CARBONEK: PART THREE
Outline by Todd Jensen.
Written by Todd Jensen.
With additional material by Ed Reynolds.
Original Artwork by Karen Blackwell and Foxx Laverinth.
Previously on Pendragon....
BROCK: There's something different in the air. I don't know what it is, but it makes me feel as if....
MICHAEL: As if what?
BROCK: As if something's on its way. Something that we've never encountered before.
* * *
VICAR: Do you, Morgana Cornish, take Sir Nigel Sefton for your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, till death do you part?
MORGANA: I do.
VICAR: And do you, Sir Nigel Alistair Sefton, take Morgana Cornish to be your lawfully wedded wife?
NIGEL: I do.
VICAR: Then, by the authority invested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife.
* * *
LEONARD CAMFORD: It is not the end. It is a beginning.
DARIEN: A beginning? A beginning to what?
* * *
MARY: I - I won't be coming back home, father. Not ever.... I love you.
* * *
MORGANA: I cannot believe that my own stepdaughter would do this!... She's going to undo everything that I've worked so hard to achieve, foil my vengeance!... I must stop her from making the sacrifice at all costs, do whatever I can to prevent her.... I'll kill her myself rather than let her do it!
SYBIL: So is there anything that I can do to help?
MORGANA: Yes, there is. Keep Arthur's allies occupied. I can't have them interfering. Do whatever you have to in order to stop them.
SYBIL: Does that mean what I think it does?
MORGANA: It does. No mercy this time.
SYBIL: Thank you. You're finally taking the sensible approach.
* * *
DUVAL (as Carbonek manifests itself): It's happening. Again.
* * *
THE FISHER KING: Before I came here, I bore a different name. My true name is Avallach.
~~~Carbonek Part Two~~~
And now, the conclusion....
* * * * *
In the frozen wastes of Antarctica, the Fenris-wolf lifted his head, gazed northwards, and sniffed the air; his fur tingled as a strange new sensation blew down the winds from far away....
In the Himalayas, Li the dragon pricked up her ears, hoping to catch a sound that she had thought that she had heard far to the west....
In the fields outside Yellow Oak, Jill Clark saw her sheep all facing eastward, bleating; she turned in the same direction herself, and her eyes filled with awe as she realized what was happening....
In his cave in the Pyrenees, Quetzalcoatl opened his eyes and stared out in the direction where the island of Britain lay....
In Broceliande, Nimue stood at the door to her house, a puzzled frown upon her face....
Atop Dinas Bran, Taliesin the bard stared southeast, towards a distant glow upon the horizon....
In her office at King's College, Jane Nelson wheeled her chair over to the open window as a sweet fragrance wafted in upon the wind....
In Piccadilly Circus, Kevin rolled down the window of his cab and stared at the shimmering patterns in the sky to the north, blazing with a glory that would have put the Aurora Borealis to shame....
All over the world, those who had been touched by the magical and otherworldly, and even a few who had not but were close to those who had, could feel it. Something had come back to the world, something far greater than even the mightiest magics of the Third Race.
* * * * *
ALL SAINTS' HOSPITAL
Leonard Camford turned his head to look at his daughter. "It has begun at last," he said. "The Great Quest has begun. Now the Sleeping King has fully awakened, and you must stand by his side."
Jennifer gasped. For a moment it seemed as though Leonardís eyes were clear and bright with intelligence, his pale face looking as it had before his illness. She reached out to take his hand gently, but before she could tell him to relax, he continued in an intense whisper.
"It is your time now, Jennifer," said Leonard. His voice began to weaken as he slowly leant back upon his pillow. "I release you. Go with my blessing, my daughterÖ. It is your time nowÖ."
His eyes closed and his breathing weakened for a moment, and then stopped altogether. Jennifer took his still-warm hand and kissed it. Tears began to form in her eyes and it seemed as though his final words echoed in the silent room.
"It is your time now."
* * * * *
The gathered members of the Illuminati crowded around the monitor screens, staring at the old stone castle displayed upon them in silent awe. It seemed impossible that such a building could have materialized in the air above and lowered itself to the ground, but they had all seen the event and could not deny the evidence of their eyes. Even Duval, who had seen Carbonek before long ago, felt wonderstruck.
Powell was the first of them to recover his voice. "So do we send the troops in now, sir?" he asked.
"Not yet," said Duval. "We have no idea what is in there. I will not risk the lives of our operatives until we know what we are up against."
"Then what are we going to do, sir?" asked another Illuminatus - Balfour, by the sound of his voice.
"Tell all three units to set up observation posts at a distance of ten meters from the walls," said Duval. "They are to deploy their scanning equipment as soon as they do so, and take some readings of the castle. But they are to do nothing more until further instruction."
"With all due respect, sir," said Powell, "I should point out that Arthur Pennington and his companions have already ventured into the castle, without undergoing such procedures. Would it not be more advisable to send at least a few men in after them?"
"Arthur no doubt knows more about this event than we do," said Duval. "He may have been thereby prepared for whatever is inside. But we cannot afford to do the same. It is possible, in any case, that he may bring the Grail out with him." It was a desperate solution, and all the more so since he did not believe that it would happen. But he hoped that his followers, less familiar with the ways of the Holy Grail than he, would buy it.
"And if he doesn't?" asked Powell.
Duval made no reply. He merely continued to stare at the image of Carbonek upon the monitors.
* * *
The gargoyles crouched amid the foliage of the trees, staring out over the field beyond them. Many of them were murmuring in astonishment at the castle that now stood there, a castle that they had never seen before. Griff had been better prepared than the rest of them after all that he had been through with Arthur, but even he felt his breath taken away by the sight.
He turned his attention from the castle itself to the three troops of dark-uniformed men moving towards the walls. When they were about thirty feet from it, they halted and began to unload the equipment that they carried with them, setting it up.
"All right," he said in a low voice, speaking to the other gargoyles. "It looks as though they're not going to attack just yet. What it is that they are going to do, I honestly don't know. But here's my plan.
"Until they actually start to launch an attack, we do nothing but watch. Although we'll fight them if we must, there's no sense in charging into a battle if it wasn't necessary. But the moment that they make an actual assault upon the castle, we act.
"Now, Brianna, Cervus, Faulconbridge, Imogen, Leo, and Una. You stay with me. We'll wait here in the trees and watch the lot by the gates. Michael, you take Caspian, Rosalind, Brock, and Perry over to the right and keep an eye on the troops over there. Boz, you take the rest of the clan over to the left. Got all that?"
The rest of the gargoyles silently nodded.
"Good," said Griff. "So let's move out."
* * *
Down below, Rory, Leba, Dulcinea, and Cavall listened as the gargoyles above shifted their positions. Like their winged allies, they were still hidden among the trees, watching and waiting.
"Do you really think that he did it?" asked Dulcinea in a low voice. "That he killed her?"
"I suppose so," said Leba. "Otherwise Carbonek wouldn't be here. I never actually thought that he'd go through with it, though."
"Neither did I," said Rory. "I still don't get it. Why would the Grail ask him to do somethin' like that?"
"I don't know," said Leba. "Unless maybe the Holy Grail wasn't quite as holy as we all thought."
"There's got to be a better explanation than that," said Dulcinea. "I certainly wouldn't want to think that Arthur's been searching for a lie all this time."
They continued to watch, as the Illuminati troops finished setting up their equipment.
* * * * *
Arthur and his two young companions stood in the great hall of Carbonek, silent in astonishment. All three of them stared at the old man in the throne on wheels. At last, Arthur recovered his voice.
"You are Avallach?" he asked.
"That is true," replied the Fisher King.
"But that's impossible," said Merlin. "I mean, Avallach was killed in the Dragon War! Queen Danu saw him die."
"She said that she saw him die," answered Tanaburs, standing to one side. "There is a difference."
"It was a secret that we have kept for many thousands of years," said Avallach. "Only Tanaburs my seneschal, Danu, and I myself knew that I was still alive."
"And maybe Anubis," put in Tanaburs. "He would be the first to know if someone had truly died or not. But if he did know, he never revealed it to anybody. That's one reason why I've always rather liked the jackal-god. He's a model of discretion."
"But why the cover-up, Your Majesty?" asked the young-old wizard. "I mean, why hide the fact that you were still alive?"
"You need not be quite so formal when addressing me, Merlin," said Avallach with a gentle smile. "'Grandfather' will do. But to answer your question - I am afraid that it was necessary. For although I was still alive, as you could see, I had survived only barely. I never did recover from the wound that Balinos dealt me." He shook his head sadly. "I did not die from it, but I was so greatly weakened by its effects that I might as well have been dead. Danu, Tanaburs, and I realized it then - just as they also realized that I would no longer be able to rule over Avalon and its people in my condition. I would be vulnerable to attack - and certainly there were many among the Fair Folk who would have seen my malady as an opportune time to rebel. We agreed that there was only one thing to do. Tanaburs had me secretly conveyed to this castle, Carbonek, which he had himself built. Within its walls, I could not actually heal from this grievous wound, but I could survive. And she told the rest of my people that I had succumbed to my injuries."
"And Oberon and Madoc fought each other over the throne, beginning the Unseelie Wars," said Arthur.
Avallach nodded sadly. "I had feared that such a thing might come to pass even then," he said. "I wish that I could have prevented it. But there was no way that I could do so. I could not last long outside Carbonek, and so I had to remain here. And even if my sons had both known that I was alive, they would also have seen that I could not rule any longer, and that one of them must take my place. So I could not intervene. I have regretted that every day since, as I saw the evils that Madoc inflicted upon the world, knowing that I could do nothing to prevent them. The only consolation that I had was that he had also brought forth one element of good through his schemes and plots, though without intending it."
The others looked at Merlin, understanding what the old Fisher King meant.
* * * * *
"Gamma Leader to Powell," said Stebbins over his hand-held two-way radio. "Position has been set up, ten meters from the outer wall. Scanning equipment has been deployed. Over."
"Excellent," said Powell's voice. "Now proceed to Phase Two. Inspect the wall. Inspect it properly. Over."
"Understood, sir," said Captain Stebbins with a smile, as he heard Powell stress the word "properly". "Gamma Leader out."
He turned to his followers. "New instructions," he said to them. "Half of you stay here and operate the scanning equipment. The other half, follow me to the wall. Deploy grappling-hooks at my signal."
His men pulled the grappling-hooks from their packs, and followed him towards the castle wall in silence.
* * *
"What is going on here?" cried Duval, staring at the monitor screen. "I specifically gave orders that there was to be no assault upon the castle until I gave the word. Why is Team Gamma disobeying my command?"
"I don't know, sir," said Powell. "But I'll order them to desist at once."
He switched on his two-way radio again, then frowned after a moment. "My apologies, sir," he said. "Something must be jamming their frequency. I can't reach them." He added, in what appeared to be an afterthought, "I wonder if the presence of the Grail Castle could be creating this interference."
"Perhaps," said Duval grimly, as the paramilitaries reached the base of the wall. "Let us hope that that is the case."
* * *
At Stebbins' order, the grappling hooks flew up into the air, and anchored themselves upon the battlements.
"Start climbing," Stebbins said, beginning to rappel up the castle wall as he spoke.
The others followed his lead. But they had only gone a few feet off the ground when the castle wall trembled slightly. The stones forming the battlements shifted, enough to dislodge the hooks. Stebbins and his team landed upon the ground with a series of slight thuds.
"What was that, sir?" asked the man to Stebbins' left. "An earthquake?"
"It can't have been," said Stebbins as he picked himself up. He looked up at the battlements and frowned.
