In the Blood
Written by: Todd Jensen and Patrick Toman.
Story Concept by: Rahsaan Footman, Todd Jensen,
Kathy Pogge, and Patrick Toman
Illustrations by: Shauntell Holm
Previously on Gargoyles...
Mavis O'Connor: "And such a shrew as Destine with such a sweet innocent thing for a daughter. Who'd have thought it could happen twice?"
Nicholas Maddox: "Oh, it happens every now and then. Believe me, I know."
~ A Mid-Winter's Tale ~
* * * * *
She didn't reply. The instant she was free, she hurtled past Elisa and threw herself on Mavis with an eyes-blazing-tail-lashing roar that would have done credit to her mother. Mavis flung her arms over her face, not fast enough. Angela's claws slashed her cheek from temple to jaw, and the knife went skittering across the tile floor.
"Angela! Stop!" Elisa and Matt caught her by the arms, just as she was about to go for Mavis' throat.
Angela fought against the hands that held her. "No, Elisa! Let me go! I'm going to make her pay!"
Angela shakily passed a hand over her eyes, stopping when she glimpsed the blood on her claws. She stared numbly at the crimson that stained her talons.
"Blood?" she whispered, uncomprehending. She'd never drawn blood before, not like that. Not in a vicious, out-of-control frenzy. That wasn't like her. Not Angela.
Angela gave Broadway what was meant to be a reassuring smile, but he still looked hurt. How could she explain that she just didn't feel like sitting with the others right now?
She could still feel the tender flesh giving way beneath her claws. Could still feel the thrill of fierce triumph. It burned in her like a flame, but froze her heart at the same time.
"I'm turning into my mother," she murmured to herself.
~ Reprisals - Part Three ~
* * * * *
Emrys: "The time that the world needs me the most, and I can't manage anything. Not even a simple geometry question, let alone some proper magic."
~ Beginning Again ~
* * * * *
Arthur: "Merlin, will I be like my father? Another tyrant? Will I become like him, because I am his son?"
Merlin: (looking very uneasy): "I hope not. I truly hope not."
~ The Goddess of Winter, Part One ~
* * * * *
In the Blood
* * * * *
Soho, London - October 27, 1998
"Maybe we should try this again," said Una, looking at the lamp in the middle of the table between herself and Emrys.
"Una, I've already tried levitating that lamp five times this evening!" protested Emrys. "I've got homework tonight, and I really should be working on that instead!"
"This is also part of your homework," said Una firmly. "Emrys, it is very important that you remaster your wizard's skills. If my forebodings are correct, we may need them before this war is done."
"Right now, I'm more concerned with what my maths teacher is going to say if I'm late with my assignment tomorrow," said Emrys. "The Unseelies aren't going to give me failing grades for tardy homework."
"You can get to work on your schoolwork as soon as you have managed to work the spell properly," said Una. "And that is final."
"Arthur?" asked Emrys, turning to the Once and Future King, who was standing on the sidelines with Leo, watching and listening.
"I am sorry, Emrys," said King Arthur. "But Una is right; you must begin honing your abilities at magic properly. And as I recall, you always did say that I should put my lessons first. Surely the same should apply to you."
Emrys shook his head. "I should have known that you would get back at me some day for all the times that I had to tell you, 'No hunting or hawking until your lessons are done'," he said. "It's almost amazing what can come back to haunt you sometimes." He sighed. "Oh, all right. Just once more. And this, so Heaven help me, is going to be the last time."
He pointed the index finger of his right hand directly at the lamp, while reading aloud the Latin incantation written out in the book before him, staring intently all the while.
The results, while very impressive, were hardly what he had had in mind. The lamp spun around wildly three times, then tipped over upon its side. Emrys cried aloud something indistinguishable in Welsh, leaped to his feet, and stormed out towards the door, before anybody could stop him. He slammed the door behind him, and was gone.
"Perhaps I should go speak with him," said Arthur worriedly, as Una righted the lamp. He started towards the door after his former advisor, but Leo spoke up first.
"No, Arthur," he said. "I think that it would be best to give him some time alone."
"But he may need someone to talk to," said Arthur.
"I doubt it," said Leo. "Half of Merlin's problems at the moment seem to come from his being a teenager again. It's a difficult time for everyone, human and gargoyle alike, and I imagine that it even afflicts halflings. It's one of those things that you just have to deal with on your own. Surely you remember what it was like for you, when you were his age."
Arthur nodded. "Of course, for myself, it may have been worse," he admitted. "When I was just a little older than he, I pulled Excalibur out of the Stone and suddenly found myself High King of Britain. I can remember only too well how trying that experience was for me."
He sighed. "All the same, I wish that there was something that I could do for him," he continued. "Merlin was there for me when I was still getting over the shock of finding myself the chief ruler over the Britons - not to mention being the son of Uther Pendragon rather than of Sir Ector. I should be there for him, in return. If I could just find something to say to him." He shook his head. "It is a pity that Dulcinea and Imogen are not here. They always were able to break Emrys from these foul moods of his, with a little gentle teasing."
"True enough," said Una, nodding. "But remember, Dulcinea's been too busy attending to her horse to visit Soho often. Right now, making sure that Rocinante survives this coming winter is more important - and if this really is the Fimbulwinter upon us, it'll be all the more difficult for her, as well. And Imogen did wish to spend more time back at the estate now that there's all the hatchlings to be tended to."
Leo nodded. "I'm sure she's keeping plenty busy, too. This is the largest rookery yet since the war."
The door opened with a jingle of bells and Rory and Leba entered, both heavily bundled up against the wind, which was chill even for autumn. Arthur turned to greet them both. "How did it fare with you?" he asked.
"Well, it's certainly the coldest weather I've known in a long while," said Rory, closing the door gratefully behind himself and Leba. "And if this is what it's like in October, I don't even want to know what it'll be like come Christmas. It seems that this Fimbulwinter really is more than just Emrys's imagination." He walked over to the fireplace, to warm himself at it.
"Did you see any signs of the Unseelie?" asked Arthur. "Or their allies?"
Leba shook her head. "Nothing new," she said. "Other than the usual, that is. More graffiti in the seedier parts of town. The usual sentiments on the Minions' part, from what Rory and I saw of it. 'The Dark Lord is coming', 'The Pixies will get you', 'Are you ready for the End?' They're doing a lot more of it these days." She frowned worriedly. "Maybe it's their way of preparing for the holidays."
Arthur nodded grimly. "With All Hallows' Eve only four nights away, I should have expected this much," he said. "We all know what Halloween means to them. I only wish that I knew what they planned to do then."
Leo gave a soft growl. "I'd almost welcome another visit from those hooligans," he said. "Even that would be better than all this suspense."
"You're not the only one," said Rory, tightly gripping the Gae Bolga in its stick form as he spoke. "What are they going to do? A wild night here in London like the one that they had in New York last year? Are they going to try storming Buckingham Palace? Or are they just going to stay home and have a Halloween party? I'm tellin' you, I don't like this at all."
"We will just have to remain alert," said Arthur. "Our questions may be answered sooner than we expect."
* * * * *
"Vanished?" Dominique Destine exclaimed as she quickly knotted the belt on her bathrobe and stepped in front of the videophone. The balding, round-faced man on the screen shifted uncomfortably as his boss came into view, her wild, disheveled hair somehow making her look even more intimidating than usual. "How did over half a million dollars just 'vanish,' Mr. Collins?"
"A half penny at a time, as far as I can tell so far, Ms. Destine," he answered, his British accent just barely covering the waver in his voice. He returned his focus to his papers, avoiding the human woman's piercing gaze. "Someone has been siphoning funds from the French office's payroll for well near a year now. The individual amounts are small enough to be mistaken for round-off error, but added up over time..."
Dominique's angry scowl deepened. Whoever had embezzled away the money had obviously been both quite devious and extremely patient. It reminded her of Nightstone's early days, when it had been necessary to be "creative" in order to raise the funds needed to get the company off the ground. Now that she was the victim, however, it didn't feel as good.
"Would you like me to contact our legal staff and proceed further with the audit of our overseas divisions, Ms. Destine?" Collins queried, interrupting her thoughts.
"No," she said after a pause. "Send copies of the information to me via overnight courier. I believe this calls for me to make a personal visit to the Paris office."
Collins seemed to relax a little, perhaps thinking that he was glad he did not work in the Paris office. "Of course, Ms. Destine."
* * *
Angela crossed her arms and looked up, smiling, at the World War II era statue. "Well, Mother," she asked, "what do you think?"
Demona stared ahead blankly, her mind still on business and conversations that had occurred hours ago. She barely registered that one of the two gargoyles immortalized in bronze to either side of the half-scale Spitfire bore an uncanny likeness to Goliath.
Angela, however, read her mother's expression as one of shock, and she chuckled slightly. "I told you that you wouldn't believe it when you saw it," she chided gently.
"Hmm?" Demona finally looked over at her. "Oh, I'm sorry, Angela... it's not this." She gestured off-handedly at the statue as she stepped away, caping her wings about her. "I just... I wish I could take you with me to Paris."
Angela sighed softly and moved up beside the older female, taking her hand. "Mother, we talked about this already. It's not even two whole nights. I'll be fine."
Demona shook her head, frustrated. "Why did my corporate jet have to wait until now to require engine maintenance? If I had known I wouldn't be able to secure space on the train for you, I would never have made plans to go. As it was, I was lucky to find a seat for myself on such short notice. But they're expecting me to show up, now. I have to go. And after what happened in Scotland, Angela..."
"I'm a big girl, Mother. I can take care of myself." Angela reassured, a little irritated. She squeezed Demona's hand to punctuate her words. "Now haven't we been over this enough times tonight?" she asked. "It's not like I'm going to be wandering around London alone, you know. I do have some friends here."
Demona balked, her eyes widening. "Not more humans," she said immediately. Angela's scowl instantly made her regret her words.
"Come on, Mother," Angela invited calmly. "Let's go meet them before you judge them." Angela scaled a low wall and took to the air. Demona followed her, and they continued in silence over the fog-shrouded city.
* * * * *
The door was opened cautiously, just a crack at first, then a second later it was thrown open wide.
"Angela!" Una exclaimed, surprised, her eyes going wide as a smile spread across her equine face.
"Hello, Una," Angela returned as the London gargoyle took her into a hug right there in the doorway. "I was just in the neighborhood, and, well..." Angela began, smiling, as they backed apart again and Una looked her over.
"My, you've grown," Una observed, shaking her head. "But where are my manners... please, come in out of the cold..."
She stepped aside, then paused as she noticed at last the second figure standing quietly in the shadows just beyond the door.
"Una, this is my mother," Angela introduced as Demona crossed over the threshold. "Mother, this is Una."
Both elder females just looked at each other for a moment before Una extended a four-fingered hand. "Pleased to meet you," she said, prompting for a name.
"Demona," the azure gargoyle replied. She shook hands tentatively, a bit shocked and not quite sure what else to say. "Pleased to meet you, as well," she finally added.
Una closed the door and locked it as Angela gave her mother an encouraging glance, but Demona's attention was already on the walls of bookshelves that filled the shop.
"Leo, come up here!" Una hollered toward the back of the room, causing both Angela and Demona to jump. She turned around, smiling at the pair. "We have houseguests!"
"Blimey, what's all the fuss about? Can't a chap rest his wings after patrol and watch the telly in peace?" a voice said as footsteps sounded on the stairs. Griff came into view a moment later, with a female gargoyle with skin a shade of forest green right beside him. He froze as he sighted Angela.
"What is it, Una?" another, more gruff, voice asked. Leo entered the shop from the back, and stopped in his tracks as well.
"Angela!" Leo and Griff exclaimed together. Both gargoyles rushed to greet her, hugging her in turn and peppering her with questions, until at last Una rescued her.
"Come now, give the lass a moment," she chided gently.
Angela laughed happily. "It's good to see all of you again, too. I'm here with my mother," she explained, gesturing to the blue-skinned gargoyle they had yet to notice standing quietly near the wall. "Mother, this is Leo and this is Griff," she introduced.
Demona nodded, acknowledging them, but her eyes were still fixed on the green-colored female who lingered timidly at the bottom of the stairs. She was different from the others, more similar in appearance to her and Angela, and the older female couldn't shake the strange feeling of recognition that overcame her. At seeing her mother's perplexed reaction, Angela's eyes soon went to the other female, too.
"You haven't met Brianna yet," Griff stated cheerily as he held his hand out to her. She took it and stepped over to the lavender female.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Brianna," Angela said sincerely, holding out her hand.
Brianna took her arm in a warrior's greeting. "I am honored, Angela," she replied. "Griff has told me of ye and yuir clan... but, until now, I never thought I would ever meet another Scottish gargoyle outside my own clan."
Angela's eyes widened, and across the room, Demona's raised brow indicated her interest, as well. "You're from Scotland?" Angela asked.
"Aye," Brianna replied. "But I go where Griff goes now." She gazed at him affectionately, and his beak seemed to darken a shade.
"We're mates," he explained unnecessarily.
Angela smiled. "I guess we have a lot to catch up on, but congratulations," she said, beaming. "I'm engaged to be mated myself," she offered. "Griff, you met Broadway, right?"
Griff thought for a moment, then his eyes showed recognition. "Ah, yes! So you and he hit it off, eh?"
Angela blushed slightly. "Yes. We haven't made it officially official yet, with a ceremony in front of the clan or anything, but..."
"Ye know he's the one," Brianna finished for her. Angela smiled bashfully, and Brianna nodded. "I know the feeling," she said.
Griff pretended to cough. "So tell me, Angela," he asked, "what brings you to this side of the pond anyway?"
