Night of the Weird
Written by Christi Smith Hayden and Mike Norrish
Story Concept by: Todd Jensen
Illustrations by: Christi Smith Hayden
Previously on Gargoyles…
Oberon: "And now we have rid ourselves of our foes at last. The war is truly over."
Danu: "Is it? Is it truly over?"
Oberon: "Are you suggesting that it is not, mother? You saw for yourself that the leaders of the conspiracy against us were reduced in magical might. They are no longer a threat to us."
Danu: "And do you truly believe that this will be enough of an obstacle to them? If you think so, Oberon, then you are wrong. They need no magic to endanger you or others. They still have their wits about them, craft and subtlety. And those can be more dangerous weapons than all the magical might in the world."
Oberon: "They cannot return to Avalon. Thus, they can no longer threaten our rule."
Danu: "But what of the mortal world?"
Oberon: (raises hand) "I will hear no more of this, mother. This conversation is at an end."
Danu: "Indeed it is. Farewell, my son. I will not exchange words with you again." (steps from the dais and begins walking away)
Oberon: "Wait!" (alarmed) "Where are you going, mother?"
Danu: "Away from Avalon," (not looking at him, still walking) "I can no longer bear to dwell here; not after seeing how both of my sons betrayed the wisdom of their father. If Avallach could only see how his children have acted, he would be as grieved as I am now. Be thankful that he does not know. And do not come looking for me, Oberon. For you will not find me, unless I desire to be found."
~ The Rising, Part 2 ~
Una: "This may be no ordinary chicken!"
Griff: "I say! You're not thinking what I think you're thinking, are you? Not that old story about basilisks!"
Colin: "Excuse me?"
Una: [reading from a book] "In olden times, there was a great war between good and evil. The side of evil created many monstrous beings to serve as their soldiers." [finds an illustration in a book and shows it] "Basilisks, they were called, or cockatrices. Their very gaze was sometimes fatal, their bite a lethal poison. They wreaked widespread destruction on the soldiers of good before the last of them was finally destroyed."
~ Signs and Portents ~
* * * * *
Night of the Weird
* * * * *
Winter raged on. Not the gentle caress of soft white snow, but a continuous drive, a frosty retort of nature versus civilization- no soft blanket covered the streets of London this April. The biting wind filled every street, every crevice, nipping at two figures standing huddled in the doorway of a large warehouse.
A blade of shining silver sliced easily through the iron padlock, admitting the two intruders, a man and a girl, before disappearing somewhere in the depths of the man's trenchcoat. A torch was produced, sweeping across cluttered work surfaces...
Dark eyes watched them from far away, peering across the distance with supernatural sight. From the corner of the room an underling spoke:
"Shall we apprehend them, Lord?"
The watcher raised his eyes. "No... my agent is in place and he'll take steps if necessary. Let them search for now. They will be much easier to discourage when they realize their efforts have been wasted once more."
* * * * *
Arthur Pendragon waved his torch over an unlocked filing cabinet, pulling open each drawer in turn and examining the contents.
"Any luck?" Leba called across the room in a low whisper.
"None. Nothing but invoices- it all seems legitimate." All for ordinary office furniture, Arthur noted, care of Darien Montrose. Nothing to link the prominent businessman with the sinister, pale-faced Minions, or their master, Lucius Adrians. Arthur eyed a soft, cushioned office chair suspiciously, looking away when it failed to manifest eldritch terrors.
"Arthur! Over here!" Leba hissed urgently.
Arthur hurried over. In a wastepaper basket was a hurriedly shredded sheath of documents, the warmth of the machine still on them. By the basket a few sheets were still jammed in the blades, not completely destroyed. Arthur opened the top of the machine, and began to extract them.
* * *
Green slitted eyes widened in the dark. The incompetence of mortals! Could they not be trusted to perform the most simple tasks? Perhaps he would need to take some action after all. A twitch of the whiskers and a flick of the tail were all that was necessary to correct matters.
* * *
Arthur examined the partially shredded documents, the print slightly distorted from the ragged tears in the paper. Suddenly the base of the paper began to smolder, then became engulfed in flame. Arthur hurriedly dropped the papers, watching in dismay as they were incinerated before his eyes. A high-pitched giggling, like a cat's laugh, if such a thing was possible, was heard in the next room, followed by several thuds. Arthur ran to the door, just in time to see several tiny specks of light disappearing out the window. At his feet a pool of wood varnish from an up-turned cask was bubbling and seething, flowing along a seemingly unnatural path towards the burning documents that Leba was frantically trying - unsuccessfully -- to extinguish. The air suddenly became toxic and choked with fumes. The varnish ignited, becoming a sticky pool of fire.
Arthur drew Excalibur from his coat, smashing through the external door. Pushing Leba out the door ahead of him, he cast a last, despairing look back at the rapidly growing inferno. "Blast!" he said forcefully. "I was certain we'd find a connection between Montrose and the Unseelie Court!"
Leba put a hand on his arm. "But we did, Arthur. Things don't just catch on fire for no reason." She glanced back at the building, now engulfed in flames. "We got too close to the truth tonight and somebody didn't like it. We'd better be going before the authorities get here."
The klaxon wails of approaching emergency vehicles spurred them away from the warehouse engulfed in flames and into the night.
* * * * *
Madoc shook his head, watching the burning warehouse for a few seconds longer before dismissing the vision with a wave of his hand.
"Well?" He regarded the green, feline eyes across the room.
"I remained long enough to make sure nothing survived the fire," Grimalkin responded, licking a paw. "Montrose was sloppy. His haste nearly made a costly error."
"An error indeed... this Arthur Pendragon is coming far too close to uncovering our operative. This could damage us, Grimalkin." Madoc's tone was civil, but the inflection was anything but. The giant Unseelie cat shied back from his gaze.
"I want him stopped, Grimalkin. See to it." Madoc turned, and strode determinedly back into the depths of the castle. Grimalkin sat in place, preened for a second, and then dove through the septangle on the floor, into the backroom of a small bar somewhere in Soho...
* * * * *
"Well done," Lucius Adrians said, lifting his glass of stout, "Well done, one and all. Confusion to the enemy!"
The Minions assembled gave a rousing cheer, ignoring the large cat threading his way through the crowd. The feline brushed up against Lucius and left mottled black-and-brown cat hairs on the man's wool trousers.
Lucius looked down and commented absently, "Oh, there you are, puss. Where have you been?"
"Meeow?" the cat said loudly, butting his head up against the man's knee. It had the desired effect; Lucius bent down and lifted the large cat into his arms where he remained until they both arrived at Lucius's home some time later. The cat padded off to the kitchen while the human went off to tend to his evening ablutions.
Grimalkin sneered at the food bowl on the floor. "Kibble? Feh!" He leaped up onto the counter and batted the cabinet door open. He found a tin of sardines and with a twitch of his whiskers, the can miraculously opened, the key rolling the lid back all by itself. Grimalkin sniffed the smoked fish delicately.
"Well, it's not caviar but this will do for now." He slurped up the canned fish with complete feline enjoyment. Lucius padded into the kitchen in his slippers to find all traces of Grimalkin's feast gone and the large cat sitting up on the counter, industriously washing his face.
Lucius sniffed the air curiously. "Odd. I can smell fish. How peculiar." He shrugged. "No matter."
The cat yawned, rrrowling in mid-gape and curling his tongue. He smacked his lips and glared at the man, defying Lucius to find anything undignified in that as he combed his whiskers.
Stifling a yawn of his own, Lucius started into his study and began to read through a stack of papers on his desk. The cat followed and leaped up onto the desk.
"Not now, puss," Lucius said absently. "I'm busy."
"Good grief, cat!" Lucius exclaimed, "What is it?" He looked up to find himself mesmerized by an unblinking pair of glowing green eyes. The pen in his hand fell to the desktop and his face grew slack.
"Got your attention, have I? Good." Grimalkin purred as he studied the notes beneath the man's hands. "Studying your alchemy, are you? Trust me, there's nothing like practical application when you want to learn something." He smiled, a wide, spreading Cheshire Cat grin that made goosebumps rise on the backs of the man's bared forearms. "Listen to me carefully, Lucius Adrians. Here's what you're going to do…."
* * * * *
The Marter Estate, somewhere outside of London
"Caspian?" Griff called across the cavernous dining hall where the younger gargoyles were clearing away the remains of the evening meal. "Have you seen where Brianna has gotten off to? She was talking to Lucy earlier."
The golden unicorn-headed gargoyle looked up from the conversation he was having with Rosalind and a few other of his rookery mates. "Uh, oh," Caspian said with a grin. "Sounds like Lucy's found another victim to watch that Soupy Cyborgs movie with again."
Rosalind narrowed her eyes at him and snorted. "I still say either you or your mother must have enchanted that video tape. At the rate the child watches the thing, the bloody tape should have worn out by now."
* * * * *
Brianna pursed her lips and squinted at the television screen. "An' that one there, which one is that?"
"That one's Speed Bump."
"Th' really fast one?"
"No, silly, that's Texas Jack." Lucy rolled her eyes. "Speed Bump's power is to make himself really, really flat. Graeme likes him because Speed Bump is the clever one that's always building things."
"I dinnae know how ye keep them apart, Lucy, truly I don't," Brianna admitted. "Still, it is an exciting show." She began humming. "An' such a catchy theme song!"
"Yup!" Lucy said, shoving a handful of popcorn in her mouth. "It's aces!!" She offered the bowl to Brianna who helped herself to a few fluffy kernels and ate them in ladylike nibbles. Lucy studied her out of the corner of her eyes for a few minutes before blurting out her next set of questions. "So what do you like most about London so far, Auntie Brianna?"
"Well, since ye've asked so nicely," the Caledonian gargoyle replied thoughtfully, "I like th' music, an' some of th' things on th' television, an' chocolate, an' I rather like you." Brianna tweaked the end of Lucy's leonine nose.
"What?" Griff exclaimed grandly as he stepped into the darkened rumpus room. "Don't I get a mention in there?"
A trill of musical laughter like birdsong answered him. "Don't be silly, Griff. I treasure yuir love far more than chocolate."
"That's rare praise, brother," Michael said as he followed Griff into the room. "I'd make the most of that, if I were you."
"Lucy?" Caspian's voice echoed in the hallway before he popped into the room. "Oh, there you are. Your boyfriend the digestive biscuit is beeping you on the computer again."
"He is not my boyfriend," Lucy said as she hopped off the couch. She scowled up at her big brother. "And don't make fun of him. Graeme is a perfectly lovely name."
"OoOoOo!" Caspian widened his eyes and wiggled his fingers as he followed her into the hall. "I'm so scared!"
There was a sudden muffled thud followed by a loud "Ooomph!!" Caspian groaned.
"I told you!" Rosalind said as she walked past the open doorway, shaking her head. "You don't want to muck about with feline reflexes, Cas. Your little sister is developing one mean gut punch."
"When I catch that little furball, I'll -"
"Cas, you can hardly walk." Her laugh began to fade as they went down the hall. "Serves you right for picking on her. She's jealous enough of your little brother Aslan as it is."
Michael shut the door and smiled wryly. "I hope the inmates haven't scared you off from visiting, Brianna. We're not always this rambunctious."
"Nae, Michael," Brianna said brightly. "I like comin' out to visit th' clan. I'm nae used to so many gargoyles in one place, true enow, an' I dinnae remember everyone's name, but nobody seems to mind."
"That's the benefit of you being so naturally charming, darling,' Griff said as he settled in besides Brianna and curled his arm around her. "Michael found some videos that he wanted to show us."
"Oh?" Brianna looked up expectantly at the brown eagle-headed leader of the London clan as he replaced Lucy's cartoon tape with another video cassette.
"Actually, it's something Brock's been keeping all these years. I thought I'd thrown them away but he gave them back to me for Victoria's hatching day present." Michael's normally stern expression softened as it often did when he mentioned his infant daughter. He picked up the remote and clicked the play button delicately with his thumb talon. "Brock felt that perhaps I should let my daughter get to know her mother."
The tape opened to a scene on the estate in summertime, the courtyard strung with steamers, paper lanterns and colored lights. Large pots of blooming flowers were everywhere. The camera tightened on the steps leading to the gazebo and an image of a younger, less grizzled-looking Brock who was presiding over a ceremony. Michael was standing in front of him, looking into the eyes of a elegant white gargoyle with the graceful features of a swan.
"Is that--?" Griff started.
Michael nodded. "Yes. That's my Fidella. This was our mating ceremony."
"She's verra lovely, Michael," Brianna said in a hush. "Wee Victoria has her eyes."
"I've always thought so," the brown gargoyle agreed amiably.
The film switched to scenes of clan life - hatchlings at play with Fidella supervising them, Michael and some other males in a flying race, parties and holiday scenes. Finally there were several segments of Fidella in various stages of pregnancy. She was constantly smiling and pointing at her stomach.
"Fidella loved being pregnant," Michael explained wryly. "She was one of the regular rookery keepers. She loved taking care of things - plants, animals, hatchlings, ….me." He sighed.
The scene switched to an interior shot of the rookery room. Several females and their mates were present in the background but the camera focused on Fidella's strained face as she labored to lay her first egg. She gave a hoarse cry and the image suddenly swayed and jerked downwards.
"What was that?" Griff demanded.
Michael looked sheepish and mumbled something.
"I fainted, all right?" Michael admitted. "Face down on the rookery floor." He glared at Griff who was chortling with a hand over his beak. "You'll fare no better, brother mine, when you're the one standing in the rookery watching while Brianna lays your first egg! Mark my words!"
