The King and Her Queen

Chapter 10:  Sisters


Rin opened her eyes to the see the familiar canopy of Arturia's bed.  The weight on her right shoulder declared Arturia's presence.  She turned to look and met Arturia's eyes. 

Arturia smiled and kissed her on the cheek.  "Good morning." 

"G--- good morning..." stuttered Rin.  Last night's kiss surfaced in her mind.  She sat up and noticed that she was still wearing her gown.  Her eyes grew wide in alarm at its disheveled state.  Did Arturia do something?  Naughty thoughts began to creep into her mind and her left hand pulled up more cloth to cover her chest.

"Be at ease.  I only loosened thy gown to help thee sleep better."  said Arturia as if she sensed her panic.

"M--- mine thanks..." 

Arturia put her hand on top of the back of Rhynne's right hand and intertwined their fingers.  She sat up and faced Rhynne.  "I have something to tell thee.  I have seen visions of thee when our palms touched."  When Rhynne appeared to be apprehensive, she tightened her grasp on her hand.  "Please listen."  She paused and waited for Rhynne to give her attention.  "At first, I wanted to see more of those visions.  But thou seemeth uncomfortable yielding thy past to me.  So, I will not press thee."

She lifted Rhynne's hand and cradled it with her other hand.  "For now, I still want to know more about thee.  I want to discover what makes thee smile.  I want to understand thy sorrow and pain.  I want to hear thy hopes and dreams.  But most of all, I want to see if there is a future with me by thy side.  I do not expect thee to understand.  I just want thee to know mine selfish wish."

Rin could hardly believe her ears.  However, her heart did and tears began to flow from her eyes.  Those were the sweetest words that she had ever heard.  The thought that Arturia would want to be by her side moved her so much. 

Rhynne was crying.  Arturia felt her nightgown for pockets but found none.  So she pulled Rhynne into her embrace.  "Mine apologies for making thee cry.  I have no handkerchief upon mine person... so... allow me to be thy handkerchief instead."

It was too much.  She could not hold back anymore and wept openly into Arturia's bosom.  Her hands slipped around Arturia's waist and hugged her tightly.

Arturia's heart wrenched.  Why was she crying?  She stroked her head.  "Mine apologies if I hath offended thee.  I... I was too bold..."

"Nay..." came Rin's muffled reply.  "I... I am happy... so happy to hear thy speech..."  Rin pulled back and kept her head bowed.  "Thou art so honest with me... and yet... I... hath not done the same."

It was only fair that Arturia should know.  Rin intertwined her fingers with Arturia's.  Her palms tingled as they drew closer to Arturia's palms. 

Arturia realized what Rhynne was doing.  She shifted her hands away from the marks and put Rhynne's hands on her shoulders.  "I appreciate thy offer.  Mayhap, I shall accept it at a later time.  But the past is not what I want right now.  If I am getting too close to thee, thou only need to push me away."

Rin looked up to meet Arturia's eyes.  She had a feeling that something special was about to happen.  The prospect frightened her and excited her at the same time.  She swallowed her fear.  "I... appreciate thy consideration.  But to push thee away... is not what I want right now."

Arturia's eyes lit up at Rhynne's words.  Her hands encircled Rhynne's back.  She guided her down to the bed and leaned toward her face.  She paused a few inches away from her face to observe her reaction.  Rhynne closed her eyes.  As if on cue, Arturia closed the distance to capture her lips.  Rhynne slipped her hands around her waist.

Because of last night's incident, she kept the kisses short.  She would caress Rhynne's lips and tugged them a little to prompt her to kiss back.  Rhynne's kisses were a bit clumsy, but endearing in their innocence.  Each one was a treasure just for her. 

She lost count of how many kisses they exchanged.  But somehow, it was not enough.  She wanted to be closer.  She wanted to feel Rhynne against her, just like the time when she held Rhynne in the water.  Her hands crept up to Rhynne's shoulders and her legs straddled Rhynne's waist.  She leaned over to the right and rolled over so that Rhynne would be on top of her.  Her hands flew behind her and located that familiar clasp.  She pulled the clasp down with her right hand while her left hand located that black strap and unfastened it with a flick.

Rin's eyes grew wide.  In a span of three seconds, Arturia had just succeeded in unzipping her dress and unfastening her bra.  Her gown slipped off her shoulders by its own weight and exposed her upper torso.

And all that time, Arturia continued to kiss her.  Arturia's hand pushed her left shoulder and guided her to lie on her side.  That same hand slid down her arm to slip off the sleeve of the gown and the strap of the bra.  Only the right side remained.  Arturia pushed her shoulder again and caused her to lie on her back.  Her hand found the other sleeve and strap, and pulled them down her arm.  Rin could not believe it.  In less than five seconds, she was half-naked in bed with Arturia.

Arturia stopped kissing to admire her handiwork.  Rhynne's skin radiated a pink hue and was warm to touch.  Her lips were moist and full from all that kissing.  Her bosom heaved with each breath.  She bent down and laid her cheek against the center of that bosom.  Just underneath that smooth skin, she could hear the rhythmic beat of her heart.  She closed her eyes and just listened to her heartbeat.

