, their glances became a decisive nod, and the two of them took wing towards town.
"Mr. Pennington, I'm inclined to believe you." Lydia conceded. Shocked, Peter looked at his companion. Lydia patted his hand. "Come now Peter, how many know in detail the Chronicles of Joram? Not even you gave the dragons in the legend much credit."
"That's because they're symbolic of Briton and Saxon cultures, a metaphor."
"Peter, we've both seen myth come to life before. Why not here as well?" Lydia argued.
Peter let out a long breath and nodded his head, "Alright, until we learn otherwise, lets say you're speaking the truth. Now the question becomes what to do about it. Arminius isn't going to stop the excavation, just because we say so."
"Surely, you two have some pull with him?" Colin asked.
"'Some pull' is being overly generous." Peter put in, "But he will listen to us."
"It'll have to be enough." Lydia stood up, "Let's have a chat with our dear host."
Peter stood up as did Arthur and Colin. The four settled up their tab and were coming out of the tavern when an earthquake rattled the windows. The people in the tavern began murmuring in confusion. Some started streaming out of the pub and surrounding buildings to find out what was going on.
Professor Fenn's car came barreling down the road. The English professor jumped out. Arminius came running up to them. Arminius stopped to catch his breath, gulping lungfuls of evening air. Even winded, he maintained his composed, arrogant demeanor.
"We've run into a spot of trouble." Arminius began.
"What sort of trouble?" Arthur asked. Another tremble, not as severe, passed under their feet.
"Arthur!" Griff shouted. Una was carrying Cavall as the three gargoyles landed next to the king, heedless to being seeing in the open.
"My word!" Peter astounded at the newcomers. Arminius nearly jumped out of his skin in fright.
"We've got trouble." Griff told Arthur and Colin.
"So we've heard," Marter looked to the stunned Arminius.
"Gargoyles!" Lydia stared at Griff and Una with fascination. To Peter she asked, "I wonder if they know Goliath and Elisa?"
"Why, yes we do," Griff looked past Arthur to answer her, "But that will have to wait."
Suddenly, two roars came out of the night. It bewildered Lydia, Peter and Colin, but Arthur listened with a grim look on his face.
"The dragons. They're awake." Arthur surmised. Griff nodded.
"Help us!" Arminius cried.
Griff and Una flew over a speeding car returning to the excavation site. Griff noticed Una's despairing look.
"We can handle it," Griff reassured her, "Don't forget, Arthur and I tangled with a dragon before."
"I know, but two?" Una looked uncertain, "And the key to defeating that dragon was given to you. I don't know how we can stop these two."
"When problems arise, improvise." Griff summoned up all his cheer. "We'll handle these dragons famously."
Una had to smile. Griff's fathomless optimism was contagious. She did miss that about him. The unicorn gargoyle looked down at the car racing it's way to the site. She hoped Arthur could handle two dragons.
Below, Arminius clutched the wheel with a white-knuckle grip. He kept muttering, "I don't believe this. I don't believe this." Like the cosmos would listen and the dragons would miraculously disappear.
Suddenly headlights came racing towards them. Arminius swerved off the road to avoid collision. Lydia and Peter fell on top of him in the front seat, while Arthur and Colin slide on top of Cavall. A fleet of cars and trucks, the fleeing excavation team, streamed pass them. Arminius pushed Peter and Lydia off, swearing he'd have their heads for deserting.
"Assuming we survive this," Colin remarked darkly.
"Have heart, friend," Arthur tried bolstering their spirits, "Griff and I have faced a dragon before, retrieving Excalibur. With your help, we can deal with these two."
"I hope so." Colin tried to sit as comfortable as possible in-between king and beast.
"Pardon me, but did you say Excalibur?" Lydia turned around in the passenger seat.
"I suppose it does no harm in telling now. I am King Arthur."
"Great! Proof, he's off his rocker!" Arminius muttered.
"At least he's a nutter who cares," Peter shot back.
All arguments ceased when they entered the open gates of excavation site. Arminius stopped his vehicle, but left the motor running. Everyone piled out. Cavall immediately started sniffing the ground for any scent.
Arthur unsheathed his sword and took the lead. Nothing but a silent deserted excavation site.
"So? Where are the dragons?" Colin asked Arminius.
