Written by: Todd Jensen and Batya "The Toon" Levin
Story Concept by: Kathy Pogge
Previously on Gargoyles...
Emrys pushed himself up onto his hands and knees, and stayed that way for a moment with his eyes closed, waiting for the buzzing ache in his head to go away. When he opened his eyes, there were a pair of scuffed black lace-up boots on the ground in front of him.
His eyes drifted upwards. Worn black jeans, torn at one knee. An oversized sweater the color of frost grapes, nubbly and frayed at the hem. Hands on hips, dirty yet surprisingly delicate hands, with black-enameled fingernails. A black leather jacket, battered and dusty. Shaggy jet-black hair, framing a young female face wearing an expression of wary concern, with dark eyes heavily shadowed in purple and a silver dagger-shape gleaming at her right ear.
"You're all right?" the girl asked him.
"I will be," Emrys managed to say. "Th-thank you."
"Wandered over t' the wrong side a town, is it?" She reached out a hand to help him up, her expression as cool and guarded as her faintly Irish-accented voice.
"Yeah." He took her offered hand and struggled to his feet, part of his mind faintly surprised by the strength of her grip. "I sneaked out of school," he heard himself say sheepishly.
"Thought so." A tiny not-quite-smile chased itself across her face, gone almost before it appeared. "Old Wynn's jail?"
"Does it show?" Emrys chuckled ruefully, dusting off the school uniform. The pain in his head was lessening already. "Thanks for coming to help me. My name's Emrys -- Emrys Hawkins."
~ The Hawk and the Crow ~
* * * * *
* * * * *
Mons Carbi Comprehensive, London - August 1998
Emrys Hawkins walked through the school yard towards the gate, a decidedly sour look on his face.
"The first day of school for this term," he muttered. "And as far as I'm concerned, it ought to be the last." He opened the gate, stepped out onto the pavement, and slammed it loudly behind him. Ignoring the clatter, he walked off, heading back for the flat that he and Arthur still shared.
"I have got to start presenting Arthur with some better arguments for why I don't need to go to school," he grumbled. "All right, so it'll attract attention to myself if I appear to be playing truant. I can simply say that I'm being home-schooled or something like that. Or I can simply stay hidden on weekdays. I do have that invisibility spell, and I should be putting it to more use. But I have to find some way of - "
He broke off suddenly, as he saw a familiar, and welcome, sight across the street. Corbie McKenna was standing there waiting for him, now sporting some new (and rather large) sunglasses in addition to her usual gothpunk attire. She said nothing, she made no gestures, but it was clear nonetheless that she had seen him - and that she was as glad to see him as he was to see her.
The walk back to the apartment was forgotten almost at once. He turned to head towards her, a spring now working its way into his hitherto lifeless step as he did so.
"Hullo, Corbie," he said. "Nice day, isn't it?"
It was, in fact, a rather chill day for late summer, even considering that this was London, and there was an autumn mist that hung about the ground, but she nodded silently in reply and fell into step with him.
"By the way, those are nice sunglasses," Emrys continued as the two strolled along. "Although I must admit that you picked an odd day to wear them." He glanced up at the cloudy sky.
" 's for th' look," she said with a shrug. "How's th' jail been treatin' you?"
"Jail? Oh--" He chuckled. "Let's just say I'm glad it's out."
She grinned suddenly, and Emrys's eyes widened at how the smile transformed her whole face. It struck him how seldom he had ever seen her smile, and he was still staring at her when she swatted him on the arm. "Tag!" she crowed, and darted away.
Startled into a laugh, he dashed after her. She dodged his grab at her arm, swung around a lamp-post at the corner by one hand -- and jerked to a halt as the streetlight changed. Her sunglasses flew off and clattered across the sidewalk.
Emrys bent down to pick them up, and was offering them back to her when he suddenly got a look at her face -- and, more specifically, at the large bruise around her left eye.
"Corbie?" he asked troubledly, staring at her. "What - what happened to you?"
"Nothin'," she said, twisting away from him. " 'm fine."
"You're not fine, I saw that bruise! Corbie, what happened?"
"Nothing." She still wouldn't look at him. "Fell down an' hit me head like th' clumsy thing I am, is all."
"Corbie...." Emrys put his hand on her arm. "Look at me."
She threw back her head with its mane of shaggy black hair and gave him a defiant stare. He said nothing, but just looked at her, all the concern and trouble he was feeling unconcealed. Corbie's eyes -- the darkest he had ever seen, large and luminous in her pale face -- were suddenly bright with tears.
Emrys reached out and drew her close to him in a protective hug. She resisted for a moment, then buried her face in his shoulder and clasped her arms around his ribs.
The screech of a car's brakes jolted them out of each others' arms. In the street behind them, one car had stopped and another had swerved to avoid it, striking a telephone pole. Both drivers were out of their cars already, shouting into each others' faces and waving their arms.
Emrys glanced at Corbie and shook his head, half-amused and half-disgusted. "Like a bunch of little kids, some of the people in this city. There's no damage to either of their cars, they were moving too slowly -- but they're having too much fun yelling at each other to notice."
Corbie nodded. She dug into her pocket, and then pulled a small wrist bracelet which she handed to him.
"Thank you," he said, looking at it a little bewilderedly. "It's very nice of you, Corbie." And how can you afford that? he almost added, then paused and decided that he was better off not knowing.