Rin could not believe what was happening.  Arturia's words came back to her:  "If I am getting too close to thee, thou only need to push me away."  She glanced down to look at Arturia's head lying on her chest and felt embarrassed at the sight.  She certainly was really close.  However, she had no will to push her away.  Instead, she stroked Arturia's fair hair and kissed the top of her head. 

They lay together in silence for a few minutes.  Finally, Rin gathered her courage.  After all that happened, she could say it.

"Arturia... I love thee."  She kissed the top of her head again.

Arturia's eyes flew open.  Her mind quickly went through the previous conversation.  To her great chagrin, her supposedly meticulously crafted speech was immensely lacking those three words.  If Bedivere were here, she would make a merry jest out of her error.  She must compensate quickly.  She lifted her head and gazed into Rhynne's eyes.

"And I love thee as well!"  She kissed Rhynne more fervently in an attempt to make up for her mistake.  She pulled away and repeated, "I love thee very much!"

At first, Rin was puzzled by Arturia's enthusiastic and somewhat frantic kisses, but she forgot her confusion when she noticed how cute Arturia was when she said those three words.  She wrapped her arms around Arturia's neck and kissed her back.

They kissed several more times before Arturia's lips left her own and began to journey down her neck.  She squirmed as Arturia caressed the nape of her neck with her lips.  Then those lips traveled further down until they stopped above her breast.  Rin watched with bated breath as those lips descended.

"Cu--ckooo... Cu--ckooo..."

Rin and Arturia froze.  Their faces turned towards the mechanical bird sitting on the bedside table just beyond the curtain.  Rin narrowed her eyes in annoyance.  She extended her index finger and willed a bolt to shoot out.  A dark pellet erupted from her fingertip and sped across the bed to punch a hole in the curtain.  There was a metallic clang and something skidded across the floor.

"Nicely done..." remarked Arturia.

Rin laughed.  "I refused to be disturbed at a time like this."  Airianne and Bedivere would probably wonder why they missed breakfast.  At the thought of those two, she suddenly remembered last night's conversation in the east wing.  She glanced down in horror to see that Arturia's lips were less than an inch away from its destination.  With lightning speed, she shifted her hands and pushed Arturia away.  She grabbed a nearby bed sheet and covered her front.  Arturia's face was painted with disappointment.  Her eyes were already asking why.

"Mine apologies... but I must tell thee something."  Rin told Arturia about the map in Airianne's study and how it can show its user where a person is in the Aerie and what that person was doing.  Arturia's eyes grew in alarm.

"They can see us?!"  exclaimed Arturia sharply. 

"Yea... tis possible."

"Canst thou use magic to foil it?"

"Mayhap... but I can not guarantee that it will succeed.  I am unfamiliar with the inner workings of the map."

They fell silent for several moments.  Arturia broke the silence by punching the bed.  She spoke through gritted teeth.

"This means... that we can not stay here.  We will have to find a place secure from prying eyes."  


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"Ahhhhhh!!!  A pity!  So close!"  wailed Airianne. 

Bedivere dispelled the image above the map.  "Cease thy lament.  Thou may not complain since thou told her about the map last night."  She paused in thought.  "If thou wisheth to observe them, then why didst thou tell her?"

Airianne explained her logic.  "If I dinna tell her, tis mine fault for eavesdropping.  If she knows, then tis her fault for not remembering."  She looked at Bedivere slyly.  "But ye... ye dinna stop me.  Ye sat there and watched as well.  Why?"

"Watch thy tone with thy elders, lass."  scolded Bedivere sternly.  Airianne shrank back in response.  Bedivere regarded her for a moment before grinning wickedly.  "To answer thy question, firstly, I thought that twould be a nice compliment to thy education in Advanced Charms and Allure.  And secondly, twould save thy mothers the embarrassment of instructing thee in such matters.  And thirdly..."  Her lips curled to a sly smile.  "...tis refreshing to see a maid in love."

"Aye, I agree."

They giggled like giddy maidens.  Finally, Bedivere regained her composure and stood up.  "Arturia did well... except for those three little words.  They will be preparing to come to breakfast now.  Let us go and lay the food upon the table."

"Oh..."  whispered Airianne nervously.  "About that... I... dinna bake anything this morning..."

Bedivere's jaw fell.  "What?!"  She scrutinized Airianne who shrank back in her chair.  "Thou... how long hast thou been watching them?"

Airianne twiddled her fingers and refused to meet Bedivere's stare.  "I wasn't sure when they would continue from last night... so..."

Bedivere turned pale.  She grabbed Airianne's arm and marched towards the kitchen. 

"Sir Bedivere!"  cried Airianne as Bedivere yanked her along.

Bedivere faced her with piercing eyes.  "Hast thou e'er seen Arturia angry?"

"Nay..."  Airianne trembled slightly.

"Then pray you ne'er will.  We have less than half an hour.  Exhaust thy skill and make breakfast within that time.  I will assist thee.  And let us hope that their suspicions will not be roused." 


---------------------------


She tiptoed cautiously.  Her clothes barely rustled as she made her way to her target.  Finally, with less than two feet to go, she reached out to trap her prey. 