"Frolicking in some autumn mists. I don't know!" Arminius shot back.
"Quite! Both of you!" Arthur commanded. In a lower whisper, "If the dragons are still here, making all that noise is as good as ringing a dinner bell for them."
Cavall lifted his head. A growl growing in the back of his throat. He pointed toward the excavation cave. Arthur gestured for the archeologists to stay back. Griff told Una to stay with them as he joined his king.
Arthur looked to his knight. Griff answered his questioning glance. "Two against one seems hardly fair."
Cavall butted his head against Griff's leg. Griff grinned, "Now three is more like it."
Arthur, Griff and Cavall entered the cave. Griff caped his wings over him. "They'll do little good in here." He commented. "With any luck, we'll catch the serpents off guard and force them back." Arthur shared with the gargoyles.
A deep rhythmic rumbling caught their attention, the breathing of something very large. A blast of hot air came from deeper in the cave, followed by an icy chill. Cavall's growling grew as he got a stronger scent of their adversaries.
The ground beneath them trembled as the dragons' heavy steps came closer. The electric lights of the cave lit the red and blue-white hides of the two dragons. Both dragons filled the wide cave. They walked in a dazed trance toward the entrance.
Arthur charged them sword up raised. The dragons' unyielding advance knocked Arthur back. Griff and Cavall tried wrestling the titanic beast. Griff leapt on the red dragon's neck, but the serpent merely shook him off without a thought. Cavall tried biting the leg of the white dragon, but yelped in pain. The dragon's hide froze to the touch.
The gargoyles joined Arthur.
"Now what?" Griff asked.
"Know any rookery poems to deal with these two?" Arthur returned.
"None come to mind." Griff replied.
"Then I suggests a tactical retreat." Arthur offered.
"Sounds good to me." Griff took off after him. Cavall not far behind.
The three made it out of the tunnel just as ahead of the dragons. Free of the confining space, the dragons drew themselves to their full height. Una and the others gaped at the dragons. Arthur and Griff turned to face the dragons. The monsters suddenly stopped.
Both dragons paused at the entrance of the tunnel. First the red and then the white shook their heads, coming out of the trance. The white dragon snapped at the red one. The red dragon ducked beneath the bite and hissed back. The two dragons gave the gargoyles and humans little thought. They hissed and snapped, circling each other. Just before they lunged at each other in the throes of battle, the red dragon took off. He bellowed a challenge to the white dragon springing to the air and flew off. The white dragon hissed irately at the departing red one and flew off in the opposite direction. After a few thunderous wingbeats both dragons were gone.
Arminius came up to Arthur and Griff. "So what happened to a steadfast heart and an enchanted blade?"
Colin gave the Professor a quelling look. "Arthur? Griff? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine!" Arthur growled, "We were useless. No more than gnats."
"We can't worry about that now." Colin replied. "Those dragons are loose on the countryside. We have to stop them."
"How?" Fenn asked, "Our resident dragonslayer was a big help."
"All right, next time you go up against them. I'm sure they're just dying to trying roast twit-on-a-stick." Griff replied caustically.
"Why did they leave?" Peter pondered out loud. "Legends say they hate each other. I thought they'd resume their old battle."
"When I first awoke on Avalon." Arthur explained, "I was terribly thirsty and hungry. I'd wager the dragons are in a similar state. They've gone off to restore themselves. Once they're watered and fed. They'll be looking for each other."
"We have to stop them before that happens." Lydia spoke up.
"Which leaves back where we started. How?" Griff asked.
Una looked at the tunnel. "Maybe there's a clue inside. I'm might find out what spell was used."
"Capital idea." Colin seconded. "I'll go with you. Two heads are better than one."
The captain went to the shed and returned with walkie-talkies. "We'll be on channel four. If we find something, we'll let you know."
With a tip of his hat, he joined the unicorn like gargoyle entering the tunnel.
"And what do the rest of us do?" Peter asked. "Wait around for the dragons to come back for dessert?"
"No." Arthur said grimly, "We go after them."
"What!" Professor Fenn shouted.
"The dragons are still weak. We'll have a better chance of taking them down, especially now that they are alone."
"Arthur," Lydia and Peter came up to him. "We'd like to help."