* * *
Michael stared at the sight before him, wide-eyed. "Now there's something that you don't see every day," he murmured to himself.
"I guess that we should have seen it coming," said Caspian. "This is Carbonek, after all. Maybe it's better at looking after itself than we thought."
"Still, they've made their move," said Michael. "So now it's time for us to do the same. Forward!"
The gargoyles sprang out from the trees and swooped down at the Illuminati paramilitaries below with blood-curdling screeches. The dark-uniformed men looked up in utter astonishment as they came, then prepared to defend themselves from the attack. But it was clear enough that it was already too late.
* * *
"Team Gamma under attack by - by gargoyles, sir," said Balfour.
Duval nodded. "This should not come as a surprise to us," he said. "Not in light of the nature of some of Arthur Pennington's known associates."
"Should we send Teams Alpha and Beta to their aid, sir?" asked Giles. He had been standing next to Singleton, but walked over now to rejoin his leader.
"No," said Duval. "We do not know if these are the only gargoyles in the area. There might be others close by, and if the other two teams leave their posts, those other gargoyles might occupy them. Tell them to remain where they are, but to be prepared for similar ambushes in their respective areas."
"I don't think that it's only gargoyles that we have to worry about, sir," said Balfour, pointing to another monitor screen. A small group of ragged-looking humans was emerging from the trees near Team Alpha's encampment. Their hands were glowing with some form of almost magical energy.
"What on earth are they?" cried Singleton, staring at them.
"Vampyres," said Duval. "So they've decided to become involved as well."
* * *
"The vampyres are back," said Griff, spotting the newcomers heading towards Carbonek from the left.
He turned to the other gargoyles. "Change in plans," he said. "We go to help Boz. He'll need it with both the Illuminati and the vampyres there."
"But what about the Illuminati in front of the castle gates?" asked Faulconbridge. "If we join Boz, there'll be nobody to watch them."
"We'll just have to hope that they don't do anything while we're gone," said Griff. "Now, follow me."
He and his followers spread out their wings and glided out from the trees, straight for the vampyres, eyes blazing white and red.
* * *
"The vampyres are here too?" asked Rory.
"I suppose that it wouldn't be just the Illuminati who'd take an interest in the Grail," said Dulcinea. "Well, let's join Griff, shall we?"
"Yes, we should," said Leba, a sad tone to her voice.
The three knights and Cavall rushed out across the field to join their gargoyle companions.
* * *
"Sir, we need reinforcements," said Stebbins to Powell over his hand-held radio. He ducked as what appeared to be a humanoid badger with wings swooped at him, and glanced back at his men. They were getting off a few shots at their aerial assailants, but the darkness was hindering their aim.
"Hold fast," said Powell. "I'm coming as quickly as possible. Just stay together until I arrive."
"Yes, sir," said Stebbins. As he lowered his radio, he added, under his breath, "And that's easy to say when you're not the one being attacked by -"
There was a crackling sound, a smell of ozone in the air, and something sent his radio flying from his hand, hurling it against the stone wall. The communicator burst into pieces with a miniature explosion, scattering fried circuitry everywhere. Stebbins turned around to see a man in a purple robe advancing towards him, clasping a medallion shaped like a seven-pointed star in one hand. Behind him was a crowd of black-clad Goth-looking youths.
"Who the devil are you?" cried Stebbins.
"I am Lucius Tiberius Adrians," said the purple-clad man in a haughty, disdainful voice. "And you are nothing but a nuisance standing between me and my destiny."
Stebbins readied his gun, but Lucius cried out something in Latin. A second blast of energy shot out from his medallion, this one sending Stebbins' weapon flying from his hand. Before he could go after it, the Minions closed in about him.
* * *
"First Illuminati, now Minions," said Michael, circling overhead as he continued to direct the gargoyles under his command. "Is every trouble-maker in London gathering here tonight?"
"It looks that way," said Caspian. "Well, we'll simply have to deal with them as well."
"I hope that the others aren't facing this level of opposition," said Brock, as he swerved out of the way of one of Lucius's magical blasts in time.
* * *
"Blasted vampyres!" muttered Boz, as an energy blast grazed his left wing. "I thought that we'd seen the last of them after the Unseelie War!"
"All the same, we'll do whatever we can to stop them," said Griff. "Remember, as long as they're fighting us, they can't endanger Arthur."
As he spoke, he glanced back for a moment at the walls of Carbonek. What is going on in there, he wondered.
* * * * *
"I'm not entirely certain that I qualify as the one blessing that Madoc Morfryn gave the world," said Merlin uncomfortably. "I know that a lot of people would agree with you on that, but Morgana certainly wouldn't. And there are times," he added, bowing his head, "when I certainly haven't felt inclined to blame her."
"Ah, yes," said Tanaburs. "That was one topic that we would have to address eventually. The war between Uther and Gorlois in Cornwall that began the chain of events that led to your presence here."
Arthur and Merlin both nodded guiltily.
"Do we really have to bring it up?" asked Mary. "I mean - yes, Morgana has suffered and all that, but that still doesn't give her the right to go around trying to kill Merlin and Arthur. And besides, it was over a thousand years ago."
"That doesn't make any difference," said Merlin. "We're still responsible for the destruction of her childhood, and she knows it."
"He speaks the truth," said Tanaburs. "Remember, the trouble all began when Uther first set covetous eyes upon the Lady Igraine, and invaded Cornwall to seize her by force. And then Merlin helped him gain access to her at Tintagel by giving him the outward likeness of Gorlois. That same night, Gorlois, seeing that Uther was absent from the host besieging his castle, made a sortie and was slain in the fighting."
"Thus making me partly responsible for Gorlois's death," said Merlin. "If Uther had still been in his camp that night instead of in Tintagel, the duke might not have issued forth from the walls."
"But Merlin only did it so that Arthur could be born," said the girl.
"I did it all the same," said Merlin. "And in so doing, I helped unleash Morgana's quest for revenge upon Britain, and upon the world. Things would have probably been a lot better if I had simply decided to forget about the prophetic visions that I'd had. In fact, there've been times when I wondered if they were real visions or simple delusions. It never did make much sense to me - and makes less every time that I think about it - that Arthur had to be born through tyranny and deception." He looked at Avallach and Tanaburs as if about to ask them a question.
"The visions were genuine," said Tanaburs. "But as for why the circumstances of Arthur's birth were that way - even we do not know. The world is a strange place. And ultimately, the responsibility is Morgana's. She did not have to choose revenge - but she did so all the same."
* * * * *
Macbeth ducked as another of Morgana's fireballs shot over his head, bursting in mid-air. "Youíll have to do better than that, my lady," he said.
Morgana was fuming by now, her face livid with rage. "You will not thwart my vengeance!" she shrieked. "I must pass! And I shall!"
"I was hoping that it wouldnít have to come to this," said Macbeth apologetically, as he pulled out his electromagnetic gun. "But I made a promise to Arthur, and I will keep it. I cannot let you by."
He shot out a blast of electricity at her. Morgana merely held up her hands, her fingers spread out in a magical gesture. The charge halted just before it reached her, hovering in the air in the form of a small sphere of crackling energy. Then, with a flash, it shot back at Macbeth, hitting him square in the chest.
The immortal Scotsman was hurled back against the nearest tree and slumped to the ground, semi-conscious. Morgana walked past him, a grimly resolute expression on her face. "I will return to decide your fate after I have settled Arthur and Merlin," she said to him, glancing back in his direction for a moment. Then she continued on her way down the forest path.
* * * * *
"Teams Alpha and Gamma are both engaged, sir," said an aide to Captain Kendrick, in Team Betaís new position. "Do we go to their aid?"
Kendrick shook his head. "Theyíll have to deal with it themselves," he said. "In the meantime, we have to keep a watch on the gates. You never know when somebody might come out of there - or when we can find a way of getting in."
"Yes, sir," said the aide. He paused. "Did you hear that? Sounds like footsteps, coming this way."
Kendrick turned around, in the direction of the sound. Something was advancing from the woods towards them. As it came into view, he saw what it was. A figure roughly the size and shape of a human, but with scaly skin and the head of a dragon, wearing a scarlet tunic and carrying a staff, was standing before Team Beta.
"Out of my way, humansss!" it hissed. "Now!"
"All right, men!" shouted Kendrick. "Take that thing down, whatever it is!"
* * *
The leader of the vampyres turned around at Leba, who had spoken. The bard still bore her quarterstaff, but held it lowered to the ground, to indicate that she came in peace. "What do you want?" Sarah asked her.
"I want to talk to you," said Leba. "Now, listen, Sarah, you don't have to do this. Please listen to me. You remember how I've helped you out before - "
"Yes, I do," said Sarah. "But even you can't help us become human again. And what's inside that castle can. So we can't let anybody stop us from getting inside. Not even you."
She shot out an energy blast at Leba, who hurriedly dodged it in time. Two more vampyres joined in the attack, however. Cavall rammed into one and knocked him off balance, but the other one leaped at Leba and grappled with her, forcing her to the ground. Dulcinea and Rory had already become separated from the bard and the gargoyle beast in the fray, and the gargoyles above were already occupied with the Illuminati troops and the bulk of the vampyres alike.
Hissing sharply, the vampyre stood up and raised one hand. Magical energy curled about Leba's wrists and ankles, fastening them to the ground. She struggled to get to her feet, but her bonds were too strong. The vampyre was about to deliver the finishing blow.
Then he turned too late, as something large with shining headlights rushed towards him. A good-sized army truck rammed into him, sending him flying backwards. The truck halted and Molly climbed out from the driver's seat.
"What are you doing here?" asked Leba sharply, as she sat up. Her fetters had dissolved and she could move again.
"Actin' against my better judgment," said Molly. "And by the way, you're welcome."
"And did you have to actually run into him?" asked Leba, looking at the vampyre's form sprawled out upon the ground, not far away.
"It was either you or him," said the disguised Banshee with a shrug. "I don't see why you need to be makin' such a big fuss over it."
Leba was about to reply when she saw something moving overhead, something that was definitely not a gargoyle. She ran at Molly and knocked her down as a few ravens swooped down at them, cawing fiercely.
* * *
"Ravens everywhere," said Dulcinea, as she, Rory, and Griff crowded together. The birds were swooping down on all the combatants without discrimination, attacking vampyres, Illuminati troops, and gargoyles alike. "Three guesses as to who's behind it."
"I agree," said Rory, swinging the Gae Bolga in its cudgel form at one bird. "There are too many of them to fight, also. If we're goin' to stop these birds, we're goin' to have to find Morgana."
"Yes," agreed Dulcinea. "But I don't think that we've got that much hope of taking her down. If Merlin was well again and here, then yes, but none of us are sorcerers."
"No, we aren't," said Rory. "But I'm something almost as good. The hero of ancient Ireland."
He shifted into his Cuchulain form with a fury of golden energy, holding the Gae Bolga up high. Once more it took on the form of a javelin made from lightning, blazing like the sun. The champion of Ulster let out a battle-cry and the ravens about him scattered.
As he turned his head he saw a slender figure standing by the trees, as if directing the birds' movements above. He rushed towards it, leaving the others behind him.
* * *
Sybil smiled eagerly as she stood at the edge of the woods, watching that portion of Morgana's raven flock that her fellow sorceress had entrusted to her attacking the battling factions. "Yes!" she cried. "Fly, my pretties! Fly!" In a lower tone of voice, she added, "I've always wanted to say that."