" 's a present," she said. "For our four-month-anniversary. You didn't forget, did you?"
"Of course not," said Emrys at once. "How could I forget? But - well, it's a surprise. I can't give it to you right now." Inside, he mentally kicked himself for forgetting. Well, how was I to know that we'd be celebrating our anniversary every four months, instead of every year, like everybody else? He was relieved to see her nod understandingly.
With Corbie's sunglasses back on and hiding her bruise once more, the two youngsters walked on together, talking about other, trivial things. Emrys did his best not to think about the incident that she must have recently undergone, but found himself pondering it all the same. It's her da. I just know it is. She doesn't want to talk about it, but I can tell. If only there was something that I could do about it.
He wasn't quite certain how they'd ended up at the video arcade next to the London Aquarium, but there they found themselves. Emrys turned to Corbie. "Want to play a few games?" he asked her.
She nodded, a hesitant smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. The two of them entered the large building, Emrys digging uncertainly into his pocket for coins for the machines.
"You'll have to bear with me," he said, as he walked up to the nearest unattended machine. "I haven't played video games in a while, and I'm a bit rusty." Actually, he'd never played video games in his life, and privately considered them one of the sillier things that the last few decades had come up with. But it did seem the normal thing for a boy entering adolescence to be doing, and that was precisely what he was at the moment.
"A don't play much meself," she said with a nod.
Emrys glanced at the title of the game, and shook his head in disbelief. "Not those Armadilloes again," he said. Noting Corbie's bewildered glance at him, he added, "Sorry. A - cousin of mine watches the show a lot. I keep on telling her that it's nothing but a lot of overblown fight scenes with zero characterization, but she won't bother listening to me. One of these days, somebody's got to come up with a good animated series for television, just for a bit of difference. Something like - oh, I don't know. A group of mythological creatures being made to sleep by a magic spell for a thousand years, and re-awakening in the modern world. What do you think?"
Corbie just shrugged, and he nodded. "Yes, you're right," he said. "That's a little too far-fetched. Well, shall we play a couple of games?"
* * * * *
Much to his surprise, Emrys found that he was rather enjoying the video game. "Another little side-effect of being a teenager again, no doubt," he mumbled under his breath. "I'll be enjoying rock music next." He had just gotten the Armadilloes up to Level Six, and into a pitched battle with some Evil Ninjas - "And I'd thought that Pack-Media Studios had a copyright on those chaps" - when a couple of boys a little younger than himself walked past him and Corbie.
"These games are all right," said one of them. "But this place don't hold a candle to the one at Brighton Beach. I was there with my folks for the hols, and the games there were ace."
"Yeah," said the other boy. "I'd like to go there myself, if I can talk my mum into it."
Corbie looked after them wistfully. "Is anything the matter?" Emrys asked her, turning his gaze away from the Armadilloes. The little armored mammals were promptly annihilated by the last of the Evil Ninjas, and "Game Over" began flashing on the screen in large red letters, but he didn't even notice.
"Nothin'," she mumbled, looking down.
"Come on," Emrys insisted. Behind him, a couple of smaller children began fighting over who had been next in line to play the Armadilloes game; he stepped away from them absently. "What's wrong?"
" 's not important. It's just--" She looked up at him. "A heard 'bout Brighton Beach. With roller-coasters 'n everything. Never been on a roller-coaster. That's all." She looked away again, scuffing one of her boots against the pavement. "Said it wasn't important."
"Don't worry," said Emrys. "Tomorrow, I'm taking you there, and you'll get to ride on one as much as you want. It's my anniversary gift to you."
She stared at him, a mixture of surprise and disbelieving delight in her eyes. Emrys nodded, still smiling.
"I told you that it would be a big surprise," he said. "Funny, too, the way that it all worked out. Isn't it amazing the way that these things happen?"
* * * * *
The clock on the mantelpiece ticked quietly.
Arthur sat at the table, studying the layout map of the Arms for the umpteenth time. Griff leaned over his shoulder, tapping one claw on the tabletop in uneasy rhythm with the ticking clock. Dulcinea paced up and down the room, glancing at the telephone each time she passed it, her heels clicking sharply on the floor.
The irregular percussion didn't seem to bother Leba, who was sitting cross-legged on the the sofa, with her guitar in her lap and Rory sitting next to her. "...The song goes like this," she was saying. "'Loeg swiftly came to Ulster / But no aid found he there / For all of Ulster's army / Could not their weapons bear; / And whether Fair Folk cursing / Or Druid spells to blame...' But you're saying it wasn't either one?"
Rory nodded. "It was Macha's curse, the Pangs," he said. "All the Ulstermen old enough to bear weapons suffered it, five days and four nights out of every year. 'In the time of your greatest need,' the curse said."
"And it was that when Connacht attacked, I'd say," Leba agreed. "And it didn't affect you?"
He shook his head, with a little laugh. "Even then, no one ever agreed on why. Old Cathbad always scolded anyone who questioned it."
Leba gave him an odd look, then shook herself. "I'm going to get used to this. I am. Mmm.... How's this sound instead? 'It was the Pangs of Macha, / The Ulstermen's great shame / Still stood Cuchullain sentinel / As Connacht's army came.'" She glanced up at Dulcinea, who was still pacing. "Dulcinea, relax. You're making me nervous just looking at you."
