The Battle Below
Written By: Kathy Pogge
with additional material by JEB, Batya "The Toon" Levin and A Fan
Story concept by: JEB, with contributions from Stephen R. Sobotka,
Kathy Pogge, Entity, and Batya Levin
Illustrations by: Amber
Previously on Gargoyles...
"Think of it this way," Umbriel said, leaning towards her, "a little of your freedom for his safety. You could save him by keeping Maeve focused on other things, away from London."
As I have told you time and time again, this war between Madoc and Oberon is none of my affair. Her eyes flared, becoming pupil-less for a few seconds. How is it that you serve the Unseelie Court, human-born?
Her question made Umbriel pause thoughtfully. "In the beginning, it was out of a sense of kinship," he admitted. "Oberon has never once acknowledged me as his son but Madoc welcomed me and offered me a second chance at being part of a family."
His eyes hardened. "I soon learned that our politics were not the same but without my presence to temper his more radical views, I dare not leave. There must be a balance or else even the Unseelie Court will fail."
You play a dangerous game.
"Some games are worth the risk, Banshee. To make change, sometimes one must rise to the challenge," Umbriel replied. "Admit it, if you wanted to play it safe, you would've stayed on Avalon with the others, cowering in Oberon's shadow. Here and now is where things are going to happen. The question is, will you be a part of them or not?"
~ When the Bough Breaks, Part Two ~
* * *
"I've never seen them fight like this," commented Fox from where she stood to the other side of her husband. "Angela looks completely bewildered, but Elisa looks ready to draw blood."
"Indeed," agreed Xanatos. "If Goliath had shoes, I wouldn't want to be in them right now."
~ Lethe ~
* * * * *
The Battle Below
* * * * *
Elisa stared into the gloomy dankness of the sewer tunnel. "I wish I'd brought a flashlight," she muttered, as she shifted the heavy sack of tools. Straining her eyes in the dim light, the dark-haired woman walked close behind her brother.
So intent was she on peering into the darkness, she didn't notice him pause and listen, his panther-like ears twitching. Elisa stumbled against Talon's softly furred back and used the opportunity to re-adjust the irksome sack of tools. The noise that caught his attention faded abruptly and he relaxed.
"You want to warn me before you do that again, Fuzzball?" Elisa griped at her brother.
"Sorry, sis, I thought I heard someone moving in the tunnel up ahead," he replied.
"You mean besides Hollywood and Burbank?"
"Yeah, but the sound is gone now. Must have just been an echo." Talon looked down at his sister. "Are you sure those tools aren't too heavy for you to be carrying? I could take them if you want."
Claw, who was walking behind them, also stuck out his paw.
Elisa shook her head, knowing that her companions would have no trouble seeing her response in the dark.
"Don't show off, you two," Elisa said, as she adjusted her grip again. "You've got your hands full with that load of bricks and cement."
"I appreciate you spending your night off helping us out, Elisa," Talon said, as they proceeded further into the tunnel. "But shouldn't you have other plans tonight? Seems to me you always have something going with Goliath-"
"Can't a girl spend a little time helping out her family without getting the third degree?" Elisa replied, irritation coloring her words.
Talon's cat-like eyes narrowed as he examined his sister. He sniffed the air delicately, and caught the scent of her anger. "Have you and Goliath been fighting?"
"Just drop it, Derek." Elisa shifted the heavy bag of tools and pushed her way forward into the blackness. If she drove herself hard enough, maybe she could catch up with Hollywood and Burbank. At least they wouldn't torment her about her love life.
Talon and Claw shared a mystified look and picked up the pace behind her.
* * * * *
"I like Scarecrow," Hollywood said to Burbank as they moved carefully up the narrow passageway.
"I like them all," Burbank replied. "'Specially the little dog. Suppose Talon let me have a little dog to carry in a basket?" he asked thoughtfully, as he settled the bag of powdered cement more comfortably on his shoulder.
Hollywood paused, sloshing the bucket of water he carried, as he considered the question. "I don't know." He squinted into the dim light. They were nearly to their destination, a subway spur line long disused, that might allow intruders to infiltrate their safe haven. "We need to go there." He pointed at the gap ahead of them. "We need to wait for Talon and Elisa and Claw."
Burbank nodded. He took a few steps forward and paused, confused. He tugged at his shaggy brown beard and cocked his head. "Do you hear a funny noise?"
Hollywood set down his bucket and cupped a hand around one of his bat-like ears. "What is -"
His question was lost under a feline roar.
Burbank spun about to see a yellowish figure, blurred by its speed, fling Hollywood against a wall. The bucket of water clattered to the floor; its contents splashed over the walls.
Before he could react, several more of the blurs converged, burying Burbank under their weight.
* * * * *
Elisa dropped into a defensive crouch as screams echoed weirdly off the tunnel walls. She hazarded a look behind her. Talon and Claw had dropped their construction supplies and were running towards her- towards the noise. Turning on her heel, Elisa sprinted forward into the dimly lit tunnel.
The trio raced forward. Adrenaline surged. The screams grew nearer. Talon was at point and he motioned to Elisa and Claw to hang back while he assessed the situation.
Hollywood was slumped unconscious against the wall, bloodied from a head wound. Burbank lay nearby, also unconscious, yet still being savaged by several yellowish furry creatures. Catlike and bipedal, they might almost have been mutates.
"What are those things?" Talon muttered as he motioned Claw forward.
The pair attacked with energy blasts. The bolts of energy struck home and the smell of burned fur wafted through the air.
The creatures yowled and turned tail, fleeing into the darkness. One of them stood its ground a moment longer, hissing viciously. Claw's energy bolt caught it full in the face. It let out a snarling scream and ran.
Elisa ran forward to Burbank. "He's been mauled and he's bleeding badly!" she said, as she stripped off the wool muffler she'd been wearing against the chill. She pressed it against one of the more profusely bleeding wounds.
Talon bent over Hollywood. A ragged gash ran over his left eye. "Hollywood's not as bad, but he's out cold." He picked the clone up, cradling him gently in his arms. "Come on, we've got to get these guys out of here. Claw, you got him?" The silent mutate nodded. "Good. Elisa, you run ahead, let them know we're coming."
"Be careful," she warned as she ran, flat out, towards the Sanctuary. Mindful of their injured companions, Talon and Claw followed as fast as they dared behind her.
* * * * *
Maggie and Sharon looked up, startled, as Elisa bolted into the Labyrinth's common area.
"Elisa! What's wrong?" Maggie said as they sprang to their feet.
"There's been an attack!" she turned to Sharon. "Is Doctor Goldblum here?"
Sharon nodded. "I think he was just finishing for the evening."
"I'll get him," Maggie said, as she ran towards the Labyrinth's medical facility. "You get the first aid kit and wait for them."