What looked like a spear made of lightning shot past her just then. Sybil turned around in astonishment to see a man dressed like an ancient Celtic warrior, bearing a great shield, striding towards her. He raised his hand and caught the spear as it returned.
"You're not the one whom I was expectin'," said Cuchulain in a great voice. "Where's Morgana?"
"Sorry, she's a little busy at the moment," said Sybil. "But I can deliver you a message from her. It can be summed up in one word. DIE!"
She raised both hands and cried out a Latin incantation. A ball of fire formed in the air above her head and shot out at the Irish hero. Cuchulain threw the Gae Bolga at it. The Spear of Light struck Sybil's spell in mid-air, shattering it. Small fires rained down, vanishing before they could strike the ground.
Sybil scowled. "Either Morgana hasn't been doing her homework on the modern-day knights of the Round Table, or else she's been keeping secrets from me," she said. "She didn't say a thing about Arthur having anybody like you in his company. Well, no matter. I am going to be taking you down, no matter what."
* * *
"Whatís happening with Team Beta?" Duval cried.
"Weíve lost visual, sir," said a technician apologetically. "The surveillance cameras must have been destroyed in the fight. But weíve still got audio."
"I knew that we should have used the Sword," muttered an Illuminatus in the background. "We wouldn't be experiencing this trouble if we had."
"Kendrick?" shouted Duval almost frantically over the radio, ignoring the comment. He could still hear the noise of battle over it, shouts and gunfire. "What is going on here? Answer me!"
The sounds of fighting suddenly ceased. "Kendrick?" Duval called out. "Kendrick?"
* * *
"Kendrick, are you there?" Duvalís voice cried over the two-way radio, lying on the ground beside the captainís still form. "Answer me!"
Isfet brought her foot down upon the radio, crushing it. She then walked over to the scanning equipment, making her way between the sprawled-out and motionless bodies of Team Betaís men. "Now to do sssome proper invessstigating," she said, a thin smile of satisfaction curving across her features, as she began making some adjustments to the control settings.
As she bent over the machinery, she never noticed a dark figure coming out from the woods behind her. Morgana glanced briefly in astonishment at the dragon-like being, but then continued silently on her way towards the unguarded castle gates.
* * * * *
"I must confess," said Merlin, "that I never really thought that Morgana seriously had the option not to seek revenge. After all, she'd had to deal with the loss of her father and then being uprooted and placed in a nunnery for schooling when she was only eight years old. That had to be traumatic. Of course, I'm probably not the ideal person to be discussing the impact of a father's death in light of what my own father was like." He looked at Avallach again. "I'm sorry," he added. "Madoc was your family too."
"I know," said Avallach gently.
"You're forgetting one thing," said Tanaburs. "Morgana had two sisters, who had shared her loss. Morgause and Elaine. And they never sought vengeance. Oh, Morgause helped bring about some grief for Arthur, but without intending to."
Arthur nodded sadly, clearly remembering the fateful night at Caerleon. "They never showed any hatred for me or for Merlin," he said. "Or even for Uther, for that matter."
"They were wiser," said Avallach. "They felt the pain, but they realized that revenge would never make things right. Their father was dead, and no act of retaliation, however justified it might appear, could change that. Revenge only adds to the cycle of misery. And it wasn't even necessary to achieve justice."
"That's correct," said Tanaburs, waving his steward's baton at one of the walls. "Gorlois was avenged, without Morgana having to lift a finger. Uther Pendragon died an ignominious death in bed, crippled by a wasting illness." As he spoke, the image appeared upon the wall of an extremely thin man with greying hair and a beard lying in bed in the chamber of a castle. Several knights and priests stood about him, looking down in silence. The bedridden man coughed a few times, struggling to speak. Before he could speak, however, he gave one last convulsion, then lay still.
"And Merlin," Tanaburs went on, "who helped betray a woman, was himself betrayed by one. Twice." The scene on the wall changed in quick succession to Merlin as an old man trapped inside the Tower of Air, crying out piteously to Nimue as she walked away from him, and then to him in his Emrys form, staring in horror and confusion at Corbie McKenna as she reverted to her true appearance as the Morrigan. Merlin looked at the scenes from his past with an uncomfortable expression upon his face. Mary gently clasped one of his hands between both of her own.
"Things came full circle," said the seneschal. "But Morgana would not see that. Instead, she pursued her revenge, and it harmed the people whom she most loved." The image on the wall briefly changed to first Arthur felling Accolon with Excalibur, and then Morfydd burning up into ashes. "And the main target of her revenge was neither Uther - though he died before she even had the opportunity to strike against him - or Merlin, but Arthur, who had himself taken no part in the war that destroyed her family. He alone was an innocent."
"Not quite," said Arthur, thinking of his own time with Morgause and its results.
"That is true," said Tanaburs. "But the Holy Grail is about forgiveness, not about revenge. Those who have recognized the errors of their ways and abandoned them can move on. So it is with you both," he said to Arthur and Merlin. "And so it may be with Morgana, if she will only listen."
"I don't think that she will," said Mary. "She never has before."
"It might be different this time," said Tanaburs. "Or it might not. We cannot tell until we make the effort."
"And it is possible for people to change, even the most unlikely ones," said Avallach. "In the early days of the Dragon War, some of my knights ran wild and carried out dreadful acts against the dragons and those who were closely akin to them. But then they repented of their past evils and changed their lives for the better. They even came here at one point and attended upon me once more, for a time. They left long ago, however, and I have not seen them since. Indeed, where they are now is a mystery to me."
* * *
Isfet hissed in fury as she heard the old man's words over the equipment. She brought her scaled fist down upon it, shattering it.
"They're not here!" she howled. "All that time sssearching for Carbonek, and it wasss all for nothing! Nothing!"
She kicked a piece of circuitry savagely. Her one hope of finding the Gryphon Knights and carrying out a proper, cataclysmic vengeance upon them had been dashed. Her eyes blazed with fury as she howled out her indignation.
* * *
"What was that?" asked Brianna, as the screech reached her ears.
"I don't know," said Faulconbridge. "But it didn't sound good to me."
"And it sounded as if it was comin' from the castle gates," said Brianna. "Boz and the others left that place unguarded when they came to help us! We'd better go see what's goin' on there!"
Faulconbridge motioned to Cervus and Imogen to follow him and Brianna, as they sped towards the front of the castle.
* * * * *
"So it's just you and Tanaburs now?" asked Mary.
"Indeed," said Avallach. "Danu sometimes visits me, but not often. I suppose that she finds my condition too grievous to her to remain here long. But I have had other guests. About two thousand years ago, an old man named Joseph came here to stay the night."
Tanaburs waved his baton and a fresh image appeared on the wall. It showed Avallach and Tanaburs side by side in the great hall of Carbonek, speaking to a grey-bearded man dressed in the clothing of Judea in the first century A.D. The old man was holding an object wrapped in samite in his hands.
"He bore a great treasure with him," said Avallach, "and begged us to look after it for him. We have done so ever since."
"The Holy Grail," said Arthur, nodding.
"And five centuries later," said Avallach, "there were three others who came, seeking it." Tanaburs gestured with his steward's rod, and again the picture changed. Joseph was replaced by three knights in armor. One, a fair-haired young man with a striking similarity to Mr. Duval in his features, was kneeling before the still-veiled Grail, a look of rapture upon his face, while the other two knights stood behind him, looking almost as awed.
"Galahad, Percival, and Bors," said Merlin.
"All three are gone now, of course," said Avallach. "There were others who came to Carbonek after them, but none of them were ever vouchsafed a sight of the Grail."
"Though they did have their share of interesting experiences," put in Tanaburs. "And they brought their tales back with them to the outside world. What do you think inspired the legends about Prester John?"
"But you three are the third group of guests whom I shall entertain in my hall," said Avallach. "And the last as well."
* * *
Isfet calmed herself down as she thought over her discovery. An idea was stirring in her head.
"Ssso the Gryphon Knightsss have left, and not even Avallach knowsss where they are now," she said to herself. "That isss no matter. I can sssimply amussse myssself with him inssstead."
She began to stride towards the gates of Carbonek. "The only quessstion isss what I ssshould do with him," she said to herself. "Finisssh the tasssk that that human began? Or presssent him asss a gift to father? Lord Apep will certainly be pleasssed to have hisss ancient enemy in hisss power."
There was the sound of whooshing wings, and four gargoyles alighted between her and the castle. "So, it's ye again," said their leader, a green-skinned female with a Scottish accent. "I should have known that ye'd be returning."
"Out of my way!" said Isfet wrathfully. "Out of my way, now!"
"If ye want to enter the castle, ye'll have to go through us first," said the female gargoyle, her eyes glowing red.
"That can be arranged," said Isfet with a snarl, as she lunged at them.
* * *
Morgana stood in the shadow of the tower to the right of the gate and watched as the gargoyles and the dragon-like female fought. For a moment she wondered what the creature was and why it was trying to enter the Grail Castle. Then she shook her head.
"It's none of my business," she said to herself. "What matters is that Arthur and Merlin are both finally mine. Both must die tonight!"
She took the golden dragon figurine out and held it in front of her, mentally going over the spell that she must cast with it one last time as she stormed through the open gates and into the courtyard. No one saw her enter.
* * * * *
"Did we hear you right, sir?" asked Mary, as she stood by Merlin's wheelchair. "The last visitors that you'll ever have?"
"Yes," said Avallach. "The time of the Grail is drawing to an end. Very soon, it will leave this world forever, and I shall be accompanying it."
"There's one other thing that I don't understand," the girl went on. "Why is it that the Grail hasn't cured you? Unless it means," she added, in an uneasy voice, "that it won't be able to save Merlin's life after all."
"You do not need to fear," said Avallach. "The curative properties of the Holy Grail are no myth. It can save Merlin's life. And it could have healed my wound as well. I merely chose not to make use of it. I believe that my own time has passed. I have only remained here as long as I have because the Grail needed a guardian until the time that its work was done and I could pass on my duties to another."
"But if the Grail's going to be leaving with you," Mary began, "then who -"
There was the sound of footsteps outside the great hall, drawing closer. The double doors opened of themselves, and Morgana strode into the room, her face contorted with rage. She bore a small statue of a dragon with wings outstretched, wrought of gold, in her hands.
"This is the end for both of you!" she shouted, staring wrathfully at Arthur and Merlin.
* * * * *
"We've lost all contact with Team Beta," said Duval. "And with the other two teams locked in battle, we can't send either one to investigate. That leaves us with only one other option. I am going there personally."
"Not by yourself, surely," said Giles.
"No, you're coming with me," said Duval. "And Powell as well." He paused. "Where is Powell, anyway? For that matter, where's Singleton?"
The Illuminati present looked about the room, but both members were missing.
"I don't know about Powell, sir," said Balfour. "But I thought that I saw Singleton slip out a moment ago."
"Thank you," said Duval. "While Giles and I find him, the rest of you stay here. Continue monitoring the situation while I'm away."
The two men left the pub, and stepped out into the village. "So where is he?" Duval asked, looking about him.
"I have an idea, sir," said Giles, pulling a small device out from his pocket. "I've slipped a tracking device onto Singleton's person. It'll lead us straight to him."
"You did that to Andrew?" asked Duval. "Why?"
"Forgive me, sir, but he has been acting strangely in the last few days," said Giles. "I know that you won't like to hear this, since he has been supporting you, but I felt that someone needed to keep an eye on him."