Demona stayed near the wall as Angela exchanged news and pleasantries with the four new gargoyles, feeling more and more out of place as the minutes ticked by. She didn't know any of them, but they were gargoyles and Angela had said they were friends.
"You look like you have a lot on your mind," Una observed, stirring Demona from her thoughts. She looked up at the unicorn-like gargoyle, not even having noticed her approach. "Angela tells us you have to go to Paris for a night. She'll be safe here, you know."
Demona turned her head as another soft chorus of laughter from Angela and the others filled the room. "Yes," she replied quietly. "I know."
"Of course, you'll still worry. That's what mothers do," Una stated matter-of-factly. Demona looked at her quizzically. "I'm a mother myself," she continued. "Oh, mine are a bit younger than yours, but no matter how old they are, you still worry."
Demona nodded mutely. After a moment, she moved away, approaching Angela.
"I should be going," she said softly after gaining the girl's attention. "I've got a long day ahead of me... and you will be safe here with your friends."
Angela smiled and hugged her. "I'll see you when you get back, Mother."
"I'll return here right after sunset in two nights time." She brushed her knuckles across Angela's brow. "Until then, my daughter."
Angela returned the gesture. "Goodbye, Mother."
Una was already waiting near the door as they approached. "Have a safe journey, Demona," she said as she let her out. She stood in the doorway with Angela, watching as Demona disappeared into the shadows and scaled a wall. A few seconds later, her silhouette passed across the sky.
"You're mother is very... quiet," Una commented as she closed and re-bolted the door.
"She spent a long part of her life alone. She still gets a little uncomfortable around strangers," Angela admitted.
"She certainly seemed a bit more pleasant, though, than she did the first time I met her," a new, male voice offered from the back of the shop.
Angela's eyes brightened as the bearded man stepped past Leo, Griff, and Brianna. "Arthur?" she questioned, not quite sure.
"Arthur Pendragon, the one and the same, milady," he greeted, taking Angela's hand and kissing it on the knuckles.
Angela returned the greeting with a graceful curtsey, just like Princess Katharine had taught her and her rookery sisters as hatchlings. "Your highness," she said. "I almost didn't recognize you," she added as she lifted her eyes again.
"Arthur only wears the armor on special occasions now," Griff commented, earning a soft thwap on the arm from Brianna.
"I must say I'm less surprised to see you here in London, though," Arthur went on, ignoring the little exchange, "than I am at who your traveling companion is."
Angela shook her head. "She's my mother... and she's not the same gargoyle you saw on Avalon. A lot has changed since then."
Arthur's eyebrows went up at that. "Your mother? Indeed... it seems we have a lot catch up on."
"Definitely," agreed Una. "Why don't we do it over tea?" she suggested.
"Smashing idea, Una," Leo put in. "Let's all move to the kitchen, shall we?"
Angela nodded her agreement and allowed Griff and Brianna to lead the way.
"It's too bad you didn't get here a half hour earlier," Griff commented to as he held the door open for his mate and Angela. "You could've said hello to Rory and Leba before they headed off to help Dulcinea at the estate."
Angela's eyes widened. "Rory and… who?" she asked.
Arthur chuckled. "It's a long but very interesting story, my dear." He paused a moment. "Well, it's several stories, actually."
Angela looked at him, nodding. "We do have a lot to catch up on," she agreed as the door swung shut behind them. And so with the night already growing short, the five gargoyles and the Once and Future King went off to exchange stories of the past year's adventures.
* * * * *
October 28, 1998
Emrys opened the door of the apartment building, and stepped out onto the street, his knapsack on his back, and a bitter scowl on his face. He walked down the pavement, heading for Mons Carbi Comprehensive.
"Blasted weather," he muttered, looking up at the winter-pale sky. He was wearing a heavy overcoat over his school uniform, warm mittens, and an enormous scarf wrapped several times around his neck, and yet he still didn't feel warm. "How long before we get a new Ice Age, I wonder? At this rate, it'll be here by the time I take my O-levels." He glowered off into the distance, towards where he assumed Germany and the Brocken lay.
"I should be doing something about it," he said to himself. "I really ought to. And instead, I can't even get a proper spell cast." He kicked a lamppost, very hard, and had to limp for quite a while after that as he continued on his way towards school.
"And as if that's not enough, there's still that business of being a teenager. Having to go through adolescence once was bad enough, but at least I had Blaise to advise me through it. And now, I have to do it all over again, and he's been gone for over a thousand years. Oh, Arthur's doing his best, but it's just not the same. And the worst of it is, I'm thinking more and more like a fourteen-year-old. Corbie's living proof of that."
He thrust his hands directly into his pockets, to see if they would be warmer there. "I'm just becoming a burden to everybody here," he groaned. "I wish that I'd stayed asleep in my Crystal Cave until the whole thing was over. I wish that I'd kept a much lower profile at Farthingham. I wish - ".
He suddenly collided with something, and fell forward onto the ground, bruising himself. "I wish," he added, picking himself up, "that I'd seen that pillar-box before I bumped into it."
* * *
It was during lunch hour that he finally made his decision. He slipped out of the schoolyard and headed towards the nearest entrance to the London Underground. He carefully looked over the map of connections between the various lines, muttering to himself.
"If I'm going to do this at all, it's got to be somewhere out of the way. I mean, really out of the way. Hyde Park's definitely out of the question. It's much too public, and if it starts to rain frogs or the trees all turn blue, people just might begin to notice. I'd rather try an experiment that doesn't make the nine-o-clock news, thank you.
"Regent's Park is definitely out, as well. So's St. James' Park. What I really need for this is a good piece of wild woodland. You can never find one when you need one, either. Blast."
After a while longer, he finally managed to make his decision. "Epping Forest," he said to himself. "A bit of a journey there, but at least there won't be too many people about. And at least it shan't be too difficult to get there from here. Not now that I've finally got these underground trains and their schedules worked out."
A few minutes later, he was heading off towards the nearest platform on the Central Line. He never noticed the three pairs of eyes watching him from the shadows.
"Looks like him, Rodney," said Char, watching the boy closely. "Yeah, that's him. That Hawkins kid again."
Rodney took the toothpick he was chewing on from his mouth and flicked it away, nodding. "Come on," he said. He was already moving. Char fell in beside him, and the third man moved into formation behind them.
Eddie ground his fist against the palm of his hand. "He's not getting away from us this time," he whispered.
* * *
Some minutes later, Emrys alighted from the underground train that he had boarded, and stepped out onto the Epping platform, heading for the surface. Rodney, Char, Eddie got off from the same train, a few cars down, and began surreptitiously heading towards him.
They might have gone unnoticed, too, except for the fact that Eddie stepped on a discarded sweets wrapper that made a crinkling noise. The sound was enough to get Emrys's attention at once. The boy turned his head around and spotted the three Minions. He also spotted the not-quite-hidden seven-pointed-star artwork on their jackets, and began at once to quicken his pace.
"I told you to watch where you were going," said Char to Eddie in a low voice of irritation. However, there was nothing for it now but for them to follow the boy all the swifter. They elbowed their way through the crowd, having to fight their way through the mass of people frequenting the station, while Emrys sprinted on ahead. For some mysterious reason, nobody ever seemed to get too close to him, allowing him to outdistance them very easily. Grumbling, the three Minions forced their way to the crowd, pushing the other people aside as they jogged up the stairs, only to discover by the time that they had made it to the surface that he was a good ways ahead of them.
Eddie slowed his pace, but Rodney glared at him. "We're not giving up now," he growled.
Char grabbed Eddie's sleeve and forced him ahead. "If we're quick enough, we can overtake him!"
They walked after him quickly, then broke into a run as he rounded a corner and disappeared. They came around the side of the building in time to see him boarding a bus that had just halted at the nearest bus stop. Running quickly, they managed to clamber on board the bus just seconds before the doors closed and it drove off.
They stood at the front of the aisle, Rodney surveying the riders. He spotted their target near the back and smiled, then pushed his companions into the nearest empty seats.
"He ain't goin' nowhere without gettin' past us," Rodney assured them.
Char joined Rodney in grinning as she caught on. "Right," she whispered. "And when he gets off, we follow him again, until we're some place deserted-like, where nobody'll notice if he starts kicking up a fuss about being kidnapped. Then we grab him!"
"Sounds good to me," said Eddie, his head turned as he scanned the rear of the bus. "Just one question, though, mates. Where is he?"
* * *
Back in the part of town near the exit from Epping Underground Station, Emrys emerged from behind the lamppost that he had ducked behind, and nodded. "That little illusion on board the bus ought to have worn off by now," he said. "Oh, well. Doesn't really matter. By the time that they figure it out, the trail will be cold." He smiled to himself. "Maybe I still have it."
He walked quietly on his way, heading in the direction of the woods.
* * * * *
Dominique tried to put the long day behind her as the limousine traveled slowly toward her hotel. While it had been enjoyable being treated like a queen by her terrified employees as she interrogated them one by one, she knew she had barely scratched the surface of her current problem. In fact, the only bit closer she was to finding out who had embezzled money from the company was in determining that the responsible party wasn't among the group of employees she had talked to so far. That is, assuming none of them was capable of altering their auras to conceal the signs of telling an untruth.
She sighed, frustrated, and stared moodily out the car window. "I'll give it one more day," she mused. "There's still a few left to question." Her eyes took on a hard glint, but then widened almost immediately. She sat up in her seat quickly, her gaze locked on something in the window of one of the many shops lining the busy avenue.
"Arrêtez içi! Maintenant!" she shouted.
"Oui, Madame Destine," the driver answered, slamming obligatorily on the brakes. Dominique paid no mind to the honks of protest from the cars behind her as she flung open the door and scrambled from the back seat before the limousine had even completely stopped moving. She was at the shop window before her driver could even look over, and she stood transfixed, staring through the glass at a female mannequin dressed in Renaissance period clothing.
The lavish gown was a rich burgundy, adorned with trimmings of white lace and gold embroidery. The skirt hung in loose folds nearly to the floor, and was secured at the waist with an ornate jeweled belt that matched the necklace worn just below the snug, white lace ruff about the neck. The wide sleeves hung just past the elbows, allowing the several gold bracelets worn on the lower arm to show. And a headdress made of material matching the gown, also trimmed in gold, completed the ensemble.
Dominique drew in a breath, becoming lost in herself as an old memory overtook her.
* * *
"Michel, you can't be serious." Demona stared incredulously at the outfit displayed on the crude wooden mannequin, then turned to her friend, gesturing at the lavishly styled dress. "You expect me to wear that?" she asked.
Michel de Nostradame met her gaze levelly, trying not to smirk. "It will only be for a few hours, petite," he replied. "Combined with the spell I've been working on," he added quickly, "you should have no problem appearing as human as the next noblewoman."
She looked at the dress again, wondering for a moment where one even began when attempting to put it on, then looked back at him. "Why do you even want to go to this party anyway?" she asked. "You've been saying yourself that it's just going to be a bunch of stuffy nobles trying to impress each other."
Michel nodded. "Oui, petite," he conceded, picking up two small glasses of wine her had just poured from a flask on the sideboard, "it will. But one does not refuse a personal invitation from one's Queen and patron."
Demona nodded in understanding as he stepped toward her. "Very well. So why do you want me to come to this party?" she asked.
"Two reasons," he stated as he handed one of the glasses to his gargoyle friend. "The first, to keep me from being bored out of my mind." He smiled at his own small joke, and Demona couldn't help but do the same as she accepted the glass. "The second," he continued after taking a sip, "is that I thought you might enjoy a chance to get out and socialize, rather than remaining here, by yourself, all night."
Demona turned away, gazing out the window at the night sky as she took a sip from her own glass. "What difference would one more night alone make?" she said softly.
"Demona…" Michel began gently, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"And why should I want to spend an evening 'socializing' with a bunch of humans?" she added angrily, whirling on him. Her eyes briefly flashed red, but as she saw the startled look on her friend's face, the color rushed to her cheeks instead. "I… I'm sorry," she managed, flustered. She took a long, shaky sip, draining the glass.
"It's all right, petite," he offered.
She handed her glass back to him, looking exhausted. "I will go to this court ball, with you," she declared. She turned, looking again at the dress again resignedly. "I suppose I can stand being 'human' for just a little while."
* * *
The next night…
"Michel!" The regally attired human woman seemed to float across the room toward them, the mingling crowd of Parisian well-to-do's parting like the Red Sea to allow her through. Demona's tail twitched nervously beneath the layered folds of her skirt, and she shifted uneasily from one foot to the other, trying to reposition her wing-hands just slightly further down on her shoulders but finding the tightly laced bodice of the dress unwilling to cooperate. To all outward appearances, however, she was not a gargoyle with blue skin crammed uncomfortably into human clothes, but an attractive, beautifully attired woman with the pale skin characteristic of the nobility.
"Your highness," Demona's companion greeted, releasing her from his arm and doffing his feathered hat as he bent at the waist in a formal bow. Recalling Michel's admonition to "just follow my lead," Demona took the edges of her skirt in her hands and curtseyed as deeply as she dared with her wings straining against the fabric, trying her best to mimic the human gesture as she remembered it from days long past. The small nod of approval that came from the other woman let her know she had succeeded at least so far in emulating a French noblewoman, and she straightened as Michel did, allowing him to take her arm once more.
"Michel, what a pleasure to see you here," the woman stated, smiling in a pleased manner. "And who is your lovely companion?"
Michel gave Demona a quick glance that told her again to just play along. "Your highness, may I present to you the Lady Dominique Destine," he pronounced with a flourish. Demona's eyes grew wide and questioning for a moment at the new name, but she obediently curtseyed again.
