I must begin another quest, to find my friend and teacher, Merlin.
They're called the Illuminati... the way I hear it, they run everything.
Mr. Duval is on the phone.
I'll return the call later.
Is it wise to keep the Illuminati waiting?
XANATOS *slight pause*:
She's lying, Goliath! The past can't be changed. History is immutable. She admitted that herself. This is the kind of situation you see on television. Bad guy pretends to reform, gets in good with the good guys, then betrays them.
She's not talking about a different timeline - she's from a parallel universe... I think...
No, mother. She's not a clone. She's... she's you.
Not exactly... She's you, but from another universe - a parallel dimension. We... we don't know how she got here yet... but Owen is trying to find a way for her to go back.
Shall I continue to assume, then, that your presence here and the events of the past few hours are not merely coincidental?
We will reveal not more of our purpose here tonight, dear brother.
But we would not give you false hope on this strange and mournful day.
Amends for the past will be made in time. New chapters shall be added to the stories we have written.
Evening approached the windswept Salisbury Plain. On a hill in the midst of the plain stood the monument, Stonehenge. The massive stone megaliths stood silent witness to the ages and all the mysteries that unfold in the fullness of time. Soon it would gain another secret.
Enid and Faruz arrived in a black sedan. Opening the boot, both began to unload equipment. Faruz carried bundles of metal rods while Enid brought the laptop and the camcorder. Faruz looked around anxiously, like they were committing a crime. The platinum blonde regarded her nervous partner.
"Don't worry, we have the whole site to ourselves." Enid pushed open the fence, a necessity against vandals and graffiti-artists.
Faruz wasn't any more relieved, but he followed Enid in. Soon it would be dark. They had to hurry. While Enid set up the computer equipment, Faruz set about planting the rods along the outer perimeter of Stonehenge. The afternoon sun slipped slowly below the horizon.
Arthur was sipping coffee in a diner. According to the menu, it was a mocha-caffe-half-latte-Chapuletpec blend, but it tasted like coffee to him. It was one of many new tastes, smells, sights, and sounds he had experienced since he awoke. Though Merlin's moss-tea blends had some kick to them, none where as tasty as coffee. He had to thank Leo for introducing coffee to him.
A bell on the front door rang as the tour leader returned to his group. Half the restaurant turned to hear what news he had about their situation.
"Sorry friends, but it looks like Stonehenge is closed for at least a day." The tour guide waited for the groans to die down. "Don't worry, we have priority when the site opens tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy the town. We'll meet in front of the hotel at eight tomorrow."
A crowd clustered around the guide asking questions. Arthur dropped a few shillings on the counter and slipped out. He looked to the sky. The sun neared setting. Better join Griff and Cavall before they woke up. On the way, Arthur put thought to how to visit Stonehenge.
Like any good leader, Arthur looked for the advantage in every situation. Stonehenge was closed to the public today, but what about at night? Griff could certainly fly him over and he could spend some time there without noisy tourists and gabbing tour guides. The more he thought about it the more ideally it suited him. Visiting Stonehenge at night was better than visiting it in a tour. He found his friends and waited for sundown.
"Look out! I'm going to test 'em" Enid shouted. Faruz jumped out of the way just as the poles came to life. Energy crackled up the rods, collecting in a crystalline globe on top. The energy hummed higher and higher until Faruz felt his glasses vibrate in resonance. Before it got that far, Enid shut the apparatus down. The humming diminished until all was silent.
"It works! I knew it would! The converter works!" Enid was exuberant.
"So now what?" Faruz asked.
"Now, we tie in the converter into my computer and open a window in time. With my mystical converter and your chants, this will be easy."
"Shouldn't we report our progress?" Faruz asked.
"If you want to tell the Illuminati what they already know, go right ahead. Me, I want to have something more positive to report." Enid turned her attention back to the computers.
Faruz took out his cellphone, but thought about what Enid said and returned it into his jacket. Until they secured the information the Illuminati wanted, best not to bother them. The sun had completely set. Faruz turned on the floodlights circling the area. It promised to be a long night.
Stephen finally disengaged himself from the talkative woman. He joined his partner by the bar. Bruce hid a little mirthful smile as Stephen ordered another coffee.
"Next time, you pump the locals for information," Stephen said to his partner.
"Did you learn anything?" Bruce asked.
"Only that he was here this afternoon. No telling where he and the gargoyles are now."
"They're probably still here," Bruce deduced, "The only thing around here is Stonehenge."
"Yeah, but why Stonehenge?" Stephen pondered.
"Maybe this guy's some King Arthur nut." Bruce put forth, "I mean, look at where we've been, Brittany, Tintagel, Bamburgh Castle. Nothing really connects them except for the Arthur myth."
"And what does Stonehenge have to do with King Arthur?" Stephen challenged.
At this, Bruce pulled a dog-eared paperback from his coat pocket. "According to some myths, Arthur's uncle Ambrosius Aurelianus, and his father Uther Pendragon are buried under Stonehenge. And there are stories that Merlin magically created the monument, calling it the 'Giant's Dance'."
"So you think this guy has nothing better to do than traipse all over England to indulge some whimsy about King Arthur?" Stephen asked.
"Yeah, I know sounds a bit far fetched. But do you have a better idea?"
At this Stephen was completely silent. They quietly sipped their coffee and wondered.
Faruz silently watched his slender partner as she typed feverishly away at the laptop connected to the crystal globe located at the center of the worn stone monoliths that remained in the ancient monument. He shook his head in bemusement. "I still don't see why you're so confident," he muttered. "Dozens before you have tried to use Stonehenge. Why are you so sure that you'll succeed where they failed?"
Enid glanced up from where she was working and scowled darkly at her Turkish companion. "My calculations are flawless," she answered shortly.
"But this is Stonehenge!" Faruz insisted with exasperation. "ALL the legends regarding Stonehenge insist that if it does anything, it is on the Summer or Winter Solstice, or the Autumn or Spring Equinox. And yet, here we are-" he glanced at his watch, "-on the tenth of February, weeks away from the Spring Equinox-"
Enid snorted. "Equinox. Solstice. Bah! Legends begun by fool druids. They stumble across one of the most powerful artifacts ever created, and what do they use it for? A calendar! Stonehenge is a time machine of an entirely different order. And you would take their legends as truth?"
"I thought the druids built Stonehenge?" Faruz said, uncertainly.
His partner winced as if struck. After a moment or two of mumbling distinctly unflattering remarks, she regained her composure and answered, "No, that, Faruz, is an unfortunately common misconception. Stonehenge was centuries old before the first of the Druids walked the British Isles." She sighed, and added, "Now, if you don't mind, you've asked enough questions. Trust me, there's a reason the Illuminati selected me for this assignment, and it wasn't for my sweet disposition. I know more about Stonehenge than anyone alive. For that matter, I know more than anyone who's DIED in the last two thousand years. If I say that the tenth of February is when Stonehenge is going to do its thing, you can believe it. Now, just sit back, relax, and let me get this calibration program ready. Stonehenge won't be any good to us at all if we don't know when we're seeing what we're seeing. I'll let you know when it's magic time." With that, Enid bent back over the laptop.
