Story by Nicodemus
Written by Ed Reynolds
Art by Rodlox.
* * * * *
Previously on PendragonÖ
RORY: You haven't told me everything about Molly, have you?
LEBA: No. Not that I had a chance to, what with you going off on a tirade whenever I mentioned her name.
RORY: If youíre ready to tell me, Iím ready to listen.
~~Ride the Wild Winds~~
* * *
LUCIUS: It's become obvious to me that humanity simply is not capable of governing itself. We're still children, for the most part, too immature to conduct our own affairs. That is the reason for all of our problems. Children, left to their own devices, will go astray. They must have parents to direct them, to keep them from getting into trouble. Humanity needs the same. And who else to govern it, guide it, discipline it, than a race which has been on this world longer than we have, which has mastered skills that we can only dream of, whose members are immortal and therefore have a much greater, more accurate perspective, on how to accomplish things than most humans can ever expect to achieve?
MERLIN: The Unseelie Court. They were your first choice?
LUCIUS: They were my only choice. What else could it be, when your uncle Oberon has turned his back on humanity altogether, decreeing that his subjects should not intervene in our lives? He had the power to change us for the better, but not the will. Lord Madoc had both.
MERLIN: He'd have changed the world, certainly. But not for the better. I'm surprised that you haven't understood that by now, after all the time that you spent working for him. Did you seriously believe that he was improving things by creating a new Ice Age or having you let a Whowie loose in Hyde Park? If he'd won the war, he'd have given the world peace and order - but they would have been the peace of death and the order of slavery.
LUCIUS: Well, I didn't think that you'd really understand. Not considering the sort of pupil that you produced. I always did find Arthur's hero-status something of a puzzlement, anyway. He hardly struck me as that capable a ruler. Turning a blind eye to that business between Sir Lancelot and his wife, for one thing, instead of executing or banishing them both. Not to mention that he was a foolish rebel against Roman authority. If he'd had a drop of sense in him, he'd have paid that tribute and accepted the wisdom of yielding up Britain to the Empire again, instead of turning the Imperial envoys out of his court and putting up a fight. No, you could have taught him much better than that. But I was hoping that you had gained some proper wisdom over the last millennium or so. Enough to understand what the world really needs, more than some silly case of a sword thrust in a stone and a round table.
~~Giants in the Earth~~
* * * * *
Lucius Adrians did not remove his gloved hands from his pockets as he strode arrogantly along the ancient path before him; he might be the blood descendant of a powerful Roman emperor, but even he could not go to the south-west of Scotland in the coldest time of the year without feeling the chill. His calling was for higher things, and his emissaries would carry out all this grunt work in future years. This, at least, was what Lucius thought as he scanned the surroundings for clues.
Eddie and Char bumbled along beside the deranged lecturer. Char clutched an ancient leather-bound book, held open at a particular page. Lucius turned to her as they reached the side of the mountain.
"What does it say, what does it say?" said Lucius, his voice crescendoing melodramatically.
"Well, I donít know, itís in Latin, isnít it?" snapped Char.
Lucius descended upon the book in a fashion that might have been more appropriate for Dracula descending to prey upon his victims.
"Why did I ever think that I could trust you insolent sub-literates with anything?" he snarled.
Eddie scoffed. "Because weíre the only ones what put up with youró"
"Silence!" interjected Lucius. "This is the appointed area, detailed in this ancient document that has finally found its way to me. Dig, my minions, dig! For soon we shall have glory beyond the telling of it."
Eddie unloaded a pack that he was carrying and removed a spade. He began to dig into the ground.
"Looks like Lucius has finally flipped his wig," he grumbled quietly to Char, as their boss continued to inspect the surrounding area.
"Whatís he want us to do here anyway?" she replied. "Seems to me like heís lost the plot."
"Yeah, it eloped to Kazakhstan and left his delusions of grandeur to run the show. What do you reckon, Char? We can dump this bloke, get ourselves some well paid job somewhere? Something where we donít end up freezing to death on a mountainside in the middle of nowhere."
"Continue digging, minions!" Lucius called out excitedly from nearby as his eye caught their less-than-enthused pace of work. "I can almost taste the discovery! I can feel it in my soul - the fulfillment of my destiny, the climax of all my schemes!"
"Itís not here," said Eddie, looking up from the trench he had hurriedly dug.
"Fools, this is the spot of which the book speaks! Dig deeper! Deeper!"
Eddie shrugged and continued to dig, as Lucius set upon the earth that was brought up, rummaging through it with gloved hands. Char backed away slowly, and seized upon a stick that Eddie had brought with him to mark the depth of the dig. She weighed it in her hands as a weapon, holding it in an offensive position, ready for Lucius to turn at any moment.
"It must be here," muttered Lucius insanely as he scrambled through the pile of earth. "I canít believe itís not, itís not-"
His eyes fell upon something - a small stone. He grabbed it and as he brushed off the grime, his face creased in delight, his eyes adopting a manic glint of success.
"At last, Iíve found it," he cried. "Iíve found it!"
Eddie and Char gave each other a look of profound bemusement. Char let the stick drop in her hands.
"What is it?" asked Char.
"This, my friends, is the prison of a spirit long forgotten."
"Looks like a round stone to me."
"Imbeciles! Observe the markings! You see? These etchings show the crest of an eagle, an animal connected with this spirit and with the Empire itself. And now observe-"
He raised the stone into the air and shouted a Latin incantation in a dramatic voice.
Nothing happened. Lucius looked somewhat put out but girded himself and after clearing his throat quite impressively, shook his wrists and once more raised the stone to the heavens, shouting out another command.
Again, nothing happened.
His face clouded over and he started shouting various Latin summons at the stone. Finally, when nothing happened he cursed and sat down in a huff.
"Enough, enough," came a voice from nowhere.
Lucius diverted his eyes back to the stone in his hand. "Did it speak?" he asked, awestruck.
"I did indeed speak, sir. You have wounded my ears with your racket and I intend to know your purpose in stirring me. Who are you?"
"I, sir spirit, am Lucius Adrians - a valiant and loyal descendent of the Roman Empire who has come to free you from your dreadful prison. Prepare to shake off your bonds."
"You are valiant?" said the spirit in what sounded like a dubious voice.
"I plan to rescue you from your terrible prison and I caution you to show respect," Lucius snarled briefly.
"I am interested in freedom," the spirit replied, a tone of eagerness swelling in its voice. "For longer than I can keep track of, I have been trapped here. Free me!"
"Yes!" shouted Lucius triumphantly, raising the stone and shouting maniacally towards the sky. "Yes indeed! I will free you now, spirit!"
There was a tense pause.
Lucius turned his face to the ground, slightly abashed as he asked: "How exactly do I do that again?"
Stones are incapable of exhaling air, and thus sighing was right out for the spirit. All the same, the stone did make a noise that could quite convincingly pass for a sigh. When the spirit spoke, it certainly sounded exasperated enough.
"Long ago, I was trapped here by an evil faerie, bound to this rock in a cruel trick. Our first task therefore is to find the faerie that trapped me here - wherever she may be."
* * *
The pine desk at the back of the Into the Mystic shop was piled high with volumes dating back decades. Around the table, Arthur, Merlin, Griff and Una were perusing volumes that looked as though they might contain promising Grail leads. Mary sat with them, reading a newer book.
"What have you got there, Mary?" asked Griff curiously as he looked up.
"Itís called Chivalry in the Modern World," she said. "Quite an interesting read, actually. I donít understand what half of these books supposedly containing Grail information are on about, and I might as well brush up while I can on the finer points of chivalry while Iím a knight in training. Itís quite interesting really."
"Yes," muttered Merlin. "But does it bring us any closer to finding the Grail?"
Mary looked down guiltily and folded her book closed. She tried to find something to say to comfort her boyfriend but no words seemed appropriate at the moment. She slipped her hand across the table and squeezed Merlinís. Merlin smiled at her, but in doing so lost concentration of the particularly large and unwieldy volume that he was propping up against a stack of books. It collapsed onto Maryís hand and she withdrew it with a cry of pain.
Leba and Dulcinea wandered over from the back room, having heard the cry.
"Itís nothing," Merlin started to explain quickly.
"Nothing yourself, Merlin!" Mary said agitatedly.
"So I guess if youíve got time to squabble then you havenít found anything useful," said Dulcinea.
"Rory found these books so engaging heís now snoring away the better part of the night," Leba added.
"Alas, we have made no progress either," Arthur sighed. "We certainly seem to be running out of locations to search for the Grail within the British Isles."
"But hey," Dulcinea replied brightly. "If you ever want to order out a beheading, youíve got the know-how."
"Whoís ordering a beheading?" came a curious voice at the door.
Lebaís eyes rolled and she fixed the newcomer with an acidic glare. "Molly."
Molly nodded at her, avoiding eye contact. "I just wanted to stop by. Thought you might be needing my help."
Leba opened her mouth briefly to retort, but Dulcinea nudged her sharply, and she stepped back to let Molly join the group assembled around the small table.
"We are following a remote lead, but one of the few that remains open to us," said Arthur. "These chronicles detail the history of the Roman Empire, with particular attention to its more supernatural elements."
"The Holy Grail?" asked Molly dubiously.
Una nodded. "Itís the best possible reference I can dig out. While it is unlikely that the Grail is to be found in these reference books, it is not wholly improbable given the popular Christian hypothesis of the Grailís origin."
"Besides," mused Merlin, "the Grimorum Arcanorum has already made a cameo appearance or two. If nothing else, itís a fascinating reference for a lot of old myths and magical spells that Iíd quite forgotten about. Takes me back to my boyhood - my first one that is, when my teacher Blaise showed me a picture from the Grimorum of a garg-"
"Letís not hear that boring old story now, Merlin," cut in Mary pointedly. "Iím sure there are more pressing issues."
Merlin subsided as he felt Maryís irritation waxing next to him. He became suddenly very absorbed in his text as the rest of the conversation progressed.
Molly flicked through an open volume. "Romans, eh? Feh, theyíre not all that."
"And youíd know all about them?" said Leba. "Having lived in Ireland."
"Well, I met one once. I did travel about a bit back in the day, donít you know. Oh, my favourite haunt was Ireland right enough, but Iím not adverse to a holiday every now and then. That said, the Romans did actually think about invading, they just changed their minds. Anyway, bad lot, the Romans."
"Moral valuations from the Banshee," said Leba in a mock-awestruck voice.
Molly ignored her and continued in her reverie. "Draconian bunch they were. Theyíre a serious lot, but they donít have any fighting spirit. All pragmatism, no fire."
"I wonder why the Romans changed their minds about invading Ireland?" asked Mary.
Molly chuckled. "Ah, thatís quite a story! Takes me right backÖ"
* * *
Off the South-West Coast of Scotland, Near the Mull of Kintyre, AD 82
The late evening mists drifted across the turbulent seas. The Banshee sped across in an angry mood. All that time gearing herself up for her climactic battle with Cuchulain and before she could finally kill him, someone else had slain him.
"No justice," muttered the Banshee, before letting out a powerful scream of frustration that carried far over the waves.
