A MERRIER HOUR

 

Original outline by Constance "Eilonwy" Cochran

 

Revised outline by Todd Jensen

 

Written by Todd Jensen, Robby, and Nicodemus

 

Illustrated by Robby Bevard

 

* * * * *

 

Previously on TimedancerÖ

The tingling started again. Brooklyn's heart sank. "No ... not now! Not now..." He surrendered to his sadness as he pulled back from his mate. "I have to go now, Sata. Don't forget me."

Sata looked at him, watching the blossom of the Phoenix flames widen around him. Her tears fell steadily now, her throat tight, barely letting her speak the words she felt. With all of her sadness, she gave her final plea to her mate.

"Don't go ..."

Brooklyn looked into her eyes, all the sadness she felt compounded by his own. He took one last, good look at his mate. "I love you, Sata." He backed into the Phoenix flame, which fully engulfed him. A moment later, it subsided ... and he was gone.

~~Crossroads, pt 2~~

* * * * *

Somewhere In Russia - 1606

"Yield, foul ogre! You have ravaged this fair land long enough! Now prepare to taste the blade of Prince Ivan the Valiant!"

"I will not yield!" replied the ogre, if more hesitantly and less defiantly than proper convention would have demanded. "I shall serve my masterís cause with my last breath."

"So be it, then, lackey of Koschei!" retorted the bold young warrior. "Fall before my blade!"

The two swords met with a loud clatter, once, then again. The ogre began to lose ground. Step by step it retreated along the battlements, as its challenger gained the upper hand.

"Have mercy on me, Prince Ivan!" cried the ogre frantically. "Please, I beg you!"

The warrior sighed. "Natalia, thatís not how ogres talk," she said, lowering her wooden sword and shaking her head in exasperation. "Youíre a servant of Prince Koschei the Deathless, the ruler of all that is evil and dark in the world. You ought to behave a lot more like a monster. Monsters donít plead for mercy."

"Anya, please," said Natalia, anxiously gazing over the battlements at the sky. The sun had almost set in the west, the first stars were beginning to gleam in the heavens, and the night-winds were already blowing about. "Cannot we end this battle and go indoors? You know that neither of us is supposed to be out after sunset, not even in the courtyard. Please, letís end this."

Anya looked about to protest, but then took a glance at the darkening sky herself, and nodded. "I suppose that it is rather late," she said. "Very well, then, Natalia. We shall go inside - after one more round!"

With those words, she raised high her wooden sword. "You will perish, vile ogre!" she cried, and lunged forward at the younger girl. Natalia raised her own toy weapon in reply, though with a trembling hand.

Before the two blades could clash, however, a spark of fire appeared in the darkened sky above. Both girls halted, and stared upwards at it in wonder. The flame grew larger, blossoming into a blazing sphere. And then, with a flash, out of it appeared a creature that they had never imagined even in their wildest fancies, something that made the servitors of Koschei the Deathless in the old tales seem paltry by comparison.

It was even more crimson than the ball of fire that it had sprung from, and had horns and a beak and a wild white mane. It alighted upon the wooden platform on which the girls stood, and stretched one hand out towards the fast disappearing remnants of flame. "SataÖ."

Both girls screamed. Anya, however, had enough courage left to hold onto her wooden sword tightly, shoving Natalia behind her as she did so, to keep her safe from the monster. She then raised her weapon high, although wishing as she did so that her heart was steadier. Prince Ivan would never have trembled at such a sight, she told herself reprovingly. He would have faced it boldly.

"Get away from us, monster!" she cried. "Leave us alone!"

"Um, Iím not a monster, actually," said the creature as it noticed them. "My nameís Brooklyn, and I - ."

But Anya barely listened to its words, nor noticed in her alarm that it was making no effort to attack them. Instead, she retreated along the walkway to the door leading into the main building of her fatherís stronghold, keeping herself between the now speechless-with-fright Natalia and the monstrous intruder. "Father!" she cried. "Father!"

Brooklyn groaned. "I guess that I spent a little too much time in 2158," he told himself glumly. "Iíd started to forget how everyone feels about us in other time periods. Big mistake."

He looked about him. He was standing on the walkway of a rough-looking snow-covered fortress, on a wintry evening. Apart from the two girls who had just darted indoors, there was nobody else close at hand. Outside the walls was what looked like a village of a sort, made up of crudely-fashioned wooden huts, and beyond that was the edge of a great dark forest that swept all the way to the horizon.