Faruz stared worriedly out into the darkness beyond the floodlights' glow. A low rumble brought his attention to the sky, where he noticed dark and foreboding clouds gathering. "Odd," he commented, "The weather report predicted a clear night tonight. Do you think the weather is going to interfere with our plans?"
Faruz was startled to see a broad and genuine smile on the face his partner turned up to him. To his knowledge, it was the first smile she'd shown that wasn't a smile of scorn. "On the contrary," she said cryptically. "It means we're going to succeed."
"So, how's Merlin fit into the lore of Stonehenge?" asked Griff.
"Actually, hardly at all," the Once and Future King responded. "In truth, my tutor shunned the place. He considered it a relic too dangerous to tamper with. It is true that there are legends which regard Merlin as responsible for constructing the Giant's Dance, but I assure you. Those legends are false. In truth, we are here for another reason entirely."
"Oh?" Griff asked curiously. "And what might that be, then?"
"I have kin here, Sir Griff. My uncle and father both lie buried among the stones. It would be ill of me to pass so close to their place of rest without paying my respects." Griff nodded thoughtfully.
As the two of them neared the fences surrounding Stonehenge, King Arthur frowned. Something was very wrong. "Griff, is it normal for the Giant's Dance to be so well-lit at this time of night?"
"I can't rightly say, your Majesty," the eagle-like gargoyle responded. "The last time I visited Stonehenge was more than fifty years ago. Who's to say what might have changed since then?" Griff's eyes hardened slightly. "But given that I didn't see anything in the brochures about spotlights at Stonehenge, I'd say it's worth a look around."
"I agree," responded Arthur. "Drop me just beyond the fence and then return for Cavall. I have the feeling we may need his help." The king smiled slightly. "And I dare say he'll be glad to join us anyway."
"Right-o, Arthur," Griff responded. The gargoyle released his grip on King Arthur, who landed in an easy crouch on the ground a couple dozen feet below. Arthur stood, and glanced skyward a moment to watch his knight wheel in the air and soar off in the direction from which they had come. Cavall was not far-- Arthur and Griff had left him at the top of the hill Griff had used to take off-- but Arthur didn't want to wait for Griff's return. His tutor, Merlin, had not frequently spoken of Stonehenge. It was for the most part, Merlin had said, a harmless relic, a curiosity, and, with the proper knowledge, a timepiece. But Merlin had left him a warning as well. Though the knowledge of how to use it as such was long forgotten, Stonehenge was also a magical artifact of phenomenal power. Not even Merlin himself knew what it had been used for, but he had insisted time and again that the stones should not be tampered with, lest their power be released.
It could well have been that the lights shining from Stonehenge that night were evidence of work completely innocent in nature-- perhaps the stone monoliths had been vandalized, and required cleaning. But a gut feeling that Arthur had learned long ago not to ignore ushered him onwards. An investigation could hardly hurt, and if there were wrongs to be righted-- well, that was his business, was it not?
The shining of the spotlights cast eerie shadows of the towering blocks of gray rock in all directions. Arthur kept within these shadows as he neared the Giant's Dance. He soon realized that, as he had feared, not all was as it should have been. Short, metal rods had been carefully placed, apparently at random, here and there throughout Stonehenge. Arthur examined one without touching it. To all appearances, the rod was nothing more than a simple piece of dusky metal, smooth along its length, but rough at each end, as if it had been broken from a much longer piece.
A bright streak of lightning split the dark and ominous sky, accompanied by the low rumble of thunder. The rod glowed faintly white for the briefest of moments. Arthur stared at it with concern, and then turned to gaze upwards at the overcast sky, his face a worried mask. By whatever augers the... meteorologists, Griff had called them... worked their prophesies, in the short time Arthur had spent in this century, he had rarely known them to miss the mark by a wide margin. Yet, a sky cloudless and clear had been that night's prediction. The storm was surely an omen of some kind, and a dark one at that.
Arthur turned his head suddenly at the sound of a woman's voice speaking. "All right, Faruz!" she called. "It's time to give Stonehenge a jump start. Let's hear that golden voice of yours!"
"As you say, Enid," a masculine tenor sighed. Only a moment later, Arthur began hearing a string of guttural syllables, uttered in a register much lower than would be expected from the tenor voice Arthur had originally heard. The words were in a tongue the king did not recognize, but from their arcane sound, he guessed that they must have been magical. When the metal rods scattered about Stonehenge began to glow brightly white, his suspicions were confirmed, as were his fears. The voices he had heard within clearly intended to try to tap the powers of Stonehenge.
It was time to act. King Arthur stood and unsheathed Excalibur. With luck, the malefactors within would listen to reason-- but a little intimidation never hurt.
"Bad news, your Majesty?" Griff's voice whispered beside him.
Arthur jerked a moment, taken off guard. "Griff! I hadn't expected you to return so soon."
Griff chuckled. "You have Cavall to thank for that, I'm afraid. I found him just beyond the fence. He must have followed us here."
Arthur nodded. "No doubt he sensed the storm and came to investigate."
"The storm?" Griff asked.
"There is something unnatural about this storm, and I think it relates to the sorcery at work within the Giant's Dance. And speaking of which, let us put a stop to that sorcery at once!"
"Of course!" the gargoyle agreed.
"Keep chanting!" Enid urged. "Just a few more moments of the magical power you're pulling in and the stones will take it from there!"
Faruz, of course, did not respond. He had heard, but was caught up in the familiar sensation of magical power coursing through his body. He channeled it from the crystal ball atop the mystical converters and directed it into the metal rods he had placed at key points around Stonehenge. Natural magical energy was scarce in the area of Stonehenge, but the converter transformed regular electricity into raw magical power. It was not an efficient transformation, and the machine consumed far more energy than it returned, but for their purposes tonight, it was quite adequate.
Enid stared at the screen of her laptop where a nondescript bar chart was inching towards a green line. "Just a few seconds..."
"Cease and desist at once!" a booming baritone called out. "You meddle with dangerous magics, and I will stop you, by force if necessary!"
"Not now!" Enid muttered turning away from her monitor. "Look, this area is off limits, so unless you want-" Enid stared at the figure before her. "-King Arthur?"
The man who had spoken certainly fit Enid's mental image of the Once and Future King, tall and handsome with brown hair and beard. He was clad in ornate golden armor, and carrying a beautiful broadsword. He seemed utterly taken aback by her identification. "You... know me?" he asked.
Enid's head whipped back to her screen. "Nonono, this can't be right. The stones haven't activated yet." She turned back to Arthur, eyes narrowing. "And even if they have, you shouldn't be able to see me! You can't be King Arthur. Just some nut in armor. Now, who are you?"
