Ren snapped awake, cold sweat running down his body.
He cursed. Another dream. He'd been tormented by them all night. If he could only…
"Good morning Lian!" His hopes died as Jun appeared in the doorway. "Did you sleep well?"
"As a matter of fact I didn't" Ren groused. "I spent the night being tormented with dreams."
"Did you indeed?" Jun asked, smiling too much. "What were they about?" Ren did not reply straight away. He wasn't sure he wanted to share them with his sister, especially considering the subject matter, and that last dream had been one of the cleaner ones.
"Did one of them, by any chance," Jun queried, noting his reticence, "involve ascending to the Palace of the Moon?" Ren looked up with a start. How did she know?
"One of them," he admitted, cautiously.
"Did you then witness the dancing of maidens?" Jun seemed to be enjoying herself. "Dressed in rosy clouds?" Ren's face turned the colour of blood.
"Oh don't worry about it Lian!" Jun beamed. "It's an ancestral dream! It's a portent of a glorious future!" Ren decided not to tell her who the lead dancer had been.
"Not that it matters," he said, hoping to distract his sister. "Did you give him the other set of clothes?"
"That's just what I came to do," Jun replied, heading for the wardrobe. "Are you planning on giving him your entire wardrobe, Lian?"
"Two outfits out of…" Ren paused, thinking. "A hundred? It's not as though we're poor Jun. And he needs something a little more hard-wearing."
"Expecting a battle then?" Jun turned from the wardrobe, a bundle of clothes in her hands. Her cheerfulness did not appear shaken.
"We're going to have to face them sooner or later," Ren mused. It was true, but he wasn't looking forward to it in the least.
"Anyway," Jun headed across the room to the door. "Don't take too long if you want any breakfast. Horohoro's up and about."
"I'll…I won't be long," Ren replied as Jun left the room.
Lyserg looked so innocent when he was asleep.
This was the general consensus, and as Pilica and Tamao examined the sleeping Dowser, neither felt the need to argue.
"Anna-san's right, you know," Pilica commented. "He's like a little boy."
"I wonder if…" Tamao mused. "I wonder if…he's dreaming about his parents."
"He might be," Pilica shrugged. "Onni-chan said he was only little when Hao killed them." Tamao knelt beside the bed and flicked a strand of hair away from Lyserg's eyes. As her fingers brushed his face, Lyserg shifted, mumbling something unintelligible.
"Ne, Tamao-chan," Pilica whispered. "Let's make him talk."
"Should we?" Tamao was alarmed at the suggestion. "Might it…?" Ignoring her concern, Pilica leaned down until her lips were at Lyserg's ear.
"Lyserg-chan" she said. "Time to get up, Lyserg-chan." Lyserg mumbled something in reply. Emboldened, Pilica tried to think of something else to say.
"Lyserg-chan, you're such a sleepy-head," she went on, trying to sound motherly and failing miserably.
"Mummy…" Lyserg gurgled. Both girls had to struggle not to burst out laughing. "Mummy…don't wanna get up yet…"
"Tamao-chan, you say something!" urged a beaming Pilica. Tamao cleared her throat. She was enjoying the fun in spite of herself.
"But Lyserg-chan, you have to get up," she said, sounding much more convincingly maternal than Pilica. "You can't stay in bed all day." Lyserg did not reply. Curious, Tamao leaned in a little closer.
"Ahhh!" Lyserg gurgled, suddenly brightening. "Mummy!" Before Tamao could even move, Lyserg leaned forward and kissed her on the lips.
"Ahhhhh," Horohoro breathed, patting his enlarged waistline. "Nothing like a good breakfast." Then he noticed Ren descending the staircase, and his face split into a leering grin.
"Well, if it isn't Ren-the-pervert!" he proclaimed, cheering inwardly when he saw Ren's scowl. "Don't tell me you're still sulking!"
"I don't know what you're talking about" Ren groused, convincing no one.
"Awww, you're sad, aren't you?" Horohoro was enjoying himself. "You're upset because we foiled your latest attempt to molest Lyserg?"
"I wouldn't know," Ren turned his head to face Horohoro, smiling condescendingly. "Are you enjoying having a head full of half-melted snow?"
"Oh ha ha, Ren-the-pervert!" a riled Horohoro snapped back. "Just what is it about Lyserg that makes you wanna molest him anyway? He's cute and all, but you don't see me putting my hand on his butt and trying to kiss him."
