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Interlude Thirtyfour point Three, Merlynne's Quest

Merlynne was ... somewhere. It was black, deep black shot through with tiny dots of light, twinkling in various colors. There was no sensation of cold, nor heat, nor pain. She knew her finger was gone, but the event seemed somehow distant. She floated there, the shield on her arm and the lakesword in her hand.

"Good job, lassie," Merlynne thought to herself. "First real gig with the heroic equivalent of U2 and you get sucked into the bleedin' mirror universe. If PC shows up with a goatee, I swear..."

After the initial thoughts, her military training kicked in. She made an attempt to dispel her sword in order to channel the energies of the Lakesword directly to her night vision.

As the blade was absorbed into her body, she felt herself rotate in space, changing her orientation.

"Curious", she thought to herself.

She summoned her power and her vision shifted to infrared. In this spectrum, there was little to see, the place she was floating was of a uniform temperature or of no temperature at all. Her own body did not show up against the background.

"Hello?" She spoke aloud.

She felt the vibration in her bones, but heard nothing.

She reformed her sword, wondering if that had any connection to the removal of her senses.

The sword reappaered in her hand, and her body again roted slight in space. She realized that the sword now pointed in the direction her head been pointing, toward a small greenish blue dot of light some immeasureable distance away.

She spoke again but still heard nothing.

She attempted to float towards the light, using her experience in self-flight to try to guide her amidst her apparent weightlessness.

Using the sword as a guide, she "thought" her way toward the distant point of light. There was a strange sensation of movement, although nothing seemed to change around her. This continued for a timeless moment, then suddenly she was before a glowing blue-green disk that stretched from horizon to horizon. Behind her, the odd starscape seemed unchanged, but before her was nothing but this disk. The sword point directly at the disk and pulled her gently toward it with a rocking, tidal motion.

She continued forward until she was close enough to touch the disk. She dissipated her sword, then leaned forward to touch the disk.

On touching it, she was pulled forward irresistabley. It felt like the pull that had yanked her onto the Shield of Warding and into this place. Her senses swirled and she blacked out.

When she awoke, it was in an apple grove. Trees in full fruit stood around herin no discernable pattern and yet the overall impression was somehow one of perfect order and harmony.

She noted with some surprise that she was not bleeding from where her finger had been, but that the finger stump was smooth and unblemished.

"Ok, all we need at this point is a rabbit with a pocket watch boltin' by. Bugger." Merlynne said aloud. She tried to stand and look around her, trying to get a sense as to where she should go from here. Before that, though....she took a piece of fruit from a nearby tree.

The apple seemed normal, and she was hit with a wash of homesickness - it was just the kind that grew near her home in England. The climate, too, seemed more like that of the British Isles than that of Port Alexander.

The grove was on a small hill, and she could see the ocean off to one side, curving around her in the distances; either she was on an island or a peninsula. To the left, there were chalky cliffs above the sea and what looked like a castle. Behind her rose a few small mountains, and between them and her was a deep forest.

Merlynne attempted to will the sword away and was shocked when it failed to yield to her will, stubbornly remaining solid in her hand.

"Bleah" Merlynne said. She began walking towards the castle in the distance.

She walked down off the hill toward a trail she had seen near the coast. The woods quickly closed in around her and her going slowed. Eventually, however, she broke through into the clear and found her trail.

The path led up the cliffs, sometimes dipping back into the woods. On one such dip, it crossed a stream and she saw as she approached that a tent, or rather a pavillion, had been set up on the far side of the stream. Nearby a large horse was grazing, and on a rack near the tent rested a shield with a green tree painted on a white background, and a collection of medieval looking weapons.

"A salesman, perhaps?" Merlynne thought. She was a little frustrated at the slow going when some idea scratched at the back of her head. Without trying to dispel the sword, she again attempted to energize to fly, and lifted gently from the ground.

"Interesting", she said. She then proceeded to fly towards the castle.

From her height, it looked more and more like she was on an island. As she approached the castle, she could see that it was in good repair, although not garrissoned in warlike fashion; indeed, no one could be seen on the ramparts at all. Flying above the main tower was a blue flag with three crowns on it. ("Azure, 3 crowns or," in Herald-speak.)

Merlynne landed in the woods just before the clearing around the castle and walked toward the gatehouse. As she approached, she saw that the portcullis was up and the doors open. When she was perhaps twenty feet away, a woman stepped out of the guardhouse to wait in the archway. The woman was short, only a few inches above five foot, if that, but beautiful in a striking way; her long black hair was caught in two braids, which were interlaced with what looked like gold-threaded ribbon, and she wore a shimmering white dress which reached just to the ground.

