IN LOVEíS NAME
Outline by Greg Bishansky
Written by Todd Jensen
Artwork by Revel and Dreamie
The Eyrie Pyramid - July 1, 2173
"Order!" shouted Artus, above the uproar in the council chamber. "Order!"
It took a while for him to calm down the assembled gargoyles and humans seated at the table with him, but at last everyone stopped talking and turned to listen to him.
"We have little time to waste," Artus continued. "Nicholas Hawkins and his followers must be on their way to Avalon by now, now that they have the incantation that they need to reach it. That means that we have to act at once. We have to send somebody to Avalon to warn Oberon and Titania."
"Isnít it a little late for that?" asked Persephone concernedly. "I mean, Nicholas could have invaded Avalon already. Oberon and Titania could be facing his forces even now."
Merlin shook his head. "I donít think that heíll actually be invading Avalon, in the sense of leading an entire army there," he said. "Not yet. From what I know of my son, heíll be saving it for later. No doubt after the rest of the world has already fallen to him."
"Then why did he get the incantation from us, if he doesnít want it yet?" Broadway asked.
"But he does want it," said Merlin. "He is heading for Avalon, but itís not an invasion. Itís a breakout. He wants to free Maeve from her imprisonment there."
"Whoís Maeve?" Brooklyn asked.
"Madocís second-in-command," said Merlin. "Thatís about all that you and Sata really need to know about her."
"So sheís bad news?" asked Brooklyn.
"Very," said Angela. "I still have nightmares about her from when she had me captured, sometimes. If she joins with Nicholas, the Unseelies will be even harder to stop."
"So he wishes to augment his forces by her addition, then," said Sata.
"Not only that," said Merlin troubledly. "The fact is, Nicholas also is - well, infatuated with Maeve. He told me about it once in Rome, the last time that we met - before this current trouble began." His face grimaced for a moment, as the unpleasant memory returned. "Iíd rather not talk about it."
"Then that makes our errand all the more important," said Artus grimly. "We have to prevent Nicholas from freeing Maeve, at all costs. And that means that we have to leave for Avalon at once."
"Not all of us," said Merlin. "A few of us will have to stay here, in case thereís trouble in Manhattan. The Unseelies are probably expecting us to go to Avalon ourselves to foil them, and might want to take advantage of our absence - or if they donít, somebody else might. So weíll have to decide who goes to Avalon, and who stays here to hold down the fort."
"A good idea," said Artus. "Who did you have in mind, wizard?"
"Well, Iíll have to be on the expedition," said Merlin. "Nicholas is my son, and itís my responsibility to stop him. And youíll need my help if it comes to a real confrontation."
"Iíll go, too," said Angela. "My rookery brothers and sisters in Avalon are in danger from the Unseelies. And besides, I know the spell that we need to get there."
"And I will go as well," said Demona grimly, her eyes glowing red. "Nicholas tortured me, humiliated me. I want to make him pay for his crimes." In a calmer voice, her eyes returning to their normal color, she added, "And you may need my help as well; I have centuries of experience to bring to this mission."
Brooklyn and Sata arose from their seats. "And weíd better come too," said Brooklyn. "You guys could use some help for the regular fighting, if we get some of that."
"Perhaps I should come along as well, father," offered Angelica.
Merlin looked vaguely troubled at that. "Iíd - rather that you didnít, Angelica," he said.
"And why not?" the young woman asked, frowning.
Merlin appeared to do a little hurried thinking. "Itís just possible that none of us will come back from this expedition," he said. "And if that happens, then weíll need somebody in Manhattan who knows about Nicholas and what heís capable of. So I want you here, for such an eventuality. I hope that you understand."
She nodded. "Yes, father," she said. "I do."
"You can use my hover-transport to go to Avalon," offered Alex.
"Then weíd better leave at once," said Merlin. "Lead the way, Alexander." And he and the other members of the team followed Alexander Xanatos out of the council room.
* * *
Nicholas Hawkins stood on the bridge of his hover-transport, Garlon behind him. Phobos and Deimos were seated at the controls before him.
"Cloaking system activated, my lord," said Phobos, after pushing a few buttons on the control panel.
"Well done," said Nicholas, nodding. "That should shield us from unwanted eyes. And the iron lining on the hull of the ship should keep Oberon the Usurper from using his magic to detect us."
"All is ready now, my lord," said Garlon, gazing all about before he spoke.