Dulcinea's shoulders rose and fell in a sigh; she leaned against the wall for a moment, then pushed away from it and paced again. "We should have been there by now."
Arthur opened his mouth to say something, and stopped as the front door abruptly rattled. Everyone in the room turned to look as the door opened and Emrys came in. He stopped in the doorway for a moment, and there was a brief, awkward silence.
"Sorry I'm late," Emrys said at last, putting down his satchel.
"Merlin, we were to have left twenty minutes ago," said Arthur mildly. "What kept you?"
"I was with Corbie," the boy answered. "We lost track of time."
"Corbie?" Arthur asked.
"I'll just go fetch the rest of the airborne lads, shall I?" Griff said hastily, moving towards the door.
Arthur nodded at him absently. "Who's Corbie?"
"That little black-haired guttersnipe who was hanging around here last week," Dulcinea told him, in a tone of mild distaste. "With all due respect, Emrys, I'd think you could find better friends than that."
Across the room, Leba raised her eyebrows. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Dulcinea looked at her. "Well, you've seen her, haven't you? Dresses like a street tough and probably acts the part, too. Not the sort I'd want to spend a pleasant afternoon with."
Rory shifted uncomfortably, but said nothing.
"Yeah, I've seen her," Leba answered. "And if it comes to that, she's no worse than some of the musicians I've played with over time. One of the best guitarists I ever knew lived on the street for about half his life." She tilted her head at Dulcinea. "And never once knifed a cop or mugged any little old ladies."
Dulcinea sniffed. "I suppose it's a question of whose company you prefer."
"Oh, hark at you, you rotten old snob," Leba said cheerfully. "What exactly is your problem with the kid, Dulci? She doesn't live in a house or sleep in a bed? Because neither does your horse, and Rosey's a lot more pleasant to be with than you are."
"It's nothing to do with that!" snapped Dulcinea. "Or hadn't you noticed that Emrys has been late twice thanks to this stray alleycat of his?"
Leba's eyes narrowed. "Emrys is about fifteen hundred years older than either of us. If Arthur wants to call him on flaking out on us, or question his choice of friends, that's his right. Not mine, and certainly not yours."
The subject of their conversation, apparently forgotten, slipped out of the room to change out of his school uniform.
"I wouldn't presume to tell Arthur or Merlin what to do." Dulcinea lifted and dropped her hands in a graceful gesture of deference. "But I do know one thing, and that's how to tell a guttersnipe when I see one."
"Well then, I expect when you know two things you'll be twice as clever." Leba's tone had gone decidedly harsh. "Come off it, Dulci. You've lived your whole life in exclusive academies. What do you know about street people?"
A heavy hand slapped the tabletop across the room. "Enough." Arthur's voice was not loud, but sharp with command. "Do I lead knights here, or a clout of bickering fishwives?" He stood up. "I'm going outside to wait for the cab. Dulcinea, Rory, with me. Leba, wait for Emrys. And until the evening is over, you two ladies will not speak to each other unless it is necessary."
"Yes, Arthur," Leba said quietly, shifting to one side as Rory stood up. He looked down at her and seemed about to speak, then turned away to follow Arthur.
"Yes, sire," echoed Dulcinea, and stalked over to the coatrack to get her jacket. "And there was much rejoicing," she muttered just loud enough to be heard.
Leba shot her a quick unfriendly look, then leaned back on the couch, picked up her guitar again and started tuning. After a few moments, she began playing a light lullaby of a tune and singing softly: "Little bird, little bird in the cinnamon tree...little bird, little bird, do you sing to me?..."
Following Arthur and Rory out, Dulcinea stopped short in the doorway; she aimed a glare at Leba, then pulled up the collar of her jacket with a sharp, angry motion and slapped the screen door shut behind her.
Emrys, coming back into the room wearing a dark blue sweater and jeans, blinked. "What was that all about?"
"Hmmm?" Leba continued to play; her tone radiated innocence.
"What ticked off Dulcinea?"
"Search me." She grinned wickedly and played a slide down one string, a musical pratfall, then laid her guitar aside and stood, reaching for her parka. "Maybe she just doesn't like show tunes."
* * * * *
The journey to the Arms in Kevin's cab was marked by silence. Dulcinea still glanced sharply at Leba once or twice, and Emrys was looking out the window, a sour look in his eyes. Arthur was the only one who showed any real inclination to talk, and then just to give a few directions to Kevin.
"Griff and his three charges should be here as well," he said at last, as they arrived at their destination. "I only hope that their presence has gone undetected. We are here to observe, not to do battle."
"So this is the sort of place that the Minions use for their headquarters," commented Dulcinea, looking at the distinctly run-down-looking building. It was a small, squat structure built from red brick, solid but unattractive. Several of its windows had been broken in, and graffiti covered the walls. Loud rock music blasted from the inside.
"I might have known," continued the young woman. "Where else would those immature street punks choose to have their meetings?"
"Now, remember," said Arthur. "We must find out what the Minions are planning. If they are planning to launch a new offensive upon London, we must know of it so that we can prepare a defence against them."
