Title: The Queen's Magicians: Guardians (4/4)
Characters: Canonical Torchwood Three members… sort of.
Rating: Some chapters definitely not safe for work.
Disclaimer: Oh, please. If I owned them, would I let some of those idiots write the scripts? And if I were making any money off them, would I be where they could find me?
Summary: An amnesiac woman lands the team in the middle of a battle for control of one of history's greatest secrets
Author's Note: Canon calls this one Sleepers
Author’s Note: Llangorse Lake is a real place. In this Universe, it’s a lot less populated than in ours – because the afanc is real! And the Asherah is very, very real http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asherah. Lachish was the second largest city in Israel in Biblical times.
Author's Note: I'm sorry it's taken so long. Real Life, well.... I prefer fiction at the moment!
Part One is here. Part Two is here; Part Three is here
They used the secondary roads, keeping some distance between the two SUVs, with Tosh in one and Ianto in the other keeping track of possible surveillance. At a few miles outside of Aberbagoed they veered off to Markham, then soon after Tredegar they veered off again towards Beaufort but before entering the town veered off one last time into the Llangynidr Road. That was a straight shot to Llangorse, over a road used mostly by locals, produce lorries, and a few photography enthusiasts looking for the perfect shot of the Beacons.
After Beth’s announcement, Jack had insisted that she take them to the Templar hiding place immediately; she refused bluntly. The shouting match was derailed by, of all people, Owen, when he suggested that Beth use a Torchwood phone link to call her superiors. Both Beth and Jack had grudgingly agreed. Under Jack’s gimlet eye, Beth had spoken to her contact, who told her to sit tight and wait for instructions. Less than an hour later, they had come: bring them with you.
When Beth told them where they were going, Andy had found himself to be rather unsurprised. Ballads and stories about Llangorse Lake, or Llyn Syfaddon, as his grandmother called it, were abundant in Welsh folklore. On his tenth birthday, his father had taken him for a weekend’s camping. They had gotten up before sunrise and had been rewarded with a glimpse of the afanc as it splashed near the shore, snuffling about for his breakfast, its crocodile-shaped body clumsy out of its element.
Throughout the trip Beth had sat rigidly straight on the back seat next to Andy, only her tightly clenched hands showing her tension. Finally, she leaned forward and tapped Jack on the shoulder. “Captain, in a few minutes you'll see a small cairn with three rose bushes planted around it. Turn off the road right after it.”
Jack followed instructions without speaking. He was slightly less tense than he had been in the Hub, but clearly not enough to unbend towards her yet. Andy sighed. When Jack got that way he could outstubborn a bloody corgi.
They bounced through thick woods, along a rough track that led precipitously downwards. After fifteen minutes or so, the land leveled out, or at least the slope became much gentler. They came out of the woods on the shores of Llangorse Lake, a few hundred metres from the crannog.
Beth led them down to the shore. For a moment, nothing happened. Jack was turning towards Beth, face thunderous, when Gwen squealed and pointed. Andy had to force himself not to turn and run as he watched the afanc swim towards them so smoothly that he left barely any wake behind him. He heard a smothered laugh behind him and wondered what Ianto saw that they didn’t.
“I can’t feel it,” Tosh whispered. “The afanc. There’s…. nothing there.”
Beth grinned at her and waded into the cold water until it lapped at her knees. As the monster reached her, she lifted her right hand and drew a symbol in the air. The afanc’s body shimmered and faded away. In its place was a rigid-hull inflatable Zodiac with seating capacity for at least a dozen. One man stood at the console while another stood guard, a rifle held expertly at the ready.
“Oh,” Gwen said, disappointment clear in her voice. “You mean the monster is not real?”
“It’s real all right,” Beth said. “But we borrow his appearance once in a while.”
They clambered onto the boat. As soon as they were seated, the boat took off at a fast clip towards the crannog. Andy looked back over his shoulder, wondering briefly what it would look like to people standing on the shore, but Tosh's and Gwen's gasps brought his attention back to the front just in time to see a small section of the vegetation covering the man-made island swing aside.
“Hang on!” Beth shouted.