"I hope that you've misjudged him," said Duval as they walked down the street between the shadowy houses. "I would certainly hate to think that he would be -"
Giles raised a finger to his lips. The leader of the Illuminati recognized the meaning of the gesture and fell silent. The tracking device began to hum louder as they approached one of the side-alleys. Quietly the two men turned down it. Singleton was standing in a corner, speaking in a low voice into a two-way radio.
"No, no, no," he was saying. "Donít fall back. Do you want the Grail or donít you? You can take them down. Keep on fighting! You have to get inside the castle."
Duval stared at the Illuminatus whom he had trusted for so long, scarcely able to believe his ears. He coughed loudly, and spoke. "Andrew, is there something that you wish to share with us?"
Singleton spun around and stared at Duval in alarm.
"I believed you to be one of the few men left in the Inner Circle that I could fully count on," Duval cried, looking him accusingly. "And this is what you do behind my back?"
Singleton stepped back hesitantly, reaching into his coat pocket as Duval and Giles stepped forward. Then, with a look upon his face of a man who has nothing left to lose, he whipped out from it a small electromagnetic gun. He pointed it at Duval and pulled the trigger.
"Look out, sir!" cried Giles, shoving Duval out of the way. The electric blast struck him, hurling him against the nearest wall. He slumped to the ground, unconscious.
"So you truly are a traitor," said Duval, climbing to his feet.
"You're scarcely one to talk about betrayal, Mr. Duval," said Singleton, readying his gun for another charge. "Or does the name of Queen Guinevere no longer ring a bell to you?"
"You will not dishonor her name by speaking it!" cried Duval. He ducked in time as the gun's electrical bolt shot past him, then pulled back his coat and whipped Joyeux out of its scabbard. Before Singleton could attack a third time, he leapt at the man and brought his sword down upon the gun, cleaving it in two.
Singleton seemed alarmed for a moment, but quickly recovered himself. He drew a sword of his own from beneath his coat and thrust it at Duval, who parried it neatly.
* * *
"Do you have an explanation for this, Brunning?"
The leader of Team Alpha turned around, to see Powell standing there, a look of extreme disapproval upon his face. The Illuminatus had two swords hanging from his belt now, ornate-looking weapons with a definite chivalric design to them.
"My apologies, sir," said Brunning with a salute. "Most of my men are still on their feet, as you can see. We're holding our own."
"But doing no more than that," said Powell.
"I'm sorry, sir," said Brunning. "We weren't prepared for a small army of gargoyles. If it was the Sword that was here instead of us, then it'd be different."
"I quite agree," said Powell. "But Duval had decided against it, and however foolish his decision appears in hindsight now, there's no point in regretting it. In the meantime, I am taking command of this situation directly. From here on out, you and your men will be reporting directly to me."
"Yes, sir," said Brunning.
Powell looked up at the gargoyles battling the remaining Illuminati troops and nodded as he saw Griff. "I thought that he'd be here," he said. "And no doubt he's the leader behind this attack. If we can deal with him, the others will be more easily routed."
"Should we concentrate our fire upon him, sir?" Brunning asked.
"No," said Powell. "Continue to hold off your other attackers. Stand your ground. I'll settle him."
He made his way past the paramilitaries, who were still fending off the gargoyles. What was left of Team Alpha had banded together and was firing shots upwards at its aerial attackers. A couple of gargoyles had been winged, but did not seem badly injured. Powell halted when he was close to the castle wall, and gazed upwards at the griffon-like gargoyle who was leading the attack. "Sir Griff!" he called out.
Griff turned in his direction, and glided towards him. "What do you want?" he asked as he alit, his eyes blazing white.
"Only to give you this," said Powell, tossing one of the two swords at the gargoyle. Griff caught it in mid-air, a puzzled expression upon his face. Powell immediately lunged at him with the other sword drawn and in his hand, before Griff had quite realized what was going on. However, Arthur's premier knight still managed to parry the initial attack, and thrust back. Powell neatly dodged the blow.
* * * * *
"What is she doing here?" asked Mary. "How did she get in?"
At the sound of the girl's voice, Morgana turned about. Her eyes fell upon Mary and she stared in astonishment and disbelief at her stepdaughter. But then she looked back at Arthur and Merlin and the hatred and fury returned to her face.
"I want you both out of my life, now and forever," she said. "I will have my vengeance upon you and upon all who side with you! No more mercy, no more sparing your friends! I will wipe you all off the face of the earth!"
"My lady," said Avallach, "is this what you want? You have one final opportunity to put aside your rage and vengeance. Do not reject it, I pray you."
"Do you think to gainsay me?" Morgana shouted at him. "I have come here to make an end, and so I shall!"
She held the figurine in her hands high above her head and cried out something in a harsh tongue. A cold wind blew through the hall, shrieking and howling. Flames erupted from the floor about Morgana, hiding her form from view. Mary grabbed hold of Merlin's wheelchair and pulled it back, while Arthur reluctantly drew Excalibur.
The fires roared up until they reached the ceiling, and then something emerged from them. A great red dragon with outspread wings stepped forth from the pillar of flame where Morgana had stood but a moment before. It opened its mouth wide and shot a gout of fire down at Arthur.
The former king of Britain rushed out of the way in time, ducking behind a pillar. Mary pulled Merlin behind the opposite pillar and peered out.
"This is unnecessary, Morgana," Arthur protested. "You do not have to do this. We can talk."
The dragon simply bellowed in fury and breathed out more fire at him. Arthur leapt out of the way of the flames, and spoke again.
"You've already gained nothing but misery in this pointless war," he said. "You've lost Accolon and Morfydd. Do you want to repeat that tragedy again? End the cycle, Morgana. Put aside your hatred. If not for my sake, then for yours."
The dragon swung her tail at him by way of response. Arthur ducked and the tail smote the pillar that he had been standing next to, shattering it. Pieces of stone scattered across the floor. Arthur stepped back, carefully moving away from where Merlin and Mary were standing, away from Avallach and the table upon which the Holy Grail stood. Tanaburs rushed to his side, raising his baton aloft. It shimmered in his hands, changing into a sword.
"I don't think that she can comprehend your words in this form, Arthur," the seneschal of Carbonek said. "All that she's got left is rage. Blind, unthinking rage."
"I have to do something," protested Arthur. "I cannot simply kill her, even if she is a beast rather than a woman now. There's been enough bloodshed in this feud already. Slaying her will solve nothing, and will only increase the cycle of wrongs that Uther began."
"Reason won't reach her in this shape," said Tanaburs. "So if you won't fight her, that leaves us with only one avenue. Run!"
Arthur and Tanaburs ran towards the nearest doorway, out of the great hall and down a long torch-lit corridor. The dragon followed them, crashing through the doorway and enlarging it. Masonry rained down upon the floor behind it as it continued its pursuit.
* * * * *
Sybil gestured at the nearest tree, which uprooted itself and hurtled through the air at Cuchulain. The Gae Bolga shot into it, shattering it into a shower of smoldering tree bark.
"So what does it take to bring you down?" the Queen of Northgalis asked aloud, raising an eyebrow at the devastation. She glanced over at a now-abandoned Illuminati military truck and smiled. She waved her right hand at it and sent it flying at Cuchulain as well.
This time, the Irish warrior did not even try to counter it with the Spear of Light. He merely leapt aside as the vehicle struck the ground and went up in flames. When he regained his footing, he brought the Gae Bolga down upon the ground hard, making it tremble. Sybil went flying off her feet.
"If you want to play rough, then that's what you'll get," she said, pulling herself painfully to her feet. "You come from the Emerald Isle, I understand. Well, let me introduce you to a few colorful creatures that you won't be likely to meet back home."
She pointed to the ground and shouted out "Serpentes venite!"
There was a flash of green light and snakes appeared from out of thin air, coiling themselves about Cuchulain's legs. The hero of Ulster shook them off, but for every snake that fell to the ground, two more took its place.
"So where's St. Patrick when you need him?" asked Sybil with a cruel smile.
* * *
Dulcinea sped about the castle wall on Rosinante's back, still uncertain as to why she had suddenly, on what seemed to her a sudden whim, left the others and was now circling about the rear of Carbonek. At least, she was until she heard the voice of Lucius ahead, sounding as though it was coming from around the corner, and then she understood. "Follow me!" he was shouting. "To battle! We shall drive them from the field utterly!"
"This is probably the stupidest thing that I've ever done," she said to herself. "But I might still be able to get through to them. And I always play a hunch."
She turned the corner to see Lucius and the Minions making for the castle. Michael and his gargoyles were too busy driving off what was left of the Illuminati troops on this side of the wall to halt them. It was all up to her now, she realized. Hurriedly she galloped forward to bar their way.
"Out of the way, woman!" Lucius shouted at her. "Go, or face our wrath!"
"Sorry," said Dulcinea, "but I'm not moving."
Lucius raised his medallion high, and shouted "Fulminus venite!" The medallion glowed for a moment, then issued only a few small sparks which fell harmlessly upon the ground, winking out. Lucius uttered a cry of disgust, apparently having realized too late just how he had overextended himself in the battle with the Illuminati troops.
"So you call that magic?" asked Dulcinea. She raised one hand and waved it at the walls of Carbonek behind her. "Now this is magic!"
The Minions stared up at the battlements high above her, silent and awestruck now.
"If you're flocking to Lucius because he's the power," she said, "then think again. He can't help you. You want to be on the winning side, you want the hope, the glory, the camaraderie: look at us, guys and gals. We've got the heroes, we've got the castle. We're really the only game in town. Do you still want to fight us?"
"Don't listen to her!" shouted Lucius. "She's only a lackey for some overrated petty chieftain! A man who thought that he was something just because he could form a rabble of woad-clad savages and have them trounce another band of savages! Who are you going to listen to? One of those so-called knights of Arthur Pendragon's, or the heir of Caesar himself?"
The Minions looked at Dulcinea in silence. Then some of them turned and walked away from Lucius, heading into the woods in silence. Some of them remained, Char and Eddie among them, but even they appeared uncertain.
"Come back here, you deserters!" shouted Lucius. "How dare you abandon your master? Come back!"
But the Minions who had left showed no sign of having even heard him. Lucius clenched his fists in rage, then drew a Roman short sword from his belt and rushed at Dulcinea.
Rosinante swerved in time, avoiding the sorcerer's charge. Dulcinea quickly dismounted, however, and stepped forward to meet him.
They grappled for a moment. Dulcinea held Lucius too close to her to allow him to use his gladius against her, and at last forced the sword from his hand. She then pushed him back onto the ground. "Go," she said to him in a stern voice. "Now."
"So you honestly believe that you've won," said Lucius, picking himself up and staring at her balefully. "Foolish girl. You've merely won a battle, not a war. We will return. We always return. No matter how often you defeat us upon the field, we will rebuild our forces and face you again. In the end, it is we who will be the victors."
"You're fooling nobody but yourself," said Dulcinea. "Even your own followers won't believe you much longer. I could get through to them because I believe that, deep down inside, most of us want something better in this world than what you and your former masters were offering them. The Minions are human beings, and they're capable of the best that humanity can do as well as the worst."
"Humanity is weak and divided, incapable of governing itself," replied the sorcerer. "It needs a strong hand to force it down the right path. I was hoping that the Dark Lord would provide that hand, but since he is no more, I must take his place. And take it I shall."
He turned about and walked away into the night, the remnants of his followers following him. Dulcinea watched them leave, then shook her head sadly.
* * * * *
The dragon that had been Morgana la Fay forced her way into another hall and turned her head this way and that, sniffing the air for some sign of her prey.