A car halted outside the entrance to the club just then. A door opened, and Lucius Adrians climbed out, dressed in his usual attire of dark robe, scarlet mantle, and seven-pointed star hanging from a chain. He glanced about himself for a moment, cautiously, then strode proudly into the club. A moment later, the noise began to die down, and a hush gathered within.
"There he is," said Arthur. "The meeting will be starting any moment now, with Lucius present. We must draw closer and eavesdrop."
Emrys frowned suddenly. "You know," he said, "I may have seen him somewhere before. I just can't place his face at the moment."
"Dulcinea, Rory, with me. We need to find a way into the building, to overhear what we can," Arthur said. "Emrys, Leba, you two remain outside to guard the doors. Note who comes in and goes out. If that man comes out and one of us is not following him, one of you go with one of the gargoyles and track him."
They quickly dispersed to their posts. Arthur, Dulcinea and Rory made their way cautiously to the kitchen entrance, and opened the door silently. Fortunately, the kitchen was deserted, except for a multitude of dishes that had evidently not been anywhere near soap and water in the last five years, piled up everywhere on the counters. The three made their way to the door leading into the main room, pushed it cautiously ajar, and listened.
"My Minions," a man was saying, "you have done well. Very well indeed. The Great Lord of Darkness will reward you richly when his victory has been achieved."
"The Great Lord of Darkness," whispered Dulcinea. "Does he mean - "
"I believe so," said Arthur, also in a low voice.
"But our work is not yet done," continued the man. "This city continues to defiantly resist its rightful master. It must be beaten down into submission. We must make the fools and rebels understand their folly, in refusing to yield themselves to the rule of the all-powerful Darkness! We must chastise them for their stubborness!"
Cheering and applause followed his words, and he paused for a moment before continuing. Arthur frowned as he listened closer.
"We will unleash a wave of terror upon London that will make the Black Death, the Great Fire, even the Blitz seem paltry by comparison! This city shall be ravaged until its will has been broken, and it no longer has the strength to defy us!"
More cheering followed.
Arthur scowled. "So they are planning another assault. We must away from here at once, then, to make our counter-measures." He turned to Rory and Dulcinea. "Let us go."
* * * * *
On the street outside, Leba had gone around to the fire exit while Emrys loitered near the main one. No one had gone in or out since the Pendragon trio had crept in, and Emrys was glad enough of it.
He kicked at a pebble on the sidewalk, watched it skitter away. No right. She has no right to talk about Corbie that way.
The fog brushed at his bare neck; he shivered briefly and turned up the collar of his jacket. So I was late. That's my fault, not hers! As if I didn't know my own mind...
A heavy hand caught hold of his shoulder and spun him around, catching his collar in a rough grip. Emrys found himself looking up at a glowering white-painted face at the top of a burly figure, dressed in black. The hand that wasn't holding him was raised in a fist, and a seven-pointed silver star shone on one of the fingers.
"What're you doin' here, kid?" the Minion demanded.
"Nothing!" Emrys pulled at the other's grip, futilely. "I wasn't doing anything -- let go of me!"
"I think yer a spy," the Minion said, with a broad grin of satisfaction. "Sneakin' round like that."
"Hey!" came a shout from behind Emrys, and the Minion holding him looked up. He twisted around to see Leba running towards them, holding a sawed-off pool cue in one hand. She stopped in front of them, barely glanced at Emrys, and said breathlessly to the Minion, "Good, you caught one. There's more, at the main entry --" and she pointed over the Minion's shoulder.
Automatically, the Minion turned to look, and Leba's club caught him across the jaw and knocked him back against the brick wall. His grip slid off Emrys's collar, and he sank to the pavement unconscious.
"One down," Leba said lightly, dusting off her hands. "You okay, Emrys?"
"Fine." The world came out in a rather surlier tone than he'd intended, and at the look of mild surprise on Leba's face he added quickly, "Thanks. Perhaps we'd better tie this one up or something?"
* * * * *
"Why are we just standing here and letting those rotters hold their meeting?" asked Cervus, on top of the roof. "We ought to be breaking it up right now!"
"You heard what Arthur said," Griff replied. "We have to find out what the Minions are going to try next."
"What for?" asked Cervus. "If we simply swoop in and handle them, we can stop them from doing anything. I don't see why we're playing this so cautiously."
Before Griff could reply, there was a sudden crackle of energy in the air above, and then, bolts of lightning began to rain down upon the roof. The four gargoyles looked up, to see a number of shadowy human-like forms descending, hurling more electrical attacks at them.
"The Vampyres!" cried Imogen at once, her eyes glowing red.
"That good enough proof for you, Griff?" asked Cervus.
"I'd say so," said Griff. "We must get to the air at once. Follow me!"
The four gargoyles managed to leap off the roof's edge and catch the nearest air currents, bearing them up to battle their assailants.
"Well, that's torn it," commented Griff, ducking a blast of lightning. "If they know that we're here, then their friends on the ground soon will, as well. I hope that Arthur and the others get out of here now."
* * * * *
Lucius paused in the middle of his speech, and listened. "Intruders," he suddenly said, his countenance becoming grim. "The watchers have detected them. My followers, we are under attack! This meeting is adjourned. Go!"
The Minions rushed out of the room at once.