The king nodded. "Dr. Smyth come with me. Ms. Duane, you can accompany Griff."
The gargoyle in question tossed a walkie-talkie to Arthur.
"Keep in contact. If you find them, call back before you tangle with them, Griff." Arthur instructed.
"You know me." Griff smiled.
"In for a penny, In for a pound." Arthur smiled, "Just be careful."
"Might as well get in on the action." Arminius tossed up his arms. "If we can stop them in time maybe I can save my job."
The two teams split up. Arthur, Cavall and Peter Morwood-Smyth heading west. Griff, Arminius Fenn and Lydia Duane heading east.
"What is that gadget?" Arthur asked Peter as they hiked through the hinterland.
"This?" Peter held up the strange, spherical device. "Oh, just something I picked up on Easter Island."
'Too bad it isn't one of those magic energy weapons.' Arthur thought about MacBeth's armory of weapons. He wished he had one of those lightning guns now.
"Too bad we don't have a tank with us." Peter commented. His thoughts paralleling Arthur's.
Cavall began growling, drawing Arthur from asking more questions. The king strained his ears to hear what the gargoyle beast heard. It was faint, but he heard lapping. He gestured Peter to come along, but quietly.
The two crept their way to a small lake. There, a quarter way around the pond, the red dragon drank. The dragon, Albion, was an impressive sight. He resembled the stone dragon except he was nearly twice as large. His scarlet wings were folded along his back. Each crimson scale glinted with a golden edge, giving the dragon a soft patina. Holes on either side of its neck allowed small wisps of steam to curl upward. Its beauty almost made one forget the desolation surrounding it. Charred tree trunks and glowing embers circled the dragon.
"Magnificent," Peter whispered, capturing the dragon on his weird video recorder.
Arthur simply shook his head and moved a little further. His sword glowing a faint blue as he approached. Cavall was on his heels, quiet as a shadow. Suddenly the night wind shifted, carrying their scent right to the dragon. He stopped lapping. His eye turned up from water to the surrounding forest. It scanned the area, left to right and back again. Finally fixing on Arthur, the eye glowed a bright white.
"Blast!" Arthur dove clear as the dragon let out a fiery blast.
Arthur rolled onto his feet and squared off against the dragon. Albion reared up about to let out another scorcher, but gave a strangled cry instead. Cavall clamped on the dragon's tail and wouldn't let go. The dragon snarled and flicked his tail, whipping the red gargoyle beast into a nearby stand of bushes. Arthur took the opening, charging out of the brush. He let out a battle cry and swung Excalibur at the largest scale covering the beast's chest. The dragon hopped over the charging king. He smacked Arthur on the back with another flick of his tail. Arthur stumbled forward, but recovered his balance quickly.
Albion let out a breath of fire that would have charred the king if he hadn't jumped out of the way. Arthur was scrabbling to his feet when the dragon laid a claw on him. The force of the dragon's claw knocked the wind out of the king.
"Hey! Hey!" Peter jumped from his cover, waving his arms. The dragon paid him no heed. He wasn't going to give up the prey he had for one he'd have to catch. Peter had to think fast.
"Sorry for breaking the secret, Nokkar," He whispered to himself, before changing the settings on his camcorder. He aimed it at the other side of the lake and turned it on.
The dragon was about to rip into Arthur, when it stopped. Across the lake, another red dragon quietly drank from the lake. It looked exactly like him. Curious, the dragon moved across the lake to get a closer look. He forgot about Arthur, leaving him gasping for air. Peter came to help the king up.
"Come on Arthur. That hologram won't fool that dragon long." Peter got under Arthur's arm and helped him into the woods.
Albion peered at the dragon. It had no scent and up close it made no sound. It didn't even look up as he approached. Albion nudged its flank and passed right through. The scarlet dragon was shocked. Suddenly, the second dragon vanished completely. Albion roared it rage, flaming the entire forest ringing the lake.
"What a remarkable place," noted Colin Marter, as he and his gargoyle companion emerged into the now-vacant cavern the dragons had once occupied. "Black and white. Light and dark. Wet and dry. It seems to be a motif of opposites."
Una nodded slowly. "There was clearly a balance here," she said. "A delicate balance. I've little doubt that that balance was vital to whatever spell was keeping the dragons asleep."