The man relaxed slightly. "That, madame, is the reaction I've more come to expect. But I see no harm in informing you that your first guess was most apt. I am indeed King Arthur, reawakened from my slumber on Avalon. Believe it or not, as is your wont. But whichever you choose, it is my duty this day to stop you. Merlin was most clear in his warnings against meddling with the stones of the Giant's Dance."
"Meddling!" Enid bristled. "I'll have you know that I know precisely what I'm doing! Furthermore, Merlin was hardly what I'd call an authority on Stonehenge! His writings were worse than useless in my research. He knew nothing on the subject."
"He knew that they were too dangerous to experiment with," Arthur responded. A corner of his mind made a note of the fact that she had admitted to using Merlin's writings in her research. Aside from the recently uncovered "Scrolls of Merlin", Una had informed Arthur that all such writings had been lost. If this woman truly somehow had access to more of Merlin's writings, it was something that bore looking into.
"My calculations are flawless," she answered primly. Then a sly smile crossed her face. "And if you truly are King Arthur, where, might I ask, is your gargoyle entourage?"
The response Enid had expected, the look of confusion that anyone pretending to be King Arthur-- someone quite unlikely to have ever heard the long-forgotten truths behind the famous king's associations with the winged creatures-- never came. Instead, a voice called out, "I believe that would be us."
Enid's eyes widened as two very real gargoyles stepped into the light from the shadows behind the man claiming to be King Arthur. She was about to reply once more, when a beeping sound emanated from her computer. She glanced at it and smiled fiercely. "Well, King Arthur or not, you're too late. Just as I knew you'd be."
Faruz took his cue and stopped chanting. A moment later, the brightly glowing rods scattered around the area seemed to explode with arcs of crackling green energy that was siphoned into the gray stones all about them. The energy died away, and for a moment all was calm, save for a faintly glowing green light coming from the stones themselves. Then the stones flared brightly, and a deafening clap of sound was heard.
"What was that?" asked Faruz in confusion.
"The jump-start," Enid responded with a grin. "Your chants are pretty hot stuff, but we just couldn't generate enough energy to run Stonehenge properly. Fortunately, neither could the ancients who created the place. So, they gave Stonehenge the ability to gather that energy itself."
"What do you mean?"
"That last flash was a four-dimensional ripple," Enid responded. "It sent a wave back in time, stirring up the air in just such a way-"
"-that it caused an electrical storm?" Faruz asked.
"Exactly!" his partner responded. "Why did you think I was so confident?"
"So when you saw the storm, you knew that you were going to succeed in summoning it. Amazing!"
"Be that as it may," King Arthur said with grim promise. "I'd wager you've no similar guarantee in finishing what you've started."
Before Enid could respond, the heavens erupted with lightning. Simultaneous blasts of energy forked through the air to strike the lonely Sentinels-- stones set far outside the perimeter of the double horseshoe of gray blocks most thought of as the monument. These stones glowed an eerie green as more lightning struck each stone of the outer horseshoe, and then the taller stones of the inner. The lightning tore gouges in the dirt at the locations where stones had once stood, but time had long destroyed. Finally, a single huge bolt struck the pointed, solitary stone at the southwest end of Stonehenge proper, midway between the horns of the outer horseshoe. All the monoliths of Stonehenge were now throbbing with green light, though the stones most complete-- those vertical pairs still supporting a horizontal stone stacked atop them-- glowed the brightest.
As soon as the thunder that had accompanied the multiple burst of lightning faded, Enid replied to Arthur's statement, "No, but you'd be wise not to interrupt me now that I've begun. In only a few seconds, the show will start. Without someone to control the stones once they're charged... well, I'll leave that up to your imagination. Just sit back and enjoy the show, 'your Highness'."
A trifle discomfited, King Arthur lowered his sword. Griff noticed, and protested, "You don't mean to say that we're just going to sit here and let these blighters do their dirty deeds?"
"She's right, Griff. Neither you nor I know how to stop what they've started. Perhaps if Merlin were here-" Arthur ignored Enid's snort at this remark, "-he might have been of help. But for now, the most we can do is hope that this woman is as learned as she claims."
Enid did not respond, having already turned back to her computer screen. "Are the cameras running?" she called out to her partner.
"Way ahead of you," Faruz responded with a touch of relish. "The camcorders have been activated. Whatever we see, they will see."
"Good," Enid replied.
No sooner had the words passed her lips than all five of them were overcome by a terrible dizziness, the world seeming to shift out of focus for a moment. Then, the sickness cleared, and the world had changed. Superimposed over the stones of Stonehenge were half-transparent images of stones far less timeworn. Here and there, figures in brown robes shuffled to and fro, while others stood in a circle, chanting reverently, but without sound.
Arthur was suddenly startled as a brown-robed figure walked through his body. "Are these... spirits?" he asked.
"Hardly," Enid scoffed. "What you are seeing is a Druid ceremony from nearly two thousand years ago. Probably a celebration of a Solstice or Equinox, or perhaps some other holy day. I'm hardly going to take the time to figure out which."
"Have we traveled through time, then?" Griff asked.
"No, Stonehenge, merely shows soundless images of the past and future-- visions, if you will. We have not traveled to the past, but we can see what has happened there. My calibration program is running, so we'll be seeing several scenes from the past, one or two a century, of significant gatherings of people at Stonehenge, for about a thousand years. After that, my computer will have the data it needs to fine-tune our operations. I'll be able to use Stonehenge to look into the future at any point on the globe, rather than merely these stones. The information we record will be of incredible value."
A few moments passed, marred occasionally by a flash of lightning striking a random stone-- perhaps to recharge it. The clouds far above, though partly obscured by an image of the ancient sky the Druids had worshiped under, had formed a spiral pattern, with the focus directly above the center of Stonehenge. Again the dizziness struck, and the scene changed. The new scene was much like the first, with a Druid ceremony in progress.
"Hmmm..." Enid hummed. The concern in her voice was plain.
"What's the matter?" Griff asked.
"Picking up some unexpected energy patterns," she replied absently, evidently too absorbed in her work to notice that the one addressing her was one of the unwelcome intruders.
"Unexpected?" Arthur asked sharply.
Enid looked up in annoyance. "The nonconformities are well within expected tolerances," she replied, though with a sliver of apprehension in her tone. "The signatures are not what I expected, but I do not anticipate that they will interfere with the experiment in any way."
King Arthur caught the apprehension immediately. "You are guessing, and you know it well," he replied shortly. "You yourself have admitted that you know the powers of these stones better than anyone. Whatever Merlin did not know of the Giant's Dance, I doubt that you can convince me that he was wrong in saying that its misuse could have dangerous consequences. Can you, in good conscience, ignore even a minor deviation from your expectations? I implore you, cease your experiment before it is too late!"