Sharon ran for the kitchen. She came back a moment later with a large white box just as Talon and Claw jogged into view.
"What happened?" Sharon gasped as they carried the two clones into the Labyrinth.
"Call Doctor Goldblum, tell him that he has at least one patient coming in. I'm not sure whether Hollywood is seriously injured, but Burbank's lost a lot of blood."
Dr. Goldblum and Maggie rejoined the group a moment later. "Here," Goldblum said as he pushed a gurney up to Talon, "Put Hollywood here." He looked at Burbank and began to assess his injuries. "Claw, you put Burbank there and stay with him. You are with me. Sharon, you get started on Hollywood."
"Let's move, people," Talon said unnecessarily, as the gurneys disappeared down the corridor.
* * * * *
"Talon," Maggie said as she reached up and placed her hand on his shoulder. "What happened? Are you all right?"
He tore his attention away from the empty corridor. "I'm fine. There was something in the tunnel near where we we're supposed to fix the wall. Hollywood and Burbank had gone on ahead. They were attacked." He ran a hand angrily over his muzzle. "We should have been there with them."
"Derek," Elisa consoled, "you drove them off!"
"But what were they? Don't tell me those Unseelie have found their way down here!"
Elisa nodded grimly. "Have you ever heard of werewolves?"
"You don't mean-" Maggie's ears began to twitch anxiously.
"Pretty close to it," Elisa confirmed. "We know that there are humans that follow some of the Unseelie. They've been granted powers in exchange for their servitude."
"Elisa," Talon protested, "those were animals!"
"They're shape-shifters." She stared at the telephone mounted innocently on the wall, her feelings raging within her. Finally Elisa swallowed her pride long enough to speak. "You'd better call Goliath. You're gonna need reinforcements."
Nodding wordlessly, Talon began to dial.
* * * * *
Down the hallway, Hollywood began to stir. Sharon set down the compress she'd been using to clean the wound over his eye. "Hollywood?"
"Head hurts..." He winced as he tried to touch the wound.
Sharon gently moved his hand away the injury. "I know," she said softly, her golden eyes kind. "We're going to make you better. Does anything other then your head hurt?" She began to gently manipulate his arms and legs.
The burly clone winced in pain. "Uh...everything."
Sharon kept her demeanor professional. "How bad?"
"Bad. Don't want to move. What happened?"
Sharon applied antibiotic ointment before closing the wound with tiny strips of tape. After a moment she replied, "You and Burbank were attacked. Do you remember?"
Hollywood nodded, wincing at the pain. "They hurt Burbank?"
"Yes, but Dr. Goldblum is taking care of him." She turned away long enough to draw a syringe of painkiller, checking the dose carefully against the chart Dr. Goldblum had computed. "This is going to sting just a little, but then you'll start to feel better, all right?"
"All right," Hollywood said. "I know Sharon won't hurt me."
She patted his arm gently before swabbing it quickly with alcohol.
"That feel nice," Hollywood commented.
Sharon injected him smoothly. Against the pain of his bruises, the sting went unnoticed.
"Do you remember what attacked you?" Sharon asked once more.
"Bad kitties," Hollywood said, scowling. "Big, bad, kitties. Not like Sharon," he said, as he drifted off to sleep.
* * * * *
Brooklyn glared at his son, as if daring him to say something. Graeme grinned. "Welcome to Graeme's on the Boardwalk. You'll be staying in one of our beautiful rooms. That will be two thousand dollars."
Brooklyn, Graeme, and Ariana sat around a Monopoly board. The majority of the fake money was, as indicated by Brooklyn's expression, not piled in front of him.
"I don't have that much money," he protested.
Xanatos, who was watching in amusement, joined in the teasing. "You have to take these things into perspective, Graeme. He is your father. If I were you, I'd just take his best properties and leave him Baltic Avenue."
Brooklyn refocused his glare on Xanatos. "Why don't you go sell the real Baltic Avenue?"
Xanatos traded a conspiratorial grin with Graeme as he headed for the door. "I'd think you'd be proud," he told Brooklyn. "You're training two future tycoons."
Goliath appeared in the door of the room, stepped aside to allow Xanatos past him, and entered. "Hollywood and Burbank have been attacked in the tunnels," he said without preamble. "Dr. Goldblum is operating on Burbank now. Whatever attacked them was neither human nor gargoyle."
"Then what were they?" Brooklyn asked.
"Talon said were-cheetahs," Goliath rumbled.
"I'll go." Brooklyn rose to his feet. He withdrew his laser rifle from its holster and checked the charge. Satisfied with what he saw, the tall red gargoyle returned the weapon. He opened his beak to speak, but was interrupted by Ariana.
"How are we going to finish the game now?" the smaller red gargoyle asked, disappointed.
"We'll finish tomorrow, Ari-chan," Brooklyn told her. "You two go tell your mother to come in here. We could use her help."
"Just the two of you?" Goliath asked, as the twins chased each other out of the room.
"We don't want a big force until we find out what's going on down there," Brooklyn said. "And most of us are still on patrol." He paused. "I'd feel better about it, though, if we could take Lexington with us."
Goliath's face went troubled. "Are you certain? He is in one of his difficult moods. I do not know how to approach him when he acts so strangely."
"I know," Brooklyn said. "Mood swings. One day he's sullen and brooding and won't talk to anyone but the computer, and the next he's cheerful as anything. And you've been wondering what's wrong with him in when he gets in those dark moods, right?"
Goliath nodded mutely.
"That's not the right question," Brooklyn told him soberly. "The question is what's wrong with him when he's not."
The larger gargoyle frowned, almost visibly repeating the words in his head. "I don't understand," he said flatly.
Brooklyn's voice was gentle. "He's been hurt, Goliath. Hurt about as badly as a person can be hurt. I'm not thrilled about the brooding and withdrawing, but it's a healthier reaction than pretending nothing's wrong." He shook his head. "I'm not telling you what to do -- "
"I almost wish that you would," Goliath cut in, frustrated at his inability to deal with the sullen gargoyle.
Brooklyn sighed. "We've been through this, Goliath. Look, right now I need Lexington on this mission. And Bronx, if he's not needed for patrol," he added as an afterthought.
"Very well," Goliath said. "Stay in contact as best you can."
"Where will we be going?" Sata said from the doorway. She stood with the twins flanking her like a small honor guard.
"The Labyrinth," Brooklyn told her. "I'll give you the details on the way. Ari, I need you to find Uncle Lex and tell him to meet us on the east wall. Graeme, you find Bronx and bring him there too."
"Gotcha!" Ariana blew her father a kiss, spun around and headed back down the corridor at top speed. Brooklyn smiled; as usual, his daughter never walked anywhere if she could run.
"Hai, Dad." Graeme looked back over his shoulder as he left the room more slowly. "And you still owe me two thousand when we get back to the game!"