From above a shower of arrows rained down upon her back. The shafts all shattered themselves harmlessly upon her scaly hide, but she lifted her head and looked up. Several statues of crossbowmen and archers stood on their podiums high up on the walls, just below the vaulted ceiling. They were setting fresh arrows to their bows, to prepare for another volley.
Screeching in rage, she sprang at them, striking at them with her claws and tail. Some of the statues fell off their posts and plummeted to the ground, shattering. Others let fly again, shooting more arrows at her until the dragon battered them into rubble.
A movement at the far end of the hall caught her eye. She ran towards Arthur and Tanaburs as they fled, howling once more and breathing fire at them. Tanaburs raised one hand and a shield of blue light appeared between them and the flames, blocking her assault.
"Can you do anything more?" Arthur asked him.
"This is the best, I'm afraid," said Tanaburs. "I have some idea as to what sort of spell she used, and I can tell that it was a very dark one. Dark, and beyond my ability to undo. I'm sorry."
They entered the next room, which was filled with suits of armor, some on foot and some on horseback. As the dragon burst in, the armor snapped to life. Empty gauntlets drew swords from scabbards, or couched lances. The horse mannequins uttered hollow whinnies and pawed the floor with their hooves. A martial charge rang out from unseen trumpets. Then, the troop of knights moved forward to engage Morgana in battle.
The dragon smote several of them down with her swinging tail, and reduced more of the armor to shapeless lumps of molten metal with her fiery breath. She sat up on her haunches to stare down at the remaining knights, revealing her soft underbelly as it did so. One of the mounted knights seized the opportunity, galloped forward and thrust home with its lance.
The dragon's cry of pain and rage echoed through the castle. She snatched the knight out of its saddle with her toothy jaws and mangled the armor, then spat it out. As she made ready to let out a second blast of fire, Arthur jumped down on her head from atop a balcony above.
"I'm sorry, Morgana," he said, bringing the pommel of Excalibur down upon the dragon, striking her between the eyes.
The dragon let out a fresh bellow of anger and pain, and shook at Arthur, trying to throw him off. She trampled over the few suits of armor left in her struggle, crushing them underfoot. Arthur held onto her crest tightly with one hand, while smiting the dragon again and again with the flat of his sword. Blue sparks flashed from Excalibur's blade.
The dragon lost her balance and fell over on her side. Arthur let go of the crest and landed on the floor, rolling over to the nearest wall. He climbed to his feet and ran. The dragon was pulling herself up, but before she could resume the chase the tapestries hanging upon the walls became undone and fell upon her, covering her for a moment.
"That should delay her a little while longer," said Tanaburs, joining Arthur again. "But it's still not going to be enough."
"It may at least buy us enough time to think of something," said Arthur, as they fled down the corridor. Behind them, the dragon had shaken off the tapestries and had renewed her pursuit.
* * * * *
"I really must admit," said Powell, as he blocked Griff's sword-thrust, "that it is appropriate that we'd be facing each other. We have something in common after all, do we not?"
"We've nothing in common!" replied Griff, his eyes glowing white. He jumped upwards as Powell swung at him, then struck at Powell's sword, pushing it back.
"I beg to differ from you there, my friend," said Powell, turning his sword in his hand just enough to send Griff's own weapon flying. "We both belong to secret organizations that the outside world knows little about. And we're both high-ranking knights in those bodies."
"The Round Table doesn't go about hunting gargoyles or supporting criminals!" shouted Griff, as he jumped back to recover his sword.
"Well, if you want to be particular about it," said Powell with a shrug, making ready for the gargoyle's renewed assault.
* * * * *
Arthur and Tanaburs rushed through another doorway and halted. "The great hall," said Arthur as he looked about. Avallach, Merlin, and Mary were still waiting by the fireplace, all three of them looking in his direction. "We've gone about in a circle."
"And she's still following us," said Tanaburs, listening to the sound of the dragon drawing closer. "Every defense in the castle and it's not enough to halt her. At this point, I'm not certain that there's anything left that can."
Arthur looked ahead again. This time, his eyes fell upon the silver table and the object that sat veiled upon it. "Yes, of course," he said.
"I beg your pardon?" asked the seneschal.
"I've no time to explain," said the former king. He ran for the table. Tanaburs followed him, as Morgana smashed through the archway through which they had entered the great hall, only a few moments before. She forced her way fully into the great hall, and lifted her head up high.
Arthur ran behind the table in such a way that it stood between him and the dragon, then pulled the veil of samite off the Holy Grail.
White light blazed out from the Grail, filling the entire hall. Arthur shielded his eyes from its glory, noticing as he did so that Merlin and Mary were doing the same. The dragon came to a halt, a suddenly uncertain look in her eyes. Then the uncertainty became an expression of utter terror. An invisible force lifted her off the ground and hurled her backwards at one of the king-shaped statues that stood by the door.
Even as she flew backwards, she dwindled and the outlines of her form altered. Morgana let out a scream of fear, fury, and frustration intermingled as the statue bent down and seized her in her arms, holding her in a gentle but firm and unbreakable grip. Then she bowed her head, utter exhaustion upon her features.
* * * * *
Singleton found his attack blocked yet again as Duval easily parried his blow, moving with astonishing grace and speed. This was impossible. Every thrust and lunge of his had been turned aside by his superior's own blade, and, what was worse, Duval was doing it as though he barely needed to put any effort in this. What was going on here?
Then he remembered, to his horror, the one thing that he had overlooked in his discovery that Duval had once been Sir Lancelot du Lac. At the time, all that he had thought of was what this revealed about his past ties to Arthur Pendragon, and the significance of Duval's constant merciful attitude towards Pennington. He realized now, too late, what he had forgotten.
Lancelot had not only been Arthur's closest friend and yet betrayer, whose love affair with Queen Guinevere had helped to bring Camelot down. He had also been the greatest knight of the Round Table. And despite his unassuming appearance, he had clearly lost none of his old skills.
With two quick blows, Duval sent Singleton's sword flying from his hand and then knocked him onto his back. He stood over the fallen Illuminatus, the tip of his own sword only inches away from Singleton's throat, staring down at him grimly.
* * *
"You're not seriously thinkin' of getting through to that lot, are you?" asked Molly, rolling her eyes.
"I have to agree with her on this matter," said Boz. "What makes you think that they're going to listen?"
"The Vampyres aren't evil," said Leba. "They were only dupes of the Unseelie Court, tricked into letting themselves be altered by it because they wanted something better than living on the streets without a proper roof over their heads. They're only doing this because they're desperate. I still want to get through to them."
"Well, it's your funeral," said Molly, with a shrug.
Leba stepped forward to address the clustered Vampyres once more. "Listen to me, please!" she said. "I still want to help you, and if you'll let me, I can."
"And can you undo what they did to us?" asked Sarah. "Make us human again?"
"No, I can't," said Leba. "I'm not going to even pretend that I can. But there are other ways out there besides the Grail. Listen to me, all of you. The Holy Grail is not some simple magical cup that can grant wishes just like that. It's something more than that. Much more. If you knew what Arthur and his companions have gone through attempting to find it, you'll see what I mean. What will it be likely to do to you, if you break into that castle and attempt to take it by force? Do you want to risk it?"
The Vampyres halted and lowered their hands in silence. The energy glow about them faded out. For a long while, none of them spoke. At last Sarah raised her eyes to face Leba.
"And you have another way?" she asked.
"Yes, I do," said Leba. "Even now, Merlin may be in Carbonek, receiving the gift of healing from the Grail. If he lives and regains his old strength, he may very well be able to undo what has already been done to you. And even if he cannot, he can still always lead us to someone or something else that can. I've discussed this matter with him, and he believes that when his powers are fully restored, he can provide you with a cure."
"And he can do this?" asked Sarah.
"Yes, he can," said Leba.
"Very well," said Sarah. "But we expect you to keep your promise."
With those words, she turned around, and led the other vampyres away. Leba and her companions watched them go.
"Well, let's just hope that the Grail does save Merlin's life," said Boz. "Because if it doesn't, we're likely to be in some big trouble some ways down the road."
Leba nodded, looking at the walls of Carbonek and wondering what might be going on inside.
* * * * *
"No!" Morgana shouted. "I must do this! I have to! Arthur and Merlin have to pay! They have to pay for their crimes! I must have justice!"
"Justice, Morgana?" asked Avallach sadly, as he wheeled his throne up to her, gazing up at her. "I fear, my child, that what you desire is not justice but vengeance."
"How can you say that?" Morgana cried, staring down at him. "After all that they did to my family, I cannot turn away! I have to avenge the wrongs that they did to my parents! I have to!"
"What Uther Pendragon did to your father and mother was wrong," said Avallach, compassion in his eyes. "I will not deny that, and certainly I cannot defend it. But you have returned one wrong with more. Your acts have merely kept the circle of vengeance in motion, bringing more tragedy and grief in their wake. Think about it, Morgana. Your feud with Arthur only brought death to those whom you loved. Remember Accolon and Morfydd. They met their ends because you could not let your desire for revenge go. And what of your new family? Youíve risked your husbandís life, and your stepdaughterís, all for the sake of your quarrel. Do you want them to die as well? Will that make things any better?"
"Itís all his fault!" cried Morgana, staring at Arthur, who was still standing beside the table of the Holy Grail. The cupís brilliancy had died down, although it still filled the hall with its light. "His and Merlinís! They have to pay for what Uther did!"
"Arthur and Merlin have suffered indeed for the actions of Uther," said Avallach, sighing, "but not in the way that you planned. They still feel the lash of conscience over it. But they have also more than made amends for it, in what they brought to Britain. A new way of life, Morgana, a different one from that which Uther followed. They replaced the rule by the sword, the strong preying upon the weak simply because they were able to, with something better. A rule of justice, compassion, honor, forgiveness. Arthur and Merlin have had the opportunity, many times, to slay you for what you did to them, and yet they spared you. They believed, and still believe, in something far better than the law of hatred and retaliation, of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; they have turned the other cheek. They brought about, in Camelot, a world where the crimes of Uther could not take place. And when it fell," he added, his voice saddened again, "a hundred little Uthers sprang up in its place, to trouble Britain once again with their deeds. Is that what you truly want, Morgana? More chaos, more anarchy, more suffering? Think of what the two gargoyles told you, when they visited you in Wales six hundred years ago, when you worked with Owain Glyndwr. You listened to their words then. Will you not listen to mine now? The wrongs that Uther has committed can only be righted by forgetting and forgiving them."
"I will hear no more of your lies!" Morgana shouted. She struggled to free herself from the statue, but to no avail. It grasped her too tightly to allow her to escape, though doing no more to her than gently restraining her.
Avallach sadly turned away from her and towards Arthur and his companions. "The time has come," he said to them. "The Holy Grail will heal Merlin. All that we need is the Grail Bearer, and fortunately, one is at hand." His eyes fell upon Mary. "Take up the Grail, my child," he said to her. "Let Merlin drink from it."
Mary eagerly began to head for the table, then halted and looked up at Arthur. "Shouldn't you be doing this?" she asked him. "I mean, this is your quest."
"It is all right, Mary," said Arthur. "I thought that saving Merlin's life was the purpose of this quest at first, and in part, it still is. But I understand now that that was not the whole of it. There was another reason for it, and that one was more important."
Mary looked at his face and then nodded. She reached the table and gently picked up the Grail in both hands, then stared down at it in bewilderment. Now that the radiance about it was no longer so unbearably bright, Arthur and his companions could see that it was a simple wooden cup with no gold or jewels upon it, and not even any trace of adornment. And yet it shone with a pure white light that filled the hall.
