Written by: Todd Jensen and Aaron Ziegler
Story concept by: Kathy Pogge
Previously on Gargoyles...
Emrys: "I think my father's up to something. This can't be good."
~ Meet the Minions ~
"And Dr. Sevarius?" the Unseelie Lord inquired. "His work goes well?"
"There was a small problem with funds," Garlon admitted. "I've had to re-route our assets through... other channels. Mr. Montrose was most helpful in dealing with Dr. Sevarius."
~ The Rising, Part One ~
Near the fountain stood a trio of street-singers, and Arthur paused for a moment to listen to them. A tall thin man with white-blond hair in a ponytail, his large slender hands picking at guitar strings; a redhaired woman playing a merry wail on a fiddle; a woman with a sandy-brown braid strumming another guitar. All three were singing. One guitar case lay open on the paving stones at their feet, and assorted coins lay scattered inside it. As he watched, they brought their song to a close, and scattered applause came from the surrounding listeners.
* * *
The woman with the guitar whispered something to her companions, and the three struck up another song. The fiddle wailed high and lonely, the guitars struck an angry chord, and the sandy-haired woman's voice rang out in bitter challenge:
I left my home, my family by the ocean
All on my own to seek my fortune
But there's no work to occupy these young hands
So look out, boy, you're headin' for the mainland
~ The Tain ~
* * * * *
* * * * *
"So this is where your clan lives," said Emrys Hawkins thoughtfully.
He stood alongside King Arthur, Sir Griff, and Cavall, at the entrance to the ruined castle that the London gargoyles had claimed for their home. It was a chill night in late November, and both he and Arthur were well-bundled up against the cold, although neither Griff nor Cavall seemed the slightest bit troubled by the low temperature.
"It is a pity that Leo and Una could not accompany us back here," said Arthur.
"The usual shop business," said Griff. "Still, they'll probably manage to stop by another night, when things aren't so busy. Or when Captain Marter's free to run things for them."
"Well, we have lingered out here long enough," said Arthur. "Shall we enter and announce ourselves?"
"It seems fair enough," said Emrys. "I could stand to get out of the cold, anyway."
They walked in through the ruined gates and entered the grassy courtyard. Almost as soon as they did so, two winged shapes descended from shattered towers where they had been standing, landing in front of them. As they came forward, their shapes resolved themselves as two members of the animal-like London gargoyles. One was hawklike in appearance, while the other resembled a winged greyhound.
"Who are you?" the hawklike gargoyle began, then took a closer look at them. "Griff!" he cried, his eyes widening. "And you're King Arthur, with our old watchdog!"
Arthur nodded. "His name is Cavall now," he said. "I named him that when I was last here, you may remember."
"Which was over a year ago," said the doglike gargoyle, speaking in a female voice. "How went your quest, Arthur Pendragon?"
"Well enough, my lady," the king replied, "if not quite how I had imagined it to go. I would speak with the rest of the clan concerning its outcome."
"And the boy?" asked the hawklike gargoyle, sniffing sharply at Emrys, who stood still and looked back at him very calmly. "What is he doing here with you?"
"I will explain within," said Arthur.
"Very well, then," said the hawklike gargoyle. "Enter, by all means."
They entered the Great Hall of the castle. The gargoyles that made up the London clan were going about their usual pursuits when they came in, but all stopped what they were doing as soon as they saw the newcomers. Michael, the eagle-like leader of the clan, who had been speaking with Aper, the gruff boar-like gargoyle that had shown himself to be so suspicious of Arthur on his first visit to the estate, came forward.
"So you have returned to us, Arthur Pendragon," he said. "And with your chosen companions, Griff and Cavall. Una telephoned us, to alert us of your coming. But how did you fare in your search for Merlin? And who is this human youth that accompanies you?"
"The answers to your two questions are more closely woven than you would expect, Michael," Arthur replied gravely. "This lad here is Emrys Hawkins. He was also known, before my long sleep on Avalon, as Merlin Ambrosius."
The London gargoyles responded to the king's words with nothing short of absolute astonishment. "That is Merlin?" Aper finally said, recovering enough to find words first. "But--he looks so young! Nothing like what the legends said about him!"
"I've regenerated," said Emrys. "I've done that a lot over the past fourteen centuries. Not that I was expecting to get this young, mind you. But I can tell you that I haven't looked like an old man with a long white beard in ages, no matter what people tell you. I gave up on beards a long time ago, anyway. They were too much trouble, always getting caught in things when you were trying to do alchemy experiments and things like that. The only real point in keeping one on was supporting a tired old cliché. So I abandoned it."
"I must confess," said Michael, "this is not the shape I was expecting Merlin would take in this day and age."
"You're far from being the only one who was surprised, my friend," said King Arthur. "However, that was not all that we discovered. It seems as though I may have been wrong about having been awakened early."
"What do you mean?" Michael asked.
"We weren't the only ones looking for Merlin," Griff explained. "So was his dad."
"His father?" Michael inquired.
"The Lord of the Unseelie Court," said Emrys, looking distinctly uncomfortable. "Madoc Morfryn, the world's worst nightmare. He's abroad again."
"The Unseelie Court?" protested Aper. "But that's impossible! Lord Oberon destroyed the Unseelie Court thousands of years ago! We all know that! Even the hatchlings know it!"
"He didn't destroy it," Emrys replied. "All that he did was weaken it. And now it's recovered. Madoc and his dark hosts will try to conquer the world and reduce humans and gargoyles to eternal slavery, the same way that they did back at the dawn of time. They're already moving."
"This does not sound promising," said Michael, frowning. "We must decide upon a course of action, to counter this new threat. And I thought that our greatest danger would be humans like those 'Quarrymen' in the States. What can you tell us about the Unseelie Court, Merlin?"
"Not much, I'm afraid," said Emrys apologetically. "I've studied the accounts of the original Court very thoroughly over the past 1500 years or so--it's the sort of work that we wizards do. But this is a fresh reorganization of the old one, and I haven't been able to learn much about its new form. It's probably reoccupied its old headquarters at the Brocken in Germany--that's the logical place for them to hold their meetings--and I do know a fair amount about the survivors. But Lord Madoc could have changed things quite a bit since then."
"The Brocken?" asked a stag-like gargoyle. "There was something on the news about that. Strange storms forming around that mountain, keeping people away. Do you suppose that there's some connection?"
"I hadn't even known about that," said Emrys, looking intrigued. "That could very well be their doing. I'll want to look into that."
"So, what can we do against these Unseelies?" asked Michael.
"Well," said Emrys, "Una and I are working on some defenses-- I've already warned her and Leo about them--but they may not be enough. My father's also got humans working for him. You might have heard about the damage that some of them were kicking up in London a few nights ago."
"Yes, that was on the telly too," the stag-like gargoyle replied. "A whole bunch of hooligans, tearing up the city. From what I saw, they made the crowds at the latest football matches look like a well-behaved tea party. You really mean that they're working for the Unseelie Court?"
"It seems more than a little probable," said Emrys. He looked at the gargoyle and frowned. "I don't believe that I have your name."
"Cervus," said the gargoyle, nodding his majestic head. "That's what they call me."
"Well, thanks," said Emrys, nodding back.
"Is the situation really this dangerous?" asked another gargoyle, one who looked much like a heraldic dragon with red scales. "After all, we've got Merlin with us now. The greatest wizard of all time! Surely he can handle this Unseelie Court in no time flat."
"I'm afraid that it's not this easy," said Emrys. "My magic's not what it used to be, thanks to my latest regeneration. Oh, I can still handle some minor spells rather well, but nothing really earth-shaking. And even at my peak, I could never face the Unseelie Court on my own. Only Oberon could, and he's not allowed to interfere this time."
"Well, that's just perfect, then," said Aper in disgust to the king. "You finally find Merlin, and he can't help us against the Unseelies at all! Looks to me as if the whole thing was just a waste of time!"
"Perhaps not," said Arthur. "Merlin's magic may be of little use to us in the coming war, true. But I never relied on it half as much as I relied on his counsel. His advice and wisdom will help us weather this storm, surely. Besides, I needed him for other matters. The reason why I embarked upon my quest to begin with was so that he could show me what role to take in this strange new world."
"Yes, that would be the problem, I imagine," said Michael thoughtfully. "You did admit to us already that regaining the British throne was clearly out of the question."
Arthur nodded. "This Rising of the Unseelie Court does provide me with some new direction," he said. "Britain is imperiled by these fay, and I must find some way of protecting it. How, I do not as yet know. Defeating Lord Madoc and his followers will be much more difficult than was defeating the Saxon war-bands at Mount Badon. But we will find something."
"In the meantime, we can't just sit here and wait for the battle to come to us," said Griff. "We've got to do something more than that."
"That was what I was thinking," said Michael, nodding. "One thing that I have already decided; it is high time that we began patrolling London properly. If this Madoc is going to be attacking Britain soon, London will most certainly be where he will begin. It is the humans' capital, after all. We must keep a closer watch on it, to guard it against danger."
