THE GODSLAYER: PART TWO
Outline by Todd Jensen.
Written by Todd Jensen.
Previously on Pendragon....
NIMUE: The Godslayer has been found. And it's here in London.
* * *
MERLIN: It was used to slay my grandfather, King Avallach, during the Dragon War, long ago.... Balinos the Mad used it to strike him down. He was the very man who made that spear, so many centuries ago, and the man responsible for its terrible nature....
* * *
ORMENOS: Avenge yourself upon the gods? Surely you cannot mean this, Lord Balinos....
BALINOS: They have brought misery and suffering into my life. They caused the fire that took my mother's life, and to them, it was no more than a game. I want to deliver the world from them.
* * *
ORMENOS (looking down at the meteorite): You must destroy this stone, Balinos!... It will prove the bane of the gods.
BALINOS: The bane of the gods? Excellent!
* * *
BALINOS (holding the Godslayer aloft): My weapon, with which I shall avenge my mother's death!
* * *
TREVOR MONTEAGLE: I've heard enough of this! First you people invite yourselves over to my home, then you accuse me of having some ancient spear beneath my very roof, and finally you suggest that I get rid of it because it's supposed to be a powerful magical weapon that could destroy the world.
* * *
TREVOR MONTEAGLE (to his servants): I want you to take this spear to my country house in Devonshire.
* * *
At last [the leader of the hooded intruders] came to a halt in front of a long, thin case in the center of the room. He looked inside. The case was empty, but a slight depression upon its cushion was enough to tell him that it had not been empty long before. Only a while earlier, a spear had been resting upon it.
He turned away, snarling slightly in disgust.
* * *
ISFET: Well-played, Mr. Monteagle. But the game is not over yet.
~~~The Godslayer - Part One
* * * * *
"Well, what do you have to say for yourself, Mr. Pennington?" asked Trevor Monteagle, looking Arthur straight in the eye. "I find you and your friends on my grounds, shortly after I warned you off, and almost immediately after someone forcibly broke into my house and attacked my butler. After all this, I ought by rights to call the police, and Iíve more than half a mind to do just that, if you donít immediately offer me some explanations."
"There is a connection between these events, it is true," replied Arthur. "But we are not the ones who caused this destruction. Rather, we were fighting the ones who were responsible for it."
"And just who were they?" Monteagle asked, glaring at him suspiciously.
"Five people in hooded robes, armed with swords," said Nimue. "Very unusual swords, as well. They much resembled Egyptian kopeshes, if I am not mistaken."
Merlin nodded. "I thought so as well, from what I saw of them."
"And they were most likely the ones who stole the Godslayer," said Arthur.
Monteagle stared at him for a moment, and then began to laugh. He lowered his revolver and then tucked it away in his dressing-gown pocket, still laughing.
"What is so amusing?" Arthur asked him.
"Nobody has stolen the Godslayer," said Monteagle. "Youíre completely in the dark, all of you. Iíve had it removed. Those burglars were only wasting their time. But enough of this," he went on, his face growing more serious now. "I still want to know what connection you have with these would-be thieves. How do I know that you arenít in league with them?"
"I can assure you that we know nothing more of them than we have told you," said Arthur. "We certainly do not know who they were or whom they served. But we very much suspect that they will not be gone for long. They failed to steal the spear from you, Mr. Monteagle, but they almost certainly will try again."
"And if they don't, then likely somebody else will," added Nimue. "This is why we are urging you, Mr. Monteagle, to help us. We need to find a way of putting the Godslayer forever beyond anybodyís reach."
"Because of your rigmarole about it being some apocalyptic weapon that could destroy the world?" said Monteagle, shaking his head. "Donít talk such rot, maíam. Magic spears, indeed! What rubbish!"
"I wouldnít say that myself," said Griff, stepping into the house with Brianna by his side. "Not after everything that Iíve seen."
Trevor Monteagle stared at the two gargoyles, utterly speechless. For a moment, his hand crept towards the revolver in his pocket, but Arthur frowned sternly at him, and he removed his hand at once. "What - what are you?" he stammered. Then, before they could answer, he added, "Wait a minute! Youíre gargoyles, arenít you? But youíre supposed to be living in New York, not London!"
"Itís a long story, actually," said Griff. "But I don't think that now is the best time for it."
"Mr. Monteagle, you told us that whoever broke into your house also attacked your butler," said Nimue. "Might we take a look at him?"
Monteagle frowned at her, then sighed. "Very well," he said. "If for no reason other than the fact that I want you out of my life as soon as possible. Iíll take you to him." He looked closer at Griff and Brianna. "Not you two," he added. "Just the humans, for now. Iíve enough weirdness going on here, as it is."
"Very well, then," said Griff. "Weíll wait outside for you, Arthur. Somebody needs to keep watch, anyway."
"I agree," said Arthur. "Those people, whoever they were, may return. Itís best that we remain alert in such a case."
While Griff and Brianna went back outside, Arthur and his human companions followed Monteagle out into the hall. Turner the butler was propped up against the wall. He moaned slightly, as they approached him, though remaining unconscious.
"He doesnít seem too badly injured, fortunately," said Nimue. "But Iíll want to take a closer inspection of him." She and Merlin bent down to examine him.
"Tell us what you know, Mr. Monteagle," said Arthur.
"All that I know," Monteagle replied, "is that I heard the alarm go off in the collection room downstairs. I came down here to investigate, and found myself facing one of your housebreakers in hooded robes, holding Turner. He threw him at me, and then ran off."
"Thereís an odd mark on his forehead," said Nimue, looking closely at the man. "Almost like a claw-print. I didnít see that on him when he admitted us earlier this evening."
"Neither did I," said Merlin. "I wonder - yes, it is possible. I know that it was done at least once, during the Second Unseelie War last year. But we may need a discreet probe, to make certain of it."
"A probe?" asked Monteagle. "What are you two talking about?"
"There are certain people, familiar with black magic,who can extract memories from others," Merlin explained. "They can simply steal them from a personís head, and make use of them for themselves. That mark on your butlerís head could have been left from just such an act. But weíll need to probe his thoughts to make certain."
"I had better do it," said Nimue. She closed her eyes, and placed one hand gently upon Turnerís brow. A light blue glow briefly surrounded them both, then faded out. She stood up, opening her eyes again.
"Thereís been a memory theft," she said. "I can detect the aftereffects of it. Weíd have to wait for him to recover consciousness before we can question him and get some idea of just what they took from him, but I have a very good suspicion as to what it was."
"How do you know?" asked Monteagle. "And how on earth did you do that, young lady?"
"I have some skill with magic," she replied. "Now, did your butler know anything about your moving the Godslayer, Mr. Monteagle? Such as where it was being moved to, and what route?"
"Of course," said Monteagle. "He was with me when I was giving my instructions to the other servants."
"Then itís more than likely that thatís what was removed from his memories," said Nimue. "Which means that the people behind that burglary will now know where itís being taken. They could intercept your servants along the way, and take the spear from them. Is there any way that we can warn them?"
Monteagle shook his head. "If we want to make contact with them, weíll have to go after them," he said.
"Then thatís just what weíll do," said Arthur. "Mr. Monteagle, can you take me down whatever path your servants would use to take the spear to wherever it was that you were moving it to?"
"My country house in Devonshire?" he said. "Yes, I can. But weíll need to leave at once, if weíre going to overtake them. Iíll drive," he added. "Turnerís in no condition to do so at present, after all."
"Very well, then," said Arthur. "Iíll have Griff and Brianna come with us; we could use all the help that we can." He turned to Merlin, Nimue, and Mary. "You three remain here," he said to them. "Once we recover the Godslayer, we will need to find some way of preventing anyone from stealing it again, and wielding it. I want you to find out if there is some way of destroying it."
"Destroying it?" protested Monteagle. "Now see here, Mr. Pennington, that spear cost me several thousand pounds to locate and acquire! You canít seriously be thinking of destroying it, can you?"
"Mr. Monteagle," Arthur replied, "that spear could do a considerable amount of damage in the wrong hands. If you know its history, as I assume that you do, you would know that it has already inflicted much harm. Entire empires have fallen because of it. Already it is clear that there are those who covet its power and who would do much to seize it; we cannot permit them the opportunity to succeed. Destroying it may be the only way to keep it forever out of their hands."
"Are you absolutely certain about that?" Monteagle asked. "I mean, isnít there some other means that you could use?"
Arthur turned and looked closely at Merlin and Nimue. "You both know more about such matters than I do," he said. "Is there another way?"
"Perhaps," said Merlin. "Weíll need to research it, though. But if we canít find one - then weíll have to stick with destroying it."
"This is absurd!" cried Monteagle. "I am not about to sacrifice the crowning glory of my collection, no matter what you people say! Do you realize just how much time and effort - not to mention money - I put into finding it and bringing it here?"
Arthur turned and stared the collector fully in the face. "Mr. Monteagle, you have a choice," he said. "What matters to you more? Your collection of ancient historical treasures, most of which you either stole or received from thieves to delight your own vanity, or the safety of the entire world? Because, where the Godslayer is concerned, that is what is at stake here."