"As I told Anna, you simply don't understand," Ren replied airily. "It's love, not lust. Something too pure for your crude and corrupted mind to understand."
"Who're you calling crude!?" Horohoro shrieked.
"You!" Ren yelled back. With a shout of fury they leapt at one-another and…
"Don't start!" At the imperious command they both froze. Anna stood at the top of the stairs, giving both shamans the look. Behindher stood a blushing Tamao, hands clasped in front and head down.
"Hey…Tamao-chan," Horohoro prompted as the two girls came down the stairs. "Tamao-chan?" When he tried to look her in the face, Tamao turned away, still blushing. Horohoro wondered what had happened.
"Hey guys!" Yoh appeared in the doorway with Derfel. "So when are we going?"
"Just as soon as Lyserg tells us where we're supposed to go" Anna replied. "And just wait till you see what Jun's got him wearing."
"Really? What…wow!" Yoh trailed off as Lyserg appeared at the top of the stairs, chivvied along by Pilica and Jun, both beside themselves. His outfit consisted of baggy trousers of black silk, with a green sleeveless vest, white socks and black outdoor slippers. His outfit, Yoh could not help but notice, was identical to the one Ren was wearing, except that his vest was red. He could not help but notice the look on Ren's face either.
"Ara…" Anna commented, amused. "What have we here?"
"It's…" Horohoro spluttered, turning on Ren. "It's…cross-cultural brainwashing! Didn't I tell you all last night!?" Ren did not respond, but continued to stare, face reddening.
"Do you…like it?" Lyserg nodded, blushing a little. Ren felt warm inside, especially when he saw that Lyserg was wearing the armbands he had given him.
"Ren," Lyserg faltered, embarrassed. "I…I'm just not used to wearing clothes like this."
"Don't be shy Lyserg-kun!" Pilica was smiling far too much. "You look cute! Isn't that so, Tamao-chan!?" Tamao whimpered and hid behind Anna.
"Pilica!" Horohoro shrieked. "He's trying to turn Lyserg Chinese! How can you call that cute!?"
"But it is!" Pilica wailed, her blue eyes shining. "The colours are just right!"
"Everyone!" Ryu trilled, emerging from the downstairs bathroom. "Are we…" He trailed off, stared at Lyserg for a few moments, then fell over, blood fountaining from his nostrils.
"That didn't take long" Anna commented dryly.
"Anyway, anyway!" Yoh clapped his hands, trying to bring the gathering to order before Horohoro and Ren could start fighting. "Lyserg-kun, where are we going?"
"Bodmin moor" Lyserg said. "We have to go to Bodmin moor. From the cairns I can find my way."
"From thence to Avalon," Derfel put in. "Being an island, Avalon should manifest itself off the coast. It's only a few miles from the moor."
"Great!" Yoh enthused. "We should get going!"
"B…B…Bodmin?" They all turned to see Manta, who was pale and shivering. "Bodmin…as in….the beast?"
"Come on Manta-kun!" Yoh grinned and slapped his friend on the back. "There's no beast really!"
"The beast of Bodmin Moor," Pilica read aloud from Manjien. "A phantom cat sometimes sighted on Bodmin moor. Believed to be responsible for mutilations of livestock."
"Hey!" Manta recovered with surprising alacrity. "That's my job!"
"There, you see?" Yoh patted Manta's shoulder. "It's just some big cat escaped from the zoo. Nothing to worry about!"
"I wouldn't say that," Derfel cautioned. "Bodmin Moor's an odd place. A lot of major leylines pass through it, so the background noise will affect your combat senses. Not a problem in my case, but you'd best watch your backs."
"Great!" Yoh did not appear to have taken any of it in. "Let's go!"
"So this," Ren commented, "is Bodmin Moor."
And so it was. Barren moorland stretched out in every direction, wreathed in pale mist. It gave the place a haunted quality.
"What a desolate place this is," Ryu looked around in bewilderment.
"You're right," Tokageroh appeared next to him, looking distinctly surly. "And he was right about the leylines. I can't sense anything."
"What is this place?" a nervous Pilica glanced around, as though expecting pale horseman to canter out of the mist.
"A place of sorrows, and loneliness," Derfel answered gravely. "Herein the sadness of the land passes, through the leylines, and a little is left behind as it goes."