"Is this wise?" asked Aper. "If the humans should see us-".
"It is a risk, true," said Michael. "But it's too late to keep ourselves secret now. They already know that there are gargoyles in Manhattan, and it's only a matter of time before many humans here begin wondering if certain shopkeepers really are wearing masks. We've no longer anything to gain by staying in hiding, and if we are going to be revealed to the humans now, I would rather that it be in a means of our choosing."
He turned back to Arthur. "But that leaves unanswered the question of what you will do. As you already said, Pendragon, you are clearly not going to be ruling over Britain as its king once more."
"I've an idea," spoke up Cervus just then. "Why don't you become a private eye?"
There was a long period of silence, as everybody else in the great hall stared at the young gargoyle, looks of stunned disbelief on their faces. At last, Aper spoke up. "You mean, like Sherlock Holmes?" he asked.
"Well, more like one of those American chaps on the telly," said Cervus, "but, yeah. That's what I meant. You see, what I was thinking was, these Unseelies are going to be leaving a lot of strangeness about, and if you go into the detective business, the customers are sure to tell you about it. Weird things that they've seen and things like that. It ought to be a great way to gather news."
Arthur turned to Michael. "What do you think of his suggestion?" he asked. "I know almost nothing of these--private eyes--I fear. Are they anything like the knights-errant of my day?"
"Something like that, I suppose, though they're more likely to carry magnifying glasses than jousting lances," Michael replied. "If you must know what I think, ordinarily I'd be more than half-likely to view this as another one of Cervus's odd little notions. He spends more time observing humans and their ways than I would prefer, particularly on this television of theirs. He even drives a motorcycle around at times--where he got it, I don't even want to know, and I don't see the point in one of us owning one of those human contraptions. If we had been meant to make use of the humans' vehicles, we wouldn't have been hatched with wings.
"But, he does have a good point. I doubt that the Unseelie Court will be able to conceal itself entirely from human eyes. The Londoners will notice some of their activities, surely, and a detective would be one person that they might report such goings-on to. For once--for once, mind you--I think that Cervus has contributed a valuable idea, and I would follow it, were I you."
Arthur finally spoke. "Then that is what I will do," he said. "If I can learn how to become a private eye, that is."
"Well, that solves one problem," said Griff.
"And brings up many more," put in Michael. "I understand that you will need some sort of office in London, Arthur Pendragon. And rent is very expensive, from what I hear. Will you be able to afford it?"
Arthur frowned. "Yes, that is a problem," he said. "I have very little money--I certainly doubt that it will be enough to pay the expenses required for such an enterprise. If the old treasury at Camelot had survived my passing, that would make things easier for us. But my wealth's doubtless been scattered to the winds long ago, and we cannot make any use of it."
"Maybe not," spoke up Emrys just then. "But I've got an idea of what to do."
Arthur and the gargoyles turned to the young halfling wizard. "You do?" the king asked. "Tell us, Merlin."
"Over the centuries, I've accumulated a small cache of money," Emrys explained. "One of those 'just-in-case' matters; you never know when some cash could come in handy. I put it in a bank not long after banks started catching on in London, and it's been compounding there ever since, no doubt. I did a little investigation of my own while we were in London, during the egg scare, and found out that the bank was still in business. All that we've got to do is make a little withdrawal."
"Can you do that?" Aper asked him. "After all, you are a child in this form. I doubt that they'd recognize you at the bank when you tried to take your money out."
"I'd prepared for that too," Emrys explained. "The last time I made a deposit, I set up some provisions for my current regeneration's heir--myself in my next regeneration, of course-- to come by and collect it when the time was right. I'll just stop by tomorrow and let them know that I'm the heir. I can probably present them with whatever proof I need. Arthur can serve as my legal guardian, to help me handle it." He looked up at the king, with an expression on his face somewhere between impishness and concern. "If that meets with your approval, of course," he added.
"It does indeed," said Arthur, nodding. Then he found himself stifling a yawn. "The hour is later than I had thought," he said. "The night may be the time for gargoyles to be awake, but not for a human like myself. I had better find a sleeping-place in this castle."
"And I too," agreed Emrys. "We've a very big day tomorrow. And I, for one, will be much more ready to face it when I've had a good night's sleep."
* * * * *
"So, Mr. Pennington," said the bank clerk, frowning at Arthur, "let me see if I understand you correctly. This nephew of yours-"
"My ward," Arthur corrected him.
"Ah, yes," said the clerk, nodding. "Your ward. So he's the sole heir of Mr.-" he looked over the documents in front of him again "-William Nicholson, who died five years ago."
Arthur nodded. "We had just recently come to London, and were cleaning out some old family records when we learned about Mr. Nicholson's bank account here. And since we happen to be in need of funds, we considered it advisable to make a withdrawal."
"I see," said the bank clerk. "And can you provide us with proof, Mr. Pennington, that Master Emrys Hawkins is indeed the heir of Mr. Nicholson?"
"I can, sir," said Emrys quietly. He pulled out of his pocket a silver ring with the image of a Roman lyre engraved upon it. "The terms of Mr. Nicholson's last will and testament was that his heir would present a ring answering to this description at this bank, to claim his inheritance. Is that right?" he asked in a tone of careful diffidence, turning to Arthur.
Arthur Pennington nodded. "Quite correct," he said.
"That's not enough for me," said the bank clerk suspiciously. "How do I know that you didn't steal that trinket from the rightful heir? That wouldn't be impossible, after all."
"There's also the password," Emrys continued.
"Password?" the clerk asked.
Emrys nodded. "The documentation mentioned the password, although it didn't name it. But I know the password. And I can give it to you."
"Well, then," said the clerk. "Let me hear it."
"Esplumeor," said Emrys. "That's the password."
The clerk frowned, and looked over one of the documents in front of him. "Well, that seems accurate enough," he said. "I would say that the evidence that you have given us is convincing." He was silent for a moment, then added, "How much money again did you wish to withdraw?"
* * * * *
"Esplumeor?" asked Arthur, as they walked out of the bank some minutes later, with the money in their pockets. "Wasn't that the word written on your house at Farthingham, Merlin?"
The boy nodded. "You remembered, didn't you?" he said. "Yes, I re-used it for my house when I moved to Yorkshire. I rather liked that word."
"And just what does it mean, anyway?" Arthur asked, as the two of them set off down the London pavement.
Emrys shrugged. "To be perfectly honest, I don't know," he said. "But it sounds rather classy, doesn't it?"
"Well, we have to find a home now," said Arthur. "How do we go about doing that in this century, Merlin?"
"Well, the customary way in this city is to rent a flat," said Emrys.
"A flat what?" the Once and Future King asked, looking bewildered.
"Well, it's what the Americans call an apartment," Emrys said. "I'll explain along the way."
* * * * *
"Pendragon Investigations," said Emrys proudly, looking at the office that he and Arthur were both standing in. "Open for business at last."
Arthur sat down in the swivel-chair behind the desk, still looking decidedly uncertain. "Are you certain that this will work, Merlin?" he asked.
"I can promise you on that," said the lad, leaning back. "Although I still have my doubts about the 'Pendragon Investigations' part, I don't mind telling you. I still think that 'Pennington Investigations' would be a bit less conspicuous."
"Maybe," said Arthur. "But I don't wish to hide, Merlin. True, I cannot proclaim myself as King of Britain in this century. But I will not entirely abandon my name for this alias, as though I were a recreant knight with a covered shield. The name of 'Pendragon' must live on."
"It's still going to be attracting attention," Emrys said. "And for that matter, you'd better stop calling me Merlin, Arthur. It's 'Emrys' now. Until further notice, 'Merlin' doesn't exist."
"I can hardly call you anything else, Merlin," Arthur protested.
"Well, you're just going to have to get used to it, then, Arthur," said Emrys. "Because-".
He suddenly broke off as there was a knock at the office door. "Our first customer," the young wizard said. "At least, I hope that's who it is." He went to the door at once, and opened it.
A middle-aged couple stood in the hallway outside. "Yes?" Emrys asked them. "May we help you?"
"We just wanted to see who this new neighbor of ours was," said the man, a trifle apologetically. "We're terribly sorry to disturb you, Mr.-"
"-Pennington," said Arthur, rising from his desk and walking over to greet the newcomers. "Arthur Pennington. And you are-"
"Edgar and Alice Chessingham," said the man. He looked about the office, with a note of disapproval. "You are a--private detective?"
"That is correct," said Arthur.
"Well, I hope that you won't be taking too many criminal cases," said Mr. Chessingham at once. "This is a very safe neighborhood, and we want to keep it that way. The last thing that we want is burglars breaking into our home and ransacking it of all our valuables."
"Of course," put in Mrs. Chessingham, gazing at the office herself, "you probably needn't have similar worries." She then looked sharply at Emrys. "Who is he?" she asked.