"Risks must be taken for the advancement of science," she responded, more confidently this time. "And this minor deviation is hardly a risk at all."
"I don't know about that," Griff said from his new position gazing over Enid's shoulder. The Illuminatus nearly jumped with surprise at the gargoyle's unexpected proximity. "I can't understand what most of this means, but I find it hard to believe that a red bar that much taller than the green ones is a 'minor deviation'. And the word 'WARNING' is right unsettling, I'll tell you."
"What?" Enid whirled back to her screen. "No. This isn't right!" She began to type furiously.
Before she could accomplish whatever she was attempting, however, an especially bright flash of lightning connected with the solitary stone at Stonehenge's fore, which began glowing such a bright green that it appeared white. A column of green energy flared forth from the stone's apex, seeming to slice through reality itself, creating a ragged black opening in the very air. Five pairs of eyes swung to focus on it, wondering what Stonehenge had in store for them.
Five figures climbed through the opening. Five very familiar figures. "Cor," Griff breathed. "It's us!"
Indeed, the spotlights shining from Stonehenge's perimeter clearly defined that the newcomers bore appearances identical to those of Enid, Faruz, Arthur, Griff, and Cavall. The one with Griff's appearance glanced at the Faruz accompanying him. "Blimey, you never said there'd be copies of us here as well!"
That Faruz raised an eyebrow. "You shouldn't be so surprised. As I said once before, this universe is nearly identical to our own. I'd imagine that they showed up here at about the same time you showed up at our site."
"Well, if they are us," the new Arthur said, "I have little doubt that they will aid us in our mission."
Enid, who had been gawking along with the others, finally found her voice and stuttered, "Wh- who are you?"
The alternative Enid rolled her eyes. "Who do we look like?"
Enid's eyes narrowed. She did not like being patronized. "I realize perfectly well who you look like. But I also find it rather unlikely that you could be who you appear. Stonehenge cannot be used for true time travel-- it is merely a window."
"We aren't time travelers," the other Enid replied. "Not strictly speaking, at least. But we are you, nonetheless. We've come to help you stop this experiment before you destroy us all."
"Stop it?" Enid demanded. She looked to her screen for a moment, to verify that the unusual signature, while still present, had dropped back to acceptable levels. "The experiment is proceeding perfectly, thank you. The only disturbance we've had was clearly caused by you! Why should I believe anything you say? My-"
"-calculations are flawless," her alternate finished, her voice dripping with rueful irony. "You think that I don't know that? I worked the same calculations, came to the same conclusions-- and had them torn out from under me by a discovery very likely never made in this universe. You do recall the Phenomenon last year."
"Of course I do!" Enid snapped. "It was those very same readings that confirmed my theory that the Solstices and Equinoxes were the wrong time to use the stones-- a magical surge at Stonehenge; likely a fluke, or some other natural phenomenon, but powerful nonetheless. What of it?"
"Were you aware that a magical surge identical in pattern was detected in Manhattan at the same time?"
Enid was brought up short. "No..." she answered hesitantly.
Her alternate nodded. "It is true. But the second surge was detected by another branch of-" Enid glanced at the King Arthurs and Griffs, and finished, "-our organization. The connection between the two events probably never would have been found, had it not been for information indirectly obtained from Demona."
"Demona?" Enid asked, confused.
Her partner picked up the slack. "Demona. A gargoyle sorceress who has been alive for over a thousand years. You wouldn't have heard of her. Not your department." He turned his gaze on the newcomers. "But our... organization has tried to keep tabs on Demona in the past. She's not an easy creature to get information from, directly or not."
"Doing so became much easier when she rejoined her clan at Castle Wyvern." The alternate Faruz answered.
The native Faruz looked incredulous, and opened his mouth to respond, only to be momentarily immobilized by another wave of dizziness, as Stonehenge shifted to yet another Druid ceremony. Recovering his composure, Faruz protested, "What? But she never-"
"Exactly our suspicion," Faruz responded. "You see, where we come from, Demona reestablished herself with her fellows at Wyvern nearly a year ago. Her frequent visits there made it much easier for our agents at the Eyrie to keep an eye on her. A very interesting discovery was made. It seems that during the Phenomenon, Demona disappeared from our universe. She returned several hours later, and eventually told the tale of having visited another universe, one nearly identical to our own. News of this launched an investigation of the magical surge over Manhattan, and that led to the connection at Stonehenge."
"That was only the beginning," the other Enid sighed. "On closer investigation of the energy surge, it was found that Demona's disappearance was no accident. Someone had utilized Stonehenge to create the rift in Manhattan-- we don't know who, or why-- but it meant that Stonehenge could be used in a way I had not even dreamed. While I still believe that Stonehenge cannot send anything forward or backward in time, I now know that it can send things SIDEWAYS in time."
"Sideways in time?" Griff asked, puzzled. The alternate Griff nodded his head sympathetically to his counterpart, apparently having heard the bizarre explanation before.
"Reality is much more complex than most think," the alternate Enid replied. "The universe you know exists in four dimensions-- three in the physical universe, and then the whole physical universe moving forward in time along a fourth dimension. But there is at least one more dimension-- this universe is only one of many-- you might picture them as parallel threads, each a separate and independent universe, with its own timestream and its own history, each different from the others in minor and major ways. For every action that might have happened but didn't, a universe exists. For every action that did happen, a universe exists where it did not, or happened in some other manner."
"I've heard these theories..." Enid said slowly.
"With the Phenomenon, they've become more than theories," Enid insisted. "But these parallel universes aren't as independent as they seem. Some, apparently, can connect with each other in certain ways. Your universe is connected to ours here: at Stonehenge." For emphasis, she gestured to the dark hole still floating behind them.
There was another dizzying lurch, and the scene faded to be replaced with a new one-- one without Druids, for a change. Now, a number of men, well dressed in furs and armors, occupied the area. They were clearly divided into two factions, each eyeing the other with distrust and more than a little dislike. Two men, apparently the leaders of the separate groups were speaking silently with one another at the center of Stonehenge, their images overlapping Enid's equipment.
"Their styles of dress are familiar," the native King Arthur said, stroking his beard. "These are Saxons, and those men over there are dressed in the manner of my own people. But this meeting-" The eyes of both King Arthurs widened.
"The betrayal at Stonehenge!" the other exclaimed. At his own Griff's quizzical look, the alternate Arthur explained, "It was a tragedy of which I learned after accepting my crown, and few blacker deeds have ever been done. Vortigern, who wore my crown long before I had been born, had hoped to avoid a bloody war with his people's enemies, the Saxons, and so convinced their leader, Hengist, to a parley: both he and Hengist would gather their highest nobles at Stonehenge, and try to create a workable peace. Hengist agreed, but with treachery in mind. His nobles arrived, each carrying a concealed dagger, and at his signal set upon the unarmed Britons. Only two escaped the slaughter alive: Vortigern himself, whom Hengist hoped to ransom, and Count Eldol, who managed to fight his way free. The slain nobles were buried in this very ground."
