The world's last wizards protect the 19th century from their lost parents' nemesis.
|Lily raced through the forest, bounding over rock and fallen tree, swerving in and out around the tall, rooted citizens, her neighbors, who both impeded her escape and provided her cover from her pursuers, whose howls she could hear behind her and to either side. She must not allow them to get ahead of her. She leaped over a dense bit of undergrowth, and her front legs came down among two of them. They had been lying in wait for her. The others had driven her right to them! She felt jaws close on her leg, and others on her throat…
She flew high above the earth, the river a strip of glittering cobalt far below. Beneath its surface, her sharp eyes caught the movement she had been searching for. Her talons extended, she tucked in her wings and dove toward the water and the unsuspecting prey. At the last instant, she opened her wings and swooped low over the surface. Her talons stabbed downward, sank through cold scales into tender flesh. Pumping hard, she rose, her next meal thrashing in her grip…
She was predator and prey; she had the speed of the panicked elk and of the pursuing wolf, she had the patience of the hunter and the complacency of the grazing ruminant. She was the tree who stood for decade after decade, growing, budding, sending out seed; she was the termite that ate it out hollow and sent it crashing to the forest floor.
She was bird and worm, eagle and trout, amoeba and paramecium. She was the endless grass of the American plains, the trees in the Black Forest, the scum on the stagnant swamp in the low country. She was all of these, and none of them.
She was more powerful than any wizard, but she could not conjure nerves in her fingertips. Nor, indeed did she even have fingertips. She could take any shape she wished, but she could not hold onto it. She had no control, no shape of her own except the shape given her by the shell in which she was encased.
She was of nature and beyond it. Her senses were more acute than any human being’s, and yet she was deaf, blind and mute. She knew what the world looked like from the point of view of every living thing on the planet, she knew all things more intimately than they knew themselves, for she had been them all and could make comparisons between their existences that no one creature could ever make before.
She might have been the most unifying soul on earth. She belonged to it as no other sentience had ever done. But because she was of all things, she was alien to each. She was unique.
She was alone.
She pushed her perceptions out toward the boundaries of her substance, toward the shell. She found its points of interface, where she could send energy to gather information and express her thoughts to those outside. She would use these resources, of course, for they were her only means of communing with the nature to which she belonged. She remembered herself as she was, remembered her feelings of commitment, her emotions, and she would strive to complete the tasks she had considered important before. But in truth, those things meant little to her now.
Now, she was a different being. Now, there were other priorities she was compelled to consider. There was a basic ailment in this world that needed to be addressed, and the concerns of any one species was less important by comparison.
While she learned her new self, explored her new abilities, learned the control necessary to become that which she was becoming, she would continue her quest to defeat Myrddin Moridunum. He was a sickness, true, but really only a symptom of the greater sickness that must be addressed. The sickness walked upon two legs and laid nature to waste. As they had done here, in these empty lands, so they would do elsewhere, in the world she called home, if they were not stopped. The only question was how the matter should be addressed. After all, they too, were life, and they could be quite beneficial, as well as destructive. Perhaps they could be directed, but if they could not, they might need to be eradicated.
She was of the Earthpower, after all, and must consider the health of the planet.
“…he has an exact duplicate of Castle Ambrosius atop a mountain in Colorado!” Trevor shook his head in apparent disbelief. “Imagine our surprise then, to find this one here.” Merlin’s son took a sip of his wine and sat back in his chair on Merlin’s left at the great table in the castle’s dining hall. Merlin sat in his accustomed place at the table’s head, with Morgana at his right hand. The Burnleys- Heath, Sally, and Little Pete, sat beyond Morgana across from Trevor. Liliana, still becoming accustomed to her new amorphous body in its containment suit, sat next to him.
Her coppery cranium, shaped so like the polished bald head of a flesh and blood being, gleamed with the reflected light of the candles in the chandelier over the table, while the light of her golden sensor-lamps glinted on the china and crystal of the empty place setting that remained unused on the table before her.
Morgana had wanted to dress their daughter in a beautiful gown, but Liliana had insisted that, if she should have to wear clothes at all, since her armored form certainly had no need of them, they must be practical clothes for travel and battle: a shirt of tough material, trousers and boots. These things came from Merlin’s own closet. The one concession to her mother’s desire for beautiful adornment was the sapphire cabochon pendant that hung between her metal breasts from a chain around her throat.
The rest of them had just finished a meal of vegetables grown in the arboretum, the sole source of nutrition at Castle Ambrosia.
“Very interesting,” Merlin said, rubbing his bearded chin in consternation. “I wonder if he is having the same sort of trouble that we are having.”
“What sort of trouble is that?”
“Excessive damage from the elements,” he replied, frowning. “Wind and water erosion, heat and cold expansion and contraction shattering the stone far more quickly than would normally be the case. The stone seems as dense as always, but it is far less durable than before. Were it not for the mech refugees that I have recruited, the castle would have fallen down around us by now.”
A perfect imitation of Lily’s voice emitted from the disc on her armored face where her mouth should be. “Myrddin’s castle is protected within a spherical shield, where the weather is controlled, but it, too is suffering rapid deterioration. Peter and I had supposed that it was simply lack of proper maintenance, but now that you mention it, Father, it is obvious that the divided castles are both diminished versions of the original.”
“There are many mysteries associated with the results of that battle,” said Trevor. “For example: Why would Myrddin’s castle be transported to Colorado? That one’s been bothering me ever since the first revenants attacked me and I realized that Lily had actually found him there.”
“I have asked myself the same question, dear brother,” Lily replied, “and I believe that random chance was a factor in many of the things that happened. Perhaps the castle was drawn to the silver lode there, though it might as easily have been drawn to any other.”
“The place sounds like a nexus,” Merlin ventured. “The life energy of the earth flows beneath its surface in the Earthblood, and in the sky above it in the network of pathways we call Auralines. Energy circulates through and between the two systems, in a manner somewhat analogous to the way energy flows through our own bodies’ circulatory and nervous systems. A nexus is a spot where the two systems interact more strongly than elsewhere. This spot is one; your mountain in Colorado is no doubt another.”
“The why is of little import,” said Lily, “compared to the how of our return. Only after we have achieved that goal can we address the one we truly must achieve: the destruction of Myrddin Moridunum, before he destroys all that we hold dear.”
“You are correct, Lily,” Morgana agreed. “And I can think of only one place where we might find the help we need to return.”
“We?” Merlin smiled at her. “You make it sound as if we two will join our children on their mission.”
“Merlin, my love,” Morgana chided him, “do not tell me that you’ve not already decided that we must do that very thing.”
With a laugh that carried in it a full measure of his love for her, he admitted, “As usual, my dear, you are correct. And further, you are correct in your assessment of our possible course of action. There is only one place we can go to find the help we require: Faerie.”
“Faerie?” Trevor’s voice quavered as he asked the obvious question. “Do you mean, the home of the Exiles?”
“Yes, son,” Merlin replied. “That is exactly what I mean.”
END OF PART THREE