The King and Her Queen

Chapter 14:  The Throne of Heroes


"Good news... the Chief Druid hath divined an auspicious date fer the ritual.  He suggested that we cast it on the third Sunday from now.  And, he also suggests that ye arrive on November 25, 2011.  We shall leave for Stonehenge on the third Saturday."

Rin forced a smile.  "Tis good news indeed, Master, but art ye sure that I am ready?"

"Aye... if ye art not, ye will be, e'en if we have to work night and day."

Internally, Rin cringed at the thought.  "If ye say so, Master."

Merlyn looked out to the valley.  "Besides... tis not well to rely on that spell to keep her here.  We cannae know when it will fail.  Twas luck that Airianne was with her when she started to fade."  She faced Rin with a grim expression.  "Ye shouldna rely on luck."

Rin nodded.  "Yea, Master.  What should we study now?"

Merlyn scanned through the pile of scrolls, picked some out and handed them to Rin.  "Illusion and Mana masking.  Ye dinna want to be hounded by the Einzbern after ye free her spirit.  Study these.  I will be back in two hours and ye can practice what ye hath learned." 

"As ye wish, Master."


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"Art ye still angry with me?"

Arturia ignored her and pretended to read her book.  She heard Airianne sigh and watched her leave the rose garden. 

She returned about ten minutes later with a tray of tea and strawberry scones.  Damn Bedivere.  She must have told her.  Airianne smiled winsomely and put the tray on the table next to her.  She carefully poured some tea into one of the two cups on the tray.  Arturia shifted on her cot so that her back was towards the tray. 

She heard Airianne's shuffling steps behind her.  The scrape of a stool and the click of shears indicated that she had resumed her pruning of the rose bushes.

Arturia was prepared to ignore her offering of peace.  However, a familiar scent wafted in the air.  Unable to believe her nose, she paused her reading and slowly turned around towards the table.  She went over to the table and lifted the teacup to her nose.  Then she cooled the tea with a few puffs of breath and sipped it.  A sense of nostalgia swept over her.  There was no doubt.  It was camellia. 

"Whither didst ye get this tea?"

Airianne looked up and smiled.  "From Rhynne.  Tis tea from a plant that only grows in the land of Nee-hun.  Is it to thy liking?"

Arturia paled.  She stared at the tea.  "Yea..."  If the plant only grew in Nee-hun, then did that mean that she was there before?  Or, did Rhynne visit Britain before and serve her tea during her forgotten past?

Airianne was confused by the changing expressions on Arturia's face.  She was sullen, then surprised and then disturbed.  She noted how she stared at the tea.  Something about the tea bothered her.

"Pray, if the tea is not to thy liking, then dinna drink it out of politeness.   I will not be offended by yer refusal."

"Nay... tis not so... I do like it."  She slurped it to reassure Airianne.  The feeling of nostalgia rose within her once more.  She held the cup between both of her hands and stared at it again.  "I like it very much."

Arturia's face seemed more pensive, with a twinge of sadness in her eyes.  Airianne sensed that Arturia did not want to talk, so she simply said, "I am glad. Please feel free to have more." Then she resumed her chores.


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Arturia stared at the blank handkerchief before her.  She did not know what to write.  Or rather, she was afraid to write.  A part of her wanted to know more about Rhynne, while another part of her suggested patience.  She glanced at the clock.  She had been sitting for the past thirty minutes and wrote nothing.  With a small cry of frustration, she stood up, threw herself upon her bed and pounded it with clenched fists.  After much pounding, she felt a little better.  

She needed to clear her head somehow.  Her feet guided her into the sitting room while her hands fetched the harp from the wall.  She sat down on a stuffed armchair.  Her eyes closed while her fingers began to strum a soothing melody, but somehow, the notes rushed forth like a torrential downpour that matched the storm in her heart.

She played and played until her fingers were sore.  When she opened her eyes, she noticed Bedivere sitting nearby. 

Bedivere simply smiled slightly and asked, "What disturbs thee?"

"Nothing... I merely wisheth to play."

"Is that so?"  Bedivere paused and assessed whether she could press Arturia.  She decided to try.  "Then, thou will not mind continuing where we left off."

"About what?"

"Thy first kiss... and thereafter."

Arturia's cheeks began to flush.  "Canst we speak of something else?"

Arturia's bowed head and hunched shoulders touched a soft spot in Bedivere's heart.  She sighed.  "Oh, very well..."  Her eyes glanced at the locked door to the great hall.  "What dost thou thinkst of Rhynne?"

Arturia's eyes lit up.  At last, a question that she was not ashamed to answer.  She closed her eyes and remembered the first time that Rhynne bandaged her. 

"I like how she touches me... tis so gentle.  Tis as if she was trying to care for a fragile babe.  I like the fragrance of her hair."  She paused for a moment as she remembered the cause of her distress before continuing.  "Tis a soothing scent that makes me want to caress those raven locks and bring it up to mine face."

She smiled warmly at the memory of Rhynne dozing in the wagon.  "When she's asleep, tis like an innocent babe.  I feel like... I want to protect her."  And at that time, she did in her own way, even though the imagined peril was a swaying wagon over a rocky path.  It was a bit difficult to scout over to where she sat, but she managed to do it.  Holding her under that quilted blanket seemed so natural.

She remembered the first night in which they slept together in the same bed.  The next morning, the first thing that she saw was her face.  She lay there and watched Rhynne until she opened her eyes.  As Rhynne whispered her morning greeting, the smile that graced her face brightened the room.  It was then that she decided the boon that she wanted:  that she must be with her when it was time to sleep for a week.  "Her presence soothes mine troubled heart, especially during those nights when mine terrible dreams shook my sleep.  Tis a joy to have her near."

Then she recalled the nightly stories and plays which she narrated.  "I love the sound of her voice, her grace, her manner... Her stories art so entertaining.  And when she acts, tis as if she were that person in the play."

Bedivere nodded.  "I am in accord with thee.  I hath seen many plays, and her acting is superior to most."

"Verily so!  Dost thou recall 'The Maiden and the Green Knight?'"

"Yea, she played two roles side by side, and one can still distinguish the old woman and the maid."

"Precisely."  Arturia sighed and strummed an aimless tune on her harp.  "I miss those nights."

"So doth I..."  Bedivere leaned back into her chair and grinned widely.  "Thy affection for her seems deep, but art thou sure tis not a passing fancy?"
 
Arturia stopped strumming and shook her head.  "Nay... I hath ne'er felt anything like this for another person.  E'en though we hath met scarcely five months ago, I feel as if I hath known her longer.  I want to be with her, to sense her presence nearby.  And when she holds me in her arms, I feel as if I belong there.  Is that strange?"

"Not at all.  Tis what I expect from a maid in love."  A corner of her mouth curved slyly.  "That assumes, of course... that thou art still a maid."

"Of course, I am!  Thou knowst that I did not lay with Guinevere!"

Suddenly, the sound of rock crashing to the floor reverberated in the great hall.  Arturia stared in horror at the door and then at Bedivere.  She stood up, put the harp down and tried to open the door.  It was locked. 