* * * * *
"I'm glad you could come," Talon said to Brooklyn and his party a little while later. His deep voice was tinged with a note of relief.
"Yeah, I appreciate this too, Brooklyn," Elisa said as she entered the common room.
"You caught us on a slow night," Brooklyn replied, gripping Talon's forearm in the warrior's handshake. "Uh, hi, Elisa," he said awkwardly. "How have you been?"
"I'll get by," she said, not meeting his eyes.
"Right," Brooklyn drawled. He exchanged glances with Sata and his mate shook her head. The gargoyle Second shifted his attention to Talon. "How much has Elisa told you about the Unseelie?"
"Enough," Talon answered. He began to pace, his tail snapping at the floor. "I know they've been pretty busy aboveground."
"It's just little things lately, petty vandalism, but a lot of it," Brooklyn went on. "I'm thinking this could be more of the same."
Talon shook his head, not slowing his pace. "What happened to my people here was no petty vandalism, Brooklyn. Let's go." He motioned to Brentwood and Delilah, who were standing quietly among the others. "I want you two to help guard the inner corridors."
Delilah stepped forward. She stuck out her chin. The pose intensified her resemblance to Elisa. "We will watch. Help keep our home safe."
Brentwood nodded in agreement; his lamplight eyes arrested Talon with their gaze. "Find the bad ones that hurt our friends."
"We will," Talon said grimly.
"Elisa-san," Sata's tone was gentle, but Elisa caught her implied message.
"I know," the dark-haired detective said with a resigned sigh, "I left my silver bullets at home." Frustrated with the knowledge that she could do more harm than good if she joined the searchers, she sat down on the couch. "Maggie and I can field communications."
"As you wish," Sata replied. "That sounds like a wise tactical decision... this time."
Elisa gave the jade green gargoyle a hard look as she disappeared into the tunnel followed by Lexington and Bronx.
* * * * *
The reconnaissance party moved swiftly down the tunnels; Talon at point, Bronx and Lexington close behind. Brooklyn and Sata followed at the rear.
"This is where we saw them," Talon said.
The gargoyles began to look around the section of tunnel intently.
Bronx began to sniff the area, searching with his delicate nose. After he covered the corridor, he gave a small whining growl.
"What does that mean?" Talon asked.
"It means," Lexington said, "that he smells something he doesn't like." He moved closer to where Bronx was sniffing and bent to peer at it with his enhanced ocular sensors.
Brooklyn moved up behind him. "What is it, Lex?"
"I'm not sure." The smaller gargoyle frowned. "It's not very--" He broke off in alarm as a loud boom echoed through the tunnels.
"What was that?" Brooklyn yelled as dust began to filter into the tunnel.
"It came from the Labyrinth!" Talon shouted.
"Hurry!" Sata cried. She dropped to all fours and the other gargoyles followed suit. The mutate leader ran behind them, feline muscles shifting and bunching, propelled by anxiety and fear.
* * * * *
Maggie coughed, trying to clear her lungs of acrid smoke. "Elisa, are you all right?" she said, unable to find the detective.
The explosion had disrupted the electricity and the lights flickered out completely.
"Maggie?" Elisa coughed. "I'm here! I'm all right." There was a pause. "Oh no!" Elisa shouted. "Fire!"
Flames licked at the walls near the corridor to the medical wing.
Maggie took command. "Fire extinguishers, against the walls! Here!" The felinoid woman tore extinguishers from their brackets and passed one of the bright red canisters to Elisa.
The pair turned the chemical extinguishers onto the flames, coughing and rasping as they fought the fire.
Sharon screamed from behind the wall of flame, "Help us!"
"We're coming!" Elisa yelled back as she dropped her extinguisher and ripped a second from its bracket.
"We need more!" Maggie cried. "There's some in the kitchen. I'll get them!" Maggie ran with cat-like grace. A moment later she was back and the pair fought grimly, never wavering though the flames jumped and licked at their feet.
"Watch yourself!" Elisa warned, as Maggie ventured close enough to singe her fur.
"I'll be all right!" Maggie replied. "No one is going to burn my home down!"
Elisa smiled at Maggie's savage determination and returned her attention to the fire.
* * *
The last of the flames were dying as the rescue party bolted into the Sanctuary.
"What happened here!" Talon demanded as he scooped Maggie into his arms, hugging her fiercely.
"I don't know," the slender mutate said as she broke into a fit of coughing. "One minute we were talking and the next..." she trailed off, waving her arm at the hole blown into the wall and the smoke that settled over the room. Her eyes went wide. "Where are Delilah and Brentwood? They were near the tunnel entrance right before the explosion!"
"I don't know. Brooklyn! Any sign of them?"
Brooklyn, Sata, Lexington, and Bronx moved back into the rubble-strewn tunnel and began to search for the missing clones.
The backup generator kicked into gear and the smoke began to be replaced by fresh, clear air. Elisa filled her lungs with ragged gasps as Dr. Goldblum and Claw ran forward, freed at last from the prison of fire.
"Here," he insisted. He placed an oxygen mask over Elisa's face and she took a few ragged hits. "Slowly," Goldblum cautioned. "Come with me." He gently steered Elisa out of the common room. "I want to make sure you're all right."
Claw gently pried Maggie away from Talon and escorted her into the medical area. Her fur smoked in places and Claw patted at them hesitantly as he propelled her down the corridor.
Outside, in the tunnel, a low moan and a series of weak coughing sounds traveled up through the rubble.
Bronx began to howl and dig at the fallen concrete.
"That sounds like Delilah!" Brooklyn ran to Bronx's side and helped the gargoyle beast dig. They rapidly pulled chunks of the fallen wall away and gradually, the inert form of the hybrid clone was revealed. Gently, Brooklyn pulled her from the wreckage and handed her off to Sata. The jade green female carried Delilah into the Sanctuary while Brooklyn stayed with Bronx. The beast sniffed, frustrated by the confusion of odors. He growled several times as his sensitive nose picked up the scent of strangers. Finally he began to bark happily and plunged down an unused side shaft to the main tunnel. Brooklyn followed into the inky darkness.
"Hey, guys," Lexington said as he examined a wall just outside of the Sanctuary. "Look at this."
Talon followed the web-winged gargoyle out into the tunnel and examined the gallery of pipes and wires that ran like a spider's web.
"It must have been a faulty gas main," concluded Talon, looking at a ruptured pipe.
Brooklyn and Bronx joined them a moment later. The tall red gargoyle held the web-winged Brentwood gently in his arms. He examined the pipe, then the wall around it. "Sure about that? Look at this."
Talon looked at the unconscious gargoyle and then leaned down and looked at the section of wall Brooklyn was focusing on.
Painted in garish orange paint on the wall was a message: "LEAVE NOW."
* * * * *
"Rael, the Spray Paint King, that's me!" the Halfling crowed as he wrapped his arm around Candy's neck.