Well it was time to give up the stay-at-home look and do some touring of the Emerald Isle - and beyond, for that matter. She chuckled as she remembered a group of peasants whom she had scared into jumping from the cliff into the sea. Now that was entertainment.
Before her, she saw a cluster of greying rocks protruding from the sea, splattered with spray. She lifted herself up and soared over the cliffs, landing on the grassy land below. Turning back, she waved goodbye to Ireland - for the time being.
Leaping down the hillside in excited leaps, she began to consider the opportunities that presented themselves to her in Caledonia. It was worth exploring, she mulled. It offered plenty of new people to toy with - the people of Ireland had become so jaded by generations of her scaremongering and the incessant idolising of Cuchulain wore so thin.
She felt something nearby: a presence. It was neither familiar, nor altogether friendly, but her curiosity got the better of her all the same. She took to the air and began to sweep the surrounding area. Her eyes pierced the twilight and soon she noticed at the bottom of a valley that extended downwards as far as the distant mists, that there was an encampment of soldiers.
"Curious," she said. "These soldiers wear odd dress - they seem more organised and uniformly regimented than any in Ireland. They do not seem magical, but then they have an odd mysticism. What is it that I sense about them?"
The Banshee carefully dropped lower and lower, passing down the slope quietly so that she could spy the strange group from all sides. Eventually, she decided that she ought to have a closer look.
"I hate to ruin my good looks," she muttered as she glowed in transition from faerie form to human form. "But thatís the price I payÖ all that iron they carry calls for an inconspicuous disguise."
She transformed into an old hag. Her back became crooked, and her face contorted and smothered with a mass of thinning grimy hair. She stumbled down towards the group.
The night had fallen and the soldiers were clearly preoccupied. The Banshee approached quite close to the group before she was waylaid. And when she was, it was not by a human - but by something quite different.
"Halt!" said the spirit, materialising from invisibility before her.
The Banshee squinted at it. The spirit appeared to be in the shape of an eagle but was humanoid all the same. Its expression was intense, and it was clothed in armour that seemed to carry an air of nobility.
"What are you then?" she said.
"I am a spirit bound to protect this Roman Legion. You, however, I recognise as one of the Fair Folk - and if my senses and endeavours to learn of your people do not serve me badly, I do declare that you are a particularly malicious and barbarous member of their race."
"Why thank you," she replied, dropping her disguise now that it was clearly useless and returning with a flash to her true form. She continued proudly, "I am known as the Banshee if you must give me a name. I do like people to know who it is that theyíre screaming in terror at."
"You shall pass no further," the spirit warned.
"And just what are you up to then, marching up here with your big army looking for trouble?"
"We have returned from our campaign to the north in Caledonia, but our commander, Agricola, now finds himself moved to consider a foreign realm that we have heard tell of - a land across the waters, to the south west. These soldiers are valiant and powerful as are all in Rome, and will flock to deal with the humans in such an area. I, however, shall dispel any foul spirits that may wander, so that the western isle may rightly be brought under the banner of the great and eternal Roman Empire."
"What makes you think they want you there?" scoffed the Banshee.
"They are as barbarous as you, if not more; but once Rome brings order to their lives, they will be civilised and pacified as is only right and proper."
The Banshee paused for a moment, digesting the news she had received. She realised that soon these strangers would be encroaching on her territory, trying to bring her people under their rule. She would be attacked, driven out!
The Banshee bristled. Not while she was about would these Romans take Ireland! She would take orders from nobody and if the Romans wanted a fight she would certainly give them one. But she quickly calmed herself, her pensive frown melting into an ingratiating smile. Why use brute force, she reflected, when cunning serves just as well.
"Well, you are clearly great warriors and a great people and I bow down to your magnificent wonderfulness. But would you do me a small favour, O spirit of the Roman legion? Would you accept a gift that I shall bring tomorrow as a token of my allegiance?"
The spirit looked somewhat taken aback for a moment but soon regained his composure. "Come again tomorrow," he said sternly. "And then we shall see."
The Banshee gave an elegant - if, slightly over-performed - curtsey, and went on her way, climbing back up the hillside. She did not look back until she was sure that the spirit had gone. Once she crossed over the peak of the hill she burst into laughter and began to practice her protestations in a voice rich with irony.
"O fair and brave and beautiful spirit of the Roman Empire. Wonít you accept the poor Banshee under your wing? I come to you with the greatest of gifts!"
She looked around the hillside until she located a smooth, round rock. It was perfect. She waved her hand over the rock and an image formed on it: that of an eagle. She flipped it in her hand and began to chant under her breath. The rock glowed briefly and for a moment became a blinding focus of light. Then the light faded and it dropped back into her palm.
She pocketed it and smiled impishly.
* * *
The Following NightÖ
The Banshee arrived at much the same time of day as her previous visit. The sun had nearly set and she was wandering over the sodden turf, waiting to see the spirit. She did not have long to wait. The spirit materialised before her dramatically, and peered down upon the faerie in an imperious manner. Apparently a day of reflection had not mellowed its regard for the Banshee at all.
"O spirit of the legion!" said the Banshee. "Tonight I have come to pledge my fealty. I am but a lowly faerie of a barbarous kind, and have little to offer you - but please accept this, my gift."
The spirit looked suspicious as the Banshee held up the enchanted rock.
"What is this?"
"It is but a rock of this land, but I have marked it with the symbols of your Empire to show my dedication to you," said the Banshee.
"I see. I desire no such trinket from a lowly faerie."
"Please, sir, if we would just touch the stone at once then it would confirm my oath of loyalty. It is but a barbaric, backward custom, but, lord, it would commit me to you for the rest of my immortal days." She stopped short and shrank back, lip trembling. "YouÖ you do want my loyalty, donít you?"
The spirit seemed to have a change of heart. He shifted uncomfortably for a moment as he stared back at the Banshee. Reluctantly, he nodded and reached out towards the stone. At the moment his hand touched the stone, it blazed into light - and so did the spirit. With a flash, the spirit disappeared.
"What has happened to me?" its voice echoed.
The Banshee laughed, holding the stone delicately out in front of her.
"Sorry, my dear, but did you really think that I would let a rank upstart like you wander all over my turf? Think again!"
She listened carefully. Already she could hear the legion on the move; battle was starting.
"Your legion is faring badly, by the sounds of it," the Banshee cackled with laughter. "But donít worry, dear spirit, you wonít have to see their defeat."
She approached a pit in the mountain, and peeked in. It was deep enough. She threw the stone into it.
"In fact," she continued as the stone disappeared into the darkness of the pit, "you wonít see anything at all."
Then she started filling the hole up with earth until the screams and recriminations of the spirit, speaking from within the enchanted stone, were muted. She dusted her hands and looked around.
She could hear the cries of battle, and felt quite refreshed after her latest triumph. This was the sort of trick that she might try using on Cuchulain the next time they ran into each other, she reflected smugly. Magically raising her body to the sky, she took in the surrounding battle; then she let her eyes flare with an intense bright light, and let out a terrific scream that echoed across the hillside.
"The Banshee has come wailing! Now flee, humans that would enter my domain, flee for your lives!"
Screeching, she soared over the mountains and circled in on the battlefield.
* * *
"And what happened then?" asked Una.
Molly shrugged with a reflective sigh. "Well, the soldiers didnít fancy their luck against me without their precious spirit looking over their shoulder. They fled and didnít come back. Good riddance to the whole lot of them, I say."
There was a heavy silence.
"The spirit?" Dulcinea prompted. "What happened to him?"
Molly shrugged. "How should I know? My guess is, heís still down there. Teach him to try to invade my turf. It would almost be worth freeing him to see his face now - he could look at what became of his precious Roman Empire, now pretty museum pieces. Ha! I can but dreamÖ"
"Itís not a completely awful idea," mused Merlin. "This spirit might have had some kind of important role in Rome at that time. He if anyone might know where the Holy Grail is."
Mollyís face clouded slightly as she stared at the youth.
Arthur closed the book he was holding carefully. "It seems like a more direct approach. After all, all the books in the world canít match the knowledge of living through a particular period in time. And if this spirit indeed guarded a Roman legion then he might be in a position to tell us more than most about the goings-on of Rome around that period."
"My teachers at Mons Carbi might disagree with you on the point about living through a period of time giving you great knowledge about it. Well, I suppose they werenít to know I was an immortal wizard."
Leba, who by now had stepped away from Molly considerably, found herself agape at the group that was gathered around the table.
"Excuse meÖ Did everyone skip the part where Molly decided to brag about trapping someone in a prison for two thousand years?" she said.
"He deserved it," Molly replied, shrugging. "He tried to take over my space. Nobody does that to me. Or nobody did anyway," she added with a note of sadness. "And youíre all touched if you think about freeing him, anyway."
Leba continued to press her case. "How can you say he deserved imprisonment? He was fighting for his people just the same as you."
"That what you call invaders nowadays, do you? This guy is dangerous - heís probably mad now anyway, got cabin fever or what have you, you wouldnít get much sense out of him if you freed him. Trust me, heís better off left alone."
"You coward!" said Leba. "You just donít want him to come knocking on your door once heís free and decides to track down the person that duped him two millennia ago."
"Ladies, please!" said Arthur. "The point is hardly necessary to argue over since we still do not know if the stone is where Molly says it was. It may have long gone."
"Itís not the practical point Iím talking about, Arthur," said Leba. "Mollyís responsible for imprisoning a living creature for hundreds of years and talks about it like a fun lark to share with friends."
"But Leba," said Dulci, "we can deal with all this once we find the stone. If itís not there, then it all worked out well."
Molly shook her head and marched out of the shop, waving the rest away with her arms. Leba stared in disbelieving contempt.
"Come then," said Arthur. "We have much work to do. If the spirit is indeed still there then we may at last have a valuable lead. Let us not waste it. We need as much information as we can about this."
"Iíll get onto Jane Nelson," said Una. "She lent us these books, but there might be more that are applicable - anything helpful in discerning what kind of spirit this may be, I suppose?"
"Yes," said Griff. "If the spirit does turn out to be dangerous - and having been trapped in a stone for two millennia it might well be - then we should be able to protect ourselves against it. It sounded like it wasnít one of the Fair Folk, or not a pure-blooded one at any rate. Perhaps it was a creature in their employ, though. Thereís probably a link."
"Right," said Merlin. "I think I did see something on domestic Roman spirits in a book once. Maybe I can dig that outÖ"
The group dispersed to continue their investigation. Mary took her book up pointedly and left Merlin where he was. Leba meanwhile followed Molly.
* * *
Molly was sitting on the pavement outside Into the Mystic glaring at a beggar across the street. Leba walked up behind her. Molly shrank away.
"Can you even comprehend what youíve done?" said Leba quietly.
Molly did not respond.
"Itís not just what you did to that spirit, Molly, itís your attitude to it now. Youíre callous and malicious. Hasnít being human taught you anything at all?"
"Iím not human," she replied quietly. "And I never will be, and I never want to be."
"Do you even have a conscience?" asked Leba, despairingly.
Molly stared into the distance for a moment, a number of cars blurring past her.
"I guess I donít at that," she said. "Not as humans would measure such things, anyway. And thatís fine by me."