"This is Emrys Hawkins," Arthur explained. "He's my ward and office boy." Emrys nodded at the acknowledgment.
The Chessinghams stared thoughtfully at the boy, both frowning. "Shouldn't he be in school?" Mrs. Chessingham finally asked.
"Well, it's our first real day in London, ma'am," Emrys began. "We haven't really had time to get me enrolled as yet."
"True," said Mr. Chessingham. "But we hope that you will begin attending, soon."
His wife nodded. "You must understand," she said, "that it doesn't do the neighborhood much good to have a child here who plays truant."
"He won't be a truant, my lady," said Arthur, nodding. "I can promise you that."
The couple left a few minutes later, and the king and his wizard looked at each other. "Going to school?" Emrys asked, looking anything but pleased. "Arthur, I am over fifteen hundred years old. And, I know more already than all the schoolteachers in this island put together. I hardly think that I'm in any need to be attending classes."
"True," said Arthur, after a moment's silence. "But you did say, Mer--Emrys, that we want to avoid too much attention. And I believe that we can both agree that your not going to school, in this century, will definitely draw attention to us."
Emrys laughed bitterly at his former pupil's words. "You've learned much, Arthur," he said. "And I imagine that you are right. But I still wish to let you know this. I am not going to be enjoying this experience, at all."
* * * * *
"Class, this is our newest pupil," the history teacher said to a roomful of distinctly unimpressed-looking boys in school uniform the next morning, "Ambrose Hawkins."
"Emrys," Emrys corrected him, almost at once. "Emrys Hawkins."
"Thank you," said the teacher, in a disapproving voice. "Now, Master Hawkins, if you'll take your seat over there-" he pointed to an empty desk "-we can begin our class. Today, we will be dealing with the reign of Edward the Confessor."
Emrys settled himself down in the distinctly uncomfortable wooden chair behind his desk, and pulled out his exercise book, to take his notes in. For the first few minutes, he simply wrote down the teacher's words quietly, alongside the other boys in the class.
This changed, however, when the teacher suddenly said, "And it was also during King Edward's reign that Malcolm Canmore liberated Scotland, with the aid of the English, from the usurping tyrant Macbeth-".
"Liberated?" asked Emrys sharply, out loud. "Usurping tyrant? Where did you learn your history from, anyway?"
The next moment, everybody was staring at him, including the teacher. The other schoolboys seemed mostly astonished at the newcomer's outburst, gaping at him with disbelieving eyes. The teacher, on the other hand, was glowering at Emrys with considerable annoyance. "I don't believe that I gave you permission to speak, Hawkins," he said.
"You know nothing about Macbeth and Malcolm Canmore, or else you wouldn't be talking about them like that!" Emrys continued, now standing up. "Let me tell you something about this Malcolm Canmore. He was nothing more than a coward who brought fire and sword to a kingdom that had enjoyed seventeen years of prosperity under a wise and just king, and reduced it to ruin, purely to satisfy a personal grudge! That's what this 'liberation' of his was like! A ruthless conquest, carried out by a man who hid his face beneath a hood throughout the war!"
"That is not the way that it happened," said the teacher sharply. "If you'd been paying attention, Master Hawkins, you would know that Malcolm Canmore was the rightful King of Scotland, but that Macbeth had stolen the throne from him by murdering his father Duncan-"
"Murder?" asked Emrys, his eyes blazing in anger. "Macbeth slew Duncan fairly in open battle! If you want to talk about murder, Mr. Russell, how about the fact that Duncan had *Macbeth's* father murdered by a paid assassin, to make certain that he and not Macbeth would inherit the Scottish throne? Or what Duncan and his son did to the gargoyles living in Scotland during that time? Those two were the Quarrymen of the eleventh century! And furthermore-"
"Master Hawkins, that is enough!" cried Mr. Russell. "I don't want to hear another peep out of you, for the remainder of this lesson. If I hear just one more word, then you are going straight to the Headmaster's office! Is that understood?"
Emrys scowled. "Yes, it is," he said, and sat down again.
* * * * *
Emrys was still in a foul mood during recess, as he walked out onto the school grounds, alone. "A bunch of ignorant know-it-alls ready to believe Canmore propaganda," he muttered to himself. "They ought to have asked somebody who was alive when it happened. If they'd been the ones to teach Arthur, he'd have never lasted on the throne long enough to build Camelot!"
He walked over to the fence at the school grounds, gazing out at the grounds of the nearby "girls' school" division of Mons Carbi Comprehensive. A number of girls about his age were standing on the grounds, talking. His eyes lingered on them involuntarily, as he stood there.
"Still, this place does have its advantages," he said to himself, a slight smile forming on his mouth. Then he suddenly stopped short, and shook his head in disbelief and disgust.
"I don't believe it!" he muttered. "Snap out of this, Merlin! It's bad enough that when you got involved with a girl before, she stuck you in an enchanted tower for several years! They aren't even your age at all! They're centuries younger than you!"
But he still found himself watching. "Being stuck in a kid's body all over again is going to be a lot harder than I thought," he said to himself, finally turning away. "This is giving a whole new meaning to 'second childhood.'"
* * * * *
"You're a good soul, Leba. I ever tell you that?" The scraggly old man who had spoken hunched his shoulders slightly against the cold, and repositioned the newspapers he held under one arm.
The sandy-haired woman addressed smiled slightly as she sipped the cup of piping hot tea she had brought to share with her friend--a small but adequate bar against the late Autumn winds. "Not in the last hour or so, no," she replied after a moment. "I suppose you were due."
"I mean it every time," he said earnestly. He looked about to say more, when a he noticed a pedestrian walking close by.
"Pardon me, sir," he pressed. "Buy a newspaper? Help an old man down on his luck?"
The man paused a moment and examined the paper the scraggly fellow held. Smiling apologetically, he answered, "Sorry, friend, but I've already read today's edition. Still, a few pence for your trouble." He handed the fellow a few coins, and then strode off with a tip of his hat.
"Kind fellow, that," the scraggly man mused once he and Leba were alone again. "There's many what don't welcome peddlers like meself around."
Leba's smile at her friend's good fortune tightened at his words. "There are some who don't like to think that there might be others less fortunate than themselves, Bob. They'd rather sweep the dirt under the rug, and pretend it doesn't exist, than face the problem and do something about it."
"Ah, but you're not like that, are you, Leba? That's why you're a good soul."
"Twice in ten minutes! A record for you, I think," Leba laughed merrily. "But I'm not sure I'd count myself among the upper class. I earn barely enough to survive."
Now it was Bob's turn to laugh, a deep, gravelly chuckle. "Don't ye think for a second that you're fooling anyone, Leba. I know you wouldn't trade the way you live for all the Crown Jewels. All the wealth in the world wouldn't matter a whit to you, if you couldn't travel from place to place, singing and telling your tales. You're a wanderer, and one by choice. With the way you sing, you could live like a queen, if you wanted it." He shook his head sadly, "Us? Well, most of us couldn't earn an honest living if we tried."
"Don't put yourself down," Leba responded sharply. "You can't hold yourself responsible for all the troubles fate hands you--at least, not if you're willing to do something about it. And you are!"
"These papers?" Bob questioned. He smiled slightly. "Half the take on every paper I sell. It's good work, and I'm glad to have it. But it isn't enough. There's no real job I could get now. Not even that advert Charlie was waving around. Now that looked like good work!"
"Advert?" Leba questioned?
"You haven't heard?" Bob asked. Seeing her curious expression, he opened up one of the papers he carried, "Here, I'm sure I have a copy here...There it is."
"'Men and women needed for manual labor'," Leba read aloud, "'No experience required. Food, lodging supplied. Fair wages.' Sounds like a very good deal," Leba said. But a worried look crossed her face for a moment. She wasn't sure why, but a gut feeling was troubling her. She shook the feeling off, for the time being.
"Charlie seemed to think so," Bob agreed. "You know how he is. Said he wanted to get off the streets. 'Everyone's been acting awfully strange lately, you know.'" Bob grinned.
"That's Charlie, all right," Leba grinned back. "The day people start to seem normal to him is the day that I really will start to worry." Leba sobered a moment. "If Charlie's giving this a chance, why not you?"
"I'm just too old for that sort of thing, I'm afraid. Can you see me lifting boxes, or whatever it is they expect?"
"Nonsense. You're as fit as men half your age."
"Half as fit as men twice my age, more like," Bob chuckled. His eyes wandered back to the advert. "It is a good looking deal, though, I'll give it that."
* * * * *
"Just how much longer do you expect me to wait, Mr. Cohn?" a lab-coat-clad figure demanded of his companion, a nondescript man with mouse-brown hair. Behind the two of them, banks of computers were interspersed with tall cylinders filled with a viscous green liquid. Suspended within each was a distinctly humanoid silhouette. "The first batch are well underway, and show every sign of developing perfectly. Everything is in place to start the conversions en masse. Everything, that is, except the test subjects." Dr. Anton Sevarius fixed his companion with an impatient and expectant gaze.