"Should we see if we art being assaulted?"  she asked Bedivere with alarm.

"Nay, be at ease.  The hall is being repaired.  And tis futile to unlock the door.  There is a barrier beyond it."

"Oh.  Didst Merlyn hire masons to repair it?"

Bedivere stood up.  "Nay.  Anyway, mine thanks for thy song."  She strode to the exit of the sitting room.

"Then... who is repairing the hall?"

Bedivere answered over her shoulder.  "Someone who can restore it."

Arturia ran to the doorway.  She cursed when she saw the empty hallway.  It annoyed her that Bedivere was better at hiding herself than she was at finding her.  The Aerie probably had secret passages just like Camelot and Bedivere used them well.

She marched back to the chair and slouched into it.  Bedivere's words came back to her.  The hall was enchanted, so a mere mason would not be sufficient.  A mage would be needed to restore the enchantment. 

There were only two capable mages in the Aerie.  She got up to look for Merlyn and found her with Wybrenne at the Lily pond.  She hurried back to the sitting room and examined the lock on the door.  If only she had the key.  Suddenly, she remembered the loose brick on the top of the kitchen hearth.  She had discovered it while she was cleaning it.  She hurried to the kitchen and was relieved that Airianne was not there.  Then she located the brick at the upper left corner of the hearth and dislodged it.  She grinned in triumph as a small crevice was revealed which contained a set of keys. 

She took the keys and replaced the brick.  Then she hurried back to the sitting room and selected a key that might fit the lock.  She turned the key and the door clicked open.  She opened the door to the great hall.  The swaying of a suspended scaffold caught her attention.  Just above the scaffold was the hole that Morgan created.  It was about three-quarters full with new stone.  On the floor below the scaffold were pieces of broken stone.  Cautiously, she tried to peer around the corner of the doorframe, but her face hit something. 

She recoiled back and stared at the empty air of the doorway.  She picked up a nearby cushion and pushed it toward the doorway.  It compressed against an invisible wall.  She cursed.  Bedivere did mention a barrier. 

"Rhynne..."  she called out.  "Rhynne... if thou art there, answer me... please..."  Every second of silence pounded a nail into her heart.  After a minute of waiting, she closed the door, but took care not to let it latch completely.  Then she walked noisily out of the sitting room and into the hallway.  She stopped in the hallway and removed her shoes. 

With all the stealth at her command, she crept silently into the sitting room.  When she reached the door, she pressed her ear into it and listened.  She could hear the faint sound of scraping, some rustling and an occasional creak of wood.  If she remembered correctly, the scaffold was made of wood.  She twisted the doorknob and slowly opened the door to a slit wide enough to peek into the great hall.

Her heart leapt into her throat.  Sitting on the scaffold was Rhynne.  A small orb of light floated above her.  Her back was toward the door and she appeared to be holding a trowel which she used to scoop some mortar from the box to her right.  On her left was a small pile of irregularly shaped stones about the size of a teapot.  She put the trowel in the box and raised a stone toward the hole.  The stone floated away from her hands and fit into the outline of newly laid stones.  She selected another stone and scooped up some mortar.

Arturia closed the door.  Her thoughts were in turmoil.  Why did Rhynne choose not to reply?  She could only surmise that Merlyn told her not to.  She did not know if mages had a code of honor, but if they did, then Rhynne would be compelled to obey her master.  Furthermore, the door was locked and a barrier was in place.  It indicated that Merlyn did not want anyone in the hall.

Then she recalled Rhynne's lone figure on top of the scaffold.  When did she start repairing the hall?  Her heart ached at the thought of Rhynne spending all those lonely hours in that dark hall, quietly repairing it stone by stone.  It seemed so sad. 

Perhaps, that was why Bedivere baited her to talk about Rhynne.  She chuckled to herself as she realized which answer caused Rhynne to betray her presence in the hall.  She walked to her chair, sat down and picked up the harp.  She began to play Rhynne's favorite melody.  At least, she would not be lonely anymore.

[Author's note:  Recommended background music:  Fate/stay Night Animation Original Soundtrack, Kishiou no hokori]

Rin paused when she heard the harp.  She glanced at the door and saw that it was closed.  The melody tugged at her soul.  Arturia played it for her whenever they were at the lake.  Rin raised her sleeve to wipe a tear from her eye.  She thought that she had left the sitting room.  And yet, there she was, playing for her.  Rin remembered the time when Arturia snuck up behind her without her noticing.  This time, she caught her again.  She smiled gratefully and continued her work on the ceiling.

The clock struck three.  Arturia had been playing for over an hour.  Her fingers were sore, but she kept playing.  She would play until Rhynne exited the great hall.  Suddenly, a hand tapped her gently on her shoulder.  She stopped and looked up to see Bedivere.

"Tis enough.  She hast gone to study."

"But... I did not see her leave!"

"There is a portal within the hall that sends her back to the east wing.  She need not pass this way."

"I see..."  Her face fell with disappointment.  She stood up to hang the harp on the wall. 

"Fret not.  The hall needs much repair."

Arturia stared sharply at Bedivere before understanding crept into her mind.  "I suppose someone must come by every day to repair it."  she said slyly. 

"Verily so.  Most likely, after lunch and till about this time."  Bedivere put an arm around her.  "And since thou art idle, why not tell me of more of thy maidenly explorations of Rhynne?"

"Bedivere!"


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"Aenderungsmana."

Mana flowed from Rin's palm into the inlaid channels of power within the stones.  One by one, the stones began to become translucent.  Rin concentrated and maintained the spell.  The hall began to brighten up.  Sunlight filtered through the stone and reflected off the smooth marble floor. 

It took about half an hour to transform all the stones.  Wearily, Rin sat down on the bench and glanced at the closed door to the sitting room.  She could still hear Arturia singing.  She laid down on the bench to get some rest.

When she had rested enough, she went to the wall next to the door.  The job was done, and she felt like she deserved a reward.  She put her hand on the wall and chanted, "Aenderungsmana."

The portion of the wall near her hand slowly became translucent.  The sitting room came into view, along with Arturia and her harp.  She gazed fondly at the scene.

Without warning, Arturia opened her eyes and looked in her direction.  Rin took her hand away and fled to a nearby potted tree.  The door creaked open.  She was certain that Arturia was looking for her. 

"Rhynne..."  Arturia's voice echoed in the hall.  "Why, Rhynne?" 

Rin hugged her knees.  Why indeed?  She asked Merlyn the same question after Merlyn locked the door and erected the barrier.  Merlyn told her that it was needed to prevent Arturia from seeing her.  But that was when Arturia was grieving over Morgan. 

When she asked Merlyn again, Merlyn simply said to do as she was told as required by her apprenticeship.  Rin felt the amulet underneath her rough work apron.  The penalty for disobedience was dire:  the master could choose to seal, or even worse, destroy one or more magic circuits. 

She could not resist bringing Arturia to the east wing.  After meeting her in the laundry room, every day without her was torture.  Her messages were the only thing that she looked forward to.  So when Merlyn left to visit the Chief Druid, she risked a chance to see her.