Merlynne walked up to the woman and smiled. "Hullo." Merlynne said. "Am I dead?"

The woman cocked her head quizzically and then spoke slowly in very strangely accented English that somehow reminded Merlynne of Chaucer, "If I hear you aright, the answer is no. You are not dead, indeed, you could not be here if you were."

"And where is here?" asked Merlynne.

The woman smiled, "Avalon, the Deathless Isle."

"That's impossible, ma'am." Merlynne replied. "Avalon is a place for heroes, like Arthur. I'm not one of those yet."

The woman frowned prettily. "Your arrival is unusual. Dwellers are usually fetched rather than merely arriving." She stepped aside, "I offer you the hospitality of this place. We shall send for one who may know more." At her words, a huge black stallion stepped out of the stables bearing on it's back a man in black armour with his helmet attached to his saddle. He saluted Merlynne and then bowed to the Lady. "What is your name, girl?" She asked Merlynne.

"My travel here was equally unusual. I was helping my friends dispel a great evil that had threatened our city. When next I saw, it was blackness," Merlynne smiled. "Thank you for your hospitality. My name is Gwen. What is yours?" she said, looking at both people.

Upon hearing the name, the Lady and the knight exchanged a glance. "I am Yseult, the Lady of Lion Abbey, and this is Lion Abbey." She indicated her companion, "This is the Champion of Lion Abbey, Sir Cormac. Go sir knight, fetch our advisor."

The knight nodded and rode through the gate.

"Advisor?" Gwen asked.

"Indeed so," said the Lady. "You do not know the term?"

"Oh, I know the term. Someone who gives advice." Gwen replied. "I'm sorry, I still feel quite...displaced."

"I understand. Your way of speaking is very odd to me, and I guess mine is to you," she said. "Come in, rest, eat." She smiled, "And you can put up your sword. You have no enemies here."

Merlynne felt odd at that moment. She didn't have a sheath for the sword because she never really needed one to that point. She looked down to make sure one of those weren't magically there as well.

Noting her lack of a sheath, Merlynne simply walked inside and set it with her sword before proceeding to the dining area.

Several other women appeared, similarly clad to Merlynne's host, and a simple meal was quickly laid. The Lady made conversation, discussing the food and where it was grown, hunted or found. There was a palpable air of serenity in the place and Merlynne felt her self relaxing almost against her will.

As they were finishing their meal, the door to the hall swung open and a man walked in. He was short by modern standards, of middle years, dressed in white robes tied with a rope, and with a gold torq around his neck in the shape of a two headed dragon. He walked to the side table to set down his staff near Merlynne's sword and visibly started. He leant over to examine the sword carefully without touching it, then gave Merlynne a long penetrating look. He set his staff down on the table and came over.

"I see why you called," he said to the Lady. He turned to Merlynne. "What is your name, girl?"

"Gwen, sir." Merlynne replied.

"Gwen. Is that short for something," he asked. "Have you a surname, or a nom de guerre?"

She took a deep breath. "It is short for Guennivere. However, the name that I use when fighting wrongdoers in my world is similar to one who lives in Avalon, according to the legends of our world. I go by Merlynne." she said, emphasizing the 2nd syllable to differentiate from the Merlin of legend.

The man and the Lady exchanged a long look. He gestured at a chair and she nodded. He sat. "I am the current Merlin," he said. "It is a title, not a name. And I find myself ... not too surprised to learn of your name, your names." He leaned forward. "Tell me, my girl, how you came by that sword and how you came to be here."

A title? Somehow, that made utter sense to Merlynne. She began to explain her story, of the energy that called itself the Lakesword and how it bound itself to her, leaving her in a two year coma in the process. She explained how her one true love, Arthur (no sense holding back anything at this point, she thought) had died while she was in her sleep, of the amazing powers that the bonding had given her, including the ability to manifest that power in totality through the sword that now lay on the table. And she explained how she came to be with the Protectors, who are now training her to be the hero the Sword said she was destined to be.

"In all truth, however," Merlynne said, "what drives my thoughts is the knowledge that somehow, someday, I will see Arthur again. Until then, however, I will do what I must to keep the innocent safe. I had my innocence, my adolescence, torn from me. I would fight to insure such a thing happens to no one else."

Merlynne sensed she was taking a lot at face value, but it her. "I said on my arrival that I didn't think I belonged in Avalon yet, and she seemed to concur. My presence here is an anomaly of sorts. If this is the case, then I feel I need to return to my world. But if I *AM* supposed to be here...Can you help?"