* * * * *
Outside of the building, a milling throng of dirty and poorly-dressed people were organized into a group of rough lines. The building itself was a far cry from its interior, looking as gray and dilapidated as any of the other warehouses lining the River Thames. From time to time, a few wandering souls joined the line. One in particular approached with hesitation, eyes darting around suspiciously, as if searching for treachery all around.
* * * * *
Within, Garlon returned his companion's gaze impassively. "They will be ready soon. But why the hurry? I had not thought you the impatient type, Doctor."
"In my line of work, it is rarely a good idea to stay in one place for long. And I do like to keep myself...busy." Sevarius replied. "Besides, I see little point in it. We have throngs of potential subjects available to us. Why not just choose what we need and send the rest on their way?"
* * * * *
Outside, the edgy and suspicious man had neared the front. He focused keenly on the man in line before him, and watched as he was asked a few simple questions, regarding previous employment, age, family, and name. The questions seemed innocuous enough, and his nervousness began to subside slightly.
* * * * *
"My employer doesn't want to end up with a batch of traitors, the way a certain billionaire did with a certain batch of mutants," Garlon pointed out bluntly. "Lightning and bat wings are NOTHING compared to what we're doing here, and we want to make sure that things run smoothly. More importantly, we want to make sure that none of our new employees have family and friends that will come poking around here before we're through. It would not be a good thing to have Scotland Yard come barging in here to find our little operation. We don't want to tip our hand before we're good and ready."
* * * * *
Just outside of the building, the nervous man clutched the piece of paper his interviewer had handed him. It seemed that the interview was only the first obstacle to be overcome. He had joined the applicants in a new line just before the door to enter the plant. At the door, a man quite similar in appearance to the man doing the interviews examined the paper each carried. A few people were let in through the door, but most were handed a sandwich, carefully wrapped in a clean plastic bag, and turned aside. The man's mouth watered at the sight of the sandwiches; perhaps rejection would not be so bad after all. But his eyes took a determined set. A sandwich was a sandwich, but he just had to get off of the street, and soon. After all, people were acting awfully strange lately.
* * * * *
"I suppose you have a point," Sevarius sighed. "I must admit, I felt a certain joy to know that my children had left their nest. Even up to the point one of them tried to kill me." He smirked. "O, how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is, to have a thankless child. But I can guarantee you, my dear Mr. Cohn. These soldiers will not fly the coop. The New York batch should have convinced you of that."
"I leave nothing to chance, Doctor," Garlon frowned.
Suddenly, a light began flashing above the doorway. Garlon's lip curled slightly, and he said, "But it would seem that this conversation is pointless. The second batch is ready for your approval."
"How wonderful!" The geneticist smiled. "I do so love company."
* * * * *
The nervous man fidgeted as he stood in place. It was entirely too crowded for his comfort, and none of the faces around him were familiar ones. They were all waiting for something, many for nearly an hour. Finally, their waiting appeared to be over, as a door swung open. The first to walk through was a brown-haired man who appeared so ordinary that all eyes slid off of him and onto the man following, a man with angular features and a severe cut of red hair, clad in a lab-coat. The brown-haired man did not appear to be in the least disturbed by his easy dismissal. If anything, he seemed to welcome it.
"Salutations, my friends!" The lab-coated man greeted warmly. "My name is Dr. Anton Sevarius, and I welcome you to our humble warehouse. Now, if you'll just be patient, I'll see each of you, one at a time, and explain your important role here. You there! Step forward, won't you?"
The nervous man was startled to find himself on the other end of the scientist's finger. He looked about uneasily for a moment, but then stepped forward. He had to get this job.
"What is your name, my friend?" Sevarius asked, putting an arm around the man's shoulder.
The man's skin crawled away from the contact, as it did any other type of touch, but he ignored it and answered, "Charlie. My name's Charlie." After a moment, he added. "I just wanted to get off the street."
Sevarius laughed and answered, "Oh, don't you worry about that. You most certainly will." He guided Charlie through the door and added. "Charlie, we're going to change your life. All you have to do is say the word..."
* * * * *
For the third time that evening, Emrys crumpled up the piece of paper that he had been working maths problems on, and hurled it at the wastepaper basket in the corner of the room, missing spectacularly.
"A thousand curses upon maths homework of all varieties!" he muttered under his breath. "May dragons carry off all who assign such problems, and devour them! May rabid water-leapers drag them into the deepest pools of Wales, never to be seen again! May the sky fall on their heads, and the earth swallow them up! And if none of that works, may they all receive people who like to play the trumpet at three o'clock in the morning for their neighbors!"
"Were you saying something, Emrys?" asked Arthur. He glanced over at the boy, who was currently seated at the reception desk.
Emrys looked up at the king, and appeared almost ashamed of himself. "Nothing that you need to hear, Arthur," he said.
Arthur frowned but said nothing. Instead, he walked over to the office window and gazed outside. The sun had set half an hour ago, and night had enveloped London, although one would barely have known it from the brightness of the electric lights.
"The gargoyles should have awakened long before now," he said aloud. "I wonder what is delaying Griff and the others."
"Oh, I imagine that they'll be here soon," said Emrys absently, scribbling out some figures on a fourth sheet of paper. "It just takes a little while to get here from the estate, I'd think. You did give them good directions to this place, I trust?"
He looked over his work, then with a cry of utter indignation and fury crumpled the fourth sheet of paper up as well, and threw it at the basket. Unlike the first three, it never landed on the floor at all, but burst into blue fire in the air and vanished. At the same time, Emrys let out a string of angry words in an archaic Welsh dialect that made Arthur turn around at once and stare shocked at his former tutor.
"Emrys?" he asked, his eyebrows rising.
"It's this maths assignment!" cried Emrys, jumping up from his chair and pacing back and forth, sparks of energy crackling about him. "I just can't seem to get one accursed problem done properly! Four tries, and it still hasn't come out right! I'm telling you, I just don't think that I can stand this any more! I could handle so many wonders fifteen centuries ago! I could rout entire armies, raise storms and quell them, see into the future by more than a thousand years! And now I can't even solve a simple geometry problem!"
There was a tapping at the window before the youth could continue his rant or Arthur reply, and they both turned around. Griff, Cervus, and the two gargoyles that had first accosted the king and his retinue at the London clan two nights before were perched on the ledge outside. The two new gargoyles were holding Cavall between them, neither of them appearing particularly enthusiastic about doing so. Arthur hurriedly opened the window to admit them.
"Did we come at a bad time?" asked Cervus, looking at Emrys as he climbed into the room.
"Perhaps," said Arthur, a concerned look playing over his features as he watched his sour-visaged advisor. "You are welcome here, at least."
"Not a bad place, either," said Cervus, inspecting the office as the two new gargoyles set Cavall down. "Looks like a pretty decent set-up, I'd say."
"I sincerely hope so," said Arthur, welcoming Cavall as the eager gargoyle beast rushed towards him, his tongue hanging out and his long tail swishing back and forth eagerly. "So you are the patrol for tonight?" he asked the newcomers.
"We're both rookery siblings of Cervus," the hawklike gargoyle explained. "My name's Faulconbridge, and she's Imogen."
"Michael asked me to teach them the ropes a little," said Griff. "Give them the general tour of the city, some ideas on what to look out for, that sort of thing. Do you suppose that it'll work, Arthur?"
"I imagine so," the king replied. "What do you think, Emrys?" He turned back to the young halfling, who was by now on his seventh piece of paper and looking even more foul-tempered than before.
"Just leave me out of this, Arthur!" cried the lad, leaping up from his chair with eyes ablaze. "I don't want to talk about this, not one word! Talk to somebody who's not going through a rejuvenation crisis at the moment! But not me!" And with that, before Arthur could say another word, he stormed out of the office, not even bothering to put his coat on.
Arthur and the gargoyles stared after the departing wizard, none of them saying one word. Even Cavall seemed taken aback. At last, Cervus spoke.
"I don't mean to appear nosy, or anything like that, Arthur," he said. "But--is Merlin often like this?"
"Not in the old days," Arthur replied, shaking his head. "But he was different then." He frowned troubledly. "I had not expected him to behave this way when I came upon him. In truth, Cervus, I suppose that I was expecting him to still be the gray-bearded old man that he was in Camelot. These youthful outbursts are something that I was not prepared for at all."
"Well, if there is anything that we can do to help you, Arthur-" Cervus began.
"I thank you, but I will need to deal with this by myself," the king replied. "You had better depart on your patrols, I believe." He pulled on his jacket, and headed for the door.
Cavall whined expectantly as his master opened the door and prepared to step into the hallway. "No, my friend," said Arthur, turning to gaze back at his faithful gargoyle beast. "You had better stay here and protect the office. I doubt that I could easily explain you to the Londoners."
Cavall trotted back to lie down beside Arthur's desk, and closed his eyes. Arthur closed the door behind him, and was gone, leaving the four gargoyles looking at each other in silence.