"Then you have some idea as to how to proceed?" Colin asked.
"In a way. I know of a number of spells that could put the beasts to sleep," Una said, "But none last more than a week or so. We'll need to use the same spell that Merlin used, if we want to return them to a similar slumber. That spell, in conjunction with the balance in this cave, will solve our problem. Unfortunately, I have no idea what spell Merlin might have used, if that spell hasn't been lost in the fifteen hundred years since it was cast."
"I do not believe that will be a problem," Colin Marter chuckled.
Una gazed at him curiously. "Oh?"
"When Merlin trapped the dragons the first time, he had to know that they could well be released again eventually," the British gentleman explained. "And that he might well not be around to do anything about it. Now most of the stories I've heard about the fellow described him as a reasonable chap, so I think it's quite likely that he would have left a copy of the spell here, so that when poor saps like ourselves undo his hard work, we'll have a chance to put it right again."
Una thought about this. "You could be right. But where would the spell be?"
"In this room, I'd guess," Colin shrugged. "It might not be obvious. Merlin was a sneaky fellow, and he might have wanted to keep the spell secret until it was really needed."
Two pairs of eyes were immediately drawn to the dark half of the room, an area deeply shadowed by the stone of darkness at that end. "Well," said Una, "I'd say that's a good place to start."
"But what can we do? I don't think that a flashlight could compete with that darkness, and we aren't carrying any anyway. Even if the spell is there, we couldn't possibly see it."
Una pondered this, tapping the ground with her hoof slightly. It was then that she noticed the blemish in the cave floor, a shallow groove almost too subtle to see. Examining it, she found that it seemed to curve all around the lake on an arc that would intercept each stone, were the light and dark not too intense to make it out in those areas. "I think the stones can be moved," Una said.
Colin followed her eyes and nodded. "Interesting. But won't that upset the balance?"
Una shrugged. "With the dragons gone, I doubt it matters. We'll just put the stones back in place when we're through. Follow me, and stay close. We'll move the dark stone out of the way. Perhaps then we'll be able to see if there is any writing on the wall."
Colin smiled. "Well, I never cared for rock and roll, but in this case, I'll make an exception." Una grimaced.
The two of them approached the dark stone, their visibility soon dropping to zero. Ironically enough, however, the stone could still be seen, its gut-wrenching darkness a black far greater than any mere lack of light. The darkness pulled at the eyes of the mortals approaching it in a very disturbing manner, yet the two of them were able to use that pull to stay on track.
"I've got it," said Una, and Colin nearly jumped. The blackness around them was so intense that he had been certain it was sucking the very sound from the air around them. But no, their ears and voices appeared unaffected. Colin could hear the stone rolling away. "Let me know when the wall is visible, Una called.
After a moment, the darkness began to recede, and the white and black divided wall before him became visible. It was distressingly blank. "Una!" he called. "There's nothing written here."
"No?" Una called, disappointed. "To be truthful, I am not surprised. Writing on one wall would upset the symmetry of the room, and to write a match on the opposite wall would betray the secrecy Merlin was striving for. But why, then, can the stones be rolled at all?"
Suddenly, Colin flashed an idea. "Don't stop! Keep rolling the stone."
"All right," Una replied. She sounded puzzled, but complied.
Colin followed the slowly moving blanket of darkness as it circled the lake, approaching closer and closer to its opposite. "This is odd," Una's voice called. "I'm starting to see again."
"Exactly!" Colin replied "Just as I had hoped! Keep going!" The stone of light now appeared dim enough to focus on without pain.
Soon, a slight 'thump' was heard as the stone of darkness nudged against the stone of light. Both stones were nearly the same shade of grey, now, though the dark stone was slightly darker than its opposite. And there, written on each, were words and symbols. They had found the spell. Una gazed at them and smiled. "Well done, Colin."
Colin bowed at the waist. "My pleasure, milady. How does it look?"
Una studied the spell a moment, and then withdrew a notebook from a pocket of her gown and began copying the spell as she looked it over. "It's not as long as it looks. The spell is written many times on both rocks. Probably both to uphold the symmetry and to make sure that however the rocks were rolled, the spell would be readable." Suddenly she froze. "Actually, it's a very good thing that the spell is short."