The Merlin listened. "You are supposed to be here, I think. Almost nothing which is not supposed to be here ever gets here. However, I'm not sure you are supposed to be here now, and I am certain you are not meant to stay. Your sword," he indicated the blade, "in some ways, actually is Excalibur. Which is interesting, since we had thought that sword lost until the King who sleeps below awakes again."

He leaned back to think. As Merlynne watched, his face went slack and a moment later his eyes completely unfocussed. Then he began to speak, "It is a quest, a testing. To prove your worth. You will succeed and return to your rightful place, or you will fail and pass from the ken of man." His eyes closed and he passed his hand across his face. "That was a true seeing," he said, opening his eyes.

"OK, then. Right. A testing. Perfect sense." Merlynne said. "Do you know what my goal is? I don't have to go find the Holy Grail, do I?"

The Merlin chuckled. "No, that quest is not yours. It became famous, I gather?" He shook his head. "No, the quest will probably become clear in time. Lady," he spoke to Merlynne's host, "will you lodge our guest?"

"Right willingly," she replied. "I do not think I have ever lodged a woman knight before."

"That's alright, this is my first time to Avalon, myself." Merlynne chuckled. They continued their meal with some other light conversation as the evening continued.

* * * *

Merylnne, perforce, adapted to the way of life in Avalon, frustrating as it was at first. For days it seemed that nothing was happening, although the Merlin stopped by once or twice to reassure her. She had the run of the castle, and the Lady offered her a horse if she wished to ride anywhere else.

In the lower levels of the castle, she came across what looked like a crypt, with the archway barred with a door of stout iron bars. Within, she could see a stone dias with a recumbent man on it. There was an odor of sanctity to the place.

She noticed that the champion rose early each morning to practice with his arms in the courtyard. Sometimes he worked alone with a pell, but on other occassions there would be one or two other others working with him.

One morning, as he was about to begin practice, Merlynne approached the champion. "Would you be willing to practice with me? While I'm here, I would learn from you what I could."

The champion nodded. "Of course, lady." He showed her what he was doing and they began to work.

So it was for some days. Merlynne joined the champion and learned more effective use of her shield as well as improving her skill with her sword. She ate with the Lady and sometimes rode out with her around the island. Sometimes they visited the Merlin who dwelt in a grove of oaks deep in the woods. Sometimes the Merlin visited them.

One day, the Merlin arrived early, before the midday meal. He must have set out before light to arrive so early. Gwen was still at her practice with the Champion as he came through the gates with one of the women who inhabited the Abbey scurrying ahead to fetch the Lady.

"Hullo, sir." Merlynne said, greeting the Merlin cheerfully. "I would gather from the time of your arrival that you might be here on business. Is it time for my quest?"

"Indeed, I think it is," he said, "Ah, my Lady! Shall we go in?"

The Lady who had just arrived, nodded and turned about. By the fire, with mulled wine to hand, the Merlin spoke. "Word has come that on the mountain to the north, there were seen last night strange fires, odd colours and were heard noises not before heard on our isle."

"Strange and odd can be relative terms." Merlynne said. "Can you be more specific?"

"Strange fires in that there should be no fires there and they burned in strange shapes. The colours were those not usually seen in fire as well as glows in purples and reds. The noises were loud and indescribable."

"I see. Some sort of magical fire, then?" Merlynne said. She entertained the thought of a dragon of some sort, but thought that would be too blatantly obvious.

"Probably, but something else, too. Something unknown in this land and which does not belong here, even as you do not yet belong here," said the Merlin.

"It sounds as if my path is clear then." Merlynne said. "When do I begin my journey?"

"Whenever you like."

Merlynne smiled. "My time here has been wonderful, and I appreciate all you've done for me, but if my destiny isn't here now, then I need to do what I can to get home, and to protect this land from whatever is out there. I will prepare for an immediate departure."

"So be it. I shall walk with you a while and set you on the path. Shall we leave now and spend the night in the grove, or depart in the morning?"

"No reason not to leave now." Merlynne said.

Soon a horse had been saddled for Merlynne and some supplies loaded onto it for her. The Merlin led the way and the two set off into the woods. As the Merlin walked, he probed gently into what Gwen had been doing the last few weeks, and her state of mind.

"Somewhat clear, to be honest." Merlynne said. "I have come to enjoy myself, and everyone has been wonderful. Moreover, I feel more confident with my weapons and skills. However, I haven't felt that this is where I am supposed to be...although part of me wishes that I have reached my final place, I fear that without Arthur it would be partly empty." Merlynne glanced at the Merlin. "No, not *THAT* Arthur. My paramour. He was a soldier in my world that died in battle while I was in a coma."