"Well," said Griff at last, "there's nothing much that we can do here. Let's be off then, shall we?"
The other three gargoyles nodded, and a couple of minutes later, Cavall had the office to himself.
* * * * *
Emrys looked over the newspapers and magazines at the newsagent's without really looking at them. It was cold, but he had his hands tucked away in his pockets, and his sweater was warm enough, even if he had forgotten his jacket. He was still muttering inaudibly under his breath.
"The time that the world needs me the most, and I can't manage anything," he said. "Not even a simple geometry question, let alone some proper magic. And it's all the fault of that stupid regeneration business! Why did I have to muff it just this once? Why?"
"Oi! You there, kid!" The loud voice interrupted his thoughts.
Emrys turned around at once to see who the speaker was. "Do you mind?" he asked the decidedly seedy-looking middle-aged man standing before him, in a very cross tone of voice. "I'm right in the middle of something here!"
"Mind your manners, boy," the middle-aged man retorted. "I'm a lot older than you, you know."
"That's what you think," Emrys muttered under his breath. Speaking louder, he asked, "So what is it that you want?"
"I want to see the paper," he said. "The one that you're standing right in front of. There's supposed to be an advert in it that I want to see."
Emrys stepped to one side, and allowed the homeless man to pick up the newspaper. He thumbed briefly through its pages, before finding the one that he was evidently looking for, and nodding.
"Yes, that's the one," he said. He turned to look at the boy. "You ought to consider looking into it yourself, y'know. Supposed to be one grand job offer. You could make a lot of quid."
"Thanks, but I'm not interested," said Emrys. "I've already got a job, and I'm not that interested in money, anyway."
He turned to walk away, then suddenly glanced back. "Just how much?" he asked.
"It doesn't say," the man replied. "But it's supposed to be a lot. I'm going to apply for it."
"Good," said the boy. "You do that. I've got other ways to spend my time." And with that, he walked off.
* * * * *
A couple of hours later, he was standing in front of a map of the London Underground, in a tube station. His fingers traced the various colored lines absently, his eyes scarcely registering them. He had too many other things on his mind.
"A wonderful evening this is turning out to be," he said to himself. "Simply wonderful. The only thing that it needs to make matters worse is a massive earthquake or a blizzard."
He sighed and finally gave up his efforts to sort out the stops along the Central Line from North Acton onwards. He had been walking or standing almost nonstop ever since he had left Arthur's office, and his feet were beginning to ache. "I need to sit down," he told himself. "Just for a little while." He turned away, and headed for the nearest bench to rest.
He settled himself down on it, making himself as comfortable upon it as possible. Then he leaned his head back, and closed his eyes to shut out the glare of the electric lights. The lateness of the hour and the long time spent walking began to take their toll on him almost at once, and he was half-asleep when Arthur came upon him.
"Mer--Emrys?" Arthur asked aloud, apparently remembering just in time that they might be heard by others.
Emrys sat up at once, rubbing his eyes. "You came after me, Arthur, didn't you?" he asked, sounding reproachful.
"I can hardly permit you to go roaming about the city alone," said Arthur. "Not with these Minions about."
"I have ways to keep them from finding me," said the boy.
"Perhaps," said Arthur. "But I'd feel much better if I knew that you weren't out there somewhere wandering through this city on your own."
"True," said Emrys, rising from his seat. "Well, I suppose that we'd better be off, then. I was starting to want to be back within four walls again. Ever since my regeneration, I haven't felt that comfortable being out late at night."
Arthur nodded, and turned with Emrys to depart. He paused, however, when his ears caught a feminine voice that sounded familiar to him. "Sorry I'm late."
Turning, and trying to catch a glimpse of the owner of that voice, Arthur could make out a cluster of men and women standing by one of the station benches. Unfortunately, the angle Arthur observed from hid the owner of the voice behind several of them.
"We're always glad to have ye," a voice replied. "But it looks like ye needn't ha' bothered."
"Hmm?" the voice asked. "Where's Charlie? I thought he was going to be here?"
"'Aven't seen 'im," a woman answered, a bit resentfully. "Prolly out 'aving fun without us. 'E's employed now, ye know."
"He got the job, then?"
"Yup," answered yet another voice. "Talked to a man what saw him go on in. Most were turned away, but not Charlie. He probably just doesn't trust us, is all. Nothing new. He'll be back, eventually."
"I suppose..." the first voice trailed off uneasily. Arthur strained to remember its owner, but his mind turned up blank.
"What's wrong?" Emrys asked him.
"Oh, nothing. Just a voice I can't quite place. It will come to me in time. For now, let us depart."
* * * * *
Cavall barked eagerly when Arthur and Emrys entered the office, Arthur switching on the light. In fact, it was all that the two survivors of Camelot could do to keep the gargoyle beast from leaping up on them and giving them both a "tongue-bath".
"All right, boy," said Arthur firmly. "Down! Down!"
"Somebody really ought to look into training that fellow a little," said Emrys, sitting down at the desk again and looking ruefully at his still unfinished maths assignment. "I wonder if there's a course for that sort of thing. 'No Bad Gargoyle Beasts' or something like that."
"The gargoyles must have gone out," said Arthur. "I trust that they'll be back here before dawn."
"Personally, I'm wondering what we're going to do about having them here with people living next door," said Emrys. "I don't think that I want to be stuck with a lot of questions about what all that roaring at sunset means. It's bad enough that they get nosy about whether I go to school or not." The good humor that had briefly shown itself upon his face quickly faded.
"Emrys-" Arthur began.
"All right, Arthur, I know what you're going to say!" said the young wizard in a testy tone of voice, one that would have sounded more appropriate coming from an old man. "So out with it! I'm acting like a child, aren't I? Well, at the moment, I am a child! Or an old man stuck in a child's body! This is a humiliation worse than being stuck in the Tower of Air by Nimue for all those years!" He clenched his fists in anger as he spoke.
"That was not exactly what I had been about to say," said Arthur, looking worriedly at his oldest friend.
"Then what were you going to say?" asked the boy.
"That I am finding this no easier to undergo than you," Arthur replied. "From the time that I first knew you, you were my elder by a great many years. In truth, I never could imagine you as anything other than the bearded old man who prepared me for kingship, when I was a boy in Sir Ector's castle. And now, our ages have been reversed. You have become a lad only a little younger than I was when I drew Excalibur from the stone in this very city, and I your guardian. It seems as unnatural to me as would a sunrise in the west, or a snowstorm in summer."
"Yes," said Emrys thoughtfully. "You do have a point there, Arthur."
"There were times," the king continued, "that I could sincerely believe that you had never even undergone a childhood at all, but had appeared in this world full-grown, beard and all. I knew better, of course, but until I came to Farthingham, that was the only Merlin that I knew. I am as perturbed by all of this as are you."
"Maybe," said the youth. "But you only have to watch, Arthur. I have to live it."
"My own new life is foreign to me," said the king. "I hardly even know what a detective is, and what I do know of it suggests that it is something very different from welding a patchwork of feuding kingdoms into a single land, or presiding over an order of knights at a round table. There are matters in this age that can no longer be settled by a passage of arms in the lists. We've both been thrust into strange new roles, ones that we never expected to assume. And yet, we must fulfill them."
"You've learned, Arthur," said Emrys thoughtfully. "I'm glad of that. I've always hoped that a few things I was telling you all those years in your childhood lingered with you."
"And did you truly believe that you could fail to teach any pupil of yours anything?" the king asked. "I will confess, I did make my share of mistakes at times. I ignored your warnings about Guinevere and took her to wife. I failed to stop my ears to Mordred and Agravain's falsehoods. I even left Mordred as my regent in Camelot, when I pursued Lancelot across the Narrow Sea to Benwick. But I remembered the greater part of your words, and for a time, the Round Table did bring peace and unity to Britain."
"And now we have to start all over again," said Emrys. "With a handful of gargoyles, a novice private eye, and a fifteen hundred year old adolescent who still has to finish his maths assignment for tomorrow."
"We can do it," said Arthur. "We had little more than that when I first drew the sword out, after all."
As he sat down at the desk again, he added, "I wonder if we could make another round table. If I am to have another body of knights, we might be needing one."
"The original one's long since gone," Emrys replied, returning to his maths problems. "It was burnt to ashes when Camelot fell. But we can always build another one. Just as long as I don't have to put the magical golden writing on the sieges this time. The way that my enchantments are currently going, I'd probably spell half the names wrong."
"We will see," said Arthur.
* * * * *
"It's quiet tonight, wouldn't you say, Linda?" Leba asked a bedraggled young woman, handing her a warm cup of tea from a pot she had purchased a few minutes before.
The woman smiled and accepted the offering, before frowning and nodding with mute unease.
Well used to her friend's quiet ways, Leba continued, "I've been all over town, but I haven't caught a glimpse of Tenhausen, Willy, Old Fred...haven't seen them in days. You?"