Andy grabbed the railing in front of him. The Zodiac bumped and dipped a couple of times then dropped nearly vertically along a rushing column of water. Gwen and Tosh screamed loudly at the feeling of being airborne, while Owen cut loose with a loud whoop that made him sound like a kid on a rollercoaster. Andy just closed his eyes and concentrated on keeping his stomach from turning inside out as the drop was suddenly halted when the boat splashed down, bobbing gently for a second or two before starting to move forward again.
He opened his eyes. They were moving along an underground river bound by narrow ledges that rose overhead to form a low roof. The rock glittered with some sort of inner light source, making it possible for Andy to see the others. Jack and Ianto were sitting calmly side by side; Ianto met Andy's eyes and one eyebrow quirked upwards, which was as close as Ianto would ever get to a heartfelt what the hell? Andy returned an equally minimal shoulder lift. He looked at Tosh, sitting next to him, head swiveling as she took in everything. Behind Jack and Ianto, Gwen and Owen were whispering and pointing.
The boat sailed through a large archway and into a narrow tunnel. Andy put out his hand and touched the wall. His fingers came away stained a phosphorescent yellow. He was examining it when Tosh grabbed his arm and squeezed. “Look!”
The tunnel ended on a vast cavern lake lit completely by the glittering walls. At the far end, a set of steps descended to a stone quay. Beyond the steps rose the façade of a temple. It's center was taken up by a massive wooden door, while to either side three half-columns mounted on pedestals supported a flat tablet and pediment that had been carved into the rock.
The Zodiac came to a stop against the quay. They stepped off and waited. After a few minutes, the church doors opened and a man in a simple white robe came out. He was very old, his austere face deeply lined, his hair and beard white. Plain and unadorned, he dominated the setting. Behind him, two Templar knights in full regalia acted as bodyguards.
Beth ran up the stairs and dropped to her knees in front of him. His right hand came to rest on her head, and he whispered a blessing in Latin, then took both her hands in his and helped her up. They spoke briefly. She turned to them and waved them up. “Please come with us.”
Jack started up the stairs and they fell in line on either side of him in their usual fashion, Gwen and Tosh flanking him slightly behind and to the side, with Andy and Owen repeating the position behind the women and Ianto bringing up the rear at the center.
“Welcome to the Temple Captain Harkness.” The old man's voice was deep and resonant. “Thank you for bringing back our sister, safe and sound. I am Robert FitzGodebert, prior of our order.”
Jack inclined his head briefly. “This isn't a social visit, Master.”
“We received word of the movements of our former brethren right after you called, Captain.” He smiled. “We have been playing this game with them for centuries. However, this is the first time they have come so close.”
“Father...” Beth whispered, dropping her head to hide her face. “I know why.”
“Not here, child.” He touched his fingers to her lips. “Come, everyone. I think it is only fair that you understand why all the secrecy is necessary.”
They entered the temple. It was a long, narrow space with high ceilings. Half-columns measured out the length of the nave. The rock walls between them had been polished until they gleamed, throwing back the light of the eight-armed candelabra set in front of them. At the opposite end from the door, a massive silver cross, taller than a man, hung on the wall behind a stone altar. On the altar itself stood an alabaster pillar about three feet high, carved to resemble a tree.
“You have an Asherah in your Temple?” Jack asked the Prior. “No wonder you got into trouble. Crystal talking heads and goat masses don't even come close.”
The Prior chuckled. “They did not want to reveal the truth. It would have been most... disruptive. Come, let me show you.”
As they approached the altar, Andy started to get subtle whiffs of... something. It was his mother's lemon lilies, and the ozone of a massive thunder storm, and the bloody discharge after childbirth. It wasn't magic, but magic's progenitor, something older and much more powerful. He swayed on his feet and felt Ianto prop him up from behind.
“Jack?” Everyone turned towards him. “There's something here.” He started to move forward, but found his way blocked by the Prior's bodyguards. “In the altar, not on it.”
“Let him pass,” the Prior said, a touch of resignation in his voice. “He would not have found Her if She had not wanted him to.”