Monteagle stared back at him, looking actually intimidated for the first time that night. At last, he spoke. "Very well," he said. "But I expect you people to explore the other options for dealing with my spear, before you go about burning it or however youíre planning on destroying it. So letís be on our way."
"Thank you," said Arthur. He turned back to the others. "Contact me when you find something," he told them.
Mary handed him her cellular phone. "Youíll probably need this," she said to him. "Weíll ring you up as soon as we uncover some answers."
"Very well, then," said Arthur. "Take care, all of you. And now we must go. Lead the way, Monteagle."
The two men left, while Merlin, Nimue, and Mary turned about and headed back into the library.
* * * * *
A few minutes later, Arthur and Trevor Monteagle were driving down the road, heading westwards. Griff and Brianna were gliding overhead; fortunately they went unnoticed, since everyone in Barnet was still asleep.
"Iím not entirely certain that weíll be able to overtake them, actually," said Monteagle, at the wheel of his car (since Arthur still did not have enough experience with any vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine to feel confident driving one). "My men have had a head start on us, by perhaps half an hour or more. On the other hand, their lorry isnít quite as swift as my car. And I know a short-cut to reach the route that they were using."
"Let us hope that we can reach your men before those others do," said Arthur.
They drove on in silence for a few minutes. As they did so, Arthur became increasingly aware that Monteagle was still glancing at his sword from time to time, particularly whenever they halted at a traffic light or paused for some other reason. At last, the collector spoke.
"So is that really Excalibur?" he asked. "Assuming that you really are King Arthur?"
"Yes, it is Excalibur," said Arthur firmly, "and it is not for sale, in case you were wondering."
"Sorry about that, then," said Monteagle hurriedly. "Let me know if you change your mind, though."
Itís just as well, thought Arthur, that he knows nothing about our quest. It is bad enough that the Illuminati are taking interest - but if this man knew that we were seeking the Holy Grail as well, heíd never rest until he had it locked away in another one of his display cases.
* * * * *
Merlin, Mary, and Nimue stood before the bookshelves, gazing over the titles closely.
"Quite a collection heís assembled here," said Merlin. "Atlantis, El Dorado, the Pyramids and the Sphinx, Easter Island, the Mayan step-pyramids. Monteagle must have books here about almost every mythical and arcane subject in the world."
"That would explain how he was able to acquire so many ancient relics," said Nimue. "With a library this extensive at his finger-tips, he could track down almost any legendary artifact he desired."
"Do you think that one of the books here could help us find the Grail?" asked Mary.
"Perhaps," said Merlin. "But just now, weíd better focus on finding information about the Godslayer. We can look into the Grail later."
"The Grail?" asked Nimue, looking at them both in astonishment.
"Itís a long story," said Merlin. "Iíll explain later, when weíve got the time. Ah, yes, here we are." He tapped a few books on the shelf directly before him. "Five or six books about it. The Godslayer, I mean. I knew that heíd have to have these somewhere here."
"Let us hope that theyíre reliable sources," said Nimue, as she and Mary took the books down from the shelves and brought them over to the table in the center of the library. "All too often, such works contain more legend than fact in their pages."
"True," said Merlin. "But Monteagle must have been able to use the information in them to help him locate the spear. Iíd say that that means that there must have been some accuracy in them."
"But what if none of them say how to get rid of it?" Mary asked.
"Weíll need a back-up source, just in case," said Merlin. "Mary, could you ring up Una at the Mystic shop? Tell her about whatís happened, and ask her to go through her books there. Maybe one of them could have something that we can use."
"Very well," said Mary. She left the room, heading out into the hallway, while Merlin and Nimue seated themselves at the table and began looking through the books.
After a couple of minutes, Nimue spoke. "Merlin," she said, raising her eyes from the reading material before her, "this may not be the right time for me to be saying this. Weíve much larger concerns facing us, at present; that much I know. But - Iím not certain that I ever properly apologized to you for what happened in Broceliande."
"It doesnít matter," said Merlin, consulting the table of contents in the book in front of him as he spoke. "I know that you didnít mean it personally. My father was the culprit there, not you; you were merely led astray by him."
"Still, I was the one who did it," the halfling enchantress said. "So I have to bear the responsibility. After all, I was - well, afraid. You were old enough to be my father, or even my grandfather, and that made me very uncomfortable with your courting me. Even if your father had not come along, I might well have used the Tower of Air on you in time, because of my fears."
"I suppose that youíre right about that," said Merlin. "If Iíd given it more thought back then, I should have realized that it was a mistake. But then again, when love and prudence clash, prudence generally loses." He gave a slight laugh. "Of course, now itís become the other way around. If anything, Iím probably too young for you this time."
"Well, it does appear that youíve found somebody else," said Nimue. "I do not wish to pry, Merlin, but - are you and that girl Mary - particularly close?"
He nodded. "So you noticed it, did you?" he asked.
"Of course," she replied. "And it seems that she has feelings for you just as you do for her. So that makes it much better."
"It does," he replied.
* * *
"Thank you for your help, Una," said Mary. "Call us back if you find out anything more." And with that, she hung up the receiver.
She walked back into the library. Nimue and Merlin were now seated at the table in the center, looking through a pile of musty old books before them.
"I wonder if this might do the job," Nimue was saying, indicating a page in one of the tomes. "Friar Bacon's Dismissal. It's noted for its potency."
Merlin looked it over. "I'm not quite so certain about that," he said. "It could work on lesser magical objects, but I doubt that it would be any good against something on the level of the Godslayer. Besides, I don't think that we'd be able to carry out this particular spell any time soon, not in light of certain necessities for the procedure."
"Yes, I should have read the ingredients list more carefully," said Nimue after studying the page again. "Cockatrice feathers and hairs from a centaur's tail are notoriously difficult to obtain."
"I'll agree with that," said Merlin. "But that's not the part that I was thinking of. It's more that bit about how you have to perform it during a total eclipse of the sun in Cornwall. I think that we'll be needing conditions that won't be that far off into the future."
"So we'll need to find something else," said Nimue. "How are you coming, Merlin?"
"Not too well myself," said Merlin. "I must admit, this is one time when I wish that my foresight could have warned me about the Godslayer resurfacing. I remember browsing through Dr. Dee's library when I was paying a call on him at Mortlake, and he had a book with an entire chapter dedicated to the Godslayer. But I didn't look it over too closely because I never thought then that the information in it might come in handy. And it's too late now. It must have been destroyed with the rest of his books when the mob broke into his house."
"Yes, that was such a tragic waste," agreed Nimue sadly. "Of course, maybe it wasn't the only copy of that particular book. Maybe there's another copy out there somewhere."
"There might have been," said Merlin. "I was corresponding with Rabbi Loew at the time, and he indicated in one of his letters to me that he had it in his own library. But I don't know for certain, and I doubt that we've got the time to head out for Prague and search around for it. We'll have to make do with the resources that we've got here."
Nimue placed one hand gently upon his shoulder. "Well, don't worry about it," she said. "We'll find something here. We have to."
"Thank you, Nimue," said Merlin, smiling at her. "I really appreciate your help. It's good to work with somebody who really knows this sort of thing. I haven't had too much of that sort of assistance lately, except with Una and her apprentices."
He looked up and saw Mary standing in the doorway, watching them. "Oh, hullo, Mary," he said to her. "So how did it go?"
"Iíve called Una," she said to them, "and sheís going to be doing some research on the Godslayer as well for us."
"Thanks," he said. "Thatíll be quite a help."
"So what have you discovered so far?" Mary asked, seating herself at an empty chair at the table.
"Not much that'll help," he replied. "So far, everything that we've found for destroying or neutralizing magical objects isn't high-caliber enough to work on the Godslayer. We seem to be hitting a dead end here."
"Yes, I heard some of that," she said. She was about to say something more about that, then changed her mind. "So perhaps there's no way of destroying it. Do you think that that could be the case, Merlin?"
"Maybe," said the youth. "But I hope that there is a way. That spearís caused nothing but trouble, ever since Balinos made it. Admittedly, Iím not impartial here - its first victim, but far from its last, was my own grandfather. It was long before my time, but I know how it went...."
* * * * *
THE MOUNTAIN OF DRAGONS, LOCATION UNKNOWN - ELEVEN THOUSAND YEARS AGO
Balinos walked up the pathway that led to the summit of the Mountain of Dragons. It wound all the way about the mountain, steep and narrow; he had to walk pressed against the very wall itself, to avoid losing his balance and falling to the ground far below. In one hand he held a burning torch to guide his way in the night; in the other he bore his new spear, the Godslayer. Not as a weapon - not for this occasion - but as a sign to the Great Worms that he had something that he could offer them in their war against the gods.