This time the woman shook her head, a bit sadly. "Well, let me know-"
"LEBA!" a rough voice called desperately.
Leba swung around to see Bob, wheezing and pale, limping toward her. "Bob! What's wrong?" she called, hurrying to his side and helping the old man to a seat."
"Vampire," Bob gasped between breaths. "I seen a vampire, Leba! A real vampire!"
"Please slow down a moment, Bob," Leba pleaded, pressing a cup of warm liquid into the frantic man's shaking hands. "Now, tell us exactly what happened."
Bob gulped some of the tea, and it seemed to calm him slightly. "I'm not crazy, Leba. I really saw a vampire. It was Charlie! An' he tried to nick a pint!"
"Charlie!?" Leba asked incredulously. That uneasy feeling she had experienced the previous day returned in force. "Maybe you'd better explain what happened."
Breathing more easily now, but still clearly frightened out of his wits, Bob nodded and said, "Well, I was selling my papers like usual, when I hear this laughter above me. I look up, an' I see Charlie there, sitting on a window ledge four stories up! He's just sitting there, laughing, an' I hear him mumbling about being 'WELL off the street' or something. I was thinking that he was gonna jump, so I call out to him. He looks at me from way up there and then starts laughing louder. Then he pushes off the edge, an' I'm sure he's gonna die. But he just hangs there in the air, laughing. That's when I notice that his skin is white as snow, an' I start to run for me life. Old Charlie came after me, though, and when I trip and fall he lands in front of me, still laughing, and picks me up with one hand. Charlie's never been that strong, Leba! He looks me in the eye, an' I can see that his eyes are glowing. But then he looks like he hears something, and then he drops me and flies off. I been looking for you ever since."
Leba studied her friend carefully. She knew Bob well, and knew that he would never lie to her. More importantly, he was not the type to exaggerate when telling a story, unlike many, who would embellish a story to outrageous proportions to attract interest to their tale. Not that Bob's tale needed much in the way of embellishment in that regard. Still, Leba found herself inclined to believe him.
"My gut tells me you're right," Leba answered, earning a grateful look from Bob. "It may not be vampires, but something strange is definitely going on. But we'll need help, I think. But somehow, I doubt that the police are going to be willing to give us much help hunting vampires...what?" Leba was interrupted by a tug on her sleeve. It was Linda. The mute woman handed her a piece of paper, and Leba looked it over. "Pendragon Investigations?" she asked. It wasn't the first such flier she had seen. The new detective agency had left fliers all over town. Still... "An odd name, don't you think, Bob?"
"Could be just what we need," Bob smiled back. "Certainly, it can't hurt to ask."
* * * * *
"I had somehow been expecting more business than this," said Arthur, frowning. "It's been three days since we began advertising, and the only customers we've had were our neighbors, asking us to find their missing cat. I must confess to a certain amount of discouragement."
"Take heart, Arthur," said Emrys, looking up from the book that he had bought with his pocket money at the nearest bookstore. The title on the cover stated Become a Private Eye in Ten Easy Lessons. "Things are going to move slowly for a while at first."
"When we established the Round Table, we had a veritable surfeit of petitioners coming to court," Arthur replied. "Every last one of them requesting a knight-champion to succour them against some enemy. Not a Pentecost feast went by without at least one supplicant's arrival."
"True," said Emrys. "But you were High King of Britain then. That was the ultimate advertising technique. Everybody in the island knew about your knights. This time, it's different. You're just a beginning detective, after all. Even Sherlock Holmes had a shortage of clients when he first moved into his Baker Street flat."
"So how long will it take to attract such people to us?" Arthur asked.
"Well, if I were you, I wouldn't revive that old custom of yours of not sitting down to eat until somebody came in and asked for your help," Emrys answered. "Not unless you want starvation to do what King Lot, the Saxons, and Morgana all failed to do."
"I wish that I could have gone out with Griff and the other gargoyles on patrol," said Arthur, shaking his head. "At least they are doing something, while I must remain pent up in this small room."
"You had your share of action for over a year, Arthur," said Emrys, almost chidingly. "Now it's time to let others carry out the quests for a time. Your task is to remain here and handle things."
"That's little different from what you told me in Camelot, when you explained to me that I could not venture out on quests any longer as though I was just another knight seeking adventure," said Arthur, looking half-reproachful, half-amused.
"Some things never change," said Emrys, with a shrug.
Cavall, who had been snoozing by the desk, suddenly rose and barked loudly. And then four gargoyles made their way through the window into the room. Arthur at once arose from his chair and turned around to face them.
"What happened to you?" the Once and Future King asked, inspecting his friends more closely. Griff was clearly unscathed, but Imogen's fur was singed in places, and Faulconbridge's tunic was torn. Cervus was still blinking as though he could hardly believe what he had seen, and his right arm was bandaged with a strip torn from his jacket.
"It was some very strange chaps, Arthur," said Griff. "They attacked us near Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park. We just barely managed to get away."
"What were these people, anyway?" asked Emrys, joining the conversation. "More Minions?"
"I don't think that they were really human at all," said Faulconbridge. "They looked it--well, sort of. Though they were very pale. I don't think that any of them had gotten any sun in days. If they'd had fangs, I'd have thought that they looked like vampires."
"Vampires?" Emrys looked perturbedly at the hawklike gargoyle. "You're certain of this?"
"They certainly had that look about them," said Griff. "But that's not the worst of it. They could fire bolts of lightning at us, almost like magic. I wonder if they were Unseelies."
"I think that they were something worse," replied the young wizard. "What Faulconbridge said about vampires got me thinking in that direction. I think that my father's at it again."
"What do you mean?" Arthur asked.
"Over the centuries, my father made several efforts to--alter humans," said Emrys, looking uncomfortable. "He wanted to make them more like the fay, but servants to him at the same time. His experiments failed, but some of his victims survived, and escaped to plague the world. Beings in human shape, but no longer fully human, preying on their former brothers and sisters. They're the truth behind a thousand legends around this planet. I think that you can easily guess what I mean."
"Are you telling us that Dracula's some sort of Unseelie lab reject?" Cervus asked, finding his voice at last.
"Pretty much, yes," said Emrys. "It's not quite accurate, but it's close enough to the truth."
"So those things that we met were vampires?" Griff inquired.
"Worse," Emrys said, shaking his head. "Not even the mightiest of vampires can do what you said those beings did. I'd say that Lord Madoc's finally discovered how to make his own--well, for want of a better term, I'd call them 'Unseelie halflings'. The genuine article."
"Is that possible?" Arthur asked him. "You said that he had been unable to achieve such a feat for centuries, Merlin."
"True," said Emrys. "But this century's got something to help him that all the centuries before it didn't have. Genetic engineering. Up till now, my father was just using sorcery to make his breed of altered humans. Now he can blend it with science, and the results--well, you four just saw them for yourselves."
"Aren't you jumping to conclusions, Merlin?" Imogen asked. "You could be mistaken about the nature of our adversaries, after all."
"Well, maybe," said Emrys, nodding. "But my wizard's instinct is telling me that these people have something to do with my da. And I've always trusted its voice."
"Well, one thing's for certain," said Griff. "We're going to have to be a lot more careful, with chaps like those running about London. This isn't just a matter of dealing with your garden variety muggers any more."
"We must find out for certain if these people are what I think they are," said Emrys. "And we have to discover where they came from. Once we know how the Unseelie Court is recruiting them, and how it alters them, we can act." He turned to Arthur. "I really do believe that this detective training is going to come in useful here."
Suddenly, a bell chimed merrily in the next room. Arthur lifted an eyebrow. "It would seem we have a visitor. Emrys, you'd best return to your figures." The young wizard scowled, but nodded. Arthur left the room, and the gargoyles, began crawling out the windows to avoid notice by whomever had come calling.
Waiting at the desk were a man and a woman, the man elderly and unkempt, by all appearances a homeless drifter. The woman caught Arthur's attention immediately. Her face was very familiar, and when she spoke, her voice was even more so.
Arthur squashed his wandering thoughts for a moment and smiled, extending a hand. "Good evening, milady, sir. My name is Arthur Pennington. How may I be of service?"
Leba grasped his hand briefly, and gave him a hard glance. "Have we...met?" she asked, noting his interested scrutiny a moment before.
A bit sheepishly, Arthur answered, "I had that impression, but I just can't seem..." he began. Then his eyes caught sight of the guitar case slung across her back. "Leba! That is your name, is it not? One of the three minstrels from Ireland?"
"You know the chap, Leba?" asked her companion.
"Apparently he knows me," Leba answered with a half smile. "Yes," she said, turning to Arthur, "I was performing in Ireland a few months ago."
"And quite well at that," Arthur said. "And your companion?"
"Bob," the man answered, shaking Arthur's hand.
"So, what can I do for you?" Arthur asked.
"Well, it's vampires, you see," Bob launched in, before Leba had a chance to stop him. Leba's expression darkened slightly at the careless admission, but brightened again when she saw the detective's gaze harden slightly.