The men moved and Andy rushed to the altar. He ran his hands over the stone, probing, until he found three circular depressions set close together, invisible to the eye. He placed his fingertips in them and pressed. There was a faint snick as something was released inside the altar, and a piece of the slab slid aside to allow a small platform, and its cargo, to rise to the surface. It was a woman, her body indistinct but her face and outstretched arms exquisitely detailed, carved out of a single piece of wood that had been polished until it gleamed like gold. Andy guessed it was only about a foot and a half in height, but the power pouring from it nearly choked him.
“Not an Asherah,” Jack said softly. “The Asherah.”
“We had been told of the mound at Lachish and the treasure it might contain. The then Prior was curious and he sent a small group to examine it and report back. We went directly to the spot where She was, as if we had been called. We brought Her back to Jerusalem and the Prior sent a message to the Pope. We heard nothing for too long a time, and then a warning came from a friend in Rome. The Prior called a meeting, and we prayed, and She answered us. Our task was to hide Her, down the ages, until it was time for Her to arise into the light again.”
“You talk,” Ianto said, “as if you had been there.”
The Prior smiled. “She chose me from among the young knights and sustained my life all these centuries. But now it is time to fight again, and I am too old and too tired. She needs a new Champion.” He extended his hand. “Beth?”
Beth's eyes got huge, then she shook her head. “I am not worthy, father.”
“Should She not be the judge of that?”
“You don't understand!” She shook her head again more emphaticaly. “There is a small group among us, father, who want to bring Her into the light now. It's power and revenge and the glory of God all mixed up. They thought that once the Vatican had Her they would not be able to resist Her truth.” She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “I was one of them. We contacted the Cardinal Primate and offered Her to him. To show their good faith the messengers were asked to reveal the names of some of our names.”
“And the fratres came after you,” Gwen said.
Beth nodded. “When they arrived, I was out picking up some things for supper. When I got back they were waiting for me, but Mike had managed to engage our emergency signal, so I came in prepared. Mike was already dead. I managed to surprise them. They don't think much of women and never expected me to be trained in hand-to-hand combat. I used their own swords on them. But I one small strike does not make up for treason!”
“That's not for you to say,” Ianto told her. “She certainly seems to think you're worthy. She helped Mike survive long enough to signal you. She sent ghost Knights to protect you from the Chief Constable, and then sent you to us, the only people outside your own who could be expected to understand what's at stake here.” He gestured towards the altar. “Besides, if you are unworthy, She will pass judgment quickly enough.”
Beth stared at him for a moment, then nodded. She went to stand next to Andy. He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile, then patted on the shoulder and stepped back. Beth reached for the statue. As her hands touched it, her eyes closed and she swayed. Andy started to move towards her, but her eyes snapped open and she smiled at all of them.
“It is well,” She spoke with a new certainty and authority in it. “We must leave now. They are almost here. Father...”
“Go with God and His Consort, child.” He sketched a sign of the cross in the air over her head. “There's another way out of here, through the mountain, which is known only to the Prior and the Champion. It is not short, but it is much safer than the lake route. Your vehicles have been moved and we've made sure there are no tracks.”
“What about the rest of you?”
“Most of us have already gone undercover. Each will make his way back to Her in his or her own time.”
The sounds of running and gun shots could be heard coming from somewhere outside.
“Where shall we take Her?” Jack asked.
“North. To Scotland. It has always been our last line of defense. She will show you the way.” He repeated the blessing. “Go with your God, all of you.”
Beth ran back out the door and onto the narrow ledge that bordered the lake, moving as though she were receiving instructions from somewhere... or Someone. The sounds were coming closer. As they reached the natural curve of the wall, Beth pointed to a small fissure nearly hidden by the glitter of the phosphorescent dust coating it. They plunged in after her. Andy looked back at the lake.
“Hold on a minute.” They stopped, though Owen gave him an impatient look. “Tosh? Can you sense the afanc?”
She closed her eyes for a moment. “Yes! Wait...” After a minute or two, she opened them again. “All right. We can go now.”
“What did you do?” Beth asked.
“I simply pointed out that the strangers making all the noise will not be very good neighbours,” Tosh said primly. “I don't think the fratres will have cause to celebrate this day. At all.”