"More than a little, I think." Already Ren looked haunted. "And what are you so cheerful about!?" he snapped, seeing Yoh standing off to one side, apparently unaffected.
"Oh, everything and nothing," Yoh replied, a particularly infuriating grin plastered over his face.
"How can you be so cheerful!?" Ren snarled. "Can't you sense it!?" Yoh looked over the group. They were all beginning to feel the effects. Even Chocolove was looking less than perky. Only Lyserg appeared unaffected, his eyes closed in concentration as his pendulum swung from his hand.
"Of course I can!" Yoh patted Ren's shoulder. "But I'm not gonna let it get me down!"
"That's the right attitude," Derfel was not looking well. "Shamans go funny in this place if they're not careful."
"He went funny long before he came here," Ren groused.
"Everyone." Lyserg's voice drew their attention. His pendulum was hovering, pointing straight forward into the mist.
They followed on, the mist descending around them, getting denser and denser. Lyserg lost track of time, lost half inside and half outside his own mind. He did not see with his eyes, nor really with his mind, but with his spirit. His brain processed not reflections of light, but movements of furyoku and reiryoku. Spirit energies flowed around him, the great torrents of the leylines, and the tiny tributaries and streams flowing in and out.
He came upon it. Finally he opened his eyes. The cairn stood before him, a jumble of uncut boulders, or so it appeared to mortal eyes. This was the marker, the final signpost on the road to Avalon. He needed only to find his way from here.
"Everyone," he said, exuberant. "It's here." But when he turned, he saw that no one was there. Morphine hovered by his shoulder, but he could neither see nor sense any of his friends. What had happened to them?
"Morphine," he whispered. "Anything?" The fairy shook her head. Lyserg fought down apprehension. He could still find the way, but he would have to concentrate, and that would leave him vulnerable. Besides, if he found the way, could he afford to wait for the others to find him? Dare he go on alone?
He never would have thought he would find being alone so frightening. He had been alone for so long, save for Morphine, he had gotten used to it. Or at least he thought he had.
He shook his head, driving his apprehension away. The best thing to do now would be to find the way, then try and draw the others to him.
"Morphine, keep watch." The little spirit nodded and took up position as Lyserg closed his eyes, and the pendulum began to swing.
"Manta-kun?" Yoh glanced behind him, seeing his undersized friend following very close behind. "Can you see anybody else?"
"I can't," Manta admitted. "We've been walking for nearly an hour."
"That's it then," Yoh sighed. "We're lost."
"Lost?" Manta paled and shivered. "Lost? On Bodmin Moor?"
"Manta-kun," Yoh smiled indulgently. "I told you, there's no beast really."
"How do you know!?" Manta snapped back, panic-stricken. "You can't sense anything!"
"That's true," Yoh admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. "It's nearly as bad as the Tor. I guess the Leylines must bunch up round here."
"So where are we?"
"I…" Yoh trailed off as he saw the mist clearing in front of him. Curious, he headed forward, a still very nervous Manta in tow. The pair found themselves surrounded by a series of cairns, made from what appeared to be rough-cut stones piled haphazardly together.
"Manta-kun," Yoh glared into the receding mist. "I think…we were meant to come here."
"Yoh-dono!" Amidamaru appeared, ready for battle. "Might this be a trap?"
"Why don't you ask him?" Yoh gestured over his shoulder at the cloaked figure standing next to one of the cairns. Manta saw the figure and fell over with shock.
But Yoh was not shocked. Even with all the background noise from the leylines, Yoh had sensed his presence. At such a short distance, he was impossible to miss.
"Hey there, Gryphin," he turned to face the figure of his enemy.
"Hail, Asakura Yoh." The voice seemed distorted somehow. "I wondered when we would meet."
"I kinda wanted to meet you too," Yoh replied cheerfully. "This place is kinda dramatic, but I don't mind."
"It's hardly relevant." Gryphin slid back his hood. His head was covered by a chainmail coif, except for the face, which was concealed by a silver mask. It reminded Yoh of the mask worn by Hao when he had been bound. The mask's expression was similarly sorrowful.
"And who's your friend?" Yoh gestured at the spirit hovering behind Gryphin. Manta and Amidamaru blinked in surprise, for they had not noticed its presence.