"I see," Arthur said, concern in his voice.
"You're not surprised?" Leba asked, feeling a touch of surprise herself.
"Not at all," Arthur replied. "I have heard...stories about vampires of late. I am no stranger to odd happenings in this country. A large part of the purpose behind this establishment is to search out oddities such as these, whatever our advertisements may claim."
"Then you'll take the case?" Leba asked, hardly believing her good fortune.
Arthur hesitated. "Well, there is the matter of payment..." he began. Bob's shoulders slumped, and Leba looked ready to speak. Arthur held up a hand and sighed, "...but I wouldn't imagine that you would have much to offer in the way of money. It has been a lesson hard in learning, but good intentions alone do not fill a belly in this day and age. In truth, they never have. But this is a case I cannot afford to pass up."
"Thank you very much, Mr. Pennington," Leba answered warmly.
"Please, call me Arthur. We will be working together for a time, and it is best we do so as friends."
"Arthur, then," Leba agreed.
* * * * *
"You say that your wife actually saw Tenhausen, Mr. Harris?" Leba pressed.
"Well, I'm not saying that I believe any of this, mind you," the cynical old man answered, somewhat conspiratorially. "But Alice swore to me that she saw the fellow float past, skin as white as a sheet. Said his feet never once touched the ground. And Lucky? Talked to him yesterday, and he swore that he saw Sarah blast a hole in the wall just by pointing at it. Then he said that she disappeared in a flash of light! Not that I believe a word of it, mind. Not a word."
After thanking the old man, Arthur, Leba, and Bob continued on their way, Arthur jotting down a few things in a notepad. He began to list the names he had collected aloud. "Charlie. Danny Boy. Willy. Tenhausen. Samuel. Flynt. Old Fred. Priss. Sandra. Sarah. You say that all of these people have been missing, Leba?"
Leba nodded. "I knew most of them by name, and they've been gone for a while now."
"And now, each of them has been sighted as one of these 'vampires'." Arthur muttered. "People are disappearing, and being transformed, it would seem. Do these people have anything in common?"
Leba thought for a moment. "Well, all of them are loners, I can tell you that. Not many friends, family all dead or distant."
Arthur thought about this for a moment. "It would seem to be sensible, if these abductions and transformations are meant to be kept a secret, to choose people that few would miss. I believe this may well be the pattern here. The next question, and the more important one, is as to where they are being taken." Arthur struggled to remember the passages he had read in his detective manual. Finally he asked, "Do you know where any of these people were, before they disappeared."
Leba's memory immediately flashed her conversation with Bob a few nights before. "Well, Charlie went missing after he applied for that new job being offered down in the warehouse district..."
"That's right!" exclaimed Bob. "An' if I remember rightly, that's where Old Fred had gone, too. Dunno about the rest, though."
"Job offer?" Arthur asked. After a brief explanation, he nodded. "You may well have stumbled upon the answer. Certainly this bears investigating. But first, let us gather some...corroborating evidence, I believe it is called? We shall ask the people we have already interviewed, to see if they, too, have any recollection of the missing persons having answered that offer. I suspect that you are correct, but two individuals may well be coincidental."
"You're the detective," Leba smirked. She didn't miss Arthur's uneasy grimace at that. "And if the pattern continues?"
Arthur thought a moment once more. "Then tomorrow we will go... undercover."
* * * * *
The next day, down at Sevarius and Garlon's warehouse, a mass of hopefuls had once again gathered. But this gathering was different, in that two of the ragged individuals present were not quite what they seemed.
"You look quite charming in dirt," Leba teased her companion.
That companion, a hunched, tattered man, with a tangled beard and grimy skin glanced at her with wry amusement. "You are too kind, milady," he answered drily. "There are times, I think, when Emrys enjoys his talent for disguises a little too much."
"So, what do we do, once we get inside?" Leba queried.
"We follow along with whatever they do with the people they collect, until we are able to discover what they are planning."
Leba glowered suddenly. "Preying on the homeless. That is really low."
Arthur continued, "If the odds are not too great, I will challenge them, and try to shut down their operation. If the odds look grim, we will try to escape, and return with greater numbers."
"You have greater numbers?" Leba asked, puzzled. To her knowledge, Arthur's only companion was Emrys, his rather moody ward.
Arthur became somewhat guarded. "I have access to certain...resources," he replied.
The line shifted suddenly, and Leba urged, "Come on. We don't want to lose our place."
* * * * *
"We are not pleased, Doctor."
"It was a necessary field test," Sevarius insisted, looking none-too-pleased, himself.
"We cannot afford to draw attention to our operation here," Garlon continued, his voice calm, but deadly. "And yet, you allow the first two groups to run amok throughout the city?"
"The facilities here were inadequate for proper testing," Sevarius insisted heatedly. "This new formula is highly experimental. It causes the mutation to occur in a matter of hours, rather than weeks, as the old formula did. I had to test the finished product, to make absolutely certain that none of the subjects would suffer unpleasant side effects, like losing their power in mid-air, or simply losing their genetic cohesion. Such things are always a risk when pushing the rate of mutation. Far more importantly, it was necessary to test their obedience. It would not do for your employer to receive slaves who fell apart in battle, or simply found themselves able to abandon conflicts on their whim." Sevarius's frown twisted into a smirk. "And I think that I know who would receive a fair bit of the blame, were such a thing to happen. Am I right?"
Garlon responded with stony silence for a few moments, and then asked, "Are the subjects tested to your satisfaction?"
Sevarius smiled the easy smile, aware that he had won the verbal exchange. "Quite. They appear to be quite stable, and obey all commands without hesitation. After the initial euphoria each experienced with their new power, many became somewhat reluctant to obey, but this did not significantly affect their performance. Indeed, such reluctance was hardly unexpected, given our experience with their American counterparts."
"Good." Garlon focused him with a gaze that promised much, should Sevarius fail to obey. "Do not release them again." At the geneticist's smug nod, Garlon continued, "Today's will be the last batch. The finished subjects will be turned over to our associate for safekeeping, until they are needed. You and I will be returning to Manhattan. My employer will have further work for you there."
"I can hardly wait," Sevarius answered.
"Prep the cylinders," Garlon said. "I'm going to oversee the admittance of the last batch personally."
* * * * *
Hidden in the shadows atop the warehouse, three pairs of eyes kept a vigil over the building and the surrounding area. Their instructions were to watch for anyone suspicious coming or going, and Faulconbridge had just witnessed such an exit. A garage door had opened, and a bus with blackened windows had rolled out. After quickly reporting what he had seen to Cervus and Imogen, Faulk took wing after the unusual vehicle.
* * * * *
Arthur handed his paper to the man at the door and waited, slightly nervous, as he looked it over. Arthur was confident in his disguise, but he couldn't shake the worry that someone would see through it, and recognize the king within. It was, very likely, a foolish thought. While the opponents they might have to face that day were, could indeed be rogue members of Oberon's court, Arthur knew enough to believe that they were not omniscient, and that they could be fooled, just as any mortal could be fooled. But there was one character there in particular, a very ordinary-looking man, who set Arthur on edge.
"The GALL of these people," Leba hissed beside the king suddenly. Arthur turned to her in alarm.
"Please Leba. You must calm down. I sympathize with your feelings on this matter, but your ire puts our mission at risk."
"I'm sorry," Leba seethed, "But I just can't stand the thought that they could so callously take advantage of good people, just because they are poor and unwanted-"
"Leba, do you see that man there?" Arthur interrupted, gesturing discretely at the nondescript man who so unnerved him. Leba nodded, eyes still flashing with anger. "I cannot avoid the feeling that I know him, or knew him once. I cannot remember where or when--indeed, my memories seem to roll around the man like a river around a submerged stone--but I believe him to be dangerously astute. If he sees you in this state..."
"I understand," Leba replied. "I'll try to calm down."
Soon Arthur had reached the door, but he cast a worried glance on his companion. While she had not spoken since promising to calm herself, he could practically smell the anger from her. Nervously, he handed his papers over, and was relieved to be waved through without incident.
Unfortunately, a backward glance revealed exactly what Arthur had feared. The nondescript man was treating Leba to a hard stare, and when the man holding the papers glanced at him, he shook his head slightly. Arthur nearly cringed as Leba was offered a sandwich, certain that he knew what was to follow.
Leba swatted the offered sandwich away, and shouted, "Don't give me that! I'm perfectly qualified to work here. Why shouldn't I have a chance?" A few scattered mutters could be heard in the crowd behind her.
"Lady-" the man tried to say.
"I've been watching, these past few days, and I haven't seen any differences between the people you choose, and the people you send away. You've obviously got plenty of jobs! Why shouldn't I get one? Why shouldn't everyone?" The idea of jobs for everyone seemed to appeal to the crowd, as the mutters grew in intensity, and several heads were nodding. Within the building, Arthur's eyes widened, as he suddenly realized what Leba was up to. Smiling slightly, he ducked into the building, determined to take advantage of the distraction Leba was causing.