"Why is that?" asked Colin.
"It'll have to be cast at dawn, when the day is equal parts light and dark." She glanced worriedly at her clan's friend. "I don't suppose you've been holding out on us and have been practicing sorcery on the sly?" Colin shook his head. "Then I suppose I'll have to make do," she sighed.
Hoarfrost covered the neighboring trees. The forest went from a verdant green to a wintry white in a few steps. Lydia buttoned her coat up to the top. Arminius clapped his hands together to warm them.
"Must be the dragon." She surmised. Griff nodded agreement.
"So you know Goliath and Elisa." Griff struck up conversation to lighten the mood.
"Yes, we met both of them on Easter Island. Count to think of it, they also mentioned an Avalon. I just thought the meant that island in California."
"It's a long story, but the highlights are that Avalon sent Goliath and his companions all over the place. It also sent Arthur to London where I met up with him."
"So now the Once and Future King is back to save Britain from danger." Arminius sounded skeptical, but his voice didn't hold his customary arrogant tone.
"That's the story." Griff replied evenly.
"I explain that to the fellows in Oxford, I'll be out on the streets like the UFO nut, Adrians." Arminius seemed to mellow down since this all started.
"Lucius? Dismissed?" Lydia was surprised. "But how?"
A crackling came from walkie-talkie. "Hello. Is anyone there?"
Lydia turned on their handset. "Yes, Peter, go ahead."
"We've run into the red dragon. Arthur and his dog gargoyle are down for the moment, but not seriously hurt."
Griff looked worriedly at Lydia, but she patted his arm for reassurance.
"We've found signs of the other dragon." Lydia continued, "But haven't come across it yet."
She looked to Griff. "What do we do now?"
With Arthur out, if fell to Griff to lead. The gargoyle took a deep breath. "Tell Dr. Smyth to sit easy. Hopefully, Arthur and Cavall will come to soon. We'll continue to search for the white dragon."
"You got that, Peter?" Lydia asked.
"Roger," Peter answered, "One thing, Lydia take a pictures of it. They can be good decoys."
Peter's signal died out. Professor Fenn looked at the lady archeologist handing the handset to Griff.
"Pictures? Decoys?" he asked.
"Later." She dodged the question, "Look!"
The white dragon, Fafnir, flapped his wings a couple times before coiling itself to rest. He rumbled sated in the middle of a meadow. Bits of wool, signs that a herd of sheep once was here. This dragon wasn't like the stone one they fought in New York. This dragon was more serpentine. White scales edged with blue covered his hide. Wings of snow white, pale blue underneath lay spread open, tips touching the ground.
"Gorged himself on sheep." Fenn surmised.
"Peter, Una. We've found the white one." Griff spoke into the handset.
"Peter, here. Arthur and the beast are back among the living. Here," Dr. Smyth spoke up.
"What's the state of your dragon?" the king asked over the walkie-talkie.
"Resting. He's just had a big dinner." Griff explained, "Any ideas on what to do now."
"Direct force won't work," Arthur informed the others, "We need another way to bring them to heel."
"Colin and Una here." Captain Marter was on the line. "We've found something."
Una spoke through the handsets next. "I found the spell to put them to sleep. We need to get both dragons here."
"I'm fairly certain we could lure the red one back." Arthur replied. "How about you, Griff?"
"Difficult to say. This dragon doesn't look like he wants to go anywhere." Griff replied.
"I've got an idea." Dr. Morwood-Smyth entered the conversation, "Lydia, have you taken a picture of your dragon."
Ms. Duane was just coming back from the edge of the clearing. "Just got it." She relayed to Griff.
"Good." Peter continued. "If you can transmit that image here, I'll send mine to you. Project it in the sky. That should lure the dragons back to the hill."
"Transmit? Project?" Professor Fenn looked at Ms. Duane as she toggled switches and pressed buttons. "What kind of video recorder is that?"
"Done." Lydia crowed. A slide indicator went from red to green as information passed between devices. "Projecting."
In the sky above the clearing, the holographic image of the red dragon hovered. The white dragon cracked its eyes open a bit. Seeing its nemesis, Fafnir opened his eyes blazing a blood red. The dragon lifted its maw and roared, sending a blast of ice breath. The blast went right through the image, but Lydia was already moving it back toward the excavation site.