Shortly before nightfall, they came to the grove where the Merlin dwelt. Just outside the grove itself was the wooden hall which served to protect him from the elements. He invited Gwen to dismount and join him inside. From a side door of the hall, a servant bustled forth to take the reins from her as she dismounted.

Inside, they shared a simple dinner and retired.

A few hours later, Gwen was woken by a gentle touch on her arm. "Come," said the Merlin. He led her outside, through the grove and up a small hill. "There," he said pointing toward a mountain top clearly visible from this vantage.

On top of the hill, tongues of blue and green fire licked upwards and danced and twined. Now and again, a soft purple glow would rise like a corona around the peak, to fade into red, before vanishing.

By some trick of the night, Gwen thought she could hear sounds coming from the mountain; laughter and singing and ... internal combustion engines?

"That can't be right." Merlynne said. The Merlin glanced at her. "Part of what I hear up there couldn't exist here. It's other sounds possibly from my world." Merlynne paused. "Is this where I proceed alone?"

"Tomorrow I will set you on the path," said the Merlin. "Now, let us retire." So saying, he set off to the hall, leaving Gwen to follow or stay as she wished.

Merlynne retired, but sleep didn't come at first. She thought deeply about where she was...and was amazed at how much she wanted to return home. While in her own world, her thoughts were mainly as to how soon she could be reunited with Arthur. It drove her adventuring, constantly placing herself in situations where she could die, and thus be reunited with Arthur. She knew that suicide would condemn her to Hell, so she was never foolish about it...but she did have a bravery that sometimes overrode her sense of reason.

In Avalon, though, she began to wonder if death truly was the road home to her beloved. If this truly were Avalon...why wasn't Arthur here? She pondered these things as she drifted to sleep.

After breakfast, the Merlin took the bridle of Gwen's horse and led them through the woods following some trail only he could see. After a few hours, they broke out of the woods into a clearing. Ahead of them, shockingly close, rose the mountain. Gwen was farily certain that they could not have crossed the distance to the mountain in the time they had been walking ... under normal circumstances.

On the far side of the clearing two trees had grown together to form an arch or gateway. On the far side of the gateway, a path began to climb the mountain.

The Merlin stopped. "There is your road. Good luck, Gwen."

"Thank you. sir." Merlynne nodded. She then continued, alone, on the road.

On passing through the arch, the air suddenly became colder and sharper. She looked back and the Merlin was gone, leaving no trace nor any path to show whither he had gone. She continued on her way.

She passed around a bend in the road and saw to one side, a figure cloaked in rags. At the sound of her horse, the old woman raised a hand, "Alms!" she cried. "Food!"

Curious to see what she could and could not do in Avalon, Merlynne attempted to use her infrared vision, to see if she could ascertain if what she saw truly was human, or at least humanoid.

Her vision took on the blurrieness she associated with her infrared enchancement and she looked at the beggar. Human or not, it radiated heat like a woman should.

Knowing something wasn't quite right with this, she cautiously dismounted and removed some of the food from her stores. She walked up to the woman. "Will this help?" Merlynne said, carefully placing the food in front of the woman. She studied her to see if she was blind or had a similar affliction.

"Thankee, mistress, thou'rt kind indeed," the woman took the food and began to gnaw on it. "If an old woman's blessing will help you in your quest, know that you have it."

"Any blessings are vital and gratefully accepted, mum." Merlynne replied. "How do you come to be in these woods?"

"I wander from place to place," she said. She began a slow hop from foot to foot, "Old mother me, lives in a tree. What can she see, what does she see? By the road she stands, walks about the lands. With her outstretched hands, always outstreched hands." She cackled idiotically and returned to her bread.

"I see. Well, g'day mum." Merlynne said, as she remounted her horse and continued on. She thought on the rhyme, trying to recall if it had any signifcance or if she recognized it from somewhere.

Nothing came to mind, and she rode on for another hour, more or less, when she made another switchback and found her way blocked by a giant lion, perhaps twenty feet long. The beast raised its head and looked at her and her horse. "Hmm, and who might you be?" it said. "Are you from the Abbey? I have longed to eat someone from the abbey for years. They seem such a tender group."

'Yes, I am from the Abbey, but I don't think you'll be eating me today." Merlynne replied.

"And why is that?" asked the lion rising langorously to its feet.

"Because I'd give you terrible indigestion." Merlynne smiled. "Might I ask what you are doing lying about these woods? Oh, do forgive my manners, I'm Gwen. What is your name?"

"I am somtimes called Tristan," the lion said, "No relation." It stretched itself langorously. "I like you, Gwen. You may pass." It moved to one side to clear the road.