She turned to Leba and stared at her acidly. "I am a Child of Oberon before I am ever a human. And apart from the odd daft one, Oberon and his folk are pretty conscience free. So you telling me to go and mourn or repent or whatever isnít going to wash, so save your breath."
Molly got up and began to walk away down the street.
"Why are you even here then?" asked Leba. "Being bossed around by Arthur and his knights? If youíre the great, powerful Banshee, then why would you ever choose to hide out in the service of a human?"
"Itís convenient this way, is all," Molly replied, turning only briefly. "Someday Iíll pay my penance orÖ support myself somehow. Then Iím out of here. Iíll be hitting the road. And now, if youíll excuse me."
Leba did not stop her. Molly disappeared down the road, passing from the light of the street lights into the darkness of the alley beyond. Leba shook her head slowly and returned to the Into the Mystic shop, the bell ringing her entrance.
* * *
Molly paced the streets, cautiously. A shady-looking man passed right by her. She shivered. She hated this: feeling vulnerable. As she glanced behind, it became clear that there was a man following her.
She looked around and noticed a shortcut that took her through to a more populated part of town. Her pace picked up. She had nothing on her worth stealing. And if things became desperate then maybe she could risk using her powers. The Weird Sisters could not be on watch all the time, could they?
"Why is there never a gargoyle around when you need one?" she muttered.
Quickly she turned her head: the man that seemed to be following her was closing up on her, she looked forward and ran straight into-
"Your phone," the man ordered.
Molly could not see his features in the dark, but he threw her against the wall and flicked open a knife.
"I said, your phone! Hand it over!"
The mugger raised the knife to her throat.
"I donít have a phone," Molly explained.
The man scowled and looked back and forth along the alleyway quickly, before rifling through Mollyís coat and pockets.
"Money? You got your money hidden? Whereís your money, you piece of-"
The mugger was suddenly struck over the head by a large metal pole and fell to the ground. In the gloom, Molly thought she recognised the man following her, but the mugger got quickly to his feet. A brief skirmish followed. Molly looked around but there was no way she could escape. After a few seconds, the mugger was thrown to the ground again, and this time remained still, groaning slightly.
"Thank you," she said quietly, and then tried to compose herself and control her shaking voice. "Youíre quite the hero."
The man chuckled slightly and ushered her down towards the better lit end of the alley.
"Yeah," he said. "Iím a big hero."
"Whatís your name?" Molly asked.
They stepped out of the shadows, and Molly turned to look upon her saviour - just as she was grabbed by him on the one side, and by another woman on the other.
"Donít you recognise old friends?" leered the man.
"Youíre one of the Minions," realised Molly, struggling to be free of their grasp. "Let go or Iíll-!"
She threw a kick into the man to her right, but she was grabbed on her arm and lurched forward. She found herself roughly picked up by the arms, which were quickly pinned behind her back, and thrown into their car. The Minions bundled into it after her, and screeched away down the road, blasting through the traffic lights at the end of the street and away from anywhere that Mollyís muffled human screams could be heard.
* * *
The Following Day
Molly tried to sit, but the chains that bound her to the post would not allow her sufficient freedom to move. She looked around the room: it was a squalid London flat. She could see Docklands out of the grubby window, and judged that she must be fairly high up.
The door opened slowly, and Eddie and Char filtered in, followed by Lucius, who seemed to make a concerted effort to keep himself from touching anything in the room at all. He threw Molly a disdainful look.
"Well," said Lucius at last, "A little bird told me that youíre not quite what you say you are."
"Yeah, well, the little bird obviously has got more sense than the other voices in your head."
"Do not toy with me - Banshee."
Molly laughed. "So someone told you Iím not who I really am - I suppose you got it on the grapevine from the Morrigan. What does this have to do with your little kidnap attempt?"
"You have power," Lucius said bluntly. "I want power. Eddie, Char - free her from the post that sheís chained to, but ensure that she keeps to her bonds. Theyíre iron, my dear, so donít try anything."
Eddie and Char approached her warily, and released the chains from the wall. Molly tried to stretch once she was free, but Eddie shoved her roughly forward while Lucius strutted around.
"Come," said Lucius. "I have something to show you. SomethingÖ fascinating."
Molly found herself roughly pushed along, through the open door. She glanced around, looking for a weapon. She had been a thief during her time in Ulster and she felt that she was a pretty good one too; getting out of tight situations was part and parcel of her business, even as a human. She noticed a small, decorated ornament on the table, which featured a collection of stones: the top one was balancing loosely. It was not the perfect weapon, but it would serve the purpose. She lagged behind Eddie and Char, and while they pulled her along, shot out her hand to grab it.
As soon as her hand touched, she found something coming over her: an energy field engulfed her, and the world began to shrink around her.
"Caught on the first attempt," cackled Lucius ecstatically as he spun around to glare back at Molly.
"Yes," said a voice from the rock that Molly was touching. "Our deception went more smoothly than I could have guessed."
Molly screamed as she found her eyes glazing over, unable to drop the stone. Everything seemed so bright all of a suddenÖ
* * *
"Poor, stupid Banshee," said Molly, as she placed the stone into a paper bag lying on the mantelpiece. "To think that it would be so easy to get you to touch the stone of your own volition. You tricked me two thousand years ago, and so now you too are trapped."
Molly paused as she noticed her hands - they were human.
"Interesting," she said. "I had expected your touching of the stone to simply reverse the effect of the spell, but it seems that my spirit has simply switched with yours. Perhaps a corporeal body cannot be disposed with in such a fashion? No matter, I am free - after a fashion. I have all the time in the world to free myself from this new form. And you, BansheeÖ"
She chuckled and handed the paper bag to Eddie. He took it cautiously, being careful not to touch the rock part even through the paper. Inside the stone, the vague sound of the Banshee was audible, as she tried to comprehend what had happened to her.
"You," Molly continued, "shall also have all the time in the world."
Her voice hardened to that of a commanding officer. "Make sure that sheís never found. Ever."
Eddie nodded and left the room. "Got just the place."
Molly crossed the hallway stretching. "Being free," she muttered. "It feels so good. I amÖ alive. The air, the sky outside, theÖ filthy and uncultured surroundings. It seems that things have changed considerably since I was last active."
"That is true," said Lucius. "It is regrettable that the Roman Empire has fallen and our rightful place as rulers of the world has been taken from us. However, I am here to put all that to rights. I have fulfilled my part of the bargain - now fulfil yours, spirit!"
Molly stared at Lucius for a long while. Eddie shifted his feet uncomfortably as he watched the silent battle of wills.
"You owe me, spirit!" warned Lucius, his giddy joy suddenly chipped by an undertone of suspicious paranoia.
"And I will repay you," said Molly gently. "Youíll get what you deserve."
"Yes - as the last in a long and royal line, I must reclaim my destiny."
"But not yet," said Molly. "I have been in this new body but a few minutes and yet have been trapped in that accursed stone for millennia. This is new to me - I must adjust."
Lucius sighed. "Very well, very well."
"Take me to see this town, Londinium," she said.
"London," said Char, with a note of disgust in her voice. "Just London."
Molly glared at her sharply, but said nothing. She crossed over to the mirror again and looked at herself sharply, taking particular care to look over all her items of clothing.
"These clothes seem to reflect a fresh descent into barbarism for the people of this island," she said, her lip curling. "We must certainly visit the clothing merchant of this town and procure some suitable garments so that these revolting things may be disposed of. If I am to remain human a while, then I must have status."
"I could not agree more," said Lucius, with an ecstatic eagerness that bordered on pandering. "You look despicable."
Molly turned back to Lucius, her face tautly placid. "We shall depart at once then," she boomed.
"Yes. Char, take our guest on a tour of the city. Mind, Arthur Pendragon and his infernal acolytes may still be on the prowl nearby - take care that you do not run across any unexpected trouble."
Char nodded with an uncharacteristically thoughtful expression. "If itís unexpected, how can-never mind." She quickly changed her mind as she noticed Lucius glaring back at her.
"Come on, er, Molly," said Char. "Letís hit the stores."
* * *
Eddie held the paper bag away from him as he strutted down the street. He looked to his right and noticed the metal fencing, with a large signs warning of building in progress. A crane towered above the brown field development site. The workers all seemed to have left for the day. He nimbly climbed over the fence.
"Where are you taking me?" came the Bansheeís voice. "Let me go! Let me go, let me go, let me go!"
"Shut your mouth," said Eddie. "Iím going to let you go, all right. Iím going to leave you where nobody is going to find you."
He stepped into the centre of the development site and looked down into the large hole in the ground. Smirking, he raised the paper bag containing the stone over it and prepared to drop it.
"This is the site of a new office block," he explained, savouring the moment. "Come Monday morning, itís going to be filled in with concrete. Nobody will hear your screams and if anybody tried to drill open the concrete to rescue you, theyíd probably crack the stone and kill you. Bye!"
He dropped the bag. It bounced off the side of the foundation's plot and dropped into a shadowy corner. Eddie looked up, grinning.
"Problem sorted," he said to himself smugly as he left the site.
* * *
There was nothing. She had no form; nothing else had form. There was no light, no scent, nothing even to hear any more. She screamed but it did not avail her. She begged, but nobody listened. She cried, but nobody cared.
As the Banshee realised the implications of Eddieís words, she felt a wave of paralysing despair.
* * *
It was a frosty January night, and Cervus, Faulconbridge and Imogen landed on a building opposite Finsbury Park Station and looked out across the street below. The underground service was winding up for the night but there were still a few humans wandering into the station hurriedly, along with a few drunks.
"Why can you never find a good mugging when you want one?" moaned Cervus.
"You almost sound like you want there to be a mugging," chuckled Faulconbridge.
"Of course not, but a little action would be nice. And itís not like there arenít muggings - itís just that we canít find them when they happen. If only people werenít so touchy about gargoyles, we could announce ourselves. Maybe even get some kind of signal so that people can summon us."
"According to Lucy, the Super Cyborg Assault Armadillos have some kind of light that they flash up into the-" Imogen trailed off as she caught Cervusís wearied glance.
"Maybe you wonít have to wait so long for action after all," said Faulconbridge. "Isnít that one of the Minions?"
He pointed the sight of Eddie making his way back along the city streets, looking around shiftily and walking in fits and starts.
"Oh great," sighed Cervus. "I wonder what those clowns are up to?"
"Weíd better follow them," said Faulconbridge.
The three gargoyles checked that nobody on the ground was watching and dived down from the station roof. The wind picked them up and they were able to gain some height before looking down to see Eddie moving. In a short while, he reached a squalid flat. A man at the door hurried him in.
"Lucius," said Cervus darkly.
"Weíd better tell Arthur and his team about this," said Faulconbridge.
"Iíll go and get them," Imogen offered. "You guys had better watch him to make sure he doesnít try and do a runner or something."
Cervus and Faulconbridge nodded as they took up a position on the top of a nearby tower block. Imogen meanwhile headed for the Soho area.
It was not long however before Cervus and Faulconbridge noted something that concerned them. Along the street, they saw two female figures walking - one they recognised as the Minion Char, but the other, they noted to their great surprise, was a more familiar person.