The white dragon lifted its wings and in a few beats was airborne. Lydia kept projecting the image. As the dragon roared its fury at its enemy. Griff, Arminius and Lydia started back.
"We're on our way." Griff spoke into the handset.
"Time to get our guest to the party." Peter helped Arthur to his feet. The king waved off his assistance.
"I'll be all right. You think you can do this?"
"You said it yourself. Once they're rested up, they'll be looking for each other." Peter lifted up his recorder. He pushed the project button and a white dragon lazily flapping its wings appeared over the lake.
Albion still enraged over the false dragon grew even angrier when it caught sight of the white dragon. It took wing, charging right at the hologram. Peter started back toward the site. Arthur and Cavall close behind.
Griff and the archeologists came out of the forest toward the excavation.
"I hope your gargoyle friend has everything set up." Arminius hoped.
"Una's a competent sorceress. She'll come through." Griff said confidently running next to him.
"Do you two see the dragon? I lost sight of him." Lydia brought up the rear, still projecting the image.
"No." Griff scanned the sky. "Look, there's Arthur."
The King, the doctor and the beast came barreling out of the forest. A thunderous snapping and cracking of tree trunks followed them. The forest grew two large glowing eyes before the dragon burst from the trees.
"Cavall!" Arthur shouted. Like reading his mind, the gargoyle beast got under Peter Morwood-Smyth and rode them both safety. The crimson dragon rent the air with an ear-piercing shriek. Its mouth opened to clamp down on the king.
Arthur spun around with sword gleaming. He made a thin slash across the dragon's tongue. The dragon shriek with wrath and pain.
"Back, monster!" Arthur kept running.
Enraged, Albion scorched the ground, not aiming, just firing. Arthur didn't stay put for the dragon's reaction. The red dragon lost Arthur in the flames and now looked around for another victim. He saw the group of archeologists and gargoyles. Albion sprung on the group, leaping over the flames and Arthur. The heroes only had time to see the dragon come down on them. Escape was impossible.
A bolt of white hit the dragon square in the flank. Albion crashed into one of the earthmovers. The others looked up to see Fafnir hovering over them. Blood red eyes glowing with rage at the other dragon. Albion looked at its side encased in ice. One breath of fire melted the ice. He snorted at his opponent. Fafnir dove for the red dragon. Both became entangled in the throes of fighting.
Arthur joined his stunned companions. They ran for the tunnel, getting out of the way of the two fighting dragons. It was a fearsome sight as dragons rolled and tussled trying to subdue the other.
Fafnir took off again. Flying in a low arc, swinging around for another pass. He was coming out of the turn when a stream of flame streaked in front of him. The white-blue dragon backwinged to avoid the fire. Albion lunged upward after the dragon, swinging his flame toward the dragon. Fafnir pitched and rolled, dodging the fire. Fafnir let out and ice blast. It struck with Albion's fire making a plume of steam, followed by a short clap. Whenever ice and fire met, the water expanded so fast it created a small thunderclap.
Both dragons charged each other. At the last minute, they climbed upward. Claws raking, necks twisting trying to wrap around their opponent's. Fafnir pulled ahead, climbing, higher and higher. He back-flipped. Head snapping back, neck arced back, he rolled backwards. As his tail came around he lashed it out like a whip at Albion's head. The crimson dragon was hit. Albion plummeted, but recovered chasing after the white dragon.
Arthur looked to Una and Colin. "You said you knew how to stop them."
"Yes." Una began. "The spell requires equal and opposites. Once cast, the dragons should sleep unless someone disturbs it." She cast a meaningful glance and Prof. Fenn.
"Now tell us the bad news." Griff commented. "What's keeping you from casting the spell right now?"
"Two things." Una explained, "First, the spell involves opposites. I need to cast it at sunrise, when light and dark are both present."
"And how do you propose doing that before we turn to stone?" Griff asked.
"I'll have to cast fast." Una said less than confidently.
"What's the other provision?" Arthur asked.
"The spell won't work unless they are close together, and holding still. I doubt that getting them together will be a problem, but keeping them still is another story." Una explained.
"We could try the mickey in the mead trick, again. A sleeping potion worked for King Lot on these very dragons, years before Vortigern dug them up." Peter offered.