The video resumed to a tired yet happy Fidella cradling a purplish egg while gently laughing at Michael, clearly amused at the big, tough male she mated. Several scenes followed of Fidella tending the egg, Fidella and Michael together, and at last, Fidella dancing in the courtyard. Michael sighed as the tape ran out.
"That was the night we went to the concert. You know the rest." He looked at the remote in his hands.
Brianna broke the uneasy silence. "Thank ye, Michael, for letting us meet your mate. I know it was hard for ye."
"Yes," Griff agreed and reached over to put a hand on his brother's shoulder. "I can see why you miss her so much. She was a rare creature, beautiful and caring."
Michael swallowed and stared at the blank television screen. "Since Victoria hatched, I've come to realize that even though it's painful to me, I can't keep Fidella out of my life just because she's gone. I can see her every time I look in Victoria's eyes and I know how much I missed knowing my own mother. How can I deny my daughter that?"
"Ye cannae," Brianna said gently, "an' ye shouldnae. She might nae understand until she's older, but Victoria will thank ye for it." She tilted her head and smiled. "An' so will Fidella."
"I don't see how." The eagle-headed gargoyle shook his head sadly. "This video tape, a few pictures and my memories are all I have left of her."
"My rookery sister Tori lost her mother when she was nae but a hatchling an' yet, Tori always felt her mother was near, all her life long. I think as long as a child lives, nae even death itself could keep a mother away."
* * * * *
The next day - early morning
Ashes coated the tips of Darien Montrose's expensive Italian shoes as he surveyed the remnants of his fire-gutted warehouse. A young constable, Lowell according to his name badge, and a fire marshal accompanied him as they walked along the smoldering property.
"We haven't ruled out arson entirely, Mr. Montrose," the fire marshal was saying, "but our experts have found no evidence of any sort of chemical or liquid accelerant. The city safety inspector says that your building was recently inspected?"
"Yes," Darien responded promptly, "just last fall. October, I believe."
The fire marshal checked his clipboard and nodded. "And according to his reports, everything was up to regulation specs - wiring, furnace, storage facilities - we can safely rule out any accidental causes."
"Was this building insured, Mr. Montrose?" asked Constable Lowell, taking out his notepad.
"Yes, I insure all of my facilities." Darien shoved his hands deeper into his coat pockets. "Standard business practice, really."
"What did this warehouse contain?"
Darien laughed. "You know, that's the really odd thing. This one contained office furniture and supplies - desks, chairs, paper goods, and the like. Nothing more threatening than a stapler."
"The security camera was damaged in the fire but we've taken it to the lab to be examined," Constable Lowell said. "Until we get the results back, we won't be able to rule arson out completely. However, we can allow your insurance people onto the site now and let them do their work."
"Good show, constable. Are you finished with me for now?" Darien hunched his shoulders as his breath steamed in the air. "I'd like to go back to the office where it's nice and warm."
Both officials replied in the affirmative and soon Darien was in his car, heading into town. He picked up his personal phone and punched up a private number.
"Mr. Cohn? Montrose here. The West Side warehouse facility burned to the ground last night. Yes, nothing but harmless office furniture left inside. We moved your little project out of there just in the nick of time." He paused at a stop light. "No, the police and the fire department have nothing to go on. I suspect they'll write the whole thing off in a matter of days." Darien smiled. "Nice doing business with you too, sir. Good day."
* * * * *
A cab pulled up neatly to the curb and the driver hopped out smartly, giving a shout to the doorman huddling in the warmth of the hotel doorway. "Oy, mate! Give us a hand with this lady's bags, will you?"
"What's the rush?" the doorman asked irritably as he stepped carefully through the piles of new snow and old slush on the sidewalk.
"Just giving a little extra special service to a nice lady. There's nothing wrong with that, is there? The cabbie hustled around to open the passenger's door. "Here you go, mum. The Cumberland Hotel, as promised."
"Thank you, Kevin," the woman said softly as she took his hand as she stepped lightly from the vehicle. Her hooded cloak concealed most of her features, save an ageless oval face with a fine porcelain complexion and green eyes that shifted with the light, going from a deep color that was almost black to a pale sea green that seemed to glow. Only a few fine lines around her eyes hinted that she might be older than she appeared.
The doorman straightened up as her serene gaze passed over him and cleared his throat. "Careful now, madam. The sidewalk hasn't been cleared yet this morning and it's slippery."
"I'll be fine, thank you." With the assistance of the two well-meaning gentlemen, the woman was soon inside the warm lobby of the hotel. She pulled back the hood of her coat and melting snowflakes glittered like stars in her silvering dark hair. Her rare beauty was accented by he way she had allowed her hair to go gray naturally, like a brilliant starburst framing her face. The manager spied her from across the room and hurried towards her.
"Mrs. Fisher! How good it is to see you again!" the hotel manager said lavishly. "Your usual suite?"
"Yes, that would be delightful, Mr. Broadbent, if it's not too much trouble," she replied politely, her gaze falling on a stack of newspapers at the lobby newsstand.
"I'll just ring up and see if it's ready then, shall I?"
The manager's words fell on deaf ears as the dark-haired woman picked up a newspaper and scanned the headlines. Her smooth brow wrinkled and her eyes turned a curious grayish-green like the fog rolling in over the Thames. " 'Mysterious Moon Malady Menaces Men In Manhattan,' " she read softly to herself. She scanned the page quickly, noting at a glance the number of strange events happening all over the world. Glancing up, her gaze went to the snowy streets outside.
"Oh, no. Not again," she uttered solemnly. "After all these thousands of years, it's happening all over again."
* * * * *
The home of Lucius Adrians
"Uhhhhnnnn…," Lucius groaned as he lifted his head from the pile of papers on his desk. The edge of a page was pressed into his cheek. He grimaced as he straightened and the vertebra in his back popped like breakfast cereal. "I can't believe I fell asleep at my desk again. What was I thinking last night?"
He rubbed the bridge of his nose and let his hand drift down the unshaven terrain of his face to his goatee before glancing at the papers on the desk. He blinked. He shook his head and blinked again. There before him was sheet after sheet of complicated chemical and mathematical formulae combined with arcane symbols and scribbled notes in his own crabbed handwriting. With his mouth agape, Lucius quickly flipped through the pages.
"What is this?" he asked aloud. "Animating the inanimate? Molecular transformation?" His eyes grew wild. "A vision! I must have had another vision! These computations are far too complex for a mere human." He snatched up the papers and hurried from the room.
The coffee pot was three-quarters full and hissing with fresh coffee. Lucius almost walked past it, but his nose overrode his body and he found himself turning back to pour a cup. "Odd," he commented to the cat that was busily lapping at his water bowl, "I don't recall setting the coffee maker up last night. Oh, well." He picked up his coffee and his notes. "I'm off to the lab, cat."
Grimalkin looked up disinterestedly as the basement door thumped shut, little droplets of coffee and cream suspended from his whiskers. "And you're very welcome," he said sarcastically. He finished up the coffee in his water bowl and leaped up on the kitchen table where a single square of weak winter sun was shining. He turned around three times widdershins before curling up for a nap.
"Surely after all that coaching last night, Lucius can manage to brew up that potion unsupervised long enough for me to catch a little beauty sleep."
Not more than thirty minutes passed when a loud crash echoed from downstairs and a spate of muffled swearing followed. One emerald eye cracked open. A sharp smell of sulfur seeped under the door. The dark cat yawned, stretching its forepaws out in front of it and raising its haunches in the air.
"What has Lucius gotten himself into now?" Grimalkin muttered and leapt off the table. "A cat's work is never done."
* * * * *
Pendragon Investigations - midday
The sound of the door opening in the outer office made Rory look up from the computer screen. He whistled as Arthur came in, shrugging off his overcoat to reveal the smart outfit beneath - charcoal trousers, rich burgundy turtleneck and gray tweed jacket.
"Looking sharp, Arthur. What's up? I thought you an' Leba wouldn't be in for hours."
Arthur made himself a cup of coffee. "I'm having tea with Jennifer Camford this afternoon so I thought I'd come downstairs and work for a while."
Rory nodded sagely. "Nerves, eh?"
"Honestly," Arthur said, looking at the roguish young Irishman, "I'd rather slay a dragon than go through all this modern romance." He laughed. "I'll admit it's getting better with practice."
"Just don't run into that other posh bird this time," Rory advised. "Leba's told me stories about that gallery opening fiasco."
"No chance of that," Arthur commented as he settled in behind his desk. "Elaine and Norman are off in the States. This time, I predict no major catastrophes for Jennifer and myself."
* * * * *
The home of Lucius Adrians
A sharp rap came at the back door. Some muffled voices argued and then some delicate metallic scraping preceded the opening of the door.
"Eddie!" the girl said reproachfully. "We should have waited. You don't know what kind of a mood he'll be in."
"I could care less, Char," Eddie scoffed as he looked around the kitchen. "Beats standin' around out there in the bleedin' cold, now don't it?"
"Anyway," said the third member of their group, "he's expectin' us. No harm in lettin' ourselves in when we're supposed to be here."
"All right," Char said grudgingly, "you both have a point." She looked down at the mottled dark cat winding around her legs. "'Ullo there, kitty-kitty." She reached down and scratched the cat's ears. "Where's th' old man, eh?"
The cat mrrowred as he bumped his head against her blue jeans and sauntered to the basement door. He looked over his shoulder at them and twitched his tail as if to say, "Well, what're you waiting for?"
"Come along then," Char said, pulling the door open.
"Are you off your nut?" Eddie curled his lip up. "I'm not following a mangy hairball down there."
The cat hissed at him and slashed his tail.
"Ah, you're here, my Minions!" called Lucius, his voice echoing hollowly up the stairs. "Come down! I have a job for you."
Char smirked over her shoulder. "Told you so."
The two young men followed her downstairs. Somehow, Eddie managed to trip over his own feet halfway down and collided heavily with a stack of boxes at the bottom of the stairs. The cat gave a peculiar, almost snickering series of sneezes as he took his perch on a wobbly stool. Lucius spared a scathing look for the bald man as he struggled to his feet.
"Any time you're ready, Edward," the leader of the Minions said in his most professorish voice. "I have a little demonstration for you. Rodney, fetch me that little statue on the shelf behind you, please?"
"Um, this one?" Rodney held up a small gray gargoyle resembling a bulldog with wings, designed to sit on a shelf.
"Perfect!" Lucius pushed some papers out of the way and tapped on the worktable. "Put it here, won't you?" He poured a purplish liquid into a small hand held sprayer while Rodney placed the gargoyle statue on the table. "Now, attend. One of the oldest mysteries of alchemy is giving life to the inanimate. Watch carefully."
Lucius sprayed a fine mist over the little statue. He leaned over and chanted first in Latin, then in English, "Breathe, o lifeless stone! In darkness, find life!"
The liquid began to bubble violently on the stone, hissing as it began to evaporate and shroud the statue in a purple haze. The mists swirled and danced.
"It didn't do nuthin'," Eddie muttered.
A tiny scratching sound drew their attention as the gargoyle dog leapt off the tabletop and soared towards Eddie, stony lips pulled back from gray teeth. The cat on the stool stood watching with glowing eyes, perfectly still except for the slashing of his tail. The big bald Minion swatted at the little gargoyle buzzing around his head.
"Hey!! Gerrout, bloody fool thing!!" Eddie snapped. He caught it with a lucky backhand, knocking it into a cluttered shelf. He winced and rubbed his hand. "Ow! That thing hurt!"
The cat leapt off the stool and sank into a low crouch as he began to stalk the little gargoyle. No one paid either one of them the least bit of attention.
"Of course," Lucius replied. "It's still basically a stone creature at the core."
"What are you planning to with this stuff?" Char asked eagerly. "There's tons of moldy old statues all over town."
Lucius pointed a finger at her and smiled. "Precisely the plan, Char, my dear. This potion will only work in darkness but we can spend the day preparing various statues around London while Edward and Rodney here provide a little distraction."
"All right! Now you're talkin', guv!" Eddie cracked his knuckles. "What do you want us to do?"
Glancing at a vented crate in the corner, Lucius said shrewdly, "I think that London is overdue for a little wildlife, don't you? While Char and I tend to the statues, you two will take our little country friends for an outing." His eyes narrowed wickedly. "Take them to all the best places."
A high-pitched shriek in the corner went unnoticed as Grimalkin amused himself.
* * * * *
Teatime at The Savoy
"Your coats, please? Sir? Miss?"
As the attendant bustled away with their outer garments, Arthur turned to his companion and found himself at a loss for words. Jennifer Camford had forgone her usual business wear for an elegantly demure dress of royal blue with tasteful scarf of watercolor hues pinned with an antique brooch on one shoulder. Her blonde hair fell loose around her shoulders as she scanned the opulent room lined with art deco mirrors, her smile growing radiant with an almost childlike wonder. She looked at that moment, almost like one of the ladies of his court, and his heart leapt.
Jennifer looked him, still smiling. "Isn't it lovely, Arthur? Having tea at The Savoy has always been one of my most favorite things, ever since I was a girl."
"I do not know about the room, milady," Arthur said, taking her hand, "but your beauty puts it all to shame." He kissed her hand chastely, all the while meeting her eyes. A faint roguish smile tugged at his lips.
Blushing, Jennifer lowered her eyes. "Oh, Arthur! The things you say!"
They were rescued from further conversation by the arrival of the head waiter who showed them to their seats. Jennifer was still taking in the room with wide eyes, looking so wistful and faraway that Arthur had to ask.
"A penny for your thoughts?"
Laughing, Jennifer put a hand to her cheek. "It's silly, really. My father used to bring me here for special occasions - after my first dance recital, my sixteenth birthday, when I graduated from university. My father was never one for a lot of mushy sentiment but he always made me feel like a princess."