"Molly?" exclaimed Faulconbridge. "Whatís she doing here?"
Cervus replied darkly. "I donít know, but if that flipping faerie is back to her double crossing ways again, then we had better keep a close eye on her."
"She doesnít look exactly happy with the arrangement though. Maybe sheís been captured? Look, sheís arguing with Char - and here come Lucius and Eddie again, trying to bring her inside."
"If we try and rescue her now, weíll be revealed and Lucius will scarper before we can find out what heís up to."
"But we canít just leave her if sheís in trouble - I know sheís not the greatest friend to the clan, but all the same we wouldnít leave anyone else at the mercy of the Minions."
"Oh, very well. Wait until they turn away so that we can best get the element of surprise. Not yetÖ not yetÖ now!"
The pair flew into attack. The Minions recognised them out of the corner of their eyes before they struck but were too late to duck. They found themselves thrown against a wall and pinned there. Lucius yelped but gathered himself quickly and muttered some kind of spell under his breath. An energy blast shot from his fingertips and blasted Faulconbridge, stunning him momentarily.
Cervus, eyes ablaze with adrenaline, turned to follow him but found himself kicked hard in the back by Eddie - apparently not as unconscious as he had hoped.
"Curses, I need a conduit to channel my magic," Lucius muttered. "Dispose of them, my Minions!"
With that, he ran off down the street. Eddie and Char looked dismayed, and then turned to face the enraged gargoyles. Eddie pulled a knife and lunged at Cervus, but the gargoyle flipped him around and smashed him into a brick wall. The knife dropped to the ground and ended up lodged in a drain cover. Eddie forced his weight backwards and kicked, rushing down the alley. Char also dashed away.
Faulconbridge and Cervus rushed to follow but they noticed a throng of people emerging from a nightclub on the adjoining street.
"Drat!" said Cervus. "We canít follow them now. Quickly, letís get to the airÖ"
"Wait," said Faulconbridge. "What happened to Molly?"
"She must have disappeared while we were fighting," said Cervus grimly. "I donít like this at all - sheís hardly trustworthy at the best of times from what Leba has been telling me. Still, we had best find her before she runs into more trouble."
"Looks like Griff, Leo and Imogen are back," said Faulconbridge pointing to the sky. "Arthur and Company are probably on their way too. We had better fill them in on what happened."
The gargoyles sunk their claws into the wall and began to climb upwards to get the height to glide.
* * *
Into the Mystic
"Michael said that he would send down some of the gargoyles from the estate to help find her," said Griff as he placed down the telephone.
"That will be most helpful, Griff," said Arthur. "It may be that Faulconbridge and Cervus did not encounter her after all and are simply mistaken on the matter, but we must be sure. If the Minions are after her, then she may be in some danger."
"Or causing some," said Leba.
Rory sighed. "I know she rubs people up the wrong way, Leba. But I donít think sheís up to her old tricks any more."
"Or maybe sheís just up to her old tricks again. You missed her little story before, but she had no qualms with trapping a living thing in a rock for a couple of millennia. Who knows - maybe sheíll figure that magic on that small a scale can go below radar of the Unseelie Court."
"Maybe," Rory said, trying to pacify her.
"Better get searching then," she said.
"Iíll come with you."
"Donít trust me, eh?"
"Well," Rory blustered for a moment, and then added with what was apparently intended to be a winning smile: "I know how truculent you are."
"Truculent?" shouted Leba as she exited the shop with Rory, her voice carrying back as the door shut on its hinges. "Me? How dare you, Rory DuganÖ"
Her voice faded into the night as Griff, Una, Leo, Faulconbridge, Imogen, Cervus and Dulcinea filed out of the shop. Only Arthur and Merlin lingered a moment in the shop, with Mary waiting for them by the door. Arthur turned to his teacher, ashen-faced.
"This is worrying news for London. If Lucius is back and causing mischief and Molly does align herself with him then they may be a force to be reckoned with. "
"Lucius is a shadow of his former glory, Arthur," said Merlin. "Without the Unseelie Court backing him heís lost most of his power. As for Molly, she canít feasibly act outside of human form for the time being and that may be just as well if she truly has betrayed us. Still, I do take your point - we must locate them as soon as possible before they have a chance to implement any plans they might have had. Come on, weíd better get going."
"Hold on a moment, Merlin!" said Arthur sternly, raising his hand as the wizard reached for his walking stick. "You have still been poisoned and have had an infection on top of that just recently. You should certainly not be engaging on this quest."
"Arthur, we canít afford to be picky about who helps out - you said it yourself, Molly and Lucius are a dangerous combination."
"One that we shall be more than adequately equipped to handle without your help, useful though it might otherwise be. You shall stay here, Merlin. Come, Mary."
He left the shop with the quiet Mary, who gave Merlin a last sympathetic look back before they left him sitting alone in the gloomy room. He flicked absently through the unhelpful leather volumes on the table, and suddenly felt a spasm of pain course through him - he groaned and began to cough.
* * *
The Following Day
Molly took her time as she walked through the city, gazing around at all the sights and listening intently to the rhythms of the traffic, the cacophony of horns and shouts and bustling. All the houses in this area were grey and bland, illuminated by the dazzling winter sun, but nothing seemed right to her. Some of the buildings glowed and were inscribed with insignia in lurid colours.
She listened to shouts on the distance and found herself drawn. It must be a market, although the canopies under which the sellers were standing seemed to be of brighter colours than those she remembered. There seemed to be occasional signs of people decorating the streets who seemed quite bereft of order and purpose. Some were holding boxes out for passers by to throw coins into. She curled her lip as she noticed the variety of peoples gathered Ė Moors and other slave-races.
An unkempt man crossed in front of Molly, waving some kind of glossy book before her eyes. She scowled and continued on her way. The roads were winding and marked with strange pigments - and the machines that Char called cars choked about everywhere.
She dug into her pockets and retrieved a purse; it had belonged to Char and had been taken during the fight in a surprisingly expert fashion. Maybe she had the instinct from her acquired body somehow. She looked inside. Small coins of an intricate nature, battered pieces of paper with artistic representations marked in colours predominantly blue or brown.
She removed the brown piece of paper and stared at the back. She realised that she had no trouble reading it. Perhaps the residual knowledge of this form remained even though the spirit that usually inhabited it had been trapped in the stone? That made no sense. No matter. She looked at the sage, bearded man on the note, and read the inscription below:
Charles Darwin 1809-1882
She stopped a passer by in the street, an authoritative clean-shaven man with a clean appearance marked by a black over-garment, and a white shirt beneath with a sombre strip of cloth hanging from his neck.
"Is this your ruler?" she said.
The man passed by, giving her a concerned glance and quickening his pace. Molly looked to the next person, but she found the purse snatched from her hands before she could open her mouth. A mousey-haired teenaged boy pelted down the road. Molly wasted no time: she broke into chase, ducking through the throngs of people until she eventually was on the trail of the thief. He dashed across the road as a black item that Char called Ďtraffic lightsí changed to red. Cars zoomed past.
The thief hesitated briefly across the road to grin, and then rushed off. Molly leapt onto the road and bounded as high as she could onto the roof of a car as it passed through. The traffic was slow, with some kind of cacophonic breaking of the ground nearby obstructing the flow of the machines. The occupants of the vehicles shouted as she passed, and a series of horns were sounded. She dropped to the pavement on the other side of the road and continued her chase. He was fast. She was faster, and finally tackled the boy.
She cuffed him about the head several times, until he broke free and scampered off. She shrugged and looked around as she picked up the coins that had scattered on the floor and placed them back into her purse.
The back of the brown piece of paper was open on the ground before her; a woman wearing a crown. She looked at it sceptically before putting it away.
"She doesnít look like a match for Boudicca," she muttered as she considered the picture, although on pausing for reflection a moment, she added, "Not necessarily a bad thingÖ"
She continued along the road to investigate the city further, passing a shop that contained books. Something caught her eye and she rushed inside. The picture on the front looked familiar - different in some ways, but still familiar.
"Good man," Molly said to the man standing next to her. "Tell me where to find the place this book tells ofÖ this St. Albans."
* * *
"You idiots!" shouted Lucius as Eddie and Char reported to him. "The spirit is new to this modern world and youÖ lost her?"
"Hey," said Char, "I seem to remember you doing a lot of running about that time too. How was I to know that she wouldnít follow?"
Lucius approached her with barely repressed rage. "I am an intellectual strategic genius. My place is commanding, putting my brain to work. You are a cheap thug. It is your responsibility to deal with pests like the gargoyles."
The deranged academic began to strut around the room. Eddie and Char exchanged a look to the effect of, "Here we go again."
"You should be reminded of what it is that we have at stake today, my Minions. We are not simply talking about some cheap magical gimmick, but a standard-bearer and guardian spirit for the army of the Roman Empire. With that spirit on my side, I could lead an army that would be triumphant, that would conquer all! Rome would be rebuilt, and I would be its sovereign. We would face a wonderful new world."
He turned to stare out of the window, with an ecstatic look of excitement. Suddenly, he calmed, and turned back to shouting at his Minions:
"But none of that will happen if you two morons donít get onto the streets and find me my spirit!"
Eddie and Char nodded and departed swiftly, rolling their eyes as they left Lucius deep in thought.
It was not until they had searched for some hours before Char realised that her purse had been lifted. It took somewhat less time to discern the culprit.
* * *
"Yes," said the book vendor as he stared at the picture of Molly that Leba held. "Iíve seen her. Strange person, really. She came in here this morning, first thing almost. Took a book about St. Albans and asked for directions."
"Did you tell her where to go?" asked Rory.
"Someone else did, yes," the book vendor explained. "She left straight away."
Rory and Leba thanked him for his time and exited the shop.
"Iíd better ring Arthur," said Leba, taking her mobile telephone out and dialling the numbers. "Theyíll need to hurry."
* * *
Maryís telephone rang in Arthurís coat pocket, Mary herself having been unable to carry it after turning into wolf form. The pair had returned to Into the Mystic. Arthur retrieved the telephone and inspected it awkwardly.
"Press the green button," mumbled Mary sleepily from behind the counter where she was sleeping away the day.
Arthur did so and held it close by. "This is the telephone of Mary Sefton," he said in a rehearsed manner.
"Arthur, itís Leba; weíve found out where Mollyís gone to. She found a guidebook to St. Albans and asked for directions."
"Molly is in St. Albans? An odd choice indeed for a destination. It will take a while to get thereÖ I suppose we must set off at once. Do you have any idea whereabouts she might be found?"
"I donít know - wait, Iíll go and see if they have another of those guidebooks."
"That would be a good idea. I shall contact Kevin, and we will be there as soon as we can."
"Iíll be in touch," said Leba, hanging up.
Arthur replaced the telephone on the table, and turned to Merlin and Mary, both teenagers having awoken by this stage.
"We heard everything," said Merlin. "Iíll get onto Kevin."
"Hopefully by the time we get there, it will be dark," sighed Mary. "Otherwise this wolf form is going to be something of a pain - as usual."
Arthur nodded. "Still, I wonder why St. Albans? Admittedly, I do not know the area very well although it was the place where my father Uther ultimately died after defeating the Saxons. Thus it has some importance to my family history."