"Iím quite aware of that, thank you," said Nicholas. He strode forward, speaking aloud the ancient Latin incantation. "Vocate venti fortunate ex rege Oberonis, et hic navis fluctum regate ad orae Avalonis!"
Outside, mists gathered around the hover-transport, blocking the vision of anything outside the windows. But they dispersed after a few minutes, revealing the shape of a lonely island ahead.
"Bring it in for a landing," Nicholas ordered Phobos and Deimos. "And be prepared to leave the moment that I and Garlon return, with our rescued lady."
He turned to Garlon as the vessel landed upon Avalonian soil. "Time to carry out the next part of our mission," he said. "Follow me, if you will."
"As my lord commands," said Garlon calmly, his _expression unreadable.
* * *
Elsewhere in Avalon, but much closer to Oberonís palace, another hover-transport had landed. The doors opened and Merlin, Demona, Angela, Brooklyn and Sata emerged into the night air.
"Weíd better head for Oberonís palace at once," said Merlin. "If we can reach him in time, then he can strengthen the security measures around wherever Maeveís being held prisoner, to the point where the entire Third Unseelie Court couldnít break through. At least, I hope that he can."
He turned to Angela. "Youíd better lead the way," he said to her. "You know this island better than the rest of us do. And youíre part of the clan here; theyíll know you."
Angela nodded, and took the lead. The other three gargoyles and the halfling wizard followed her through the woods. They had come within sight of Oberonís palace when a few gargoyles glided down from above and landed before them, spears at the ready.
"Halt!" cried one of them. "State your business, strangers!"
"Zechariah, you know me," said Angela. "Just as well as I know you, in fact."
"Angela!" cried the gargoyle, recognizing her. He and his companions lowered their weapons and rushed towards her delightedly. "We hadnít expected you!"
"How are you, anyway?" asked another gargoyle. "Are you and Broadway well? And the rest of the clan in Manhattan?"
"Oh, yes, weíre fine, Malachi," said Angela, nodding. "More or less."
"I really donít want to break up this joyful reunion," said Merlin, speaking up just then, "but we have to see Lord Oberon, if you please. Itís urgent."
"Urgent?" asked Zechariah, turning to him.
"Very urgent," said Demona. "So take us to him at once!"
"Itís customary to say Ďpleaseí," said Merlin, turning to look at her with a reproachful expression on his face.
"And this is an emergency," the red-haired gargoyle retorted. "We donít have time for this sort of thing."
"That doesnít excuse being rude," said Merlin to her. "Especially not when weíre dealing with Oberon. I certainly donít want to prejudice my uncle against us. That wouldnít bring us off to a very good start."
"Weíll bring you to him," said Zechariah, ignoring the interchange between Merlin and Demona. And he and the other gargoyles escorted them towards the gates of the palace.
* * *
The doors to the great hall were thrown open, and the five emissaries, escorted still by Zechariah and his fellow gargoyles, walked towards the dais upon which Oberon and Titania sat enthroned. Many of Oberonís Children stood in the hall on both sides, staring at the unexpected guests and murmuring among themselves.
Angela halted a few feet away from the dais, and bowed low before the King and Queen of Avalon, her wings folded in their cape-form. "Your Highnesses," she said. "We trust that we have not offended you by our sudden arrival."
Titania looked down at them with a gentle smile. "We are not offended, Angela," she said. "You are always welcome in Avalon, my child."
"Though the same cannot be said for all the company that you keep," said Oberon sternly. He gave a sharp and disapproving glance at Merlin, and then briefly glanced at Demona in an even less approving fashion. "Well, what business brings you here? Speak up."
Merlin turned to Angela. "If youíll let me explain to him?" he asked. "I mean, I probably have the most responsibility for this problem."
Angela understood his meaning and nodded. "Be my guest," she said to him gently.
Merlin stepped forward, giving a dignified bow of his own. "Your Highnesses," he said, "permit me to explain why we are here. You see...."
* * *
"Itís all going quite well," said Nicholas with a smile of satisfaction, as he and Garlon walked down a forest path. Veiled in shadow, they had hidden themselves from all eyes except their own through their magic. "No alarms, no clashes. We should be off this island by the time that they know that weíre here. Assuming that they ever know, of course."