"My guardian and companion, mentor and master," Grypin replied. "Arthur ap Uther, High King of Britannia." With that, the indistinct spirit resolved itself into a magnificent figure, clad in scale armour and a white cloak, face concealed behind a masked helmet. The spirit made neither sound nor movement, but all present could sense its power.
"Yes, I summoned up the mist," Gryphin spoke what both Yoh and Manta were thinking.
"I'm glad of it," Yoh cocked his head with a grin. "I wanted to meet you." The warrior paused at this, as though trying to determine his motives. Then he reached to his waist and unfastened his sword belt. Yoh could see plate armour under the cloak.
"I made this myself," Gryphin held out his sword, pommel first, to Yoh. "I named it Tanlladwyr." Understanding, Yoh took hold of the grip and slid it from the scabbard. Manta watched in amazement as Yoh made a few practice swings, blocks, parried once, twice. The blade cut the air with a delicate hiss, the intricate scrollwork visible from certain angles as the light caught it.
"It's not balanced right for me," Yoh commented, smiling. "And I don't understand the straight blade. Don't you know the curved blade cuts better?"
"The point beats the edge," Gryphin replied as Yoh slid Tanlladwyr back into the scabbard, sounding almost amused. "And it cuts well enough."
"I guess." Yoh extended Harusame to Gryphin, eliciting a shriek of panic from Manta.
"Yoh-kun!" Manta hissed as Gryphin drew the sword. But Yoh just grinned his "it'll all work out" grin. Shamans and spirits watched as Gryphin tried out the spirit-blade in much the same fashion.
"And that wasn't balanced right for me," he said. "I suppose it's a matter for the individual swordsman."
"Who taught you the Japanese sword?" Yoh asked, in mild curiosity. "I know those moves."
"I learnt many styles, in my youth," Gryphin replied, replacing Harusame. "The Swordmaster's ideal was to have no style and no technique, but for blade and body to be extensions of the will. Nothing more, and nothing less."
"That isn't right," Yoh's smile faded just a little. "Your body and mind have to be in balance. If you bend the body to the mind, then you just end up hurting it and losing fights into the bargain." Amidamaru nodded gravely.
"If the body does not bend to the mind, then the body enslaves the mind," Gryphin retorted. "Such a person becomes a slave to carnal desires and achieves nothing."
"Carnal desires?" Yoh almost laughed. "Didn't you just want a taste of ice-cream?" Gryphin did not reply, but Yoh did not need one.
"You don't know what ice-cream tastes like, do you?" His smile was gone. "I'll bet you've never tasted chocolate either, or cake, or candy. They never let you taste anything sweet, or do anything fun, did they? They couldn't have you thinking there was anything more to life than fighting, now could they?"
"I have not eaten in two years, nor have I slept," Gryphin replied. "I was trained to be free of everyday desires and distractions. I was created to be the perfect warrior."
"That's too bad," Yoh said sympathetically. "Those everyday things make life worth living. "
"Perhaps." Gryphin turned away from Yoh and stared out over the moor. "But it is not my place to seek such things. I was not made for thus."
"Then what were you made for?"
"To fight. To kill." He sounded wistful, almost regretful. "To serve the House of Swordmasters, to ensure their dominion. I was created to be their ultimate weapon, the Primogenian, the intended outcome of the breeding programme."
"Kinda weird," Yoh commented, his head on one side. "From what Derfel told me, I'm not all that surprised."
"Then you are wiser than you appear."
"But," Manta spoke up. "If you were created to fight for the Masters, why did you turn on them?"
"Indeed," added Amidamaru, his tone disapproving. "I would hear of why you turned on your own House."
"Is it so hard to understand?" Gryphin turned his head slightly, looking at Yoh through one eye. "I killed them because they were evil."
"That's pretty much what I thought," Yoh replied cheerfully. "But I wanted to hear your side of the story."
"Thou biddest me renew unspeakable grief," Gryphin seemed to be reciting from memory. "Of how the Greeks overthrew the riches of Troy, and of the sorrowful Kingdom. Miseries which I saw myself, in which my part was great. Who of the Myrmidons, or the Dolopians, or the soldiers of stern Ulysses, could restrain from tears at the telling of it, now the damp night falls from the sky, and the falling stars urge sleep. But if you would learn of our misfortunes and briefly hear of Troy's last agonies, though my mind shudders and recoils in sorrow, I will tell. "
"Uh, okay," Yoh massaged the back of his neck. "But what've the Greeks got to do with this?" Manta cringed in embarrassment.