Her hands encircled Rhynne's waist from behind and she whispered in her ear.  "Boo."  She felt Rhynne straighten up in surprise.  She smiled.  Mission accomplished.

"Thou startled me!"  exclaimed Rin who dropped her feather duster.

"Shall I help thee finish thy chores?"

"Nay.  Tis only a little bit left to do."  Rin's eyes wandered to the harp hanging on the wall.  "But... there art other things here that thou can use to work thy idle hands."

"Mine hands art not idle, Milady..."  Her fingers reached up and found the knot of her bodice.  She began to unravel it.

"Arturia!"  cried Rin with indignation.

Arturia laughed.  She should not ought to, but she loved the look on Rhynne's face. 

Rin quickly retied the knot.  She still was not used to this playful Arturia.  She put her hand on hers and asked jokingly,  "Mine dearest, how am I suppose to finish when thou hast me trapped in thy embrace?"

Arturia solved her dilemma by saying, "Use magic."

It was possible.  She preferred to conserve her mana, but the amount of mana needed to finish her chore would be negligible since the sitting room was not that dusty.  She waved her hand to activate the cleaning spell, and the feather duster rose up and attacked a patch of dust.  Then she turned in place to face Arturia and wrapped her arms around her neck. 

They exchanged several sweet kisses before Arturia pulled away and hugged her tightly.  "Ah, the day wears on so slowly!  If I could advance the hands of time, twould be tomorrow by now."

Rhynne smiled.  They decided to go to the lake early in the morning.  She blushed.  Based on what happened this morning, they would probably continue where they left off.  And only God knows how far they would go. 

A brief glance at her watch told her that it was about three o'clock.  How will they pass the time?  Perhaps, they could go to the lake now instead of later.

"When thy chores art finished..." whispered Arturia near her ear.  "Shall we go to the lake?"

Rin giggled at their coincidental thoughts.  "I was thinking the same thing."  The feather duster lay idle on top of the cabinet.  The dusting was done.  She beckoned it to come to her and caught it in her hand.  "Mine chores art finished." she announced proudly.

Arturia drew back, her eyes shining with excitement.  Then she kissed Rhynne soundly.  "Let us pack right away!" 

They had walked halfway to the entrance of the west wing when they heard a loud noise from the direction of the great hall.  The instruments hanging on the wall shook slightly.  They exchanged questioning looks before running to the great hall.

A dark shape loomed outside the semi-transparent walls of the great hall.  From its shadow, it appeared to have wings.  It dropped something.  There was a loud thud from the ceiling and Rin saw chunks of rock fall to the floor of the hall.  To her great horror, she realized that it was dropping boulders on the ceiling. 

"Arturia..."  said Rin in a shaking voice.  "find Lady Airianne."

"But what about thee?  I can not leave thee here when that creature is out there!"

"I will run when it becomes too dangerous to stay here.  Whilst thou search for Lady Airianne, I will devise a way to strengthen the walls.  But Lady Airianne must know, for she may have a way of fending off this creature."

Arturia did not want to leave Rhynne, but her argument made sense.  She reluctantly nodded.  "I will be back anon."  She ran out of the great hall.

Rin went to the wall nearest to the source of the attack.  She placed her hand on its surface and tried to sense the mana flow.  If she could redirect that mana to harden the stone instead of making it transparent, then she could strengthen the ceiling until Airianne comes.  She concentrated in detecting it.  When she synchronized with it, she was awed by the complexity of the flow.  She was even more amazed when she detected an enchantment that converted the heat from the sun into mana which in turn was used to maintain the transparency spell.  It was truly the work of a master.

She tried to change the mana flow on a small portion of the wall.  After a few attempts, the stone became less transparent.  She adjusted the flow a few times to achieve more density.  She exhaled with relief at her efforts.

"Levitiam."  She floated towards the affected ceiling and put her hand on it.  She closed her eyes to prevent debris from falling into them and chanted a spell to change the mana flow to the one that she had figured out.  The ceiling became more opaque starting from her hand to a diameter of about twenty feet.  That was the extent of her spell.  She would have to move to another section to change the flow.

To her great relief, the next attack on the ceiling sounded more muffled and did not cause as much debris.  She floated down and moved away from the attacked area.  There were several more attacks before the creature stopped.

Footsteps behind her announced the arrival of Airianne and Arturia.  Airianne looked up at the opaque ceiling and the dark form beyond the walls.  She turned to Rin.

"Mine thanks.  Ye did what ye can.  But we must call upon Mother.  If anything happens, run to the lowest level.  There is an enchanted cell there.  Lock thyselves within it."  She fetched up her skirt and ran out.

A few moments later, Bedivere came running in with her large sword.  She looked up at the ceiling with narrowed eyes.  Rin explained to her what was going on.  She drew her sword.  "Mayhap, thou should..."

There was a large hiss and the wall melted away to grant a gruesome black dragon entrance.  As it descended, it began to transform.  By the time it reached the ground, it had transformed into an old woman in an elegant gold and black robe. 

"At last, I found ye, Arthur.  At last, I will have mine revenge."  The old woman held out a hand whose fingers bore many rings.  The rings began to glow and dark energy began to cackle around them.  "Die."