It had taken him years of searching to find this fabled mountain, the home of the mightiest of dragons, and the age-old gathering place for the Great Wormsí councils and mating-flights. But it was not at all difficult to recognize, when he did come upon it. It stood alone upon a withered plain, blasted and lifeless after centuries of enduring these creaturesí fiery breath, smoke rising from its very top. It could scarcely be any other place. And now he had come to meet with the greatest of all dragons and offer his petition.
There was suddenly the flapping of wings overhead. Balinos looked up, expecting to see a mighty firedrake descending, come to investigate this human visitor. To his surprise, it was a much smaller figure, no larger than he, and even shaped much like a man - but with the features of a dragon - and clothed in a tight-fitting tunic. It alighted on the path before him and sniffed suspiciously at the intruder.
"Who are you?" it asked. It spoke with a womanís voice, yet one with a hissing, sibilant quality. "Ssstate your busssinesss here, human."
"I am Balinos son of Kritias," Balinos replied. "I have come here to the Mountain of Dragons to speak with the Dragon King."
"Very bold of you, human," said the creature. "What leadsss you to believe that the Dragon King will hear you out, and not devour you or burn you to assshesss with hisss fiery breath inssstead?"
"Because I have something to offer him," said Balinos. "I wish to fight with him and his kind against the gods."
"Ha!" said the draconian figure. "We have no need of your kind, human. We are ssstrong enough to face Avallach and his people without the help of sssuch asss you. Go home, while you ssstill can."
"I will not go home," said Balinos. "I have come too far to turn away now. I will speak to your king, or I will die making the attempt."
"In that cassse, it will be the latter," said the creature, preparing to spring at him.
Balinos grimly raised his spear. He had not expected to use it in anger here, and knew well enough that such a use for it would scarcely please those who dwelt here or make them amenable to his offer. But if it was the only way of getting past this opponent.... Before he could attack her with it, however, a great, deep voice spoke from the summit of the mountain itself, rumbling like thunder or an earthquake.
"Let him pass, Isfet," it said. "I would speak with our visitor."
"But, father," said the draconian figure, looking up towards the source of the voice. "My Lord Apep, he isss an intruder."
"And his presence here - intrigues me," the voice replied. "So he says that he has something to offer me, does he? That is certainly unusual. Unusual enough that I grant him an audience. Bring him up here, that I might speak with him."
"Yesss, father," said Isfet. She turned back to Balinos, and said to him, all but spitting out her words in embittered disgust, "Count yourssself mossst blesssed, human, that my father ssshould take an interessst in you. It has sssaved your life. Come with me."
He followed her up the path, as it continued to make its full circuit up the mountain, until at last he stepped out upon a great plateau at its very summit. The wind blew strongly about him, and he had to anchor himself with his spear to keep from losing his balance. Isfet stood beside him, still glaring at him grudgingly. Balinos scarcely gave her another look, though, for his eyes were fixed on what lay before him.
An enormous serpent-like dragon, its wings folded upon its back, and its sable scales glistening beneath the stars, lay only a few yards away, staring down at him. Many smaller dragons, in similar poses, sat or sprawled to its right and left, flanking it like courtiers about a kingís throne. They turned their great reptilian heads, and gazed down at Balinos as well. Balinos shivered in spite of himself, and did his best to remain calm, though this was scarcely an easy feat when so many dragon eyes were focused upon him.
The great black dragon then spoke, in the voice that he had heard before. "Well, human? What business brings you to us?"
"Before I answer that question of yours, my lord," said Balinos, "I wish to ask a question of my own. Am I indeed in the presence of the Dragon King?"
"So some call me," said the dragon, with an amused chuckle in its throat. "I am Apep, the chief of the Great Worms. Now, declare your reason in seeking me out."
"My Lord Apep," said Balinos, dropping to one knee, "I know that you are at war with the gods, and that you have been so engaged for many years now. Soon, I also know, you intend to go into battle with Cronos, their ruler."
"That is indeed correct," said Apep. "Although I doubt that you came all this way merely to tell me things that I was already aware of, human."
"No, that I did not," said Balinos. "I came here instead, with this request. I beg of you to let me join you in the battle. Grant me leave to fight with you against Cronos and his people."
Apep began to laugh, making a noise that sounded like distant thunder rumbling. "That is a bold request of yours, human," he said. "So might an ant speak, that wished to assist an elephant. What do you have to offer me?"
"This, my lord," Balinos said. He held out his spear, resting its shaft on both outstretched hands in such a way as to make it clear that he was not attempting to threaten Apep with it. "This weapon is made from metal that fell from the heavens and from a branch of the sacred ash tree of my homeland. It possesses within itself a magic so powerful that the gods, even Cronos himself, cannot withstand it. With it, I can fell your enemies, which are also mine."
"Is that so?" asked Apep. He bent his great head down over the spear and gazed closely at it. After inspecting it carefully he spoke again.
"There is indeed much power here," he said. "It is truly a remarkable weapon."
"Father, I sssee no reassson to grant him his requessst," broke in Isfet. "We have no need of him or hisss kind in thisss war. Sssend him away."
Apep shook his head. "No, Isfet," he said. "The human offers us something of use - this weapon, and a means of resolving this war at last. We have been locked in this stalemate for far too long, my daughter. Our magic cannot do any harm to Avallach and his people, just as their magic can do no harm to us. But this spear is neither of our magic nor theirs. Thus it offers us a way of gaining the upper hand over them at last. And the human who wields it has come to us of his own free will, offering to fight in our cause, and thus saving us much trouble. It would be great folly to turn him aside and reject his gift."
He turned back to Balinos. "I accept your offer, human," he said. "You may join us in the battle to come."
"I thank you, Lord Apep," said Balinos, rising. "And may we both achieve what we desire in it."
* * *
A WEEK LATER
"They come," said Apep, perched atop the precipice that overlooked the narrow gorge. His daughter Isfet stood beside him, awaiting the approach of Avallach and his folk. Other dragons roosted on various crags lining the rocky walls, soared above, ready to dive when necessary, or sprawled out upon the floor of the pass below.
Isfet let out an eager hiss. "You have ssspoken to the human Balinosss over his desssire to do battle with Avallach himssself?" she asked her father. "He may do whatever he wissshesss with the old king, but hisss knightsss are mine. I will not let him cheat me of a victory over the Gryphon Knightssss thisss night."
"I do not care by whose hand the Gryphon Knights fall," replied Apep, sounding almost bored. "Your vengeance is your concern, not mine. If you do not wish the human to slay them before you have the opportunity, then speak with him yourself on the matter."
Isfet hissed again, but this time in a far less pleasant mood.
* * *
Balinos waited within a cleft off the side of the ravine, mounted upon his horse, his spear slung across his back. He was not ready to reveal the Godslayer as yet, not until he was within range of the godsí own king, Cronos, whom the dragons named Avallach. Instead, he had his familiar bronze sword in his right hand, which he had wielded in battle in Hyperborea so long ago, and his bronze shield slung across his left arm. They would do, until it was time.
A sudden bellowing from the dragons revealed that the battle was about to begin. The gods had entered the gorge. Most of them were on horseback, and all were fully armed. The dragons were proof against their magic, as they were against that of the dragons, so the fighting would have to be hand to hand.
Balinos watched as the fighting started. The gods were striking at the dragons with sword and spear, and those who had bows were shooting flight after flight of arrows at them. A few dragons fell to the first attacks, where sword-strokes or arrows penetrated their soft underbellies, but the rest of the Great Worms had quickly learned from their kinsfolkís misfortunes, and presented only their thickly armored scaly hides to their opponents, pressing their undersides close to the ground.
Balinos scanned the opposing ranks for some sign of his intended target. He could have ridden out then and there and struck down any of the gods who had drawn too close to him, but there was only one whom he had a strong desire to fell at that moment. Or rather, only one whom he would begin his own war with. Avallach, Apep had told him, was always surrounded by his bodyguard, the Gryphon Knights, when he went to war. They were so called on account of the griffon crests upon their helms and the griffons painted upon their shields and embroidered upon their surcoats. When he saw them, he would know that Avallach was close at hand.
Yes, he could see them now. They were fighting in the middle of the valley against some of Apepís "foot-soldiers", lesser dragons that had no wings and must fight upon the ground rather than from the air. And in the middle of the knights was a stately figure with a crown upon his helm. His face was a pale blue, and his beard long and silver. This could only be the king of the gods himself, Cronos to the people of Atlantis, Avallach to his own race and that of the dragons. Balinos nodded grimly and galloped forward.
He forced his way through the press, parrying assaults from the faerie warriors closest to him with his sword and shield. So quickly did his horse bear him through their ranks that he was soon within armís reach of the Gryphon Knights. The two sides were too busy fighting each other to pay him even a momentís heed. Which was exactly what he had wanted.
He was only a few feet away from Avallach when one of the Gryphon Knights saw him. Avallach's bodyguard stared for a moment at this unexpected ally of the dragons, then rode straight for Balinos, shouting a challenge. Balinos brought up his shield only just in time as the knightís lance shattered against it, but the force of the impact was enough to unseat him from his saddle. His sword was knocked from his hand as he fell, and landed a few feet away. Balinos was just struggling up when the knightís horse trod upon his blade, snapping it in half.