"Your highness," she said softly.
"Please, Madame Destine," the Queen said as Demona rose and met her eyes one again, "you are a friend of Michel's… you may call me Catherine."
Demona nodded mutely, while Michel smiled.
"Now come," the Queen of France announced loudly, turning to the rest of the room. "This is supposed to be a party!"
Taking that as their cue, the band of Court musicians began to play. As Catherine moved away, Michel took his friend by the arm and led her to the center of the room. "Shall we dance, milady?" he asked, grinning beneath his neatly combed beard.
For the first time that night, Demona couldn't help but smile, too.
* * *
Dominique smiled at the memory of how she had looked in that elaborate burgundy-colored gown, her features disguised as human by the simple spell that Michel had developed and that she, in later years, would perfect to make such elaborate costuming unnecessary. Her fingers rested lightly on the glass of the store window, and as the sun slipped behind the tops of the buildings, the glare vanished and she saw her own reflection. Dominique gasped. How could it be, after living over two years with this form, that she had not noticed it until just now? Her face, her features… they were now exactly as they had been in the illusion Michel had cast upon her that night!
"Madame? Madame?" The petite storekeeper finally dared reach up and touch the seemingly entranced red-haired woman on the arm. Dominique jumped and turned, staring at the middle-aged woman who wore a stylish black dress that screamed haute couture. "Madame? Tout va bien?" she asked seriously.
Dominique looked over, noticing a younger but identically dressed woman standing in the shop's open doorway, looking on. "Oui, oui… Je serai bien, merçi," she replied, dismissing the woman's concern. Her eyes darted again to the mannequin, and thoughts of the Royal Ball she had attended with Michel all those years ago turned to thoughts of the Grand Masquerade she had promised to attend with Andrea in just a few short nights. She smiled as she thought of her new friend, an inspired glint coming to her eyes as she turned back to the shopkeeper.
"Pourriez vous me renseigner sur cette robe, là?" she began, gesturing as she entered the shop with the two women following attentively.
* * *
Just after sunset, a short while later…
Demona chewed on the end of her pen for a moment before finally settling on the words that she wanted to set to paper.
Just a little thing that caught my eye. I thought it would look perfect on you.
Smiling, she lay her pen down and folded the crisp piece of stationery once slipped it into a matching envelope. She then rose from the chair, moving to the bed where she placed the little note atop the carefully bundled burgundy dress and closed the lid of the heavy shipping carton.
"That courier should be here any moment," she mused aloud as she fussed with the packing tape, making sure all was secure. She smiled wryly, unconcerned with the small fortune she had invested in the contents of now innocuous looking overnight package. "She's going to have the best costume there," she continued, picking the box up in her talons and carrying it toward the door of her room. She peered through the peephole, and seeing no one in the hall, opened the door and quickly set the package in the hall just outside it. "Hmph. I wonder if Xanatos and Fox will dare use the same 'costumes' they got on their 'honeymoon'," she muttered snidely as she focussed one eye out the peephole again.
Demona watched, silent, as the hotel porter, dressed in his crisp red uniform and cap, rounded the corner and strode down the hall. He paused outside her door, stooped down to pick up the package, slipped a receipt under the door, and went on his way.
The blue-skinned gargoyle bent down and picked up her receipt. Satisfied, Demona headed back to the desk and picked up the telephone.
* * * * *
It was just past dusk when Char, Eddie, and Rodney finally reconvened on the Epping Station platform. The angry, empty-handed looks they traded said it all.
"I can't believe we lost him again!" said Eddie in disgust. "So which one of us tells Lucius about this?"
"Nobody," said Char. "He didn't even send us after the little brat, remember? We just spotted him and decided to nab him. If we don't tell him, Lucius won't know a thing."
"But he still got away!" cried Rodney, clenching his fists. "Right, that does it! If we can't catch that runt and have our fun with 'im, we'll just have to get it some other way."
"What are you suggesting?" Char asked warily.
"Once we get back to London, we gather the rest of the team," Rodney answered, his eyes glinting dangerously, "and then we'll give London another little taste of what the Master's got in store for it."
* * * * *
Angela sunk back into the corner, the phone tucked against her ear. "No, we stayed here last night. We were up talking until dawn - we didn't even make it out to the roof in time for sunrise." She paused, listening and nodding. "Yes, I called them just before you called." Another pause. "Yes, I know it's still daylight there. I talked to Elisa." She flicked her eyes up, checking that no one was watching her or listening in. No one was. Leo had gone to the back to fetch something and Una sat at a small table near the far side of the room, focussed on her tarot cards. Angela covered her free ear with her hand and turned toward the wall as the bell over the door announced someone entering the shop.
"...every video arcade and movie house in the area, and I haven't spoken to anyone who's seen a trace of the lad today," Colin Marter said as he Arthur entered. Arthur pulled the door shut behind them against the chill wind, slamming it just a bit harder than was necessary.
"He should know better by now," Arthur grumbled, angrily.
"Yes, he should," Marter agreed.
"This conversation sounds like déjà-vu all over again," Griff commented, stepping into the room from the stairs.
"The Master Emrys be missin' again?" Brianna inquired, coming up beside her mate.
"It would appear so," Arthur stated. "And he's failed to attend classes again, as well. I've just had the most unpleasant hour-long chat with the disagreeable Headmaster Wynn. He's threatening expulsion if Emrys persists in this behavior.
"When we skipped out on lessons as hatchlings, our rookery mum'd turn us over 'er knee, she would," commented a young-sounding male voice. Loud footsteps on the stairs announced Faulconbridge and Cervus as they entered behind Griff.
"Right-oh, at that," Cervus commented, agreeing with his rookery brother.
Arthur scowled. "You can hardly expect me to take a fifteen-hundred-year-old wizard and 'turn him over my knee'," he declared.
Colin Marter doffed his hat and ran a hand through his thinning hair, trying to hide a smile.
"Now what do you find so amusing?" Arthur demanded, letting him know that he had failed.
Marter grinned a bit. "It's just that, well, as my mum always used to say," he began, then affected a high, parental-sounding voice, "'If you wish to act like a child, you best be prepared to be treated like one.'"
Faulconbridge, Cervus, and Griff couldn't help but chuckle. The noise they made finally roused Una from her semi-entranced state.
"Shouldn't you be worrying about how to punish him after you've found him?" she demanded calmly as she lay another card on the table with a thin slap.
Brianna nodded as the males grew silent. "You've searched th' ground already. Now we'll see ta th' search by air," she stated, speaking for the four of them.
"That sounds like a good idea," Arthur replied curtly. "Mr. Marter, you and I will begin a new search back at my flat." He nodded to the gargoyles and moved off with Colin to speak with him further.
"Patrol?" questioned Cervus petulantly, as soon as Arthur was out of earshot.
"I though we were going to get to catch a movie tonight," Faulconbridge put in, directing his dejected gaze at Griff.
"If you want to rest on your backsides, you should stay at the estate," Una pronounced again, still not looking up from her cards. The two males recognized her tone and quieted instantly. Looking at each other, they gave silent, defeated sighs.
"No, mother, I think that sounds wonderful," Angela said into the phone, nearly laughing. "I'm sure she'll love it."
Faulconbridge and Cervus looked up, noticing for the first time the lavender female hiding behind the counter with the phone to her ear and her back to the room.
"That's Angela, from the Manhattan Clan," Griff explained before they could ask.
"We should invite her to patrol with us," Brianna stated.
Angela smiled. "I love you, too, Mother. I'll see you tomorrow night. Goodbye." She hung the phone back up carefully and turned around, and jumped back slightly at seeing four gargoyles clustered around the counter, two of whom were strangers to her.
"Angela, this is Faulconbridge and Cervus," Griff introduced quickly, "two other members of our clan."
The two young males gave their best smiles and extended their hands.
"Pleased to meet..."
"...you, milady Angela," they spoke together, their voices blurring. Immediately each turned and glared at the other.
Angela rolled her eyes. "Please don't bother fighting over me, gentlemen," she stated coolly. "I am quite happily engaged to be mated to a male from my own clan whom I love very much."
Brianna put a hand up to hide a smirk, while Griff simply looked shocked. Across the room, Una looked up from her cards, raising a brow ridge. Falconbridge and Cervus, after a moment, just looked confused.
"We're going on a patrol, ta look for Arthur's ward, Emrys," Brianna began, breaking the silence.
Angela nodded. "You mean Merlin," she asked, remembering the stories from the previous night.
"Yes," Griff replied. "The lad has a nasty habit of running off as of late. But we were wondering if you would care to join us. You could see a bit of the city if nothing else."
"You don't need to talk me into it," Angela chastised mildly. "Of course I'll help you patrol." She stepped out from behind the counter, looking at the four others. "So where do we start?"
"I think you and I should take the north end," Falconbridge spoke up, looking at his rookery brother meaningfully.
"Yes," replied Cervus, nodding vigorously. "Smashing idea."
Brianna threw a small frown in their direction at the mock enthusiasm. "Angela, you can accompany the two of us," she said, inclining her head toward Griff. "I've been wantin' the chance tae talk with ye a bit more."
Angela nodded, smiling. "I've been wanting to talk to you some more, too, Brianna."
"The night isn't getting any younger, you know," Una intoned from across the room, eyes still fixed to her cards.
"Indeed it isn't. Good evening," Arthur spoke. The bell above the door jingled once more as he and Colin departed, while the five gargoyles headed up the stairs toward the rooftop to begin their search.
* * * * *
"I'm still not sure that I like this, Arthur," said Colin Marter, as they searched Emrys's room. "I mean, we are invading the boy's privacy."
"I know," said Arthur. "But we have to find something to give us a clue as to where he is. It'll help the search party considerably."
"We don't even know that he ran away," Marter continued. "What if his father finally got him? Or Morgana, for that matter? She's got a grudge against him, too, after all."
"I am hoping that is not what happened," said Arthur. "But we will assume first that he chose to hide himself. It makes better sense, for one thing. He has been in a very foul mood lately."
Marter looked through another drawer. "Nothing here except for socks," he said. "And you?"
Arthur pushed aside the bed. "Here's something," he said.
"Not a collection of magazines that he doesn't want you to know about, I hope?" asked Marter, turning around. "Well, he is a teenager at the moment, and from what I've heard, Merlin always did have an eye for the ladies."
"It's nothing of the sort," said Arthur. He held up a red-bound book. "I believe that this is a blank diary book, Captain Marter?"
Colin looked at it. "You may be right, Arthur," he said. "Although I didn't know that Merlin kept a diary. Well, besides those Scrolls, I mean."
"I doubt that it would have been difficult to keep him from continuing the habit," said Arthur. He opened the book at once.
"Arthur!" protested Colin. "That's even worse than searching his room! Diaries are very private - "
"In this case, my friend, it's a necessity," said Arthur. "But his secrets are safe for now. Look."
Colin Marter looked at the pages of the notebook. They were filled with odd little slanting lines, roughly vertical. "What on earth is this?" he asked.
"Ogham letters," said Arthur. "The secret alphabet of the Druids. I might have known that Merlin would use them. It makes his private comments all the more inaccessible."
"You know what they are?" Colin asked.
"I have a slight knowledge of Ogham," said Arthur. "I learned it when I was around ten. I wanted to be a bard at the time, but Merlin and Sir Ector talked me out of it before I could commit myself to such a life. And before I could learn very much about this alphabet. Just enough to recognize it at sight."
"You wanted to be a bard?" asked Colin.
"It made sense at the time," said Arthur. "Remember, back then I believed myself to be the younger son of a minor baron, rather than the future High King of Britain. Kay would have inherited the castle and the lands pertaining to it, and I would have received nothing. I would have to make my own way in the world, and a bard didn't seem a bad choice then. Of course, I know now that it was not meant for me."
"I wonder what Leba would say if she knew," said Colin.
"So do I," said Arthur. "Well, we will need to decipher the text. I suppose that there's a book on Ogham back at the Mystic shop? We will probably need it."
"I think that we may, but I'm not certain," said Colin. "We'd better go back and check."
Arthur moved the bed back into its place, and they left the room.
* * * * *
"Is the fog always this bad?" Angela asked as she, Griff, and Brianna glided in loose formation over one of the oldest parts of the city. The ground was just barely visible through the thick mist that had rolled in off the Thames.
"'Tis not the fog that bothers me," Brianna spoke, wrinkling her nose. "'Tis the pollution."
Angela took a deep, experimental breath, then made a face. "It's no worse than Manhattan," she concluded. "Though that did take some getting used to. On Avalon, where I grew up, there was no air pollution."
Brianna smiled and shook her head. "I still cannae hardly imagine that there's a whole clan living on a magical island... or that ye were raised by humans, no less. Kylie would ne'er believe it."
"Kylie?" Angela asked.
"The Eldest of my clan, and also my mother. She dinnae like humans much... until Arthur and Griff came along, at least." She cast an affectionate glance at her mate, who was gliding a few yards ahead of the two females.
"My mother doesn't really like humans, either," Angela commented. "But she's learning... slowly."
Brianna smiled shyly. "I've only really met a few humans since leavin' my home... but most of them aren't so bad, really."
Angela returned her smile. "It sounds like you have the right attitude, Brianna."
Griff picked that moment to drop back alongside his mate. "Here, now. You ladies wouldn't be talking about me now, would you?" he inquired teasingly.
Brianna rolled her eyes and turned to Angela again. "Males always think whenever two females are talking together that they must be the topic of the conversation."