"Your Highness?" Mary asked, turning to Avallach. "I don't mean this the wrong way, but - are you certain that this is the Grail? It doesn't look quite the way I'd always imagined it to look."
"No, it truly is the Grail," said Avallach. "You can rest assured of that."
Mary said nothing further, but walked up to Merlin with the Grail clasped tightly in her hands. Arthur stood by the boy's wheelchair, gently propping him up. Merlin's eyes grew wider as his girlfriend approached, holding the glowing cup out to him. She had almost reached him when Morgana, who had been watching the scene in silence, spoke.
"I need not have made any effort to prevent this," she said, with a cold and triumphant smile. "Or have you forgotten? Merlin is the son of Madoc Morfryn, Lord of the Unseelie Court. It is tainted blood that flows in his veins. The Grail will most assuredly kill him the moment that he drinks from it."
Merlin stared at the Grail in alarm, then drew his head back from it as far as possible. Mary hesitated, staring down into the cup's depths, her eyes worried as well. Arthur tried to think of some way of reassuring them both, but the words would not come. He found himself wondering if Morgana was correct. Was the Holy Grail indeed more likely to be Merlin's bane than his salvation?
"Again, I fear that you are mistaken, Morgana," said Avallach. "It is Madocís son, not Madoc himself, who comes to the Grail for healing. He has no part in the evil deeds of his father. And there is something else that you should know, my child. The Unseelie Lord is - was - my own son. And yet, the Grail has accepted me as its guardian. Should that not tell you something?"
He turned back to Mary. "Do not fear," he said. "Let him drink from it. That is what you came all the way here for, is it not?"
Mary nodded. She stood in front of the boy and held the Grail over his open mouth, tilting it slightly. A few drops of a golden-colored liquid poured over the rim of the cup and splashed upon his tongue, rolling down into his throat. The girl stepped back a pace, to stand by Arthur's side and watch.
A golden radiance began to surround Merlin, growing stronger with each second, until he and his chair were hidden entirely. A sweet aroma filled the air, one which none of the three companions could ever describe afterwards - it smelled, at various times, like the scent of roses, the sea, or freshly-baked bread from the oven. Then the light faded, revealing Merlin in his chair. He sat up straight now, his once-wasted body filled out and the color back in his face. He stood up for the first time in months, stepping down from his wheelchair and standing on the floor of the great hall of Carbonek, a look of wonder in his eyes.
Mary gave a cry of delight, and was about to rush forward to embrace him when she looked down and saw that she was still holding the Holy Grail in her hands. Avallach rolled up his own wheelchair to take it from her. She smiled at him, then threw her arms around the boy. Arthur placed one hand on Merlin's shoulder with a smile. "Welcome back, Merlin," he said.
"Thank you," said Merlin, his voice strong again. "Thank you both."
"Itís not us that you should be thanking," said Arthur. "Thank the Grail instead. It has saved your life."
"No!" cried Morgana, staring in utter disbelief at the scene before her. "I see it all now!" she continued, glowering furiously at Avallach. "The Grailís taken their side! Everyone is against me! Everyone! Your precious cup is as false as the rest of them!"
Avallach looked at her for a moment, his eyes saddened, but said nothing. He turned to face Arthur. "Merlin's life has been saved," he said. "But as you yourself said, Arthur Pendragon, that was only the catalyst for quest, not the actual cause. There was something deeper behind it."
"Yes, there was," said Arthur. "And I believe that you know as much about it as I do, if not more."
"That I do," said Avallach. "And your quest shall meet its true fulfillment now."
He held up the Grail in both hands directly below Arthur. "Gaze into the Grail," the former King of Avalon said to the former King of Britain. "Gaze into it, and you shall finally find the answers that you have been seeking."
Arthur bent his head forward, staring into the watery depths of the Holy Grail. For a moment, all that he could see was his face and the great hall of Carbonek, reflected upon the surface of the liquid within the cup. But then it began to swirl, and new images began to emerge. Arthur's eyes widened, his breath all but taken away now, as they grew clearer, and he could see what they truly were.
* * * * *
Cuchulain shook the last of the snakes off him, growling furiously at them. They crept into the grass and disappeared.
"You certainly are the tough one, aren't you," said Sybil, her voice filled with exasperation. "But you are still going down."
She raised both hands above her head, cupped together, and formed an enormous ball of blazing fire in them, larger than all of her previous attacks. This she hurled with all her might at the Irish warrior.
Shouting an ancient Gaelic war-cry, Cuchulain threw the Gae Bolga at it even as she let fly with her greatest spell. The spear clove Sybil's fireball in half with a tremendous thunderclap. Sybil was hurled off her feet by the impact, and against the nearest tree. She lay against it, clearly stunned.
The Gae Bolga returned to Cuchulain's hand, and he began to raise it again, then halted. Instead he concentrated hard, and reverted to Rory Dugan. "Go now," he said to Sybil. "Go, unless you think that you can still beat me."
Sybil pulled herself to her feet and stared at him in silence. Then she turned and left the field unsteadily, as he watched.
* * *
"So what am I going to do with you, Singleton?" asked Duval. "You betrayed the Society. I should have you put to death for treason."
"But you won't," said Singleton, looking up at him. "You won't, because it's too late. Even if you kill me now - which you aren't going to do - I already have back-up plans in motion. Those plans will still take place even if I'm dead. The Illuminati will soon find out who you really are - and will understand why you've held them back for so long where Arthur Pendragon is concerned. How long will you last as the Society's leader once that revelation gets out? Do you want to find out?"
Duval looked down at him for a long while, then sheathed his sword. "No," he said.
"Then you won't say a word of this to anybody," said Singleton. "We're clear on that, then."
"Yes, we are," said Duval grimly.
"Sir?" asked a voice behind him. He turned around to see a few Illuminati members emerging from the pub. "What's going on here?"
"Get Giles to sick-bay at once," Duval ordered. "Look after him safely while I'm away." He began to walk off in the direction of the castle.
"Sir?" said a voice from behind him. "Where are you going?"
Duval made no reply.
* * * * *
"What do you suppose he's seeing?" Mary asked in a low voice, as she and Merlin stood side by side, watching as Arthur continued to gaze into the Grail, his face lit with wonder - and understanding.
"Your guess is as good as mine," said Merlin. "But from what I can tell, it's something that he's been needing to see for a long time."
Mary nodded with a hopeful smile, then took a closer look at the boy. "Your hair," she said, suddenly. "Itís still got some grey in it."
"Really?" asked Merlin. "Well, with no mirror handy, I wasnít exactly in a position to notice." He suddenly looked concerned. "I feel cured, but - did it really work?"
"I shouldnít fret too greatly over that if I were you," said Tanaburs, smiling gently to them. "The one thing that the Grail does not cure is grey hairs. But rest assured; the poison is purged from you. And - well, they may appear a little unusual for a boy your age, but they also make you look rather distinguished."
"Thatís true," said Mary, smiling. "Iím just glad that youíre all better now, Merlin."
Morgana seethed in silent rage, but had stopped struggling. She merely continued to glower at Arthur and Merlin, her teeth clenched.
Arthur looked up from the Grail and at Avallach's face. "Thank you," he said, his voice calm and resolved. "It was very helpful indeed. I am grateful to you for the guidance that I have received."
"You are welcome," said Avallach. He wheeled his chair over to the silver table and returned the Grail to it, then wheeled it back to where Arthur was standing. "And now," he went on, "if you do not mind, I should like to speak with my grandson one last time."
"Of course," said Arthur. "Merlin, if you might join us?"
Merlin nodded, then walked to the Fisher Kingís throne, Mary following him. The two of them half-knelt before Avallach, who gazed down tenderly upon them.
"We will never meet again in this world," said Avallach to Merlin. "But still, I am glad to finally see my grandson face to face. I wish you well for the days that are to come, Merlin." He turned to Mary, and said to her, "And you as well, my child. Stay true to him. He will need your support and guidance. I wish you much joy and happiness as well." He gently placed his hands upon the two youngstersí heads. "My blessing upon you both," he said.
"Thank you," said Merlin and Mary as one, as they arose.
The ground suddenly shook beneath them. Arthur, Merlin, and Mary looked about them in all directions. "Whatís happening?" Mary asked. "Weíre not having an earthquake, are we?"
"No," said Avallach. "The Grail is about to depart. It is going home. And, as I told you before, I am going with it; my work here is completed. It is up to you to continue it. I am entrusting you and your companions, Arthur Pendragon, with our tasks. It is your duty to continue what I have begun. You are the guardian of all that the Grail stood for, the tradition that it represents. I bid you all farewell."
Even as he spoke, the ceiling of the great hall suddenly shattered. Masonry showered down upon the floor, though none of it landed anywhere near the people within. Arthur, Merlin, and Mary all looked up, to see the night sky above their heads.
A shaft of light descended from the heavens and fell upon the table upon which the Holy Grail rested. The Grail rose up slowly along the ray of light, heading skywards. The table followed closely behind.
The ground trembled again and pillars toppled. Arthur stood close by his two young friends, who clasped hands tightly together; all three watched in awe as the great hall began to collapse about them. The Grail was almost out of sight now, little more than a gleam amid the stars. Then Merlin gave a startled gasp. Avallachís wheelchair, with him in it, was moving backwards towards the base of the shaft of light. Avallach smiled at them and lifted his hand in a gesture of farewell. Then he and his throne arose off the ground, travelling up the beam of light after the Grail.
Cracks began to open in the floor. The statue of the king holding Morgana relaxed its grip, and she fell forward, landing on her hands and knees. She struggled to her feet, though with an effort.
"We must leave this place, now!" cried Arthur. "Run to the gates, all of you! We must be out of here before this castle caves in upon us!"
Merlin and Mary rushed out of the hall together. But Tanaburs remained where he was, looking up at the sky. Avallach had disappeared from view now, as well as the Holy Grail. The seneschal appeared nothing short of aghast.
"Run!" Arthur shouted to him.
"Leave me here," said Tanaburs, lowering his head and gazing sadly at the Once and Future King. "I have no wish to outlive that which I built."
"Donít be a fool, Tanaburs!" cried Arthur, catching him by his tunic, and pulling him along. "You can find other things to build in Carbonekís place! Come with us, for your own sake!" He tugged the seneschal out of the great hall, running as quickly as he could.
* * *
"The future lies with us, not you," said Powell, parrying Griff's latest attack. "You and your king hold yourselves back because of your archaic code of honor. You keep yourselves from doing what you have to do - but we do not. We do whatever it takes. That is why the Society has lasted for over a thousand years, while Camelot fell only a few decades after Arthur founded it."
"Camelot might have fallen," retorted Griff, "but at least its spirit lived on. We remained true to the spirit in which it was founded. Can you say the same about your Society?"
As he spoke, he ran at Powell once more. The Illuminatus calmly stood where he was, grabbed Griff by one hand and flipped him onto his back in a swift move. He then held his sword out over the gargoyle's throat.
Behind him came a rumbling sound. Powell turned about for a moment, to see the castle walls trembling. Blocks of stone fell from the battlements, striking the ground with tremendous force. Cracks ran up the walls, growing wider with astonishing swiftness.
Powell calmly raised his sword, stepped away from the still prone Griff, and motioned to those Illuminati troops who were still on their feet. "I think that we're done here," he said to them. "Let us depart."
"But, sir," said the officer. "The gargoyles - "
"They were never our reason for being here in the first place, remember," said Powell. "And it seems as if our real reason is taking leave of us. I very much doubt that we are going to be claiming the Holy Grail tonight."