Black lightning sped towards them.  Rin pushed Arturia aside and quickly erected a barrier.  Upon impact, Rin's arms trembled and she stumbled back at the sheer amount of force.  But she held her ground until the lightning dissipated.

"I see...  Merlyn hath left a guard."  She raised her other hand.  "No matter.  Only Merlyn is mine equal."  She began to weave her hands.

Rin slipped a hand under her bodice and detached the jewel in her necklace.  A drop of sweat trickled down her forehead.  If the old woman was right, her magic may not be strong enough to protect them.  But there was no other choice.  She had to try. 

"What hath I done to deserve thy ire, lady?"  yelled Arturia.

The old woman stopped for a moment to stare at Arturia.  "After all these years, ye ask that!  Ye, the usurping bastard!  How dare ye mock me!"

"I mock ye not, for mine memory hath faileth me!  Who art ye, lady?"

The old woman stared at Arturia for a few seconds.  "So... the battle struck ye dumb.  Very well, I will tell ye, so that ye will know mine pain."  She stretched out her hands her sides.  "Behold, and see what ye hath done to me, yer own sister!"  

Now, it was Arturia's turn to stare.  "What...?"  was all she could utter.  Meanwhile, Rin took the opportunity to prepare a plan.

"How did I come to this?  Tis by yer fault.  I am the legitimate child of our father whilst ye wert begat by adulterous means.  And so by custom, as first born, the throne should come to me."  Her voice rose to a thunder and the walls shook with her anger.  "But ye had that meddling Merlyn enchant the stone to draw Caliburn!  With Caliburn in yer hand, ye fooled the lords to give ye the throne while, I, true heir to the noble line of Pendragon, was set aside to marry a wanton duke!"

She drew a few deep breaths and continued her tale.  "But I was patient.  When yer queen gave birth to Lancelot's child, I gave a kinswoman mine own child to raise as her own, knowing that Merlyn will seek to exchange the queen's child with one that resembled ye.  So, e'en if I could not have the throne, mine dear Mordred would take it.  And thus shall the noble line of Pendragon reclaim the throne.  As I predicted, Merlyn came and took the child.  News of the birth spread, and the kingdom rejoiced that yer queen hath finally given ye a fine heir.  But Mordred aged faster than ye and there was no sign that ye would give up the throne.  So I had mine spyes arrange for Mordred to steal Avalon and delivered unto her an enchanted blade and armor.  Then I caused mine host to lure ye to battle where Mordred shall claim victory."

Suddenly, her cheek contorted horribly.  Rin watched in horror as she noticed something writhing under her wrinkled skin. 

"But, twas not to be!  For days, I waited to hear news of Mordred's victory, but instead, I heard defeat!  I rushed to the battlefield and found her broken body and on it, the wound that caused her death.  Twas the wound caused by yer blade, Excalibur!  But the fates wert against me, for as I left the battlefield, a portal opened and a bolt of dark magic hit me.  It was a trap set by that insufferable Merlyn!  For many days, I nursed mine wounds in the forest.  Although that vile Saxon spell destroyed mine beauty, mine strength hath returned with mine anger ten-fold."

"With mine strength renewed, I tried to find ye.  I searched many towns high and low for ye.  By chance, I happened to overhear a farmhand telling a tale about a girl wielding a large blade that can cut stone."

Her eyes alighted on Bedivere.  "That can only be yer Stone Cleaver.  Stone Cleaver will ne'er acknowledge a lesser knight than its master."

Her malignant gaze returned to Arturia.  "I asked the farmhand to tell me whither he hath heard this tale.  And so, I came to this valley in most haste.  And now, I finally found ye." 

She resumed casting her spell.  "Ye wert conceived in sin and ye reigned in sin.  Die, Arthur.  Die knowing mine sorrow and the sins that ye hath wrought.  Die, ye usurping bastard!  For Mordred!"

Rin pulled her hand out and held the red jewel before her.  "Raging Soul!"  she cried out. 

The old woman's spell hit a barrier with such force that a small shockwave from the impact knocked down several vases in the hall.  Arturia shielded her eyes from the brightness of the impact.  When the light had cleared, Rin stood unscathed and clad in a small black cloak and black leather armor with red straps.  A silver cross was emblazoned on her chest armor.  In her hand, she raised a short handled silver scythe.  A fist sized red orb was embedded in the widest part the scythe.

"Ye'll have to go through me first, old hag."  said Rin menacingly.

"And me as well, thou gorbellied pox-marked strumpet!"  yelled Bedivere.

"Old hag!?  Strumpet!!"  The old woman simmered with anger.  "I will make ye regret those words, both of ye!"  She erected a wide barrier.  Then she took out a twisted dagger and cut her forearm open.  Gray ooze dripped out and sizzled as each drop hit the floor. 

Rin motioned them back.  "Sir Bedivere, take Arturia to the lowest level.  There is a secure room there."

"Nay.  I cannot leave thee.  I will fight with thee."

"If thou must help, protect Arturia.  Move to the next room.  She is summoning shades.  Do not help me.  Thou will only get in mine way." 