But her chances were running out.  Tomorrow, they would leave for Stonehenge.  She gazed at the valley below.  She would never forget this place.  So many wonderful things happened here. 

The door clicked behind her, but she continued to huddle by the potted tree.  Her eyes wandered over the hall.  In time, the trees would sprout leaves again and the banners and carpet would adorn the hall.  The hall would be restored to its former glory.  Rin closed her right eye and peered only with her left.  She saw only darkness.  She sighed and wondered if her sight would ever be restored.  But even if she could not restore her sight, she still had a chance to help Arturia.  She gathered her determination and stepped into the portal to the east wing.


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Arturia was reading on her cot in the rose garden when Bedivere opened door and held it for Airianne and Wybrenne to pass through.  Arturia put her book down and gave a respectful bow to Wybrenne.

"Good morning, Lady Wybrenne."

"Good morning, Sir Arturia."  Wybrenne drew a deep breath.  "I regret to say that I bear grave news.  Mine Merlyn and Rhynne hath left to go to Stonehenge.  They will perform the ritual to return her to the future tomorrow."

Arturia's eyebrows shot up.  "The future?"

"Didst she not tell thee?  She is from a future over a thousand years from now."

"Nay."  Arturia paced within the triangle.  "She didst not."  Although she dreaded to hear the answer, she asked anyway.  "When will she return?"

The silence that ensued stopped her breath.  Eventually, Wybrenne shook her head slowly.  "She will not.  Merlyn will close the portal behind her."

Arturia trembled with agitation and anger as she tried to restrain herself.  "Why?!" she managed to say. 

Wybrenne avoided the true reason.  "I heard that tis needed to preserve the flow of time."

Arturia collapsed onto her knees and buried her face in her hands.  The sorrow from her heart overflowed to her eyes.  Between sobs, she slowly asked, "Why... didst she not allow Rhynne... to bid me farewell?"

She felt Bedivere's arm around her.  "Be at ease.  There is yet a way that thou can see her."

Airianne knelt in front of her.  "Yer physical form is maintained by the mana of the Aerie.  But that is not the only kind of mana that can sustain the spell that keeps yer form.  Within ye is Avalon.  Its mana can be used to refresh yer spell for a few days.  Please unbutton yer shirt, so I can release Avalon's mana."

"But... ye can not do magic."

"I discovered that I can when I tried to hide mine memories from Mother.  I suppose I have ye and Rhynne to thank fer that."  Airianne's lips curled into a smirk while Arturia's cheeks colored to shade of pink.  She held up her right hand.  "If ye please..."

Arturia quickly unbuttoned her shirt.  Airianne slipped her hand in between her breasts.  "Skies above!  Ye have such soft, creamy skin..."

"Lady Airianne!"  cried Arturia indignantly.

Airianne began whispering in a language that she could not understand.  Something began to throb inside her.  It felt cool, like diving into a river on a hot summer day.  The coolness began to spread from her center to her limbs. 

Airianne took her hand away.  "Tis done.  The spell will last fer at most two days.  After that, ye must refresh yerself in the Aerie."  She reached into her pocket to pull out an amulet and put it around Arturia's neck.  "This amulet will mask yer presence from Mother, but ye must keep a distance of at least a hundred yards."

"I have readied Haut with provisions."  offered Bedivere.  "They left this morning on horse.  Thou can reach them easily."

"There is one more thing.  The ritual will be cast fer two.  Mother hath decided to cast it as it was devised fer she feared ill effects if she changed it."  Airianne grasped Arturia's hand.  "Listen carefully, Sir Arturia.  There will be eleven glyphs and two smaller circles within the casting circle.  Rhynne will be standing in one of the smaller circles.  When the ninth glyph shines forth, ye must go to the other empty circle before the eleventh glyph shines.  When ye do, Mother will have no choice but to continue the ritual.  She cannae cancel it."

Arturia's eyes grew wide.  "If she completes the ritual, then... I will go with Rhynne..."

Airianne nodded.  "Aye."  Her eyes softened.  "Tis yer choice.  Ye can meet Rhynne secretly and bid her farewell.  Or... ye can go with her."

Arturia already knew her answer.  "Mine thanks... to all of thee."  Her eyes watered with gratitude.  "I know not how to acquit thy kindness."

"Tis simple.  Take this time that has been given to you and be happy." replied Wybrenne.

Airianne went to her mother's side and put her hand on her shoulder.  "Aye.  I agree."

Arturia knelt in front of Wybrenne and held out her hand.  Wybrenne recognized the gesture and offered her hand which Arturia kissed.  "Mine thanks, Lady Wybrenne, for the hospitality of thy home.  Know that I will ne'er forget thee and thy kindness."

"We art honored to host the High King.  Thou art welcome here always."

Arturia held out her hand to Airianne and kissed Airianne's hand when she offered it.  "Mine thanks to ye, Lady Airianne, for yer assistance.  Mine heart soars knowing that I have a chance to be by Rhynne's side.  And I am most grateful for all the entertainment that ye hosted for us."  She grinned widely as she remembered all those silly games and nightly activities. 

Airianne matched her grin, but her eyes twinkled with mischief.  "The pleasure was all mine."

Arturia stood up and turned to Bedivere.  Before she was able to say anything,  Bedivere spoke.

"I will accompany thee till the mine's entrance.  When thou art ready, meet me at the great hall."

"The great hall is open?"

"Yea.  Rhynne's craftsmanship is superb.  See for thyself."

"I will.  I shall meet thee there anon."  She faced Wybrenne and Airianne once more.  She went over to Wybrenne and embraced her.  Then she did the same for Airianne.  "I shall ne'er forget either of thee."

"And we as well."  Wybrenne reached over and stroked her cheek gently.  "Time flies.  Gather thy belongings and may God be with thee.  Farewell, King Arthur."

"Farewell, Lady Wybrenne, Lady Airianne."

Arturia left the rose garden with Bedivere.  She went to her room and scanned her closet.  Except for a pair of gloves and a change of clothes, she did not find anything that wanted to bring.  Then she hurried to the great hall.  She stood at the doorway for a moment to marvel at its restoration.  She could not discern the hole in the ceiling or the pit in the floor.  Rhynne truly did well. 

Bedivere stood by the platform.  Arturia jogged over to her.  Together, they descended the platform. 

From the map, Wybrenne and Airianne watched them until they descended into the cavern.  Then Wybrenne dispelled the image.  Arturia was determined to go with Rhynne.  Merlyn would be incensed.  Whether Rhynne succeeded or not, Merlyn would make arrangements for Arturia to live in the Aerie or in the valley below.  She could easily convince Bedivere to look after her and keep her company.  Wybrenne wrung her hands.  "Forgive me, mine love.  Thou must let go.  And... I can no longer share thee."

Airianne seemed to sense her thoughts and touched her shoulder in a reassuring manner.  "I hath a hand in it too, Mama.  Besides, Mother cannae stay angry with us fer too long."

Wybrenne squeezed her daughter's hand lovingly.  "Yea... thou art right.  Let us wish for her safe return."


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Meanwhile, Arturia and Bedivere made their way through the labyrinth and passed the wagon.  Arturia grabbed Bedivere's left wrist.  "A moment, Bedivere."