"The war had to end," Gryphin went on. "The Houses were stagnant, rotting away from within, all thought and purpose turned to war. The Rebels were just as bad in the end, having come to believe that anyone not on their side was an enemy to be destroyed. They exterminated the Druids in treachery."
"I know," Yoh replied gravely. "Derfel told me."
"The Houses, and their Masters, would do anything for a little more power, a little more control," Gryphin looked back towards the barren moor. "I gathered around me those who felt as I did, my Knights of Avalon. I gave the Masters one last chance, the chance to submit to me, and to bring the war to an end."
"But they didn't," Amidamaru stated darkly. "And you killed them for it."
"What else might be done?" Yoh sighed, trying to make sense of it all.
"I'm not judging you," he said eventually. "I don't have the right. But it's hard to believe that there was no other way." He cocked his head. "Did they hurt you so badly that you couldn't be merciful?"
"I…can't fight what I am." Gryphin clenched and unclenched his fists. "Always, I feel it…the bloodlust is…a part of me."
"It doesn't have to be," Yoh insisted. "I can help you, if you let me."
"It is…too late for me." And Yoh sensed a great sorrow from the youth. "Only the power of Avalon can help me now."
"Is that why you pursue it? To be at peace?"
"Not exactly. The power has its price, as is always the case." Gryphin aimed one green eye straight at him. It sent a shiver down his spine. "When I become one with the power, my soul will become one with the land, and with all the Lords of Avalon who have gone before. I will no longer exist." Manta paled, and Amidamaru recoiled.
"Yes," Gryphin went on. "That's what Derfel was never quite able to tell you. If Lyserg takes the power, and I know that's what you and he were considering, then he will no longer be Lyserg Diethyl. For reasons of my own, I would rather that did not happen."
"Who says anyone has to take the power?" Yoh countered, ignoring Manta and Amidamaru's stares. "I know you're hurting, but it's better to go on living." He offered the warrior a gentle smile. "Life is fun, if you just give it a shot." Gryphin did not reply, seemingly unable to look him in the eyes.
"I'm glad I got to meet you, at least once," Yoh went on. "In all my life, I've only ever truly hated one person, and even that was only for a few moments. I was afraid I'd hate you too, but instead I just feel sorry for you."
"You insult me."
"No," Yoh was entirely serious, despite his smile. "Never. But I know you're not really evil."
"What else might I be?"
"I've always believed that only good people can see spirits," Yoh insisted. "I still believe it. What's more, the one who Arthur chose as his partner must have a noble spirit." Yoh looked up at the ghost, who had neither moved nor spoken. "Lyserg reveres him, so do Derfel and Jessica. I was told that all the shamans in Britain revere him. That has to count for something."
"I have…always revered him," Gryphin admitted. "All my life…all I wanted to be…" His head shot up, staring out across the moor. His whole body tensed.
"What is it?" Yoh was startled.
"Oh no!" Gryphin hissed. Yoh felt a surge of furyoku as a pair of gleaming wings burst from Gryphin's back. "Oh no you don't!" The spectral pinions flapped, Yoh struggling to remain standing in the air-flow. Born aloft, Gryphin raced away across the moor.
"Yoh-dono!" Amidamaru exclaimed, as Yoh stared after him. "Yoh-dono, I sensed something! In the wings!"
"They're made of spirits," Yoh replied, bringing his guardian up short. "I sensed them too. He's even more powerful than I thought."
"So then…?" Manta wondered.
Lyserg opened his eyes.
The waters of the Atlantic ocean stretched out before him, wreathed in the same mist that had separated him from his friends. Could it be…?
He could see it, just barely. Out beyond the mist, shimmering like a mirage upon the ocean, the shape of an island. Avalon.
He had found it. And he could not even remember how.
Now, should he go on or wait for the others?
"Well done, traitor's spawn." Lyserg froze at the sound. Somehow he forced himself to turn and face the voice.
There were three of them, dressed in the green, red, and grey cloaks of a Dowser, Swordmaster, and Necromancer respectively. The mist was starting to clear, billowing around the three as it withdrew.
"It would seem you have a pure heart after all," the Necromancer commented. "But is it pure and strong enough to survive the final challenge?"