Angela giggled slightly, while Griff gripped his chest, playing like he had been shot. "And another male goes down in flames!" he cried dramatically, twisting on the wind like a fighter plane that had just been hit. Angela and Brianna both laughed as he continued the act. "Two hits for the Lady Angela, and now I'm taken down by me own mate!"
Brianna grabbed Griff by the arm. "Oh, stop it, ye big silly green fool," she chided laughingly. "I barely winged ye compared to how Faulconbridge and Cervus fared against Angela!"
Griff gave up the disabled plane routine and pulled Brianna into his arms. The two of them were still laughing, but Angela had stopped, confusion now covering her face.
"Wait... what did I do to Faulconbridge and Cervus?" she asked.
Griff looked up at her, blinking, then looked at Brianna. She returned a look that told him he was on his own now. "Well," he said, trying to be diplomatic, "you certainly did pounce on the poor chaps right quick back at the shop." He shrugged. "You really didn't need to worry. Both of them have their eyes on females back at the estate."
Angela blushed, suddenly feeling quite ashamed. "Oh, that..." she began, flustered. She sighed. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend anyone, it's just that, well... for a while, after I got back to Manhattan, I was the only female in the clan. It got... difficult at times to deal with..."
Griff nodded in understanding. "Ah, yes... the opposite sex chasing after you," he concluded for her.
Angela nodded. "Exactly."
Griff smiled wryly, looking down at the mottled green gargoyle cradled in his arms. "I can definitely sympathize," he said, grinning.
Brianna gave a mock scowl. "Och, why you!" She chucked him on the arm and twisted from his grip, but he grabbed her around the waist before she could "escape." She laughed involuntarily as his talons found a ticklish spot, and the couple spiraled off, play fighting like a pair of hatchlings.
Angela could only shake her head and smile. Banking her wings, she dove after them to keep up.
* * *
Darien Montrose exited from the small pub and made his way to his car, swaggering slightly. He fumbled with the door handle for a moment before it registered in his mind that it was locked, then dug in his jacket pocket for the keys. Finding them at last, he had begun searching for the keyhole when heard a noise that sounded vaguely like laughter, coming from above.
He looked up. A winged, lavender-skinned female figure with long dark hair and skimpy, ragged clothing passed not more than a hundred feet overhead, then was gone.
"Oh, no..." he moaned, his keys dropping from his fingers to the pavement. "Not her again!" He blinked rapidly, and when he looked again, the sky was empty.
He bent down unsteadily to retrieve his keys from the asphalt, knocking his head on the side rear view mirror as he hurriedly righted himself. One hand on his now aching head, he tried to unlock the door, but his free hand was now shaking too fast.
After several attempts, Darien Montrose gave up, sighing. "I think I'll just call a cab," he muttered as he made his way back to the pub. "After one more round."
* * * * *
"How's it coming?" asked Colin.
"Very slowly, I fear," said Arthur, looking up from the two books on the desk before him, one a book on Ogham letters, and the other Emrys's journal. "Ogham is a very complicated alphabet. Translating it into Roman letters is not easy."
"Well, that explains why he'd choose it," said Marter. "I can't help wondering how the Druids got along with it."
"They didn't use it very often," Arthur replied. "Only for marking tombs, or for scholarly diversions. At least, that's what Merlin told me." He jotted down another word on the sheet of paper lying between the two books, where he had been transcribing the information gradually. "At least he chose to write it in Latin rather than a truly obscure tongue. That makes things slightly easier."
There was silence for a while longer, as Arthur grimly pursued the work. Colin walked over to a dozing Cavall and began scratching him very gently behind the ears, so as not to wake the gargoyle beast. At last, the king stood up.
"I have it," he said. "At least, some of the entries. Listen to this."
"'1 January, New Year's Day. I decided that I might as well start keeping a journal again, the way that I did with those Scrolls. The way that things are going right now, it's seeming like a good idea. I need somewhere to collect my thoughts. There are some things that I just can't share these days. Not even with Arthur.'"
"'The Rising is finally upon us - has already begun. And here I am, stuck in a rejuvenated body with my powers gone utterly awry. The one time that I really need them, more than ever, and I can't use them. It's utterly frustrating. Una's coaching me, but I just don't think that it's going to be enough.'"
"'I don't know why there's a lock on my magic this time around. It never happened before. So why is it different this time? Maybe because I'm a kid again. But I don't recall having this problem when I was fourteen before. I'm beginning to wonder if there's more to it than that.'"
"Anything more recent?" asked Colin.
Arthur nodded. "That one was just to make certain that I could do it," he said. "Now, here's the one from last night."
"'27 October. Four nights until All Hallows Eve, when the Unseelies come out in full force again. And I still don't know what to do. My lessons with Una are just not going well. I can still handle some minor magics - illusions, invisibility, things like that - but the greater spells just will not work properly. Not that I ever did that much with them, but now I need them, more than ever. Maybe I should have done more with them in the past millennium, but I didn't. I don't know why. Perhaps I just never really wanted to, deep down inside. Maybe they reminded me of my heritage.'"
"'The medieval romancers said that I was the son of the Devil, begotten for the purpose of leading all humanity into his shadow and away from the light, and they weren't far from the truth. It's the knowledge that I've had to live with for fifteen hundred years. The only child of the Lord of the Unseelie Court, born for the purpose of serving as his champion. Magic always seemed to remind me of the fact. And some of my acts, in spite of myself, even lived up to that destiny. What I did for Uther at Tintagel was just such a thing. It brought about Arthur and Camelot, but it also involved the deception and betrayal of Igraine, and achieved the desires of a ruthless tyrant. The end can't justify the means: Blaise taught me that. It was the sort of thing that my father would have done. In fact, it's not too far from what he did with my mother. Sometimes I can't help but wonder if Morgana's got a point.'"
"'If I deny my halfling nature, my identity as a wizard, I may save my soul. But if I do that, I may also doom the world to eternal darkness under my father's rule. Do I have the right to do this? What can I do?'"
Arthur fell silent. It was a few moments before Colin spoke in reply.
"Merlin never really wanted to be a wizard?" he said.
"So it appears," said Arthur. "I might have known. Contrary to what you might have heard, he did not use that much magic at my court. A little here and there - enchanting the seats at the Round Table to bear their knights' names in golden letters, for example - but those occasions were rare. He always preferred to help me through advice instead. I could probably count the number of times on one hand that he actually worked a spell while at Camelot."
"I didn't think that he had that sort of problem," said Colin. "I mean, I knew whose son he was, but I didn't realize that he worried about it so often. It must have been a nightmare for him. And to have lived with it for the past fifteen hundred years."
"I can guess what it must have been like," said Arthur gravely. "You probably remember that my father was not much better, Captain Marter. It was one of the worst shocks that I ever received, discovering that Uther Pendragon was my father. But the things that Madoc Morfryn has done over the millennia would make Uther seem a paragon of virtue by comparison. And while I was asleep in Avalon, Merlin was roaming the outside world, awake for nearly every one of those years, almost constantly having to fight the destiny that his father had planned for him."
"I wonder if that could be part of the problem," said Colin. "I mean, now that Lord Madoc's gotten his full powers back, and is planning to take over the world at last. It must have reminded Merlin of that problem when he found out about it, and brought his fears to the surface."
"You may be right, my friend," said Arthur. "The Rising may have re-awakened Merlin's dread. Maybe that is as much the reason for the block on his powers as his rejuvenation. Magic - any sort of magic - reminds him of what his father wanted him to be. It must terrify him, in that case."
"So what do you suppose he's done?" asked Colin.
"I do not know," said Arthur. "The entry stops there. If he had only provided some clue as to how he planned to face this problem, something that could give us guidance, we would know what to do. But he did not, so we must rely on other means of learning his whereabouts."
"So it's up to the search parties, then," said Colin. "Let's hope that they find something."
* * * * *
Angela caped her wings, enjoying the first chance to rest them since the patrol had begun.
"I sure hope Arthur and Mr. Marter are havin' more luck with their search," Brianna commented as she stepped to the edge of the Parliament house roof and gazed down at the darkened streets.
Griff scratched his chin thoughtfully. "The lad may have left the city, for all we know. But we'd best wait to see if Falc and Cervus found anything before we continue." He looked around, searching the sky. "Wonder where those chaps are, anyway?" he commented.
Angela looked over her shoulder at the massive spire of Big Ben towering above them. "It's not quite midnight yet," she replied, turning back to Griff.
Her comment went unheard as her two companions' attention suddenly focussed on something happening in the street below.
"Criminey," Griff exclaimed, "it's more of those bloody Minions."
Brianna scowled, watching as the commotion below grew louder. Glass shattered and a burglar alarm began to wail. "Cannae just one night go by without those insane humans causin' a ruckus?" she asked, shaking her head.
"Who are the 'Minions'?" Angela asked as she stepped up beside the green female and peered down for herself. Her face contorted into a frown, as well, as she spied what looked like just another rowdy gang of about a half dozen pale-faced, leather-clad punks vandalizing property and harassing motorists.
"Those blokes are the Minions," Griff answered as he opened his wings and stepped up onto the low wall.
"They're humans who follow the Unseelie Court," Brianna added, sneering with disgust as she climbed up beside him.
Angela's eyes narrowed and glowed faintly. She opened her wings and hopped up onto the ledge in one smooth motion. "Someone should tell them they chose the wrong side," she growled softly.
Griff only nodded. Leaping from the Parliament rooftop, the trio of gargoyles gave a chorus of frightful screams as they dove into the fray.
* * * * *
Epping Forest, Essex
"I may be getting better at this," said Emrys, snapping his fingers. The fallen tree branch that had been floating in the air at his command fell back to the ground as he did so, although he barely noticed.
"But it's still a long way from what I used to be," he continued to himself, sitting down beneath a large oak tree. "It could be years until I'm back at proper form again. And I don't think that the Unseelie Court's going to wait that long." He sighed, and looked at the woods around him.
"It's getting colder, too," he continued, pulling his scarf tighter about himself and zipping his jacket up all the way to his throat. "Maybe I should try a fire." He pondered it for a moment. "No, maybe not. I don't have any matches with me, and it's probably not a good idea to try it the other way. I've made some progress, but not quite enough."
"It was a good few hours, though. Perhaps that's all that I needed. A little practice out in the countryside, at my own pacing, without Una constantly giving me instructions. I mean - she means well, but she's used to handling gargoyle magic-workers, like Caspian. Halflings without a drop of gargoyle blood in them are another matter entirely. It was easier with Blaise. He was of my mother's race, after all."
He yawned, in spite of himself. "It's much more tiring than it used to be," he muttered. "I feel like a nap. Just a few minutes or so. Then I can head back into town, and catch the Underground train back for home."
He leaned his head back against the tree trunk, closed his eyes, and drifted off to sleep much quicker than he had expected to do.
* * * * *
Angela gasped as she hit the pavement and the air was driven from her lungs. She blinked rapidly, momentarily speechless as the scrawny human woman stood over her. The Minion smiled wickedly as she held the young female's arm in a painful, twisted, vice-like grip, and planted a heavy boot on her chest.
"Well now, what a pretty new face," she said, her tone mocking. She yanked back, using the new leverage to increasing the pressure on Angela's arm, making the girl grimace in pain.
"Quit fooling around, Char! Finish the little..."
Char looked up, but her fellow Minion's advice was cut off as the second of the two female gargoyles knocked her roughly aside. Char barely had time to blink before Brianna tackled her, forcing her to break the armlock as they tumbled together to the ground.
Angela sat up, her head spinning. She flinched as something shattered nearby, showering her with small shards of glass. Regaining her feet, she tried to make sense of the mayhem surrounding her. Five or six Minions had somehow become more than a dozen in the few brief minutes that had elapsed since the fight had begun, but there were still only three gargoyles. Angela looked around for the others. Brianna had Char pinned, but a few yards away, Griff was being tag-teamed.
"Now come on chaps, this is hardly sporting," the beaked gargoyle said as he was backed up against a brick wall by a pair of the scowling white-faced Minions. "After all, there's one of me and only two of you."
Rodney and Eddie's scowls turned to frowns of confusion as the gargoyle smiled at them smugly. A second later, however, all they were seeing was stars as their craniums collided with a hollow thud.
"Good show, Angela," Griff congratulated as the two Minions slumped to the ground at her feet.
Angela cradled her aching arm, her expression grim. "Do these fights always go this badly?" she questioned over the frenzied whooping of the remaining Minions. Griff opened his beak to reply, then hastily grabbed Angela and threw her to the ground, covering her with his wings as a fireball impacted the wall behind them and chucks of brick flew everywhere.
"Blimey, not them, too," Griff complained, shaking the dust off as he hastily pulled Angela back to her feet.
Angela gritted her teeth against the renewed pain in her arm and shoulder, which she had landed on as she was forced to the ground. "Who?" she demanded.
"Them," Griff said, pointing. "The Vampyres."
Angela looked up and gasped as a small contingent of humanlike figures skated down invisible wires to join the battle. Though Griff had called them "Vampyres," she knew what they really were instantly. "Halflings!"
* * * * *
Emrys started to his feet. A tall figure in crimson armor, mounted on a black horse with glowing red eyes, loomed over him, glowering down upon him with a look of utter anger upon his face. The rider clenched his sword tightly in his right hand, the blade gleaming with an eerie light.
"What are you doing here?" the youth asked the horseman at once, a tone of bitter anger in his voice.
"I go where I please," said Madoc Morfryn coldly. "And now I have you at last. This time, your precious 'Once and Future King' will not arrive in time to save you. This time, you are mine."
"No!" shouted Emrys. He threw up one hand at once, and a shield of blue fire appeared before him. Madoc glanced lazily at it, then brought his sword down upon it, cleaving the barrier in half.