The willowy blonde rammed her elbow sharply into her new companion's ribs, causing him to release his embrace and stagger away from the bar.
Thus disentangled, Candy looked up from her soda and frowned as she surveyed the bar. All of the Shire's regulars were engaged in their usual pursuits. "I take it your mission went well?" she asked in a bored voice.
"We achieved our goal," a third voice replied quietly from behind them.
Candy turned around and shivered at the mousy brown man behind her. "Excuse me, Mr. Garlon," she said differentially, "but I'd really appreciate it if you didn't sneak up on us like that."
Garlon shrugged. "Learn to appreciate it, Candy." He turned and addressed the other Halflings who congregated at the bar and around the pool table. "You all learn to appreciate it." A moment later he was gone.
Rael, now sitting a safe two stools away, took a swig of his beer. "That guy really creeps me out sometimes. He's not like Umbriel."
Candy shook her head and moved closer as she lowered her voice. "Yeah, Umbriel was all right. He really seemed to take an interest in us. Not like that creep. I wonder what happened to him anyway? He's never around much, and when he is, 'The Creeper' is always hanging around his neck babysitting."
"He musta messed up or something," Rael surmised, his earlier good humor replaced by a sullen contemplativeness. "These ain't good people to mess up around."
Candy thought of Casey, snuffed out in a shower of starlight, and frowned. "You got that right." She took a final hit of her soda and pushed the glass away. "I'm gonna call it a night. I want to get home before Rita does." She took one last look at her companions and, shaking her head, strode out of the pub, leaving Rael alone at the bar.
* * * * *
The were-cheetah looked up at its mistress and mewled beseechingly for relief from its pain. The electric bursts thrown by Talon and Claw had left its fur singed and blackened, mottling further the sables and golds of its pelt. Sekhmet looked on the semi-human, her eyes dark with anger.
"I should leave you, my pet, and let these injuries be your punishment for such clumsiness."
The beast crawled forward, his head low to the ground, and began to rub his face earnestly against Sekhmet's golden slippers, further subjugating itself.
"But," Sekhmet considered, "Our Lord Madoc has other plans that require your services." She waved a hand lazily at the were-cheetah. A golden light emanated from her fingertips, bathing the injured creature in its glow. After a moment the glow subsided and in the place of the burned cheetah stood a golden-haired and broad-chested man.
He resisted the urge to stretch languorously and instead, kissed Sekhmet's slippers. "Thank you, my Lady Sekhmet."
Sekhmet smiled benevolently on her servant. "Go, Tiberius. Join the others and await my command."
"As you deem it, my Lady." Tiberius backed out of the chamber, his eyes never leaving the richly embroidered carpet under his feet.
"That's charming the way they roll over for you, Kitty." Sekhmet looked up, surprised, as Garlon appeared at her elbow.
"I like the way they sit up and beg too," the lion-headed fay replied dryly. "Or did you miss that part of the performance?"
"I saw," Garlon replied. "Whatever makes your whiskers twitch, I guess." He stepped away from Sekhmet and indicated a low table, richly encrusted with gilt and jewels. "We need to talk. I've got orders from the boss."
The feline-like fay held out her hand for Garlon to escort her off the throne-like chair she reclined in, then dropped it with a snarl, as the mousy man walked passed her and dropped into one of the gilded chairs that accompanied the table.
"Not very comfortable, Kitty," Garlon commented. He surveyed the lavish Egyptian décor of the chamber and stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Now what this place really needs is a comfy recliner, maybe a big screen TV over in the corner there-"
"Enough, Mouse!" Sekhmet's eyes glowed green. "I tire of your insolence! Tell me your message and be gone!"
Garlon smirked. "I get you every time. Don't I?" The room began to ripple with an angry energy and Garlon, having proven his point, backed down. He rose and pulled the second chair away from the table. "If it please my lady?"
Only partially mollified, Sekhmet swept her way to the conference table.
* * * * *
Maeve stood in the Conservatory Garden enjoying the cool June air. The human gardeners had compensated somewhat for the unseasonable temperature and a show of early spring crocuses filled the garden with their gentle scent. "It's rather pretty, isn't it, cousins?" she said to the Morrigan and the Banshee.
"If ya go in for that sort of a t'ing," the Morrigan grumbled.
Banshee hesitated before speaking. "I've always favored the fog over the moors, the greens and grays swirling together." She turned to her cousin, and her queen, differentially. "Though a bit of color can be a welcoming sight."
"Indeed," Maeve nodded. "'Tis one of the drawbacks of Lord Madoc's long winter. Though in the grand scheme, 'tis a small enough price, this bit of inconvenience." Her musing had brought her thoughts back to the ever-present campaign and her face hardened as she resumed her role of general. "How go your efforts, Morrigan? Do you continue to sow discord and destruction where ever your path takes you?"
"I do." The Morrigan nodded, her wild black hair whipped around her face in a tangle. "Though the humans are as nervous as water on a hot griddle. Don't take much from me to prod them into a fine fight." She shrugged her wraith-like shoulders. "Seems our Banshee has the greater challenge."
"Do you, Banshee? How goes the singin' of your siren song? Are you still the Lorelei?"
Banshee seemed to float as the brief clear spell gave way to new fog. "I sing and the ship captains hurl themselves on the rocks at my feet. They spill their cargoes of oil and goods just as Madoc desires." A small smile tugged at her lips. "I must admit, I've not had so much fun since that bit of a prank w' the 'so called' Lords and Ladies of the Emerald Isle. Do you remember, cousin?" she said, as she glanced at the Morrigan, "I'd comb my hair and wail beneath their windows portending their doom?"
Morrigan shared her grin, "Sure, that was a grand time. Planted the seeds for all me fun since! Just a bit of a nudge here and another one there, to start the bloodshed again. Such lovely carnage humans are capable of when they wage it on one another," she sighed.
"Indeed, my ladies," said Maeve "and your task remains to make sure the humans remain distracted."
The Morrigan gave a corpse-like grin before morphing into a large black crow. "As you command, Maeve," the bird croaked, before winging its way out of the Unseelie compound.
Banshee bowed low before her cousin and disappeared in a quick greenish flash, leaving Maeve alone in her garden.
* * * * *
Realizing he could delay no further, Umbriel sighed and stepped through the portal. A moment later he stood waiting hesitantly in Sekhmet's antechamber. The lion-headed goddess waved her servants away with a negligent hand. "Go and await my pleasure," she commanded.
The were-cheetahs, some in their human forms, others morphed to their animal guise, departed languidly.
Sekhmet looked down on Umbriel and frowned thoughtfully. "Our lord Madoc has decided that your demeanor would improve if you were exposed to some other perspectives on humanity. Do you believe this is so, young Umbriel?"