"It must be somewhere in the past," he said to himself. "I wish that I knew where, though. It certainly doesnít look like Scotland." He noticed the steam in the air from his breath as he spoke. "Itís much colder, for one thing. Now I know what it must have been like for Broadway when he got stuck in Xanatosís freezer."

Sudden shouts interrupted his thoughts. "Monster! On the battlements!" Brooklyn looked down, to see a few bearded men, wrapped up in heavy furs and carrying spears, charging up the steps from the courtyard towards him above.

"Wonderful," he grumbled, glowering down at the pouch where he had stashed away the Phoenix Gate. "Itís bad enough that you had to drag me away from Sata, but now you dump me here! Will you never stop getting me into trouble?"

* * *

The boyar of the castle, Ilya, leaned his head against his closed hand and relaxed. Closing his eyes, the boyar smiled and enjoyed the music being played by his court musician and jester, Pietr Domovoi.

Sophia also enjoyed the pleasant flute music being played. The instrument was a simple wooden thing, but Pietr could create such magical tunes with it. Currently he was playing a sweet, almost romantic tune that filled the air with a peaceful feeling. She pointed this out.

"As always, your music is wonderful, Pietr."

"Thank you, madam," the player bowed. "I am humbled by your compliment."

He smiled happily and looked to Ilya. "Any requests, sire?"

"Not particularly, my friend... Anything you do is fine."

"All right," the young man nodded, as he searched for something to juggle. Before he could find anything of use, however, the sound of fast paced footsteps echoed through a nearby hallway.

The trio turned their attention to the door as a messenger dashed in, exhausted and out of breath.

"Sir!" he cried.

Ilya was immediately on his feet, the relaxed attitude of a moment before gone. "What is it?"

The youth struggled to catch his breath and give the message at the same time. "A small force from Ivanovís house...is not more than ten minutes away!" The blond haired boy panted for a moment. "I would have been here to tell you sooner, but I was captured..."

"Say no more, lad," Ilya grimaced. "Youíve done your part. Sophia! Come, there is business to be done! Pietr! Find my eldest daughter and see that no harm comes to her."

As the three dashed from the room, Domovoi grinned and murmured, "Finally, some excitement!"

* * *

Pietr quickly found Anya heading for the courtyard, a real sword in her hands and an old helmet on her head. "Anya," he said as he came up to her, "what are you doing, all dressed up like that?"

"Iím going to defend the castle from these monsters, minstrel," she replied. "What of it?"

Pietr thought quickly. "Of course you are. But the people attacking from that direction donít look very strong; Iím sure the men already there can handle them." He pointed in a direction heading back into the castle. "The people over there look like they could use a lot more help. Iíll take you to them, if you want."

Anya thought for a moment about the monster out front, then decided that her father could handle anything. She nodded and smiled. Domovoi was right, though-- there were others who would need her help. "You lead the way," she said, and took off after him.

For a couple of minutes, they made their way through the wooden rooms of the castle, until Anya realized where they were headed and halted, pulling Pietr to a stop as well. "Wait a minute," she accused, "thereís nothing over there but the castle kitchen!"

"Of course," Pietr said in mock seriousness, "itís the best place to be in when the enemyís besieging the castle. Itís well-positioned and we wonít have to worry about being starved out anytime soon."

"I canít believe you, you coward!" Anya screamed. "My father and mother are out there risking their lives, and you want to hide with your tail between your legs and take me with you." She gave him a scathing look. "Why should I just not leave you and go back to fight myself?"

Pietr paused a moment, then a look of wry amusement formed on his face. "Anya, I know you are a brave woman, and you could probably handle yourself in this fight as well as anyone. But Ilya told me to protect you; if anything happens to you, itíll be my head. You wouldnít want that, would you?"

Anya seemed about to protest, but then sighed and shook her head. "No, I would never want that," she said. Then she looked up at him earnestly. "But I canít just stand here and do nothing."

Pietr looked back at her, a twinkle in his pale blue eyes, and said, "Well, if you really want to defend the castle, there are sneakier ways than fighting, you know..."

Slowly, Anya relaxed, and then an evil grin spread across her features. "What did you have in mind?"