"I expect weíll find out soon enough."
* * *
Kevin pulled up outside the museum. The sun had just set, and Mary was stifling a yawn as she stretched, glad to be back in human form.
"Theyíre not quite closed," Mary said. "Thank goodness it gets dark early this time of year. We had best go in quickly before the last admissions."
"What makes you think that Molly will have come to this museum?" asked Kevin.
"Well my wolf form isnít good for much but I can still pick up a scent a mile off; or several metres off, anyway. But Iím sure Molly has been here recently."
Arthur left the vehicle and thanked Kevin. The king and squire entered the museum, Mary paying for both of them. They looked inside. The Saturday crowd was thinning. A man dressed in a Roman fashion and giving a lecture on weaponry in the first century looked as though he was tiring. Arthur walked slowly.
"Are there museums of this nature devoted to my time?" he asked, a note of melancholy in his voice.
"Well, yes, I suppose there are some. When we visited Aberystwyth you saw the Nanteos Cup for one thing. And there are lots of sites of interest about. But donít forget that your time was back in the beginning of the Dark Ages, and I donít suppose thereís so much information. You donít have much historical credibility yourself, after all."
Arthur gave an ironic laugh. "Is this what we shall all become? Our cultures will fade and become entertainment for the future?"
"Maybe - but isnít that a good thing? I mean, we donít want to be stuck in the past - or the present, all the time. Progress is good."
"Has the modern world progressed at all though, I wonder?" sighed Arthur. "There are still sorceresses and feuds, evil-doers and heroes, the lawless and corrupt, as well as the powerful and amoral."
"Well, you know what they say - those who fail to learn the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them. Or something like that, anyway."
Arthur looked away from Mary and turned his eyes to a collection of Roman coins. He did not say anything. Mary felt that she had said something wrong, but did not press the point. She glanced around the open space of the museum. She noticed a figure standing in the central hall.
"There!" she hissed. "Arthur! Itís Molly!"
The king looked up and saw her. He moved behind a display and edged closer to her. The faerie seemed to have become aware that she was watched though, and after regarding Arthur uncomfortably, she quickly dashed out of the building. Arthur and Mary sped after her, until a man holding leaflets stood in their path. They brushed around him, apologising, and sped out into the car park, looking around.
Mollyís disappearing form could be seen on the distance. Arthur chased her down until they turned the corner of the field, where Molly turned.
"Molly," Arthur cried. "We want to find out what has happened to you. We are concerned for you - the gargoyles saw you with Lucius and the Minions and-"
The faerie drew a weapon from the folds of her coat, some kind of Roman javelin that she seemed to have sneaked from the exhibit somehow. With deadly skill, she threw it at Arthur. The king dodged aside in a flash, drawing Excalibur from the folds of his coat as he did so.
But the weapon continued on its path, connecting with Mary in the mid-section. It brushed past her, and she tumbled to the ground with a cry of pain.
Molly gave a brief, dispassionate glance at Arthur and the fallen Mary, before dashing away. Arthur did not move to chase her, but headed towards his squire.
"Mary!" he cried frantically, as he tried to revive her.
She turned to him and smiled. "Iím okay, Arthur. That is, Iím not dead."
Arthur looked down at the javelin on the ground. It had grazed the side of her sweater as it passed.
"Itís this sweater father gave me for Christmas," she mused. "He said that he had it specially made. Well, it seemed it saved me from a very nasty injury indeed. I should tell him."
"All things considered," said Arthur with a deep breath, "that might not be such a good idea."
"Youíre right actually," said Mary getting shakily to her feet. "He probably wouldnít be too happy learning about all the near-death experiences I seem to be having since I met you. But - oww!"
Arthur helped her up. "You are hurt."
"Bruised, I think. It will heal, but Iím not sure how much field work Iíll be able to do for the next few days."
"Never mind. Molly is gone for now anyway, and there will be other opportunities to deal with her. The important thing is that you are safe."
She leant against him as they slowly made their way back across the field to where the museum was closing. People were filing out into the car parks. Arthur and Mary slowed.
"Better not get any more attention," sighed Mary as they waited for the crowd to disperse. Then, more anxiously, she added: "Arthur, about beforeÖ what I said in there about repeating historyís mistakes. You know that I didnít mean your mistakes, donít you?"
Arthur smiled. "Donít concern yourself with it. We are treading a path that has been trodden before - and by me. I was not raised as an heir to the throne but built a kingdom with my allies all the same. Perhaps that will be my goal once more if I can ever hope to make a difference in the world again? I cannot say. The Romans after all have achieved a kind of lasting strength that has shaped the culture after it. I was wrong about it being simply a spectacle. Thinking about it, so many things in my time and this new time still owe their origins to Roman inventions. The architecture of my time, the language, the lawÖ I heard that even the Church hierarchy was derived from the Roman order."
"True," said Mary slowly. "But apart from architecture, language, law, roads, the aqueduct and religious politics, what have the Romans ever done for us?"
Arthur stared down at her, perplexed. She shook her head.
"Never mind, Arthur."
Arthur paused for thought a moment, then took Maryís phone out of his pocket. He punched in a few numbers and greeted Leba.
* * *
Rory and Leba looked around the darkening streets. A street light flickered on overhead. Leba slowed to a halt to lean against it, and took a deep breath. In the television store opposite, there was an electronic clock showing the date and time: Saturday 15 January, 19:38. The time clicked forward to 19:39.
"This is hopeless," she said. "Arthur said she ran off somewhere around here, but that was over an hour ago. She could be anywhere by now."
"Weíve been through this, Leba," said Rory. "Dulci checked the maps back at the shop - there are only a few routes she can go if she wants to head back to Lucius. As long as we keep watch, we should be able to find her."
"Assuming she comes back to Lucius. And assuming she hasnít already come this way. Or that she doesnít know some other cut. Or she doesnít go around the long way."
"Weíll find her, Leba, and sort this all out."
"You know, RoryÖ Youíre the ancient reawakened hero of Ulster and sheís a malevolent traitor that allied with the Unseelies. I know you feel responsible for her, butÖ I think youíre going to have to consider what youíre going to do if it turns out that sheís making alliances against us."
"Sheís not, Leba. Iím sure sheís not."
"Rory, wake up! She attacked Arthur, and wounded Mary. Factor in her particularly ruthless views on eternal imprisonment, and her recent unsettled behaviour and Iíd say that sheís a dangerous person toó"
"Sheís not dangerous. Not any more."
"No powers that she dares use at the moment maybe, but sheís wily and sheís got you wrapped around her little finger. Her kind is used to getting drunk on power and lauding it over everyone else, getting her own way whatever happens - she wonít care a jot about the consequences for anyone else. Sheís a faerie, Rory."
"So what are you saying - because sheís one of the Fair Folk sheís got to be evil?"
"Yes. Maybe. I donít know, Rory, but how many encounters have Arthur and Company had with rogue faeries after all?"
"Yeah, rogues - but he also runs into a lot of criminal humans too. You canít judge the Unseelies as typical of the Third Race, and Molly isnít an Unseelie."
"Neither was Bercilak, but the way I hear it that didnít stop him setting up some series of deadly tests for Griff to pass."
"Tests to help him on his way."
"Tests that put his life in danger! He went through hell, and for what? To amuse some upstart Child of Oberon?"
Rory put his hands behind his head, leaning back towards the glowing streetlight. "Youíre out of order, Leba. Look at Merlin."
"Half human," said Leba. "Yeah. Now look at his da."
"Sure, thereís good, thereís bad, thereís all over the moral spectrum. But what are you going to do? Banish the Third Race from the earth? Shun them? Itís not possible, Leba. Theyíre part of the natural order and they can be good or evil like you and me. Molly can be good or evil."
"I think youíre just trying to ignore the fact that sheís already chosen. Rory, sheís been like that for thousands of years. Thousands. Sheís not going to change. Not for you, not for anybody."
"Not now, maybe. But she has a chance - sheís not the same person she was when she betrayed me back home. Sheís already grown."
"Sheís grown because she had to - because she knows that if she steps her little toe out of line, then the Weird Sisters will up and take her back to Avalon like the Morrigan."
"It doesnít matter why sheís changed; but she has, and sheís changed for the better, and she can be an asset to the group, I know she can. We can help her."
But Leba had turned her attention from Rory and was staring down the street curiously. The large book shop opposite had an advertisement for their newly opened news café, and stopping to read the sign was a woman in conservative dress but with a small frame, an oval face and red hair. She went inside the store.
"I thought it was her," explained Leba vaguely. "But it canít be."
"It is," Rory replied softly. "Iíd recognise her anywhere."
The two crossed the road silently and passed into the bookshop. They looked around the lower floor displays, but noticed the stairs leading up to the news café.
"Stay here," said Rory. "If she bolts, follow her. Iíll go upstairs."
"Rory," she said anxiously.
He turned. "I know," he said before she had a chance to offer any kind of warning.
Leba folded her arms and looked down the ground floor. The cashier glanced up at her suspiciously for a moment. Leba nodded back, and turned to continue looking out of the window.
* * *
Meanwhile, trapped under the building site, the Banshee braced herself. She had already lost track of the world outside. Whether it was hot or cold, night or day; whatever the weather was, she could not tell anything any more. Except that on Monday morning she would be buried forever under a building.
And there was nothing she could do. She screamed.
But for once, nobody heard her.
* * *
Rory reached the top of the stairs for the floor and looked around. At the far end, he could see the news café but Molly was not seated at any of those tables. He walked slowly down the shelves to his right, until eventually he realised that he had happened upon the history section.
Roman history. Rory frowned.
"Thereís a pattern," he realised as he noticed the redhead crouched on the floor, poring over an illustrated encyclopaedia of the Roman Empire.
Molly glanced instinctively upwards. Rory looked back.
"Hello, Molly," he said.
Molly froze and rose slowly to her feet. Her eyes flashed quickly from side to side, but she made no move; apparently she had realised that escape was unlikely. Rory approached carefully.
"Weíve been worried about you. Youíve been acting strangely lately. Your encounter with Arthur and Mary, disappearing like thatÖ"
"Who are you?" she replied.
Rory reeled for a moment. Her voice was the same pitch, the same tone: but not the same accent. It sounded Italianate. He glanced down at the book that still hung in her hands, images of the Roman Empire staring out from the pages
"You are Molly?"
"Get out of here," she said. "Whatever interaction we may have had previously is now terminated. I have no further need for your company. Leave!"
"I canít do that," he said. "I think thereís something wrong. You havenít been acting yourself at all lately."
"Get out of my sight before I remove you myself," said Molly, replacing the book on the shelf and approaching him.
Rory glanced across to where the cashier had seen the encounter, and was frowning. He sighed and stepped aside. It would do no good to cause a scene. Molly walked quickly past them. Rory followed slowly.
* * *
He caught up with Leba walking around the street. The tar glittered wetly, reflecting the streetlights. It was spitting rain. The two knights hurried down the street, keeping Molly in their sights but always at a distance.
"Somethingís wrong with her," Rory said as they ran. "Sheís talking funny. Weíve got to work out whatís going on, Leba."
"Iím with you there, Rory."