"What is it?"

"Come this way."

Bedivere followed Arturia back to the wagon.  Arturia leapt in and picked up the quilt inside.  She dusted it off in front and spread it on the wagon's floor.  She knelt by the wagon's edge and held out her hand to Bedivere.

"Come up."

Curious, Bedivere placed the lantern on the ground and took Arturia's hand.  Arturia pulled her up.  Then Arturia reached behind her neck and unclasped the cylinder that held her braids.  She unclasped the other one and ran her fingers through her hair to unravel it.  Bedivere's heart began to beat faster.  She suspected what Arturia had in mind.

"Milord, thou will need to catch up to Rhynne."

"I know."  Arturia's unclasped the rosary on the front flap of her cloak.  "Whither is the other?"

"I gave it to Rhynne."

"Ah... a gracious gift.  Mine heart warms to know that thou thinkst highly of her."  She removed the cloak that covered Bedivere's left arm.  She began to unbutton her vest.

"With all due respect, Milord, think of how Rhynne would feel."

Arturia did not stop.  "I am no longer High King.  I cannot reward thy faithful service with land or gold or title.  However, Constantine can award thy service with wealth or honor should thou deign to accept.  But I doubt any of that will suffice thee.  Know that mine heart will not rest until I hath shown thee mine gratitude.  So allow me to be selfish."  She slowly slipped off her vest.  She knelt closer to Bedivere and looked into her eyes.  "I cannot give thee mine heart, for that is no longer mine to give.  But allow me to give thee what only I can give."

Bedivere clenched her fists to keep them from trembling.  She narrowed her eyes and spoke sternly.  "Nay, Milord.  As a lady, thy love is meaningless if I cannot have thy heart.  Besides, I merely rendered thee service as required by mine pledge."

Arturia sighed.  "Must it always be duty, Bedivere?"  Her manner grew rigid with the authority of her kingship.  "Then hear me, Sir Bedivere.  Thou will let me do as I please, and thou will enjoy it.  This, thy King commands."  Arturia cupped Bedivere's face with her hands and stroked her cheek gently with the pad of her thumb.  "What will it be, Bedivere?"  she asked softly.  "Will thou accept mine love or will thou obey mine command?"

Bedivere blushed furiously and warmed Arturia's palms.  Arturia leaned forward until her lips almost touched Bedivere's.  "Mine time is short.  How long will thou make me wait?"

Bedivere swallowed visibly and quailed before her gentle eyes.  Arturia loved Rhynne.  Then it should be wrong to accept her love.  But her words rang in her mind.  Had she always chosen duty and honor over love?  Her thoughts went to that fateful day when she invited her to go hunting.  Arturia asked her and she did it out of duty.  But now, Arturia offered her a choice.

She released her clenched hands and closed her eyes.  She wanted to be selfish too.  As if sensing her decision, Arturia's lips claimed hers.

One by one, her clothes were discarded and Arturia guided her down to the quilt.  Her hands and lips wandered all over her body and she surrendered to her touch.  Arturia parted her legs and slipped her head between them. 

She gasped.  She screamed.  Soon, her thoughts were rendered incoherent.  There were only the tremulous sensations surging through her body.  And then Arturia entered her.

Her legs and arms wrapped around Arturia.  Her need was deep and Arturia slowly filled that need.  She clutched her fiercely as fire raged between her legs and threatened to swallow her into madness.  She screamed as the fire grew, her hoarse voice filling the mine with her cries. 

And then that fire exploded within her and she cried Arturia's name in bliss.  But Arturia continued to fan the flames which set off a series of smaller explosions which reverberated through her body.

Although she wished that she could share her passion with Arturia, what she received was more than she hoped for.  It was a culmination of a lifetime of friendship, of trust and of love.

When Arturia stopped, all she could do was lie there and catch her breath.  The throbbing within her eclipsed the aching muscles of her legs and arms.  Arturia kissed her on the cheek.  "Twas beautiful, Bedivere... I hope thou art pleased." 

From the edge of her consciousness, she could hear Arturia adjusting her clothes.  Then she felt her grasp her hand and plant a kiss on top, as one would do so on a lady.  "Fare thee well, Bedwyr Bedrydant ap Bedrawt, and farewell."

She heard Arturia leap off the wagon and lead Haut away.  Her thoughts were in a jumble and she desperately tried to gather her wits.  Finally, she managed to rise.  Wrapping herself in the quilt, she wobbled her way to the entrance of the mine.  Arturia was galloping on a path halfway down the mountain. 

"Arturia!"  Her voice was hoarse, but the mountain's echo carried her voice.  Arturia slowed down and looked in her direction.  She waved to her and waited until she waved back before resuming Haut's gallop. 

Bedivere watched sadly until she could no longer see Arturia.  "I hath loved but one woman in this world, and I hath lost her twice." 

Tears flowed freely from her eyes, but her sorrow was diminished by Arturia's parting gift.  She lifted her face to the heavens and prayed to God to keep her safe.


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"Hail Taliesin ab Elphin."

"Hail Myrddin Emrys."

"How art ye, Milord?"

"Very well."

Merlyn gestured to Rin.  "Tis Rin of the House of Tohsaka.  Rin, tis Lord Taliesin."

Taliesin inclined his head.  "I am pleased to meet ye, Rin.  But I am saddened that our first meeting will also be our last."

Rin curtsied.  "Tis I who am honored to meet ye."  She really was.  In her research, she came across Taliesin's name.  But legends only indicated that he was a bard, not the Chief Druid, Lord of the Pentacle. 

The legends mentioned his nickname, "The shining brow."  It was appropriate indeed.  Never had she seen hair so golden and fine that it almost glittered in the sunlight.  He could pass for a model in a men's magazine.  Internally, Rin laughed at her thoughts.  Furthermore, she expected him to be an old man.  Her imagination was far from the truth.  He seemed to be in his late thirties. 

Merlyn turned her attention to three other mages.  As she greeted them, Rin attached names to each member of the Pentacle.  The young woman with flowing reddish hair and blue eyes was Vivian of the Lake.  She wore a reddish orange robe with a light blue sash.  A lanky man with brown hair tied up with a vine and wearing a brown cloak and light green tunic was Lailoken of the Woods.  An elderly man clad in a gray robe with matching gray hair and beard was introduced to be Merlin Ambrosius.  Rin was surprised at his name.  When they were introduced, she asked about his name.

"Tis by coincidence that Emrys and I have names that sound similar."  His voice grated with age.

"Do other people confuse ye with her?"

He laughed softly as he leaned on his oak staff.  "All the time."  Then he winked.  "Sometimes, she pretends to be me and sometimes... I pretend to be her."

Merlyn flushed and cleared her throat.  "Erhmmm... there art a few things I wish to discuss with ye."

Rin took a moment to study Merlyn who dispelled her illusion as soon as they entered Stonehenge.  She could see her much clearly now without her illusion.  Women would kill to look as good as she did at her age. 