* * *

Pietr immediately showed prowess at playing tricks. He and Anya actually had fun toying with the soldiers. A quick dash to the kitchen and one or two other rooms on the way back had provided tools of 'fighting'.

Seemingly without trying, Pietr managed to lead Anya to an area where five soldiers had somehow managed to get past everyone else.

"Are you prepared to have fun?"

"Of course," Anya grinned mischievously.

And so it was to the soldiers' complete surprise when they suddenly came upon a slippery and wet floor. They all fell, caught off guard and not prepared for such a surprise, thinking they had passed all the castleís defenses.

It was not long, though, before they were up and had regained their coordination.

"Somebody slopped hot water all over the floor," the leader mumbled. He turned his head when he heard a voice.

"Oh my!" came the voice of a young teenaged girl. "Did you nasty men hurt yourselves on the way down?" Anya teased. The soldiers were not amused, and began to charge after her. One slipped again, but the other four were in full speed after Anya, who was running away, pretending to be scared and calling out fake pleas.

"Oh help. Oh help!" she practically giggled, getting into the part, until she fell. The lead soldier was upon her and sneered.

"Thought you could get away, did you? Well... Wait a minute, arenít you Rustovichís daughter?"

"Could be," she grinned.

"What are you so happy about?" he snarled, before a handful of dirt ended up in his face. "Aaaar!!!" he cried out, a plantís potting soil now in his eyes.

Pietr, his right hand a bit dirty, smiled. "Nice fall, Anya, you almost had me convinced." Then, turning to the remaining guards, he gave them a raspberry, took Anya and ran again.

"What next, Pietr?" she giggled.

"Dunno," the musician smiled as he jumped for no apparent reason, pulling the girl into the air with him. Anya did not understand this at first, until the guard right behind her fell over a trip wire, and the one behind him fell on top of him.

The duo gained a significant lead at that point, and by the time the soldiers caught back up, they were well prepared, and standing in plain sight of a doorway.

The leader, now furious about being treated this way by a stupid girl and a weakling young man, charged right after them, to get pelted by a piece of bread. And then an apple hit him in the head. Then more food, most of it rotten.

"Shame to waste this stuff on rubbish, donít you think, Anya?"

"Yes!" she agreed.

It was then, seemingly from nowhere, that a flying bunch of waste came at the soldier, burying him. He seemed to be very angered, and totally missed the sounds behind him. The troop leader would have attacked then, except he felt a tapping on his back. He turned slowly to see a red demon.

Behind the demon, all four of his fellow guards were down. Knocked out or dead, it did not really matter, for the sight of a six foot tall beast with horns and glowing eyes and wings scared him. A lot.

He ran. Only to be tripped.

"I havenít had this much fun scaring people off since that whole deal with Minnie using the rats and pie gun," Brooklyn chuckled, then looked to Anya, recognizing her. "Told ya I wasn't a monster," the gargoyle smiled, his beak making the smile look more than a bit frightening to Anna, even though he was clearly there to help.

Pietr was surprisingly unfazed. "Ah, if you are here to help," the minstrel began, "perhaps you could go out front where the major part of the battle is taking place?"

The beaked one chuckled. "Already did. They went running after I knocked a few of them off their horses and made a few threatening gestures." Brooklyn growled and flashed his eyes to prove the point. "The battle is over; just those guys got past the guards, apparently."

"I wonder how, though?" Anya asked to herself.

Ilya and Sophia appeared at the door. The boyar was clearly concerned for his daughter and wary of Brooklyn, despite the gargoyleís help in the battle. He looked at the downed soldiers in amazement, then narrowed his eyes at Pietr. The young man just shrugged his shoulders innocently and motioned quietly to Anya to disappear. She took the hint and slipped out a side door before her father noticed her.

* * *

A while later, Ilya and his family were gathered in the great hall of the fortress, Brooklyn standing before them. Pietr Domovoi was standing in the shadow of the boyarís great chair, watching the gargoyle with an intrigued look in his eyes, but saying nothing.

"Well, it does indeed seem that you are a friend to us," said Ilya. He leaned forwards in his chair and stroked his beard as he gazed intently at the creature before him. "But that does not answer just what manner of being you are. What are you, Brooklyn - if I have heard your name aright? A leshy? A vodyanoi?"