Merlynne smiled as she remounted her horse. "Thank you, Tristain. I appreciate it greatly. Good day to you." She trotted past the Lion and continued on the path. "OK, if I see a white rabbit with a pocket watch go by, I'll really know things are daft." she thought to herself.

After another while, she began to hear sounds from up ahead. It sounded like engines, as before. The sounds seemed to be coming from a large terrace like area above her and off to one side. It seemed as though the path approached it from a fairly well concealed avenue.

Deciding that coming in on horseback would probably not be the best of ideas, Merlynne secured the horse nearby, then used her energies to become invisible before making her way up to the precipace.

Poking her invisible head over the top, she saw a sight which made her check to see if the Whate Rabbit was anywhere nearby. Half a dozen tall, lean humanoids with fine features and pointy ears - elves to the life - were slouching around on motorcycles watching another of their number burn a donut on his shrieking machine. A cooler of drinks was near a campfire and the elves were helping themselves from time to time. Looking above the whole scene was a floating disk aswirl with variegated colours. Now and then, the disk would shoot beams of color into the sky or pulse with a strong glow, accompanied by the oohs and aahs of the leather clad elven bikers. Clearly the disk was the source of the strange colors and flames on the mountain. Once in while, the disk would seem to clear, and a view of a city appeared, a city that did not seem to be too out of place with the ones Gwen knew from her own world, time, and dimension.

Gwen stared in amazement. The disc...wherever it came from...appeared to have opened a gateway to her world...or at least, one very similar. Her best assumption was that these creatures crossed back and forth, and had brought back some souveniers.

Gwen brought herself up to the same level as the creatures, then stood for awhile, observing the situation. She had thought that it might come to conflict, but even with her powers, she was outnumbered six to one, and she wanted to see more of what she was dealing with.

The elves talked back and forth in what sounded like modern English, ribbing each other and swilling beer for all the world like a bunch of motorcycle punks from any large US city. They wore leather jackets with a logo on the back and the words "Satan's Druids," blue jeans and motorcycle boots or Doc Martins. A pair of them, one male and one female, were snogging on the ground by the fire.

"Eww, gross." Merlynne thought to herself. "Get a room."

Merlynne quietly moved around the bikers to try and get a closer look at the portal.

It was fairly easy to skirt the drinking elves and approach the portal. Up close, it had a strange visual texture, a kind of strange hazy look to it. Suddenly she realized that the tone of the sounds behind her had changed. She turned, the elves had their heads cocked as if listening. One said, "Can't you hear it? Something over that way." He waved vaguely in Gwen's direction. "I thought I heard something."

"Enhanced hearing. Lovely." Gwen thought to herself. Six to one odds. She's had worse, and maybe the invisibility will account for something.

Then she had an idea. She felt her body hum as she willed the energy to give her flight in addition to invisibility. She then rose roughy six feet off ground and hovered directly above the one on the bike, ready to strike and seeing what happened then.

"I doan hear nuffin," said one of the elves, popping open another brewski.

"Me neither," added another.

"Slurp, mmmpfh," contributed the snogging couple.

"It's gone now, innit," said the first. "Gie us a beer, then." The one nearest the cooler tossed him a beer which he popped open.

Gwen dove down and whacked the nearest elf with the flat of her sword. The elf went flopping off the motorcyle and lay still. Silence descended on the remaining elves. "What the hell hit Luthien?" one asked. Switchblades appeared in hands, and the girl who had been snogging slipped a length of chain from around her waist.

Gwen made sure of the fallen one, who whuffed as she smacked him once more. "Screw this!" said one, "I aint here to fight ghosts." He leapt toward his machine and kicked it into life. The others scurried for their motorcyles.

"We can't leave Luthien!" said the girl.

"We aren't," said one of the others driving his bike toward the fallen elf.

Merlynne smiled. "Just like street urchins," she thought to herself, "all talk and no tough". She waited as the other cyclist closed on the fallen one and then dove into him, leading with the flat of her blade.

He went down and the others fled. They ran their bikes into the portal and were gone.

"No sense of loyalty. Typical." Merlynne thought. She made sure that the other one was out, and then floated down to her horse to bring out some rope. Her abilities unfortunately did not include the mystical bonds that her comrade the Mystic seemed so adept at, but she wasn't particularly worried about them breaking out, given that they went down so easily.

After a time (and a bit of mystically-induced super strength to ensure the secureness of the bonds), both bikers were effectively hogtied, with their hands and feet tied behind them in an arch face down on the ground. Still invisible, she tried to arouse the first one that she felled. "Wakey wakey, Harley boy" Merlynne spoke. "As they say in classic television, you've got some 'splainin to do."