She waited patiently as they conversed for a while, exchanging news of their studies and duties.  From their conversation, Vivian and Ambrosius were in charge of the study and protection of magical artifacts while Merlyn and Lailoken were in charge of the archive and protection of lore and rituals.  Taliesin simply listened.  Rin wondered if he had any duties.

Then she heard Vivian say, "I have retrieved Avalon from Morgan's fortress and have succeeded in its return."

"Well done."  said Taliesin with a nod of his head.

Vivian faced her.  "Morgan was mine apprentice.  Tis mine fault that she discovered Avalon's power.  I must apologize for her assault on ye."

"I thank ye for yer apology." replied Rin.

Taliesin tapped his staff.  "The day wears on.  Shall we proceed?"

"Aye, Milord."

They walked to the central ring of stones.  Merlyn selected an even spot to draw the circle while Taliesin walked to the top of the stone altar.  Vivian walked to a slightly raised circular stone slab to the North and stood in its center.  Lailoken went to a similar slab to the Southeast while Ambrosius went to the one to the Southwest.  Rin noted that the slabs were equidistant from each other, thus forming a triangle.  When everyone was in place, Taliesin began to sing.
 
Rin paused etching a glyph to listen for a moment.  There was power in his sonorous tenor voice.  A low humming joined his song.  It was then that she realized that the stones were responding to his song and singing in return.  Soon, the humming intensified so much that she could feel the vibration in her bones. 

A quick glance at Vivian showed her that she was chanting and tracing intricate patterns in the air.  She guessed that she was doing something to assist Taliesin.

A sharp look from Merlyn compelled her to resume her task.  When the arcane circle was complete, she took her place within it.  Then Merlyn began to chant the first stanza of the ritual.  Taliesin continued to sing and the first glyph burst forth in a quavering note of light.  Never before had she ever seen mana being supplied in this manner. 

She watched the second glyph shine and then a third.  As each glyph flared into light, her fascination gave way to the sadness which escaped from her heart.  She blinked away the tears that threatened to spill.  She was leaving, never to return.


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


They had begun.  Arturia peered through the leaves of the tree to get a better view.  The first glyph glowed.  About ten seconds later, the next one glowed.  Arturia measured the time between each glow and estimated it to be around ten to fifteen seconds.  She only had thirty seconds to get there.  She hoped Haut could make it. 

The eight glyph glowed.  She quickly leapt from the branches and landed in Haut's saddle.  In her head, she counted:  eight, nine, ten...  Then she spurred Haut to a gallop.  In the distance, the ninth glyph glowed.

As she neared them, she saw Taliesin turn in her direction.  His reaction surprised her.  He merely inclined his head as if he were greeting an old friend.  Merlyn's back was turned to her still.  The tenth glyph glowed. 

Arturia veered Haut to the side so that he would not run into the circle.  Then she leapt from the saddle and rolled with the fall.  She sprinted to the circle and slowed down enough to carefully hop over the glowing glyphs.  She landed on the second circle facing Rin.  As the eleventh glyph glowed, she looked up with a triumphant grin on her face.

The arcane circle burst into light and began to blind her.  The last thing she saw before her sight blurred into whiteness was Rhynne's tear-streaked but overjoyed face.


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


Gone.  They were gone in a blaze of light.  Merlyn clenched her fists and screamed in rage.  Her scream echoed through Stonehenge.  Suddenly, she felt a hand clamp over her mouth. 

"Remember where ye art, Emrys."  cautioned Taliesin.

Merlyn inhaled sharply through her nose and simmered down.  Taliesin took his hand away.  Vivian, Lailoken and Ambrosius walked over.  They stood there in silence as the arcane circle's light faded away.

"Didst ye know?"  Merlyn asked softly.

Taliesin looked up into the clear blue sky.  "Tis been awhile since we hath all flown together, old friends.  Care to fly the friendly skies with me?"

Merlyn felt betrayed.  She had assumed that Taliesin would support her decision.  But her anger faded as she glared at Taliesin's gentle and calm face.  Perhaps, his visions showed him something.  Perhaps, if she waited long enough, he would tell her.  She looked up into the sky.  It was a good day to fly.

"Aye."  Merlyn and Taliesin transformed into eagles.  Vivian became a red hawk while Lailoken and Ambrosius turned into brown and gray falcons respectively.  In unison, they launched themselves into the sky.

Haut watched the birds in the air.  He wished that he had wings too.  Suddenly, he felt a tug on his mane.  It was Merlyn's mare.

Her ears pricked up with a question.  "Go for a run?"

Haut neighed in response and they galloped across the green grassland.


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


The light faded into darkness and they reeled to catch their balance.  When Rin felt her feet touch the ground, she released her breath.  At least, they did not end up underwater. 

But they still got wet.  As expected, it was raining and the cold wind caused her to shiver under her robe.  As Rin shifted the packs on her back, Arturia caught her in a tight embrace.

Rin held her just as tightly to convince herself that she was actually here.  Tears sprang from her eyes as she confirmed her warmth, her scent, her very being.  Then Arturia drew back to plant a kiss full of longing on her lips.  As she returned her kiss, she forgot about the rain and wrapped her arms around Arturia's neck.

"Erhemmm..."

Their heads turned in unison at the direction of the voice.  About five feet away from them stood a young girl about four feet tall.  She was holding an umbrella and was staring at them with a lopsided grin on her face.  She handed the umbrella to Rin and bowed towards Arturia.  She greeted her in a small piping voice.

"Hail Arturia Pendragon ab Uther, Former High King of the British Isles.  I am your host, Emrys... Marlen Emrys.  Welcome to the year 2011."

She held out her gloved hand.  "Your Highness, I wish to check Airianne's spell on you.  May I have your hand?"

Arturia held out her hand which Marlen took between her own.  The glyph on her palm flared and she felt that coolness within her again.

"It's fine, but to be on the safe side, please wear this."  Marlen produced a ring and slipped it on her index finger.  Then she opened the umbrella that was hanging on the crook of her arm for herself.  "Sorry to interrupt your snoggin', but the weather's been beastly this week.  Seeing that Queen Elizabeth rules now, how do you wish to be addressed?"

Between her grammar and her accent, Arturia was not quite sure that she understood everything Marlen said.  "Arturia is fine."

"Arturia it is, guv."  Her eyes landed on Rin.  "Evenin' Tohsaka Rin.  Betcha chuffed to bits to be back.  Any hoo, come along." 

Arturia took the heavy packs from Rin who gladly gave it to her.  Rin held the large umbrella over them while Arturia held her other hand as they followed Marlen across the soggy ground of Stonehenge.  After twenty minutes, they reached an access road where a BMW was parked.  Marlen opened the passenger door and then opened the trunk.  Arturia deposited the packs and the scroll case in the trunk and then went into the car.  Marlen went in after her and closed the door.

"Take us home, Miles."

A crystal embedded in the dashboard responded, "Yes, Master."

The car revved into life and drove off.  Rin stared at the unmoving uniformed driver.

"A puppet, just to get cops to bugger off." explained Marlen, who sat across from them.  The car looked like a four door sedan from the outside, but the inside defied the laws of physics.  There were two sets of backseats which faced each other.  The distance between the seats was generous enough to stretch one's legs. 