She disappeared through the commercial area and into an underground station. Rory and Leba dashed after her, pushing past a throng of people. They entered the station, and looked around. She was not waiting by the fast food service, or queuing for a ticket; a man in a worn-down uniform was glaring out of the telephone kiosk, the receiver hanging from his ear. The photograph booth was empty.
"Where is that girl?" muttered Leba.
"We canít have lost her," said Rory.
They heard the sound of shouting. Rory and Leba turned to see where it was coming from, and saw Molly dash straight past them: Eddie and Char were in hot pursuit. The knights dodged back and chased the thugs across the small car park, over the fence onto the railway tracks.
Eddie tackled Molly next to the wire fence of the train track and tried to land a punch, but she writhed away and delivered a precise kick to his shin that phased him a moment. Char grabbed a piece of plastic roofing material lying nearby and turned to attack Leba as she arrived. The minstrel ducked to the left, making Char lunge forward onto the ground.
Rory rushed to pull Eddie off Molly; the Minion turned to thrust his elbow back, but the Irishman caught him under the arm and kicked him in the chest. Eddie pulled a knife, forcing Rory back, but did not expect Molly to throw herself at him so fiercely. He flung her backwards against the fence, using her own momentum against her. As she collapsed in a daze, Rory hit forward. Eddie blocked and kicked back, forcing his opponent to the floor.
"And here was me thinking you were tough, Irish," said Eddie, leering forward.
A metal bar hit him on the back of the head and he fell to the ground. Rory looked up to see Leba.
"Iím the tough Irish," said Leba, kicking him in the stomach to make sure he was down, before looking to Molly.
She scrambled to her feet, but a piece of the wiring had caught her on the leg and she stumbled, clutching it.
"Weíd best get her out of here," Leba said.
"No!" shouted Molly.
"Youíre injured," said Rory. "Anyway, there might be more of these thugs where they came from. Come with us, and we can figure out whatís going on."
Molly sighed and finally nodded. As Rory helped her up, Leba went to call Kevin. By the time she got back, Eddie and Char had taken their opportunity to disappear, nursing their injuries.
* * *
"Lucky," said Tiberius as he finished bandaging Maryís waist. "If this had happened when you didnít have that protective clothing you could have been in for quite a nasty time of it. Anyway, it should heal quickly enough, just lay off the fight training for a few days."
"Thanks, Tiberius," said Mary as she lowered her sweater over the bandages. "I donít feel too bad - a little tender maybe, but I canít help thinking Iím letting Arthur down now that heís involved in this trouble with Molly. I am his squire, after all!"
Tiberius sighed, and glanced across the room. "Now youíre starting to sound like another patient of mine."
"What!" said Dulcinea, who was sitting next to the pair and received Tiberiusís well-intentioned words with mock surprise. "Donít look at me, I just came with her so Arthur could keep a track of things in London. Anyway, that injury from Dinas Bran is all healed now."
"Iíll be the judge of that," said Tiberius. "But I donít suppose it will stop you getting into any dangerous situations. Anyway, Mary, I wouldnít worry about helping Arthur right now. If he needs you, Iím sure heíll call for you."
"Youíre probably right," sighed Mary. "And I could do with some sleep anyway - we havenít got much over the last couple of days with all this Molly business."
"I wonder whatís up with our Molly," Dulcinea mused, peering out of the window into the night.
* * *
"So what do you remember?" said Leba as the three sat in the back of Kevinís taxi.
Molly did not respond.
"You seem to have some kind of amnesia," said Rory. "That must be what Lucius has done to you. It explains everything."
"Not everything," said Leba. "You attacked Mary."
"At least I suppose that battle with the Minions means that you werenít in league with them," Rory sighed. "Or at least, not any more."
"Minions!" spat Molly suddenly. "I would never ally with those fools. Bandits, pretenders and cowards - I would not lower myself to bandy with their kind. Of course," she added, wryly producing Charís purse from her pocket, "they still had their uses."
Leba rolled her eyes but said nothing. Rory looked uncomfortably at the purse and continued to stare out the window. He recalled his own experiences in Ireland.
* * *
"Interesting," mused Arthur slowly as Rory and Leba finished their account of finding Molly.
He looked across the room to where Una was bandaging the faerieís wounded leg. Although Molly made an irritable patient, she was not the detached creature that he recognised. She seemed particularly interested by the décor of the shop, and the books there.
He turned back to Rory, Leba, Merlin, and Griff.
"It seems that we can safely say that Molly is not herself," he concluded. "But we must find out what has become of her. Amnesia? Mind control?"
"The latter seems more likely with Lucius on the case," said Griff. "Itís right up his street too, giving her this obsession with the Roman Empire."
"Still, mind control spells on the Third Race?" asked Merlin. "Thatís high-end magic, and even Lucius might have trouble."
"Could he have another backer?" suggested Leba. "Last time out, he had Madoc covering him after all. Some kind of annoyed Unseelie that survived the war, those donít seem to be in short supply?"
"Are we sure that itís even her though?" asked Rory. "She seems so differentÖ not like Molly at all, apart from her features. If she was being controlled, you would think that she would still be basically the same person."
"We must find out for sure," said Arthur.
"I can ask Una," said Griff. "Maybe she can do some kind of spell that will reveal the truth."
"That would be wise. In the meantime, we should attempt to keep her distracted."
"Iíll take care of that," said Rory.
He approached Molly, as she looked through the shelves. Una passed Arthur to return the bandages, and Arthur filled her in on the plan.
* * *
"So, you're interested in the Romans now are you?" said Rory.
"Yes," said Molly curtly.
She looked at the pile of books that had been used for research previously were still on the table, and flicked through them. The volumes were heavy and she regarded the words with considerable interest.
"Great people, the Romans," said Rory, trying to strike up a conversation. "VeryÖ umÖ orderly."
"Yes. In those days, barbarians could not proliferate unchecked. There was order and justice and enlightenment. Barbarians converted or were crushed underfoot. Your kind would have submitted to us."
"You were there in Roman times? I didnít think you went much further than Scotland in your travelsÖ"
"Scotland?" she asked curiously, as a sudden recognition rushed through her from the books she had been reading on modern geography. Her lip curled in fury. "That accursed place, may their inhabitants be forever blighted and cursed."
Rory glanced across the room. Una had reappeared in the room, and was conversing with Merlin and Arthur in hushed terms.
"Yeah, well," he continued, struggling to find the words to keep her busy. "I said much the same when I tried haggis for the first time. But theyíre just like you and me."
"You are nothing like me," said Molly coldly. "You are a barbarian just as they are, a thug without order, typical of this woeful time. Back in the glorious days of old, I would have seen you struck down, laid low and your wild and unkempt land made glorious by-"
She gasped and staggered forward as magenta light enveloped her. Breathing quickly, she scrambled out of her chair but a jolt of pain went through her. Her eyes flashed and for a moment it seemed that the shadowy image of an eagle was hanging over her like mist. Then it disappeared and she fell forward groggily onto the pile of books.
"What did you see?" Rory asked Una.
"SheÖ sheís not Molly," the gargoyle sorceress replied. "Sheís not the Banshee or Molly, sheís some kind of spirit that has inhabited her body."
Roryís expression hardened as he grabbed Molly by the shoulder and shook her. "What did you do with her? What did you do with Molly?" he demanded.
Merlin asked Leba to pass him a book about Roman spirits that he had retrieved earlier. He flicked through it quickly, as the impostor came to her senses. For a moment, she paused like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Then she dashed to her feet and barged towards the door. Griff and Rory grabbed her and forced her back into her chair.
"You have taken the body of one of our allies," said Arthur, approaching. "We must know who you are, and what your purpose is."
"Sheís a Ďlarí or Ďpenateí - some sort of Roman spirit," said Merlin.
"Very good," said Molly. "Better than I would have credited your ignorant people with. Yes, I am one of the great guardian spirits of the Roman Empire. I watched over their armies, just as others watched over houses and protected them."
"Why are you in Mollyís body?" asked Rory.
"It was not my design," he said. "The human Lucius Adrians arranged the transference - I did not realise that her body would remain while our spirits were swapped. It does not matter - one day I shall learn how to escape this body and return to my true form, while she will remain forever trapped."
"What do you mean?" asked Arthur.
"Itís what she deserves for what she did to me."
"That may be - but it is not your place to dole out her punishment. Where is she? What did you do to her? Answer me!"
But Leba had already caught on. "Youíre the spirit that she trapped," she said. "Millennia ago, she trapped you in an enchanted stone when you led an army trying to reach Ireland going through the west of Scotland. And now you traded places with the Banshee - sheís in the stone and youíre in her body."
"Very astute," said Molly with a grudging respect.
"So where is the stone now?" said Rory. "What did you do with it?"
"What makes you think I did anything with it? I donít care what happened to that creature. Luciusís henchman took it, and said that he would ensure that it was never found. It concerns me little if it ever is found again."
"It had better start concerning you then," Rory muttered, but he found Griffís hand on his shoulder. He shrugged it off and stepped back, still scowling.
"We understand your frustration with the Banshee - her behaviour towards you was appalling," said Arthur. "But know also that we will do everything within our power to find Molly, and if you do not help us then we shall be forced to take action against you."
"What are you going to do?" she challenged casually.
"We can recreate the spell that bound you in the first place," said Una. "It might take a little time, but you would be trapped for as long as it took for you to tell us the truth."
"An empty threat," said Molly. "This body shell can only survive with a spirit inhabiting it. Iím sure that you wouldnít want to kill your friend. In any event, you do not have the magic of the Fair Folk - you, gargoyle sorceress - I see the look in your eyes as you speak. I have seen that look before: it is one of deception. You cannot trap me by bandying false words, so do not pretend that you can."
There was a moment of silent frustration in the room. The company looked at one another with concern, while Molly crossed her arms and stared defiantly at them. At last, Arthur stepped towards the table and drew himself up to his greatest height.
"You claim to be a creature of order," he said in tones fitting for a king. "You cling to rank and respect. Know this then: I am no ordinary man, but the Once and Future King: King Arthur Pendragon. It is my command that you surrender to us all information that you have on this matter."
Molly chuckled and shook her head. "So youíre the local playing king are you? Do you really expect me to bargain with a rank barbarian that has seen fit to crown himself as a ruler? You are little more than a ruler of swine, hardly worth my time to deal with."
Arthur spluttered, but was unable to come up with a response, so unaccustomed was he to this treatment.
"You believe in might above all else," said Merlin suddenly. "That is the way of your people is it not, spirit?"
Molly looked at the young wizard disdainfully, but finally nodded her agreement in a reluctant fashion.
"Then look around you, spirit. Who has the might now? The Roman Empire that you are so proud of is gone; it imploded centuries ago and now is just an ornament of history. Arthur battled its armies and bested them one and a half thousand years ago. You have already met one of the descendents of the Emperor Lucius. Lucius Adrians, a puffed up academic with delusions of grandeur and a smattering of insanity to boot. That is your legacy now. We have the power: by force, by magic, by whatever means necessary we can cripple and destroy you. So now, spirit: surrender to our might."