* * * * *
On the roof, the fighting was not going well for the gargoyles. The Vampyres knew their surroundings too well, and could take advantage of the terrain accordingly. Crouching behind chimney-pots and television aerials, they blasted out their magical energies, driving the gargoyles back. Faulconbridge was struck in the wing by one of these bolts, and plunged towards the street. Imogen caught him, however, and laid him down on the rooftop to recover.
The Unseelie halflings finally turned about and flew off into the night, vanishing into the shadows, by which time the last of the Minions had already fled the club. The four gargoyles had the rooftop to themselves.
"Take Faulconbridge back to the estate, Imogen," said Griff to the greyhound-like gargoyle. "Cervus and I are going to follow them." And with that, he and the stag-like gargoyle glided off in pursuit. Imogen picked up Faulconbridge, and bore him off in the opposite direction.
* * * * *
Later that night, Arthur and his human followers sat at the small round table that they had set up for conferences in the back of the Mystic shop in Soho. Colin Marter, Leo and Una had joined the meeting now, although Griff and Cervus had still not yet returned.
"So this is what we know," said Rory. "The Minions are about to launch some sort of major terrorist attack. It's a pity that we don't know precisely what it is that they're going to do."
"True," said Arthur. "Of course, we were fortunate enough to overhear their leader's speech, and escape undetected. That is worth much in itself. But we still do not know what Lucius plans, beyond more nights of fear."
"Lucius!" cried Emrys suddenly. "Now I remember!"
The others turned to him. "What do you mean?" asked Marter.
"It was something that I read about, during the time that I spent at Farthingham," said Emrys. "There was an Oxford professor named Lucius Adrians who had some very odd ideas about the UFO phenomenon. He believed that the beings behind it weren't aliens, but faerie-folk, and that all that business about spaceships was just a ruse on their part to throw people off the scent. Of course, nearly everybody considered him a crackpot, especially over his argument that the Fair Folk were real, and he finally had to resign his chair in a hurry. After that, he simply vanished."
"And you think that these two Luciuses are the same?" Leo asked.
"I think so," said Emrys. "It does fit. The connection with the Third Race, for one thing. And I saw some newspaper photos of him, for that matter. He didn't have the white hair, but otherwise could very well have been our man.
"I'd been thinking of tracking him down when I first heard about the case, since his theories made a lot more sense than the standard 'little green men' ones I've heard so much about. In fact, I'd been suspecting that it was the work of the fay ever since the whole fuss began, fifty years ago. But I never got around to it, and now it seems it's just as well. My father must have contacted him first."
"But we still don't know the full story," said Arthur. "We do not know the entire connection between the Minions and the Unseelie Court. And in particular, we still must find out what connection, if any, Darien Montrose has with them."
It was just then that the door opened, and Griff and Cervus entered. "Arthur, we may have found something," Griff reported.
"Griff, Cervus?" Arthur asked, turning towards them. "What did you learn?"
"We tracked them all the way to a warehouse near the Docks," said Griff. "Unfortunately, we lost them there. Didn't see them go in, but didn't see them leave the area. But that warehouse may have some connection to them."
"Then we should investigate it," said Arthur. "But tomorrow. After we have rested. And particularly you, Emrys," he added, turning to the youth. "You have a school-day tomorrow."
"Come off it, Arthur," protested Emrys almost at once. "I don't need that much sleep. I can get by with just an hour or two."
"That may be the case," said the former High King of Britain firmly, "but you still need some rest. Particularly after our encounter with the Minions. I am going to have to hold you to it. We go back to the flat, now."
Emrys sighed. "Well, there's one consolation for all of this, Arthur," he grumbled, as the two of them left the shop. "At least you can now get some inkling of what you put me through fifteen centuries ago." And under his breath he added, "And I'd be enjoying the situation a lot more if it wasn't for the fact that I'm the one putting you through it."
* * * * *
Emrys shouldered his backpack and stepped out the doorway onto the pavement. He then walked off in the direction of Mons Carbi, until he was out of sight from the flat. Then he hurriedly turned around and ran in the direction of Paddington Railway Station.
Some minutes later, he was strolling casually into the station itself, doing his best to look absolutely ordinary. He had had no time to work a minor inconspicuousness spell on himself, and with Corbie due to meet him, it would have created some practical problems. Instead, he simply made his way through the crowds.
"Emrys!" said a familiar voice. "Over here!" It was Corbie, waving to him.
Emrys joined her. "Did you find out which platform the train to Brighton's on?" she asked him.
He nodded. "Just this way," he said, leading her through the station, and checking the railway schedules folder that he had brought along with him. "It should be leaving in ten minutes. We might want to run."
They dashed on their way through the crowds, heading towards the platform. They were almost there when they rounded a corner, and Emrys spotted Leba walking towards him, carrying her guitar case. Fortunately, she hadn't seen him yet, but he jumped back at once, and ducked under the nearest bench, pressed low to the concrete ground. There he lay for a few minutes, while she continued past him, and only then finally crawled out to head on towards the train.
Corbie was already on board the train when he reached it, and the automatic doors were just beginning to close. Putting on an extra spurt of speed, he leaped through them and landed on the floor with a slight thump, just as they closed behind him. She helped him to his feet.
The two made their way down the train car, past a trio of men in suits, an old woman asleep in her seat, a pair of teenagers arguing fiercely, and a harried-looking mother with two crying children. "D'you want the window seat, Corbie?" Emrys asked, as they reached the nearest unoccupied seats.