Marlen opened a large duffel bag and pulled out some towels.  She handed the towels to them.  "Dry yourselves.  I also have some clothes if you want to change." 

"Thanks."  said Rin as she accepted the towel.  She began to dry her hair.  With the overhead light, she had a better view of her host.  Marlen seemed very young, about twelve to fourteen years of age.  Rin watched as she removed her black bowler and her black trenchcoat.  Marlen looked very goth in her black suit, black patent leather shoes, the black ribbon that tied her braided hair and the lacy black tie around her collar.  When she took off her black gloves, Rin noted that her fingernails were painted black.  She also noted the ring on her finger which bore the crest of the Pentacle, the highest authority for magicians in Britain.    

The only colors that contrasted in her gothic appearance were her brown hair and golden eyes.  She was an Emrys all right.

Marlen bent over and opened a hidden compartment under her seat.  "Thirsty?  I have pop and wine.  If you're hungry, I have some sandwiches."

"If you have it, can I have some ginger ale?"  asked Rin.

"Methinks, I will have the same."

"Rin, pull the tray out by your seat."  Marlen dug into the duffel bag and extracted three paper cups and a couple of sandwiches.  When Rin unfolded the tray, she put the cups and sandwiches on the tray and poured ginger ale out of the cans.  For herself, she uncorked a bottle of red wine.

"Aren't you a little too young to be drinking?" asked Rin. 

Marlen sipped the wine.  "Girl, I'm going to say this once.  First off, I'm twice as old as you are.  And second, since Merlyn didn't release you from your apprenticeship, I'm now your master.  So belt up and mind your manners." 

"Sorry, Master."  She kept forgetting that among the Emrys, appearances could be deceiving.  To her left, she sensed Arturia gag on the ginger ale. 

"What manner of draught is this?" asked Arturia as she stared at the bubbly liquid.

"Carbonated water mixed with corn syrup and imitation ginger ale flavor."  When Arturia looked at her blankly, she ordered Rin.  "You explain."

Rin cleared her throat.  "Tis sweetened water with ginger and sugar.  The ale makers found a way to trap air within it to create a prickly sensation within thy mouth."

"How fascinating..."  Arturia sipped the ale cautiously.

"Don't have to chug that..."  Marlen got another cup and poured some wine into it.  She offered the cup to Arturia.  "Here you go."

"Mine thanks."  Arturia gratefully accepted the cup.

Marlen faced Rin.  "You have to teach her how to speak normally.  She'll stand out too much.  Go ahead and do that."  She pulled out a planner and began to leaf through it.

"All right."  Rin began to explain the differences between medieval and modern English while they ate their sandwiches.  About forty-five minutes or so later, Marlen yawned.  She checked her watch.

"Three more hours to go.  I'll have a kip till then."  Marlen moved the duffel bag to the floor and pushed the back of the seat down.  She opened another hidden compartment and pulled out a pillow.  Then she took a quilt, and an eye mask from the duffel bag.  She laid down on the seat and fluffed the pillow before she rested her head on it.  She pulled the quilt over her.   The appropriately black eye mask went over her eyes.

"With all due respect, master, what time is it?"

"2:37."

Rin adjusted her watch.  Then she reached up and turned off the overhead light as a courtesy.  She and Arturia sat in silence in the dim car.  A few minutes later, she felt Arturia's warm hand over hers.  Her fingertips curled into her palm and tickled it with gentle strokes.  Rin's skin broke into goosebumps at the sensation.

"What do you want to do, Arturia?"  whispered Rin.

"Twould... it would be ill mannered to speak whilst thy, um... your master sleeps.  Mayhap... we should rest as well."

Rin nodded and moved the empty cups and wrappings off the table.  She refolded the tray.  "Please move aside for a moment.  I will try to change the seat."

Arturia complied and Rin pushed the back of the seat down.  She felt the floor for the duffel bag.  She reached in and found another quilt.  Marlen was certainly prepared.

In the meantime, Arturia found two pillows from the compartments under their seat.  She put the pillows down and laid down on the seat.  Rin spread the quilt over her and slipped in next to her. 

They stared at each other for a few moments before moving in unison to kiss.  Arturia's arm went around her waist and drew her closer.  They exchanged several kisses before Marlen's voice pierced the air.

"You know silentium, right?"

Rin blushed in embarrassment.  "Er... yes, master..."

"Just checkin'..."

Arturia whispered in her ear sheepishly.  "Methinks, we should restrain ourselves for now."

Rin nodded and snuggled into Arturia's embrace.  She felt Arturia kiss the top of her head and her eyes moistened with tears.  Silently, she wished for many more nights like this and let her fantasies guide her to dream.


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


When Marlen woke them up, they found themselves in an enclosed garage.  There were several different models of cars, motorcycles and boats lined up neatly on both sides of the garage.  They followed Marlen to an elevator.  When the elevator opened at their destination, they noticed the familiar platform at the end of the also familiar great hall.  

However, the scene beyond the translucent walls was not familiar.  A thriving town replaced the valley below.  Some of the decorations in the hall were also different.   There were a lot more pieces of art and sculpture.  Rin's heart soared at the sight of the restored hall.  She was glad to see that her efforts were not in vain.

The sitting room was different too.  More instruments were available including a baby grand piano.  There was a stereo system and plasma TV as well.  Suddenly, something caught her eye that made the back of her neck prickle in horror:  a karaoke player.  Silently, she prayed that she would never have to participate in that dreadful activity.

They followed Marlen into the rose garden.  A rollaway bed stood in the center of the enchanted triangle.  Marlen gestured to it.

"Arturia, I suggest you refresh yourself as soon as possible."  She pulled the rim of the bowler over her eyes and peered at Rin.  "Rin, pick a room in the west wing and get some rest."

"But master, I am not..."

Suddenly, the amulet under her shirt seared her skin.  Instinctively, her hand flew up to clutch it away from her skin, but it stopped an inch before it.

Underneath the bowler's hat, Marlen's eye seemed to glow.  "Go.  Come back to the rose garden at 9:30 for breakfast."

"Y-- yes, Master..."  Rin turned on her heel and walked out of the rose garden with luggage in tow.  She did not stop walking until she reached the room she once occupied in the past.  Then she exhaled a deep breath.  She threw herself on the bed and contemplated what happened.  It felt like deja vu; she was being separated from Arturia again. 

Rin opened her blouse to look at her skin.  She breathed a sigh of relief to see that it was not burned, but just irritated.  A quick glance at her watch told her that it was around 6 AM.  She did not like it at all, but she had no choice but to obey.


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


Breakfast was served from a wheeled trolley.  Rin and Arturia helped themselves to pastries and fruit.  The tea was excellent.  When they were done with breakfast, Marlen pulled out a remote control and a laser pointer from her pocket and pressed a button that unveiled a recessed plasma TV.  An image of a mansion on a hill flickered into view.

"For generations, the Emrys watched the Einzbern to detect when they attempted to access the Throne of Heroes.  About eighty-three years ago, my Mum detected a large surge of mana from this location.  The mansion is recent.  It serves to guard the caverns below."  