"You have grown weak, betrayer," he said. "And now you will pay the price for your treason." He raised his free hand, in a menacing gesture.
Emrys did not even think of waiting to see what his father would do. He turned and ran through the woods, wondering as he did so how Madoc had found him. "I thought that I'd been careful!" he told himself. "I'd thrown the Minions off my trail! How did he manage to track me, then?"
He emerged from the trees suddenly, to find himself standing on the shore of a lake. A skiff stood before him, empty except for a pole for rowing. Without wasting a moment, he jumped into the skiff, and began rowing away from the shore, just as the Unseelie Lord emerged from the woods. A ball of fire flew over his head, and landed with a hiss into the water before him. And then, the mists gathered, and closed around him.
Before him, four tall shapes emerged from the gloom, standing on a mighty jagged rock. Three of them stood on the lower portion of the rock, white-gowned women with hair colored silver, gold, and ebon. On the very summit of the rock stood the majestic figure of Oberon himself. All of them stared down at him disapprovingly.
"Let me through, I beg you!" Emrys cried. "My father's after me!"
The three women glowered at him, and the black-haired one spoke. "Your quarrel with your father is no concern of ours," she said.
"The sanctity of Avalon must not be profaned by the offspring of traitors," said the silver-haired woman.
"You have no place among us," said the golden-haired one. "Begone."
"But he'll kill me!" Emrys protested. "I'm no match for him now! I need sanctuary from him! I'll never be safe from him anywhere but on Avalon!"
Oberon raised his hand. "That will do," he said to the Weird Sisters. "We will deal with him. Return home, you three."
The Sisters disappeared in a flash of light at once. Oberon strode majestically down the rock until he stared down directly over the boy. Then, gazing coldly upon Emrys, he spoke.
"You dare much, showing your face here," he said, in a voice of cold dignity. "You know well enough, young one, that your presence is not welcome."
"My father will kill me if he finds me!" cried Emrys. "Please, let me hide on Avalon! It's my only hope for survival!"
"We will not permit the sullying of our kingdom by any who bears the blood of that traitor in his veins," Oberon answered. "If he bears a dislike for you, it is for you to deal with it. But we grant no refuge to any who is descended from the Unseelie. We expelled them all from Avalon for all time, and we stand by our word. Go now, and do not return."
"But - Oberon!" Emrys protested. "I'm - I'm your favorite nephew!"
Oberon stared at the lad in a long silence before speaking, his eyes as cold and hard as ice. Then he said simply, "You are our only nephew." And with that, he was gone.
Emrys stood alone in the skiff, watching as the rock sank back below the water. Then, a loud whinny broke the silence. He turned around, to see Madoc mounted upon his Unseelie horse, hovering in the air above him.
"There will be no escaping me," said the Lord of the Banished Ones, raising one hand. A blast of flame shot forth from it, heading straight towards the boat. Emrys leaped out of it just as the fire struck the skiff, utterly destroying it. He landed in the water and swam off, frantically.
* * * * *
The boy moaned aloud in his sleep, and murmured something unintelligible. His fingers twisted in an odd gesture, and blue light filtered out from the fingertips. It began to fill the clearing, and spread out into the woods, and up into the sky.
Overhead, the clouds began to darken, and thunder rumbled ominously. Multi-colored lightning stabbed down from the heavens, casting sparks of blue fire that flickered out before they could strike the trees. The wind began to pick up, and blew about the forest with increasing strength.
Emrys remained asleep, the only thing in Epping Forest undisturbed by the wild magic being set loose.
* * * * *
Andrew Cummings burst into the pub, frantic and breathless. The other regulars turned around to face him, lowering their pints.
"Come outside, all of you!" Cummings cried. "I've seen it! It's - it's horrible!"
"Not again, Cummings," groaned one of the men. "Don't tell us that you've seen some more Roundhead ghosts."
"That's right," said another. "After what happened last time, we wouldn't go out even if you'd seen the ghost of Cromwell himself."
"It's not Roundheads this time," said Cummings. "It's worse! The forest! It's acting bewitched!"
"What do you mean, bewitched?" asked the first man.
"You'll have to see for yourself," Cummings replied. "I can't describe it. It's too much for words. Just follow me!"
The other men, grumbling a little, followed him out of the pub - and then stared at the sight in the skies off in the distance, over the woods. Churning storm clouds now massed there, with bolts of green and purple lightning shooting out of them. The pub-goers all stared at it in awestruck silence.
"What d'you suppose it is, Cummings?" one of the men asked at last, in a quavering voice. "UFOs?"
"I don't know," said Cummings. "But we've got to spread the word! Anybody know the phone number for BBC News?"
* * * * *
"That ain't no way to treat a lady, monster," growled the biggest of the Unseelie Halflings as he grabbed Brianna by the scruff of her neck and pulled her up and off her feet. Char rolled away, righting herself quickly and sneering as she rubbed at the marks Brianna's talons had left on her arms.
"You're gonna get it now, gargoyle," Char spat. She turned to the newly arrived Vampyre, egging him on wickedly. "Show her what happens to bad little gargoyles, Riggs!"
"Let her go!" screamed Angela. Riggs staggered forward as Angela landed on his back and wrapped her arms around him. Brianna slipped from his grasp and scampered out of reach.
Rodney and Eddie staggered unsteadily back to their feet, rejoining their fellows. The arrival of the small group of Vampyres had given the Minions time to regroup, and the pair scurried quickly to avoid the crossfire.
Rodney snickered in amusement, swaying dizzily as he watched Riggs trying to maintain his balance with the frenzied gargoyle clinging to his back like an angry cat. "Eh, I think she likes you, bro!" he shouted, rubbing the large bruise on his shaven head as Char grabbed him to keep him from falling.
Riggs grinned. "You want to play with me, little 'goyle?" he questioned, grabbing Angela's arms and untwining them from around his neck. In one smooth, swift motion, he pulled her from his back and slammed her to the ground, smiling wickedly. "All right, then. Let's play."
* * * * *
"Arthur!" cried Leo, bursting into the back room of "Into the Mystic", where King Arthur and Colin Marter were still deciphering Emrys's journal. "You have to come, quickly!"
"Why, Leo?" Arthur asked. "What's wrong?"
"There's something on the news," said Leo. "It might be Emrys's work."
Arthur and Colin followed him out into the main part of the shop at once, where Una was watching a BBC news report on the television. Regina Fitzwalter was standing on the main street of a small village, speaking to a few locals. In the sky above, eerie storm clouds thrashed about.
"And what do you think that this is, sir?" Ms. Fitzwalter asked, holding out her microphone to another one of the villagers.
"Aliens!" said the man. "That's what it's got to be! Probably the same aliens who make all them crop circles!"
"Forget aliens!" said another. "It's more of the End Times! What do you expect, this close to the end of the millenium? This is a sign, I tell you!"
"And you, sir?" Ms. Fitzwalter asked a third man. "Mr. Cummings, I understand that you were the one who first sighted this unique weather phenomenon. What do you believe it is?"
"I don't know, ma'am," said Cummings. "All I can say is - it's really strange. It spooks me, I tell you. Ain't seen nothin' like it… not since the Civil War."
Ms. Fitzwalter turned back towards the camera, and spoke. "While the identity of this bizarre weather pattern remains as yet unknown, all witnesses can agree that it feels nothing short of abnormal. It is more than likely that this event is yet another of the strange, almost Fortean displays that have been afflicting London and the Home Counties in the past year. And now, back to the studio, for comments on this event from a guest expert on paranormal activities. This is Regina Fitzwalter, speaking to you live from the village of Epping in Essex."
"It must be Merlin's work," said Arthur at once. "I do not know how he accomplished this, but I can recognize his hand in it."
"But why'd he do something like that?" asked Colin.
"I do not know," said Arthur. "But we know where he is now. Colin, get Kevin on the telephone. We have to get to Epping Forest at once."
* * * * *
Griff and Brianna leapt apart, narrowly avoiding another volley of energy blasts from the pair of Vampyres who were holding them at bay as the one who was apparently the leader tormented Angela a few dozen yards away.
"That's it, Riggs. Teach the little she-demon not to mesh with the Minions!" Rodney encouraged from the sidelines. A small circle of the beaten and bruised goth punks had formed around Angela and her Vampyre attacker, creating an impromptu ring. All of them were hooting and hollering, but Rodney and Char were the loudest among them.
Angela hissed, her eyes burning bright red as she lunged at the Halfling. Her battle cry turned to a yelp of pain as a magical blast propelled her back. She collided with the wall of Minions, and struggled weakly as several pairs of hands grabbed her roughly and forced her back into the center of the "ring."
"Get in there and fight, monster!" hissed Char as she helped throw Angela back to Riggs. The lavender female tried to get her hands up, but before she could, there was a flash of blinding light. A moment later, she was on the ground again, winded and dazed, the Halfling pinning her.
Riggs laughed like a hyena, in a cold, high-pitched, maniacal titter, and gazed down at the gargoyle triumphantly as he drew back his hand and formed a glowing, green energy blade around it. "Time to send you back where you came from," he said calmly, shaking his head.
Angela trembled with terror while her eyes lit with rage. She growled, her lips forming words in Latin as the Vampyre plunged the energy blade toward her chest, her brain barely registering their meaning. The energy blade seemed to jab into her, but rather than pain, she felt a tremendous rush of raw power surging around her. The last thing she saw before the explosive blast blinded her was her pointy-eared attacker's eyes bulging wide in panic.
A flash of light brighter than the first rays of a rising sun blinded her. When Angela's eyes cleared, the Vampyre was gone. All that remained was a large black mark on the ground where he had stood, and a small pile of ash that was quickly picked up and scattered by the wind.
The circle of Minions had been knocked down by the blast, and many were just beginning to get to their feet. Rodney seemed especially dazed, and he grabbed Char by the sleeve of her jacket as he looked around frantically.
"What happened?" Eddie mumbled, getting back to his feet. "Where's Riggs?" Char pulled them both back as the lavender gargoyle sat up and turned towards them.
Angela stared at the now-terrified Minions, then back at the black spot on the concrete. As she did, a cold, numb wave of shock settled over her.
Char finally found her voice as she continued to walk backwards, tugging Eddie and Rodney along with her. "Didn't you see?" she stammered. "She killed him! That little gargoyle b..."
Big Ben's chimes obliterated the rest of Char's exclamation, and the two remaining Vampyres suddenly grasped their ears in pain. Griff and Brianna moved instantly, taking advantage of the moment to charge. A second later, a frightening screech made them stop and look up.
Faulconbridge and Cervus swooped down, eyes glowing like beacons, growling at the already panicked Minions as the clock continued to toll the hour, scattering them. Within seconds, the street was deserted save for the gargoyles. The Minions and their Vampyre allies had vanished into the darkness.
* * * * *
Demona awoke with a start, bolting upright in her bed. She blinked at the unfamiliar surroundings of the dark hotel room, her mind taking a moment to remember where she was. A tingly shiver ran along her spine and down through her tail, then was gone, leaving only an odd feeling of unease. She looked at the clock on the nightstand, catching it just as it clicked over to 1:00 AM.
She shook her head, unable to bring to the surface of her memory any fragment of dream that might explain why she had awoken so suddenly, and sank resignedly back into the pillows, fighting her nocturnal urges. She had another long day ahead of her that would only be more miserable if she got up now and spent the rest of the night pacing or reading.
"Just a few more hours," she mused sleepily as she drew the blankets back around her. Curling herself into a ball, Demona yawned and drifted back to sleep.
* * * * *
Cervus set down first, followed a moment later by his brother, both of them surveying the devastated scene. Several small fires still burned in and on the cars Griff and Brianna had used for cover from the attacking Vampyres, while the Minions had done a thorough job of trashing almost everything else within sight. The eerie silence only lasted a moment, however, before the familiar sound of sirens called out in the distance.
"Where were you chaps when we needed you five minutes ago?" Griff griped, rubbing a sore spot on his side as he walked over to them.
"You said to meet you here at midnight," Faulconbridge answered.
"And you picked tonight to start being punctual?" Griff replied.
"We should be makin' ourselves scarce before the bobbies get here, don't you think?" Cervus interrupted.
Brianna dusted herself off, paying little attention to the males as she surveyed the devastation and shook her head disgustedly. It was only after a moment that she spotted Angela, still sitting on the ground and staring in seeming horror at one of the many dark scorch marks littering the sidewalk.
"Angela?" she questioned softly, crouching down beside the lavender female. Angela flinched and looked up as a gentle hand touched her shoulder. Brianna recoiled back slightly, her brow furrowing with concern. "Are ye hurt, Angela?" she asked.
Angela shook her head, and after a moment she found her voice. "No... I'm... I'm fine," she replied weakly.
Brianna placed her taloned hand on Angela's shoulder again, more firmly this time. With her other hand she took hold one of Angela's hands, her concern deepening at feeling it trembling slightly as she helped the girl to stand.
"I dinnae know how ye did that, Angela," the Caledonian female said gently. "For a moment, I thought for sure ye were done for."
Angela looked at her with a hollow expression. "I did just like my mother taught me," she answered, her voice wavering. She blinked, fear and shock welling in her eyes. "Just like my mother," she repeated, her tone pained.
Neither Brianna nor Angela had noticed the cab pulling up carrying the bearded man and his red gargoyle beast. Nor did they pay attention to the beginnings of the hurried conversation Arthur was having with Griff and the others while Cavall sniffed curiously at one particular burn mark on the ground.
"...it's all over the television. Something strange is going on there."
"And you think it could be Emrys," Griff concluded over the increasing din from the approaching police sirens.