"A gargoyle, actually," said Brooklyn. He didnít know what a leshy or a vodyanoi were, but this didnít seem to him to be the best time to ask about them. "Donít you have any gargoyles in Russia?"

"Gargoyles," said Ilya thoughtfully. "I believe that I have heard rumors about such beings. They were said to turn to stone when the sun rose, and remain thus until night came. And they were fierce warriors in battle, as well. They seldom had dealings with humans, according to the tales, but there was an occasional boyar who had them defend his home."

"Yeah, thatís us," said Brooklyn, nodding. "So there are gargoyles in Russia?"

"There were," said the boyar. "But except for you, there are none left now. The last of them were destroyed many years ago."

"Destroyed?" asked Brooklyn. "By whom?"

"By the Tsar himself," said Ilya. "Tsar Ivan Vasilivich believed that the gargoyles were dangerous monsters, a threat to him and to his land. He ordered his followers, the oprichniks, to hunt them down and destroy them all. They searched out all Russia at his command, and left not one alive."

"Why, that no-good...." muttered Brooklyn, his eyes glowing white with anger. "Iíd like to say a few things to him."

"You cannot," said Ilya. "He has been dead for over twenty years. And even if he were alive, he would still be the Tsar. You cannot question his deeds, Brooklyn."

"I donít care if this Ivan fellow was the Tsar or not," said Brooklyn. "Heís still just another jerk like all the other ones who hunted us." He got control of himself, noticing how Ilya and his family were shrinking back from him in alarm at his anger, and spoke in more level tones. "Iím sorry," he said. "But weíve had a lot of trouble with humans, and itís not easy for me to hear about this sort of thing. Most of my clan was wiped out when I was younger, and it was a horrible thing for us."

"I am sorry to hear that," said Ilya. "If it makes you feel any better, Brooklyn, I do not believe that you truly are a demon, even if others have believed such tales about your kind. You do seem willing to protect us from harm - and at a time when we need protection greatly. If you have been sent here, more likely it is by the will of Heaven." He and his family crossed themselves piously at this, before Ilya continued. "So I accept whatever help you can provide for us."

"Thank you," said Brooklyn, nodding. "Iíll do whatever I can to protect this place while I am here."

As he spoke, however, his gaze turned towards Pietr Domovoi, the boyar's jester and musician, who was staring at the gargoyle. The man had not shown the slightest trace of fear upon first beholding Brooklyn. His response, instead, had been astonishment - not the complete astonishment of somebody who had never seen a gargoyle before, but of one who had, and simply had not anticipated that particular gargoyle's arrival. In fact, Domovoi had appeared to recognize Brooklyn.

The jester must have noticed Brooklyn's stare, however, for he now suddenly bowed to his lord, and spoke. "If it please you, sir, I have some matters to attend to. If I might be excused - "

Ilya nodded. "Very well," he said. "You have our leave to go."

Pietr Domovoi sauntered nonchalantly out of the hall, but not before stealing a covert glance at Brooklyn. Once he was gone, Brooklyn spoke.

"That - um - Pietr Domovoi. Has he been with you long?"

"Some few years," said Ilya. "But he's loyal and highly skilled and has filled his position well. I have no complaints about him."

"Where did he come from?" Brooklyn asked. "Do you know?"

"He's never said anything about that," said Ilya. "As far as I know, he has no family, and he's said nothing about where he lived before he came to dwell with us. And I never thought to ask. Did you, Sofia?" he asked, turning to his wife.

"No, Ilya," she said, shaking her head. "Heís a just a wandering minstrel. Heíll probably pack up and move on someday when his feet get itchy again."

"I see," said Brooklyn. He looked in the direction that Pietr Domovoi had gone, and frowned.

* * *

A few minutes later, having excused himself from the hall, Brooklyn rushed in pursuit of the jester. He soon found him in an otherwise deserted corridor, and advanced upon him, a grim, determined look on his face.

"Yes?" asked Pietr, turning around. "Is there anything that I can do for you, Brooklyn?"

"Indeed there is," said Brooklyn, in carefully level tones. "Puck."

Pietr sighed, shrugged his shoulders, and whirled about quickly. A moment later, the familiar white-haired little figure of Puck replaced him, floating a few inches off the floor.

"Well, well, well," he said. "Youíre sharper than I thought, gargoyle. Although I suppose that the name was something of a give-away."