Bedivere nodded and carried Arturia who seemed to be in a state of shock.  Rin gritted her teeth as she saw several shades slowly shape themselves into armed knights.  Behind her, she could hear the sound of furniture being moved.  She exhaled with relief when she realized that Bedivere was trying to form a barricade.  She let the end of staff elongate until it hit the floor.  "It's now or never."  She held the staff with her left hand and cast a barrier behind her.

Then she ran to the nearest tree and plucked a leaf.  She put it to her lips and whistled an ancient melody.  Hopefully, her brief training as a miko at Ise jingu would be enough.  To her great relief, the nearby trees began to respond.  Their branches contorted and bundled up together to form makeshift arms.  The trees stepped out of their large pots to stand on misshapen feet which were formed by bunched up roots.  Rin grimaced.  She was only able to get five.  It would have to do. 

Just beyond the barrier, Rin could see the fully formed shades.  The odds were three to one.  She directed her trees to the forefront.  Then she pulled out a dispenser of jade beads from her pouch and attached it to her belt.  The barrier fell.  The old woman's eyes narrowed when she saw the trees.

"Give me Arthur, girl, and I will let ye live."

"Never!  Begone, vile witch, lest I send ye to the deepest bowels of hell to consort with yer putrid host."

"So be it!"  The shades charged.

[Author's note:  Recommended listening:  Tenchi houkou, Fate/stay Night Animation Original Soundtrack]

"Go!"  cried Rin in Japanese.  The trees crashed into the shades and swung their stout limbs.  Several shades were knocked back.  The shades swung their dark swords and hacked at the trees.  Rin ran to the left, away from the fighting. 

"A Saxon witch?!  Didst ye teach Merlyn that vile Saxon spell?"  demanded the witch after she heard Rin speak.  Then she grinned maliciously.  "No matter.  I have a spell to burn heathens like ye."  She began gesturing.

Rin shot a bolt from her finger and blew off the sword arm of a shade.  The arm landed on the floor and dissolved into a puddle of muck.  Meanwhile, the end of her staff scratched the first glyph. 

Half a dozen yellow orbs of light flickered around the witch.  She pointed at Rin.  "Sunburst!"

The orbs raced toward Rin.  Rin hastily erected a temporary barrier and the orbs hit it with a great booming crash.  She counted five.  She glanced left and right and then up.  It was coming down.  She leaned sideways and raised her hand to shoot a quick bolt.  The bolt and the orb met but the bolt was too weak to cancel out the orb.  The stray energy hit Rin's hand and she screamed in pain.  A quick glance at her hand told her that it was burned.

She gritted her teeth and ran to the left again.  Her hand took a bead from the dispenser.  She aimed and shot a bolt at a shade.  Then she shot the bead at the north wall.  It embedded itself into the wall upon impact.  She continued shooting bolts at the orbs until the end of her staff etched the second glyph on the floor.  

The orbs were annoying.  She needed a distraction.  At her silent command, one of the trees broke away from the shades and lumbered towards the witch.  Rin intensified her attack on the witch and hoped that she would not notice.  Amazingly enough, she did not and was struck down by a swinging limb. 

Rin ran to the left and etched the third glyph.  She ran again to risk etching the fourth.  While she did so the witch gestured and fired a dozen orbs at the tree.  The tree burst into flames.  Suddenly, Rin had an idea. 

She pointed at a nearby lamp.  "Kinensis!"  The lamp tore itself from the wall and splashed its oily contents on the witch.  Rin made a fist and flicked her hand open.  "Zerborsten!"  The tree exploded, showering sharp splinters and flame on the witch.

The witch screamed as she was impaled with wooden shards and her clothes caught fire.  She fell to her knees and tried to put out the fire with her hands.  Several shades came to her aid and tried to smother the flames.  Meanwhile, Rin ran about and etched the fifth, sixth and seventh glyph.  She emptied her dispenser and shot beads at the walls.  When she was done, there was a bead embedded in the northwest wall, the west wall, the southwest wall, the south wall, the southeast wall, the east wall and the northeast wall.  Then she took out a cylinder.  "Kinensis..."  she whispered.  She willed it roll toward the witch.

The shades supported the witch as she tried to stand up.  Half her hair was burned.  A cut on her skin oozed gray goo.  Her tattered robe smoldered.  The only flame left was in her eyes.  "Ye'll pay fer that!"  she screamed.  She gestured towards Rin and all the remaining shades charged. 

Rin ran behind a potted tree.  "Spear form!"  The scythe blade elongated.  She had to buy enough time for her trees to make it over.  "Schild!"  A ghostly silver shield appeared in front of her.  It deflected the blows coming to her front. 

The shield would not be good enough to deflect all the blows.  Rin wished that she had enough skill to maintain two barriers.  She would have to deal with the other attacks herself. 

"Eile!"  As the Haste spell took effect, she felt adrenaline pump through her body.  A shade attacked her side.  Her movements were a blur as she parried the attack.  Then she impaled it.  To finish it off, she fired a bolt to destroy its head. 

There were several explosions in the direction of the sitting room.  Rin hoped that the barrier would hold.  She speared another shade.  Eight more were left.  Only a little longer, and her trees would be here.  More explosions occurred.  She felt a sudden chill, indicating that the barrier was weakening and more mana would be needed to sustain it.  Her hand dove into her jewel pouch and grabbed several jewels. 