Umbriel regarded her with frank, hazel green eyes. "I have spent my whole life among them, lady, watching them live ...and die. I know I am not one of them," he admitted. "But I was born of them. It is difficult not to feel a kinship."
Sekhmet gave him a pitying smile. "I understand the source of your problem. You were denied your place as rightful ruler for so long that you believe yourself a slave." She rose, her silken gold robe flowing around her. "We must purge you of these feelings, boy. And I believe I have just the assignment to put your feet on the proper path." With a wave of her hand, a view of the Labyrinth shimmered into view. "Did you know, that not very far from this spot, humans live underneath the city?"
Umbriel shook his head as he surveyed the complex of tunnels and chambers. "Surely you can't mean there are more than a few wretched souls who live outside the company of their fellows."
Sekhmet's eyes narrowed angrily. "I do not like to be contradicted, boy," she snarled. "It is fact. They live under the city in the company of gargoyles. It is your task to take the squad of Halflings that Garlon is preparing for you now to this place. And if you find the complex under the city still occupied you are to destroy it and all who live there. Do you understand?"
"Yes, lady Sekhmet," Umbriel said. He resisted the urge to bow as the were-cheetahs had done.
"Good." The lion-headed fay seemed pleased. "I shall allow you some of my pets to assist you in your mission." She clapped her hands and two humans scurried out of a chamber behind the dais. "Tiberius and Bethany, you have an opportunity to redeem your actions of earlier this evening." The pair seemed relieved and they bowed before their goddess-queen. "Umbriel needs trackers." She pointed to the halfling fay. "Obey him as you would me, my pets, and do not fail." Her words were mild, but there was steel underneath her sweet voice.
The pair fell to their knees. The male, Tiberius, yowled as the change overtook him. Fur bristled and fangs grew, bones elongated and sinews popped as the feline form asserted itself over human. A moment later, two fully morphed cheetahs sat at Umbriel's feet.
A portal opened and Umbriel and the cheetahs stepped through.
* * * * *
Lexington aimed his ocular sensors at the area around the gas main.
"What do you see?" Sata asked him.
"I'm picking up some kind of trail." There was a faint whirring sound as he heightened the focus. "Looks a lot like what Bronx was sniffing at in the other tunnel. It's kinda faint, but I think I can follow it."
"We'd better hurry then, before whoever it is gets too far," Brooklyn said. "Talon, you might want to call Goliath, we might need more backup in case another 'accident' happens."
"Is it wise to leave when there might be another attack and Talon and the others are overtaxed?" Sata said.
"She's right," said Brooklyn, "as usual. At least, one of us should stay here. But we need to be able to defend ourselves against whatever we are hunting."
"We can handle ourselves here," Talon replied. "At least until Goliath and the others come and lessen the load. Lexington, are you positive you can follow this trail?"
"Yeah," Lexington said, frowning. "I know what I'm doing."
Brooklyn gave him a swift glance. "Good," he said quietly. "Then we can leave Bronx here. He can help guard the compound. You were lucky so few of the humans were here tonight, Talon."
"Thank Xanatos for that," the Labyrinth leader said. "Most of the residents are at the circus courtesy of the Xanatos-Renard Foundation."
"Lucky them," Brooklyn said as he straightened his armor.
"Come on," Lexington urged. His impatience to get moving was clearly evident.
Sata, Brooklyn, and Lexington set off down the tunnels, moving at as fast a pace as they comfortably could. Lexington led the way, pausing from time to time to re-calibrate his sensors. After several twisting turning miles they paused to rest.
"Did you do this sort of thing often while you were away?" Lexington asked, making nervous conversation.
"What do you mean, Lexington-san?" Sata asked.
"Chase after people in long, dark, confusing tunnels," the olive green gargoyle replied as he studied the next leg of their journey.
Brooklyn gave his rookery-brother a wistful smile. "I don't know. I do remember sort of hoping that one of Oberon's Children would appear, offer to take me to a tropical island filled with females, and then maroon me there. Instead I ended up on a forty year journey through time with a wife, two kids and Swiss cheese for a memory. Go figure," he shrugged.
"And you haven't regretted it... even for a moment?" his now younger rookery brother questioned as he mulled over how he'd react in a similar situation.
Brooklyn shot a glance at his sibling, then gazed directly at his mate. "Never."
Somewhere, in a nearby tunnel, a subway rumbled, blocking out all other background noise with a loud, painful sound.
The subway cleared the tunnel and Lexington turned to beckon his companions forward. Brooklyn and Sata struggled in the grasp of several cat-like creatures.
Outnumbered and lacking any other options, Lexington began to retreat up the tunnel they'd just exited only to find he was surrounded. Angry and frustrated, the web-winged cyborg launched himself at his attackers. He got in three good blows before he was knocked behind the ear and everything faded abruptly to black.
* * * * *
Their were-cheetah captors shoved the three gargoyles roughly to the ground.
"Well, well. What do we have here?" purred an arrogant female voice.
Brooklyn looked up towards the speaker. "Sekhmet?!" he exclaimed in surprise, recognizing her.
Lexington, still woozy from the blow to his head, opened his mouth, but a quick, fierce look from Sata kept him from interrupting the odd reunion.
Sekhmet maliciously grinned at the red gargoyle. "Welcome to my humble encampment, Timedancer. It has been a very long time."
"Not long enough," Brooklyn retorted. "So you're the one running this show? Funny," he said, surveying the refurbished subway tunnel, "it doesn't seem like your style."
Sekhmet stopped smiling and shook her mane of bronze-colored hair. "My current role has very little to do with style, Timedancer. But I don't have time to answer your questions, and I certainly don't have time to play catch-up with you." She let her gaze travel over to Sata, then back to Brooklyn with a suggestive raise of one tawny eyebrow. "Although I'm sure it would be a simply fascinating story," she purred.
"Yeah, real shame." A mock-smile of regret played over the red gargoyles beaky features. "So what happens now?"
She shrugged, as if it weren't terribly important, but her green eyes gleamed with cruel merriment. "I'll have to find somewhere to keep you until my task here is over. And perhaps longer," she added, drawing the words out lazily, "if Lord Madoc finds a use for you."
* * * * *
Talon took another look at the clock on the wall in the Labyrinth's kitchen. Most of the kitchen and its food stores had escaped the destruction of the main living area; the area had only been slightly rattled, a few dishes broken.
"Where are they?" Talon said aloud to the empty room, by now becoming quite worried.
Dr. Goldblum chose that moment to walk in. He looked very tired.
"How are your patients, Doctor?" Talon inquired as he righted a chair and held it out for the doctor.
Goldblum sighed, but it was a sigh of relief, rather than regret. "Fine, just fine." He sat down gratefully. "Most of the worst injuries will heal with stone sleep. Considering how bad it could have been... we were very fortunate." Goldblum dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief. "I had to sedate your sister. She kept trying to get out of bed despite the damage to her lungs."