"That's right nasty!" the native Griff exclaimed, appalled.
"It also means we skipped a couple centuries," Enid said, studying her computer screen. "I was expecting to see a few more Druids before getting this far. But this is still well within tolerance." She glared at her alternate once more. "Now that the history lesson's over, tell me. Supposing all of this parallel universe nonsense is more than nonsense, how could it affect my work?"
"The damage done to Stonehenge over the years-"
"I took that into account!" Enid replied in exasperation. "The stones remaining have more than enough capacity to sustain the temporal matrix!"
"Quite true," Enid replied, "But the broken stones, while in use, constantly emit a low-grade magical pulse along a fifth dimension-- one that is picked up and augmented by our own Stonehenge, even while inactive. That signal is returned and augmented in turn by this Stonehenge, and so on. The pulse is very weak, but the feedback is increasing it exponentially. Eventually, and it could be as little as a half an hour, the pulse will reach dangerous levels. If not stopped, it could wreak untold devastation on both universes."
"I don't... believe you," Enid replied weakly, but worriedly.
"Don't take my word for it," Enid answered. "Run a sensitive scan for an M-pulse of one-hundred forty-two alpha points. It's barely detectable now, but if you watch, it doubles about every ten point two seconds."
Without a word, Enid turned back to her terminal and hastily typed in a string of commands. A new bar chart, marked "142 ap" popped up next to the others on the screen. She watched the screen tensely for a few moments, and then her shoulders sagged. "Well?" asked the native King Arthur.
"She's right," Enid barely whispered.
"Of course I'm right," the other answered sadly. "You of all people should know that my calculations are flawless. Most of the time."
Hengist, from his position at the center of Stonehenge suddenly lifted his hand. The Saxons arrayed behind him grinned viciously and unsheathed their hidden blades, rushing at their shocked counterparts with soundless battle cries. Before the first treacherous blow fell, however, another sickening surge overwhelmed the less insubstantial denizens of Stonehenge and the scene shifted once more. Now the figures present were all dressed much as Vortigern and his men, but were engaged in what was clearly a burial of some kind. A bishop was presiding, and a regally dressed body was being lowered into a freshly dug grave.
"Why, this is the funeral of my uncle, Ambrosius!" King Arthur exclaimed. "One of two I came to pay my respects to."
"And the tall gent? The one with your eyes?" his Griff asked.
"Uther Pendragon. My father," Arthur breathed. "Before he succumbed to the temptations that marked him a tyrant. And the fellow beside him is none other than Merlin, the man we for whom we search. Oh, but had I the time, I would make use of this unusual situation to attend Ambrosius's funeral myself." His eyes hardened. "But fate is not kind in this case." He turned to gaze at the alternate Enid. "You clearly know more of the dangers of Stonehenge than your counterpart here. What must we do to prevent this catastrophe you foresee?"
"We must power down Stonehenge."
"What?" the native Enid asked. "But that's impossible. Stonehenge can't be powered down until the cycle has run its course." She glanced worriedly back at her monitor. "By then, if you're right, it'll be far too late."
"No there is another way. If we can siphon enough energy out of Stonehenge, it will shut down prematurely."
"Siphon it out? But how..." she trailed off. "...Of course. Faruz."
"Exactly. Our Faruz and your Faruz will work together to siphon energy out of Stonehenge and into the mystical converter, which will transform it into ordinary electricity to be harmlessly grounded."
"But wait," Enid protested, "The converters built into Stonehenge to harness the lightning are much more efficient than ours. Those stones have a lot of power stored up--and are gathering more every moment." As if to punctuate her remark, another bolt of lightning crackled into a dimming stone, brightening it once more. "Can Faruz--even two of him--channel power faster than Stonehenge can gather it?"
"No," the other Enid admitted. "We need to stop the stones from gathering power. Our gateway here is already siphoning a good bit of power away, but..." She gestured to her partner, who slipped off the backpack he was wearing and handed it to her. Enid reached into the pack and pulled out a slender rod attached to a long, coiled cable. "We need to place one of these grounding rods atop each stone. With the gargoyles' help, it should be an easy task."
"Wait one moment!" the alternate King Arthur frowned. "Gargoyles are not immune to lightning. I cannot allow one of my knights to be placed in such obvious danger!" His counterpart looked similarly reluctant.
"Come now, your Majesties," his Griff responded. "A knight of King Arthur is expected to see danger now and again. I knew that when I signed on."
"Besides, there is little risk, so long as he tends to the stones most recently struck first," Enid continued. "Even a broken stone, when freshly charged, is unlikely to draw lightning again in less than thirty seconds."
Once again, the scene shifted dizzyingly. It was another burial, much like the last, but the grave was dug to one side of that into which Ambrosius had been lowered--and this time, Uther Pendragon was the deceased. His body was a pale, sickly echo of the noble character he had been in the previous vision.
"It's Morgana!" the native Griff cried, spotting a ghostly image of the sorceress. She was standing with the mourners, an unreadable expression on her face. It was difficult to tell whether the look was triumphant or...disappointed.
"Aye," said his Arthur. "She would have been glad to see my father dead, and I find it difficult to blame her--though, I'd imagine she'd have preferred that it be by her own hand." He sighed. "It is truly a pity that her hatred did not die with him. Much misery could have been thus averted."
"Hers is not the only face I recognize," the other Arthur said. "Her consort, of course, is her husband, King Urien. And there is King Lot, one of Uther's staunchest allies, and yet destined to become one of my bitterest foes. And, of course, Merlin."
"Alive, and unchanging as the mountains," his opposite mused. "Is it any wonder that I suspect he lives still? But again, we are sidetracked. Griff, if you believe that the task this woman asks of you is within your abilities, you have my leave." The alternate Arthur, too, expressed his consent.
"Thank you, your Majesties," the alternate Griff saluted. "Cavall can lend a paw, too, I'd wager." The green skinned gargoyle accepted the back pack from Enid. "Griff? Cavall? Cavall? Let's get started then, shall we?" His opposite nodded, and the two gargoyle beasts whuffed in tandem, only to glance at each other suspiciously afterwards.
"And what shall we do in the interim?" asked the native Arthur.
"I'm going to make a quick adjustment to the mystical converter," the alternate Enid said, "and when that's done, the Faruzes can get to work. It's never too early to start draining energy. You two can start collecting the control rods."
The scene shifted once more, this time revealing hundreds of soldiers, most fast asleep. Perhaps an army on the move had spent the night at Stonehenge.
"The control rods?" Enid asked after the dizziness had passed. "But then we won't be able to control the stones!"