"And so you are," Arthur said gently. "The love and respect you have for your parents is one of the things I admire in you. How is your father these days?"
"Not well, I'm afraid," Jennifer sighed. "Mother says his mind is wandering more than usual. He's forever talking about conspiracies and secret societies and people that we've never heard of. It's sad, really." She sighed again and straightened, regarding Arthur with a strained smile. "Enough about me. How are Griff and Cavall?"
"Griff's taken a mate," Arthur said brightly, glad for a new topic. "Her name is Brianna and she's quite lovely. I'm afraid she occupies quite a lot of his time these days."
"As it should be," Jennifer agreed. "I'm sure Cavall's got his nose out-of-joint over that."
"Cavall, for all his fearsome appearance, is just like a big dog," Arthur replied. "As long as his food bowl is full and there's someone to scratch his ears, he's happy."
* * *
As Arthur and Jennifer continued to make idle conversation, they were watched with amused interest from across the room. The dark-haired woman studied them as she sat near the piano in the corner of the room, listening contentedly to the pianist playing classical music. Her sharp eyes took in Arthur's contemporary dress and in her mind's eye, saw him instead in the fashions of centuries past, seated at the side of his queen Guinevere at the high table of Camelot's dining hall.
"My," she commented to herself, "the years have been kind indeed, Arthur Pendragon. It's amazing what a nice long nap will do for you."
She smiled wryly over her teacup and returned her attention to the music.
* * * * *
Somewhere in London.
"Careful now, Eddie... the boss said not to let them touch our skin"
"What are you worrying about, Rodney? It's only a little lizard..."
"I don't care, I don't trust 'em..." Heavily gloved hands closed around a cold reptilian body, lifting the hooded creature from the cat carrier. Its whip-like tail lashed back and forth as Rodney kept the wings pinned to the scaly body. He lowered it to the ground and held it in place as he carefully unfastened the hood.
"Come on!" Eddie snapped impatiently. "You're being an old woman about this, Rodney!"
"Push off, will you? I remember what happened to that fat bloke on that dinosaur movie we saw the other night on telly. I'm not about to have it spit poison on me and bite my face off."
"That was only a movie!"
"And basilisks are only old folk stories but we've got a bloody box full o' the things, now don't we?" Rodney lifted the hood off the little creature's head and stepped back quickly. It hissed and scurried under a parked car. "Where next?"
Eddie took a much folded piece of paper out of his pocket. "Let's drop a couple over in Soho and then we dump the lot in Hyde Park like the old goat said."
"The sooner we're done with this, the better."
* * * * *
Into The Mystic
Dulcinea sat up suddenly in bed, the sweat making the sheets cling to her despite the cold.
a struggling monster thrust into a small cage...
The vividness of her dream sank back into the surreal world of her mind, as Dulcinea slowly began to assess her situation. She was in the apartment above the magic shop, catching a few hours sleep after arriving in London early that morning. Dulcinea climbed out of bed and dressed, walking sleepily downstairs to the back office in search of reassuring human contact. She paused to make herself a cup of hot chocolate, staring into space absently as she stirred the powdered drink into the hot water.
Sitting at the desk perusing The Times, Colin Marter quickly noticed the young woman's disturbed expression. "Dulcinea? I say, whatever is the matter?"
The young Spanish woman shuddered in return. "Nothing- a nightmare, nothing more."
"Nothing more? I've seldom seen you in such a state over nothing."
Cold reptilian eyes stared out of the cracked shell of a chicken egg, a rooster looking on with a confused expression on its face…
Dulcinea swayed slightly as another fragment of dream came back to her.
"Have you ever seen a rooster lay an egg?"
His eyebrows shot up "Oh dear, not again."
* * * * *
"'Ere now," the constable said as he strode up to Lucius and Char. "What's all this then?"
"What, are you blind or somethin'?" Char pointed a thumb to the back of her Public Works overall that she had conveniently nicked from a park maintenance shed. "We're treatin' the statues to some long overdue maintenance."
The constable narrowed his eyes and circled the large statue of Achilles. He gave Lucius a particularly long stare as the leader of the Minions stood on a rickety ladder and sprayed purple fluid onto the sculpture with a high-pressure sprayer. "And what exactly are you doing to the Wellington Monument, sir?" he asked, using its official name.
Lucius arced a few more sprays over the statue before descending the ladder and facing the constable. "Well, my fine man," he said in an overly-educated tone, "we are applying a polymer compound formulated for the combined purpose of sealing and protecting the stone surface from the erosional effect of both ultraviolet radiation and airborne pollutants, plus the additional benefit of being an effective avian repellent."
"Er…. It does all that then?"
"Oh, yes," Lucius said, warming to his subject. "Finneger and Stout at the University of Ellsbridge have been developing this formula for over ten years. It's the synthetic polymers in the retroactive integers that make this so efficacious." He began patting his pockets. "I've got a copy of the chemical schematics right here--"
Shaking off his glazed expression, the constable said hastily, "No, no, that's quite all right, sir. Carry on." He walked rather quickly away.
Char watched him go and smirked. "That was right clever of you, Lucius."
"My lectures had much the same effect on my students," Lucius replied with a shrug. "Now let's find a few more interesting subjects before nightfall, shall we?" He pulled a list from his pocket. "I rather fancy that a wild huntress like Artemis could cause a great deal of excitement with that bow of hers, don't you?"
* * * * *
Old Arnold Stewart pushed his trolley through Hyde Park, collecting old cans discarded by thoughtless teenagers as he went, picking out whatever scraps of food that remained from forgotten takeaway meals from the dustbins that lined the walkway. Suddenly he stopped, as his bleary eyes picked out an unusual discoloration in a nearby bush. Slowly and unsteadily he hobbled his way towards the bush. A sudden movement- a rustling- made him pause in his approach. Arnold watched for a second. When anything further failed to happen he crept up and carefully pulled some of the foliage aside. Staring back at him was a small creature made up of nightmares, dead eyes looking back at him with a curious but stupid expression. He reached out to it, but withdrew his hand quickly as it hissed loudly at him.
"Come on then," Arnold mumbled, "Old Arnold won't hurt you." He reached out again to the little creature.
It answered with a hiss.
* * * * *
Forensic Lab, Scotland Yard
Constable Lowell leaned towards the video monitor and squinted one eye at the fuzzy image. "Is that the best you can do, Watson?"
The stout technician flicked his fingers over the keyboard. "Well, that's the clearest image on the tape so far," he admitted. "Holmes is in the lab trying to raise some of the other images from the more damaged portion of the film."
Lowell tapped the screen. "At least the time index is still readable. That's only minutes before the fire marshal estimated the time of the fire."
"Let me try something," Watson murmured as he typed in some new commands. He zoomed in on the image, bringing it up and sharpening the picture. "Blast! They had their backs to the camera in this shot but I'd say we're looking for a man with long, brownish hair and a woman with blonde hair worn in a thick braid."
"That's not much to go on," Lowell commented ruefully, "but it's something."
"Holmes is doing a frame by frame analysis," Watson replied. "We'll let you know when we have something more conclusive for you."
Constable Lowell thanked the technician and stepped out into the corridor. He was nearly run over when he reached the main squad room. Officers were snatching up their parkas and rushing for the door. He blinked and stared at the melee before cornering a female officer manning a desk.
"What's bloody well going on?"
"R.S.P.C.A.? Yes, I'll hold." She put a hand over the receiver of the phone. "It's a zoo out there, Lowell. There be monsters in London!"
Lowell snorted. "Monsters? In my town?" He set his jaw and buttoned his coat, preparing to enter the fray. "No bloody way."
* * * * *
The Spencer-Windsor Shelter for the Homeless
Leba stifled another yawn behind clenched teeth. Her co-worker laughed as she piled blankets into Leba's arms. "Another late night, eh?"
"It's a musician's curse, Sandra." Leba replied wryly. She glanced over the crowd out in the dining hall, mentally counting heads. "Full house today."
"Yes, it is," Sandra agreed. "All the shelters in the city have been packed lately. Ordinarily, the weather should be warming up and a lot of them would be moving on." She shook her head. "I'm really worried, Leba. Two hard winters in a row… we just weren't designed for this."
"We'll just have to do the best we can," Leba replied. "The human spirit can survive practically anything. Somehow, we'll get through this." She hefted the pile of blankets. "Now, where do you want these?"
"Second floor women's dormitory." Sandra looked out at the growing crowd of people. "I really appreciate this, Leba. I need to track down Arnold Stewart. He's diabetic and normally he's good about coming in for his shot but he's late today."
"Go ahead and work the crowd, Sandra. I can manage on my own." With that, Leba awkwardly climbed the stairs. The women's dormitory already had occupants even enough it was only late afternoon. Several women had their children clustered around them like mother hens protecting their chicks.
"Blast this Fimbulwinter," Leba muttered under her breath, "this is no way for children to grow up."
The load of blankets got lighter as she worked her way through the room. A group of older women had staked out an area near a space heater and were gossiping like chattering magpies.
"Did you hear about poor old Arnold?" one worn-looking woman said to her neighbor as Leba passed by. "They found him dead, stone cold dead!"
"What?" Leba exclaimed. "Not Arnold Stewart? We've been expecting him to come in for his medicine."
"Well, luv, he won't be needin' that any more. I hear tell that when the coppers found 'im, he'd gone stiff as a board with a 'orrible expression on 'is face. Somethin' scared 'im to dead."
The woman on the neighboring pallet nodded. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if that's what done 'im in. The streets are no place to be anymore, what with them Minions and Vampyres and ghastly little monsters lurking about."
"Monsters?" Leba blinked. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, nasty little creatures, they are! They hisses at you and spits." She shuddered. "I 'ear tell of people who found the things crawling into their squats near the heating vents. I didn't want to spend another moment on the streets after I 'eard that!"
After a few minutes further questioning, Leba finished her blanket run and dashed back downstairs to find a phone. "Rory? Where's Arthur?" She rolled her eyes at his answer. "Well, you and I will have to handle this. Let Emrys mind the office and meet me at Speaker's Corner near Hyde Park. There's something weird going on."
* * * * *
Outside The Savoy
Arthur turned up his collar and looked up into the gray English sky. "Well, at least it's not snowing," he commented. "That's a good sign."
"Perhaps we should celebrate," Jennifer suggested. "Let's do something impulsive!" Her eyes sparkled. "Let's call our offices and tell them they're on their own. Tonight let's just be Arthur and Jennifer and no one else."
"You tempt me, milady," Arthur said as he encircled her with his arms. "What has prompted this intriguing mood?"
"I don't really know." She smiled sadly. "It's just… I've had so many responsibilities since I took over the Camford Corporation. I never have any time for myself, and sometimes, I just have to do something spontaneous or burst." She cocked her head fetchingly. "Or am I just being silly?"
Arthur laughed. "No, dear Jennifer, not at all. Truth to tell, I could do with an evening away from the madness of my life as well. What sort of mischief do you have in mind?"
"Let's make it up as we go along, shall we?" Jennifer said impishly. "Come along. My car's down this way."
"You drove in these horrible conditions?" Arthur said admiringly. "Jennifer, I'm impressed."
"Nothing to be impressed about, Arthur. With everyone slipping and sliding on the streets, I just trust my driving more than anyone else's." Removing her right glove, Jennifer fished around in her purse for her car keys. She came up with them a few seconds later and started to open the door. Arthur was on the passenger side of the car when Jennifer gave a little scream and slammed the door.
"Arthur! Some sort of creature jumped in my car!!"
Arthur ran back to her. "What? Are you all right?"
"Yes, I think so," Jennifer replied. "It was hideous - I didn't get a good look at it before it crawled under the seat. Look! You can see the end of its tail sticking out!"
"Did it hurt you?"
"No, but it did give me quite a start. It hissed and spat some goo at me." She held up her left hand, pointing at it with the bare fingers of her right hand. "There's still some on my glove." She frowned and stared at her right hand. "That's odd. I barely touched the stuff and my fingers are going numb."
Arthur frowned. "Hmmm, I don't think I'd care to get down on eye level with it if it spits that sort of thing. Do you have a mirror perhaps, Jennifer?"
"Yes," Jennifer said, digging around in her purse and handing him a compact. "But what good will that do?"
"I'm going back to the classics," Arthur said as he carefully re-opened the car door. "Perseus used a mirror to battle Medusa and I'll wager the same approach will work here." He lowered the mirror to look under the driver's seat of the car. The interior car lights were not bright enough to help in Arthur's search but as he moved the mirror for a better angle, there was a tremendous hiss and the scrabbling of claws backing up under the seat.
"Jennifer, stand well back!" Arthur commanded.
He forced the mirror farther under the seat and grabbed the creature as it began to emerge on the other side. Seizing it in one smooth underhand motion, he hurled it hard against the pavement with a wet smack. Its chicken head lolled on its neck as the scaly green creature gave a few last twitches and expired.
Jennifer backed up even farther, her eyes wide and wondering. "What is it? I've never seen an animal like it."
Arthur frowned at the pitiful little monster laying at his feet. He'd almost forgotten the misadventure involving Woostie the egg-laying rooster and had been glad to put the whole sordid affair behind him, but the strange half-reptile, half-avian creature before him was almost identical to the one in Una's book. To proclaim to Jennifer and the rest of the gathering crowd that there was a basilisk loose in London and possibly more would hardly be appropriate.
"I'm not sure what it is either," he said finally, "but I know who very well might be able to identify it." He reached into her car for the newspaper lying on the back seat. "I hate to do this, my lady Jennifer, but I'm afraid I'll have to forgo the rest of our evening."