"Elisa's always been that way," Talon said distractedly as he turned his problems around in his mind. "She'll be okay though, right?"
"Yes, the smoke inhalation damage is minor. She just needed to be quiet for a little while, to allow herself to heal."
"How's... Maggie?" Talon's voice was suddenly choked with anxiety.
Goldblum considered his words for a moment. "She has lost some fur and sustained some damage from smoke inhalation. But she, too, is resting comfortably. She had drifted off to sleep just before I came to see you."
"We were lucky, Doc. It could've been way worse. I hope we can find whoever's doing this, and stop 'em cold." Talon frowned. "Leave now, it said."
"Sorry?" Dr. Goldblum said, confused.
"The message painted on the wall," Talon told him. "That explosion was set off by someone who wants us gone."
"Which is a neat trick," Goldblum replied dryly, "considering that nobody's supposed to know you're here." He scratched at one ear. "I take it you are not planning on leaving."
"Not a chance," Talon said at once. "Even if my clan had another place to live -- the Labyrinth dwellers don't. The streets are worse than ever with this crazy weather. We can't leave the Labyrinth, and we can't let this -- this terrorist keep threatening us." He frowned. "Thanks for the report, Doc. If you'll excuse me, I've got a call to make..."
* * * * *
Lexington struggled with the two were-cheetahs restraining him, as a third finished chaining his legs, arms and tail to the stone wall.
Sekhmet walked into the chamber and surveyed the prisoners.
They returned her cool glance with angry glares.
"I've just finished conferring with Lord Madoc. He says you three are of no use to him." She cast a look at Lexington, and favored him with a cruel sharp-toothed smile. "Nicholas sends his regards," she told him.
Lexington's eyes flared blinding white, and he snarled wordlessly at her.
"Listen," Brooklyn said, thinking desperately. "You're here after the Labyrinth clan, right? Those clones and the mutates?"
Sekhmet studied him briefly. "And if we are?"
"If you are, then we might be able to help you." Sata glanced at Brooklyn in brief confusion, but made no outward sign as he continued. "They've been our enemies since the day we met. We were here on a reconnaissance mission, looking for another way in...."
Brooklyn trailed off, because Sekhmet was laughing.
"You are a clever little thing, Timedancer," she said indulgently. "But we've been observing both your clans for some time now, so you needn't waste my time and yours with your feeble lies." She ran her talons through Brooklyn's mane of snowy white hair, earning an angry glare from Sata. "After all," Sekhmet purred, "you haven't got that much time left to waste." She smiled at the trio sweetly. "I'll give you a few minutes alone Timedancer... to enjoy your final moments. But don't worry, my pet. I'll be back!" With a low feline purr, Sekhmet and her entourage left the trio to contemplate their fate.
* * * * *
"What is happening here?" Goliath growled, as he surveyed the fire damaged and rubble-strewn common room.
Hudson, at his leader's side, added, "Looks like you've had bit of a dust up, laddie."
Despite his anxiety, Talon smiled. "You do have a way with understatement, Hudson. We've had our share of trouble tonight, but it looks like you've brought the Cavalry with you," he said indicating Coldstone and Coldfire. "Brooklyn took Lexington and Sata into the tunnels, following the trail of our attackers. I told them I'd follow as soon as you'd arrived."
"Who will guard your home while we are hunting your attackers?" Coldfire asked.
"I will." Sharon stepped out of the medical bay corridor. "The patients are all stable and Dr. Goldblum is with them. We've evacuated the shelter residents into the secondary caverns away from the main compound and Claw is with them on guard. I'll stay here and watch our home."
"Thank you, Sharon," Talon said gratefully.
She bowed, her cat-like features serene despite the flashes of anger that danced in her eyes. "You are my friends and my protectors. I can do nothing less."
Bronx was sniffing anxiously at the doorway, scenting his clanmates trail. He whined with anticipation.
Talon looked at the others. "Let's move out."
Following closely at Bronx's heels, the rescue party disappeared into the tunnels, leaving Sharon alone. Fighting the urge to pace anxiously, she went to the kitchen, removed a broom and other cleaning supplies from the utility closet, and returned to common area to begin cleaning up the destruction caused by the explosion.
* * * * *
Umbriel and his were-cheetah escort stood in the juncture of a pair of tunnels and waited for the Halflings to appear. His mind was whirling with conflict as he tried to dismiss the faces of the humans he'd seen earlier. They'd been on some sort of special outing, he surmised. Their faces were flushed with excitement. The children, the ones who weren't sleepily nuzzled against their parent's shoulders, were giggling happily and talking in high, excited voices about the wonderful sights of the circus.
I've got to stop thinking like a mortal, he lectured himself as he reviewed his mission profile.
Ignite the series of pipes, and the entire cavern would come down. What wasn't crushed would burn. What didn't burn would be trapped and starve.
They'll all die, a tiny voice in the back of his head protested.
They all die anyway. They're mortals. That's what the word means, mortal. It means that they die, a second, colder voice argued back.
He thought of the point in the nexus of pipes, the place where a single tiny magic-induced spark would set off one reaction after another. He rehearsed the motion in his mind. It was so easy.
It's for my people. It's for my uncle. There's no other way.
He raised his hand imagining that he touched the pipe, ran his fingers along it...and then he dropped his hand, turning his face away in pain as another wave of human-like guilt crashed over him.
Thinking like a mortal, the voice jeered at the back of his mind.
Shut up, he told it silently.
Someone else will do it if you can't, the voice said harshly. Someone who's a real fay. Someone who isn't crippled by your poor pleading conscience.
Umbriel was saved from his conscience by the arrival of the Halflings.
"Umbriel! Sweetheart!" Rita grinned in recognition. Her smile revealed her fangs and Umbriel smiled back weakly. "Long time, no see!" Her voice grew seductive as she ran a hand through her spiky black hair. "How about a kiss for lil Rita?"
"Can it, fang-girl," her companion growled. "We have work to do."
Rita whirled and contemplated the over built Vince and said sweetly, "I'm gonna use that bald head of yours for a bowling ball one of these days, you muscle bound ape!"
"You tell'm, Rita!" Zed muttered, earning a nasty look from Vince. "Ouch!" he added as his hand went to his ribs. "Why'd you go and do that for, Jake?"
"Don't antagonize him, Zed," the smaller man pleaded. "I live with him, you don't. You don't know what he's like when he's unhappy."
Zed gazed at Jake's pale blue anxiety filled eyes. "How did you make it into this outfit anyway?" He returned his attention to Umbriel.
"Lady," Umbriel said as he addressed the remaining Halflings "and gentlemen, we do have a task to perform."