The barrier faded for an instant and a shade rushed through.  Bedivere met its charge and sliced it to bits.  Its pieces melted into dark puddles on the floor.

Rin threw the jewels towards the barrier.  "Freiwerden!"

The jewels hit the barrier and it glowed with renewed mana.  The witch stared at the barrier until understanding crept into her twisted face.  She turned to Rin.  Orbs began to multiply around her. 

Rin concentrated and commanded her trees to grab the shades.  Three shades were captured.  The trees turned and positioned themselves between the witch and her.  Meanwhile, Rin frantically speared and shot the other four.  Suddenly, the shades withdrew and began to merge into one large shade with four hands.  Each hand held a long spear instead of a sword.

At the sight of it, Rin cursed her luck.  She no longer had the advantage of reach.  She quickly transferred several jewels from her pouch into the red orb of her spear.  "Double spear form!"  Another spearhead formed on the other end of the staff.  She needed to take it down before the witch decided to fire those orbs.

She did not get a chance to.  The orbs sped towards her.  Some hit the trees and the captured shades while others hit the large shade and potted tree.  The rest hit her ghostly shield which moved frantically to block each orb.  The shield shook with each impact and began to weaken with each hit.  Rin held up her hand to reinforce it, but before she could do so, the large shade ran up to her and attacked with all four spears at the same time.  The shield caught two spears.  Rin spun the spear like a propeller and chopped off the other two.  Then she braced her spear and drove it into the shade.  Lightning arced from the spear and its intensity fried shade from within.  The shade began to dissolve.  A flash of light just beyond the dissolving shade caught her eye.  She tried to dodge as quickly as she could.  But she did not react fast enough. 

Rin screamed in pain as an orb grazed the left side of her face.  The scent of burnt hair and flesh filled her nostrils.

"Now ye know how it feels like to be burned."  said the witch darkly.  More orbs began to form around her. 

"Kinensis!"  The leftover chunks of trees flew towards the witch.  Some of the orbs were fired to destroy the chunks.  Rin tried to ignore the pain and gritted her teeth.  She must finish before the spell ran out.  In a blur, she ran to the left and quickly etched out the last glyph with the blade of her spear. 

With her good eye, she located the cylinder near the witch's feet.  "Bind!"  The cylinder broke open and spewed a gelatinous substance all over the witch.   It quickly hardened and the witch struggled against it.  With the witch trapped, she released the Haste spell and ran to a corner.  She raised her hand and yelled in Japanese, "Eight Mansions of Earth lend me your strength!"

The jade beads began to glow.  The stone around them reverted to its natural form.  Streams of mana began to form, joining each bead with the other beads. She willed the silvery web of mana to settle on the floor. 

Meanwhile, the hardened substance on the witch began to crack.  "Staff form!"  Then she raised the staff high into the air and chanted, "Mysteros porta...  expositus!"  A thunderous roar resounded through the hall when she struck the butt end of the staff against the floor.

The glyphs glowed as they absorbed the streams of mana.  A dark chasm opened underneath the witch.  Meanwhile, the substance flew off the witch in pieces.   She was free.

The left side of Rin's face throbbed in pain.  She did not dare open her left eye.  Anger welled up inside her and shaped the spell that leapt off the tip of her tongue.  "Flammentod!"

Red flames erupted from the chasm and enveloped the witch.  It rose through the air and reached as high as the ceiling.  The pressure generated by the intense heat lifted the witch's body five feet into the air. 

The witch's hair was the first to go, followed by her clothes.  Her eyes rolled back and smoke drifted from her open but silent mouth.  Her skin turned to the consistency of charcoal. 

Drops of sweat fell from Rin's forehead as she tried to maintain the spell.  The pain on her face fueled her anger and encouraged her even more.  On her left arm, her magic seal flared bright green as she poured more mana into the spell.  She would not stop until only ashes remained. 

Suddenly, a large eagle swooped down from the hole in the ceiling and flew towards her.  Before she could react, the eagle landed on her staff and pulled it down with its weight.  Then the eagle began to morph.  To her great astonishment, it transformed into Merlyn. 

With her concentration broken, the spell ended and the dark chasm closed, leaving behind the charred remains of a skeleton.

"Tis enough lass."  said Merlyn softly.

"Merlyn!  Thank God!"  Tears of relief flowed freely from her right eye and stung her left.

"Let me look at ye..."  Merlyn reached over and gingerly touched her face. 

Rin winced and hoped for a good diagnosis.

"Tis not that bad.  If we..."

There was a loud crash behind them.  Rin turned around to see several chairs on the floor.  Arturia leapt over and sprinted towards the smoldering heap in the middle of the hall.

"Stop her, Bedivere!"  yelled Merlyn.

Bedivere dropped her sword and tackled Arturia.  They fell soundly on the floor.

"Let me go!"  screamed Arturia as she wrestled Bedivere.  "I must save her!  I must save Morgan!"

Merlyn grabbed Rin's arm.  She gestured at the furniture piled at the doorway and caused it to move aside.  They walked briskly into the sitting room to where Airianne stood.  Merlyn put her hand on Airianne's cheek.  "Take her to Wybrenne.  Dinna let her leave the east wing."