"I think…" Jennifer swayed. "I think perhaps that's a good idea." She stumbled a few steps back and put her gloved hand on the wall.
Arthur hastily stuffed the dead basilisk into his coat pocket and dashed to her aid. Jennifer collapsed in his arms and his lips brushed her forehead. "Jennifer!" he exclaimed. "You're burning up!"
Her eyelids flickered. "I feel so very strange," she said in a small, puzzled voice.
"Never fear," Arthur said as he scooped her up and headed back inside the hotel. "I'll take of everything."
* * * * *
Near Hyde Park - late afternoon
A bare trail worn through the snow and ice around the lightpost was evidence that Leba had been waiting none too patiently when Rory finally arrived. "Where have you been?" she demanded impatiently, by way of a greeting. "I've been waiting forever!"
"And a very good afternoon to you too, Leba," Rory replied sourly. "For your information, it's a wonder I got here at all. They've got th' bloody Tube shut down in places, why is anybody's guess, an' it's a complete madhouse down there. I was half tempted to pull my stick out, just so I could clear out a path through th' crowd."
Leba rolled her eyes. "Well, save some of that pent-up frustration. I've been talking to some of the street people while I've been waiting for you. They're really spooked." She looked over the hedge into the park. "Since Old Arnold was found dead, they've been heading into the shelters in droves. Seems that people are seeing these monsters all over town."
"Monsters? What do they look like?"
"Descriptions vary. Some people say it's some sort of chicken with a tail, some say it's a lizard with feathery wings; but all of them agree that it hisses, rattles like crazy and then spits some kind of slimy goo at you."
Rory put his hands on his hips and looked puzzled. "What kind o' monster is that?"
"The kind that hurts people." Leba led the way into the park and pointed. "The last sightings were over that way. Let's go."
"Wait a minute," Rory said, coming to an abrupt halt. "Let's think about this a minute."
"What?" Leba exclaimed indignantly. "Rory, we can't afford to waste time here."
"Take time to save time, that's what my Da always says," Rory replied. "Besides, Da taught me a thing or two about hunting in th' winter. The two things an animal goes for is food and shelter. They're not gonna hang someplace where they've already been if those things aren't there."
"But these things are monsters!"
"Are they now? Tell me, what were these street people o' yours doin' when they saw these monsters?"
"Well," Leba chewed on her lip, "three of them were cooking over an illegal fire and two others were settling in near a heating vent."
"Like I said, food and shelter. Whatever it is, it thinks like an animal." Rory squinted up at the sky as he pulled the plain wooden staff from his coat that marked him as Cuchulain's avatar. "The temperatures are going to start dropping soon an' these things will be looking for someplace warm. Let's go catch us some monsters before they hole up for th' night."
* * * * *
Pendragon Investigations - early evening
The ringing of the telephone broke through the dull fog of intermediate calculus and Emrys sighed gratefully. "A blessing on whoever's calling," he muttered as he crossed the room, "and a pox on Keedy-Bittinger for writing such a misbegotten and ill-conceived textbook."
Even before Emrys had a chance to speak, Arthur's voice boomed out of the receiver. "Hello? Rory?"
"No, Rory's gone out. Leba called earlier from that homeless shelter she volunteers at. Seemed to be agitated about something."
"I know the feeling," Arthur answered. "I'm at hospital with Jennifer. She's been poisoned by a basilisk."
"A basilisk?" Emrys's adolescent voice shot up an octave. "But- but I thought we proved that was just a hoax!"
"I've got the evidence right here in my pocket," Arthur said quietly. "Strange thing though, I didn't think I'd hit it hard enough to kill it."
"Well, tell me exactly what happened."
Quickly, Arthur recounted the events that led to his encounter with the basilisk in Jennifer's car. "-And then the manager at The Savoy rang for an ambulance and I accompanied Jennifer here. The doctor says that it was lucky that she still had some of the poison on her glove. He was able to concoct an antidote for her."
"Hmm… it was the mirror that did it. It was probably dying when you pulled it out." Emrys scratched a non-existent beard. "You were very lucky, Arthur. Basilisks cannot bear their own reflection in a mirror."
"Is that their only weakness?"
"Well, there is a certain breed of weasels that will do the job and the crow of a rooster is also good against basilisks, but those are a trifle scarce in London these days. We'd best stick with mirrors."
"All right then," Arthur said. There was a rustling like a sleeve being pulled up to check a watch. "It will be nightfall soon. You go ahead and contact our people. I'm going to check on Jennifer and then I'll be on my way."
"I'll get right on it." Emrys hung up and quickly rang up the Into The Mystic shop. He listened for a few seconds to the phone ringing. "Colin!! We've got a situation. Rouse Dulcinea and-" Emrys raised first one eyebrow and then the other. "Yes, there are basilisks in the city, but how did you-" He sighed deeply. "Oh, good heavens! Why are all the interesting things happening to other people and not to me? Don't bother answering that, Colin, just tell Una when she wakes that Arthur's bringing a dead basilisk for her to examine. Call out to the estate and let them know we're going to need reinforcements."
Emrys slapped the phone down in its receiver and glared at his calculus book. An electric crackle of energy shot up his extended finger. "Differentiate this integer, vile ciphers!!" he snapped and zapped the book right off the desk and into the trash can. He blew imaginary smoke off his finger. "And that's enough of that for tonight!"
* * * * *
"Gerrout, you nasty little beasts!" Eddie said, giving the crate a shake as he dumped its occupants unceremoniously over an evergreen hedge.
Rodney jumped back. "Watch it! Don't rile them!!"
As if on cue, the hedge rattled fiercely and a loud hiss rose from it. Eddie thrust the crate lid in front of him just in time to deflect some flying goo. He swore and kicked some slush into the bushes.
"I told you!" Rodney said, from a good distance away. "Let's dump that crate and get out of here."
Before Eddie could answer, a cluster of small creatures leaped out onto the slushy sidewalk. The tallest one scratched its rooster claws along the concrete, raising an eerie screeching sound like fingernails on a chalkboard. It opened its beak and uncurled a long forked tongue as it hissed. All three of the strange creatures were a hodgepodge mix of lizard and chicken, perverse and yet strangely fascinating.
"Cor!" Eddie breathed, his hairy eyebrows crawling up his forehead. "Look at the way he's lookin' at us..!"
"Don't look at 'im!!" Rodney exclaimed.
The tall roosterish one in front lowered its head, gave a raucous squawk and charged directly at them. The other two basilisks followed closely behind, running quickly on their stubby reptilian legs. Eddie bellowed inarticulately and took to his heels, galloping up the street after Rodney, who was nearly half a block ahead of him.
* * * * *
Rory swept his staff beneath the hedges near the steaming heat vent. Leba stood back, a grungy gunny sack they had found held ready in her hands. The staff yielded nothing more threatening than a rusty food tin and some fallen leaves.
Leba sighed and lowered her arms. "This is a waste of time," she said. "We should be looking elsewhere."
Using his staff to steady himself, Rory stood up. "Maybe you're right. It's nearly nightfall. We ought to head in an' tell th' others. Griff can organize an aerial search an' that ought to speed things up."
Despondently, the two knights headed towards the nearest sidewalk. "You'd think monster-hunting would be easier," Leba commented. "Everyone was seeing them earlier."
"What did you expect, girl?" Rory quipped. "People running about willy-nilly, screaming' their fool heads off?"
"Getouttamyway!! Moveit! AAAAAAAUUUUUUUGGGGGGHHHHH…!!"
Rory and Leba blinked as a brown-haired young man wearing blue jeans, a heavy jacket, and rubber gloves up to his elbows ran past. Their heads turned to follow him, watching in curious fascination as he slipped and slid around the corner, nearly falling but somehow defying the laws of gravity to stay on his feet.
"Like that, you mean?" Leba asked.
Huffing and puffing, another runner approached, a bald-headed biker whose chrome-studded jacket jingled with each step. Rory narrowed his eyes and metamorphosed into Cuchulain, Celtic warrior of legend. "This fellow looks helpful. Let's ask him." His spear darted out and hooked the bald biker neatly below the knees.
Gasping like a fish, the bald man glared at them and tried to struggle to his feet. "What? Let me up, you nutter! They're coming!!"
Cuchulain forcibly planted a foot in the middle of his back. "Who's coming?" he asked.
Leba tapped him on the shoulder. "Um…. I think he means those things."
A rattling hiss gave Cuchulain just enough time to throw up his shield. A wet splat slapped against its golden, shining surface and pale green ichor dripped onto the sidewalk. A chorus of agitated hisses arose as he peered around the shield at the trio of basilisks.
"What th' --?"
Curiosity getting the better of her, Leba edged around to get a closer look. Strangely enough, the three little monsters barely noticed her; instead, all their attention was focused on their distorted images in the polished surface of the shield.
"I'll be!!" Leba said softly. "They're looking at themselves, Rory." She slowly opened the bag as she moved behind them. "Keep it steady for a few seconds longer."
Unfortunately, the bald headed biker had other ideas. He took advantage of the distraction and shoved Cuchulain off balance as he escaped. The edge of the shield sent up sparks as it banged against the pavement. The tall rooster basilisk screeched and threw itself at its reflection. Leba threw the sack over the two shorter basilisks and scooped them up.
"Gotcha!!" she crowed triumphantly. "You get that one!"
"Right!" Cuchulain said and neatly seized the rooster basilisk by the scruff of the neck as it pecked irritably at the shield. It started to spit but he tightened his fist around its throat. "Oh, no, you don't, monster!" He grabbed its feet and quickly dropped it into Leba's bag. He concentrated and the armored warrior faded away to Rory again.
Leba held onto the squirming bag gingerly. "What about those jokers?" she asked, tossing her head in the direction that the two runners had disappeared.
"We'll have to track them down later," Rory concluded. "That bag's not going to hold them long. Let's hightail it back to the magic shop. Una or Emrys will know what to do with these basilisks."
* * * * *
All Saints Hospital
Arthur strode down the line of curtained beds behind the stern-faced matron. She stopped and turned so suddenly that he almost walked into her.
"Now, Mr. Pennington," the matron said in a no-nonsense voice, "Miss Camford is out of danger but you may only have a few minutes. Her family is with her and she must have her rest."
"I assure you, madam, I merely wish to take my leave of Miss Camford. I have every confidence that she is in fine hands." Arthur took a deep breath and stepped through the curtains.
Jennifer looked so very small and pale laying there in the light blue hospital gown and swathed in white sheets. An older couple was there at her bedside - her parents, he surmised, by their close resemblance to Jennifer herself. She had her mother's golden hair and slim figure and her father's intelligent eyes. Leonard Camford studied Arthur like a hawk, perfectly still and silent.
"I beg your pardon," Arthur said awkwardly. "I've come to see Jennifer before I leave." He smiled ruefully like a schoolboy. "I'm afraid the matron is tossing me out."
"Poor Arthur," Jennifer said weakly, holding out her left hand. Her right was bundled in thick gauze, cradled across her stomach. "It's all right. You've been my knight in shining armor tonight. The doctors said that I'm very lucky you got me here so quickly."
"Yes," Mrs. Camford spoke up. "Jennifer's been telling us so much about you, Mr. Pennington. Leonard and I are terribly grateful."
"It was a privilege to be of service to your daughter, Mrs. Camford." Arthur drew Jennifer's hand to his lips. "I'm afraid I must be leaving, my dear. It's hardly the way I thought we would be ending our evening."
"I know," Jennifer murmured, smiling wanly. "Next time will be better."
Arthur smiled warmly. "I will count the moments until then, milady."
"Behold!" Leonard Camford said suddenly. "When the days of shadow pass, the time of the Great Quest will be upon us. The Sleeper will lead the searchers and the Thirteen will return to their place in the hall of the Fisher King." He turned his head slowly and looked straight at Arthur. "The dragon banner will fly over the green hills of England once more."
"Leonard, please!" Mrs. Camford smiled apologetically at Arthur. "Please, forgive him, Mr. Pennington. It's the Alzheimer's disease. He doesn't know what he's saying."
Leonard jerked free from his wife's grasp. "I serve the All-Seeing Eye, that which sees the future and the past." His eyes bore into Arthur's. "I pledge my allegiance to the Once and Future King!"
Instead of turning away, Arthur returned his steady gaze. "Then, Sir Leonard, I accept you into my service. Your first charge is to watch over my lady Jennifer and keep her safe until my return. Her well-being is worth more to me than all the treasure in the world."
"It will be done, sire!" Leonard avowed in a ringing voice.
Jennifer exchanged an amused look with her mother. "Thank you, Arthur," she said simply. "For everything."
"My pleasure." Arthur winked at her roguishly and left the hospital ward. It wasn't until he'd left the building completely, when Arthur let out a deep breath and shook his head. "What a peculiar old man!" he said to himself. "I know his mind wanders but where has it been that he could say such things with such certainty?" The sound of an approaching taxi caught his attention. "No matter. It is a thing to be worried about some other time. Now I have other concerns."
He flagged down the cab and hopped inside.
* * * * *
A rooftop overlooking Hyde Park
Lucius turned his face towards the ruddy red haze in the west, the chill winter wind stirring his white hair up into a whirlwind crown. His cat leapt up onto the wall and sashayed up to the leader of the Minions, bumping his head up against the man's arm. Absently, Lucius scratched the cat's ears.
"Look at it," he said to the cat. "The dying of the Light."
The cat responded with a loud purr.
Loud footsteps echoed up the stairwell. Char called out, "It's about time you guys got here. Where have you been?"
"We've been busy," Eddie wheezed. "The basilisks turned on us and we had to run for it." He glared at Rodney. "Right?"