Balinos scarcely cared about the loss of his sword. It only meant that he could now unveil of his true weapon. He unslung the Godslayer, and pulled off its cover. The iron head gleamed menacingly beneath the night sky, as Balinos raised his spear, then ran straight towards Avallach, shouting.
Two of the Gryphon Knights saw him approach and attempted to stop him, riding straight into his path. He pushed them both aside, however, striking the horse of one with his spear-shaft in such a way as to force it back, and blocking the otherís advance with his shield. Right at Avallach he came. The King of Avalon turned towards Balinos and saw him, but too late. Balinosís spear thrust deep into his leg.
Thunder boomed overhead, though there was not a cloud in the sky, as Avallach fell from his horse, seriously wounded. Even as he did so, his face began to wrinkle and age, and his hands withered. He lay helpless upon the ground, weakening before Balinosís very eyes, unable to do more than look up at him. Balinos raised his spear again, this time for the purpose of finishing him off - and then halted as he gazed into the kingís eyes.
Anger he would have expected, wrath or fury or hatred. Had any of these been present upon Avallachís face, Balinos would have merely thrust home, as he had planned to do. But not even a trace of it showed there. Instead, the king looked up at Balinos, a mixture of sadness and bewilderment, even pity, instead. No anger, no malice, no bitterness, but only sorrow.
Balinos stood where he was, not stirring a muscle. The Godslayer fell from his hands, but he paid it no heed as it landed beside his foot. The Gryphon Knights began to group about their lord at once, to come to his aid, but Balinos never even saw them. He stared down at his victim for a moment longer, then let out a terrible cry. He turned and ran from the field, weeping as he fled.
* * *
"Where isss he going?" asked Isfet, staring after the human in astonishment. "He hasss felled their leader, and now he leavesss usss?"
"Let him leave," said Apep, shrugging - or at least, carrying out the draconian equivalent to the gesture. "After what he has done to Avallach, I would say that he has more than adequately served our cause. And now, let us finish what he has begun."
He spread out his wings and swooped down upon the field, roaring in triumph as he came, and the Fair Folk scattered before him, all but one. The stately figure of Ra of Kemet strode forward, a papyrus scroll held firmly in his hands. He began reading from it loudly.
Apep halted, suddenly unable to advance as Ra's voice rang out. The papyrus scroll shimmered in a magical radiance, which spread out to reach the Dragon King and flow over him. Apep bellowed in anger as the glow enveloped him, but could do no more than that. The other dragons, even Isfet, all halted, watching in awe and disbelief. The Fair Folk crept back to watch.
The final words of Ra's incantation resounded through the ravine, accompanied by a thunderclap. Apep vanished, leaving behind only a gaping hole shaped like himself in the middle of the magical light that had held him tightly. Then the glow dispersed. The Dragon King was gone.
The Fair Folk let out a cheer and charged forward at the dragons, their hope restored by Ra's victory. But the Great Worms turned and fled, even Isfet. For with Apep's departure, they had lost the will to fight. They fled the pass, fading into the night.
* * * * *
"I thought that you said that Third Race magic couldn't affect dragons," said Mary.
"It can't," Merlin replied. "Just as dragon magic can't affect any of the Fair Folk."
"So how was Ra able to do that to Apep?" she asked.
"A loophole," he explained. "Ra was a halfling, like me, and the human side of him allowed him to come up with a spell that banished Apep, imprisoning him beyond the reaches of this world - where hopefully he will stay forever."
"Oh," said Mary. "And what happened to Balinos after that?"
"Heíd realized too late just what he had done, what the consequences had been of his search for revenge," said Merlin sadly. "He fled back to Atlantis, heedless of everything save his own guilt. Unfortunately, he was blown off course by a storm and landed in the wrong part of the continent. There he was challenged by a local warrior who had mistaken him for a pirate and the two of them fought each other to the death. Only as both lay mortally wounded upon the ground, their lives ebbing from them, did Balinos learn the identity of the man whom he had fought. It was his own brother, whom he had not seen for years."
"Thatís dreadful," said Mary, in a hushed voice. "I mean, to die like that. Iím an only child so I canít really imagine what it was like, but still it must have been horrible."
"I know," said Merlin. "Itís one of those things that makes me glad that my father never sired any more offspring. That way, Iíll never have to worry about the same thing happening to me."
"And what happened to the Godslayer?" Mary asked. "I mean, I know that it wound up here, but - what happened to it in between?"
"It went missing after Balinos discarded it, for a while" said Merlin. "The Fair Folk did discover that it had been made from iron, and even found the remains of the meteorite that had supplied Balinos with his ore. They werenít able to immediately examine it - not with the First Unseelie War starting up only shortly after that - but they finally did learn that cold iron is something that the entire Third Race is vulnerable to. Their magics cannot affect it directly, iron chains can imprison them so that they cannot escape, and wounds from iron objects can wither or even kill them - as my father learned the hard way. But thatís another story.
"At any rate, the Godslayer went drifting about the world, passing from hand to hand. But the imprint of Balinosís vengeful hatred remained upon it, to such an extent that it brought nothing but misery to whoever wielded it. Not just Balinos himself, but everyone else who raised it in battle."
"Everyone?" Mary asked.
Nimue nodded. "Merlinís quite correct," she said. "Achilles used it to slay Hector during the Trojan War. Only a few weeks later he was slain by Paris, struck in the heel with a poisoned arrow. Alaric the Goth bore it when he sacked Rome in the year 410 - and took sick and died only a few months afterwards. Frederick Barbarossa wielded it in his wars - and drowned while on his way to the Holy Land during the Third Crusade. In fact, anyone who ever used it as a weapon came to an unfortunate end."
"Then whoíd want to use it?" asked Mary. "I mean, if it always winds up blowing up in your face, it wouldnít be worth going after."
"There are a good many people in this world who are always convinced that 'it won't happen to me'," Merlin replied. "They believe that they can somehow avoid paying the cost for using the Godslayer. It never happens, of course, but they donít realize that theyíre not immune to its effects until itís too late."
"Which is another reason why we must find some way of disposing of that spear," said Nimue. "Itís a danger to everyone, to those who use it as well as to those whom it is used against."
"I agree," said Merlin, closing the book before him and reaching for another at his elbow. "We canít stop until we find some way to neutralize it. And we have to hurry, too. Thereís no telling whose hands itís in at the moment."
* * * * *
The lorry halted before the remains of what had once been a bridge spanning the stream before them. Now, all that was left of it was charred rubble, from which the smoke still arose.
"What on earth happened here?" asked Finwood. He had only just managed to apply the brakes in time, and now he and Howells stared at the signs of demolition in utter bewilderment.
"One thingís for certain," said Howells. "Weíll never be able to drive across that now. Weíd better back up, see if we can find a different route."
"That wonít be necesssary," said a harsh voice coming from their left. "We have other plansss."
The two men looked out the side windows of the lorry, and their eyes widened in alarm. Six figures, dressed in hooded robes with a vaguely eastern style to them, were advancing upon them from both sides, emerging from the woods that lined the country road.
"You will give usss the ssspear," said the one who had spoken, now almost at the window that Finwood was staring out through. "Sssurrender it to usss peacefully, and we will let you go freely. Refussse usss, and thingsss will be far lesss pleasssant for you."
"Back up, Finwood!" cried Howells frantically. "Letís get out of here!"
Finwood hurriedly shifted the lorry into reverse, but before he could actually pull it back, he felt the vehicle begin to shake. Their assailants had seized hold of it on both sides with amazing strength, and were now rocking it back and forth. Only their leader, remained aloof, watching them unbalance it. Both men screamed in terror.
* * * * *
The car hit another bump as Monteagle turned a corner. "Terribly sorry about that," he said to Arthur at once. "Itís not the most comfortable of rides, but youíll understand that I couldnít exactly send the Godslayer to Devonshire by the M4."
"One of the major thoroughfares might have been more advisable," said Arthur. "Obscure roads such as this one are much preferred by bandits and robbers over the great highways."
"Oh, come now," said Monteagle. "Weíre not living in the days of Dick Turpin - who, as I recall, was long after your own time, incidentally."
"Outlaws and criminals are much the same in any age, Mr. Monteagle," said Arthur. "They prefer lonely places to do their work. Whoever is after the Godslayer may well have been very pleased that you chose to send the spear down this route."
"Well, we donít know that they have it yet," said Monteagle. "But I am certainly not taking any chances." He pressed his foot down on the accelerator, grimly speeding up the carís pace.
* * * * *
The lorry turned over onto its side. Finwood and Howells cried out again in terror as one of the ambushers pulled the door on top off its hinges. He then reached into the lorry and, grabbing Finwood by the scruff of his neck, hauled him out of his seat.
Finwood struggled frantically and with his free hand seized his assailantís hood, pulling it off. What he saw underneath only made him cry out all the louder, this time in absolute horror. For his captor was not human at all. Its head was shaped much like a lizardís and was covered with scales. But the eyes burned with an unmistakable intelligence equal to that of a human.