Her opposite shrugged. "In a few minutes, you're going to lose control anyway. Your rods are only exacerbating the temporal feedback. It's best if we remove them." Her opposite paused, and then nodded unhappily.
"These...control rods are the bits of metal I noticed at Stonehenge's perimeter?" the native Arthur asked.
"That's right," the alternative Enid answered. "Don't touch them with your bare hands. They'll have gotten pretty hot. Collect them all and bring them to the center--there should be fifty, in all."
Almost gingerly, Griff thunked a handful of claws into an aged stone monolith. "You know," he called to the other Griff. "I feel right uneasy climbing these old stones. It's almost...sacrilegious, somehow."
"I know what you mean," the other replied from another stone. "Still, we've little choice in the matter. Besides, these rocks've seen worse than a few claw marks over the years." He chuckled. "But that's easy enough for me to say. It's your Stonehenge that's getting the rough treatment."
"True enough," Griff replied. He placed the lightning rod atop the gray stones and hopped down to the ground again, spreading his wings to soften his landing. Once there, he jammed the short metal spike at the end of the long cord into the ground.
"Here, boy," the alternate Griff commanded Cavall, placing a rod in the beast's mouth, "put this up there, would you?" He pointed to a stone lightning had just touched. Without a sound, Cavall headed to the stone and began to climb it. The other Cavall received similar treatment, and was sent on his way.
The native Griff approached his counterpart to accept another rod. "Say-" both Griffs said at once. Then stopped, somewhat awkwardly.
"You first," the native Griff insisted.
"All right," the other replied. "It's just, well...since you're here, I was wondering what you made of Brianna."
His opposite looked amused. "Believe it or not, I was going to ask you the same thing!"
"I believe it," Griff answered, equally amused. "Rather obvious, actually. I've been looking for someone to talk to about her, and I'd wager you have, too. Well?"
"Bri's a sweet girl," Griff answered with a happy sigh. "Quiet and soft-spoken. If I hadn't seen her use a bow, I'd say she'd never fit in a life like mine. She's tough and tender, all in one lovely little package. I'm sweet on her, and there's no denying that. Rather odd, when you think of it. She's not at all like Una was, you know."
"Exactly my thoughts, and in exactly my words," the other Griff said ruefully as he erected a rod on the ruined nub of a stone which, nonetheless, seemed to attract lightning. "I suppose she's sweet on me, too. Or so I hope. Do you suppose she'll wait for me?"
"A lady fair doesn't grant her favor to just anyone," Griff reassured his counterpart, hand moving unconsciously to the pocket containing the lock of hair Brianna had presented him with.
"True enough," the alternate Griff said, moving his hand to his own pocket. He chuckled. "You know, perhaps you aren't the best one to talk to about this."
Griff nodded. "I might as well be talking to myself about her. I suppose that's just what we're doing, at that."
"It is a bit comforting, though," the alternate Griff mused, "to know that somewhere out there, there's a chap with as many problems as I."
"Ha! Well, chin up, friend," Griff answered. "Why, with two heroes as brave and handsome as ourselves on the job, what chance do a mere two universes of problems have against us?"
"You ever get the feeling that we're in this way over our fool heads?"
"Ever since we started this assignment, Stephen."
Darien Montrose's hired men were currently lurking in the shadows cast by one of Stonehenge's well-lit monoliths, trying to make sense of a world filled with ghostly sleeping soldiers, glowing stones, bizarre electrical storms, high-tech gadgetry, and an identical twin for every character within Stonehenge's boundaries, including for the man and gargoyles they pursued.
"I mean, even for the little things," Stephen pressed, beginning to sound a trifle unhinged. "Follow the bloke, the boss said. But there's two of 'im now. If they both stay, and go in separate ways, which do we follow? I certainly can't tell them apart!"
"We'll worry about that if it happens," Bruce answered uneasily. "Like you said, that's a little thing. I must say, I'm right uneasy about all this talk about 'untold devastation'."
Stephen swallowed and nodded. "I'll be right happy when those fellows finish what they're doing and we can all get out of here. I saw Stonehenge as a lad, and I can tell you it were nothing like this."
"Glad that Arthur didn't see us when he came over this way. Woulda blown our cover for sure!"
Dizziness gripped the both of them, and the scene changed to another, this scene was apparently nowhere near Stonehenge. Rather, an enormous castle rose above the stones--a castle under siege. It was burning in places, and wave after wave of soldiers, led by a man in a black mask scarred by red marks, fought to enter it. Atop one of the battlements, a white-bearded king could be seen worriedly overlooking the battle. He recoiled, as a mass of burning pitch impacted the castle walls far too closely for comfort. He whirled and exchanged furious words with a man behind him, and then disappeared into the castle proper.
"Urgh, I hate this," Stephen muttered.
One King Arthur was apparently speaking to the other. "I've found twenty-one of them. And you?"
"Twenty-seven," the other answered. "They seem to be more densely clustered on this side."
"But where are the last two?" the first asked. "I thought I had made a thorough enough search."
Montrose's spies looked at each other, and then at the ground. Sure enough, between each of them and the stone they hid behind was a softly glowing metal rod, identical to the bundles the Arthurs carried. Moving as one, each bent down, grabbed a rod, stifled a cry of pain, chucked the hot objects out into the open, and clutched at their burned hands, hissing slightly. The rods landed with muffled thuds in the dusty earth between two monoliths.
The Arthur with more rods caught the movement out of the corner of his eye, and turned to see the rods in the open. "There they are."
"Odd," his counterpart frowned. "I should have noticed them there."
"Odd indeed," the other frowned. "But let us not debate this turn of chance. We must bring them to the center without delay."
Bruce and Stephen exchanged relieved glances.
When the twin Arthurs returned to the center of Stonehenge, the two Faruzes were already chanting determinedly. The mystical converter was glowing brightly as it transformed magical energy into electricity and released it into the ground.
"Set them down here," directed the alternate Enid. She smirked. "How the mighty hath fallen, eh? The 'Once and Future King' reduced to errand boy?"
"It needed doing," the native Arthur shrugged.
"A good king should never feel that any deed in need of doing is beneath him," his alternate continued. "The work of the lowliest stablehand is work that needs doing, just as the work of a king. The stablehand is no less a man for doing it, nor is the king any greater."
"How enlightening," Enid answered dryly. "Well, here come your knights. Now comes the part that really gets hairy."
The scene shifted. Castle stone was replaced by towers of metal and glass--Manhattan, Arthur realized. Oddly enough instead of people, the streets and windows were populated by gargoyles, dressed as humans and behaving as humans. After staring a moment, Arthur turned back to Enid.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
Enid's alternate explained, "As Stonehenge loses power, the duration of the visions it show us are going to become smaller and smaller. Because we're no longer controlling it, those visions could be of any time and place. I'm not even sure how the feedback might affect things--it should be starting to get fairly strong, now."