"The name?" asked Brooklyn, puzzledly. "Iíd noticed some clues, yes, but I donít see what your name has to do with them."

"Oh, I see," said Puck, looking a little disappointed. "I suppose that you must have slept through that class on Russian myths and legends, then. Otherwise youíd have seen it differently. A domovoi is a sort of Russian household spirit, sort of like brownies in England and Scotland, or the Lares and Penates in Rome. I knew that it was a bit of a risk, taking it, but I couldnít resist. Not after some of the work that I did in merry old England under my Robin Goodfellow alias. And at least Ilya and the others here never caught on." He looked at Brooklyn thoughtfully. "And what are you doing here, so far away from Sherwood Forest?"

"Sherwood -" Brooklyn began. Then he remembered his encounter with the trickster during his adventures with Robin Hood, back before he had first met Sata. "Itís a long story," he said quickly. "And one that I definitely donít feel like sharing at the moment."

"Well, you neednít tell me, anyway," said Puck. "I can guess. Youíve got it, havenít you? The Phoenix Gate?"

"How do you know about that, anyway?" asked Brooklyn sharply.

"Itís not so hard to figure out," said Puck. "You gargoyles are long-lived, but even you donít last for over four hundred years on your own. And there was the way that the girls told Ilya and me about that dramatic entrance of yours. I put two and two together - and thatís how I figured out that you have the Phoenix Gate. Itís the only magic in existence that lets someone time travel."

"All right, so maybe I do have the Gate," said Brooklyn suspiciously. "Whatís it to you?"

"I donít suppose that youíd let me borrow it for a little while, would you?" asked Puck. He leaned forward hopefully. "Pleeeaaaase? Iíd really appreciate it."

"And what do you want with it?" asked the gargoyle.

Puck sighed. "Oberon kicked us all off Avalon a little over six hundred years ago, as humans reckon time," he said, his voice and face both becoming more melancholy, losing some of their normal jauntiness. "He wonít let us go back home until heís calmed down some, and he doesnít look as though heís going to do that any time soon. I thought that maybe I could bribe him with the Gate, get him to lift my sentence a little earlier than that of the othersí."

"Forget it, Puck," said Brooklyn sharply. "Iím not letting you have the Gate. If you want it that much, youíre going to have to come and take it."

"You know that I canít do that," said Puck, in a sulky voice. "Oberonís anti-intervention decree wonít let me. I can trick you into giving it to me, but I canít actually take it."

"Well, hard luck, then," said Brooklyn. "Youíre just going to have to wait out your sentence, like the rest of us."

He wondered momentarily if he should inform the little trickster that he wouldnít even be able to do that, in the end. Only a little under four hundred years later, Oberon would decide to make his banishment permanent rather than temporary, after Puck defied him when he tried to kidnap little Alexander. But then he decided against it. There were some things that it would be better to keep secret. Instead, he simply turned around, and walked away, slowly and carefully. He knew that Puck wasnít going to wind up with the Phoenix Gate, of course, but there was no sense in tempting fate-- or losing his only hope of ever getting back to Sata..

* * *

Two Weeks Later

Brooklyn awoke with his customary roar inside a storage shed that Ilya had provided for him. Granted, it wasnít much, but it gave him a place to sleep during the day inside the castle walls, where he could keep from getting snowed on.

The crimson gargoyle turned to look for his mate and realized once again that she wasnít there. He slumped down against the wall and fished the Phoenix Gate out of its pouch. "Curse you, you rotted thing!" he said angrily. "If I didnít need you to get back to Sata, Iíd break you into little pieces myself! He clenched his fist tightly around the amulet, shaking with emotion, and curled in on himself as trails of tears streamed down the sides of his beak.

It had started on the second evening. Once the disorientation of being in a new place had worn off, Brooklyn had started noticing many little things that reminded him of his mate: the sudden scent of cooking fish, the flash of a swordblade, or the girlsí laughter. It hit right in the gut, and even now, two weeks later, he was hard pressed to control his emotions.

"I have to get back to her," he muttered quietly. "I will get back to her."

Brooklynís breathing slowly calmed and evened out as he got himself under control. He slowly straightened up, put the gate back in its pouch, swiped one arm across his face and glanced around. There was nothing in the shed but the rustlings of disturbed rodents. He was glad, since he really didnít want anyone seeing him like this. After making sure that everything was secure. Brooklyn stepped out for the evening.