Rodney blinked. "Um, yeah, right." He cleared his throat and glanced around the rooftop. "So how'd you manage do this? On any other day, me and Eddie would get the boot for even stepping foot into the Montrose building, but the guard just showed us straight in."
Char gave a harsh laugh. "Lucius has connections all over the place," she said boldly. "As long as we follow him, it's the high life for us!"
"Hush, you three!" Lucius said sharply without turning around. "The time has come!"
"Um…," Rodney said quietly out of the corner of his mouth to Eddie, "Doesn't his voice sound a little odd to you?"
Eddie shrugged. "No more peculiar than he usually sounds after a couple of pints."
"SILENCE!" The unexpected roar caught them all by surprise. Lucius flung open his arms as he stood at the roof's edge. A sudden gust of wind blew his overcoat open and made it flare out dramatically. He began to speak and his voice had a strange double echo to it.
"Breathe, o lifeless statues! In darkness, find life!
Arise to bring chaos, destruction and strife!"
A tremendous ear-shattering, teeth-grinding screech split the night, quelling all other normal sounds in the vicinity. The trio of Minions rushed to the wall to see what was happening. Across the square, the huge statue of Achilles began to straighten up from its normal pose. It swept its leaf-shaped sword experimentally to test its weight in its hands, snapping several telephone and power cables as it did. With a tremendous thump that crumpled the pavement, Achilles jumped down from its pedestal and began to wade through the evening traffic, striking cars willy-nilly from its path. Rodney glanced over to see Lucius and strangely enough, the cat, smile at the same time.
"So it begins," Lucius intoned.
Rodney gaped. "What th' --!!" He could have sworn that the cat had spoken too.
The dark-furred feline turned its head to look at him at that moment and goosebumps prickled up and down Rodney's arms. Then it winked knowingly at him.
Inwardly, Rodney whimpered.
* * * * *
Into The Mystic
"-and then we came back here," Leba said. She glanced at the large aquarium tank sitting with the gunny sack draped halfway over in. "It's a good thing you had this aquarium in the basement."
"You can thank my oldest son for that," Colin replied. "He went through a snake-collecting phase when he was twelve and my wife refused to have them in the house. Leo and Una had no objection to them, so they stayed here at the shop until Harry tired of them."
"Nothing wrong with snakes," Una said absently. "Perfectly harmless creatures, really." She, Emrys, and Brianna were bent over a table dissecting Arthur's dead basilisk. Griff's mate had extensive, first-hand knowledge of zoological anatomy due to her arboreal upbringing in the Caledonian Forest and she showed no qualms as she delicately cut up the basilisk under Una's direction.
"Snake stew," Brianna commented. "Verra good eating, that." She made a face and pointed with her knife. "Look there, Emrys. I think that's th' poison sac right there."
"Yes, I think you're right." Emrys prodded the proffered organ carefully with a pair of wooden chopsticks. "I must say this is much more interesting than dissecting frogs in Biology lab."
Leba averted her eyes. "I can't believe you guys are doing that."
"There's not many uses for a dead basilisk, dear," Una said, as she made some notes. "We might as well learn from it."
"I don't know," Emrys commented. "Traditionally, if you hang dead basilisks up in your house, it'll keep all the spiders out." A whimsical look crossed his face. "I wonder if it'll work on a certain distant cousin I've got on Avalon."
Arthur came back into the room, no longer clad in the dapper suit, but wearing his old armor and tunic instead. He glanced at the television that Colin and Rory were watching intently. "What news?" he asked.
Without looking up, Rory answered. "Apparently, the police found some basilisks down in the subway tunnels. That's why the Tube was shut down earlier."
"How many did they find?"
Colin shook his head. "We're not sure. The authorities are being awfully tight-lipped about it. As near as we've been able to tell from the news broadcasts, the Animal Control people have captured several reptiles. I'd hate to be a worker at the R.S.P.C.A. tonight."
"Well, when Michael's reinforcements arrive," Arthur said firmly. "I want to organize a city wide search. There's no telling how many of these creatures have been released around London."
"I've been thinking," Rory said slowly, "those two fellows that were running away from the basilisks in the park, I think I've seen them before. If memory serves, that bald bloke with the tattoos is a Minion. I'm willing to bet that the other one is too."
Footsteps thundered down the stairs. Dulcinea came in, clad in stylish riding clothes and polished leather boots. She glanced around the room anxiously before focusing on the television set. Without a word, she strode across the room and switched channels.
"Hey!" Leba protested.
"Shh!!" Dulcinea hissed. "You all should see this! I was just watching this upstairs."
"---Chaos reigns around the Hyde Park area!!" The newscaster looked nervously at the camera. "This just in! As unbelievable as it might seem, statues, yes, statues have come to life and begun to wreak havoc around the Hyde Park area. We take you now to our reporter on the street, Regina Fitzwalter."
The picture changed to a scene near the north entrance of the park where a watery-eyed reporter bundled in a parka waited with microphone in hand. "Regina Fitzwalter here at the famous Italian fountains of Hyde Park. Although the unseasonably cold weather has kept the fountains from running, they are certainly not silent tonight."
With a sweep of the camera, the picture zoomed in on an unusual scene. Ivory-colored water nymphs ran through the grounds, shrieking as they ripped park benches and tables from the ground. "As you can see, for reasons unknown, statues all over Hyde Park have come to life and are rampaging all over the area. From the Achilles of the Wellington Monument to the Machine Guns Corps Memorial to Artemis to these water nymphs that used to be posed against the fountains behind me, these sculptures have gone from being works of art to community menaces. Authorities are hard-pressed to keep the animated statues confined but as my colleague, Michael Chapman, can tell you, in some cases it is proving to be an impossible task."
Quickly, the scene switched to a tall, dark-haired reporter with a big nose wearing a mackintosh. "Michael Chapman here, and it's not a pretty picture here at Hyde Park Corner. Achilles from the Wellington Monument has stepped down from his perch where he has stood since 1822 and is wading through traffic, whacking automobiles with his mighty sword, seemingly oblivious to the efforts of police and city officials to contain him."
The reporter flinched as the enormous statue walked through some power lines, ignoring the cables whipping by as they snapped and the crackle of electricity flowed into open air. "As you as see, it's almost like a bad B-movie from Tokyo, but this monster is real, it's happening right here in London, and weirdness abounds." He looked off-camera for moment and then back again. "Police are warning us to get back, we'll have to return to the studio. Back to you, Bruce."
"Thank you, Michael. We'll keep you posted on further developments. And now for something completely different…"
Rory whistled. "First, basilisks loose causing trouble and now this."
"Typical," Emrys muttered. "This sort of melodramatic plots-within-plots sort of ploy is just my father's style. What is he up to this time?"
* * * * *
Near Hyde Park
Despite the cold chill of the evening air, the woman with the silvering dark hair was enjoying her walk along the eastern edge of Hyde Park. The hood of her warm wool cloak was pulled snug about her face and her breath left eddying trails of mist in her wake. Up ahead, a crowd of brave souls were exiting from a cinema. She watched with veiled amusement, the antics of some children as their grandparents tried to hurry them to the car.
"Awww, come on, Granny! Let's go get something to eat!"
"Evan! That's my licorice! Give it back!"
"Children, please!!" exclaimed the harried grandmother. "Your mother has a hot supper waiting at home. Henry!! Hurry and bring the car around. It's too cold out for the children."
"Right-o, Minnie. I won't be but a moment."
The hooded woman slowed her pace to watch the antics of the children, sliding on the ice and tossing slushy snowballs at each other in spite their grandmother's best efforts to stop them.
"You poor woman," she commented to no one in particular, "you might as well try herding cats!" Her bow-shaped mouth turned up to hide a laugh.
Across the street in the park, a tree began to shake, the snow falling heavily from its branches. With a teeth-grinding screech, a section of wrought iron fencing crashed into the pavement. All eyes turned to focus on the strange creature emerging.
"That's one of the bear statues guarding the old cattle trough in the park," the dark-haired woman murmured to herself. She frowned and narrowed her eyes. "What manner of sorcery is this?"
As they watched, the animated statue lurched across the road towards them. It moved like a bear, looked like a bear, but it was still stone - gray and hard and textured. A car came around the corner, grandfather Henry at the wheel. He saw the bear and tried to herd it back into the park, nudging it with his bumper and honking incessantly on his horn. The granite bear slammed its massive forearms down on the bonnet of the automobile. Henry hurled himself from the car, landing hard in the icy slush.
"Henry!" Minnie screamed.
"Never mind me! Get back inside!!"
Desperately, Minnie pushed the three grandchildren back towards the cinema they had just left. "Hurry, children, hurry!!"
In the rush, a treasured possession slipped from its owner's grasp. "Dolly!!" The little girl pulled away from her brothers and grandmother and scampered back for it.
Minnie's eyes were round with fear. "Eliza!! NO!!!"
Eliza picked up the doll and brushed away the slush. "Aw…," she crooned to it, "you got all dirty."
Grimacing, the stone bear turned away from the wreckage of the tattered sedan and headed for the hapless child. Her grandmother slipped and fell in an effort to reach her, but within one heartbeat and the next, someone else was there.
Calmly, the dark-haired woman stepped in and placed herself between the bear and the child. Her eyes became a glowing pale green phosphorescence that lit the inside of her hood like the early light of dawn. In an eerily still voice, she simply said, "Be gone."
The bear opened its mouth in a silent roar and raised a paw to strike her down --- and stared at its own limb as the light she was generating began to stiffen it, becoming once again cold, lifeless stone. Its face contorted in fear and it turned tail, lumbering back to the park on three legs.
The light faded from her eyes and the mystery woman felt a pair of small hands and a wet face burrowing into her wool cloak. She turned and tilted the child's face up. "What's this now? Tears?" she said kindly and took out a handkerchief to dry the child's eyes. "It's all right now, poppet. The bad old bear has gone away."
"No, pet," she said sadly. "I never make a promise I can't keep."
"Eliza!!" Minnie cried out as she sank to her knees besides her. "You gave Granny a terrible fright!"
"I'm okay, Granny." Eliza regarded her grandmother quizzically. "The lady made the bear go away."
Minnie frowned. "What lady?"
They both looked around but the street was empty.
* * *
Around the corner, the dark-haired woman clutched a hand to the throat of her cloak. She listened to the sounds of people screaming in the distance. "I cannot allow the innocent to suffer in this madness," she said quietly, "but I made a vow not to favor one above the other. I cannot break my word by tampering with the affairs of humans."
A wailing police car sped by and her eyes followed it, settling on a spinning sign across the street. It swung wildly on its pole, until it slowed in its rotations and the image of a crown appeared.
She arched an eyebrow and smiled. "Fortunately, I know someone who can."
* * * * *
Into The Mystic
"The authorities have most of the smaller statues contained to the park," Griff reported breathlessly, "so I left Leo with Faulconbridge and Cervus to keep an eye on things and we," he nodded to Imogen, the elegant greyhound-headed gargoyle standing to one side, "came back here to check in with you."
"Not much news here, I'm afraid." Arthur shook his head. "Basilisks and rampaging statues --- a very strange day is turning into a very weird night."
"Any word from the clan?" Griff asked, turning to Colin.
"Yes," the dapper Englishman answered. "Michael should be on his way with some volunteers."
"That has possibilities, Arthur," Emrys said from his perch on the high stool. "Gargoyle strength and skill might be just the ticket to stopping these things."
Just then the bell over the shop door tinkled.
"Oh, bother," Una said abruptly, "I should've put the 'Closed' sign on the door." Hastily, she donned the flowing robes that concealed her gargoyle features from the unsuspecting public. She walked into the main room of Into The Mystic to find a woman in an elegantly-cut dress suit with silvering dark hair. A woolen cloak was draped over one arm. She lifted a hand and absently rubbed her temples with a vaguely pained expression on her face.
"I beg your pardon, madam," Una said kindly, "Are you feeling unwell?"
"It's nothing," she replied, "just a slight headache." The woman smiled wanly and Una was briefly reminded of her rookery mother, long since turned to dust. "If you please, I've come to speak with his Majesty, Arthur Pendragon."
Her voice was low and gentle, and yet there was an underlying air of authority that made Una obey immediately, not realizing it until her hooves were clicking against the tile floor in the storeroom where everyone was gathered around Colin's computer.
"Arthur, everyone," she found herself saying, "there's someone I think you ought to meet."
The mysterious woman was waiting for them patiently, hands folded neatly over her purse in the most ladylike fashion. Her luminous eyes followed them as they filed into the room, gazing at them calmly like a queen receiving her court. Not even the presence of the gargoyles standing in the shadows near the hallway disturbed her regal poise. She regarded them all, human and gargoyle and halfling alike, with a gracious charm.
For reasons he could not later explain, Arthur delivered one of his most courtly bows. "Most noble lady," he said grandly, "I am Arthur Pendragon and I am at your service."
The woman nodded regally. "Your Majesty," she said without preamble, "you and your brave company seek to defeat the black magic that plagues London this night." She gave them all the barest of smiles, tilting her head to one side. "I have some small wisdom which will aid you, if you are willing to listen."
"You… know of us?" Arthur asked hesitantly. "And of the enemy we are fighting?"
"Yes." Her smile faded like a spent flower. "I know that you and others like you the world over are standing like a shining light against the coming darkness. This is the great truth that will aid you in defeating the enchanted statues that are causing havoc in the city. There is an unseen element in sunlight that will restore the statues to their normal, immobile state but you cannot wait for daybreak. You must stop this now or the city will be destroyed long before then."