She nodded silently, as they both sat down.
The train pulled out of Paddington Station, and made its way southwards, towards Brighton. As the children watched the London scenery dash by, the conductor came walking down the aisle, calling for the passengers to show him their tickets.
He finally reached Emrys and Corbie, and Emrys, almost automatically, held out his ticket and Corbie's. The conductor glanced them over, almost by rote, then took a closer look at the two of them.
"Shouldn't you both be in school?" he asked them. "It is a week day, after all."
"Um - yes," said Emrys almost at once. "But Grandmother's sick, and we're on our way to visit her. A little family call will do her no end of good. We've even got an exemption from school."
"She your sister?" the conductor inquired sharply, glancing at Corbie and her gothpunk attire, which contrasted so sharply with Emrys's much more cleancut look and school uniform.
"We're cousins," the girl said, before Emrys could reply.
The conductor did not seem entirely mollified, but continued on his way. Emrys leaned over to her. "Thanks for the cover," he said to her. "It was a big help."
She merely nodded in silence, and continued to look out the window.
* * * * *
"We the last ones leaving?" Rory asked, and drained his cup.
Arthur nodded. "Leba's doing her usual rounds, busking the rush at the train station," he said, "and Dulcinea's minding the store. Colin's gone to work."
Rory set his empty teacup in the sink, shrugged into his jacket and held the door open for Arthur. "Already starting to get cooler again," he said. "Ruddy awful weather."
"Well, we don't need sunshine to do investigating," the older man answered, looking at the piece of paper. "Here's the address. Cab or walk?"
The door closed behind them, a moment before the telephone buzzed loudly in the empty flat.
* * * * *
The Ferris-wheel car swung high in the air, holding at the top of the arc. Emrys looked around at the panorama of Brighton Beach spread out below them, feeling strangely distant from the voices and delighted shrieks of the other riders. Distant, in fact, from everything except the girl sitting next to him, gazing out to the sea with her pointed chin resting on one fist.
" 's like there's no one in th' world but us," she said unexpectedly, and turned to look at him. "Innit? Alone but not lonely."
"A bit like that." A brief melancholy took him, and he voiced it: "Usually it's the other way around."
"Y' mean lonely...even when y'r not alone." Corbie looked away from him again, her eyes fixed on the sea. "Yeah."
There was a moment's quiet, which Corbie broke unexpectedly. "Did you..." She was still watching the sea. "Did you ever want t' do somethin' stupid...just so you wouldn't be alone anymore?"
An image of Nimue flitted across his mind. "Kind of," he mumured.
"Y' know that whiteface gang, the Minions? Someone a used t' know went an' joined up with 'em last week." Corbie's hands clasped and unclasped on the railing of the car, and she watched them intently. "An' got me thinkin'...a could do that. Join up. Be part a whatever it is they are."
Alarm ran through him, prickled the hair on his arms. "No," he said. "Corbie, no, you don't want to do that."
"Why not?" Her voice was irritable, pugnacious. "Don't think they'd have me?"
"That's not it." Emrys fought to keep his voice calm. "They're dangerous people. Madmen."
"A c'n take care of m'self, Hawkins," she told him sharply. "An' they're -- they look out f'r each other." And still she looked out at the water, or at her own hands, and would not meet his gaze.
"Corbie--" I have to keep her away from them. I have to. "You could get hurt," he said miserably.
"So what?" She looked at him now, and her eyes were once more bright with angry tears. "Who'd give a cuss?"
He hesitated, then said it. "I would."
Corbie stared at him for a long moment...and then the car jostled them both as it swung back into motion, the giant wheel swinging them slowly back down towards the earth.
* * * * *
The mess of paperwork facing them was a discouraging sight, but the two rolled up their sleeves and dove in. "This isn't that different from what my old job used to be," Rory commented.
"Tracing paper trails?"
"Uh huh." He studied the paper in his hand, blew out a sigh. "Hated it then, hate it now -- but now at least I feel like it'll do some good. Let's see, here's something...."
Hours of documents later, Arthur let out a startled grunt. "Look here," he said sharply. "Isn't this what's called a...dumb corporation?"
"Dummy corporation?" Rory peered at the paper. "It is that, looks like. That's who owns the unmarked warehouse. And the owner of our dummy is?"
"Let's see..." Arthur flipped through the document, stopped, read over a line. "Oh."
"What?" Rory craned his neck and read over Arthur's shoulder. "Oh. Uh-huh. There's a familiar name, then."
Arthur nodded grimly. "A Mr. Darien Montrose."
* * * * *
The roller-coaster pulled to a halt, and the two teenagers stumbled out onto the platform. Corbie was laughing breathlessly, clinging to Emrys's arm until she regained her balance.
"So what do you think of your first roller-coaster ride?" Emrys asked.
She tossed her head back and looked up at him, and he was struck once again by how her face was changed by that brilliant, laughing smile. "Let's do it again!"
"Want to try the other one?" Emrys pointed across to the spiraling frame of the second roller-coaster.
"All right." He felt her arm slip into his. Startled, he observed her now-shy smile, her guileless dark eyes, and he shuddered, a little, deep inside at the sight of her trust.