Airianne nodded.  She took Rin's hand in hers and led her towards the hallway to the east wing. 

As she walked with Airianne, Rin heard Merlyn say,  "Cease this, Arturia.  Tis too late to save her." 

"Nay!  That cannot be!  Ye must try, Merlyn!  Please!"

"She was already dying.  Nothing can be done."

"Is yer magic for naught?  If ye refuse to save her, then I will!  Let me go!  What art ye doing?!  Nay!  Stop!  Stop!  Morgan!  Morgaaaan!!!"

Rin's step faltered and she turned her head toward the sitting room.  But Airianne's hand firmly gripped hers.  "Come, Lady Rhynne.  Please.  Trust Mother."

Her logic and her heart warred with one another.  A loud wail of grief and rage penetrated the air.  Her heart won.  Rin tried to shake Airianne's hand off, but Airianne held on tightly. 

"Mother!"  yelled Airianne.

A sharp jolt ran from Airianne's hand and into Rin's body.  The room swam around her and her knees buckled.  Merlyn's voice echoed in her ears.  "Stubborn lass..."  A second jolt came and she promptly passed out. 


--------------------------


When Rin woke up, she found herself on a bed.  The dark valley indicated that she probably slept into the night.  Her hand rose to her face and confirmed that it was bandaged.  Her burned hand was also bandaged.  Her eyes alighted on Merlyn who sat on a chair next to the bed.

"How do ye feel?"

Rin slowly sat up.  "A bit dizzy..."  Since she could move, she tried to get out of bed.

"Where art ye going?"

"I have to see Arturia."

"Nay.  Ye must stay here."

"Why?"

"She is not herself at the moment."

"Then I must go to her and help!"  Rin threw off the covers and swung her legs over the side of the bed.

Merlyn grabbed her arm and spoke firmly.  "Nay.  Do not.  Ye killed her only sister.  Ye art the reason why she is mad."

At those words, Rin held her breath.  Her shoulders slumped at the horrible reality of Merlyn's statement.  She had killed her beloved's sister.  She was so intent on protecting Arturia from a witch who had schemed to overthrow her that she ignored the fact that she was her sister. 

Merlyn watched sadly as Rhynne's face turned pale.  She stood up and gently guided Rhynne to lie down on the bed.  "Rest now.  Ye art injured.  Once again, tis important fer ye to stay in the east wing.  Dinna go out without me or Airianne."

Rin nodded dumbly.  Merlyn turned to leave.  Before she exited the room, Rin called out, "Please, tell me how Arturia is right now!"

"Her body is uninjured.  But her spirit..."  Merlyn's voice dripped with sadness.  "Her spirit hast suffered a terrible blow.  It will take time to mend.  But be at ease for Bedivere is with her.  She will watch over her well." 

"Mine thanks."  said Rin.  She swallowed and steeled herself against Merlyn's wrath.  Her words tumbled out apprehensively.  "And... I am so sorry about the hall..."

Merlyn expelled a sigh that betrayed her sense of loss.  "What's done is done.  But fret not.  Tis much more important to me that all of ye are safe."  She stood up.  "Rest now.  We shall speak more in the morn."

Rin blinked back her tears of relief.  "I thank ye fer yer forgiveness."   

Merlyn simply nodded.  She doused the lamps, exited and closed the door. 

She tried to sleep but her efforts were in vain.  In her delirium, she witnessed the mage battle again and again.  Arturia's stricken face would flash before her and ask, "Why?"

"I'm sorry, Arturia...  I'm so sorry..."  Her restraint was spent.  She turned towards the wall and wept into her pillow.


-------------------------


"Come hither, mine love."  Wybrenne extended her hand to invite Merlyn to bed.  "Thy countenance speaks of a troubled heart."

Merlyn took her hand gently and sat down next to her.  She sighed.  "All hast come undone.  Rhynne and Syrowe must go back."

"But I thought that thou hath approved of the match!"

"Now I cannae do so.  Rhynne hast shown that she can be tempted by power.  She knowst dark magic and casts it without thought of the consequences."

"She was merely protecting the one she loved.  Thou did not see her desperation." 

"She should have waited fer me to come."

"Didst she know that thou wert coming?"

The question startled Merlyn.  She had assumed that Airianne had told Rhynne that she was coming.  She had to make sure.  Her mind reached out to Airianne.  From her memories, she saw that Rhynne had erected a barrier and Airianne did not get a chance to tell her.  She cursed at the awful timing of the events and rubbed her temples in exasperation. 

"Nay... she did not."  Then she added stubbornly, "She should have known better though."

"Tis the folly of youth.  Forgive her."

"Nay, I cannae risk the chance of more folly when Arturia is involved.  The lure of power is great, e'en with pure magic.  I hath hoped that she hath enough wisdom despite her youth."

"Then instruct her."

Merlyn shook her head vigorously.  "I hath spent a lifetime watching over a nation of whelps.  Tis time I returned to ye and Airianne."