The image changed to a chart of some sort.  "Here are some geological surveys of the site.  The surveys were done before they accessed the Throne.  Miners needed it to locate deposits of precious and semi-precious gemstones."

"Now, if you look here, this symbol indicates water.  Further research indicated that the water was coming from a nearby lake.  To check whether that was true, Mum turned herself into a fish to gen up.  She went full monty and confirmed it."

"By the way, treat her out to dinner when you meet her.  From what I hear, it was nasty business swimming down there.  You owe her big time.  So here's the plan:  sneak in, release Arturia's spirit and sneak out."

Arturia cleared her throat.  "Please excuse my interruption, but what dost you mean by mine... er... my spirit?"

Slack-jawed, Marlen stared at Arturia and then shifted her gaze to Rin.  "Do you want me to tell her why you're doing this?"

Rin bowed her head.  There was no reason to keep it a secret anymore.  "Arturia... when you died, your spirit was being absorbed into the Throne of Heroes.  But I... I somehow managed to prevent all of it from being absorbed when I tried to save you.  Merlyn thought that I was able to succeed because Avalon was nearby.  The spells that refresh you everyday are required to keep the rest of your spirit from going to the Throne.  However, Merlyn feared that your spirit will slowly be absorbed over time.  Thus, my mission is to free the other half of your spirit."

"But... why did she not tell me to go with you?"  Arturia tried to restrain her anger, but her voice showed her resentment.

"I... I don't know."

Marlen cleared her throat.  "Anyway, both of you will fly to Germany and travel to the lake.  For that, you'll need passports.  Rin, is yours current?"

"Yes, master.  But why should Arturia come?"

"I'll get to that.  Arturia, you'll need one.  You can't use Pendragon for your last name.  Is Tohsaka okay?"

Arturia asked Rin.  "Umm... what does 'okay' mean?"

Rin's heart leapt in her chest.  She could not believe that Marlen suggested it.  "Er... it means 'all right' or 'fine'."

"I see."  She faced Marlen.  "No.  It would not be appropriate.  It would be difficult to convince a priest to marry us if we had the same last name."

"Oh..."  Marlen's mouth formed the word.  She grinned widely.  "Then what do you like to use?"

Arturia thought for a moment.  "Wledig.  It was my mother's maiden name."

Marlen nodded.  "All right.  Let me make some arrangements."  She put the remote in front of Rin.  "While I'm gone, you can look at the slides of the geological surveys.  Be back in a few minutes."  She quickly walked out of the room.

Meanwhile, Rin's heart was pounding like crazy.  Bells and organ music were playing in her mind.  Was Arturia really thinking of getting married?  It seemed too good to be true.  However, she wanted to hear it again.

"Arturia..."

"Yes?"

"About what you said... about the priest and..."  She blushed.  "And marriage..."

Arturia began to blush as well.  "Oh... my apologies for being presumptuous.  I...  I was merely trying to avoid future conflicts... if... if we were to... marry."

For several moments, they stared at each other with eyes full of built-up emotion and love.  Rin wanted to reach out to her and to hold her, but Arturia slipped off her chair to kneel at her side.

"Rin... when your mission is over... will you... will you marry me?"

She dreamt of hearing these words over and over.  Just in case, she pinched herself.  She did it again just to make sure.  Through her tears and the smarting pain of her arm, she whispered in a choked voice, "Yes... by God... yes!"

"Of course!  We will be married before God.  I would not be married by pagan ritual."

Rin chuckled a little at Arturia's misunderstanding.  Then she knelt next to her, put her arms around her and kissed her.  "We will, my dearest one."

Arturia drew away and put Rin's left hand on top of her own.  "I regret that I can not draw upon the wealth of the High King to present you a suitable ring.  I can only offer you my love."  She pressed her lips on Rin's ring finger and sucked on its skin slightly to form a small red mark.

Could her heart beat any faster?  Apparently, it could and it pounded in her ears as she gazed at the red mark on her finger.  Slowly, she reached for Arturia's left hand and sucked on her ring finger to create a similar mark.

"Now... we have matching rings..."  declared Rin proudly.

The space between them was too much.  They banished it away and filled the space with kisses full of promises of the future.  They would have continued making more promises if it were not for the sound of the door swinging open to announce Marlen's return.

Marlen sighed in exasperation.  "I thought I told you to study the survey."  She dragged an empty chair and placed it ten feet away from the table.  "Rin, sit here."

Reluctantly, Rin walked over to the chair and sat on it.  Meanwhile, Arturia's face formed a scowl.

"Why must she sit over there?"  she demanded as she stood up.

"Because I told her to.  Moving on..."  Marlen took the remote control and navigated to the next slide.

Arturia was about to argue when she caught Rin's shaking head and pleading eyes.  She restrained herself and sat down.

"Since you have to swim in the lake, you'll have to wear this special wetsuit.  It will enable you to breathe underwater.  It has a containment field to prevent you from leaving stray skin cells, hair or whatever body parts you have.  It also has a heat insulator and ultrasonic absorber to help deter motion detectors and a camouflage field to fool video cameras." 

"I can see that you're wondering why we're worried about technology when we're mages.  Look around you... it is possible to create an amalgam of technology and magic.  The Einzbern may or may not use this kind of magic, but we have to assume that they do."

She held up a translucent cylinder full of pebbles.  "There will be barriers.  Each of these pebbles holds a special kind of mana that will interrupt the barrier field.  When you come across a barrier, just match the mana flow with the one in the pebble.  Place the pebble on the ground near the barrier.  A hole big enough to crawl through will be formed.  But remember, the hole can only be used four times."

She picked up a Y-shaped rod with a crystal fastened to its end.  "The main chamber is a giant cavern.  When you reach the main chamber, use this dousing rod to find the location of the gate.  The crystal on the rod is attuned to the mana expended by the Einzbern to open it."

"I will instruct you on the ritual to open the gate.  It may not be precise, since it was surmised from the detection and analysis of the opening of the gate.  You will have to adjust it as needed.  When the gate is open, go to the Throne and hold Arturia's hand to serve as an anchor for her.  Allow Arturia to be absorbed into Throne. 

"Arturia, it's up to you to find your other half.  There's a lot of energy in the Throne.  Whatever happens, don't let go of Rin.  Because if you do, you may not be able to find your way out.  Once you're restored, get out."

"The ritual generates a tremendous amount of mana.  There's no way we can hide it.  Leave as fast as possible.  However, if you have to fight, cast spells using these crystals.  They contain mana signatures of Einzbern's most hated rivals."  She gestured to a jar of marble-sized crystals of varying colors.

"After you escape, take the next flight out and follow the itinerary and use the identities that I gave you.  You'll be globetrotting for a week to skive off any pursuers.  When you're ready, come back here, so I can check if Arturia is okay.  Any questions?"

"When can I start practicing the ritual?"

"After we finish here.  Anything else?"

"When do we leave?"

"Tomorrow or the day after.  It depends on how well you can cast the ritual."

Rin's lips drew taut at the challenge.  "Then let us get started as soon as possible."

"What about me?"  asked Arturia.