"You won't find out either way," the Dowser growled. Lyserg had no reishi, but could see the hatred in his eyes no less clearly.
"Who are you?"
"I am Conrad, of the House of Dowsers." A crystal pendulum, not unlike Lyserg's own, uncoiled slowly from Conrad's wrist. "I have come to avenge my House for your father's treachery."
"Why?" Lyserg was afraid, angry, and exasperated. "Why bother? He's dead, and so is your House. Why can't you let it go?"
"I would ask the same of you," the Necromancer asked, amusement in his tone.
"Your father betrayed the Dowsers" Conrad snarled, "when he married your mother. He disobeyed the Masters then, and twice when he kept you from us."
"But mostly," the Necromancer went on. "We want Gryphin. When he senses your passing, he'll come running."
"And he'll be angry," Conrad smirked. "Even better."
"I don't understand," Lyserg protested. "Why would he care?" Conrad looked bemused for a moment, then threw back his head and laughed."
"You really don't know!?" he spluttered. "He never told you!?"
"Told me what!?"
"Not yet," the Swordmaster drew his sword. "We'll tell you later, as you breathe your last."
Lyserg tensed as the pair advanced on him, the Necromancer hanging back.
"Morphine, we'll do it like Chocolove taught us," he whispered. She nodded an affirmative.
"Morphine! Angel Advent Armour!" Morphine's form changed as Lyserg's furyoku flowed into her. In her Angel Advent form, she looked like the Angel Lyserg had once taken as his guardian. But this time she formed around him like a suit of armour. He felt her power, felt it as his own. Now he could fight, and they would fight as one.
Kurtz leapt at him, he parried with the glowing blade extending from their spectral arm. Metallic wings bore them away from Kurtz's frenzied attacks. When Kurtz finally overstretched himself, Lyserg caught the blade in their three-fingered claw and struck with the other, knocking Kurtz backwards. He struck the ground, his oversoul breaking. Lyserg felt a surge of power at the sight. Sensing danger, he brought their arm up, deflecting Conrad's pendulum away. But Kurtz was back, coming at Lyserg with his sword held high. His overhead slash would have cut Lyserg in two, but their body sailed gracefully out of the way. Kurtz dropped to the ground, and Lyserg made to attack, but sensed Conrad's pendulum coming at him once again. He deflected again, but the moment of distraction was all Kurtz needed. Lyserg sensed the coming blow, but too late. The energised blade struck, blasted its way through his armour oversoul, stopping only millimetres from his flesh.
Deprived of her power, Lyserg fell, hitting the sand with a wet thump. He shook his head, trying to shake off the concussion. As his eyes cleared, he saw Kurtz leap again, this time his sword pointed downward to skewer him. Lyserg gritted his teeth, trying to force his shocked body into motion.
But then Kurtz coiled in mid-air, parrying a sudden blow. This new attacker dropped down next to Lyserg as Kurtz fell away, landing on his feet. Lyserg stared in disbelief at his saviour.
"Duncan?" he managed, voice quavering. "Is…is that you?" And it was. Still wearing the tall boots, his hair still short, but his face was no longer skeletal, and colour had returned to his flesh. But his eyes told Lyserg more than any of these.
"Duncan, eh?" Kurtz drawled contemptuously. "I don't know who you are, but you've signed your own death warrant."
"I am a knight," Duncan replied. "I'll not yield to the likes of you." Kurtz looked momentarily bewildered, then laughed.
"A knight!?" he spluttered. "You're a turd on the sole of my boot!" When Duncan was not cowed, his laughter turned to a snarl of fury.
"Are you all right, Master Lyserg?" Duncan asked as Lyserg picked himself up. Lyserg nodded an affirmative.
"Master Lyserg?" Conrad mused. "So you're master and student then. Now you'll have to die."
"I don't fear death," Duncan drew himself up and pointed his sword straight at Kurtz. "But I'll fight anyone who tries to harm Master Lyserg."
"Duncan…" Lyserg whispered, overcome.
"Well then," Kurtz smirked malevolently. "You'll…" He paused, and the trio looked up in bewilderment. Lyserg and Duncan did likewise, staring in horror as an armoured figure, like some malevolent fallen angel, descended from the sky on spectral wings that glowed a sickly green. All knew who it was.
"You should have known better," Gryphin reproached, landing with a thump and clunk of armour, the wings disappearing.