Wybrenne's eyes glistened at her words.  The thought of having her Merlyn home again filled her heart with joy.  But the image of Rhynne fighting alone against a mob of shades would not leave her mind.  "I am glad to hear it.  But... since she cannot return without Syrowe, why not lend her thy counsel until Syrowe returns?  Methinks that she will welcome it better than that curt speech that thou hath given her."

As always, Wybrenne was too kind.  Merlyn's eyes misted over as she cupped Wybrenne's hand within both of her own.  Even though she had clearly indicated that she wanted to devote all her time with her, Wybrenne had subtly suggested that she did not have to.  "I will, if she asks fer it."

"Tis well then."  She stroked Merlyn's cheek with her other hand.  "Now come unto me.  I will have thee smile before we sleep."

Merlyn smiled widely as she crawled to her place on the bed.  With a wave of her hand, she doused the lamps and drew the curtains shut.  Tonight, she was not Merlyn, the Mage Paramount.  Tonight, she was Wybrenne's wife.


-----------------------------


Around mid-morning, Merlyn went to check on Rhynne.  Rhynne sat on a chair which was turned towards the valley.  She rose to meet her.

"Good morning."

"Good morning."  replied Rhynne.

"Feeling better now?"

"Yea."  She paused for a moment.  "Merlyn..."

"Aye?"

"May I speak with ye?"

"What's on yer mind?"

Rin's eyes turned towards the floor.  "About yesterday... I hath heard ye say that Morgan was dying.  Was it true?"

"Aye.  Did ye not see the corruption of her flesh?"

"Could she still be saved?"

"Nay."  Merlyn observed her expressions.  Rhynne seemed to be debating within herself.  Merlyn waited patiently for a response.  She suspected that Morgan was using dark magic to create the illusion of youth at the expense of introducing a small amount of its foul taint into her body.  An examination of Morgan's remains proved her theory.  However, her examination also revealed that Rhynne's Gandr Fyre disrupted Morgan's enchantments which reversed its youthful effect and combined with Gandr to amplify the existing taint within her.  But her condition was not Rhynne's fault.  It was her portal that directed Rhynne's spell out of the inn.  Morgan just happened to be on that battlefield when her portal opened.  Fate was strange indeed. 

Rhynne lifted her face.  "But the fact that I killed her makes mine sin no less."  She walked to the wall and looked down at the valley.  "I hath never killed before.  What would ye have done?"

Merlyn's eyebrows arched in surprise.  There may be hope after all.

"I would have tried to stop her rampage and let her die of the corruption which courses through her blood."

Rhynne faced her once more.  "Then please, teach me.  Teach me so that I will never kill again."

Merlyn shook her head.  "E'en I have to kill sometimes.  I have nothing to teach ye."

"Ye art the most powerful mage in the realm!  Ye must know something!  Please!"

"Nay!  I am not a god!"  exclaimed Merlyn loudly.  Rhynne shrank back at the ferocity of her words.  Merlyn cursed herself for letting her emotions take over.  She did not want to be associated with power.  She had seen too many good mages fall into its fell embrace.  The very memory sickened her.  She composed herself and cleared her throat.  She put her hand on Rhynne's shoulder and spoke slowly and softly.  "Mages art not gods.  The magic that we wield should ne'er be confused with power and miracles."

At the sight of Rhynne's contrite expression, she was reminded by Wybrenne's suggestion.  She really did not want to spend less time with Wybrenne, but she had made her promise.  She could spare a little time.  "Although her body could not be saved, there may still be a chance to save her spirit.  If ye can save her spirit, then she can journey to the otherworld in peace."  She paused.  "But to do so is difficult.  I can only show ye the paths that I have taken to achieve that end."

Rhynne's eyes lit up with hope.  "Then, I would be glad to hear yer wisdom!"  She blushed and looked away slightly.  "That is, if it is not inconvenient for ye."

Merlyn smiled slightly at her enthusiasm.  She raised her palm and an amulet with a leather strap appeared on it.  "Then I accept ye as mine apprentice."  She unwound the strap and held it over Rhynne's head.  "Will ye accept me as yer master and do mine bidding?"

"Yea."  Rhynne's face was solemn and determined.

Merlyn put the amulet around her neck.  "Follow me to Airianne's study.  Yer instruction begins today."


----------------------


Arturia tried the door handle.  The door opened.  Grimly, she walked into Rhynne's room.  She went to the nearest dresser and pulled out a drawer.  It was empty.  Methodically, she opened all the drawers and cabinets.  They were all empty.  Her eyes wandered through the room.  She spotted a garland of dried flowers on a table.  She went to the table and picked up the garland.  Petals crumbled and fell to the floor at her touch.  She stared at it for a moment.

Then she crushed the garland within her fists.  Her face contorted with rage and she pulled her hands apart, snapping the fragile vine which held the garland together.  The pieces of the garland scattered about.  She took several deep breaths before collapsing to her knees.

She looked at her hands where the several dried petals still clung.  Tears burst forth from her eyes.  She wept into her hands and wailed a cry of deep sorrow.





Chapter 11 Omake


Arturia:  *sob* *sob* *sniff*
Bedivere:  There, there... Merlyn hath sealed the evil Saxon witch.  Now come into mine arms and let me console thee...
Rin:  Hey!!!



Chapter 11
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