"I say again, chaps," Cervus interrupted quickly, tapping Griff on the shoulder. "I think it's time for us to go." He pointed down the street, where flashing lights came into view around the corner as the wail of the sirens doubled in intensity.
The cabbie stuck his head out of the window impatiently. "Pardon me, fellows, but the meter is still running, you know," Kevin intoned, glancing anxiously toward the approaching police cars.
Arthur looked up. "Everyone in the car," he ordered, not quite realizing until the group began to move exactly how many bodies there were.
"Just like my mother," Angela whispered numbly, barely aware of what was going on. The next thing she knew, she was scrunched up against Brianna in the back seat of the cab as Arthur slid in beside her and Griff scrambled into the seat in front of her with Cavall in his arms.
"Don't worry... Cervus and I'll keep the bobbies distracted!" Faulconbridge shouted over the revving of the engine as Arthur pulled the door closed and the cab began to pull away. The tires squealed on the pavement as Kevin cut the wheel hard around the corner, squishing Angela even tighter as Brianna slid up against her.
The lavender female looked over her shoulder, out the back window, watching the flashing blues and reds of the police lights fading away behind them. Still dazed, she turned back around and, looking down, she noticed that Brianna was still holding her hand. "Where are we going?" she finally managed, her voice quiet.
"Epping Forest," Brianna answered. She loosened her grip on Angela's hand somewhat, but Angela didn't pull away as she looked up at her. "Arthur thinks Emrys might be there," she added.
* * * * *
Emrys raced through the woods, looking back periodically for any sign of his father pursuing him. So far, he had seen no trace of the Unseelie Lord, or any of his followers, but they might appear at any moment. He rushed on, almost frantic now, until he emerged into a clearing - and then stared in amazement. Before him stood a very familiar-looking cottage.
"No," the halfling wizard said to himself. "That's impossible." But he ventured forward, all the same, and knocked gingerly upon the door.
"Come in, Merlin," said a familiar voice from within. "It's been a long time."
Emrys opened the door, and entered. Blaise looked up from the book that he had been reading at his desk, and turned towards him, a gentle smile of concern on his face.
"I was wondering if you were ever going to come here at all," he said. "You do seem to have lost your way of late."
"What are you doing here, Blaise?" the youth asked. "You died. You died over fourteen centuries ago."
"Where we are now, time is meaningless, my pupil," Blaise replied. "Come, sit down, Merlin. We need to talk."
Emrys nodded, and sat down in the chair opposite his one-time tutor. Blaise seemed no older than the days when Merlin had first taken lessons from him as a small boy, back in the time of Vortigern. He gazed at the lad thoughtfully, before speaking.
"It's your father again, isn't it?" he asked.
"Blaise, I'll never be rid of him," Emrys protested. "He'll hound me no matter what I do, where I go. Oberon won't let me hide on Avalon. I don't have the strength to fight Madoc now, and even Arthur won't be enough to protect me from him. Blaise, what am I going to do?"
"And you feel certain that you cannot survive the Unseelie Lord's assault?" Blaise asked, sitting back in his chair.
"Madoc's unstoppable!" said Emrys. "We've done everything that we can, but it's just not enough! He's destroying the world out there! He's got the Fimbulwinter, he's re-gathered the Unseelie Court, he's even made a lot of new recruits! He's practically invincible!"
"And have you so forgotten everything that I have ever taught you, that you should believe that?" Blaise asked. "Evil is never invincible, Merlin. Oh, it may seem that way for a time, it may win a few short-term victories, here and there. But by its very nature, it is doomed to defeat in the end. Always remember that. Your father's day will come in the end, and perhaps sooner than you expect."
"But he's winning the war," said the youth. "And I can't even muster up enough magic to stop him."
"And do you really believe that the world depends upon you and only you to save it?" Blaise said, shaking his head gently. "Ah, Merlin, Merlin, perhaps your current lessons with Una are not the only ones that you need to relearn. If you attempt to oppose him on your own, of course you will lose. But you do not have to face him alone, Merlin. Not while there are others who are willing to stand by your side and help you. Remember that always. That is the ultimate strength that Madoc can never achieve. You have friends who can help you in your fight, who can add their strength to your own, while the Unseelie Lord in the end, even when surrounded by his vassals, will always be alone."
A rumble of thunder sounded from outside just then. Blaise pricked up his ears, appearing concerned. "He draws closer," he said. "You had better leave at once. I will delay him, long enough for you to get away."
Emrys nodded, and arose. He rushed towards the door on the far side of the cottage, and then turned back. "Thank you, Blaise," he said. "I really needed that."
Blaise nodded, smiling gently. "Godspeed, Merlin," he said. And then, Emrys was out of the cottage, and rushing down the path leading from it.
He had not run far, though, when there was a sudden thunderclap behind him. Emrys turned around to see his tutor's house go up in a burst of flames. "Blaise!" he screamed, and ran back towards the smoldering ruins.
"And a good riddance to him," said Madoc's grim voice, ringing out clearly. Emrys turned to see his father mounted on horseback, watching the fire die down with a smile of cold satisfaction on his face. He gazed down at his son's stricken face.
"You - you murderer!" cried Emrys, staring up at his father.
"He turned you from my service," said Madoc. "Now the fool has paid a proper price for it. And you shall do the same."
"You won't win," said the youth in a voice of cold defiance. "Somebody is going to stop you in the end."
"Oh, indeed?" asked the Unseelie Lord. "And who? The mortals whose world the Fimbulwinter has enveloped? My proud brother, who dares not face me in battle this time? They shall all fall before me. Oberon will kneel to me and plead with me for mercy - and he shall receive none. Even the heavens will do me obeisance." And he gestured to the skies above.
Emrys stared up, to see the stars swirling out of their wonted places in utter confusion, the familiar constellations that he had observed for hundreds of years breaking up into unrecognizable patterns. Many of them then fell from the sky, hurtling towards the earth with blazing tails of fire, literal shooting stars. And over it all came a hideous wailing sound that emanated from all about, as though the cosmos itself was finally coming to an end. But that, Emrys knew, would be a much better fate for it than what he was now beholding.
* * * * *
Lucius looked up sharply from his paperwork at the alarmed-looking Minions standing before him. "May I ask what this is all about?" he inquired, in an overly level tone of voice.
"She zapped Riggs!" cried one of them. "Just like that! Zap, flash, and he's gone!"
"I am afraid that I do not quite follow you, Rodney," said Lucius. "Who - as you put it - 'zapped' Riggs?"
"It was another one of them bloody gargoyles!" spat Char, pushing her frantic companion to the side. "A new one!"
"A new one?" asked Lucius, interested. He set down his pen. "Describe her to me."
"She was a demon from the underworld, she was!" Rodney said excitedly, pushing to the front again. Char merely gave an incredulous sneer, and looked back at Lucius.
"She just looked different from the others. More human-like, if you know what I mean. She was lavender, and had long dark hair, and bat-like wings."
"Indeed?" said Lucius. "That is very interesting. That matches the description of one of the Manhattan clan. And the very member, come to think of it, that the Master's messengers spoke to me of. His Lordship wants a few words with her, and she would have made an excellent prize. Now, how did she - to use the deplorably comic-bookish word that you insist on using - 'zap' him?"
"It was almost like magic," said Eddie, speaking up. "In fact, I think that it was magic. She just mumbles some words and wham! He was gone! Nothing left of the little blighter but a greasy black mark on the pavement," he finished.
"So the young Angela is a burgeoning sorceress," said Lucius to himself. "Fascinating. This makes matters very interesting indeed."
"Sir?" asked Rodney uneasily. "What do we do now?"
"Well, you have certainly proven yourselves unable to capture any gargoyles so far," said Lucius. "But there is a way in which you can redeem yourselves."
"Yes, sir?" asked Rodney.
"The BBC News has just reported a very odd disturbance in Epping Forest," said Lucius. "One that positively reeks of magic. I want you to investigate it, and find out who or what has caused it. And if, as I suspect, it is that young Master Hawkins behind it, bring him back here at once."
Char, Rodney, and Eddie nodded, and hurriedly left the office to gather their companions.
* * * * *
"Just which way are we going, anyway?" Griff queried as he watched the scenery rush by.
"Don't worry, mate," Kevin stated calmly. "I know a shortcut." He turned a sharp left at the next intersection, exiting from the narrow one-way street on which he had been going the wrong way onto a broad boulevard, and stomped on the gas again. "We'll be out of London before you know it."
The cabbie looked up into the rear view mirror for the first time since the trip had begun. A few seconds later, he tipped his cap. "Don't believe I've seen you before, miss," he spoke, nodding at Angela. "Me name's Kevin."
"Angela," she replied quietly, not looking up from her hands in her lap. She twisted the edge of her tunic, closing her eyes for a moment.
"Angela is visiting from the States," Griff volunteered. "Her clan lives in New York."
"You don't say," Kevin replied, glancing up in his mirror again at Angela in fascination. "So all those stories on the telly about gargoyles living in Manhattan were true."
If the statement had been meant as a question, Angela didn't answer. She just sighed, opening her eyes and now trying not to think about her clan back home. She could already hear Goliath saying it: "Just like your mother." She could already picture Broadway's look of dumbstruck shock and abhorrence, and Sata's steely gaze of disapproval. She squeezed her eyes closed again, trying with all her might not to break into tears.
Arthur shifted in his seat, sensing the extreme unease of the young gargoyle sitting beside him though he was unsure of the source. "I don't know if I'd believe everything I saw on the television, Kevin," he put in.
Silence settled again over the vehicle. Even Griff, riding shotgun, had picked up on Angela's sullen mood. He looked over the back of his seat at his mate, but Brianna only shrugged and shook her head. Cavall had climbed up onto Griff's lap again and pressed his nose against the window, his breath causing it to fog. The griffin-like gargoyle turned to unroll it a crack just as the cab sped past a familiar statue.
Cavall wedged his head out of the open window happily, tongue lolling as the wind rushed noisily into the car. A gust of chill air rustled Angela's hair, still tousled from the fight, and the sensation roused her back from her brooding.
"I've got to admire Angela's father, though," Griff mused aloud, turning to Kevin. "Toughing it out like that and making a go of it in that city, what with those Quarrymen chaps and all. It takes a good leader with solid character and a strong will to do the things necessary to keep a clan together through times like that. Yep, a gargoyle like Goliath is a rare one, indeed."
Kevin nodded. "You don't find many like that anymore among humans, neither," he added.
"Too right," Griff agreed sincerely. He turned to the group in the backseat again and met Angela's eyes as he added, "It makes me glad I know the ones I do."
Angela averted her eyes after only a moment, but suddenly her mind was full of new questions as she thought again about her father. He had always done what he had to do to keep the clan safe, even though the choices had sometimes been difficult. Hadn't she only done what she had to do towards the same ends? She had known all along that she would one day have to use her new skills with magic to protect herself or her clan.
"Am I just like my mother, or am I just like my father?" a voice in her head asked. She thought briefly of the clan she had left behind on Avalon. Until just a couple short years ago, she hadn't even known who her parents were. Now she was obsessing over it because... why? Because she had defended herself in the heat of battle against a Halfling who had been ready to kill her?
The past year's events flew by in a blur as she reviewed them in her mind. She shuddered as she recalled being utterly helpless, strapped down in a chair as Queen Maeve interrogated her and threatened her clan, then a wave of shame rushed over her again as she remembered how she had lashed out when Elisa, Matt, and Lexington had finally freed her.
"Just like my mother, or just like my father?" the voice asked again. Her brain went into fast forward, skimming ahead to more recent events, looking for an answer…
* * *
"You just need to keep practicing," Demona reassured. "Reading auras is not easy at first, but it is vital for you to learn so you can protect yourself. The Third Race can disguise themselves in many forms, but they can never fully suppress the magical energies surrounding them. And once you are able to recognize disguised fay, you and your clan will be that much safer from them. After what Maeve did to you..." Her mother paused, trying to maintain a level tone. "I don't want you to find yourself in that situation again, and I want to give you every advantage I can to help you."
Angela's wings drooped in shame as she pushed away the memories of her capture. "I know you mean well, Mother... I just don't know if I'll ever get the hang of any of this... maybe I'm just not cut out to be a magic user," she said dejectedly.
Demona took her hands into her own and made Angela look her in the eye. "You're my daughter, Angela. I know you can do this if you try. I wish this were easier for you. Under any other circumstances it would be. But the Unseelie threat is too great. You must learn the things I can teach you."
* * *
"I don't know about you guys, but I'm ready to go kick some Halfling butt," Broadway stated impatiently. Angela moved to his side, her concern mounting. Ever since recovering from his last encounter with the Unseelie Court's half-human soldiers, his eagerness to do battle with them again had increased with each passing night.
"Just keep your loincloth on, Broadway," Brooklyn admonished his rookery brother. He looked up from the address on the scrap of paper he held. "The Shire Pub," he read aloud. "And you were saying, Elisa?"
"Thank you," the Detective replied, looking the gathered clan over again. "I was saying that there's a rumor that some of the Halflings hang out at this place. And I think you guys are a better choice to check it out than the boys in blue… especially considering who my source is," she added.
"Though I had my misgivings about trusting him," Goliath rumbled, "Dracon has not given us false information yet."
Elisa looked at the clan leader briefly, then returned to the matter at hand. "Just be careful, okay?" She looked meaningfully at Broadway in particular. "Don't just jump right in. These Halflings seem to be getting more dangerous every time we cross paths with them."
"It is never wise to enter a combat situation without a plan," Sata agreed. "These Halflings have their magic, but we have our wits and we have each other."