"I don't understand," Emrys said, hiding a puzzled brow beneath his mop of blonde curls. "Who are you? Why should we take anything you say at face value?"
"Dear, dear Merlin," the dark-haired woman said as she reached out and brushed Emry's unruly hair away from his face with a mother's touch. "No matter what face you wear, you're still always asking questions." She smiled and starlight danced in her eyes. "Some things never change."
She stepped back and faded away, like a dream.
"Cor!" Rory breathed. "Who was that?"
Brianna's dark blue eyes were large in her dappled green face. "She wore her hair in silver braids 'round her head, just like Kylie."
"Did she?" Griff looked at his mate curiously. "She rather reminded me of my mother Victoria, but I can't for the life of me think why."
Arthur glanced at Emrys who was still staring wide-eyed at the empty space where the mystery woman had just been standing. "She called you 'Merlin.' How did she know? Is she an enemy or a friend?"
"Grandmother," Emrys murmured in a barely audible voice. A corner of his mouth curled up in a rueful smile. "I could never fool her."
The blond-headed boy shook his head and came out of his waking dream. "What?" Emrys scowled. "You heard her. It's a little complicated to explain right now but we can trust her. She's one of the elder fay, and besides, she's right. Someone's clearly enchanted those statues and she came here specifically to tell us how to break the spell."
"An elder fay?" Una frowned. "But if she knows how, why doesn't she do it herself?"
"You and I both know that using magic makes a certain amount of noise that other magic-users can sense," Emrys said carefully. "She's existed in secret for centuries outside of both Avalon and the Unseelie Court. I don't dare even speak her name for fear of attracting attention to her." He paused, his eyes clearly troubled. "All I know is that I would trust her with my life and if she has risked revealing herself at a time like this, then what she has told us is important indeed. There must be something in sunlight that will stop the statues. We just need to figure out what that is."
"Sunlight?" Arthur looked confused. "But that's just light, isn't it?"
"UV!" Leba spoke up. "Ultraviolet radiation. You can't see it, but it's found in sunlight."
"You mean, we're going to be charging around London with sun lamps?" Rory asked skeptically. "Do they make extension cords that long?"
"There's always battery packs," Colin suggested. "It'll be a bit tricky, but how about putting sun lamp bulbs into some of those industrial-sized torches? We'll have to be careful, sunlight and gargoyles don't really get along."
"Even at night?" asked Dulcinea, raising an elegant eyebrow.
"Some of us wondered if we could get a tan and broke into one of those tanning booth places." Imogen gave a barking laugh. "Cervus didn't turn to stone, but he was stiff as a board for a good hour or so."
"Sunlight triggers our bodies's natural urge for stone sleep," Una explained. "Our biorhythms are so attuned to the rising and falling of the sun that even when we're exposed to simulated sunlight, we tend to react to it. Still, taken out of sequence, the worst that could happen is a temporary state of paralysis. If we're careful, we should be fine."
"Sun lamps might not be enough," Emrys reasoned. "Not for the big sculptures like Achilles."
"Then you and I will have to lend a hand," Una said. She pulled a book out from one of the shelves. "I know there's a spell that produces a brilliant sunburst in here somewhere. Neither Caspian or I can cast it, of course, but Emrys could act as a focus for the spell. The problem will be getting all of the statues in one open place so the spell can have full effect."
"What's this?" Michael interrupted, coming downstairs with Caspian on his heels. "From what little I've heard, it sounds simple enough. The best of the London Clan is up on the roof, just waiting to be told what to do."
"Then that's it," Arthur said firmly, smacking his hands together. "Let's organize our forces and get to work."
* * * * *
Three winged figures landed on the top of the Marble Arch on the western end of Oxford Street. Caspian whistled and shook his head. "I was hoping that the news presenters had got it all wrong, but stone me if it isn't true."
"Oh, my stars!" Rosalind stood at his side, her golden eyes wide and shocked as she gazed at the empty pedestal of the Wellington Monument. "Poor Achilles! Where has he gone?"
The third gargoyle was a crimson male with a profile not unlike the Welsh dragon of heraldry. He wrinkled a long, spiky, ridged snout and raised one scaly browridge as he scanned their surroundings. "We may not know where he's gone, but there's no question as to where he's been."
"You've got that right, Drake," Caspian agreed. The three gargoyles stood for a moment, marveling at the damage the ensorcelled statue had managed to do in the brief time it had been animated. Great holes had been ripped in the street from the sheer weight of the rampaging statue. Power lines whipped around, sparks sizzling and snapping on contact.
Unconsciously, Rosalind slipped her arm around Caspian's as she worried her lower lip. He patted her hand gently. "There, there, luv. I'm sure the authorities are trying their best not to hurt him."
"Not hurt him?" Drake gave a puzzled glance to the young couple. "It's just a statue."
"It is most certainly not just a statue," Rosalind replied hotly. "The Wellington Monument has been a London landmark since 1822!! To damage it in any way would be a crime!"
"I think she's been sniffing too many paint fumes," Drake commented.
"No, she just loves art for art's sake," Caspian said lightly, but his eyes shot a warning look at the crimson dragon. He opened the bag he'd been carrying. "Let's get on with our assignment, shall we?" He passed a large hand-held lamp that had clearly been jury-rigged with a non-standard bulb to Rosalind. "Here you go, luv. Be careful where you point it."
"And this is supposed to work?" Drake asked skeptically. "Sounds risky to me, basing a battle plan on some mysterious stranger's advice."
"Well, let's go test the theory, shall we?" Caspian suggested. "The telly reported that there's any of a number of statues roaming loose in the park. Let's find one and test these lamps out."
Rosalind's head pivoted around owl-like at the sound of branches breaking in the trees below. "There!" she said, pointing from a cat-like crouch. "I saw something!"
Both males launched from the arch, with Rosalind close behind. She stayed up in the trees while Caspian and Drake landed on the ground. The draconian gargoyle swished his crimson tail across the dead grass as he stared into the shadowy evergreen shrubs. Suddenly, a strange trio of figures burst from the foliage to meet them. A short-legged crocodilian creature scuttled out, followed by a halo-topped knight on horseback wielding a fiery sword. As they approached the London gargoyles, the knight made several stabs at the short-legged creature. It mewled piteously and snapped at him.
"It's 'St. George and The Dragon,'" Rosalind called out. "One of Adrian Jones's better works."
"And he calls that a dragon?" Drake said incredulously. "That's pitiful!!" He let the so-called dragon pass and narrowed his eyes at the knight. "Come here and fight someone your own size!!"
The stone horse's nostrils flared and it pawed at the ground as the silent knight lowered his weapon at the draconian gargoyle.
"You two get your lamps ready," Drake growled. He unfurled his wings and started edging away, luring the statue of the dragon slayer farther out into the clearing. "Let's see how St. George likes it when the dragon fights back!"
Flourishing his sword, St. George charged at Drake, his lips moving in a silent challenge. The crimson gargoyle stood his ground until the last second before switching on his makeshift weapon. Rising on its hind legs, the stone horse reared back at the brilliant light of the sun lamp.
"A-ha!!" Drake crowed. "Can't stand a dragon that breathes sunfire, can you?"
Rolling his eyes, Caspian stepped up a few feet away from Drake and fired up his lamp from an adjacent angle, careful to avoid shining the light on his fellow gargoyle. Shock, horror and finally resignation crossed the statue's face as he and his horse began to stiffen up.
"Say, that's interesting!" Rosalind commented from behind them. Both of the males switched off their sun lamps and turned to see her staggering up with the stone dragon in her arms. "I noticed when I zapped this one that he went back to his original pose and I see that yours did too." She put the dragon down at the horse's feet, studied it for a few moments, moved it slightly and then nodded. "That's better. Perfect."
"Lovely, Roz, absolutely lovely," Caspian commented. He noted the smug smile on Drake's face. "You seem rather pleased with yourself."
The crimson gargoyle shrugged. "Just happy to be getting a little something back after all the bad press we dragons have gotten over the years."
"You know," Rosalind said thoughtfully, "we really should be putting them back where they belong."
"Perhaps later, luv," Caspian answered. "These sun lamp bulbs use a lot more energy than regular torch bulbs. We need to continue searching for wayward statues while the batteries are still holding out."
"Agreed." Drake used the statue of St. George to launch himself into the air. "Come along, you two lovebirds. The night's still young."
* * * * *
Faulconbridge examined a stone arrow imbedded high up in the tree that he was perched in. "Now how the devil did this get here?" he wondered out loud.
"You've got me," Cervus replied. He scanned the still statues below. "One thing's for certain -- our mystery sorcerer didn't care for politicians. Not a one of these historical figures felt the need to go walking tonight."
Imogen was studying a fountain with a scalloped base in the center of the basin. She stalked along each side until she reached the title plaque. "The Goddess Artemis," she read out loud, "by Lady Feodora Gleichen, 1906." She wrinkled her long pointed muzzle. "Artemis? My mythology is a bit fuzzy. Was she the one with the owl?"
"No, Artemis was the Greek version of Diana, sister to Apollo and goddess of the hunt." Cervus swung out of the trees, frowning as he plucked some stray leaves from his antlers. "You could say she was the original warrior princess."
Faulconbridge grinned. "You mean she wore black leather and yodeled a lot?"
"Honestly, Faulk," Imogen sighed, "must you always keep your mind in the gutter?"
"Oh, is it now?" The falcon-headed gargoyle laughed. "I notice that you're always glued to the telly when that beach bum in the leather pants is on."
Imogen crossed her arms and put her nose in the air. "I most certainly am not."
"You are so."
"Oh, come off it, you two," Cervus chided. "This is hardly the time for--"
A twig snapped and all three gargoyles stopped speaking, suddenly aware that they were not alone. Imogen slid fluidly into the shadows of a column of tall cedars, wrapped in burlap and straw for the winter. Only Cervus was caught out in the open moonlight. He turned slowly, all his senses alert, but even then he was almost too late.
The sudden stinging swish of a pale projectile spun Cervus around. "By the Dragon!" he exclaimed. Touching his shoulder, his fingers came back bloodied. "Faulk! Imogen!"
"Run, brother!" Faulconbridge called. "Whatever it is, you've got to lure it out!"
Cervus spared just enough time for a "Why me?" look at the sky before breaking into a full gallop down the scenic great lawn that led to the Italian Fountains to the north. The space between his wings itched at just the thought of someone lining up a shot at him. Nimbly, he dodged right and then sharp left on instinct. This time he caught a glimpse of the missile as it whizzed by -- a stone arrow to match the one Faulconbridge had found up in the tree.
A larger, more familiar form raced by on his left -- nimble Imogen, racing like her animal counterpart on all fours, makeshift weapon secured between her wings. She cornered around the end of the row of cedars like a sports car and had the sun lamp in her hands as she slid into a tight crouch in the snow.
"Look out, brother!!" she shouted and flicked on the light.
Blinding red and blue spots danced before Cervus's eyes as he dove over a marble bench to shield himself from the ultraviolet rays and the stunning light before it affected him. He spotted two more gargoyles joining Faulconbridge to attack from the sky. A strange crackling sound and it was all over. Still blinking away spots in his vision, Cervus felt Imogen's slender hands on his right arm, pulling him up.
"Are you all right, brother?" she asked gently.
Cervus shook his head briefly. "I will be in a minute or too. I didn't look away in time and I'm afraid the lights dazzled me."
"Still," Faulconbridge said, clapping a hand on his shoulder, "Good race!! Well run!!"
"As it should be, considering who was after you."
Cervus recognized the speaker as Aper, Michael's second-in-command and as he shaded his eyes with his hand, he could just barely make out his blurry tusked image as well as a large blue gargoyle besides him. "What do you mean?" he asked. "Who was it?"
Aper clucked ruefully. "These youngsters these days, Boz. No idea of their basic mythology."
"It would seem, young Cervus," Boz said whimsically, "that even statues of Artemis are fond of a good stag hunt, or in lieu of the actual animal, the nearest suitable stag-like gargoyle. I agree with your rookery brother. Well run, lad!"
To that, Cervus could only grin sheepishly.
* * * * *
Dulcinea cantered up the riding trail on her horse, reining in as she approached the others of the hunting party. "Well, the trail's clear from here to the stables. Nothing to report from that end."
Colin Marter nodded. "In this case, no news is good news." He had exchanged his dapper everyday suit for the fatigues of his past military career. If anything, the change of wardrobe made him seem even more efficient than usual. He lifted two fingers to the radio receiver he had hooked to his ear and listened carefully. "Let's move on, shall we?" he suggested. "The police have Achilles and another large statue, possibly the figure from the Machine Gun Corps Memorial, moving up Oxford Street. Arthur's team is on its way there. Once we make sure this area is secure, we should join them as soon as possible."
"Sounds good," Rory agreed. He hefted his staff in his hands and waved it at the shadowy figures of gargoyles gliding overhead. They circled briefly before sailing north. "Are you sure they know their way around? I don't recognize them."
"Hmm?" Colin peered up at the sky for a moment. "Oh, Weller's been in and out of London lots of times. He's a good-hearted rogue but he'll keep Copperfield and Pickwick from getting lost. Don't worry about them, they'll be there when we need them."
The horse nickered and shuffled her feet nervously. "Shhh, calm down," Dulcinea said softly. Her eyes unfocused briefly. "What is it, Rosinante? What's spooking you?"
"Dulcinea?" Colin asked.
The Spanish rider frowned. "She senses something but the images are very vague."
"Well, let's proceed on, shall we?" Colin shifted the large electric torch in his arms and started towards the pump house overlooking the Italian fountains. "Let's take the high ground."
"High ground?" Leba grumbled. "Where do you get off, sounding like a soldier?"