The bickering Halflings quieted and Umbriel resumed speaking. "You and our associates shall fan out to the key points of entry and egress-" Vince looked confused. Umbriel backed up and started again. "You shall guard the escape routes. Prevent anyone from exiting the compound." The Halflings nodded. "When I reach my position, you shall have exactly five minutes to withdraw from the area. "I suggest you make the most of it. I'm not sure how much additional damage the explosion will cause." He surveyed the group. "Do you understand?"
There was a murmur of "yes's."
"Then go." He looked at the were-cheetahs. "You go with them. Stay with Rita and Jake, they tend to get distracted by their work."
The were-cheetahs extended a foreleg and dipped their heads toward it, bowing. A moment later, Umbriel was jogging toward his own rendezvous point.
* * * * *
Brooklyn and Sata exchanged glances. More than once in the past, they'd planned and agreed upon battle moves with no more than the flash of an eye. But right now they were rapidly running out of options.
"I thought you didn't remember anything of your travels, Brooklyn," Lexington said suspiciously.
Brooklyn, caught in the motion of trying to extend to the limit of his chains and retrieve his laser rifle, collapsed against the wall in defeat. "There are some people, Lex," he said, sighing with disappointment, "that you never forget. That," He rolled his eyes toward the doorway, "was one of them. Believe me when I tell you I wish I couldn't remember Sekhmet!"
"Indeed, my mate?" Sata said, her voice cool despite their predicament.
"Oh yeah," Brooklyn said fervently. "Now, not to change the subject or anything, but does anyone have any idea how we're going to get out of this?"
His companions tested their bonds. The shackles stayed firmly in place.
"Some rescue squad we turned out to be," Lexington muttered dejectedly as he rattled his chains.
"Don't think like that!" Brooklyn said. "We've gotten ourselves out of tighter squeezes. Right?"
Sata ignored her mate as she began to tug more desperately on her shackles.
"Right?" Brooklyn asked again, a little more anxiously as he began to work at his own chains again.
* * * * *
Bronx stood at the juncture of two tunnels, confused by myriad of strange scents.
"There now, boy," Hudson soothed, "take your time."
"But not too much," Talon added softly.
The gargoyle beast looked back at the mutate leader as if to acknowledge he understood the gravity of his task. After a moment's hesitation, he pawed the ground and bolted down the left fork of the tunnel.
"This way!" Goliath thundered as he raced after the beast.
* * * * *
"I never thought I'd say this," Brooklyn said morosely as he tugged impotently at his chains one last time, "but I think we're doomed."
"I'm glad you understand your fate, Timedancer," Sekhmet purred as she swept back into the chamber. A trio of human looking and crossbow bearing were-cheetahs followed in her wake. "It is such a long time coming, I wanted you to savor it as I had." She sighed artfully. "But now our time together, though brief, has come to an end. Farewell, my pet," she said as she motioned to her courtiers. "I would have loved to have continued... our dance." She ran her fingers through Brooklyn's hair one last time and withdrew to watch her archers.
The trio raised their small crossbows.
"Oh by the way, Sekhmet," Brooklyn said as casually as he could.
"Yes, Timedancer?" she purred in return.
"My boy was right." He grinned maliciously. "The bubble gum was a good look for you."
The lion-headed goddess's eyes blazed in green fury at the memory of the besting she'd faced at the hands of the child gargoyle and his beast. "Impudent whelp!" she snarled. "I should have known he belonged to you. That makes this all the sweeter. Archers," Sekhmet commanded, "Fi-"
A deafening boom resounded through the chamber, the force of it so powerful it knocked the were-cheetah archers, as well as their mistress, to the floor. In the corner, the gargoyles' weapons clattered to the ground.
The chamber became dim with smoke. Lexington squinted, his cybernetic optics enhancing the image of a shape moving through the ruined doorway.
"Bronx!" he exclaimed happily, seconds before the gargoyle beast emerged from the smoke into view.
Bronx ran barking at the three archer were-cheetahs. The humans scrambled to their feet, backing rapidly into a corner of the small chamber under the beast's fierce attack.
"Good boy!" praised Lexington. "But...how did you do that?"
Sata looked at a group of tall shapes moving through the dissipating mists. "I believe he had help."
The cloud faded away, revealing the cadre of gargoyle warriors.
"It would seem," Brooklyn said dryly, "that the Cavalry has arrived."
"Goliath!" Sata called to the clan's leader. "The lion-headed female controls them all!"
Goliath turned to leap after Sekhmet, but Talon, his eyes glowing with fury, acted first. He sprang after the Unseelie goddess.
Sekhmet had no time to react. Instinctively, she dematerialized, blinding the chamber in a greenish flash of light.
Her voice rang out of the nothingness. "Attack!"
Were-cheetahs spilled into the room, engaging the gargoyles and mutates.
"Coldfire! Coldstone!" Goliath roared. "See to the captives!"
Hudson covered the pair with his broadsword while they fired precisely aimed blasts from their laser cannons.
The chains fell away in a clatter and soon, three more gargoyles entered the fray.
"Sata!" Brooklyn cried. She looked up briefly from the cheetah-headed female she had engaged with talons and tail. "Catch!" She spun her tail around the semi-human's ankles and pulled it to the ground as her katanas sailed over head. The Ishimura trained warrior reached up, snagging the weapons from the air, as another foe tried to engage her attention.
Satisfied that Sata was well armed, Brooklyn scooped his own laser rifle up off the ground and leapt into the fight.
* * *
Goliath and Talon stood guarding each other's backs in the center of the melee. Talon fired a blast of electricity at a fully formed cheetah and grinned a feline smile of satisfaction as it fell away, howling inhumanly. "What did you do to my sister to get her so mad at you?" he asked Goliath as the gargoyle leader lashed out at his own opponent.
"I did nothing!" Goliath protested. The sudden burst of frustration gave him the leverage he needed to pry the were-cheetah from his throat. He tossed the creature away from himself, knocking a half-changed servant away from Hudson. "Elisa does not understand that I must command my clan as I feel it best!"
Talon ducked a charge and smiled, then laughed despite the dire situation. "You're fighting about who wears the pants?" He rolled his eyes as he danced away from a cheetah, trying to put enough distance between them so that he could fire an energy blast without feeling the recoil. "You have my sympathies, man!"
Goliath looked up, confused, losing his focus on the fight. A were-cheetah lunged and together they fell to the floor.
"Break off, Goliath!" Coldfire cried. Goliath rolled away from the beast and his cybernetic rookery sister fired. The cheetah shuddered and fell quiet.
Coldstone held out his hand and Goliath took it, climbing to his feet. "Thank you, my brother," he said, wincing as the first stings of the cheetah's claws made themselves felt. He looked around the room. Bodies, some human, some animal and a few caught in a stage somewhere in between, lay unconscious. "Is everyone all right?" he said finally as he swept the room, surveying his own people.