"What - what are you creatures?" cried Howells, from the safety of the lorry.
"That isss none of your concern," said their leader, throwing back her hood and revealing herself to be a similar-looking creature, as did the rest of her followers. "Give usss the ssspear, now!"
* * * * *
"Well, finally," said Merlin, looking over the page in front of him. "I do believe that this is it."
"What is it?" asked Nimue. She and Mary rose from their chairs and walked over to him, so that they could examine the passage in the book that he was pointing at.
"According to this," said Merlin, "the Godslayer cannot actually be destroyed by any means known at this time. However, it can be banished from this world, by the use of this formula. Itís all written out below."
Nimue looked over the incantation thoughtfully. "Yes, that does indeed look like it," she said. "It looks as though we've finally got a means of handling it."
"Weíd better tell Arthur at once," said Merlin, climbing up to his feet and leaning on his cane. He then stumbled, almost losing his balance and only just grasped the edge of the table in time. Mary and Nimue both took hold of him, to support him.
"Sorry," he said to them at once, blushing slightly. "Itís been a long night."
* * * * *
"Arthur, thereís some trouble up ahead," said Griff, gliding lower over the car.
"What sort of trouble?" Arthur asked him.
"Well," said Griff, "thereís a bridge out up ahead, and an overturned lorry just in front of it. And those chaps that we were fighting are crowded around it, trying to break in. Theyíve got their hoods off, too, and now I know why they were going about in that get-up."
"So they have been ambushed," said Arthur. "Let us be thankful that we are almost there. But we must hurry."
The cellular phone in his coat pocket suddenly rang. Arthur pulled it out and pushed the "send" button. "This is Arthur Pennington," he said on it, a tad uncertainly - he was still not quite used to these devices.
"Arthur, itís me, Mary," said his squireís voice. "Merlinís found a spell that can get rid of the Godslayer. Well, not actually destroy it, but something that can keep it from bothering us for a while. Banishing it or something like that."
"We may have need of it, then," said Arthur grimly. "Whoever was after that spear is just about to seize it. You had better act quickly."
* * * * *
"Donít worry, Arthur," said Mary at her end of the line. "We will. Merlin can just cast that spell, and -"
"Iím afraid that thereís something of a problem, Mary," said Merlin, walking up to her, still holding the book in one hand. "The spell has to be recited directly over the Godslayer for it to work. We canít cast it from here."
"So that means that weíll have to come to it," added Nimue. "Wherever it is."
"Arthur, just where are you at the moment?" Mary asked over the phone.
She listened, then nodded. "Thank you," she said. "Iíve got the general location from him," she told the two magic-workers. Turning back to the phone, she said, "Weíll be on our way, Arthur."
"Good," said Arthurís voice. "And be swift about it, Mary. Time is of the essence."
* * * * *
"So what was all that about?" asked Monteagle, as Arthur switched off the phone.
"My friends have found a spell to deal with the Godslayer," said Arthur.
"What do you mean by Ďdeal withí?" the collector inquired, staring uncomfortably at the Once and Future King.
"Well, it cannot be destroyed," he said. "But it can be banished, and that is what the spell will do."
"Banished?" cried Monteagle, staring at him in horror. "Now, see here, Arthur Pennington, or Pendragon, or whatever you call yourself! That spear is my property! Iíve gone to enough trouble obtaining it, and I will not be letting you or anyone else take it from me less than twenty-four hours after I got it!"
"Mr. Monteagle," said Arthur sternly, "that spear does not belong to anyone, least of all you. I know enough of you to know that you most likely did not obtain it within the limits of the law. In any case, the Godslayer poses much danger to this entire world. As I told you before, that is of much greater importance than your private collection."
Monteagle frowned angrily at him but said nothing. They drove on in silence.
* * * * *
Isfet stood over the trembling servants that her followers had extracted from the lorry. "I am not patient," she snarled at them. "Where isss the Godssslayer? Ssspeak now!"
"We donít have it!" protested the driver. "Honest, maíam!"
"Do not play the fool with me," said Isfet. "I will find it, even if I mussst tear you apart to learn what I mussst know. Now, ssspeak!"
"My lady," said one of her followers, approaching her. "A car approachesss."
"Deal with it," said Isfet, waving him off impatiently. "I mussst interrogate thessse two foolsss."
The car came around a corner in the path and halted. Isfet glanced at it for a moment, to see Arthur Pendragon - or Arthur Pennington, as he called himself now - climbing out of it, Excalibur in one hand. Two gargoyles alighted beside him, one a griffon-like figure in a dark leather jacket, the other a more humanoid figure, green-colored and clearly female. Trevor Monteagle remained at the wheel of the car, staring in utter consternation at the scene before him.
"Now I have all the more need for that ssspear," she said grimly. "I mussst have it, to deal properly with thossse interfererssss."
* * * * *
"So, is there anything else important about that spell?" Mary asked. "Besides the fact that we need the spear here for it to work."
"Itís an incantation that must be recited by two people at once, in unison," said Merlin. "Which means that Nimue and I had better go there at once." He swayed slightly as he spoke, and suddenly lost his footing. Mary rushed to him at once and helped him sit down in a chair.
"I donít think that you should be going anywhere at the moment, Merlin," said Nimue. "Not in your present condition. Youíd better remain here."
"But you need me," he protested. "I mean - the two voices. You wonít be able to cast the spell by yourself, Nimue."
"True," said Nimue. "That is something of a problem. Especially since the only other person here is her." She looked at Mary. "And I take it that youíre not a sorceress?" she asked.
"Hardly," said Mary at once.
Nimue looked at her closely. "But you do have some trace of magic about you," she said. "It might be enough. Mary, normally I would not ask this of you - but this is an emergency, and Merlin does not strike me as quite up to it."
Mary hesitated. "I donít know if Iíll be quite up to it, though," she said. "I mean - wouldn't you need an enchantress to help you with this?"
"Not necessarily," said Nimue. "Itís true; most such procedures do require some skill and talent with magic. But this particular incantation is a unique case. All that you have to do is read the words with me. Iíll supply most of the actual work." She turned to Merlin. "What do you think?" she asked him.
"Well, I suppose that it is possible," said the boy. "Just keep a close eye on her, please." He turned back to Mary. "And you take good care of yourself," he said. "I donít want anything dreadful happening to you."
"Donít worry about me, Merlin," said Mary. "Iíll be very careful."
"Weíll have to leave at once," said Nimue. "How quickly can we contact that cab driver who brought us here, Merlin? I believe that heís a friend of Arthurís?"
Merlin nodded. "Yes, he is," he said. "But I donít think that we have time enough to call him. After all, according to Arthur, the trouble seems to have started; it might all be over by the time that the two of you arrive."
"Yes, that is a good point," said Nimue. "I suppose that weíll have to try for a more magical approach. Iíll need to teach Mary the words along the way, so it canít be out-and-out teleportation."
"I could try a quick-travel spell," offered Merlin. "I used something like that once to get King Ban and his army to Bedgraine Forest without anyone seeing them, when they were coming to help Arthur against King Lot and his allies. I wonít be able to muster up as much magic in my present condition as I could then, but youíre just two people rather than an entire army, and the distance isnít as far. Just give me a moment to work out the equations."
"I could help you with it, Merlin," said Nimue.
"No, youíll need to conserve your strength for the other spell," said Merlin. "Iíd better handle this one on my own."
"Are you certain that thatís such a good idea, Merlin?" asked Mary. "I mean, remember what happened to you when you tried to stop Surtur at Dinas Bran?"
"That was different," Merlin replied. "That was attempting to single-handedly turn away one of the most powerful remaining Unseelies. This is simply providing transportation for two people over a distance of a few miles. Itís certainly not quite as complicated."
"Just to be on the safe side," said Nimue, "we should discover just how far you can transport us both without overstraining yourself, Merlin."
"Good idea," he said. He closed his eyes, apparently concentrating hard, then spoke. "Iíll have to drop you maybe a few hundred feet from the bridge," he said. "Thatís as far as I can send you safely. From there, youíll have to be on your own."
"I suppose that thatíll work," said Nimue. She handed Mary a small slip of paper. "I copied it down from the book," she said. "You'll want to memorize it during the way. Learn it by heart, and carefully pronounce the words out loud. Donít worry - it wonít do any harm. The magic only takes place when youíre saying it over the spear itself."
"Thank you," said Mary, a trifle stiffly. Merlin and Nimue both glanced at her, with puzzled expressions upon their faces, but said nothing. Nimue turned back to Merlin. "Are you ready?" she asked him.
Merlin nodded. "This is a sort of Ďshortcutí through space as we know it," he said to Mary. "You donít need to be afraid of it; itís perfectly harmless, so long as you stay close by Nimue. Now, stand back, and watch."
He spoke a few words in Old Welsh, gesturing with his free hand towards the middle of the room some feet before them. The air crackled and then a swirling mass of churning colors appeared where Merlin was pointing. It expanded into what looked like the open mouth of a tunnel.