"We knew you would come," Conrad replied. "You would not allow anyone to harm him," he gestured at Lyserg, "once you knew who he was." Gryphin turned his head to regard Lyserg, his face unreadable beneath the mask.
"Do you regret it?" Conrad asked, a cold smile crossing his thin lips. "Do you regret what you did to him? Now that you know for absolute certain?"
"You don't know the meaning of the word," Gryphin retorted. "You who live as you do, feeling no remorse, no shame."
"You slaughtered our Houses!" Kurtz roared. "Our families! Everything we trained all our lives to protect! And you talk to us about shame!?"
"Your Houses stood for oppression, misery and murder," Gryphin retorted. "I let you live because I thought you were young enough not to have been completely corrupted. I see now that I was wrong."
"Enough talk," Kurtz raised his sword. "Let's finish this!" With a shout of fury, he leapt at Gryphin. The armoured warrior did nothing at first. It seemed as though Kurtz would make his strike. Then, at the last moment, Gryphin leapt forward, meeting him in mid air. Kurtz choked, blood dribbling from his gaping mouth as the pair landed. As they did, those present could see Gryphin's sword protruding from Kurtz' back.
Lyserg stared in disbelief. The shaman who had fought him to a standstill, gutted like a novice. Gryphin turned, the lifeless body sliding off his sword as Conrad raised his pendulum. He did not move, but Lyserg felt something leave Gryphin and race towards Conrad. The dowser doubled over as the whatever-it-was struck. He chocked, coughed up blood, then fell down.
Gryphin did not spare the fallen dowser a second glance, but looked around for the necromancer, of whom there was no sign. Meanwhile, Duncan tried to tend to Lyserg.
"Master Lyserg, let me…" But Lyserg pulled him into his arms, almost weeping for joy.
"Duncan! I was so worried!"
"It's all right, Master Lyserg," Duncan hugged him back. "I'm so sorry. I let you down so badly."
"It's true," Duncan pulled back to look Lyserg in the eyes. "I only thought about power. I didn't realise 'til it was too late. I didn't realise what you really gave me."
"Duncan…it's all right. I'm just glad you're alive."
The euphoria of their reunion faded suddenly, as both were blinded by sudden light. They looked out over the waters, and saw the mist roll back, revealing a clear path to the island beyond. What had moments before been an indistinct shape was now a green and perfect vision, tantalising, just out of reach beyond the waters.
"Avalon," Lyserg whispered. He fell to one knee on the sand, Duncan did likewise. The vision captivated him. He couldn't look away, couldn't let go of the sight now that it was before him.
"The way is clear." The voice snapped Lyserg back to awareness. He stood up, spinning round to see Gryphin staring at the island.
"Two hearts, one innocent, one pure," he whispered. "Half and half, to make one whole, purest heart, purest soul."
Lyserg turned again, brightening, to see Yoh and the others racing along the beach towards them. But as they came close, they suddenly halted.
"What's he doing here!?" Horohoro snapped, pointing an accusing finger at Duncan.
"Everyone, it's okay," Lyserg protested. "He's on our side."
"He betrayed you!" Horohoro roared back. "He nearly killed you! He…!" He trailed off as he felt Yoh's hand on his arm.
"It's okay, Horohoro-kun," Yoh smiled. "If Lyserg-kun trusts him, then so do I."
"Then I'll trust him too!" Ryu proclaimed. "Welcome aboard, Duncan-kun!"
Yoh was about to speak again, but trailed off as the sound of hooves reverberated across the moor. They all looked to see four black-robed figures appear out of the mist on horseback. They dismounted and lined up behind Gryphin, the horses trotting away.
"So," Yoh commented. "The gang's all here." Gryphin did not reply, but jumped down onto the sand, facing Lyserg.
"There are things you do not know," he said. "Things they kept hidden from you."
"What things?" Lyserg's face twisted in frustration. "Why all the secrets!?"
"I did not know who you were, at least, not for certain," Gryphin went on. "If I had known, I would not have let Enyo…"
"Yeah," Horohoro growled. "You let that psycho torture Lyserg, you son-of-bitch!"
"What do you mean?" Lyserg was confused, trying to make sense of it.