"When we have the leisure, my dear," Colin replied blandly, "remind to tell you about my tour of duty in the Falkland Islands."
They were just past the two lower pools of the Italian Fountains when Dulcinea's horse reared up and she had to fight to control her. "Whoa, Rosie!" she called. "Calm down!"
"What the--?" Leba exclaimed. Her eyes widened as she pointed into the shadows near the pool house and for once, the singer was speechless.
A huge equestrian statue loomed over the pump house and as its rider lifted its saber in the air, a curious menagerie straight from the pages of mythology came down the hill directly at them. Fish-tailed mermen emerged from the fountains that they had occupied for more than a century, armed with tridents like Neptune. Wild-eyed nymphs streamed from the surrounding trees, their beautiful stone faces contorted with an insane rage.
Colin wasted no time. "Everyone, listen up!" he barked out. "Torches up! Lights on!" Putting action to words, he swerved and turned his sun lamp on the nearest merman, just as the statue was preparing to hurl his trident at them. The imitation Neptune grimaced as he sank back into his original pose.
A flash of light and Cuchulain had stepped in to take Rory's place. The ancient Irish warrior flourished his spear as he swept aside the first nymphs into the path of Leba's sun lamp. The stone maidens toppled over onto the frost-covered dead grass with a dull thump.
Dulcinea had her eyes on the giant horse and rider as the top of the hill. She jerked a sturdy pole loose from where it was being used as a prop for an ornamental tree bundled up against the cold. Tucking it under her arm, she kicked Rosinante into a gallop and charged up the hill like Don Quixote taking on a windmill.
"What are you doing?" Leba cried out - but to no avail. The Spanish rider was thundering past them, knocking animated statues out of her way as she hurdled up the hill. The pole shattered as it impacted on the chest of the equestrian rider but it had the effect that Dulcinea apparently had in mind; the stone horse and rider wheeled around and followed Dulcinea over the hill.
"Colin!" Leba pointed. "Where's she going?"
"She's leading it away," Colin answered, not taking his eyes from the statue in the beam of his sun lamp. "It's too big for us to handle here. It'll need to be with the other large statues when Emrys uses Una's sunburst spell."
A stone trident smashed against Cuchulain's shield. "Dulcinea's made her choice, Leba. Come help me!"
Leba nodded and swung her light around only to have one of the nymphs knock it from her hands. There was a brittle tinkle as the bulb shattered on the ground. "Uh, oh," she murmured and backed up against Colin. "Guys, we've got a little problem here…"
"Guard your eyes!!!" came a rough shout from high above. Leba felt a glowing warmth against her face at odds with the sharp chill of the wind. All around her, she could hear a strange dry crackling that seemed to echo throughout the winter landscape. There was a loud whoosh, and then another, before the voice spoke again.
"All right then, that's done it. You can open your eyes now."
Rubbing her eyes, Leba opened them to find that she, Cuchulain, and Colin were surrounded by silent statues who were in turn surrounded by a semi-circle of gargoyles, a few of which were holding still warm sun lamps.
"Lucky for us," Caspian quipped, "you all looked like you could use a tan."
Colin checked his makeshift weapon and frowned. "Lucky for us indeed," he commented. "My batteries are getting weak." He glanced at the gargoyles assembled and appeared to be counting. "Weller! Where's Copperfield?"
A dark-haired gargoyle wearing a pink striped waistcoat cocked his head much like the scruffy terrier dog he resembled. "I couldn't rightly say, sir. You know Copperfield, the minute you take your eyes off of him, he disappears."
"No matter," Colin said as he glanced up the hill. "I wager he'll turn up when we need him. Three of you had better give us a lift." He frowned and touched his radio set again. "I believe Arthur could use our services."
* * * * *
Glaring across the intersection at each other, the stone titans circled, to all appearances clearly sizing one another up for battle. Achilles bashed his leaf-shaped sword against his shield defiantly. His opponent, a youthful warrior, sneered back as he swished his long saber through the air, the tip hitting a neon sign and sending a sheet of sparks to the ground.
"By the Dragon!" Leo swore, "look at them, will you? The minute they caught sight of each other, they stopped smashing things and started doing this!"
"A challenge perhaps?" Arthur ventured.
Griff scratched his beak thoughtfully. "Sort of like the old joke about the two statues and the angel, eh?"
Brianna looked at her mate. "Whatever do ye mean, Griff?"
"Well, my dear," Griff began, "there were once two statues, a male and a female, and they stood in a park, gazing fondly at each other for years and years but they were always apart and could never touch. One day an angel appeared and granted them one hour of life to do anything they wanted. So they both grinned at each other and jumped into the bushes. The most provocative noises followed."
The others found themselves listening, in spite of themselves.
"After the moaning and groaning subsided, the statues re-appeared, hand-in-hand and looking very happy. The angel blushed and gently reminded them that they still had a half an hour of life left. So the female grins at the male and says, 'Wonderful!! This time, you hold down the pigeon and I'll beat it up!!"
"Oh, dear." Brianna looked at him with one hand to her hot cheeks. "Surely, Griff, ye dinnae mean that these two statues are going to go hunting pigeons?"
"No, I get it!" Michael snapped his fingers. "The Achilles and the Machinegunner have been looking across Hyde Park Corner for decades. They consider themselves to be rivals."
"It's an unusual theory," Leo mused, "but on a night like this – anything goes."
A window-rattling crash drew their attention to the combatants below. The two statues had stopped circling and were exchanging sword blows. Achilles fell to one knee, flattening a car as it deflected a sword strike with its shield.
"Arthur!" Colin called out as he circled in on Drake's back. "We've got to stop them! We can't let them damage themselves."
Caspian landed and set Leba down. "Where's Mum and Emrys? Haven't they gotten the spell ready yet?"
"They're scouting out positions now," Leo replied. "Emrys needs to be fairly close to make the spell effective."
A male gargoyle looking like a black-and-white cat with glittering black wings swooped down. "There's a woman on a horse coming!" he reported breathlessly. "She's leading some sort of equestrian statue up Rotten Row!"
"Thank you, Copperfield." Colin turned to Arthur. "That should be all the large statues accounted for."
Arthur nodded but his eyes were worried. "Merlin, where are you?" he muttered under his breath.
* * * * *
Lucius and his three personal Minions watched the sparring statues with immense satisfaction. The brindled black-and-brown cat sat on the edge of the roof giving himself a bath, oblivious to the nervous looks Rodney was giving him. Occasionally, the cat would pause and glance over the proceeding but otherwise he seemed uninterested in the spectacle below.
"Give 'im another one!" Eddie yelled, cheering on the statues below like they were a televised boxing match. "Right in the old breadbox, that's the way!"
Char, on the other hand, was bored and looking around aimlessly when something caught her eye. "Look! What's that?" She thrust a finger out.
A few buildings closer to the fight, a white gargoyle resembling a unicorn landed with a blond-headed boy on her back. He scrambled off and the two spoke urgently to each other before the boy did a curious thing. Taking a piece of chalk from his pocket, he began to draw a circle on the rooftop with a series of symbols around the edge.
The cat froze, one hind leg raised in mid-wash, and swore softly beneath his whiskers.
"What th--?" Rodney began but Lucius cut him off with a slash of his hand.
"It's that boy that our Master seeks," Lucius said, narrowing his eyes. "I thought our little games might lure out our enemies." He glanced at the female Minion. "Char, give the signal."
Char nodded and pulled a flare gun from the grubby overalls she still wore. She fired and a sickly green fireball floated down into the street below.
"Won't that attract attention?" Rodney said skeptically.
"I most certainly hope so."
From darkened alleyways and rooftops they came. Clad in tatters and rags, oblivious to the cold – a pale-faced, red-eyed horde straight from a nightmare surged on to the streets around the battlefield. The Unseelie creations swarmed over the police barricades and threw the night into chaos. From behind the police lines, gangs of Minions rose up from their hiding places, armed with makeshift weapons and intent on harming their age-old enemy.
"Now," Lucius said calmly, "while everyone else is busy, we'll just go over there and collect our prize." He pulled open the stairwell door. "Char, my dear, after you."
* * * * *
"Vampyres!!" Griff shouted.
"Mother!!" Caspian exclaimed. "She and Emrys are in the middle of that mess!"
"I'll go after Una." Leo jumped up onto the wall. "You stay here. Someone has to be available to cast that spell." He glanced at Rosalind. "Roz, you take care of him."
Arthur was already on Griff's back. "Leba, you stay here with them. Colin, Michael, you help the authorities. Don't let those statues leave the area!"
The leader of the London clan swept over the gargoyles assembled with his eagle's glance. "Faulconbridge, Cervus, Imogen," he said sharply, "You three go with Arthur and back him up. Aper, you take six warriors and keep the statues confined. The rest of us will help the police." He put a hand on Colin's shoulder. "You'll have to be our liaison with the humans, old friend. It's not our custom to openly reveal ourselves like this."
"In this situation, I don't believe we have other options," Colin said grimly, "and absolutely no time to waste." He nodded at Arthur. "We'll take care of things here. Go on!"
Arthur nodded back and then he and Griff were off, Brianna and Leo on either side and the trio of younger gargoyle right behind them.
* * * * *
"First monsters, then mad statues, and now these raving loonies," Constable Lowell muttered as he swung his truncheon about to clear a path through the pointy-eared lunatics that had seemingly popped out of the woodwork. "What's next, I'd like to know? Giant phantom hedgehogs?"
"Dins-dale!!!" came a deep voice descending from above.
Lowell started to look up when a Vampyre in a tattered trenchcoat came sailing over the hood of a car and threw him to the ground. Grimacing at the creature's fetid breath, Lowell tried using the truncheon to lever the Vampyre off him but to no avail. The red eyes of the Vampyre burned as the distorted face came nearer. Lowell felt the truncheon press against his windpipe.
Just as quickly as it had begun, it was over. The pressure against his throat was gone and Lowell gave a sigh of relief. "Thanks, mate," he said as he started to get to his feet. "I thought I was a goner there."
"Not a problem," the deep voice replied. "Let me give you a hand up."
At the scaly touch of the stranger's hand, Lowell's head shot up and he stared slack-jawed at the crimson gargoyle before him, who looked not unlike the Welsh dragon. The gargoyle gave him an amused look and called over his shoulder, "Oi, Colin! I've got you a live one!"
"Ah, that will speed things up. Thank you, Drake." A man dressed in fatigues came forward as the gargoyle turned his attention elsewhere. Despite this newcomer's wardrobe, Lowell had an impression of brisk efficiency. "Captain Colin Marter, retired," the man said perfunctorily. "This is quite a little mess you've got here, Constable. I believe my friends and I can help you sort it out."
A black horse thundered out of the mists of the neighboring park. "There you are!" called the woman on its back. "You'd best get these people out of the way. This caballero busto is not too picky about what he steps on."
"Right-o, Dulcy!" Colin took Lowell by the sleeve. "Listen to me carefully, Constable. There's another statue coming to join the others here. It's big and we've got to clear this area."
Lowell swore under his breath. "What the devil do you think you're doing? The last thing we need is another bloody statue! The M.P. and all the other high muckity-mucks are having kittens at all of this insanity as it is!!"
"I know, I understand," Colin said calmly. "I don't really have time to explain this but my friends and I know how to fix this situation. We have the knowledge to stop the statues. Will you trust us?"
"I don't know, I mean, they're ruddy gargoyles! How can I --"
Colin looked unblinkingly into the police officer's eyes. "I give you my word as a gentleman and an officer in Her Majesty's service that if you will trust us tonight, my gargoyle friends and I will help you save London."
Numbly, Lowell looked around. The place where he and Colin were standing was a small island of calm in a vast sea of chaos, due solely to the efforts of the dragon –Drake, he recalled—and two other gargoyles who were holding their ground against their attackers. A man in golden armor and some other gargoyles were pulling Minions off of Lowell's fellow officers and a few unconscious Vampyres were lying on the ground. The statues out in the intersection had paused in their battle to swat at the swarm of flying gargoyles that were worrying them and keeping them from damaging themselves further. Seismic shocks from beneath his feet heralded the arrival of an immense equestrian statue. Fifteen yards of wrought iron fencing tore away like tissue paper as it exited the park.
"All right," Lowell said in shaky voice. "At this point, I'll try anything." He lifted his police radio to his lips. "Attention!! Lowell, here. Do not attack the gargoyles, repeat, do not attack the gargoyles!! They're here to help. Assist them in anyway possible."
Colin nodded. "You've made the right choice."
"I certainly hope so." Lowell sighed. "I'd hate to think I've thrown away my pension for nothing."
* * * * *
"What the devil is that, Una?" Emrys asked irritably. "I can't work with all this noise!" He continued to trace curious symbols around the perimeter of his circle.
Una glanced down into the street and frowned. "We'll have to hurry. Things are getting ugly down there."
Emrys stood up and dusted off his hands. "That does it for the runes. Let me look the spell over one more time and you signal Caspian. The rest of the clan's going to need to take shelter when this goes off."
"Right," the gargoyle sorceress answered as she handed over the spellbook. Horn glowing softly, Una concentrated for a moment. She held out her hand and peered into the globe of light that appeared there. "Caspian?"
"Mum!!" Caspian's disembodied voice sounded frantic with relief. "Thank goodness! Da just left with Arthur and Griff to look for you!"
"Whatever for?" Una shook her head. "Never mind. We're almost ready to do the spell. Signal the others to get ready."
The sudden catch in Emrys's voice caused Una to break the link with her son. She turned only to find Emrys dangling by his red-and-blue striped school scarf, held by a bald-headed Minion. He was not alone – three others were with him as well. A large cat was weaving around the feet of the oldest human while the sole female held a gun pointed directly at Una. The old man glanced over the chalk circle and the fallen book whose pages were flipping over in the breeze.