"Ooh, my head," the elf tried to sit up. "What the hell?" He flopped around in his bonds for moment.

"Oh dear, I'm quite sorry," Merlynne chirped in faux gentility, "but you seem to be tied up at the moment. Therefore, I'm sure you've found the time to answer some of my questions. The first of which being; who are you, and why are you here?"

"I'm Spike, this here's Butch. And we're real sorry if this is your land or something. It just seemed like a nice place to have a party, y'know?"

"Riiiiight." Merlynne said. "Where exactly is it that you came from? That glowing hole over there?" She pointed towards the portal.

"Yeah. We found it, y'know. It was all green and nice, so what the hell? We got some beer and built a campfire. We didn't know it was private property, officer."

"Don't get shirty with me, my pointy thing is longer than yours." Merlynne replied, putting the sword within four inches of the tough's forehead. "I know where you are now, where are you *from*. And no sass."

"Through there," he jerked his chin toward the hole. "It's a city, we live there. It's called Puerto Alejandro."

"The City of Alexander?" Merlynne thought to herself. Shrugging, she gathered her things and prepared to walk through. "Sit tight boys." she said. "I may be back...or I may not. However, I'm sure tough, strapping lads such as yourself would be able to handle a 20 foot lion with your arms tied behind you. Literally, I hope." Merlynne smiled cheerily before she walked through the portal.

Merlynne found herself on a street that was familiar and yet alien. It looked almost like a city back "home," only slightly shifted. The air was thick with pollution, the street was poorly maintained and the one streetlight that she could see didn't look like it's light source was any kind of bulb she knew. It looked like a street lamp, but the entire globe glowed. She looked up at the shattered lamp overhead and she could what looked like chips of some kind - the lamp seemed like a solid state component.

"This is funky." Merlynne said aloud, to no one in particular. She decided to take a walk around and see what was about.

As she walked, the slight sense of disorentation become stronger. The place was like home, but ... not. When she reached a larger street, she saw the occasional vehicle pass by - they looked sort of like cars, but seemed to be bulkier, as if armour was de rigeur, and many didn't seem to be burning gas, judging by their exhaust. The streets were not empty, but seemed mostly in poor repair. In contrast, gleaming skyscrapers and huge multiblock buildings were visible here and there, shining and adorned with what she could only assume were corporate names and logos.

With a shock, she realized that the city was Port Alexander. Or almost. From her vantage point, she could see the river and the distintive sweep of the bay.

A dawning about her, she looked to find somewhere where a local newspaper could be found. Concurrently, she tried her cell phone to see if she could reach the Fortress.

Her cell phone didn't seem to work here. Rather, the phone seemed fine, but there was no carrier.

She found what she decided was the local equivalent of a newspaper box. There was a coin slot and some kind of computer screen with a list of sections and an occasional headline and it looked like you could select which sections of the paper you wanted to read.

Realizing she had no coins that worked, she considered her options. She concentrated and faded from sight, then she lifted into the air. As she did so she realized that when she drew up on the power of the Lakesword, it was reabsorbed into her body. When it was, she was shocked to see, her missing finger reappeared.

She flew high enough to get an idea of where she was heading and flew toward where she though the old warehouse entrance to the Protectors' Fortress lay.

The fatigue she felt from trying to keep both powers running forced her to make the trip in short skips, but eventually she arrived at her destination. There was even a warehouse where she thought one should be, although it looked nothing like the warehouse she knew.

She touched down and proceeded to the area where she remembered the passageway to be.=20

After searching around for a good while, she began to think that the tunnel, had it ever existed, was no longer here or, at least, no longer accessible accesible from the surface.

Suddenly, she had an idea. She walked over towards the water and felt the power of the Lakesword her lungs, as the surface of her neck seemed to grow gills. Her body now adapted to the rigors of the water, she dove down, looking for a sign of the tunnels and/or the Fortress.

She swam down to where the underwater entrance had been and found what looked like solid rock. It seemed as though the tunnel and the entrance had never existed.

"OK, definite alternate reality time." Merlynne thought as she swam to the surface. She was starting to get frustrated and she was running out of ideas. She had decided to bite the bullet, risk looking like an idiot, and try to find someone to speak with.

She walked through the docks and attempted to find the main offices for the docks.

As she looked for some kind of harbormaster's office, she began to see a few more people than she had in other districts - which made sense, this was an area which had to move commodities around. As she watched one group, something struck her as odd about them. She realized, two of them were elves like those she had left stranded in Avalon, and one was larger and misshapen - strong looking though.