"We're back!" the dual voices of Griff rang out. Sure enough, atop each stone, a bit of metal could be seen. Now, when lightning struck, the stone targeted remained relatively dim, while the metal bore the brunt of the blast. As if to counter the loss, lightning began to strike more frequently, accompanied by a marked increase in the winds blowing across the wintry plains.
The scene shifted. Sand stretched out in all directions. Soundless explosions lit up the night, as huge metal vehicles--'tanks', Arthur realized, recalling Griff's tales of modern warfare--crunched their way across the dunes, slowly pushing back the soldiers trying to resist their onslaught. Before long, though, the soldiers were forced to flee.
"Now what do we do?" Arthur shouted, struggling to make himself heard above the suddenly violent winds and rapid lightning strikes.
"We wait, and let Faruz do his work," Enid shouted in answer. "Nothing more."
Dizziness. The view cleared, and a locale very familiar to Arthur was revealed: A beach before twin cliffs, a flame burning brightly atop each, while in the distance, a huge castle looked out over all.
"Avalon!" cried the native King Arthur.
"But look," said the other.
Standing on the beach were a number of figures, four familiar to Arthur. The three weird Sisters stood, defiant and clearly ready to fight. At the other end of the beach, grinning like a malevolent imp, was one of Goliath's clan; the small yellow-green gargoyle called Lexington, but changed. He seemed to be wearing an uneven suit of golden armor, armor that seemed to meld seamlessly with his skin. He turned to glanced at the small army of humans behind him, each carrying an odd sort of hammer. As he turned, an unusual lattice became visible within his eyes for the briefest of moments. Lexington turned back to the sisters and lifted an arm completely encased in the golden metal. A box of black metal flipped out of the arm with a dish-shaped attachment on it, which the gargoyle aimed at the Sisters. The three witches waited no longer, unleashing a blistering wave of green power. The power abruptly seemed swept aside by some unseen force, leaving the Sisters clutching at their ears in obvious pain. They appeared to age and age, losing vitality, until they crumpled to the ground and dissolved into green energy, energy that seeped into the Avalon sands. The box on Lexington's arm vanished, and he looked back at his companions once more. They needed no further prompting, as they charged towards the pass leading up to the castle. Meanwhile, from the castle came wave after wave of barely visible winged shapes to meet the charge.
Horrified, King Arthur said, "Avalon...besieged by mortals? I had not thought such a thing possible!"
"And our allies at the castle under attack by one of Goliath's own," the other muttered. "A dark vision, indeed!"
Dizziness. Atop an ancient pyramid, a red, beaked gargoyle looked on in horror as a black-robed figure lifted a talisman aloft. A single, thin beam lashed forth, to touch a point in a city far below. The point struck exploded violently, and as if triggered by the blast, the buildings around the first detonation exploded as well, followed by their neighbors, and their neighbors' neighbors. A chain reaction of bright flashes became a single, blinding flare as the entire city flew apart.
"Is this the past or future?" Griff shouted. "That gargoyle's Brooklyn!"
"No way to tell!" the native Enid called back. "Stonehenge has no guidance! This could be either the past or future!"
Dizziness. A male gargoyle, black as night, and a sun-yellow female, both dressed in ancient Egyptian garb, fled for their lives, hopeless desperation clear in their eyes. It seemed to be daytime, yet the sun was obscured, plunging the world into an unnatural night. Nightmarish creatures crawled, scuttled, and stalked the wasted earth, and pursuing the two gargoyles with the leisurely patience of a cat stalking its prey was the most frightening creature of all, a draconic shape, so unnaturally dark, that its exact form was difficult to discern. Its slitted eyes glittered with ancient, malignant intelligence, and unfathomable power.
"Uh, oh," the native Enid gasped as a meter on her screen peaked.
With a dreadful hiss, the globe atop the mystical converter melted into red slag and flowed down the sides of the device. The two Faruzes stopped chanting and stared along with everyone else with horror at the ruined machine.
Dizziness. Manhattan again, but the very earth trembling. Buildings swayed and collapsed wherever the eye could see, as screaming people ran to and fro amidst the havoc.
With the SHIIING of metal unsheathed, Excalibur was twice drawn. Two kings plunged their swords into the still-molten ruins of the crystal sphere. "Use this!" they cried. And the chanting resumed.
Dizziness. Tidal waves crashed against the island continent, flattening buildings and sweeping helpless people away in their wake. The once-mighty land slipped violently beneath the waves, lost to the ages. Far above, the sky was lit by brilliant bursts of magical light, as mystical warriors fought desperately for supremacy, hardly heeding the suffering below.
The twin swords glowed brightly as magical energy was channeled through the legendary blades and into the half-functioning guts of the mystical converter. Energy, both electrical and magical, arced wildly between the hilts. There was a flash, and for a brief moment, the two swords appeared one.
Dizziness. A battlefield, where a number of young gargoyles fought desperately against older warriors and the ragged band of humans accompanying them. A young Goliath lay stunned on the ground, as a tall, tawny yellow female lifted a jagged sword for the killing blow.
Dizziness. A lanky, blue-skinned gargoyle youth with flame-red hair and a more-than-casual resemblance to Demona, glanced desperately from side to side as Macbeth slowly squeezed the trigger of the laser cannon he pointed at him.
Dizziness. A strange creature, humanlike, but for his gray skin, his long, thin arms and legs, his blockish head, and his sunken red eyes, protected a cluster of frightened human and gargoyle children, firing a weapon at one after another of a seemingly endless legion of oncoming black metal vehicles. The skies above were darkened by thousands of sleek flying machines constructed of the same material.
Dizziness. A bleak, snowy mountainside, with a large cave filled with gargoyle statues. A man dressed in high-tech armor pulled himself over the edge and took aim with a particle cannon. Blast after blast lit up the snowy air, and statue after statue crumbled into dust.
Dizziness. A ship, crowded with emaciated, dark-skinned humans. Brooklyn was present once more, staring with horror at an oncoming black-flagged ship, just before being consumed in flame.
Dizziness. Demona, but a young Demona, sobbed hopelessly into her hands. In the distance, a majestic castle was slowly being reduced to rubble by a hideous skinless beast, as humans and gargoyles alike fled before its onslaught.
Dizziness. A city was engulfed in flame as an enormous, mushroom-shaped cloud bloomed above it. Millions of lives were snuffed out in an instant.
Dizziness. Avalon, again. A tall, blue-skinned fellow with long white hair and beard laughed heartily at the miserable wretch before him. A once regal ruin with skin and hair of the same color, but looking aged and toothless, lay crumpled at the feet of the first. With a swish of his odd, gargoyle-winged cape, the victorious bathed the vanquished in a ball of green fire. The fire consumed him, and Oberon was no more.