"Yes, sir," said the officer. As he began shouting orders at his men, Powell turned to Griff.
"Just remember this, gargoyle," he said calmly. "You still live because I allowed it. That and no other reason. Never forget it."
Griff watched him turn about and leave, a look of anger and shame upon his features. As he climbed to his feet the other gargoyles landed about him, watching as the Illuminati withdrew from the field, Powell bringing up the rear.
"Yes!" said Leo in triumph. "We took care of them!"
"Victory!" said Boz. More cheers echoed his words.
Griff said nothing. He silently watched Powell disappear into the woods after his men, his eyes still glowing white.
* * *
Isfet was still grappling with Brianna when the noise reached their ears. They looked up in time to leap away as a block of masonry plummeted to the ground from its original place over the gates, inches away from where they had been standing. Two statues of fully-armed knights, mounted on the towers flanking the gate, toppled off the battlements and collided with each other in mid-air, shattering into powder.
"Well, thisss isss certainly sssomething unexpected," said Isfet, breaking away from Brianna.
The gargoyles crowded about, their battle forgotten, as they watched the walls of Carbonek cave in upon themselves with a rising rumbling noise.
* * * * *
Merlin and Mary, hand in hand, ran across the courtyard, leaping over one crack after another as it opened up before them. Mary glanced back, to see Arthur pulling Tanaburs along after them. The gates were drawing closer and closer. They were only a few yards from them by now.
"Stop!" cried a voice to their left. Morgana was standing there, looking unsteady upon her feet, but still maintaining her balance, if with a supreme effort. "Stop now!"
She raised one hand, but only a few sparks flew out of her fingertips, and nothing more. Morgana stared down at her hands, a look of horror covering her face as she realized what must have happened. Mary suddenly understood, too.
"She wore herself out, turning herself into that dragon, didnít she?" she asked.
Merlin nodded. "I donít think that sheís going to be a danger to us for quite a while," he said.
They were almost at the gate when it happened. A great chasm tore apart in the ground just behind Morgana. She staggered back, and lost her balance. Grasping at the rim of the crack with her hands, she managed to cling on, but only barely.
"Mary!" she cried, looking imploringly at the girl. "Help me! Please!"
Mary Sefton halted, only a few feet now from the castle gates, and looked back at her stepmother. Morganaís grip was beginning to loosen already. The halfling enchantress stared at her imploringly.
"Mary!" she screamed.
The girl hesitated. On the one hand, there was something about Morgana's plight that caught at her heart. She could not let her just fall to her death. But at the same time, it was clear enough that Morgana still hated Arthur and Merlin just as passionately as ever, had learned nothing in the great hall. If she did survive, how long would it be before she began trying to kill them again? She stood where she was, uncertain as to what to do.
Before she could decide, Morganaís fingers slipped, losing their hold. Mary rushed forward to the edge. Morgana gazed up into her eyes, and said in almost a whisper, "I love you."
Then she plummeted out of sight, and was lost in the darkness below, before Mary could even reach her.
"Mary, come on!" cried Merlin. He grabbed hold of the girl and pulled her along, straight through the gates and outside. Mary looked back for a moment longer at the chasm that had claimed Morgana, then turned forward, looking at the outside world before her and her boyfriend.
* * *
"Weíre almost there," said Arthur, rushing across the courtyard. Tanaburs had apparently gotten over his moment of being willing to accept death, and now ran alongside the former king, dodging falling masonry and leaping over gulfs opening in the ground with him.
A tower fell over on its side, shattering into a multitude of fragments. Several of the stones hurtled towards the two men. Arthur quickly stepped between them and Tanaburs, to shield him from the shower of rock. As he did so, however, he was knocked off his balance, and slid towards yet another crack beginning to yawn. He lost his footing, and began to fall in.
"Got you!" cried a loud voice, as two strong arms caught Arthur by the wrists and pulled him out. Griff stood over Arthur, looking down. "I had the feeling that you were going to need my help."
"The others," Arthur said. "Are they all right?"
"Merlin and Mary got out fine," said Griff. "Although youíre going to have to explain that to me later. I mean, I thought that she was done for, myself. But letís get you out of here too, Arthur."
Arthur followed him along as they ran out the gates. Tanaburs, Merlin, and Mary were already waiting outside, watching in silent awe. Arthur and Griff rushed over to join them.
"Stand back, all of you!" Tanaburs cried, retreating to the edge of the woods. As they joined him, the remains of Carbonek shuddered one last time, and then disappeared into the ground with a mighty rumbling. Silence fell in the clearing. Not a trace was left of the castle of the Holy Grail, not even a hint of the foundations.
Tanaburs gazed over the heath, and sighed. Then he turned to Arthur.
"Itís not often that one of my kind is in a position to say this to a human," he said, "but - thank you. I owe you a great deal, Arthur Pendragon. And I promise to repay you for your service, some day."
"Where are you going?" Arthur asked, as Tanaburs began to walk away.
"Back to the Elder Court, for now," said the former seneschal. "But our paths will cross again. I promise you that."
He walked off into the night. A shimmer surrounded him for a moment, and he was gone.
Arthur and his three companions stood there in silence, watching the place where Tanaburs had disappeared. At last Arthur spoke. "Come, my friends," he said. "I believe that we are done here."
"There they are," said Lebaís voice. The minstrel walked up to them, followed by Cavall, who rushed to Arthur, barking eagerly and wagging his tail. Rory and Dulcinea followed, helping along a still woozy-looking Macbeth.
"Youíre both alive," said Leba, staring at the two youngsters. "And youíre all better, Merlin! But how -"
"Letís just be glad that they are," said Arthur, happily patting Cavall on the head, as he and his knights greeted each other. "Iíll explain it all back at home."
"So you came through in the end," said Macbeth, looking at his fellow king. "I was quite concerned when Morgana managed to get past me. But it seems that you prevailed anyway."
"Where is Morgana, anyway?" Dulcinea asked.
"I doubt that weíll need to worry ourselves over her any more," said Merlin. Mary looked out over the place where Carbonek had stood, an uncertain expression upon her face, but said nothing. "And Arthurís got the right idea. Letís go home."
* * *
A solitary figure stood at the edge of the clearing, his hands in his pockets, watching as Arthur and his companions walked off, still conversing happily with each other. "So you did it, Arthur," he said in a low voice. "You actually did it."
"Sir?" asked a voice from behind him.
Duval turned around. "What is it, Balfour?" he asked.
"Weíre all ready to leave now, sir," said the Illuminatus. "Are you coming?"
Duval nodded. "Yes, I am," he said. He glanced back once, as Arthur vanished into the trees, then followed the officer.
* * *
Sybil had picked herself up and now stood at the edge of the clearing, looking all about. The remaining ravens were milling about her, looking as confused and lost as she was.
"Morgana?" the former Queen of Northgalis called out. "Where are you?"
* * *
"So how did the Grail operation go, Powell?" said the voice over the phone.
"Not too well," replied Powell, glancing briefly over his shoulder as the technicians continued to pack things up. "The Grail castle was destroyed - how we don't even know - and from what we can tell, the Holy Grail is gone for good."
"Was it destroyed as well?" asked Senator Blackwater, sounding astonished.
"Not exactly," said Powell. "It's one of those things that you'd have to see to believe."
"Pity," said the Senator. "All that trouble for nothing."
"Yes, but there's no point in crying over spilled milk," said Powell. "And there may be a few advantages for us out of what's happened. I'll explain the next time that we meet."
* * *
"Well?" asked Harthoth, as Isfet walked past him moodily. "What was all that about?"
She glowered at him sharply, but said not a word. She headed for her office, instead, and looked down at the papers spread over her desk.
"All thossse yearsss thinking that they were at Carbonek, and they werenít," she hissed. "I wasss looking up the wrong tree all along. But I will find the Gryphon Knightsss yet. Wherever they dwell now, I will find them."
* * *
Lucius locked the door of his London flat behind him, and rushed quickly down the stairs, flanked by Eddie and Char, both of whom looked extremely worried.
"What do you mean, we're not going to be needing the flat any more?" asked Char, as the three of them bundled into their white van. "What about all your magical equipment? All your books?"
Lucius spat out the window as he started the engine and sped down the road. "They served their purpose when I believed a greater race could bring humanity to heel, but that time has passed. Now the responsibility lies with me. I shall be the master of the human race. And from now on, we are going to do things a little differently."
As the van sped on down the street, the sound of a huge explosion shook the ground beneath them, and a gigantic fireball blasted out of Lucius's old block of flats behind them. Alarms rang out all at once. In moments, the building was a blackened skeleton on the landscape, raining debris on the ground below as thick black smoke billowed upwards into the starless sky.
* * *
Sitting in his suburban London home, Andrew Singleton poured himself another cup of tea and continued studying the latest reports from Dr. Carpenter. The doorbell rang. He got up, puzzled: it was still dark outside, a few hours until morning. As he stepped into the hall, he felt strangely dizzy, but tried to shake off the feeling. He opened the door.
"Mr. Duval! This is a surprise! How is Giles?"
"He'll survive," Duval replied as Singleton closed the door behind them. "Anyway, I won't bother you long. I'm calling you about that business earlier. I'll need to know all your plans, back-up plans, contacts, movements, information, and so forth."
"I'm definitely not going to reveal those!" Singleton said hoarsely, as he showed Duval to the lounge. But as he entered the room, another spell of dizziness came over him. He collapsed into a chair. Duval remained standing, silently staring down at Singleton, perfectly calm.
Singleton's face paled. "Wh - what have you done to me?" he managed to gasp out.
Duval glanced at the pot of tea on the table. "An hour ago, a large dose of Mnemosine was put into the water supply for your house. The newer developments in the drug haven't been fully tested yet, but I understand dizziness, numbness, weak limbs and a dry throat are probable side-effects. And revealing all your darkest secrets, of course."
Singleton tried to move from his chair, but already he realized it was true. He sank down helplessly as Duval pulled up a stool, his face perfectly calm. A tear rolled down Singleton's left cheek. "You're going to kill me after all," he whispered.
Duval met the man's gaze, and after a long silence said softly, "Let's begin, Andrew."
* * *
Danu looked up from the book that she had been reading and looked at the sidhe knight who stood before her in her chamber. "Yes, Sir Guyon?" she asked. "What is it?"
"Tanaburs requests an audience with you," said Guyon.
"Tanaburs?" she said. "Did I hear you correctly, Guyon?"
"Yes, my lady," said the knight gravely.
"Then let him enter," she said, steeling herself for what she knew would come. If he was here, if he had left Carbonek, that could only mean....
Tanaburs entered the room and knelt before her. He looked up into her eyes, to see that he had no need to speak. She knew already what had happened.
Both Danu and Tanaburs bowed their heads in silence.
* * *
Nigel Sefton paced back and forth anxiously across the carpeted floor of his study. "Where is she?" he said to himself, glancing yet once more at the telephone that remained silent. "Why doesn't she call?"
The doorbell rang. Nigel ran for the door, not even bothering to call Gargrave to answer it. He opened it, to see his daughter standing on the doorstep.
"Mary!" he cried, embracing her. "What - how?"
"It's all right, father," said the girl, looking up at him. Her eyes were moist with tears, but tears of joy. "What I said the last time I called - it turns out that I was wrong. I'm alive. And I'm going to stay alive, and Merlin's going to stay alive, and I even - "
"Where's Morgana?" Nigel asked intensively. He stared into her face. "Where is she?"