"So you fancy yourself a sorcerer, do you, boy?" Lucius said mockingly. "Thought you could undo my handiwork, did you? Foolish child, my master's magicks cannot be defeated by the likes of you!!"
Swearing in Welsh, Emrys tried ramming his elbow into Eddie's stomach. When that didn't work, he started to flail his arms and legs around. All he got for his efforts was a clout on the head and a full-body shake.
"Cut it out, kid," Eddie said gruffly, "or I'll have to get rough with you."
"Yes, please, Emrys," Una said soothingly, "be still. All will be well."
Char snorted. "Ha! Fine words, gargoyle, now that we've got the upper hand."
Una said nothing but her horn began to glow. The gun in Char's hand began to grow red-hot.
"Ouch!" Char yowled and dropped the gun on the roof.
"Really, my dear," Una said lightly, "don't you know handguns are illegal? For shame!" She narrowed her eyes at the others. "Now for you blighters… Dormite, hostes mei, ubi sta— "
With a ferocious yowl, the brindled cat leaped up into Una's face, hissing and spitting and claws flying in all direction. Her sleep spell disrupted, it was all Una could do to keep the cat at bay.
"What are you three waiting for?" Lucius bellowed, snatching Emrys from Eddie's grip. "Get her!!"
A light-gray form streaked in and snatched the cat away from Una by the scruff of its neck. Imogen growled at it as she soared back up, baring her teeth in her greyhound muzzle. "Hello, kitty. Can you land on your feet?"
Lucius started after her but before he could take a step, Leo landed directly in front of him, blocking his way. "'Ullo, 'ullo," the leonine gargoyle said, "and just where do you think you're going?"
"That thing has my cat!!"
"To the devil with your cat, sir!" Arthur strode up angrily and leveled Excalibur directly at Lucius. "Unhand that boy!!"
Char, Rodney and Eddie started backing up. "Boss...," Char said nervously, "it's time to pull somethin' out of your sleeve."
For once, Lucius Adrians seemed genuinely tongue-tied. He and his trio of Minions bunched together as Brianna, Griff, Faulconbridge and Cervus landed around them. His lips moved as though he was talking to some unseen someone and then, like a puppet having its strings pulled, Lucius acted. Simultaneously, he shoved Emrys into Arthur hard enough to rock the former king off-balance and at the same moment, threw his arm straight up into the air and shouted, "Fulminus venite!!"
A high-pitched yelp from high above and a few seconds later, Lucius caught a frazzled cat in his arms. "Another time," Lucius said coolly. The cat flattened his ears back and hissed as they were engulfed in a ball of fire. When everyone's vision cleared, the Minions were gone.
"Where's that darned cat?" Imogen asked as she sailed down, holding her arm gingerly. "That blast came out of nowhere and I couldn't help dropping it."
Griff glanced over the side. "Never mind about the cat. We've got worse problems going on down here."
King Arthur, Emrys and the gargoyles rushed to see. Without Aper and his squad of gargoyles harrying them, the statues had resumed their circling, only this time, they were joined by a saber-rattling rider on horseback whose steed would rear and churn its hooves in the air. A lucky pass knocked a large chunk from Achilles's chest.
"Whatever you're going to do, Merlin, I suggest you do it now," Arthur advised. "We cannot let this madness go on any further."
"Quite right, Arthur." Emrys adjusted his school scarf and returned business-like to his chalk circle. "You gargoyles had best get under cover."
"Right." Leo stalked over to the open door of the stairwell and peered inside. "No mystery where those blighters went, just nicked down the stairs while we were blinded. They could still be around."
"It doesn't matter, luv," Una said quickly. "I've already given Caspian the signal and we've no time to fly out of range like the others." She motioned to the others. "Hurry now."
"I'll guard Merlin's back," Arthur promised. "Off you go."
Emrys, meanwhile, was totally focused on the task at hand and oblivious to the commotion around him. He took a small paper bag from his pocket and emptied the glittering contents into the palm of his left hand. With his right hand, Emrys began making circular motions, each pass of his hand making the glitter dust rise up into a swirling globe until every glittering speck was suspended in mid-air.
"Noble Belenus, I invoke thee, O bright one.
God of the daystar, grant us your life-giving sun.
Make the ebon night as bright as day
Let the fire of the sun burn the darkness away!"
The glittering orb between Emrys's hands began to pulse within, growing larger, forcing the boy's arms to spread wider as he chanted the incantation. A bright pinprick of light formed and as Emrys uttered the last word, he cast the orb high into the sky.
* * *
A small sun erupted over the London streets, throwing everything into sharp relief. The three statues came to a screeching halt, their limbs re-freezing into their centuries old poses. There was a momentary silence as the various people below took a few seconds to realize what had happened, then a rousing cheer rose up from the streets.
Emrys blew on his hands, his skin rosy and slightly sunburnt. "See here, Arthur?" he said proudly. "I've still got it."
"Indeed, old friend." Arthur clapped his hand on Emrys's shoulder. "Indeed, you have."
* * * * *
"Thank heavens it's over!" Constable Lowell breathed as he slumped against a squad car. He and his fellow officers had had finished loading up the last of the Minions and Vampyres in police vans. He gave a tired gaze at the three Hyde Park statues now taking up space in the middle of what was one of London's busiest intersections and shook his head.
"I see Public Works is already hard at work."
Lowell turned to the dapper man in fatigues. "Aye, but re-directing traffic around those things is going to be a regular headache for days. Still, if it wasn't for you and your friends, it could have been a lot worse." He held out his hand. "Thank you, Captain Marter."
"Quite all right, Constable," Colin replied as he shook his hand. "What will you put in your report, do you suppose?"
"Tricky, that." Lowell made a face. "I'm not really sure how my superiors will take the truth."
Colin took out his pipe and lit it. "The truth has been somewhat stranger than usual lately."
"These friends of yours are handy fellows to have in a scrape. Not nearly as horrible as the American press makes them out to be." Lowell glanced up, studying the skyline for a few moments. "I think I'll just say that we were assisted by some helpful, law-abiding Londoners and leave it at that. Commander Vimes ought to accept that."
"Sounds about right to me," Colin agreed. He shook Lowell's hand again. "If you'll excuse me, Constable, I believe I'll be going now. You chaps seem to have things well in hand. Good evening."
Lowell watched him go, a trail of blue-tinted tobacco smoke curling lazily in his wake. "Hey!" he called suddenly. "Tell your friends thanks for me. They're all right in my book."
A deep laugh rolled down from the rooftops. "You're very welcome."
Lowell shook his head and turned away, hiding a wry smile.
* * * * *
The Cumberland Hotel.
From her balcony window, the woman with the silvering hair stood, unaffected by the winter chill, and watched as London awoke to confusion and chaos in the pink light of dawn. Sirens wailed all over the city as emergency workers fought to restore order in true British fashion. On the television, she could hear the news reader on the BBC comparing their night of terror to the days of the Blitz.
"---all over the country, indeed the world, strange things are happening that have no logical explanation. The bizarre sickness that swept Manhattan recently and now this - are we in the end days, as some religious zealots claim? Authorities are baffled."
She shook her head and sighed bitterly. "It is so heart-breaking when your children fight each other."
A sudden breeze stirred the sheer panels lining the elegant draperies into a flurry, making them billow out into the room. When they settled, the mysterious woman was gone.
* * * * *
On the eastern coast of Ireland
High above the crashing ocean waves, she appeared on the tall cliffs facing the rising sun. Snow melted all around her and shoots of pale green grass sprang up from her footsteps. Like the seasons turning, her appearance changed. The smartly cut dress suit became flowing robes of black and silver with a twinkling mantle over her shoulders that seemed to be cut from the night sky. Her dark hair became even more brilliantly streaked with silver and she wore it held back with a sparking tiara of stars radiating out from a single tear-shaped green gem.
She held her face to the morning sun for a few seconds before speaking.
"My sons, hear me," she said in a strong, resolute voice. "Your mother Danu summons you."
An overhanging branch above her burst into blossoms while the elder fay waited. She didn't have to wait long before a bluish rift in the air and a coruscating fireball materialized on either side of her. When the visual effects faded, Lord Oberon and Madoc Morfryn appeared before her, standing a good distance apart and eyeing each other sharply.
"Mother," Oberon said, dropping to one knee respectfully. "It has been too long since you have graced the halls of Avalon."
Madoc followed his brother's example grudgingly. "Mother," he said politely. "You look well."
"Rise, my sons," Danu said gently. "I ask you here on my beloved emerald isle to speak to you both, as I should have done millennia ago, when you last waged war upon each other."
"Better late than never, eh, Mother dear?" Madoc said coldly as he rose to his feet.
"Mind your manners," Oberon retorted. "Your defeat was at my hands, not hers."
"It will not be again."
"Madoc! Oberon!" Danu said, her quiet voice cracking like thunder. "After all these centuries, have you learned nothing?" Her eyes softened. "I have walked among the mortals and seen them restore the damage that the First Unseelie War did to their world. They did it with no magic to aid them, just the sweat of their brows. I've watched them live and die and all for love of this world. I cannot bear to see this glorious planet torn asunder again."
Oberon flicked his eyes briefly at his brother. "Do not worry, Mother. My children and I will have nothing to do with Madoc's mad schemes."
"A coward's answer," Madoc said mockingly. "You'll soon be made to choke on your words."
"And how will you do that, Madoc?" Danu asked. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes briefly. "I had a vision of this, all those years ago when I stood behind the throne and let your brother curse you. I should have spoken for you then, but I was too stricken with grief to act. I've learned so much about living from the humans - I'd hoped that you had learned as well."
She opened her eyes and they were the color of a stormy sea. "I heard the wild cry of the Unseelie Ride on All Hallow's Eve. I felt the power of the Blood Moon from a world away. But why --- why did you have to kill that poor boy?" She shook her head. "He was your own flesh and blood."
"Hardly," Madoc replied coldly. "He was my brother's by-blow, not mine."
"What?" Oberon's eyes blazed and he took a step towards Madoc. "Explain yourself!"
"You don't even remember!" Madoc's face was hard and remorseless. "An innocent Dutch girl by the name of Miranda Strijken – does that ring any bells? You abandoned her on your wedding night and they call me the cruel one." He laughed. "She was a clever wench and gave Maeve and I the slip. It took me over two hundred years to track her and her offspring down."
"Miranda…." Oberon frowned and looked thoughtful.
"You shouldn't done it," Danu interjected. "Umbriel was a kind, gentle soul. He would have repaid you tenfold for any kindness you would have shown him."
"Kindness? Bah!" Madoc snorted. "He was an ungrateful, backbiting whelp who hadn't an ounce of backbone in him."
"Say what you will," Danu said sternly, "Umbriel saw something worthwhile in you, and he was prepared to do anything for you." She took a step towards him and held out her hands. "Please, Madoc, my son, please... it's not too late for redemption. Umbriel found some small amount of goodness left in you. Do not let the full power of the Unseelie Court loose on this world! I have learned forgiveness for the loss of my lord Avallach so that I may live in peace. Oberon has learned to temper his impulsive nature and to rule Avalon with a just hand." Her eyes glistened as she looked up into Madoc's face. "Can you not also learn to forgive and to live a new life?"
"Forgive?" Madoc stared at her with cold, gray eyes. "Forgive??!! This is about vengeance, Mother, and I will not be denied. You stayed silent while he took my powers from me and made me no better than a mewling human. This is just as much your fault as it is his; and, if this pitiful world and the puny creatures that inhabit it pay the price for my pain, all the better." He flung his bat-winged cape around him dramatically and vanished in a fireball that left a burnt circle to mark his passing.
Danu withdrew her outstretched hands slowly, her fingers curling in like a wilting flower.
"Mother?" Oberon said coolly, his temper barely under control. "How long did you know about all this?"
"I am She Who Watches," Danu said simply. "I may have left Avalon, but I have always been where I could look over all my children, be they good or bad, lost or alone."
"Then you knew all along? And said nothing? You let Madoc kill my son!"
"Your son?" Danu's eyes flashed. "Now, in death, you claim him! Where were you, all the lonely years when that poor boy had no one and nothing?" She turned away but her face was tormented. "I used to visit Umbriel in his dreams because it was the only comfort I could give him. I wanted to do more but the Elder Court would not allow it." She gave a ragged sigh. "I left the Court because of Umbriel. I would have saved him if I could…" Pain crossed her face as her voice dropped to a whisper. "But I was too late."
"I see." There was a long pause and Oberon cleared his throat awkwardly. "Titania has set aside a place for you in our castle," he said in a strangely gentle tone. "Avalon would welcome your return, Mother." He paused. "I would welcome it."
Danu bowed her head. "I've failed to look after my children," she said softly, barely audible. "And I must pay for my sin. I cannot in good conscience return to the green hills of Avalon. To do so would be to shame all that Avallach and I believe in."
"Do as you will, Mother." A glowing portal formed in the air. "But don't expect me to come running to your rescue. You have made your choice and you must live with it." He stepped through the rift into the eternal summer of Avalon and left the cold winter behind.
The roar of the waves below swept over the stately figure on the cliff. Danu stared out over the ocean for an indeterminable amount of time until a tear rolled down her ivory cheek and then another.
"My sons," she whispered, "my dear, dear children. Why must one of you die for the world to know peace?"
Unbidden, the storm-filled skies opened up and Danu's tears were hidden in the soft falling rain.
* * * * *
Achilles - the Wellington Monument
A Sculpture walk in Hyde Park