As he left the building, he noticed the castle was much more active than normal for this time of night. Soldiers were headed towards the walls with weapons and lit torches, while the courtyard seemed to be empty of anyone else.

"Uh oh," he said to himself. "Why does this seem familiar?"

Quickly, he ran off towards the wall, then scrambled up one of the ladders to the battlements. His shoulders sagged when he looked out over the surrounding countryside at a very large grouping of humans, many of them on horses. He figured there must have been at least several dozen, judging by the number of torches the assembling army had with it.

"Wonder who it is this time?" he asked himself. Heíd heard of all the warfare plaguing Russia at this time: The Polish army that was occupying Moscow under a 'Tsar Dmitri', who claimed to be Ivan the Terribleís son; the Cossack raiders running loose in the countryside; even fears of Turkish armies coming up from the south. And all of this was on top of the 'normal' infighting among the boyars. Brooklyn almost considered it a minor miracle that heíd only had to worry about the one attack since heíd come here; now heíd have to go into battle again.

He looked around for Ilya, and quickly found the nobleman giving orders to the guards on the battlements. "Hey, Ilya," Brooklyn asked as he came up, "whatís going on?"

The boyar answered without looking at the gargoyle. "Itís Vassily Ivanov, a boyar who lives some distance from here, across the forest."

"Is he the same guy who attacked us when I came here?"

"Yes," Ilya said. "He attacks us regularly, every two or three weeks. But this is by far the largest force heís assembled against us."

"Wait a minute," Brooklyn asked, catching something from Ilyaís comment. "He attacks you all the time?"

"Yes," Ilya said, then ordered several guards to the opposite wall, to make sure more troops werenít coming from that direction.

"Ilya, whatís the deal here?" Brooklyn asked seriously.

"Deal?" Ilya said, sounding puzzled.

"I mean," the gargoyle corrected, "itís almost winter right now. Even with all this war and stuff going on here, itíd be crazy to attack right now. At least when he probably has his own castle to take care of. Besides, we already kicked him out of here just a couple of weeks ago, and I assume youíve beaten him plenty of times before. Why does he keep coming back like this?"

The boyar gave another order, and then turned to Brooklyn, a weary look on his face. "He comes here seeking revenge against a past wrong he sees me as being responsible for," he answered.

"Hmm," Brooklyn said, nodding in understanding. "I can understand that kind of thing causing problems. So what does this guy think your family did to him?"

Ilya sighed sadly. "Actually, my friend, Vassily does have a legitimate reason. I had a cousin who was a very greedy, ruthless man who hungered after the lands of his neighbors. I kept myself and my family away from him and his foul nature, but it would seem his evil has come back to haunt us anyway."

"Wait a minute," Brooklyn said. "You had a cousin?"

Ilya shouted another couple of orders, then went back to explaining. "Late last year, my cousin attacked the castle of Ivanov and was only driven away with great difficulty. My cousin had thought heíd won a great victory, and took some of Ivanovís lands. But then the next spring Ivanov came with his men and destroyed my cousinís castle, then slaughtered everyone there."

"Well, I can kind of see that," Brooklyn said. "But where do you fit in?"

Ilya shrugged. "I have no idea. I only know that he seems to feel Iím also to blame somehow, possibly because I was related to the man who did him so much harm."

Before Brooklyn could continue, they heard a voice from the plains calling for Ilya. The boyar and gargoyle went to the walkway over the main gate, and looked out to see a mounted man set somewhat before the rest of the small army.

"Ilya Rustovich!" the man called out again.

"Yes, Ivanov," Ilya shouted back. "Iím here. Why have you brought this army here? Can we not talk without fighting like this?"

"Never!" the man below spat. "Your family killed my brothers and burned my familyís lands. I now mean to avenge them and myself by returning the favor!"

"But it was my cousin who caused you harm!" Ilya protested.

"It makes no difference to me!"

"Please, Vassily, vengeance will only breed more violence," Ilya pleaded. "I have other relatives nearby. If you kill me and my family, they will surely try to do the same to you next year. Please, do not do this. End the cycle before it goes on too long."

The enemy boyar hesitated, then shook his head. "No. I will have blood for blood, Ilya Rustovich! This night, you and all who live here will die!" And with that, he rode back towards his own armyís lines, to make ready for the assault.