Was that a blush as she turned away from his gaze? Her mouth formed a little "o" and he turned to see what had caught her attention.
At first, he saw nothing but the bustle of the boardwalk, crowded with children even on a school day. His eyes were momentarily captivated by a striking blonde woman not ten paces away and getting nearer. Despite the warmth of Corbie at his side, he watched her as she walked past them, imagining he could catch a faint trace of her perfume. He noted with some wry amusement that he was not the only one staring, as heads turned in an uneven wave of wistful longing. The woman, oblivious, chatted with her conspicuously smitten companion, and Emrys sighed.
He felt a shift from the arm in his, and turned, mortified, to apologize to Corbie, when he noticed her interest had shifted elsewhere. Another fellow gawked at the departing blonde with far less concealment than most, walking backwards to get a better view of her assets. The ride operator of the second roller coaster had his back to the whole thing, and as chance would have it, chose exactly the wrong moment to take a swig from the steaming mug in his hand. With a flash of precognition that had nothing to do with magic and everything to do with common sense, Emrys knew what was going to happen next with no doubt and no time to prevent it.
The riders on the rollercoaster shrieked happily as they went through a loop, then dived for a sharp turn.
"Hey, buddy, watch it!" roared the ride operator, as his drink splashed the control panel. Ominous-looking sparks shot from the panel, and the operator's hand flew to his mouth as he muttered a curse. A bolt, cobalt-blue, reared like some living thing and struck the rollercoaster's rails.
Metal screeched and thundered as the great steel beast jumped its track.
The riders screamed again, and this time their terror was real.
"Oh my god!" shouted someone.
"Livvy! Thomas!" shouted someone else, a man waiting by the edge of the ride. His wife clutched to his arm, silent with horror.
The rollercoaster had not fallen, but that was small comfort. It leaned at a sickening angle against a piece of scaffolding, which had never been designed to support such weight. The metal groaned under the louder wails from the unhappy passengers.
Automatically, words flew to Emrys' lips, and just as automatically, he squelched them. He didn't dare use his magic, not with his father's operatives everywhere and anywhere. His fingers gripped into impotent fists, as Corbie clung tighter to his shoulder, her breath coming faster.
No, not in front of her. More than his own safety, he didn't dare risk hers, not this way. Besides, what could he do, really, in his reduced state? He shifted his arm, wrapped it around her.
"I'm sure someone is calling Maintenance right now," he said.
His certaintly wavered as he looked back to the ride operator. "You clumsy git! Look whatcha did!"
"Me? I wasn't the one bending my elbow on the job!"
"What d'you mean by that?" He pushed the man roughly. The man pushed back.
"What d'you think I meant? S'not my fault you're getting smashed at work!"
"This isn't the time!" shouted another man, the one who'd called out for Thomas and Livvy. His wife still stood by the fence surrounding the ride, her eyes pasted to the teetering car.
"You ... You!" The ride operator swung. The other man ducked. The father wasn't as fast, but was nearly out of range, and was only clipped on the chin.
Incensed, he decked the ride operator, who stumbled back.
Rather than express his gratitude, the clumsy man sneered at the father. "Fat lot of good that did, hitting the only guy who can get yer kids down." This was not an intelligent comment, as it brought the father's attention squarely back on him.
"'Ere, what's this?"
Another man had walked up to the three, his uniform a sure sign of ending this insanity. Emrys breathed a sigh of relief. Things would be all right. Someone In Authority had arrived.
"Explain yourself," he demanded of the ride operator.
"This brain-dead son of a hamster ... " said the operator, indicating the man who'd bumped him originally.
"You've got a sot running your rides, you do!" shouted the aforementioned hamster's son.
"Please," said the woman by the fence. "My children are up there."
"Oh shut up!" said the ride operator, his face like a beet. Quieter, he mouthed a word Emrys couldn't hear.
"What did you call my wife?" asked the father, death in his voice. He grabbed the operator by the collar.
"Why isn't anyone working on getting the people down?" Emrys asked of no one in particular. "What's wrong with them?" He took a step forward, thinking maybe to summon Maintenance, or at this point, anyone with a level head.
"Wait!" Corbie squeaked, her fingers digging into his arm. "Don't go down there!" Her eyes were wide and scared, and she trembled like the last dark leaf in a heavy storm.
"Listen to em," she hissed. "They're psycho, the lot of em."
"I won't let anything happen to you," he said, trying to relax.
"Let's get away from here," she pleaded, pulling him. He let her take him, glancing back to the ride one last time before he turned to follow.
* * * * *
A girl, perhaps eight years old, with curly red hair and a perfect dimple, sat in the rollercoaster's foremost car next to a plump little boy with similar, although shorter, copper locks. Both screamed whenever the car inched downwards.
They were utterly ignored by the young couple behind them, a man in a trenchcoat and a woman in a green pantsuit, the latter complaining loudly. "Get away for a while, you said. See the English countryside, you said. What could possibly go wrong at an amusement park?, you said."
"I don't feel well," wailed the dimpled red-haired girl.
"Stuff it," said Brendan, although to whom, or possibly to what force of nature, he really couldn't say.
* * * * *
Emrys and Corbie reached the relative safety of the Tilt-a-Whirl quickly. The slight rise in elevation gave them a perfect view of the procedings at the rollercoaster. Fortunately, several security guards had arrived on the scene and were not taking any kind of excuses from anyone. Already, someone was placing a ladder against an adjoining piece of scaffolding to the one holding the car.