"Quickly, now!" said Merlin. "Go in!"
Nimue nodded. "We should be back shortly," she told him, and stepped into the tunnel of light. Mary, already looking closely over the note in her hand, turned back to wave at Merlin and then followed her in.
"I hope that I know what Iím doing," muttered the youth, sitting down. "Sending my girl-friend and my ex-girl-friend off together by themselves. Sometimes these days I wonder if I need my head examined."
* * * * *
"Deal with them!" ordered Isfet, pointing to Arthur and the two gargoyles. "Keep them back, long enough for me to get the ssspear!"
The five "dragon-men" began to move towards the three warriors. Arthur advanced towards them, raising Excalibur, while his gargoyle companions braced themselves, preparing to charge. The two groups drew closer together. The "dragon-men" drew out their swords - .
And then they paused in mid-stride. They stood still as if hearing something, and then turned around and walked away, sheathing their blades.
"What on earthís gotten into them, Arthur?" the griffon-like gargoyle asked, looking astonished. "Those chaps certainly didnít look like the sort whoíd just run away from a fight."
"I agree," Arthur replied. "It baffles me as much as it does you."
"Maybe we should simply be grateful that they chose not to offer us battle," said the female gargoyle, speaking with a noticeable Scottish accent. "It means much less trouble for us."
"What are you doing?" Isfet raged at her followers. "How dare you abandon me like thisss? Come back here, you cowardsss!"
The "dragon-men" paid her no heed. They merely headed on towards the woods.
"I will have your hidesss for thisss, all of you!" Isfet shouted.
"Do not chide them, Isfet," said a voice, speaking by her side. Isfet turned in its direction and glowered at the ghostly figure who stood there, his form flickering in the manner that indicated a magically projected image. "Truth to tell, they are leaving under my orders."
"What isss the meaning of thisss, Harthoth?" Isfet cried. "I need their ssservicesss!"
"The Lord Apep has need of their services," said Harthoth calmly. "There is a critical mission that he requires them to carry out for him, and he bade me send them on it."
"You dare commandeer my own ssservantsss?" the dragon-woman hissed. If she had been a gargoyle, her eyes would have been blazing red at that moment.
"They are Apepís servants, my lady, not yours," replied the ancient Egyptian gargoyle, in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. "And I must warn you that Lord Apep is not at all pleased with your recent habit of diverting his resources to your private projects. He asked me to inform you of that as well, and to remind you of where your priorities should lie."
Isfet turned to watch the last of the "dragon-men" disappear into the woods, then turned back to glower balefully at the image of Harthoth, staring it straight in the eye. "Thisss isss not over between usss," she said.
"You will have to take that up with your father, my lady," replied Harthoth, "not with me." And with that the image of him vanished.
Isfet snarled in rage, shaking her clawed hands skywards. Then she turned back to face Arthur and his companions. "No matter," she said to herself. "I can ssstill deal with them on my own." She drew her sword and charged at Arthur, shrieking as she came.
* * *
"Griff, Brianna," said Arthur at once, adopting a defensive stance. "Get to the lorry. Ask the men there where the Godslayer is."
"But what if that creature already has it?" asked Brianna.
"If it had already claimed the spear, it would be bearing it even now," said Arthur. "That means that we have arrived in time, but only just. I will keep it occupied. Now, go!"
The two gargoyles rushed for the lorry while Arthur and the one dragon-like humanoid closed in upon each other and began trading blows. Although Arthur was bearing Excalibur, his opponent was clearly an experienced warrior in its own right, skilled and wily, and able to dodge all of his blows while striking back determinedly with its own weapon. Several times Arthur was only barely able to evade its thrusts.
"What manner of creature are you?" he asked aloud. But his adversary did not even deign to give him a reply.
* * *
Finwood and Howells stared up in utter terror as the two winged creatures approached, and pushed themselves even further back against the lorry, trembling. "Not more monsters!" cried Finwood, his eyes bulging.
"Relax," said the griffon-like creature, looking down at him with a kindly smile and speaking in a good-natured manner. "Weíre the good guys."
"Ye were transportiní the spear for Mr. Monteagle," said the green-colored female gargoyle. "Do either of ye know where it might be now?"
When the two men hesitated, the griffon-gargoyle spoke again. "Donít worry," it said. "We donít want that thing getting it any more than you do. We just want to keep it out of her hands - and, nothing personal, but I believe that weíve got better hopes of doing that than you two chaps do."
"Itís under the floor," said Finwood, finding his voice at last. "A secret compartment, installed at Mr. Monteagleís instructions. Between the two seats in front."
"Thanks," said the gargoyle. "Very much obliged." And with that he clambered into the lorry through the open door, and felt around on the floor between the driverís seat and the passengerís seat. The female gargoyle joined him and they soon had pulled out a long, thin, wooden crate between them.
* * *
"Got it!" cried Griff. He and Brianna were standing on top of the overturned lorry, holding the crate in their hands.
The dragon-like humanoid fighting Arthur turned her head about in their direction, and her eyes narrowed in anger. With a high-pitched scream, she shoved the former king of Britain to one side and charged at the two gargoyles. "Give it to me!" she shrieked. "Give it to me now!"
* * *
"It was terrible, Henry," Minnie Watkins was saying to her husband as they drove up the lane."This young woman - in an absolutely scandalous outfit - just walked up to me, grabbed my necklace, and - "
"Whatís that?" cried Henry, slowing down the car. The bend in the path just up ahead hid most of the scene, but he could still clearly make out through the bushes and trees that lined it what appeared to be an upturned van.
"Somebodyís in trouble, Henry," said Minnie. "Weíve got to stop and help them."
"Good idea, Minnie," said Henry. He turned the bend and cleared his throat, about to offer some assistance to whoever had been in the lorry - then halted and stared at the sight before him, alongside his wife.
Three bizarre-looking creatures, all of whom appeared to have stepped off from the spires of a medieval cathedral, were locked in combat over a wooden crate. One looked much like a griffon dressed in a leather jacket, one was a green-skinned female humanoid with batlike wings and a tail dressed in a simple shift, and one was a dragon-headed figure in a crimson tunic. And an oddly familiar brown-haired and brown-bearded man, carrying a large sword, was rushing towards them.
Henry backed up the car at once, turned it around, and drove off in great haste. "Minnie," he said, "this is the last time that weíll ever try a shortcut."
* * * * *
Mary stared at the walls of rainbow-hued light that enclosed them on all sides. "What is this place?" she asked Nimue, in a low voice.
"I donít know," replied Nimue. "Itís just part of the magic; thatís all that I can say. Now, shouldnít you be working on memorizing that spell?"
The girl nodded and read the incantation aloud once more. "I donít quite understand this language," she said, once she had finished reciting it. "It doesnít look like Latin, or French, or any other language that Iíve ever heard of."
"No, itís one that they donít teach in the schools these days," said Nimue. "Itís ancient Atlantean, in fact. Nobodyís spoken it as a native tongue for thousands of years, not since Atlantis was destroyed."
Mary nodded. "And youíre certain that this will work?"
"I hope so," said Nimue. "Both Merlin and I feel confident that this is the right procedure for banishing the Godslayer. Donít worry; we know just what weíre doing."
"I suppose so," said Mary uneasily.
"Thereís more than that weighing upon your heart, isnít there?" Nimue asked gently.
"Well, I suppose," said Mary. "I donít want to talk about it just now."
"Very well, then," said Nimue, after a brief pause. "I suppose that this isnít the ideal time for it, anyway."
"There is one thing that Iíd like to know, though," Mary continued. "In that story about how the Godslayer was made, Merlin said that there was still a lot of iron left over from making the spear. Whatever happened to it, anyway? Do you know?"
"I should indeed," said Nimue. "My mother had it in her keeping, after all - or rather, what was forged from the remainder of it. And it was she who presented it to Arthur."
"Wait a minute!" cried Mary. "Youíre not talking about Excalibur, are you?"
"Indeed I am," said Nimue. "Excalibur and the Godslayer are twins, forged from the same rock. And so Excalibur truly is a sword taken from the stone, in more ways than one."
"But - what happens if the two of them meet?" asked the girl. "If theyíre twins, I mean?"
"I donít know," said Nimue, troubledly. "I hope that we do not find out."
* * * * *
"Sssurrender that crate, gargoyle!" hissed the dragon-woman. "Do it now!"
"Sorry, maíam, but thatís out of the question," said Griff, holding the crate well out of her reach. "If you want it, youíll have to take it from us!"
"And that isss exactly what I intend to do!" she replied. She lunged at the two gargoyles, snarling furiously.
Brianna leaped at her, her eyes flaring crimson. The two of them grappled for a few moments, before the dragon-woman threw the Scottish gargoyle against the nearest tree. Brianna slumped down, appearing to be severely stunned.
"Brianna!" cried Griff in horror. He leaped at the creature that had injured his mate, ramming into her and knocking her flat on her back. In so doing, however, he dropped the crate, which hit the ground hard and broke open. A long-shafted spear with a dark iron head fell out of it and lay upon the grass.