Goliath nodded. "And that is the key," he stated. "Each of us has our strengths as well as our weaknesses, but working together we can defeat them."
"You've just got to use whatever you have available to even the odds," Elisa agreed.
"Exactly," Goliath said, looking over his clan. Angela looked up as his eyes fell on her. "Use whatever weapons are at your disposal to protect yourselves and each other."
* * *
Angela blinked in sudden realization.
Am I just like my mother, or am I just like my father?" She smiled inwardly. Yes, she answered. I'm like them both.
Goliath and Demona… her parents were both warrior born, and she was no less. They used whatever tools were available to them to protect themselves and those they cared for, and so had she.
And magic is just another tool.
Angela settled back into her seat, lulled by the hum of the cab's tires on the pavement, content with the feeling that, for the first time since her lessons began nearly a year ago, she was truly doing the right thing.
* * * * *
"We're here," Kevin announced as the car lurched to a stop. The odd group began to tumble out onto the side of the dark road. Arthur set his eyes immediately upon the strange storm clouds swirling in the distance, hovering over the trees. Griff and Cavall came up on either side of him, joining him in watching as multicolored lightning arced through the sky. The gargoyle beast sat down and gave a forlorn whine, while Griff nodded his head. "Definitely not normal," he surmised.
"Are ye coming, Angela?" Brianna asked as she stepped out the door on her side.
Angela looked up, sighting through the windshield the same thing Arthur and Griff were watching from outside. Even at this distance, her newly attuned senses tingled. It was magic - powerful magic.
"Yes," she answered firmly as she scooted herself out of the car and joined Brianna, "I'm coming." She stared at the storm clouds a bit longer, concentrating on the invisible energies that moved them, following the chaotic patterns downward, to where they funneled back to their source. She raised a taloned hand and pointed off in the distance. "The focus lies there," she stated, certain.
Arthur nodded. "Then let's find Emrys."
* * * * *
"There they are," said Char, watching the small group of searchers move their way cautiously into the forest. "With company."
"Three gargoyles, and that big ugly dog," said Eddie with a scowl, still rubbing the large and painful bump on his head. "That's not good odds."
"Yeah," agreed Rodney, nursing a similar black-and-blue goose egg. "Not to mention the bloke with the sword. This isn't going to be easy."
"Do you want to go back and tell Lucius that you turned cowardly custard on him, then?" asked Char sharply, fixing him with a steely-eyed stare.
"Well, no," Eddie began to stammer. "But they do look as if they outnumber us."
"There's such a thing as strategy and tactics, you know," she retorted. "Haven't either of you been paying attention to Lucius's talks? This time we ambush them, take them from behind. They won't know what hit them. Now, come on!"
Under her lead, the Minions crept towards Arthur and his party.
* * * * *
Brianna pricked up her ears and listened. "We're bein' followed," she whispered, motioning discreetly for the others to continue walking.
"How do you know?" asked Angela, keeping her own voice low. "I can't hear anything."
"Nae, but I can," the Caledonian gargoyle replied. "I spent most of my life in woods like these." She paused, listening again, as the group kept moving. "There's three of them... humans, with little skill in creepin' through th' forest," she declared with confidence.
Arthur frowned. "I very much doubt that those pursuers are friendly. They are either after us or Merlin - most likely both. We must prevent them from reaching the lad before we do. Brianna, your skills are the strongest in this forest. You and Griff must hold these ruffians off. And take Cavall with you. You will probably need his help. Angela and I will continue on."
"Just be careful, Arthur," said Griff. He eyed a gnarled tree carefully, fancying for a moment that he saw a monstrous face scowling from the bark. "I don't think that these chaps after us are the only thing that we should be worried about."
"Nor do I, truth to tell," said Arthur. "But we must do what we can." He drew Excalibur from its scabbard, and held it out before him. "Follow me, Angela."
* * * * *
"They've split up," said Char, watching. She was too far away to hear the conversation among King Arthur and his friends, but she had seen them divide up and go their separate ways.
"So which ones do we follow?" asked Eddie.
"Those two, of course," said Char, indicating Arthur and Angela. "They're the ones looking for the little brat, and she's the one that Lucius and his boss want. Besides, that Arthur's their leader. Take him down, and the rest of his gang's history."
The three of them crept after the Once and Future King and the New York gargoyle, without giving further thought to their friends. Not, at least, until a low growl sounded from behind them, and Cavall suddenly leaped upon Eddie, knocking him down. Char and Rodney spun around at once.
"Get off me, you mutt!" screamed Eddie at the great gargoyle beast. Cavall stood over him, growling and with eyes glowing. Griff and Brianna stood behind Cavall, their own eyes ablaze, then rushed forward upon the other two Minions.
* * * * *
"I think that he's this way," said Angela, pointing to the right. "The magical energies are stronger over here."
"I will take your word for it, then," said Arthur, gazing up at the shadows that now filled the forest, and frowning. "I hope that we can find him soon. I do not like the look of this woodland at all. Even the Forêt Sauvage was more hospitable than this place."
"I can see what you mean," said Angela. "The woods my siblings and I used to play in on Avalon were nothing like these." She stiffened as a strange cry sounded from the trees to her left. "Even Central Park feels safer than this."
An eerie howl sounded just up ahead, and then something large emerged from the trees. It looked rather like a badger, but it was the size of a horse. It snarled like a wolverine as it advanced upon them, its eyes glowing.
"What is that thing?" Angela asked warily, staring at the beast, her own eyes beginning to glow.
"I do not know," Arthur replied. "But it must have been another creation of Merlin's magic, like those clouds."
Angela was about to say something, but the badger-beast leaped at them just then, gnashing its teeth and slavering. Hissing, Angela leapt out and blocked it in midair, seizing hold of it by the head, cramming its jaws shut, and forcing it to the ground upon its back. They rolled about upon the dry leaves of the forest floor, back and forth several times until they rammed into the side of a stout tree. Angela twisted out of the way just in time, and the monster took the worst of the blow, the impact knocking it unconscious. With a low growl, Angela hurriedly disentangled herself from the hairy beast and climbed up from her position to rejoin Arthur.
"That thing couldn't have been created by Merlin, could it?" she asked him, staring back at the dazed creature as she brushed the leaves from her hair. "The Magus told us stories about him on Avalon, and from what I remember of them, the Merlin of legend would hardly have used his powers for such a purpose as that."
"You are forgetting, Angela," said Arthur gravely, "that Merlin's powers are no longer entirely under his control. And according to what I have learned, he has certain fears that may have contributed to this present state of affairs. Whatever the case may be, we must find him quickly, before things become worse."
As the two of them plunged deeper into the woods, several pairs of red eyes appeared in the darkness beneath the leaves, gazing after them. Then, a small flock of winged creatures left their perches to fly after the king and the gargoyle.
* * * * *
Eddie had finally managed to pull himself out from underneath Cavall, only to be crowded back against the trees alongside Char and Rodney. Despite knowing they were no match against two gargoyles and a gargoyle beast in a fair fight, their toughness and bravado won out and they kept swinging.
It was Brianna who suddenly heard the noise. "Something's comin'," she said to Griff concernedly, ducking from a swing of Char's. "Somethin' large."
"Any idea what it is?" asked Griff as he held Rodney and Eddie at arm's length, pinning them against the tree.
Brianna shook her head. Cavall sniffed the air and growled uneasily. Then, the noise of the large beast thrashing its way towards them grew louder, until the Minions could hear it as well. The three London youths tensed, and turned their heads towards the direction that the sound was coming from.
With a snort and a crackle of undergrowth, there emerged into view an enormous armadillo, swinging its tail. It halted, focused its eyes upon them, then howled.
"Oh, wonderful!" said Griff, whirling to take in the new potential threat. Rodney and Eddie sank to the ground as Griff's talons left the fronts of their jackets. "And I thought that when Emrys said that he sometimes got nightmares from those Armadillos on the telly that he was only joking!"
"It could be worse," said Brianna, ignoring Char as she stared at the oversized, armored creature thoughtfully. "Be thankful it's nae a ferocious white rabbit."
"What is that thing?" asked Rodney, his voice quavering. Eddie looked back at him and shrugged.
"Who cares?" Char retorted, yanking the pair back to their feet. "Let's let it handle those three freaks, and get out of here!"
Unnoticed, the Minions turned and fled, while the giant armadillo advanced upon the gargoyles.
* * * * *
"We may be drawing closer to him," said Angela, a few minutes later. "The magic seems to be even stronger here."
Arthur nodded, a troubled look on his face. "That may not be entirely good news for us. If the magic is growing stronger, then so are the things that it has created."
Even as he spoke, a tree branch suddenly snarled around Angela's waist, raising her off the ground. The alarmed gargoyle gasped and turned around to see that the tree that the limb was attached to had developed a face - an evil-looking face with an open mouth, which the branch was hauling her towards. She struggled to get free, but with her feet no longer on the ground and her wings pinned, its grip was too strong.
Arthur spun about, preparing to strike at the branch with Excalibur, when several flying creatures dove at him. They were great black squirrels the size of hawks, with bat-like wings protruding from their shoulders and sharp-looking fangs. Their initial impact knocked the Once and Future King off balance, laying him out on the ground. Snarling eagerly, they landed upon him, trying to bite him.
Arthur thrashed at the squirrels with his free hand and with Excalibur, but they easily eluded his blows. Chattering and growling, they circled above him, taking turns swooping down and attempting to bite him.
Angela sank her talons into the branch curled about her waist, but was still unable to free herself from the tree's grasp. Growling, she looked up, noticing that Arthur had his own troubles. Without thinking twice, she focussed on the squirrels, and hurriedly spoke a few Latin words in their direction. A strong breeze sprung up for a moment, lasting just long enough to sweep the winged forest creatures away into the shadows. Arthur clambered to his feet.
"My thanks, Angela," he said. "Your mother has taught you well."
She nodded absently, still struggling against the tree's iron grasp. The Once and Future King rushed to her side and brought Excalibur down upon the branch. The animated tree bellowed in pain, and released Angela from its grip as it drew back its injured limb. The lavender female tumbled to the ground, gasping as the air was knocked from her lungs.
Arthur quickly grabbed her arm and pulled her up and out of the tree's reach. "Let us leave this place at once, before the trees and their denizens prepare for a fresh attack," he said grimly. "It seems that the sooner we find Merlin, the better for us."
"I hope so," she said. "I don't want to meet any more creatures like these either."
They moved on cautiously through the woods, until they finally emerged into an open clearing. A great gnarled oak tree dominated the further side of it, and lying asleep beneath it was a slight young figure with fair hair, tossing and turning restlessly.
"That's him," said Arthur, sounding relieved. He pointed to the young boy asleep beneath the oak tree. "At least he's safe and unharmed - although I don't know for how long he'll remain thus."
Angela approached the youth herself. She now saw that his lips were moving, and heard him speaking, in what sounded almost like a feverish delirium.
"The stars will turn away from men, and abandon their former places. Their wrath shall blight the harvests, and all rain and dew will depart from the world. The shadow of Mars will fall across the earth, and Mercury will remove itself from its orbit in wrath. The planet Saturn will pour its evil down upon mankind, mowing them down like wheat before a scythe. Lightning will shoot forth from the tail of the Scorpion, and the Crab will do battle with the Sun. The chariot of the Moon will stray from its course in the Zodiac, and the Pleiades will lament. The seas will drown the land, and the winds will rage against each other, doing battle until the sound of their war reaches the furthest of constellations."
Arthur bent down at once and shook the youth. "Merlin!" he cried. "Merlin, wake up!"
Emrys's eyes opened, and he sat up, a look of utter confusion upon his face. "What - what's going on?" he asked. "What - Arthur?" He stared up at the king, and then he saw Angela, standing close beside him. "And - I don't believe that we've been introduced, Miss - er - ."
"My name's Angela," she said.
"Angela?" Emrys repeated. "Oh, yes, I think I know that name. Arthur mentioned you, didn't he? The visitor from Manhattan?"
She nodded, but he barely noticed. Instead, he was now staring at his surroundings, the twisted trees with monstrous faces, the roiling storm clouds overhead, and the flashes of eerie lightning.
"What's been happening here?" he asked.
"We're not quite certain," said Arthur, frowning. "But we found you at the center of this disturbance, Emrys. And we cannot help but wonder if there may be some connection."
"That's hardly likely, Arthur," Emrys snapped, a trifle too quickly. "I can assure you that I wouldn't be doing something like this. It's probably something else. Madoc's work, maybe."
"I don't think that it is his work," said Angela. "Oh, it does look more than a little - well, Unseelie-ish at first, I'll agree. But if he was the one who was behind this and aiming it at you, I don't think that you'd still be alive and unharmed. And Arthur does have a point. All of this was centered around you."
"Angela, please," the boy protested. "You don't have to be so suspicious of me. There are explanations for all of this that don't involve one of my spells going awry!"
"Well, we're wasting time arguing over this," said Arthur. "Maybe you had better send this all away, before something truly perilous happens."
"Very well," said Emrys. "Stand back, both of you. Here goes nothing!"
Angela and Arthur retreated to the edge of the clearing, and Emrys raised one hand. In a loud voice, he cried out:
"O ravaged forest, by strange spells laid waste
Be restored to your old ways with great haste!
Banished be the darkness that does thee harm
And no more let it the innocent alarm!"
There was a slight flicker around him, but nothing else happened. The storm clouds grew thicker, the winds blowing about fiercer. A sudden bolt of blue forked lightning struck the ground just inches away from where Emrys was standing, though he dodged it in the nick of time.
"I don't understand it," protested the young wizard. "Something should have happened. It should have! And now it's getting worse!"