"Somehow they don't look like they're terribly thirsty." Arminius pointed to the battling dragons. "Besides sunrise isn't that far off. We don't have time for that." Griff added.
Colin looked around, spotting the utility shed. "Professor, am I correct that you used charges on the hillside?"
"Yes." Arminius answered, trying to figure out what Colin was getting at.
"Those dragons maybe tough, but I'm wagering an explosion might be enough to knock them unconscious." Colin explained.
"You want someone to get in between those two. Drop a bomb and run like crazy, hoping to get clear of the blast."
"If you've got a better idea, now is the time to wow us with your amazing intellect." Griff sniped.
Arminius just kept going. "So who are you going to get to make this suicide run?"
All eyes fell on Arminius. He stepped back, shocked.
"I'll do it," Griff said solemnly.
"Griff! No!" Una protested.
"No other way around it. The dragons are airborne, only someone with wings can reach them. You have to stay down here and cast the spell. Let me at those charges."
"I have them on remote, so I won't set them off until Arthur sees you're safe." Colin watched Griff secure the stick of C4 on his belt.
"Are you sure you know how to work the charges?" Griff asked.
"I was a Captain in Her Majesty's service. I know munitions. Just get clear of the blast. I don't want to blow you away."
"That makes two of us." Griff joked.
Griff climbed the hill and was airborne. He lost sight of the dragons for the moment. The cloud cover hid them from view, but he could see their battle. The clouds light red or white before evaporating or snowing. Ice and fire met in thunder claps. Boom! Boom! A chain of smaller pops. Griff headed for the action.
The waxing moon lit the tops of the clouds like a mythic landscape. Nimbus clouds forming mountains and ridges. Cumulus clouds rolling hills of silvery white or islands on the night black sea. Fire erupted from one of the 'hills'. Fafnir emerged. Albion still blasted the thunderhead, trying to ferret out his enemy.
Griff went after Fafnir. He preferred to go after the smaller red dragon, but he could see the white dragon. Hunting for the red one in a cloud while it's fire-blasting every which way was sheer madness. Griff took an updraft a little higher.
Fafnir kept his eyes trained on the cloud, waiting for Albion to show himself. Griff dropped on top of him, right between the wings and neck. Fafnir's hide froze to the touch, cold enough even for the gargoyle to feel it. Griff didn't let this stop him. He sank his claws into the dragon's hide. Fafnir gave a fearsome bellow. He turned around trying to snap at the gargoyle, but Griff was on the one spot the dragon couldn't reach. Griff could feel his talons grow numb. The dragon swiveled a glowing red gaze at the offending gargoyle. Griff gave a small quirky smile and took off. Fafnir turned on the wing and chased the English gargoyle.
"Well, you wanted him mad." Griff said to himself as he dodged an ice blast. Fafnir's powerful wingbeats quickly closed the distance between dragon and gargoyle. He opened his maw for another blast, when a streak of red caught his eye. It was his nemesis. The white dragon quickly forgot the gargoyle and let out an ice blast at the unsuspecting dragon.
The ice blast went right through Albion. Fafnir backwinged puzzled. He lunged for the dragon and fell right through the image. Down on the ground, Peter switched off the hologram projector, nodding to Arminius.
"Just because we're on the ground, doesn't mean we can't help." Arminius explained as Lydia hugged Peter projecting the image from his alien camcorder.
Fafnir recovered from the lunge and saw the real red dragon. Albion gave him a challenging roar that Fafnir returned. The dragons charged each other.
Griff took one look at the lightening sky. "It's now or never."
The English gargoyle dove in a shallow arc, catching an updraft that catapulted him upward. He rose up right in the middle of the dragons' flight path. Griff tossed the charge high in the air and closed his wings tightly around him. The gargoyle fell like a rock. The charge twirled end over in the moonlight. Griff continued to plummet.
"Come on! Come on!" Arthur watched it all through the binoculars.
The dragons inhaled about to attack.
Colin hit the button. The sky overhead lit up followed a second later by a concussive boom, that knocked the archeologists, Arthur and Colin to the ground. Arthur scrambled to his feet, binoculars pressed against his face. He found Griff toppling end over end.