Ilya sighed sadly. "At least I tried."

"Yeah," Brooklyn agreed. "Well, thereís nothing now to do but fight. Iíll try to do the best I can, but..." he looked towards his pouch meaningfully.

"I know, Brooklyn. You cannot help that, and I appreciate the help." Ilya turned towards the scene of the enemy army below. "Weíre going to need it."

A minute later, the order was given, and the enemy army charged forward, a hail of flaming arrows being sent from their ranks. The castle guards returned fire, while trying to avoid the enemy arrows and put out any fires that were started.

Brooklyn leapt forward and, dodging the arrow fire, quickly dove into the ranks of the enemy soldiers. He pulled one mounted man off his horse, throwing him into his comrades, then roared at them as they tried to get up.

Screaming, they ran off into the woods at the sight of the 'demoní. Others, veterans of the previous battle, were not so easily intimidated, and several of these attacked him at once, trying to slay him with sword or axe thrusts. For a moment, the world was a blinding kaleidoscope of motion and danger, and it seemed to take forever for him to disarm and knock unconscious all his opponents.

He looked up then, and saw to his horror that the enemy had a battering ram, and had by now used it to break through the front gate. Soldiers poured into the castle as Brooklyn began fending off more people attacking him.

* * *

Pietrís jaw dropped a little as he saw the situation. This time the breach was more than merely five guards. Puck seemed a bit interested in the fact that nearly thirty men had already gotten through the front, even with the gargoyle guarding it.

"Hmm, last time I let five in so Anya could have some fun. But these guys actually slipped past the defenses... No matter, my magic should be able to handle this fairly well, fairy that I am..."

With a whirl of his hand, a great gust of wind filled the halls, strong enough to knock armored men off their feet, but they kept coming after a moment of hesitation and rebalancing.

"Hmm..." The Pietr form of Puck went into a thoughtful pose, one hand under his chin, considering his options. Then pointing an index finger in the air, a delighted smile came to his face. He ran towards the guards looking panicked, waving his arms wildly.

"FIRE! FIRE!" he shouted.

"Fire?" the leader asked, this one a bit more competent than the previous leader that had broken through. "Where? I donít see any smoke..."

"Oh, youíre right," Pietr smiled coyly. "Thereís no fire here. But there is a fire right-- there!"

With an invisible flash of magic, the leaderís pants burst into a great blaze, from which he began to leap about excitedly, panicking. The commander dashed towards his men.

"Help me!"

They backed off, not wanting to deal with the commander who had suddenly caught aflame. As he ran towards them, Pietr/Puck smiled to himself.

"Something slippery would do well right now... But I iced the floor last time... I need something new. Hmm..."

A banana peel suddenly appeared under the commanderís right foot, causing him to slip and fly right into his troops, blaze on his bottom and all.

Pietr/Puck laughed. "This is fun!" With another showy display of magic, the potted plants adorning some walls seemed to come to life and grabbed the now panicking troops. The vegetation then began to bludgeon the soldiers. Those not yet attacked were scared, and those being hit were terrified. They tried to run.

"Oh no, youíre not getting away that easily," the fairy grinned. "What else can I do..."

His eyes narrowed in a sinister and sneaky manner. With a puff of smoke he vanished to appear in front of his retreating enemies. As a very large green tiger.

"Roar!" he faked, but sounding realistic enough to turn the hair of several enemies white. One or two fainted; they had never been paid to put up with this sort of thing. The rest ran, to be pelted by something wet and sticky being created from nothing and hurled through the air.

Puck allowed the guards to leave then and smiled. "I think the manure was a nice touch..."

Reappearing back where he started as Pietr, the Fay had a great laugh at the running enemy and the whole moment. The fun, the excitement, the expression on the enemy soldiers' faces, how grand! He had to go join Ilya and fight off the enemy he was working to stop! There was more fun to be had yet!

A great smile on his face, feeling full of energy and excitement, Pietr literally skipped his way to where his liege was.

As he rounded the corner, he called out. "Ilya! You wouldn't believe the fun I just had! I..." He paused at the fact that the hall was silent. The enemy was gone and defeated. He was too late to help in that respect.

Pietr frowned. "Drat. Maybe I can catch up with them and scare them some more..."