"Madame, you overestimate our resources-" the nondescript man tried.
"Then prove it! Tell us what you do here! Tell us what qualifies the ones who get in? We're tired of letting you pick and choose without knowing what we're in for." The crowd behind Leba was now getting quite agitated, and there were more than a few fists being clenched.
The nondescript man stared coldly at Leba for a moment, and then called, "Phobos, Deimos, I suggest you follow me." The identical men manning the interview and admittance tables stood smoothly and followed Garlon into the building, shutting the door firmly behind them. The crowd stared for a moment, and then surged forward indignantly, pounding on the doors and walls.
Leba stood to the side and smiled. "That, I think, will end that particular problem. Now, if Arthur does his part, we can call it a night."
Arthur hurried down the drab corridor, and soon found a small gathering of ragged men and women, clearly those who had been accepted that day before he himself had entered. He paused a moment, an uncertain expression on his face, wondering how he was to break it to these people that their grand opportunity was a farce.
His expression hardened. Righteous anger was often a good way to address an injustice. "Ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry to say that I am the bearer of grim tidings indeed. My name is Arthur Pennington, and I am a detective. I was hired to investigate the disappearances of many homeless men and women--you, yourselves, may well have heard news of these missing persons. My investigations led me to this warehouse, where I discovered that each of the missing had been hired by the owners of this facility, and that they had been subjected to cruel and unnatural experimentation."
The assembled men and women began to mutter and whisper to one another. One black-bearded man spoke up and asked, "You're only fooling, right, mate?"
Glowering, Arthur answered, "I truly wish that I were. But I speak the truth. Even now, I seek to disable this horrible facility, so that no others will fall to the same fate."
Arthur heard the distant sound of a door shutting at the end of the corridor he had traversed, and continued, a bit urgently. "I strongly suggest you follow me. Whether you believe me or not, the men who approach are quite dangerous, and I cannot say how they will act upon learning that their operation has been exposed. If you wish proof of what I say, I can assure you that you will find it where I lead."
Many among the homeless gathered in the room were beginning to look quite frightened, and soon the group as a whole had gathered around Arthur, expecting his guidance. Nodding decisively to them, the Once and Future King led his new followers deeper into the warehouse.
Arthur soon became aware that the building's squalid exterior was merely a facade. The inside was filled with much of the modern gadgetry that constantly served to both fascinate and infuriate the new detective. Passing through a doorway, Arthur was greeted by a strange sight. More of the electronics and computers were in the cavernous room he had found, but also tall cylinders of green fluid. As well as a man in a white lab-coat. Drawing his sword from the tattered trenchcoat that served to conceal it, Arthur confronted this new foe.
The man rolled his eyes when he saw it. "Oh, I knew it was too good to last. I suppose you would be the stalwart hero, come to thwart my evil designs, hmm?"
"You guess correctly, villain," Arthur replied, unfazed by the scientist's sarcasm.
"I suppose introductions are in order. My name is Dr. Anton Sevarius, the world's premier geneticist. And you?"
Arthur paused at that, and then smiled slightly, "Arthur, formerly King of the Britons."
Sevarius smirked. "King Arthur? Why not. And these, I suppose, are your Knights of the Round?"
"Enough of this pointless banter. Surrender yourself, or face the consequences."
"And so on and so forth--perhaps I should just skip to the part where I activate the self-destruct device, and we all run for our lives?" Sevarius reached into his pocket and drew forth a small box with a covered red button. Flipping up the cover, he punched the button.
"Only fair to warn you, you only have a few minutes before this warehouse, and everything inside, melts into a puddle of hot goo. Ah, what would a laboratory be without a self-destruct device? I'm sure we'll meet again, your highness." With that, Sevarius tapped a button and disappeared through a trapdoor in the floor.
Arthur was left with the seething and humiliating feeling that he'd just been outmaneuvered and outwitted quite thoroughly. But he did have several others to care for now, and judging by the rising temperature of the air, Sevarius had not been making idle threats.
Fortunately, returning the way that they had come, Arthur and his wards did not encounter the nondescript man or his allies, who had apparently escaped by some other route. Outside, Arthur joined Leba and the remaining homeless in watching the warehouse sink into slag.
In the glow of the melting building, Arthur nodded to Leba in approval. "That was a clever plan, inciting the crowd as you did. It solved the problem of shutting down the operation quite well, and without the risk of an assault upon their stronghold."
Leba nodded. "I just couldn't let them take any more of my friends like that. I knew there was no way that they could get away with attacking anyone openly, so they would be forced to close down. Pity they weren't willing to leave any evidence behind them."
"That, I believe, would be hoping for far too much," Arthur agreed, a bit sadly.
* * * * *
A few hours' passage found Arthur and Leba back at the apartment Pendragon Investigations was using as their base of operations. Bob had joined them once again, and the three of them were relaxing from the night's exertions.
"You're not a detective, are you?" Leba asked Arthur, curiously. The musician was sitting in a cushioned recliner, idly strumming her guitar. A new song had found her, and she was eager to bring it to life. It was going to be a ballad, she realized with a start--hardly her usual fare. But it seemed oddly appropriate; a ballad to spread the tale of the events of that night.
Arthur glanced at her with a touch of surprise. "Of course I am." Then, somewhat apologetically, he added, "But I am not terribly experienced."
Leba shook her head with some amusement. "I had guessed that. But something about you tells me that there's more to it than that."
"Like the sword," Bob added. At Leba's inquisitive gaze, he shrugged, "One of the fellas Mr. Pennington here rescued mentioned it." Leba's gaze swung back onto Arthur.
Arthur shifted, slightly uncomfortably. Then he sighed. "Ah, I have no reason to hide the truth from you. You have deduced correctly. I am a detective, now, but Pennington is not my true name. My name, known only to a few is Pendragon."
Leba nodded, apparently not particularly surprised. "Arthur Pendragon. The Once and Future King. Come to reclaim your throne?"
Arthur, somewhat amused by Leba's easy acceptance of his claim responded. "No, the world has changed far too much for me to expect anything of that sort. But I hope, through this agency, to help in what way I can." His brow darkened slightly. "And recent omens lead us to believe that such help will soon be sorely needed..."
"So where's Merlin then?" She asked, apparently genuinely curious.
"That would be me," Emrys chimed in with a raised hand. He was poring intently over a maths text.
"Cor," noted Bob. "If that's him, it's a great disguise."
"I wish," Emrys muttered darkly as he turned a page.
"And your knights?" Leba asked.
Arthur hesitated. "Well, only one of my knights is with me now. But I'm afraid you might find him rather...unusual."
"Wouldn't be that green gargoyle peeking in through the window, would it?"
Arthur turned his head, just in time to see Griff's alarmed countenance pull back from the window. Arthur rubbed his forehead painfully. "Yes, well, that would be Griff. The first of my new knights. Griff! You might as well come in. It would appear that little is going to faze our guest."
"After all the weirdness lately?" Leba answered, not even looking up as Griff climbed in through the window. "Besides. I like to keep an open mind. I've always believed that the world is a bigger place than anyone really knows."
"Our friend Bob seems a bit more tense," Griff noted. Indeed the scraggly old man seemed to be gawking at Griff with wonder, and more than a bit of fright.
"Don't worry, Bob, I don't think he's here to hurt us," Leba reassured him.
As Bob gathered his wits, Cervus, Faulconbridge, and Imogen joined Griff inside. "Well, we were going to wait until the company was gone," Cervus said, "but since they don't seem to mind, Faulk has a story to tell."
The antlered gargoyle nodded and said, "Well, I was watching from the top of the building, as instructed, and sure enough, I saw a bus pull out. The windows were all blackened out, and we all agreed we should follow. I kept an eye on it, 'til it pulled into a warehouse."
"Which one?" Leba asked curiously.
"I dunno who owns it, really, but the logo on the door was a big, blue D-slash-M."
Emrys suddenly glanced up. "Like that?" he asked, pointing towards a cardboard box. The 'D/M' logo was just as Faulk had described.
"But wasn't this the crate our recliner arrived in?" Arthur asked in confusion.
"That is a puzzler," Emrys said, chewing on his eraser. "Why would a furniture company want a bus load of homeless people."
"Let alone vampirized ones," Bob added, apparently having gotten over the fact that the night was getting weirder by the minute.
"I don't know," admitted Arthur, "but we were hired to find out, were we not? This case is far from over, I think. Leba, you've shown yourself to be a worthy ally, with excellent sense. Would you like to see this through to the end?"
"Just try and stop me," Leba smirked. With that, she returned to her strumming. The ballad, she had a feeling, would only be the first of many. With Arthur, Merlin, and his knights for companions, there would be many stories to tell, songs to write, and ultimately, legends to preserve. Leba thanked whatever fate, or fortune, or lucky star had guided her to this remarkable man. Yes, she intended to stand with him to the end of this mystery, and beyond.
After all, every good king needs a bard.