Corbie let out a little sigh. He squeezed her hand for comfort. "See? They'll be fine."
"A c'n see that." She didn't sound convinced. She watched sharply as the first passengers were unloaded from the car and brought shaking down to the ground. "An' they don't look any the worse f'r it," she said without emotion.
"Most of them." A little girl clutched her stomach just before her grateful parents surrounded her and blocked his view. He heard another cry of anguish. A man who had been standing beside the little girl looked down at his shoes in revulsion.
Corbie smiled, just a little.
* * * * *
"So, Kevin," said Arthur. "Do you know anything about Darien Montrose?"
"A few things," the cab driver replied. "He's some rich bloke who lives here in London. He owns factories all over the country. I don't know too much about him, though."
"I only know him by reputation, myself," said Arthur. "Although Jennifer Camford did tell me once that she didn't quite trust the man."
"Well, there are a few rumors about him," said Kevin. "But that's all that they are: rumors. They might be true, but then again, they might not. I don't know. The chap just never seemed all that important to me before."
"I think that you had best take us to the nearest library," said Arthur. "Perhaps we can research the man there."
Kevin nodded. "Sounds like a good enough plan to me," he said, and drove off.
* * * * *
The cloud cover broke suddenly, and a flood of golden light slanted down across the amusement park and the seaside, turning the water into an expanse of rippling cloth-of-gold. Around them, the crowd gasped and murmured appreciation as if watching a fireworks display. Emrys was conscious of the beauty, but uppermost in his mind was a sudden dismay at how late it had gotten.
"I've got to catch the train back home," he told Corbie. "I'm expected back soon."
She nodded, but looked wistfully back over her shoulder as they headed for the train station.
* * * * *
Arthur folded up the most recent issue of the Financial Times, and placed it back on the table. "I don't suppose that you've found anything, Rory?" he asked.
The young Irishman shook his head. "Nothing incriminating," he said. "The man could be in over ten dozen rackets, for all that we know, but if he is, there's no hint of it anywhere in the papers. And you?"
"Nothing," said Arthur. "The only part of it that looked interesting was his visit to New York some months ago."
"New York?" asked Rory. "That's where Goliath and his clan live. Do you think that there could be a connection?"
"I wondered that myself," said Arthur, "but I doubt it. He only went there to engage directly in business dealings with Nightstone Unlimited. Although it is worth noting that he left the city and returned to London very suddenly, without giving any explanation to the press as to why he did so."
"That might mean something," said Rory hopefully. "Perhaps the gargoyles frightened him away?"
"It's just as likely that trouble arose back home, and he had to return to London at once to deal with it," said Arthur. "I know that such a thing can happen."
"Well, all of this research, and we've come up empty-handed," said Rory. "It feels like a bit of a waste to me."
"Maybe," said Arthur. "But we must persist in our search. There is enough out there about Darien that I mistrust. I feel certain that he is hiding something from the world. And we must find out what it is."
* * * * *
The two teenagers stood on the curb outside of the flat. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Emrys was mildly surprised at just how awkward he was feeling.
"Um," Corbie said suddenly. "Thanks. F'r the park an' all." Her smile was a hesitant shy thing, new as a fledgling bird. "It was...fun."
"I'm glad," said Emrys. "Maybe we can do this again sometime. You deserve an outing like this every now and then, after all."
Her smile grew into that sudden brilliance that had taken his breath away before, and then she leaned forward and kissed him on the tip of his nose. Before Emrys could respond, she had turned around, and ran off into the shadows.
The young wizard stood there for a moment, half-blushing, with a broad smile on his face, and then turned and climbed up the steps to the front door. A few minutes later, he was in their office. He had just finished flipping around the sign on their door from "Closed" to "Open" when he saw the answering machine on the desk out of the corner of one eye. The light on it was flashing red, indicating that there was a message there. He quickly pushed the button and played it.
"Mr. Pennington?" said a pompous and most unwelcome voice on the recording. "This is Headmaster Wynn of Mons Carbi Comprehensive. Your ward was missing from school again today. He wants a good talking-to, to make certain that this--"
"I've heard just about enough," said Emrys, quickly erasing the message. "Never meddle in the affairs of wizards, Wynn. Not unless you want to discover how wood-lice view the world."
Footsteps sounded on the stairs outside, and Emrys sank into his chair at once, breathing a sigh of silent relief. "Just in time," he muttered to himself, as the door opened and Arthur and Rory entered the room.
"There you are, Emrys," said Arthur, nodding. "So how was your day?"
"Oh, fine, Arthur," the boy replied, rising from his chair, and smiling. "A glorious one, in fact. I could use a few more days like this one." And with that, he headed into the next room to work on his school assignments, whistling.
* * * * *
"Well? What have you discovered?"
"Someone has been asking some very disturbing questions about Mr. Montrose, my lord."
Madoc frowned, as he looked over the report that Garlon had just handed him. "Then make certain that that someone does not learn the answers to those questions," he said. "Mr. Montrose is too important to us to be exposed. See to it that he is not."
"As you will, my lord," said Garlon, bowing low. And he turned and left the great hall.
* * * * *