"Are you certain that you used the correct spell?" Arthur asked helpfully.
"Well, the poetry wasn't all that great, I'll admit," said Emrys. "But it was the best that I could do at the spur of the moment. Still, it ought to have done something. I can't be in that poor a condition, surely."
"Maybe it's because you're treating what's happening to the forest as if it was an Unseelie curse," suggested Angela. "But what if it's not? Suppose you were the one who did this?"
"Angela, please!" protested Emrys. "I told you - this isn't my fault! It's somebody else's doing! Maybe it wasn't the Unseelie Court that was behind this. Maybe it's Morgana la Fay! Or somebody else! There are enough troublemakers in the magic business out there to provide a good long list of suspects! But it's not me at all!" He was almost shouting by now. "I didn't do this!"
"Calm down, Emrys," said Arthur concernedly. "Please. Angela was only saying - "
"Besides, maybe it's not so serious," Emrys interrupted. "Maybe it'll just sort itself out. Things will calm down in a little while, and - " He pricked up his ears suddenly. "Was that barking that I just heard?"
"I hear it too," said Angela. It sounded to her like a whole pack of hounds barking and baying eagerly. "I hope that it's not Herne's dogs. I already had trouble with them in Scotland just a few nights ago. I don't want to meet them again."
"Or it could be the barghests from the estate," suggested Arthur. "Perhaps a few of them have escaped. No, it sounds like something else. Something almost vaguely familiar."
"I've heard that somewhere before, too," said Emrys with a nod. "And I know that it's not those gargoyle beasts, either."
"But then what is it?" asked Angela.
In answer to her words, a large animal suddenly burst into the clearing. It was one of the strangest animals that she had ever seen, even more peculiar to her eyes than the kangaroo that she had seen on her visit to Australia more than two years ago, or some of the animals that she had seen in the zoo on Manhattan. It looked something like a leopard, but it had a lion's tail, the hooves of a deer, and the head of a serpent. And it was the very creature that had been making the barking noise, only it came directly from its stomach.
The animal bounded past her and Arthur, then stopped and gazed at them both, and at Merlin, the noise like dogs barking and baying continuing to sound from its stomach all the while. It opened its mouth, and thrust its long forked tongue out, as if it was sniffing the air with it. Then it continued on its way into the trees, and disappeared from their sight.
"What - what was that thing?" Angela asked Emrys in astonishment. What surprised her even more was the way that both he and King Arthur had been looking at the creature, almost as if it was an old friend. Certainly the two of them seemed to have recognized it at once.
"Something that Arthur and I once met," said Emrys. "I don't understand where that thing came from. I'd thought that old Glatisant must have died from old age centuries ago."
"Maybe it wasn't really Glatisant," said Arthur. "Maybe it was another one of those animals transformed into monsters that we encountered on our way through the woods."
"No, that's unlikely," said Emrys. "Why would Madoc want to create a new Questing Beast? Glatisant was perfectly harmless, after all, a very peaceful animal. He wouldn't lend himself very easily to creating a lot of random destruction the way that a basilisk or a Nuckelavee would. I can't imagine my father wasting any magic on him."
"But maybe that - Glatisant was your doing, Emrys," said Angela. "Like everything else in this forest. Perhaps you were the one that created that thing."
"No, that's not possible," Emrys cried out in protest, the slight Welsh accent in his voice growing stronger now. "None of this is my fault, I'm telling ye! Blame somebody else, if ye must, but not me!" He was almost on the verge of tears now.
Arthur stood back, a confused and worried look on his face. It was Angela who came forward, and gently placed one hand upon the young wizard's shoulder.
"It's all right, Emrys," she said to him softly. "I understand what this is all about."
"Just keep out of this!" Emrys almost shouted. "You don't know what this is like, Angela! You don't know what it's like, living with the knowledge that you're the only child of someone who's done terrible things! Someone who's left a train of destruction and misery behind them!" His voice almost choked, and he continued, in a softer voice. "Someone whom you fear, deep down inside, you may someday become."
"Yes, I do know," said Angela, gently but firmly. "I know exactly what it's like, Emrys."
"What do you mean?" he began, staring up at her.
"Didn't Arthur tell you?" she asked. "Demona's my mother. And you know what she's done, surely. I've only had to live with that for less than three years now, but it hasn't been easy for me. And lately, I've been fearing the same thing that you have."
"You have?" Emrys said, seeming a little taken aback at that. "I - I'm sorry, Angela. I didn't know, really. And judging from what I know of Demona - and it's quite a bit, I can assure you - I can see that it can't be all that enviable."
"But I realized tonight that there's as much of my father in me as there is of her," said Angela. "And my father faced up to his problems. He didn't try hiding from them or pretending that they weren't there. And neither will I."
Emrys listened thoughtfully. "Very wise," he said at last. "And you're right, Angela. Maybe that's what I need," he added, with a wry smile. "A little lesson from someone younger than myself - well, chronologically younger - to keep my sense of perspective in place. You do tend to risk losing it when you constantly get acclaimed as the greatest wizard of all time and the tutor to one of the world's greatest kings. But I think that you've just shown me what I need to do."
"Yes, I suspected this deep down inside," he continued. "I thought that this might be my work, but I didn't want to admit it. But you were brave enough to tell me your fears, Angela, and that was all that I needed. If you can do it, then so can I."
He looked upwards at the stormy sky. "Yes, you were my fault," he said to the clouds. "My mistake. But I am going to correct that mistake now."
"Let me help," offered Angela. "I've been studying magic for almost a year now. Perhaps I could help you in cleaning this up."
"I really don't know that I actually need it," said Emrys, a little defensively.
"Please, Emrys," said Angela. "You don't have to do this on your own. Not when somebody's willing to lend you a hand."
Emrys looked at her for a moment, in silence. Then he nodded. "Yes, maybe that isn't such a bad idea," he said. He looked skywards for a moment, but this time, his eyes did not appear to be resting on the clouds. "I wonder if you were expecting this, Blaise," he said quietly.
"Who's Blaise?" Angela asked.
"I'll explain later," said the youth. "For now, just give me your hand."
Angela placed her four-clawed hand in his own smaller five-fingered hand, and clasped it tightly. "What do I do?" she asked him.
"Just keep on holding my hand," he replied. "I'm going to draw on your own magic to augment what I currently have."
"Is that safe?" she asked him.
"Well, if you know what you're doing - and I do - yes," said Emrys. "It's a bit draining, but nothing too serious. Is that all right with you?"
She nodded. "It is," she said. "Go ahead and do it now."
Emrys lifted his free hand skywards in a dramatic gesture. He then cried out once again:
"O ravaged forest, by my fears laid waste
Be restored to your old ways with great haste!
Banished be the darkness that does thee harm
And no more let it the innocent alarm!"
A flash of brilliant white light erupted around the two magic-workers, and a great wind arose, sweeping outwards towards the woods. Arthur shielded his eyes against the display for a moment. When he opened them again, the woods had reverted to normal. The trees were in their former shape, the sky had cleared, and the overall feeling of gloom and oppression had dissipated.
Emrys and Angela still stood in the middle of the clearing, although both looking rather unsteady. Arthur rushed over to support them as their legs wobbled.
"I - I think that we did it," said Emrys, his voice quavering. "Thanks, Angela. You were a great help."
She nodded, looking rather dazed herself, in reply. "You're very welcome," she said, her voice also still a trifle feeble. "It was - quite an honor."
"I believe that I had better help you back to Kevin's cab," said Arthur. "I doubt that either of you are up to walking just yet, without help."
Halfling and gargoyle alike nodded, and leaned on him as he helped them back through the woods.
* * * * *
The return trip into London was quiet, even more so than the one out had been. This time, however, it was Emrys who was doing most of the brooding, staring out the window from where he sat wedged between the door and Angela. And with Griff and Brianna filling out the ranks in the back seat, it was a rather tight fit.
Kevin winced as the cab struck another chuckhole. The car bounced roughly and the suspension rattled in protest under the burden of the sedan's seven passengers, but even the violent jarring did little to distract Emrys from whatever point in the darkness beyond the glass he was focussing on. Angela, in turn, watched the young wizard, concerned.
"I meant what I said earlier," she began softly, biting her lip. "About knowing how you feel," she added as the boy turned to look at her. Encouraged by that small gesture, she went on. "Ever since the night I found out that she was my mother, I've worried that I might become like her. But somewhere along the way, I started to realize... even though I'm like Demona in some ways, and like Goliath in others..." She lifted her hands, then brought her palms together, shaking her head slightly as a small smile came to her lips. "When it's all put together, there's a lot more to who I am than just who my parents are." She put a hand on Emrys' shoulder gently. "And the same is true for you."
Arthur lifted his head, straining to catch a glimpse in the rear view mirror of his old mentor's reaction to Angela's words.
Emrys just looked at her, and managed a small smile of his own. "Perhaps you're right, Angela," he answered. "Perhaps you're right."
* * *
Angela and Emrys spent the rest of the short trip conversing softly between themselves. Griff and Brianna relaxed together in their small corner of the back seat, while Cavall snoozed with his head on Arthur's lap in the front. Sunrise was nearing by the time Kevin pulled up to the curb in front of the Into the Mystic shop.
The bell over the door jingled loudly in the quiet shop as the tired group poured in. Leo halted in his pacing and Una looked up from the phone, while Faulconbridge and Cervus rose from the small table to greet the returning crowd.
"So you did find him," Cervus observed as Emrys entered at last, followed by Angela.
Faulconbridge nodded. "I guess that makes all the gliding we had to do to lose the bobbies somewhat worthwhile," he quipped.
Griff placed his hands on the younger males' shoulders. "Well now, maybe you lads would have had more fun fighting super-sized armadillos in the Battle of Epping Forest." He paused, turning to his mate. "You know, Bri, that's got a kind of a catchy ring to it, don't you think?"
Brianna smirked wryly. "I think it's been done, love."
Una looked over the now crowded room and uncupped her hand from over the telephone receiver. "Yes, she did just come in. Hold on a moment." She covered the mouthpiece again and hollered over the din of multiple conversations. "Angela!" she called, holding the phone in the air. The girl looked up, and lip-read Una's careful silent pronunciation of "It's your mother." Excusing herself from Emrys, she hurried around the perimeter of the room, slipped behind the counter, and took the phone.
"Thank goodness," Una whispered under her breath as she handed off the phone to Angela, but her relieved expression went unnoticed by the younger female. Exchanging her hand for Una's over the receiver, Angela took a deep, cleansing breath before finally lifting the device to her ear and speaking.
"Hello, mother," she began.
"Angela! Hello. Where have you been? Are you all right?" Demona fired off quickly, her voice dripping with a hearty dose of motherly worry.
Angela looked across the room at Emrys, who was now talking to Arthur. "I'm fine," she answered sincerely. "I was just out patrolling and seeing the city with some of the clan here."
There was a pause on the other end of the line. "Did you have a good time?" Demona asked at last.
"Tonight was very," she hesitated only briefly, "educational for me. I promise I'll tell you about it during the trip home tomorrow night. What about you?" she added before Demona could speak again. "How is Paris?"
Angela smiled at the nearly imperceptible groan that escaped her mother's lips. "It's all business today," she summarized. "I've got meetings until noon and then I have to catch the train back to London right after lunch. I spoke to Earhart and the jet is ready to go... I told him I want to be back in New York by Friday morning. I've still got that party on Saturday night to get prepared for, you know."
Angela's mirthful smile widened, and her voice filled with pride. "Yes, mother, I know." She gave a small chuckle. "You'd better have someone take pictures to show me later," she threatened mildly.
Demona joined her in chuckling. "I still wish you could attend, too, Angela," she replied, sounding wistful. "Perhaps I should speak to your father after we return," she mused.
"That's all right, mother," Angela answered. She looked up as Brianna tapped her on the shoulder, catching a glimpse of the brightening sky beyond the windows. "Oh my," she exclaimed, half into the phone, "it's nearly dawn!"
There was some rustling on the other end of the line, and Demona quickly apologized. "I'm sorry... I called right after sunrise here and I didn't realize I'd been on this long. And I've still got to clean up and change out of these clothes!" Demona paused a second to compose herself. "I'll be by to pick you up right after sunset," she concluded. "Have a good sleep, my child. I love you."
Angela smiled contentedly. "I love you too, mother. I'll see you tonight."
She hung up the phone gently, then joined the London gargoyles in heading upstairs for a good day's rest.
* * * * *
"I hope that we never have to go through another night like that one," said Emrys, standing by the window and watching the sunrise. "That one was the worst that I've been through in centuries." His face suddenly fell as he remembered something. "And I still have school today, at that. Blast."
"Emrys, might I say something?" Arthur asked.
"Well, I suppose so," said the boy.
"Like Angela, I too understand what you are going through," said Arthur. "At least, I do now. Truth to tell, before last year, I had never really believed those rumors about your parentage. But after I learned that those stories about your father being the Prince of Darkness were the truth, I can begin to understand what you must have been going through for the last fifteen centuries. It can't be easy, being aware that you were the offspring of a cruel and ruthless tyrant. Believe me, I should know.
"But we are more than the sum of our parents, Merlin. We can choose to take a different path than they did. Our lives are our own, to make of them what we will. In the end, it's not so much what lies in the blood that counts. It's what lies in the heart."
Emrys nodded, looking at Arthur with a half-surprised, half-pleased smile upon his face. "Very good, Arthur," he said at last. "I'm quite impressed, in fact. How on Earth did you come to be so wise?"
Arthur smiled in return. "I had a good teacher," he said.
* * * * *
Lyrics to "The Battle of Epping Forest" by Genesis