Using a combination of flight and invisibility, Merlynne tried to get the lay of the land in this familiar but strange city. The broad geographical outlines were the same. But all of the landmarks she looked for were gone or changed. The CommerceDome was still an arena of some kind, although the architecture had changed somewhat; Hope-Bryce Cybernetics was gone completely; Darkspell's mansion looked like it was still a home, but the style was now aggresively modern.

Merlynne got the feeling that the city was definately broken up along class lines or something. She she did her recon she saw numerous roadblocks and guard shacks and the like. So when she went looking for a pawn shop, she was careful to choose one that looked like it was in a fairly open neighborhood. She went in and took a look at the instruments and things which covered the walls. The items appeared to be of a higher tech level than she was used to - things like the Protectors Fortress excluded, of course. All the items were behind some kind of plexi-glass like material and a man in a secured booth was just finishing buying a guitar from a young man in a leater jacket. The guitar went into a revolving hatch and some kind of credit card thing was slipped through a pivoting hatch in the booth. The young man took his money and left the shop, leaving Merlynne alone with the man.

Merlynne walked up to the counter, pulled out the cell phone given to her by Defender when she became a protector, and placed it in the glass. "G'day. Can I get anything for this?" she said, attempting to hide her accent the best way possible.

"Do you know of any antique shops into this sort of thing?" Merlynne asked. Merlynne walked up to the counter, pulled out the cell phone given to her by Defender when she became a protector, and placed it in the glass. "G'day. Can I get anything for this?" she said, attempting to hide her accent the best way possible.

The man rotated the door and took the phone. "Kind of an antique, innit?" He looked it over. "Not worth much. I can give you, maybe, 5 creds."

"Yeah, I'll take it." Merlynne said.

The man slid a card through the rotating slot. "Have a nice day."

Merlynne left the store and looked for a newsstand or something that could sell her a newspaper.

She found another of the newsboxes that had a slot that looked like it would take her card.

She used the card and proceeded to read through the paper, starting with the date and year.

It was November 21, 2046 according to the newspaper.

Merlynne mentally recapped to herself. She was in a strange land, a futuristic version of what Port Alexander could be. She had less than 5 "credits" to her name, she didn't really have a clue of why she was here, what she was supposed to accomplish, or what her quest should be.

She thought some more. The only thing she could surmise is that the portal to Avalon had to be closed somehow. If that was the case, she needed to find out first who opened it.

Merlynne returned to the point of her arrival, to more closely inspect the doorway.

From this side the portal looked much like it had from the other, only far more subdued. Here it did not shoot of light nor glow brightly. Hidden as it was down an alley in a run-down part of town, it was not too surprising that only a gang of elf bikers had found it.

Merlynne stepped back through the portal.

In the time since her abscence, the punks must have gathered some courage, since the two she had left tied up had vanished along with their motorcycles and the rest of the beer. The place did seem as though it had been abandoned in haste.

Merlynne made a fairly thorough investigation of the area and found little of interest - empty beer cans, a few cigaratte butts and the like. She did satisfy herself that the elves had gone back through the portal to Peurto Alejandro and not deeper into Avalon.

Stepping back through the portal, Merlynne wondered if the elves had anything to do with the portal or if they had just found it randomly. In a realm of apparent science, she found it odd that something magical could just pop into there.

She thought about the idea of the world being run by corporations, as well as this resistance movement she read about. She thought about contacting them, but wasn't sure if they were legit, crackpots, dangerous...or worse. She had to try some further research as no easy answers were coming out at her.

She traveled to the area where she remembered Port Alexander's library to be.

There was a library there, too. It was strange how there seemed to be areas of congruence across the lines of time, space and dimension. The metal detector went off as she went into the library, but the guard didn't find anything too dangerous looking about Gwen's shield and let her pass on in.

She went to find where the library's public access computers were, specifically ones that had internet access, and what rules for use that they had (she had hoped that they were still free).

They were and she dove in to her studies.

After a bit of work, she got a kind of picture of the world. In the early 21st Century, corporations continued to gain power, becoming in effect, a shadow government. Then, in 2117, the magic returned. No one was completely sure what happened or why, but people turned into elves and orcs and dwarves and the odd troll; not all of them, but some. And they bred true. The shock was enough to allow the corporations to truly sieze the reins of power. National governments became second class corporations. Naturally, the main-line humans tried to oppress the "Awakened" types, prompting organizations like the Awakened People's Front. The pressure increased when it became obvious that the Awakened could do magic, it lessened only slightly when it turned out than many main-line humans could to.

Thus "paranormals" were a large minority group, and technical counters to magical problems werre widespread. There was therefore no specialized PNDF as such. Information on magical portals was extremely scarce, such things did not seem to be common here.