Lexington stood a little apart from the others, staring at the wall where Sekhmet had vanished, his chest heaving. Brooklyn looked at him, gave Sata a brief warning glance, and stepped up behind him. "Lex...?"
"I'll kill him," Lex said, his voice low and shaking. "I swear I'll kill him."
There was no need to ask whom he meant. Brooklyn laid a hand on his brother's shoulder, waited until Lex turned to look at him. "Want to talk about it?" he asked quietly.
* * * * *
Umbriel stood before the nexus in the pipe gallery, staring at the point that he had previously only visualized in his mind. He reached out tentatively, stroking the pipes, feeling the energy that flowed through them. A tiny spark and the gas would ignite, spreading fire and death through the secret compound and all of the surrounding tunnels. He realized with a start that it was likely that his own people, the Halflings under his command, would likely not get out alive.
"What can I do?" he asked himself miserably. It would not be enough, he realized slowly, to refuse the mission. His refusal would not save the inhabitants of the Labyrinth. No, what he had to do, he realized as he pushed down the dread that threatened to overwhelm him, even as the weights of indecision melted away, was prevent it. Somehow. Somehow....
And then it came to him.
Umbriel lifted his arms, and lines of energy streamed from his hands as he chanted a spell....
* * * * *
The chamber was shaken for a second by an immense quake. The entire "Cavalry" was knocked to the floor.
Hudson spoke first. "What the devil was that?"
Talon's eyes widened, as the likely possibility came to him. "Oh no."
The rest suddenly had his revelation. The entire group got up as a unit, and dashed back through the tunnels leading to the Labyrinth.
* * * * *
They ran. Gargoyles dropped into a four footed crouch, mutate leader sprinting barely ahead with feline grace. They ran. Flat out, fear stealing their breaths even as their lungs desperately craved air. They ran. Through the blackness, and the semi-darkness and finally into the dimly lit corridors of their own home tunnels. They ran. As though lives depended on it.
* * * * *
"Maggie!!" Talon yelled, his chest heaving with his exertions. "Sharon!" he cried. He forced his eyes open as he ran the final length of corridor the gargoyles at his heels. The entryway looked different, neater. The bits of plaster and rubble had been piled, clearing the entranceway so that carts or wheelbarrows could haul the refuse from the first explosion away.
"What the-" he sputtered as he surveyed the scene, confused. There was ...absolutely nothing wrong.
They stepped carefully into the chamber. Sharon stood alone; her ebony fur grayed with dust and debris. She held a broom and a dustpan in her transmuted hands and was carefully sweeping up the remains of a shattered light fixture. She straightened up, alarmed, as Talon and the others entered. "What is wrong?" she asked, not understanding the mixture of fear and relief on the many faces.
Talon sagged against the wall, exhaustion claiming him at last. "Nothing," he told her. "Nothing at all."
* * * * *
The Banshee slipped through the entrance to the throne room where Madoc and Maeve held court. The two rulers of the Unseelie sat on their thrones side by side, with a scattering of lesser fay courtiers standing or sitting on the stepped dais that surrounded them. Others stood toward the center of the room, waiting their turns to approach the thrones and report their progress.
A giant with dark skin and fiery red hair, clad in armor of bronze and burnt colors, and a scantily clad Asian female with long black hair and claws were leaving the room as the Banshee entered. Seeing the large group ahead of her, she hung to the back. Maeve caught sight of her, smiled, and held out her arm in invitation. The Banshee glanced at Madoc, who looked from her to Maeve, and then nodded.
Flitting past the crowd waiting for their audiences, the Banshee settled herself on the steps at her cousin's feet. A minor Unseelie, a lavender-skinned sidhe woman in a sleeveless black jumpsuit, was making her report on the recent espionage work of her wisps. She held up a hand as she spoke, calling up an image of their target: the leader of the gargoyles at Castle Wyvern.
The Banshee curled her lip at the sight of Goliath. "Oberon's pet gargoyle," she hissed.
Madoc looked up sharply, giving all his attention to her. "What do you mean, Lady Banshee?"
Banshee closed her eyes briefly, marshalling her conflicting emotions. Finally she spoke. "When I last ran into that one, he and his companions had the stink of Avalon's magic all about them."
"Is that so?" Maeve leaned forward. "Show us, cousin. Who were these companions?"
"These," the Banshee said with a gesture, conjuring a picture of the four travelers as they'd appeared in the bog.
"So, the father of young Miss Destine has been to Avalon. And his human love as well." Madoc said as he and Maeve exchanged glances.
"It seems we must widen our net," Maeve replied in turn. She tipped her head towards the door. Umbriel stood waiting, unwilling it seemed to disrupt the proceedings of the court.
Madoc looked as well, flicked his eyes at the Banshee, and nodded. He raised his voice to carry to the whole room. "This audience is at an end. The rest of you, leave your dispatches with Garlon."
Madoc and Maeve rose from their thrones. Maeve bent to speak in the Banshee's ear. "A word with you, cousin? We'll be needing to know more about this matter." The two fay women drifted out of the room, talking quietly.
Madoc strode across the floor through the dispersing crowd towards Umbriel, and took the younger fay's hands in a gesture of affectionate greeting. "Welcome back, nephew." He smiled. "Mission accomplished, I trust?"
"See for yourself, Uncle." Umbriel raised both hands, creating an oval-shaped image showing the devastated, burnt-out hulk of the Labyrinth.
Madoc nodded, satisfied. "You have done well, my boy. Very well indeed."
"Thank you, Uncle," Umbriel bowed to hide his eyes. "If I may be dismissed..."
Madoc looked concerned. "Is anything wrong?"
"No, Uncle," Umbriel shook his head, the motion exposing his eartips. "I'm just... tired."
Madoc smiled in a fatherly manner. "Of course. Go rest yourself, Umbriel."
Umbriel bowed again and withdrew from the chamber.
Behind him, Madoc's smile shifted, from warm pride, to cold pleasure. "Lady Sekhmet, attend me!"
A moment later, the lion-headed former Egyptian goddess appeared before the Unseelie king. She was immaculately groomed, her gown fresh and bedecked with rubies and other gemstones. She dipped her head before Madoc, her demeanor cool and unruffled. "Yes, my lord Madoc?"
"Did all go as planned? Has the gargoyle infestation been removed from beneath the city?"
Sekhmet, her mind racing furiously, buffed her nails casually on the sleeve of her gown. "I felt the explosions, my lord. My servants reported that no one fled from the underground city." That we are willing to admit to, she thought to herself as she admired the sheen of her nails.
"Excellent," Madoc crowd. "Umbriel has done well by your example, Sekhmet. I thank you on his behalf."
"It was nothing," she purred. "Nothing at all." Sekhmet smiled her most seductively at Madoc and disappeared in a flash of green light confident that whatever else had transpired that night, her fiasco had been concealed.
* * * * *