Molly spat viciously on the ground, but then looked around. She shook her head, and took a deep breath, clenching her teeth. She did not see Merlin collapsing with pain back into his chair, his outburst causing a burst of pain to run through his body.
"Very well," Molly said. I shall aid you in restoring the Banshee to her true form as best I can, and will direct you to finding Lucius and his thugs if nothing else. However, I have a condition - we must go during the day, so that the gargoyles cannot follow. I will not have their accursed race there, haunting me!"
"The gargoyles are under my command and must be active," said Arthur.
"We go by day or the Banshee dies. The choice is yours."
Arthur frowned thoughtfully.
* * *
Lucius glanced across the crowd of Minions. It had been months since they had gathered together and they looked restless, their shoulders arched and their body stance indicating a propensity to turn violent at any moment. Lucius was used to this, and he grinned cruelly as he prepared to speak.
"Minions!" he bellowed. "I speak to you today on a matter of utmost urgency. There have been mistakes in the past, our forces have been scattered. But our hour of victory is at hand. Help me now and you shall be my favoured few in the beginning of a new dawn for Britain. A spirit of an ancient age has come to us that will guide our armies and tear apart our enemies. We know that it is currently in the possession of our old enemy, Arthur Pendragon. Will you help me in this venture?"
The group of surly thugs returned dubious looks. Clearly there was little incentive to trust Lucius. Char stepped forward.
"If you donít help us sort out Arthur, then youíre all for it. They already want you captured and chucked in prison! Itís in your own best interests!"
This seemed to garner a more approving tone. Lucius glanced at Char irritatedly, but turned to address the group nonetheless.
"Who is with me?" he shouted.
One by one, the Minions agreed to rejoin Lucius.
* * *
Dulcinea and Mary arrived in the shop quietly as the sun had nearly arisen. Merlin was waiting on the step and was delighted to see them arrive.
"Mary!" he cried. "You look okay!"
Mary smiled despite herself. "Calm down, Merlin! Itís not like I died. Iím not much worse now than when you dropped that book on my hand."
"Yes, yes," said Merlin irritably, nodding to Dulcinea as she crossed past the couple and entered the shop.
"Anyway," said Mary, "Tiberius wasnít happy about letting me go just yet but I told him it was urgent. What is it you need?"
"Itís not much. But weíve got to do it outside so that Molly doesnít see. Well, she isnít really Molly but a disgruntled Roman spirit that has stolen her body. A lar to be precise - a sort of spirit that-"
"Merlin?" Mary prompted, glancing towards the horizon. "Iíll be a wolf in a couple of minutes and I canít be hanging around on the street when I change. I heard this on the way over here, so youíd better make your explanation snappy."
"Oh yes. Well anyway, your job will be simple. Iíd do it myself, but Iím not sure I can move quickly enough in my current condition. Iím going to lend you the Mantle of Manannan, which will allow you to become invisibleÖ"
* * *
"I donít understand you," Molly said quietly, as she regarded Rory. "How can you defend the Banshee, side with her even? Sheís a monster, a creature of malice. It makes no sense to me."
Leba snorted with laughter. "Iíve got to side with you there, spirit."
Rory sighed. "Itís not that simple really. I donít like the Banshee, not particularly. She was an enemy of mine once, and may still be. But Molly is a different matter. And in a way, Molly is a part of the Banshee - one of the aspects of her personality, so I canít desert the Banshee without deserting Molly too. I donít want that."
"I can empathise with Lebaís perspective far better," Molly said. "This human guise is just that - a guise, a mask. The Fair Folk are actors, always. You are a fool to fall foul of their intrigue."
"But the lars are a variant of the Fair Folk too," argued Leba. "Maybe not full-blooded, but theyíre associated with the goddess Vesta and that means that thereís a connection somewhere. So when it comes down to it, youíre just another faerie interfering in the lives of others."
"Lucius was the one that started this trouble, a human!" said Rory.
"Come now," said Arthur wearily. "Let us not argue for now."
"Who are you to command me?" said Molly indignantly. "Iíll argue however much I please. And try to keep up. Your sloppy marching pace is most irritating."
Arthur bristled but said nothing.
Molly paused as she passed a building site. It was Sunday and the site was deserted, but all the same a strange look crossed her face as she stared in through the railings. Arthur, Rory, Leba and Dulcinea stopped with her.
"What are we stopping for?" asked Rory.
"This place seems promising somehow. It is very near where Lucius freed me and I can almost senseÖ"
She hovered a moment, and then dashed the wire fence, bounding over it in a single leap. Rory shouted and followed. Arthur did not follow however, but carefully pushed the corner of the fence downwards. It had been poorly fastened to its post and was not easy to push back far enough for himself, Dulcinea and Leba to climb through the gap.
"Listen!" said Molly, standing about a metre in front of the king. "I can hear a scream. Not a very loud one, butÖ"
"Only one person can scream like that," Rory admitted.
They looked into the hole in the building site, and found the sound was considerably louder. Dulcinea leapt down nimbly into the trench and eventually recovered the stone.
"For pityís sake, woman, shut up!" she said as she held the bag with the stone up.
"People!" cried the stone in recognition, as if shouting at the sight of water in a desert. "Now free me, free me, free me!!"
"In good time," said Dulcinea, climbing upwards.
"Now! I must be free!"
"We canít free you now, but if you donít shut up then youíll give us away in the next stage of our plan and then youíll never get out. So your best move is to keep it zipped."
The Bansheeís voice died down. "Very well. But please, hurry."
Molly took the bag and opened it, looking inside sadly at the stone. She sighed and put the bag into her pocket.
"Now what?" asked Leba. "We canít just keep her like that, moreís the pity."
They had approached the fence again, but Arthur suddenly noticed a large white shape approaching fast.
"Look out!" he cried, pulling Molly and Dulcinea aside. Leba and Rory tried to dodge as well but were not quite fast enough.
A white van sped off the road and skidded through the group. Rory turned and, unable to evade, tried to change form into Cuchulain, but only found himself being knocked to the ground unconscious, while Leba found herself injured next to him. The Minions darted out of the van and set upon the heroes.
Molly tried to use some of the Bansheeís magic, but soon found herself overpowered and taken into the back of the vehicle. Char searched her and reclaimed her purse triumphantly.
Meanwhile, Leba Ė already unbalanced by the sudden arrival of the car Ė found herself being knocked over the head. She too was taken alongside Molly. Lucius glanced at the ground to examined Rory.
"Heís not so badly hurt," said Lucius. "It seems like he was trying to change form when it happened: that must have strengthened him. We should tie him up before he comes to."
"Heís the guy that went psycho in Trafalgar Square last summer," one of the Minions muttered. "We should finish him off now!"
"No finishing!" said Lucius. "If we can find the source of his power, it might be useful to us. Now come along!"
* * *
Meanwhile, Arthur and Dulcinea were battling side by side, trying to ward off the Minions. Arthur dispatched a number of them with Excalibur, although he was careful even in the most intense fray only to knock them out and not to kill them. Eventually though the sheer numbers forced him backwards. Dulcinea was able to use her athleticism to good effect, balancing on the van and knocking one Minion out from above. She had no time to revel in her success however: she found herself caught by a strong blow to the side of the head and her arms grabbed by other Minions.
Arthur turned to rescue her when he heard Luciusís voice casting some kind of spell. Excalibur shot from Arthurís hands and clattered onto the road. As Arthur rushed to pick it up, three of the Minions leapt on him and he too was knocked out.
Lucius scanned the street. Several people had stopped to see the crash.
"The police may be here soon," he said. "Let us flee now!"
They loaded Dulcinea and Arthur into the van with Rory, Leba and Molly and backed out. Driving along the pavement to avoid the traffic queues, they disappeared around the corner and out of the sight of the onlookers.
But not out of sight of the invisible canine figure that rustled under the broken fencing of the building site and darted along the crowded streets in pursuit.
* * *
"Déjà vu all over again," said Lucius with malicious glee as he looked at the five humans. They had all been chained to the wall, and try as they might were unable to break free.
"Arthur Pendragon is my prisoner," the madman continued with glee. "Not to mention three of his knights and my dear, treacherous spirit. This is a day for celebrations!"
He turned to Molly, leering smugly. "Now, my dear, I think youíll concede that youíve lost the game. But donít worry, there is still hope for you. Together, we can now rebuild the Roman Empire - once more, the glory of my ancestors will be acknowledged. You shall be worshipped afresh, one of the great lares of the New Roman Empire."
"You must be joking," said Molly. "Iíd rather follow the mad wastrel with the sword than you."
Arthur was visibly infuriated but said nothing. Lucius was too busy with his own fury to notice.
"This does not make sense," he insisted. "You would refuse my generous offer of power and rebuilding of Rome?"
"Rome canít be rebuilt now, not like this. It was the product of hundreds of years of work before, developing over time. This city of London could not be refashioned into its image. And you would never be a fit ruler for it."
"Perhaps a few months of confinement will change your tone, spirit," snarled Lucius. "Minions! Take it into the chamber and leave it there to rot for a while."
Eddie and Char came to release the chains from the wall where they were padlocked, and dragged Molly into another room. Lucius disappeared, shooting a self-satisfied glare back at Arthur and his knights.
* * *
Molly sighed as she found herself left in the solitary room. Although there was no place to fix her chains to the wall, her hands and feet were still shackled, and the Minions stood watch outside. There was no window, and no source of light. She was in the dark completely.
Suddenly, she realised something and reached into her pocket. She drew out the paper bag that the Banshee had been contained in.
"Banshee! Quiet now, I have a plan."
"Why arenít you freeing me?" the Banshee began to wail. "I want to be free-"
"Silence! Youíll be heard and youíll never be free!"
The Banshee seemed to take the hint, because she stopped all noise. Molly listened at the door, but the Minions did not seem to have realised that the wails were not Mollyís, and at any rate did not enter.
"Iím going to touch the stone," said Molly. "This will swap our spirits once more, and I will return to the stone. However, you wonít be able to escape from these iron chains unless you smash the stone afterwards. I believe this will break the spell and free me. Do we have a deal?"
"Yes, yes," said the Banshee. "Anything, just free me!"
Molly took one last look towards the door - she could see it illuminated by the crack of light that came underneath - and then placed her hand into the sodden bag and touched the stone. Once more, the spirit found itself sucked into the stone.
* * *
Molly opened her eyes and squealed in delight. She felt her face, her hands, her legs, her body. She could hardly see, but it was really her own body.
"Banshee!" came a voice from within the stone. "Do not delay. Free me now!"
Molly looked at the stone, and a scowl crossed her face as her memories of the last few days flooded back to her. "You tried to trap me in that thing. I should leave you to rot like I did two millennia ago."
"Donít be a fool, Banshee! If you do, you will never escape those iron chains. I alone can save you. You need me, Banshee. You need me free."
Molly sighed and shook her head with fury. Finally, she scrambled to her feet and reached for the wall. As she felt along it, it became easy to deduce that it was an outside wall and thus hard enough for her purpose. Picking up the stone through the folds in her jacket, she threw the stone low and hard against it. It bounced off. She picked it up again, still careful that her skin did not come into contact with its surface, and threw it harder. The stone caught and cracked slightly.