Gwen went over and over things mentally. She was a bit confused about all of this. One thing kept coming back to her, though, was considering how different things were, the basic form and function of the city were the same. But it was almost at war with itself, with technology and magic against one another.

She left the library again, and as she walked by the metal detectors, she wondered about the guard finding the shield to be somewhat...mundane. After thinking about things a bit, she decided to try something else. The last known portal of that nature she had encountered was at Darkspell's mansion in Port Alexander. Although the home itself was much different in this world...maybe it might not be all that different. She proceeded to where Darkspell's house should be using her now practiced combination of flight and invisibility.

The house was in nearly the right place, but looked all wrong. The outline of the house was off. If her calculations were correct, the room where the portal was would have been floating in the air about eight feet away from one wall. Below her, a dog barked. He knew there was something up, his nose told him so, he couldn't see anything and was a little confused.

Merlynne flew closer to the house and tried to look inside the windows while she could remain invisible.

When she approached the house, she must have triggered some kind of sensor; an alarm sounded, metal sheets slammed down over the windows, searchlights on the corners of the house lit up, and what looked like some kind of gun barrel poked out of a few turrets on the roof.

"Ooooooo-k" Merlynne thought to herself. "Motion sensors. I'd really love to stop making rookie mistakes any day now." She flew as long as she could before landing to conserve her magical energy, continuing on foot invisible.

She got a good distance away, just outside the compound before she needed to land and catch her mystical breath.

Merlynne stopped to observe what happened from there, and how long it would take for the defenses to shut back down.

She watched as a pair of guards came out and made a sweep around the area, saw the goggles on their heads and realized they might have infrared capability so she dropped out of sight. In this world, where the tech was higher than she was used to, some of her old tricks might not work.

Still, Merlynne was convinced that this house might have something to do with her quest. She made the decision, for awhile, to run a surveillance on the house, to see if anyone other than the guards entered or left.

She watched as a pair of guards came out and made a sweep around the area, saw the goggles on their heads and realized they might have infrared capability so she dropped out of sight. In this world, where the tech was higher than she was used to, some of her old tricks might not work.

Merlynne made her way down to the more urban areas and attempted to find somewhere secluded. She wasn't too fond of sleeping there, especially with the more dangerous elements in that region, but her training with the UN had helped her train to "sleep light" in the event of an attack.

Once finding a suitable place, she slipped the credit card into her boot. She also made sure she was surrounded by various debris she could find that would make much noise if stepped upon. Satisfied that her "sensory devices" were up as far as they could be, she laid her shield down and used it as a pillow of sorts, trying to catch at least a little sleep, hoping the new day could give her some idea as to how to get out of this one.

Her dreams were full of portals and elves and football fields. And she awoke hungry, but unharmed.

Merlynne's first order of business was to find food. She searched nearby for a local grocery store and tried to find the best high protein option she could locate with her limited funds.

She found a tasteless but high protien kelp bar that used up most of her funds.

Once awake, she decided to head towards Puerto Alejandro's version of the CommerceDome, to get the lay of that land.

The dome was laid out similarly to the one she knew from home, after all there's only so much variation you can put into a football stadium. To her eyes, the security was much poorer than that at the house last night, at least on the perimter. That made sense - there wasn't much that was valuable and easy to steal and fence in a sports complex. She guessed things would be tighter in the places where it was.

Still not wishing to take chances, she went invisible and moved on the perimeters in order to head into the dome.

She slipped in and around the outlying fence; chain link designed only to keep out casual interlopers. She reached the building itself undetected as best she could tell. She spotted several cameras, but they didn't react, so she guessed they were active only in the visual spectrum.

The doors and windows were wired, of course, but not with anything too different than what she had seen before. She wasn't sure if this stadium was open to the sky or not.

A moment later she knew. Flying up, she saw that it was covered, but that this would almost certainly be the best way in. There were ventilation openings that appeared to be unwired.

Merlynne landed near a ventilation opening, fumbled with it until she was able to slide through, and entered.

Inside she saw a fairly standard football stadium, with the gridiron laid out below. Merlynne decided to land and take a brief look around.

As she swooped down, she was suddenly pulled off course. An irresistable force was pulling her to one side of the field. Toward, she realized, the spot where on a different world, a certain shield had rested and through which her strange odyssey had begun. As she was pulled closer, her vision skewed, objects ran up and down the color scale, then a hole appeared in reality. She was sucked right through the hole and blacked out.

When she awoke, she was in what looked like the CommerceDome she had once know. There was a hole in the roof and a lot of damage around her, but there were signs that it was the one she remembered. She was home, at last!

Last Updated 9 February 2004