"Gryphin, don't," Derfel put in, horror and guilt on his face. "Don't…" Gryphin ignored him, but lifted away his mask. The shamans recoiled at the sight. It was like seeing Duncan in Jessica's house, but even worse. His face was like a skull with near-translucent grey skin stretched over it. Lank brown hair was plastered to his forehead. But it was the eyes that drew their attention. They were a vivid and horribly familiar green.
"But…" Lyserg stared, not wanting to believe what he was seeing.
"Surely not," Yoh whispered. Only Anna seemed calm, but her stare was more intense than all the others combined. When Gryphin finally pulled off his chainmail hood, revealing his whole head, there could be no mistake. The shape of his face, the lining of the chin, the nose, even his hair sat in the same way.
"You…you can't," Lyserg whimpered.
"By rights, my name is Gryphin Diethyl." The face was expressionless, but overall his countenance was regretful, even remorseful. "I am your half-brother, the son of Liam Diethyl and a daughter of the House of Swordmasters."
"No," Lyserg shook his head, not wanting to believe it. "You…can't be…"
"He is," Anna commented. "He must be. It's in the shape of his face, wouldn't you say, Jessica-san?" She glanced at Jessica, who could not meet her gaze. "You knew Liam Diethyl, after all."
"You can't be!" Lyserg wailed, in pain and despair. "We can't have the same father! He loved my mother! He loved her! He would never betray her!"
"He didn't, Lyserg." Derfel's words snapped Lyserg out of his horror. He looked at Derfel, and saw the pain and regret on the druid's face.
"He did love her" Gryphin went on. "So much so that he divorced my mother shortly before my birth and married her instead. You were born a full year after me."
"You were born of love, but I was born of politics, of coercion, of lust for power." The sorrow in Gryphin's voice touched all of them. "Our father married my mother on the orders of the House of Dowsers, as part of a peace deal. If anything, he was the bride, the gift of a beaten enemy, chosen for his power and his genes. Vae victis."
"I had no idea," Lyserg was overcome.
"Gryphin!" Derfel howled, almost weeping for the pity of it all. "He loved you. He loved you just as much as Lyserg! He tried to find you! He even asked the druids for help, but you were too well guarded!"
"I know," Gryphin replied. "I don't hold it against him. That's not why I'm here."
"Then…what do you want?" Lyserg wondered.
"I want to put an end to it all. When I take the power, my soul, and all the evil instilled in it, will be destroyed." The glowing green wings manifested.
"Look closely," he said. "Every feather of these wings is the soul of someone I killed. The souls of the Masters, of their followers, and of the rebels. All these wicked souls will follow me to Avalon, and be cleansed of their evil therein."
"You can't!" Derfel pleaded. "I told you the first time! You cannot bear such a burden! No one can!"
"Then stand aside. Let me fulfil my duty while still there is time." Gryphin turned his nightmare face to Lyserg. "Lyserg, my brother, I have no right to ask you for anything, so I will ask you to do nothing. I need you to stand aside. Please…stand aside. Allow me to do this."
"No." Yoh moved to stand next to Lyserg, putting a hand on his arm. "I don't see why there has to be a Lord of Avalon, if the price is your soul. And besides, shouldn't you think about Lyserg's feelings? To give him family, then snatch it away again a second later? Did you think how much that would hurt him?"
"Go on, my Lord," Ogun growled. "Don't worry about us." Without a word, Gryphin spread his wings and took to the air.
"Gryphin! Wait!" Yoh called, but to no avail as Gryphin swept over their heads and away along the path to Avalon. Frantic, Yoh turned as the four remaining Knights threw off their cloaks.
"Guys…" he said.
"Go on!" Horohoro grinned. "We can handle them!"
"Mmm!" Yoh nodded. With that, he turned and raced off along the path, Manta, Lyserg and Derfel running after him.
"Master Lyserg, wait!" Duncan made to run after him. "I'll come too!"
"Stay here! Help the others!" Lyserg called back. Meanwhile, the remaining shamans formed up. Horohoro, Ren, Chocolove and Ryu lined up opposite the Knights. Faust hung back, shielding Pilica and Anna, who could not fight, and Tamao and Jessica, who had their own oversouls ready.
"Why don't you guys just give up!?" Horohoro sneered. "You can't fight all of us."
"Our lives no longer matter," Enyo replied, both swords drawn. "We are all out of time."
(Thousand apologies for such a long delay. This story is almost done, and will finish in no more than two chapters. Incidentally, Gryphin's quote is from Vergil's Aeneid.)