It was enough. The spirit exploded out of the stone in a flash of light, stretching its feathered eagle-like body with an expression of rapture - after two millennia it was truly free.
"Well?" said Molly. "What now."
The spirit sneered. "You doomed me long ago, but although it tempts me to leave you and your companions here to rot, there is still the matter of Lucius Adrians to deal with. That pretender shall be dealt with for his insolence. I shall help you."
"Iím listening," sighed Molly.
* * *
"Iím back!" came Maryís voice as Merlin was dozing on the table in the shop.
He jolted awake and looked around for the werewolf girl. "Where are you?" he said.
"You canít see me because you wrapped this flipping mantle around me, remember? Iím down here."
Merlin reached down until his hand finally reached something. He pulled the invisible mantle off. Mary appeared.
"Whatís the matter?" he said. "The others didnít return with youÖ"
"No, I trailed them like you asked me, and they found the stone where the Banshee was trapped. Before they could get away though, Lucius and the Minions ambushed them. I managed to keep up with the van that took them though - I can lead the gargoyles to the location this evening."
Merlin nodded. "Thank goodness you know where they are. Sounds like thereís trouble afootÖ"
* * *
As the shadows lengthened in the main room of the dingy flat, Lucius got to his feet and strutted towards the room where Molly was still confined. He opened the door and looked down on her sneeringly.
"Tell me then. Have you repented of your earlier insolence, spirit? I shall offer you another chance to ally with me."
"Very well," said Molly, attempting to emulate the spiritís stiff tone. "Iíll do it."
"Excellent! Excellent! Come, we have much to do - but first, we should visit your former allies and savour this glorious moment! The instance of the dawning of a new age of glory Ė the second Roman Empire, the return ofó"
"Letís just get on with it," Molly said testily, almost forgetting to keep her affected accent.
Lucius lowered his upturned hands and nodded stiffly back. "Very well. Come!"
Eddie and Char freed Molly from her chains, and then guided her roughly along the corridor. Lucius strutted alongside. They entered the nearby room on the other side of the building, where Arthur, Dulcinea, Leba and Rory were still chained.
"Behold!" shouted Lucius, as he greeted Arthur and his knights. "Finally, the spirit has agreed to aiding me. My moment of destiny is at hand! You and your insolent knights made a good show, Arthur, but they pale in comparison to the lasting and undeniable might of the Roman Empire. Through me, the Empire will be reborn. The world shall be fashioned in a way of my choosing. I will become a god as Caesar was! My power will be absolute!"
Arthur looked up as the chains clicked lightly. An invisible force seemed to have prised them open as if by magic. He glanced across at his companions. Their looks suggested that they too had found themselves freed. Lucius was ranting interminably, and seemed quite oblivious to any of this.
"But before this, there is one more thing left to do. Spirit, I want you to have the honour of striking the first blow for New Rome. Destroy Arthur Pendragon and his worthless band of allies!"
Molly looked at her companions meaningfully. "I think Iíve changed my mind, actually, Lucius," she said. No longer did she try and mask her accent.
Lucius paled as he noticed the knights shake off their bonds and take offensive positions. It did not take the academic long to realise what had happened, although how it had happened was another matter. Blood drained from his face as he glanced across his audience.
"YouÖ you freed yourself," he uttered thinly. Then, stirring himself, he shouted, "No matter, you are still outnumbered by my Minions and have no weapons to protect you."
The spirit shimmered into view before Lucius, spreading its eagle-like wings menacingly. "I might be able to help there," it said.
Lucius trembled and fell back. "Minions!" he cried.
The Minions rushed into the room at the call, uttering violent cries as they set upon their old enemies. They were heavy and powerful, but the cramped conditions did not benefit them. Leba and Dulcinea dodged and weaved in their midst, throwing them off balance, while Rory hung back dazedly, still aching from his collision with the van earlier.
Eddie lunged at Arthur. "Letís see how you do without your big sword," he grunted eagerly.
Arthur grabbed the thug as he threw a punch, leaning forward himself to hit Eddie hard in the chest. A further blow sent the Minion to the floor, where he remained unconscious.
"Quite well, it seems," said Arthur.
"We canít beat all these," said Leba. "Weíre trapped in this room, and Lucius seems to have gathered half the thugs of Soho here."
"I canít use much magic as a spirit," shouted the lar across the fray.
"Is that so?" said Lucius, eyes gleaming as he started muttering a magic spell.
The spirit turned and screeched loudly. Lucius found himself frozen to his position, terrified.
"I said that I canít use much magic," the lar snarled. "That doesnít mean I donít have any."
Suddenly, there came a terrific crash from the kitchen and the sound of familiar voices.
"What-ho, your majesty," shouted Griff as his head appeared in the doorway. He put down Mary, whom he was carrying, in time to throw a punch at a Minion that tried to attack him. Several other gargoyles flanked him, and Luciusí army was beginning to look considerably worse for wear.
"Heard you were in a spot of bother so I brought some allies from the London clan along to sort things out," Griff said happily as he continued towards the prison room, throwing one of the guards aside roughly.
Arthur smiled broadly. "Griff! I knew I could count on you. But how did you find us?"
"Ah, Mary and Merlin came up with something of an inspired plan," he said, as he grabbed two attacking Minions and used their momentum to charge them into the wall.
The human thugs were no match for the gargoyle forces. The newcomers had tails and claws that lashed in all directions. Some of the Minions toppled over themselves to flee, while others were tripped up before they could even strike their opponents. Those that did engage the gargoyles did not last long.
"These bad guys are scattering," said Rory, as he tried to fight back against one of the thugs that was lunging at him. He winced as he threw an ill-guided punch. "I wish I could put up more of a fight, but that collision with the van earlier still has me winded a bit."
Dulcinea grabbed one of the chains that she had been bound by, and tripped Roryís assailant. He fell to the wall in a daze, where Dulcinea proceeded to punch him out.
"Iím sure Tiberius will be happy to deal with you," she said. "With the number of patients heís getting just lately, heíll soon qualify for government funding."
Her grin faded as a large tattooed Minion tried to strike her from behind. As she stepped away, she tripped and found herself on the ground. The thug leered over her, but then a hand tapped him on the shoulder. He turned fast, and found Arthurís fist shooting into his face. He flopped to the ground.
"We seem to be winning," said Arthur.
Suddenly there was a cry from the other room. Eddie was holding Excalibur above his head, swinging the sword dangerously from side to side as the gargoyles looked on.
"Iíve got the sword! Iíve got theó"
But he did not get a chance to finish his taunt. He tried to swing the sword and found himself unable to control it. As if with a mind of its own, Excalibur thrust sideways into a wall. Eddie tripped on his feet and toppled onto the floor, banging his head. He lay dazed.
Mary, who had been keeping to the rear of the battle for the most part, stepped forward and with an effort drew Excalibur from the wall. For a moment she held it, mouth ajar, as she felt its power passing through her. She swallowed hard, and then, dodging aside as Imogen grabbed a lunging Minion that tried to take the sword, walked through to greet Arthur.
In the confusion, Lucius had managed to escape. As many of the Minions that could follow did so, including Eddie and Char. The battle was soon over, and the knights and gargoyles were left breathing heavily in the wreckage of the flat.
Mary offered Arthur Excalibur. "Your sword, your majesty," she said
"Eddie tried to wield it but it didnít take," said Leo amusedly.
"Yes," said Arthur, beaming with pride. "They were clearly unworthy to wield it and Excalibur would naturally reject them."
He took the sword from Mary, delicately at first. Then he smiled and placed it back in its scabbard.
"It is a powerful weapon," said Arthur.
"Iíll say. I could feel something when I was holding it. It wasnít magic, it was justÖ Excalibur. I understand why you wouldnít want anyone else taking care of that weapon, even though it is usually a squireís duty."
Arthur smiled. "Yes, after all the trouble I have gone to reclaim it, I would rather keep it. It is not any reflection on you as a squire, Mary."
Arthur stepped out into the main room of the flat. Several thugs were groaning on the floor, while others appeared to have fled already.
"We canít really hand them over to the police," sighed Dulcinea. "They might get sentenced for carrying knives and disturbing the peace but weíre not going to be able to testify to kidnapping."
"Never mind," said Arthur. "Our foes are defeated once more, and that shall be sufficient for a victory today. Well done to everyone."
"Yes, well," said the spirit haughtily. "Now that all this business with Lucius is done, I might take your leave."
It began to fade but Arthur cried out to stop him.
"No! Wait! We still need to ask you a question that is of the utmost importance. Do you know where we might find the Holy Grail?"
The spirit looked perplexed. "Whatís that?"
"It is a powerful magical item, believed to be a cauldron, a plate or a chalice. Although its origins are mysterious, it is connected with Jesus Christ and is thought to contain his blood."
The spirit looked dubious. "I heard rumour that a Jesus Christ had started some kind of religious movement in Palestine, but I donít know about any piece of crockery of his, or even if he actually existed. And I hardly see what good any blood of his will do. My mistress always thought he was some arrogant upstart."
"You can never really tell what these stories mean for sure," said Dulcinea. "And this one has been passed down through legends and no doubt twisted in the telling. But whatever the religious context, we do have evidence that it exists - and now we need it."
"It is believed to have healing properties," Arthur explained. "And one of our allies is poisoned and will die within the year unless we do not find it and cure him. Please, try to think."
"Iím afraid that Iím rather sketchy on these details, itís not something I know much about. Still, your help with the Minions was valuable, and if we ever meet again maybe one day, I shall be able to return the favour."
Reluctantly, Arthur nodded and watched the spirit depart, fading and moving as if blown by the breeze out of the broken window of the flat. He vanished into the cool night air within seconds.
"Finally," said Molly. "Thought Iíd never be rid of that arrogant pillock."
Arthur opened his mouth to agree on that point, memories of his prior treatment by the spirit flooding back to him. Finally, he thought better of it however. A king ought not engage in petty name-calling after all. No matter how provoked he was.
* * *
The Following Day
Molly and Leba sat inside the Into the Mystic shop quietly. Nobody else was around and they read quietly for some time, only occasionally glancing up coldly at each other, and never when the other was watching.
It was Molly that broke the silence. "Howís Rory?" she asked.
"Fine," Leba replied tersely. "He might be a bit sore, but heíll recover soon. All part and parcel of being a knight of the Round Table."
Molly nodded and stared down at the volume in front of her, although her eyes showed no sign of digesting its information.
"What about you?" said Leba.
"What about me? Why should you care?"
"I donít. But you donít seem yourself."
Molly nodded and looked up, glassy eyed. "I just keep thinking about being inside that stoneÖ the darkness of it. After a couple of days, I went mad - it was horrible. I was so cut off and I didnít know when Iíd be freed, if Iíd be freed. But I was there for such a short time, relatively. And that spiritÖ it was there for two thousand years."
"Sobering all right. The spirit was a being of order and was able to cope. But maybe youíve taken something from it. It sounds like youíreÖ well, guilty."
"Iíve never been guilty before," said Molly in a small voice. Her face became pale, and she avoided Lebaís gaze.
Leba looked back and after a moment said in a way that was matter-of-fact but not unkind, "I know."