"The Godssslayer!" shouted the dragon-woman.
She began crawling towards it, but Griff pulled her back. "Youíre not going anywhere near it, maíam," he said.
"Oh, I beg to differ," said his opponent. She looked towards the eastern sky and smiled triumphantly.
Griff realized in horror what she meant. The first traces of dawn were beginning to appear above. Soon the sun would rise.
* * * * *
Mary and Nimue emerged from the mouth of the tunnel, into the middle of a small wood. The opening closed behind them and the glowing colors dispersed.
"So which way do we go?" asked the girl.
Nimue looked all about her, frowning thoughtfully. "That way," she said, pointing to their right. "I can see the road from there."
"And I can hear some sort of fight going on," said Mary, nodding, as she pricked up her ears. "Weíd better go at once."
The two of them rushed through the woods. Mary suddenly halted and glanced down at her hands. Fur was beginnng to appear on their backs. "Um, Nimue," she said.
Nimue turned back to look at her, just as Mary fell down on all fours. "Is there something wrong?" she asked.
"I should have told you before," said Mary, gasping as the metamorphosis overtook her. "Iím - well, a sort of werewolf. I turn into a talking wolf in the daytime. And the sun must have just come up."
Even as she spoke her face elongated into a wolfís snout and sprouted fur all over it, completing the transformation. Nimue stared down at her in amazement. "Are you all right now?" she asked.
Mary nodded. "Yes, I am," she said. "This - wonít interfere with the spellcasting, will it?"
"You appear to have retained your voice and your human reason," said Nimue thoughtfully. "So I suppose that it wonít create any problem. But weíve all the more reason to hurry now. If the sun has risen, then the gargoyles will be stone, and Arthur will be facing our thief all alone."
"Then letís go," said Mary, rushing through the undergrowth towards the road. Nimue followed her.
* * * * *
Arthur sprang forward just as Griff turned to stone and caught him before he could fall over. He gently carried the gargoyle over to the tree and laid him down beside Brianna. "Rest there," he said to his knight gently. "I will finish this battle for you, my friend."
"You will be finissshed indeed," said the dragon-woman from behind him. She sprang up onto the side of the lorry, brandishing the Godslayer in her hands. The head of the spear was already beginning to glow and a low humming sound throbbed all the way down its shaft.
Finwood and Howells screamed in alarm, jumped to their feet, and scrambled away, running down the path. Monteagle stood by his car, watching the tableau before him in a stunned silence.
"I had other plansss for thisss ssspear," the dragon-woman continued. "But Iím not averssse to tesssting it firssst, on a meddling human sssuch asss you."
"My lady, I do not know your name," said Arthur, "but I strongly advise you to reconsider what you are planning to do. That spear bears a powerful curse upon it. If you wield it in battle, it will only bring about your own doom."
"Liar!" she retorted, with a harsh burst of laughter. "Bid thisss world farewell, Arthur Pendragon. For your adventuringsss in it have come to an end!"
She prepared to spring at him with the spear, but just as she was about to do so, something grey and furry rammed into her from behind. The dragon-woman let go of the Godslayer with a cry and fell forward onto the ground, face first. Mary in her wolf-form landed on top of her. The Godslayer itself hurtled through the air and imbedded itself in the ground in front of Monteagle, who bent down over it.
"You accursssed beassst!" the dragon-woman cried, pulling herself out from underneath Maryís paws. She raised one clawed hand and slashed at the young wolf with it. Mary dodged the attack, but only barely. The dragon-woman lunged at her again, but this time before she could connect, a sphere of blue light shot into her and knocked her off her feet. Nimue stood at the edge of the road, one hand raised.
"That will do," she said calmly, walking towards them. "I do not know who you are, but the Godslayer is not for you. Go now, while you still can."
"Ssso I have even more enemiesss to concern myself with," said the dragon-woman. "Very well, then. I will sssimply have to engage myssself in a little more exercissse thisss morning."
"That is enough, all of you!" Trevor Monteagleís voice rang out, clear and authoritative. Arthur, Mary, Nimue, and the dragon-woman all turned to look at him. The wealthy collector was holding the Godslayer tightly in his hands, raising it aloft. The ancient weapon hummed in his hands all the louder as he strode towards them.
"This spear is mine!" he said. "Do any of you realize how much trouble I went through to acquire it? How much money I had to spend? How many years it took me to track it down? It belongs to me, and I have had enough of you people all fighting over it! Youíre thieves, all of you! Thieves, trying to rob me of the pinnacle of my collection, my greatest trophy of all! Well, no more! If the Godslayer really is this ultimate weapon that you all claim it is, then now I can see to it that none of you ever will try taking it from me or meddling in my life again!"
"Mr. Monteagle, stop!" said Nimue, walking over to stand beside Arthur and Mary. "Put the spear down at once. Do you know what has happened to everyone who has ever wielded it as a weapon?"
"I donít care what happened to them!" Monteagle roared, a strange light shining in his eyes. "What I care about is that you people are going to stop poking your noses into my business, if I have to blast you all to the ends of the earth to get you to leave me alone!"
"Mr. Monteagle, we do not wish to offer you any violence," said Arthur. "But if you persist in this course, then we may have to take the spear from you by force before you can harm anyone with it."
"No, Arthur," said Nimue at once. "You must not fight him - not with Excalibur, at least. It and the Godslayer were forged from the same source, remember. We do not know what will happen if they meet in battle, but I fear that it might prove catastrophic. We must find another way."
"But what other way do we have?" Arthur asked her. "He clearly wonít listen to reason."
"Enough of thisss!" cried the dragon-woman, snarling. She had clambered up onto the lorry again and stared down from it at Monteagle, her face contorted with fury "Give me the ssspear now, human! Now, before my patience wearsss even thinner!"
"So you want it, do you?" cried Monteagle, turning towards her. "Then take it!" And before anyone could stop him, he threw the Godslayer at her, point first.
The spear whistled through the air, its glow strengthening, its humming growing ever louder, as it approached the dragon-woman. Or, to be more accurate, the lorry, thanks to poor aim on Monteagle's part. Nimue hurriedly cried out something in Latin and raised one hand. A sphere of blue light formed around herself, Arthur, Mary, and the two gargoyles.
"What's this for?" asked Mary.
Before Nimue could answer the Godslayer imbedded itself in the lorry, striking the petrol tank.
There was a tremendous explosion, which sent the dragon-woman flying off into the air, vanishing into the distance with a furious cry. The blast knocked Monteagle off his feet and hurled him into the tree behind him. He slumped to the ground, unconscious.
The force of the explosion beat upon Nimue's sphere as well, but to no avail. The blue light held against it, protecting the people inside it.
When the blast ended, Nimue lowered her hand and the light dispersed. She, Arthur, and Mary stared at the charred ruins of the lorry from which smoke still arose. The Godslayer lay in the middle of the wreckage, not even singed by the fury of the blast.
* * * * *
A loud crash, followed by an even louder thud, sounded in the next room. Harthoth rose in astonishment and left his office to see what had caused it.
Isfet was lying amid the ruins of her desk, a scowl upon her face. A large hole, shaped like her in her half-dragon form, had been left in the ceiling above her. Harthoth stared down at her, lifting both eyebrows in a rarely-seen expression of surprise.
"I donít want to talk about it," said Isfet, glowering at him as she painfully picked herself up.
Harthoth shrugged his shoulders, turned around, and went back into his office to continue his work, making a mental note to have that hole in the ceiling repaired. Preferably by a discreet company that wasnít likely to ask a lot of unusual questions.
* * * * *
The three companions ran at once to Monteagleís side. Nimue looked him over closely, then lifted her face and spoke to Arthur.
"Heís still alive, but barely. He'll need help."
Arthur turned to Finwood and Howells, who had crept back out from their hiding place. Both men were looking over the devastation, blinking in astonishment. "Convey your employer to the nearest hospital," he said to them. "And make haste!"
"What about you, sir?" asked Finwood.
"We have a few last things to see to," said Nimue. "You neednít worry about us. Weíll call some of our friends to take us home when weíre finished here."
"Very well, ma'am," said Finwood. He and Howells picked up Monteagleís unconscious form and placed it gently in the backseat of his car. Then they climbed in themselves and drove off the way that they had come, towards London.
"It is time for us to deal with the Godslayer now, Mary," said Nimue. "Are you ready?"
The young wolf nodded. "I believe so," she said. "I mean - I know the words of the spell by heart now."
"Very well," said Nimue. She and Mary walked up to where the Godslayer lay amid the wreckage of the former lorry, and began to recite the Atlantean incantation over it.
The sky clouded over although it was only a few minutes past dawn and a chill wind arose. Arthur pulled his coat tighter about himself, watching in awe as lightning flickered in the clouds above. The Godslayer grew brighter and brighter as the enchantress and the werewolf reached the climax of the spell, and then, with a sudden roar, it vanished in a burst of white light which soared upwards into the clouds. There was a rumble of thunder and the clouds dispersed, leaving the sky clear once again.