He froze as he spotted Brooklyn, carrying a limp body in his arms.

Ilya's limp body.

Brooklyn tried to explain how a terrible chest wound had been made in the battle, but Puck just stared blankly at the scene as Anya came running down the hall.

Happily expecting to join the fighting once again, she stopped in her tracks, enthusiasm turning to tears.

"Father!" she cried.

Pietr just continued to stare.

* * *

The rest of the battle was a simple matter to take care of. Between the scary looking gargoyle and all the shouts of evil magic from the battalion Puck had chased off, the enemy stopped trying and became more concerned with their lives. A couple more simple tricks of fairy magic helped it along, but they were not in the same fun spirit as the tricks of a moment ago.

Ilya was not exactly dead, but he had lost a lot of blood, and was hovering between this life and the next.

Physicians ran back and forth into the chambers, frantic to save their lord's life.

"Leeches, bah." Pietr grumbled to the Timedancer after having put on a performance of a grieving servant and then getting out of the way. "That'll never work..." as another doctor scrambled to and from Ilya's chambers.

"He'll be fine," Brooklyn lied. "I once took a bomb point blank. Sata thought I was going to die then, but I pulled through."

"Sata?" the fay questioned.

"My mate... The love of my life," Brooklyn frowned and bit his tongue slightly to keep from choking up again.. So far he'd done a good job of keeping his mind off of her, but now with nothing but silence and waiting, his thoughts naturally wandered.

The gargoyle continued hurriedly. "But that's not important. I've survived almost dying before, Ilya will be fine."

"Hmm." Pietr put on a contemplative grin. "It's strange..."

"Oh? What is?" Brooklyn asked, curious of anything that would get his mind off Sata.

"As far as I have always been concerned, humans are nothing but amusing little pets, like a hamster or a goldfish. They are there purely for entertainment. Yet..." The servant turned his face away, not wanting to show the awkward emotion on his face.

He paused for a moment, and put his finger on what he was trying to say.

"I'll actually be sad if Ilya dies."

"Hmm." Brooklyn nodded slowly, surprised to see any emotion coming from the trickster.

* * *

Hours passed, and after the last doctor left, Pietr went in to look in on the man, while Brooklyn went off to get something to eat.

The servant transformed into Puck and floated above the bed. "Such barbaric human medical practices," he frowned as he cracked his knuckles and began to cast a spell.

"For the man for whom I do care,

Who's been hurt by battle's air,

I tell thee injuries heal,

Using my custom magic zeal."

Blue sparkles filled the air and closed around the man's large chest wound. The wound was not totally healed - it would have to do that on its own Ė but at least now he would live.

Briefly, Ilya's eyes opened and saw his favorite minstrel standing over the bed. He smiled. "Thank you, my friend."

His eyes closed and he went back to sleep.

Puck whispered. "Tomorrow morning you won't remember a thing about being healed by magical means you know..." He paused and smiled. "You're welcome...My friend..."

* * *

The white-maned gargoyle munched down on an apple while stuffing another one into his pouch. After all his years of timedancing, he knew to stockpile food when he could, as he had no way of knowing when he'd get to eat again. It was about this time the fairy appeared in front of him.

The gargoyle looked up at him, and the Puck smiled. "Well, I guess it's about time I moved on..." He let out a chuckle. "What fools these mortals be, and so fragile!"

"You're leaving?" Brooklyn questioned.

"Yup! That's right!"

"But, how can you leave when Ilya needs your help more than ever?" He did not really expect an answer, but was curious to see how Puck would field the question.

"Ah well... It's gotten dull now that the fight is over. I have other things I can be doing to fill my time. I don't have time to be concerned with mortals."

"That wasn't how you felt earlier when you told me the truth about how you really felt."

"What truth?" Puck shrugged and grinned like a Cheshire cat. "The was Pietr's answer, not Puck's. The Puck will find more interesting sport elsewhere."

He winked at the gargoyle. "I trust we will meet again one day, Timedancer."

It was at about that moment the Phoenix Gate warmed up. Brooklyn smiled slyly at the trickster. "That's for me to know, and for you to find out. And now you know you can care for humans. Your 'playthings'. Keep that in mind." The Phoenix fires blazed into their familiar sphere, and Brooklyn was gone.

Puck nodded. "Indeed I will." With that, he vanished as well.

THE END