The exuberance disappeared from the girl's eyes as she looked up at him. "She's dead," she said at last.
"Dead?" asked Nigel, releasing her and stepping back. "What? How? How did it happen?"
Mary hesitated, clearly uncertain as to where to begin. "She died when the Grail Castle fell apart," she said. "A crack opened in the ground and swallowed her up."
Nigel stared down at her in silence, his face troubled. "And that's the truth?" he asked her.
"Yes, father," said Mary. "It is." After a moment's hesitation, she added, "Before she died, she said that - that she loved you." She hung her head.
Nigel was silent for a while longer. Mary looked up at the sky. There was the first faint hints of what would become dawn in the east.
"I really have to get back to the others," she said. "I mean, now that Merlin's well again, we're going to celebrate.... And it's not that long until morning."
"Go," said Nigel in a cold voice.
"Father?" asked Mary uncertainly.
"Go," he repeated.
Mary turned and walked away, heading back towards the gate where the cab was waiting. The boy Emrys Hawkins - no, Merlin, Nigel reminded himself - was seated in the back, waiting for her. Nigel watched his daughter reach the cab, never once looking back at him, and climb in, closing the door behind her. The cab drove off into the night.
Sir Nigel Sefton stood upon the doorstep of his house beneath the slowly lightening sky, silent and alone.
* * * * *
"So the Quest really is over now," said Brianna. She and her mate were perched upon the battlements of the estate, looking out together towards the east.
Griff nodded. "And Iím glad that it ended as well as it did," he said. "Although, itís still a bit odd. We go searching all over the world for the Grail, and it crops up only a couple of miles from the estate. I wonder if thereís a lesson in all of this."
"So yuir wanderings are at an end?" Brianna asked.
"For the time being, yes," said Griff. "But, knowing Arthur, itís hard to say."
"If he leaves again, yeíll go with him," said Brianna, looking directly into his eyes.
"Iím afraid so," said Griff. "But itís still in the future. For now, letís be glad that weíre home again, and that allís well."
* * *
"Is anything wrong, Mary?" Merlin asked. The two youngsters were seated side by side on a stone bench in the garden of the London estate. Mary was looking down at the ground in silence. She had been that way, the boy wizard reflected, ever since they had stopped by her father's house on the way back from the heath where Carbonek had stood; all of her exuberance had suddenly left her there. And it was not hard for him to figure out why.
"It's nothing to worry about," said the girl. "I'm all right, really."
"If it's anything that you want to talk about," Merlin began, "you know that I'm here. You don't need to keep things from me now that I'm not dying any more."
"No, that's quite all right," said Mary, lifting her head and looking at him. She managed a smile. "You're all better now, Merlin. That's what counts."
"Yes, I'd say that it does," said Merlin. "And, if it makes you feel any better, you actually held the Holy Grail in your hands. Not too many people can say that."
"You're right," she said, her smile deepening. "I'd forgotten about that. It's a pity about your grandfather, though," she added. "I mean, you discovered that he was still alive after all, that he wasnít dead - and then, so soon after that, you lose him again."
"Itís not quite so bad," Merlin replied thoughtfully. "Iíd always assumed that Avallach was long since dead, and so I never even thought that Iíd ever meet him. What I received earlier this night was more than Iíd ever expected. Letís just be grateful that I did get to meet him."
"Thereís something else that Iíd like to ask, while weíre at it," Mary went on. "Earlier in the clearing - you said that I was going to do something important, something big. And the way that you said it - well, it really looked as if you were staring straight into the future then. Just what did you see?"
"Oh, come now," said Merlin, with an impish smile. "Do you really think that Iíd give that away? Itíd spoil the surprise. However," he went on, "if you stop to consider a couple of the adventures that we had on the Quest for a moment, Iím sure that they might give you a clue. Itís certainly a path that youíve already taken your first steps down.
"But letís not worry about it tonight, shall we?" He rose to his feet. "I, for one, am glad that I can walk about properly for the first time in a year."
Mary nodded joyously as she arose beside him, her sorrow banished once more. They ran off down the garden path together, their laughter ringing out in the night air.
* * *
"Welcome back, Arthur," said Captain Marter as Arthur entered the great hall, Cavall at his heels. "So - you found the Grail?"
Arthur nodded. "Merlin's life has been saved and this quest is at an end," he said.
"But another one's just beginning, I suppose," said a voice to his right.
Arthur turned around in astonishment. "Jennifer?" he said. "What are you doing here?"
"She drove up here some minutes ago," said Colin. "I'm not sure what it's about, but she definitely seemed to consider it important."
Jennifer stood before Arthur. Her face was composed, but her eyes were moist enough that she had clearly been crying recently. "Father's gone," she told him. "He died earlier tonight."
"I'm sorry," said Arthur. "If there is anything that I can do -"
"Before he died," Jennifer continued, "he said that the Great Quest had begun and that the Sleeping King had fully awakened. And he also said that I needed to be free to join him. It was clear enough what he meant by that."
"Yes," said Arthur, taking her hands in his. "Our paths have been separate for too long. We promised to be open with one another, but living in two different worlds has made that vow difficult to fulfill. But I would like you by my side in what lies ahead. I love you."
"I love you too," said Jennifer. The two of them embraced.
"Could you still be here tomorrow night?" he asked her. "I have something important to share with everyone here, and I believe that you should be present for it as well. If you're willing to accept my invitation - "
"You know that I am," she replied.
* * * * *
THE FOLLOWING EVENING
The great hall of the manor had not been so full for many years, not even during the Winter Solstice celebrations. The tables had been set out in a circle, and the assembled feasters were seated at them in chairs and benches. Arthur sat at the far end of the hall, between Jennifer and Griff. Merlin, Mary Sefton, Macbeth, Brianna, Rory, Dulcinea, and Leba sat close by, with the London gargoyles, Aidan, Jane Nelson, Colin Marter, and even Molly rounding the company out. Cavall sprawled out contentedly in front of Arthur, watching Ranger and Treacle engage in a not-too-serious scramble for fallen food (most of which - though Perry and the other clan elders were never able to prove it afterwards - had been purposely dropped at intervals by Lucy and her rookery siblings whenever the two young gargoyle beasts looked up at them with an imploring expression in their eyes). Banners hung from the rafters above, to add to the festive look of the hall.
"So do you think that there is a way to cure Sarah and the others?" Leba was asking Merlin. "Something to undo what Madoc and Sevarius did to them?"
"I don't know," said Merlin. "It would be extremely complicated, since magic wasn't the only component in their transformation. Also, we don't have Sevarius's notes at hand and without them, we're flying blind. But I'll see what I can do about it. Of course, I may not have that much time for it," he added. "Now that I'm well again, I'm going to have to start attending classes at Mons Carbi, to make up for all the school that I missed while I was ill." Judging from the expression on his face and the tone in his voice, he evidently was thinking that being poisoned by Morgana was better than that particular prospect.
Mary sat on the other side of the boy, silent and thoughtful. She was half-listening to something that Macbeth was saying, but her mind was clearly elsewhere.
"I still don't think that you needed to be that cautious in handling that dullahan," Dulcinea was saying to Rory. He had been telling her about some adventure that he had had in Ireland a couple of months earlier; Aidan was listening eagerly on the other side. "If I'd been there, I'd have just rushed in."
"Really?" asked Aidan.
"Don't encourage him, Dulci," said Rory, rolling his eyes a little.
"Perry, you've positively outdone yourself," said Michael. "You've put even last year's Solstice festivities to shame."
"Thank you," said Perry, though she was too busy watching Agnes and Prongs, trying to figure out if they really had just slipped a few pieces of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding to the young gargoyle beasts under the table, to pay much attention.
"Well, I'm just glad that we came out of the battle with no losses," said Boz. "But we'll need to be careful. The Illuminati will probably have a fairly good idea as to where we are now. We'll want to improve our defences in case they're in a retaliatory mood."
"Una might have a few ideas," said Brock. "We'll want to have a detailed discussion with her after the banquet."
Brianna was happily speaking to Jane Nelson, while Molly was attempting, without much success, to make some small conversation with Cervus, Imogen, and Faulconbridge, none of whom seemed that comfortable with her presence.
"I'm glad that you sent Powell and his lot packing," Jennifer Camford said to Griff. "I wish that I'd been there to see it."
"Yes, I suppose so," said Griff, not looking particularly happy.
"You've nothing to be ashamed of, Sir Griff," said Arthur. "You commanded your first battle, and you did so admirably."
After a few minutes more, when everybody had just about finished eating, Arthur stood up and rang a small bell. The conversation began to die down, although it still continued in places, especially at the tables further away from him. Cavall let out a bark, and Ranger and Treacle joined in.
"Friends," said Arthur. The talking ceased altogether at last and an expectant hush fell upon the gathering. Arthur continued.
"My friends, this is a joyous occasion. Our battle is done. Our enemies are scattered. Merlin is saved. Our quest for the Holy Grail is at an end. And I would like to thank you all for fighting valiantly in this best of causes. We are victorious!"
The company cheered, except for Dorcas, who was still in a sulky mood. Lucy and the rest of her rookery siblings even began pounding on the tables until Perry glanced at them sharply. Rory looked across the table at Molly and nodded, as if to thank her for her help. Griff smiled slightly himself. When the cheering died down, Arthur continued.
"Tonight we celebrate. What happened last night in Carbonek was, in one sense, an ending. The Grail has departed from this world and will not return. Our quest for it is over. We celebrate its success. We celebrate also the bond that we have forged between our peoples, and the values that we all hold dear. The values that once were embodied in the Round Table. A belief in love, honor, freedom. In a world full of danger, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of forgetting these values. For a long time, I myself have fallen to doubt and even despair, answering only what calls to arms I received, and otherwise retiring into inactivity. Good people can take the easy path. But we have reaffirmed our commitment to a greater path. The hard path. The right path.
"Mistakes have been made. I have made them. We all have made them. And I fear that we all shall make them again, no matter how strongly we fortify our hearts with love and courage. But fear shall not waylay our mission. Where we err, we will make amends.
"My loyal companions and I have traveled the world and seen every corner of it, visited every continent. We have beheld lands that were undreamed of in my day, and discovered that truly, as the Lady of the Lake said to me years ago after I awakened in this time, my place in the world is for a larger stage than Britain alone. Finally we have the resolve to begin anew.
"For too long, we have slept, unaware of our great purpose. But now we have all awakened!"
The gathered humans and gargoyles cheered again. Griff looked up at Arthur. So did Mary.
"As I said earlier," Arthur continued, "our success was in one sense an ending. But it was also a beginning. For before the Grail left this world, it bestowed upon me the responsibilities of the Fisher King to guard its traditions. It showed me a glimpse of my next quest. My Great Quest.
"The world is not perfect. There is darkness and misery, hatred and bigotry, fear and grief and greed and deceit. But there is also great goodness. Decent people that struggle with their lives, and need no longer be alone in the dark.
"It is time to rebuild Camelot. Soon we shall find a new home to base ourselves, but Camelot's borders will no longer be marked on a map. Already we have knights to watch over Ireland, Spain, and Canada. We have allies in London, Scotland and Manhattan. And we shall draw more allies to our cause yet.
"My friends, this is the Great Quest: the quest to establish our New Camelot.
"New Camelot will be a place of peace and hope and brotherhood. We shall protect the innocent and defeat the guilty and show the world a better way. We will lead the world by example, together. United!"
A deafening round of applause greeted his words. Arthur raised his glass and cried:
"My friends, I propose a toast! To New Camelot and the Great Quest before us!"