"So that is the end of the Godslayer," Arthur said, approaching them.
"Not quite," said Nimue, sitting down next to Mary and looking a little tired. Mary herself appeared to be unsteady on her legs, though she still managed to remain upright. "We merely banished it. But itís not actually destroyed; thatís entirely beyond our power. Itís merely unavailable to anyone who covets it and its power - for now."
"For now?" asked Arthur. "So it might be recovered?"
"Perhaps," said Nimue. "I hope that if it ever does return to this world, it will not be for a long time. And when it does return, perhaps those that must face it will have a more permanent solution on hand for it. I hope so."
She turned to Mary, who was now lying down beside her. "Thank you for your help, Mary Sefton," she said. "I could not have done this without you."
"Youíre quite welcome," said the young she-wolf.
"Well, Iíd better call Captain Marter at the estate, and tell him where we are," said Arthur. "Hopefully he and the others can bring us back there - including our stone friends." He glanced at Griff and Brianna, still in their stone sleep, and fortunately not even chipped by the late events. "I believe that we will all need a great deal of rest today."
* * * * *
THE LONDON ESTATE - THAT EVENING
Leba hung up the telephone. "I was just speaking with St. Bartholomewís Hospital," she told Arthur, who was seated at the table with an awakened Griff, plus Colin Marter, Rory, and Dulcinea. "They say that Mr. Monteagle will live, but his motor functions have been badly damaged. Heíll never walk again, they say - and he also appears to have lost some of his memory due to the concussion to his head."
"Iím sorry to hear that," said Arthur. "Still, he does seem to have fared lightly, compared to those others who used the Godslayer before him."
"So how are Mary and Nimue holding up?" asked Dulcinea. "I understand that that spell that they worked together did take quite a lot out of them."
"Yes, it did," Arthur replied. "But they seem to be recovering their strength quickly. Merlin is with them in the garden now, bidding Nimue farewell, before she returns to Brittany."
* * *
"It was good to see you again, Nimue," said Merlin as he and Mary stood in front of the halfling enchantress. "I hope that this wonít be the last time."
"I hope so, as well," said Nimue. "Arthur told me about the new Quest for the Grail. For your sake, I hope that he indeed can find it and save your life."
"You're not the only one," replied Merlin.
Nimue turned to Mary. "Iíd like to bid you farewell also, Miss Sefton," she said. "Or Mary, if you prefer. And I wish to thank you again for your help. Because of you, we shanít have to fear the Godslayer for a long while now."
"Youíre quite welcome," said Mary. She still looked a bit uncertain as she looked at the halfling enchantress.
Merlin noticed the look in the girlís eyes, and stood up. "Iíll just let you two chat some more," he said. He took his cane and walked off down the garden path. Nimue and Mary both watched him go.
"Well, heís certainly become quite perceptive these days," said Nimue. "Iím glad of it, too. I needed the privacy just now to share some things with you."
"Such as?" Mary asked.
"You know about my past history with Merlin," Nimue replied. "Heís certain to have told you about it, and even if he hasnít - well, it is in most of the books that people have written about him for the past few centuries."
Mary nodded. "Yes, Iím quite aware of it," she said. "I was even reading Tennysonís treatment of it during Christmas. Merlin had one or two things to say about its level of accuracy."
"I can imagine," said Nimue, with a half-smile. "So you know about my having sealed him in the Tower of Air."
"Yes, I do," said the girl. "And I was keeping a close eye on you ever since you came here. I wanted to make certain that you wouldnít do something like that again. Especially because - well, youíre not the only former girl-friend that heís had who betrayed him."
Nimue arched one eyebrow. "Indeed?" she asked. "I hadnít heard of that."
"An Unseelie named the Morrigan," said Mary. "She got him to fall in love with her and then turned him over to Madoc. It was before we met. And - well, I was afraid that youíd be like her, planning on doing something nasty to him again. Even if he did assure me that you werenít quite as bad as a lot of those stories said you were."
"But you no longer hold those fears," said Nimue.
"You stood by Arthur and me and helped us get rid of the Godslayer," said the girl. "Iím sorry about my suspecting you earlier. Youíre obviously much different from the Morrigan."
"Thank you," said Nimue with a smile. "Merlinís told me about you, by the way. And Iím glad that heís found you as well. I did want him to be happy, even if I could not give him my love." She gently placed her hand upon the girlís head. "Be true to him, Mary," she said in a soft voice. "He will need a staunch and faithful companion in the adventures that await him."
"Thank you," said Mary, blushing slightly.
* * *
"Iím more than a little curious about this creature that was after the spear, myself," said Rory. "From what you told us about it, it sounds a lot like that creature that Leba and I ran into last year while you were being hunted by the Government. Do you suppose that theyíre one and the same?"
"I donít know," Arthur replied. "But this event, alongside the trouble that we had recently with Lucius and his Minions regarding that Roman spirit, has brought me to a conclusion. It appears that, even with the Second Unseelie War at an end, London is still not safe from peril. There are still many threats to its safety, roaming its dark places, endangering the city and those who live there. We cannot turn our back upon it."
"But what about the Holy Grail?" asked Leba. "You canít keep on searching for it and stay in London at the same time. And you canít give up the quest for it, or Merlin will die."
"I know," said Arthur. "And this is what I intend. I, Griff, Merlin, and Mary will go abroad to search for the Grail beyond Britain's shores, and I still both hope and pray that we shall find it. While we are gone, I ask you, Rory, Leba, and Dulcinea, to remain here in London and help protect it. Work with the gargoyles to keep the city and Britain itself safe from harm. Can I count on you three to do that?"
"Of course, Arthur," said Leba.
"Weíll do what we can," said Rory.
Dulcinea looked at Arthur thoughtfully. "Just where are you going first, Arthur?" she at last asked.
"I understand that there are tales that the Grail was once kept in a castle in the Pyrenees known as Montsalvat," said Arthur. "Perhaps that castle still stands and if that is so, then we may find the Grail there. So we intend to begin our investigation in those mountains."
"Then with your permission," said the Spanish equestrienne, "Iíd like to come with you for the first part of your journey. Iíve decided that I should go back to Spain for a little while to pay my respects at my old mentorís grave. And if you are going to the Pyrenees then our paths lie together."
"Very well," said Arthur. He turned to Leba and Rory. "Then I entrust you two with the guardianship of this city, until I return - and I hope that I will not be away for long. I charge you both to prove yourselves equal to the mission that I lay upon you."
"We will, Arthur," said Leba. "But - if you canít find the Grail in the Pyrenees, do you have any further places to look?"
"Yes, several," he replied. "Our research has already uncovered a few promising sites, and Brianna has agreed to visit her friend Jane Nelson and seek her advice on this matter as well."
* * * * *
KINGíS COLLEGE, LONDON - THE FOLLOWING NIGHT
Isfet limped down the corridor, having resumed her human guise as Safiya Fadiman. She continued to grumble under her breath, feeling grateful as she did that the hallway was deserted so that nobody could hear her.
The Godslayer had disappeared, and although she had used every locating spell that she knew to search for it, all of them had failed. In fact, the results that she had obtained from them revealed what she had most feared: it was simply gone. Whether destroyed or merely hidden, she did not know, but it was now beyond her reach most definitely. Her search for it had proven to be nothing but a waste of time.
"Curse that Arthur," she muttered to himself. "Curse his name, a thousand times over."
The Godslayer had been her best hope for finding Carbonek, the legendary castle of the Holy Grail. She had no interest in the Grail itself, but according to the research that Jane Nelson had done for her, it was very likely that the Gryphon Knights had gone there following Avallach's death in the final battle of the Dragon War. They might still be there, and if that was so, then the only way that she could avenge herself upon them was to reach Carbonek, a feat not easily performed. Without the Godslayer, her prospects of discovering the castle's location had become much smaller, and would have to rely entirely on the research that people such as Ms. Nelson were conducting for her. And that could take years. She was immortal, admittedly; she could wait. But she still felt a burning sense of impatience inside her to track her old enemies down and finally avenge herself upon them. It would at least give her something to do while waiting for Harthoth to discover a way of freeing her father from his millennia-long imprisonment.
She was just considering the possibility of embarking on a hunt for Arthur first, to punish him for his interference - at least she had better hopes of finding him soon than she did with the Grphyon Knights - when she reached the door to Jane Nelson's office. She raised one hand, preparing to knock on the door, when she heard voices from inside. Intrigued, she paused to listen.
"I am sorry to trouble ye over this again, Jane. But Griff says that Arthur needs all the help that he can in seekiní it, and ye might be our best hope."
"Iíll do what I can, Brianna," Jane Nelsonís voice replied. "I canít promise anything for certain, but Iíll still let you know as soon as I find anything that might help you and your mate find the Grail."
Isfet raised her eyebrows in astonishment, then smiled to yourself.
"Perhaps you may be of some use to me after all, Arthur Pendragon," she murmured. "Consider yourself to have won a reprieve - for now."