Dizziness. Screaming people fled from a horde of riders on airborne steeds-
Dizziness. The detective, Elisa Maza, draped sobbing over Goliath's cooling corpse-
Dizziness. A mass of gibbering creatures, each wearing a blood-red cap, swarmed through the streets-
Dizziness. A quarry hammer held aloft-
King Arthur moaned as he slowly sat up. His head was throbbing, but he seemed otherwise unharmed. A quick glance revealed that the stones of Stonehenge (with the exception of the southwestern stone generating the gate the alternates had journeyed through) were, once more, silent sentinels against time, their cold gray stone blessedly free of magical light. The air was calm and clear, with stars twinkling in the night sky. Around him, Arthur could see his other self--the one who had come from another universe--also sitting up, wincing as he held a hand to his head.
"You look how I feel," he said to the other, wincing at the renewed throbbing his words caused.
"That makes two of us," the alternate Arthur replied with a painful smile.
The two of them stood and headed over to the slagged ruins of the mystical converter. However they had appeared earlier, each Excalibur appeared quite independent of the other. Two firm grips removed the swords, and with a smooth motion, sheathed them.
"I suppose we should awaken the others," the alternate said. His opposite nodded, and they set about doing so.
The sounds of groaning, good-natured and less so, soon filled the air as Griffs, Cavalls, Enids, and Faruzes returned to consciousness.
"It's over?" the native Faruz asked. "We did it?"
"So it would seem," said the alternate Arthur.
"Then we need to go," said the alternate Enid, climbing reluctantly but determinedly to her feet. "Our Stonehenge is still chugging away, and while the use we put it to seems to be less risky, I'm unwilling to leave it unattended for long. We'll have to collect the lightning rods we brought with us and return as soon as we can." She smiled at her opposite. "Not that I wouldn't like to stay longer. It's so hard to find another intellect of my caliber."
The other smiled uneasily. "Agreed. I almost wish I could come with you. Your future looks rather brighter than mine. You've succeeded in your mission. I, on the other hand..."
"I'm sorry," the alternate answered with genuine regret. "I wish you the best."
Gathering the rods took less time than placing them, as they were easily pulled from their perches atop the stones. Every lightning rod accounted for, the alternates prepared to depart.
The two Arthurs clasped forearms. "Farewell friend," the native Arthur said. "I wish you luck in your quest."
"And to you in yours," the other replied. "I know not if our paths shall cross again, but until we should meet again, farewell!"
"Good luck, Griff--in ALL your quests," the native Griff told the other with a wink.
"Of course, we make our own luck, don't we?" the other replied with a smile.
The Faruzes parted with little more than a handshake and a smile. The Cavalls, however, sniffed at one another briefly, and then snorted indignantly, each turning up their nose at the other. The native Griff chuckled. "Guess we can't all be thrilled at having an identical twin around! Don't worry, Cavall, he won't be staying."
Farewells done with, four individuals stood around the tear in space. "Here, Cavall!" the alternate Griff called. One of the Cavalls, the one who remembered walking through the gate in the first place, ambled over to join his fellows.
"Wait!" said the native Griff. "While there's still two of you Enids to answer...those visions. Are they sure to come true? All the destruction?"
The alternate Enid glanced at her opposite encouragingly. "Nothing is certain," the native Enid said hesitantly. "With the feedback affecting things, it might have been the future we saw. Or they might have been a future of another universe--theirs, or even another entirely, or a mix of all of these. Who's to say? But I wouldn't rule out what we've seen entirely." She glanced ruefully at the camcorders, still running where they were placed. Clearly, the tapes she had made wouldn't be quite so useful, now.
"My thoughts, exactly," the alternate Enid said approvingly. With a final wave, she and her comrades disappeared. Only moments later, the gate disappeared as well.
"Thank you for your help," Enid's bespectacled partner offered to King Arthur, Griff, and Cavall. "I almost panicked when the converter melted. What is that sword made of? Not many metals can channel magical power like that."
"It is Excalibur," Arthur offered simply.
"You know, I'm actually starting to believe that," Faruz said wonderingly.
Enid sighed, and bent down to close her laptop. "Well, no sense standing around here," she said. "Time to pack up and go."
"One moment," Arthur said sharply. "You must face justice for your wrongdoings this night."
"I almost wish I could," Enid answered dejectedly. "They might be more merciful than the authorities I will be facing. But the truth is, everything we've done tonight is legal."
"Come again?" asked Griff.
"I can show you the papers, if you'd like," Enid said tiredly. "But this was a legal, sanctioned experiment. The near disaster tonight was not anticipated, of course. But as nothing came of it, there's nothing to put us on trial for." She looked Arthur in the eye. "But I give you my personal guarantee. If I have any say in the matter, nothing like this will be attempted again."
Arthur studied her a moment. "I believe you," he said eventually, with a sigh of his own. "Very well then. You may go. Griff, why don't you help them to load their equipment? I am going to take this opportunity do what I came here to do." With that, King Arthur unsheathed his sword and knelt before the ground the visions had shown housed the graves of his father and uncle. The Once and Future King bowed his head in solemn prayer to the two kings who had come before him.
Enid and Faruz sat in the waiting room. Both tried and failed to keep their nervousness hidden, but Faruz's fidgeting and Enid tapping her pencil gave them away. At last they were admitted into the office.
The man behind the desk looked up from the field reports. "You, two have had an interesting go of it."
"Mr. Duval. Allow me to explain," Enid flew into explanation mode, "We encountered difficulties . . ."
The words died on her lips. Mr. Duval eyes narrowed in a glare that said 'Speak only when I ask you'. His voice, however, remained congenial and pleasant. Faruz wished he was very small.
"I have only two questions to ask and then you may leave." Mr. Duval looked around Enid to include Faruz in the inquiry.
"One: Do you recommend we pursue this endeavor further?"
"In my opinion, sir," Enid said cautiously, "No. We're dealing with powers beyond our control and beyond our knowing. I have confidence in our equipment and our abilities--my calculations were flawless--but this is bigger than both and shouldn't be tampered with again."
Faruz only nodded agreement with what she said. Duval listened to her and mulled her words over.
"Second," Duval turned in his swivel chair to the monitor in the wall, "Can you tell who this man was who helped you?"
The surveillance tape showed Arthur and Griff in the midst of the turmoil. Faruz and Enid looked to each other. They glanced at each other to decide who was going to tell him. Enid won out.
"We don't know, sir," Faruz replied, "He showed up about the time everything went haywire. He said he was King Arthur, and I'm not sure I doubt it. All I know is, if it weren't for his help we wouldn't be standing here."
Enid wanted to pinch Faruz. Always answer the question, don't volunteer information. Mr. Duval stood up.
"Thank you. You may go."
Both agents hurried out of the office. Duval didn't give them another thought. Alone in the office, he stared at the image paused on the screen, Arthur looking over his shoulder to face a new dark vision. Duval stepped up to the monitor and touched the screen.
"Could it possibly be? Could King Arthur have truly returned?"