"Open your wings, Griff. Open your wings!" The gargoyle was about to disappear into the forest when his feather wings snapped open and he pulled out of the drop. Everyone on the ground let out a cheer that was quickly strangled as the two dragons came crashing down. Griff had to tuck and roll to avoid the plummeting bodies, but he got clear.
"Una! The spell!" Griff shouted.
Everyone looked to brightening sky. They didn't have much time.
The two dragons crunched painfully into the ground, where they lay stunned. Una quickly stepped forward, her notebook held in one hand, and the fingers of the other spread in a casting position. She began to cast the spell, eyes filled with both worry and determination. The arcane syllables flowed from her mouth, and streams of light and dark energy twisted around her body, flowing along her casting arm until they twisted together into a basketball-sized sphere, half black, and half white, just in front of her fingertips. Una's mouth closed around the last syllable even as the sun peeked over the horizon. Just before her arm stiffened into stone, she jerked her arm forward, and the bicolored globe blasted forth, enlarging as it flew until it engulfed the two dragons. The creatures jerked slightly, and then settled into a smooth, rhythmic breathing. They were asleep once more.
"It's finally over," murmured Arminius Fenn.
"Not quite yet, actually," Colin Marter answered. "According to what Una told me, the spell will only last a day, unless we can get them back into that cave and put it back the way it was."
"You don't need to worry about that," Fenn replied, his voice turning hard. "Whatever the expense, I'll make certain that that cavern is just as I found it by the day's end. I made a terrible mistake today, and Arminius Fenn always takes responsibility for his mistakes." He glanced at the stone figures of Griff, Cavall, and Una. "I'll also take steps to ensure that your gargoyle friends will be taken to a safe location until they awaken-unless our legendary king would like to carry them home?" Arminius smiled slightly.
"Thank you, but my pride has already suffered one blow today," King Arthur replied ruefully. "I should not like to test it again so soon with such a task."
"Then we do have something in common," Arminius replied. "The next time someone warns me of dragons in my dig, I'll listen."
Relaxing as the bus carried them back to the airport, Lydia and Peter discussed the events of the past few days. At the moment the two of them were laughing. "Well, it would seem that Merlin's 'scabby, boney boy' has filled out a bit since the day Merlin met him," Lydia chuckled.
Peter had to laugh at that. "Very true. I wonder if he's had a chance to read the Scrolls of Merlin. I have the distinct impression that doing so would take another notch out of his pride."
"Still, you have to admit that some of Merlin's other words fit our savior perfectly," Lydia mused. "I'm not sure which is more true, that Arthur proves the scrolls' authenticity or the other way around. Or both."
Peter's face clouded slightly. "Of course, you realize what it means if Arthur is the genuine article."
"His country is going to need him," Lydia finished with a frown. "Hardly a cheerful thought. Especially with the tales Nokkar has been telling us of these 'space spawn' of his. I wonder what he'll make of King Arthur, and the prophesies associated with him."
The two of them rode in brooding silence for a few moments. Finally, the silence was broken by Peter. "Well, even without Arthur, I'd say that Nokkar got a bit more than he bargained for," Peter said.
Lydia smiled, "I agree. We'll have to assure him that dragons aren't a regular part of human society."
Peter paused thoughtfully, and then grinned. "I wonder if it will stay that way."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, it isn't long ago that we would have said the same thing of gargoyles and aliens."
Lydia was startled. "True. Do you...do you suppose there could be more?"
"More dragons?" Peter asked. "I really don't know. But at this point, I wouldn't be at all surprised."
"You'll certainly have a whopper to tell the others." Leo smiled.
Griff grinned companionably. "You know, I've outflown Messerschmidts, a pair of man-hungry females, and now two dragons. It's going to be hard to top that."
"I'd be glad if you didn't." Una commented. "Next time, let's watch our monster movie instead of living one."
"That reminds me," Lucy shook the video cassette. "Come on, your Majesty. Pleasseee?"
Arthur looked to Leo and Una but they couldn't help. Arthur was about to speak, but Lucy's pleading eyes overpowered him.
"Alright. Let's see this modern storytelling."
Lucy gave a whoop. "You're going to love the Armadillos. The dragon they fight is very lifelike."
"Another dragon?" Arthur looked severely put out.