"With all due respect, please practice modern English.  You can find a book in the library.  I have prepared a video for you about the countries that you'll be visiting on your way back, so it won't be so confusing."  Marlen took out a folded piece of paper from her pocket.  "Here are the instructions to view the video on the telly.  Rin, when you're ready, meet me in the north hall."

"Yes, master."


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


Rin changed to her mage robe and met Marlen in the north hall.  Marlen closed the doors of the practice room and cast silentium.  Her face was grim.

"Rin, I hate to say this... but if you fail, you must never let yourself be captured by the Einzbern.  They won't kill you.  Oh no...  A mage of your caliber would be more valuable alive.  Even I can't imagine the bloody things they'll do to you."

Marlen put her hand over the amulet.  Rin felt mana flowing from her hand. 

"I've cast a disintegration spell on the amulet.  To activate it, form the word 'Datgymalu' in your head and release your mana."  The sides of her mouth drooped.  "I hope that you never have to use it."

Rin's hands were cold and clammy.  The very thought sickened her.  "I hope so too, Master..."

Marlen sauntered to the middle of the room.  Her right hand extended to her side.  The space around her seemed to blur and her clothes swirled to form a black battle robe.  A staff appeared nearby and her hand closed to grab it.  Rin's eyes widened in recognition.  It was Merlyn's staff.  Airianne told her that it was handed down through generations and was only wielded by the head of the House of Emrys. 

Her robe billowed about her as she whirled around to face Rin.  The hall echoed when she hit the marble floor with the end of her staff.  "Forget about that.  First thing's first.  Let's get you ready.  We Emrys have put a lot into this.  As Merlyn said, 'Failure is unacceptable.'"

"I understand, master.  I will succeed... or die trying."


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


With patience and perseverance, they made it to the main chamber.  As she located the access point for the gate, Rin was thoroughly amazed by the research of the Emrys. 

She took out her red jewel.  "Raging soul, scythe form."  Her staff materialized.  It was now or never.  She chanted the ritual to open the gate.  As the ritual progressed, she felt mana being accumulated around her.  Using the crystal on the dousing rod as a guide, she adjusted to the mana flow.  The mana began to concentrate in the direction pointed to by the rod.  Her magesight showed her when it attained the desired levels.  She swung her staff back and prepared for the final chant.

"Offenes gatter!"  She swung the sharp edge of her staff against the coalesced mass of mana.  The mass began to writhe and expand.  Bright light began to filter through it.  A small hole opened and widened into a large portal in space.  Beyond the portal, a huge ornate golden throne floated in midair.

Rin looked at Arturia who nodded.  They reached for each other's hands.  Using Levitiam, they floated together towards the throne.  They landed on its seat which was large enough for several people to stand on.  Rin touched the back of the throne.  It felt solid.  Arturia touched it.  Rin's eyes grew in alarm when she saw the tips of her fingers dissolving.  Arturia's hand gripped her right hand tightly.

"I will be back anon."

Rin swallowed her fear and squeezed her hand.  "Come back safely... you have a promise to keep."

Arturia smiled reassuringly.  "And I shall keep it."  With that, she dove into the back of the throne.  Rin's hand sank into it up to her wrist.  She sighed in relief when she could still feel Arturia's grip.

Rin waited patiently for her to come back.  A minute or so passed.  Suddenly, she felt a surge from beyond the portal.  To her horror, she saw a little girl who resembled Ilyasviel standing at the entrance of the portal.  Then another little girl walked over, and then another.  Rin plucked a crystal from her belt and used it to cast a high level barrier around the throne. 

By the time she finished, thirteen little girls stood outside the portal.  And then she saw a man walk up behind the little girls.  It must be their master who controlled their bodies.  Unlike Ilyasviel, the girls lacked the aura of a soul.

"Who are you?" asked the man in German.

Rin did not respond.  Instead, she leveled her staff in front of them.  She waited for them to make the first move. 

She did not have to wait to long.  The girls fanned out and cast fireballs at the barrier.  The barrier flickered on impact.  Rin cursed silently and reinforced the barrier with another crystal.  She fed a crystal into her orb and raised it.  Bright orbs began to multiply around the throne. 

"Sunburst!"  The orbs sped towards the man who held out his hand to create a barrier.  Rin took the opportunity to target one of the girls with a spare orb.  The orb smashed into the girl's head and incinerated it.  The man screamed.  Rin's eyebrows arched in surprise and understanding.  The link between master and puppet goes both ways.  She smiled at her discovery. 

She aimed at a nearby girl and willed a hole in her barrier.  "Gandyr Fyre!"  Black energy spewed forth from the red orb of her staff and zipped towards the girl.  When it hit the girl, the girl was flung away with a terrible force.  The skin of the girl began to dissolve, leaving trails of blood behind her.

The man screamed again.  He clutched his chest and arms.  Rin could see that he was applying healing magic.  Then the man looked up and stared at her.  She quickly reinforced the barrier.  The girls were firing with renewed intensity.  She expended three more crystals.  She tried to peer through the flames and smoke to target a girl.

Suddenly, she felt a surge to her left.  To her great horror, one of the girls had made a hole in her barrier and was holding it open with her bleeding hands.  Another girl had stuck her hand through the hole.  She fired a lightning spell.

Hastily, Rin cast a shield which deflected most of the attack.  But it did not block enough.  She screamed as lightning struck her forearm.  Her staff clattered to the seat of the throne.  Internally, she began the pain suppression exercise which Merlyn taught her.  Through the haze of pain, she willed the shield to bash the two girls.  The girls reeled away from the barrier.

She tried to move her hand and did not feel it.  Her nerves must be damaged.  The flames and smoke around the barrier began to swirl as if a wind was swirling around the cavern.  She felt more mana being concentrated around the barrier.

She noticed the man chanting and drawing glyphs in the air.  She looked around and saw that an arcane circle floated over the throne just beyond her barrier.  Fear rose within her as the circle glowed and rained motes of light at the throne.

Rin screamed as the throne arced bolts of electricity around her.  Her muscles spasmed and her body tumbled away from the throne instinctively.  Thankfully, her shield absorbed some of the bolts.  As she fell from the throne, she raised her right hand and willed her staff to her. 

While waiting for the bolts to disperse, she cast Levitiam and erected another barrier around her.  But the bolts did not disperse.  Instead, she felt more mana coming from the throne.  An unseen wind whipped the clothing of the girls who were chanting.  Rin's heart fell when she guessed that they were doing a ritual.

She braced herself for whatever spell that they planned on casting.  However, with her unfeeling hand and arm, she could not cast over half of her defensive spells.  To her great chagrin, more little girls stepped across the portal.  As mana gathered around her and the throne still arced lightning, she had to accept that she had only one option left.  She prepared to die.




Chapter 15 Omake

Archer:  Hey babe, nice sword.  Wanna see mine?  I bet I can make it nice and long just for you.
Gilgamesh:  *Whack!*  She shall see mine first!
Berserker:  Oh yeah?  Mine's the biggest!
Saber:  That's not a sword!  Let me out of here!  Rin!


Chapter 15
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