"True, my lord," said Garlon, in a slightly distracted tone of voice. He had paused from time to time to take a closer look at a tree here, a bush there, that he had not seen in several millennia, not since the night that he and his master Madoc had departed from Avalon with their followers at the beginning of the First Unseelie War, and even to savor their fragrances. He mentally shook himself, concentrating on the reason for their errand now. "But we have to discover precisely where Maeve is being held prisoner."
"Well, I suppose that that means that weíll just have to reveal ourselves to somebody," said Nicholas, sounding mildly disappointed for a moment. "But it canít be helped. And we can always make certain that whoever we ask canít tell on us afterwards." His gloating smile had returned.
"So whom shall we interrogate?" Garlon asked.
"Oh, whomever we run into first, I suppose," said Nicholas, in an offhand tone of voice. "Iím not feeling especially particular at the moment."
Garlon nodded, and followed him.
* * *
Was that voices that he had heard coming from the woods below, Ezekiel wondered? His patrol that night had taken him over a part of the forest adjoining Oberonís palace, and he suddenly fancied that he could hear something from the pathway running through it. He doubted that it could be anything particularly significant - probably a few of the more nature-oriented members of Oberonís Children, such as Artemis, say, were out for a pleasant walk among the trees - but investigating it would break the monotony of yet another uneventful patrol. He dived down to see if he could listen better.
As he approached the forest path from where the voices had come from, however, he saw that there were no people standing there. He wondered whether it perhaps had been nothing more than his own imagination after all, but not for long. For, just as he landed on the forest track, he found himself struck full in the chest by some invisible force, and knocked off his feet and onto his back. He struggled to stand up, but found that he could not move. He was bound tight by some strange magical force.
"Well, this one should do very nicely," said a voice. Two figures suddenly appeared, standing over the helpless gargoyle and gazing down at him. One was a small, nondescript brown-haired man; the other was a tall, dark-haired man who bore, or so it seemed to Ezekiel, a striking resemblance to Lord Oberon, though it was clearly not he. There was a cold and eager light in their eyes, as they gazed down at him.
"Who are you?" Ezekiel asked at once. If he had not been paralyzed by their spell, he would have reached for his spear and thrust it at them. "And what business have you on Avalon?"
"If you donít mind, weíll be asking the questions," said the brown-haired man. "Where is Maeve? Where has Oberon imprisoned her?"
"Maeve?" asked Ezekiel, staring up at his captors. "Are you of the Unseelie Court, then?"
"Yes, we are," said the brown-haired man. "But that is beside the point. Tell us where Maeve is, and tell us now."
"You are intruders on Avalon, and enemies," said Ezekiel stubbornly. "I will tell you nothing."
"Oh, you will tell us what you know," said the dark-haired man who resembled Oberon said, in a grim tone of voice. He bent down over the prone gargoyle, his eyes beginning to glow with an eerie radiance. "You will tell us everything."
"No!" cried Ezekiel, struggling in vain. "I wonít! Iíll do nothing to help you!"
"Yes, you will," said the dark-haired man firmly. "You will tell me where the Lady Maeve is. And you will do so at once."
Ezekiel closed his eyes so as to shut out the vision of his questioner, but found them opening again, involuntarily. And then, he heard a voice - could it indeed be his? - stammering out, "The volcano. Oberon and Titania imprisoned her there, along with the other Unseelies that they captured."
"The volcano, eh?" said the dark-haired man to his friend. "How very classical. Well, we know where to go now, Garlon."
"And the gargoyle, sire?" asked Garlon.
"Heís no further use to us now," replied the dark-haired man with a shrug. "Certainly we wonít want to take him with us; heíd merely slow us down. I think that we can dispense with him."
He raised one hand high above Ezekiel, and gestured. A crimson glow shone down from it, enveloping the gargoyle. His vision blurred, and then the world went dark.
* * *
"This is foolishness," said Oberon. "I cannot believe that you came all the way to Avalon merely to annoy me with your absurd claims."
"Thereís nothing absurd about them at all," Merlin argued. "Itís the truth."
"Even if those Unseelies still hiding in the mortal world could regather, they can hardly threaten us or our realm any longer," said Oberon. "Madoc is dead, and Maeve imprisoned here on Avalon. Who is left with enough strength and authority to unite the traitors and form them into a new court? Nobody."
"They have my son to lead them," said Merlin.
"That means nothing," said Oberon. "Your sonís magic can hardly be as great as that of his grandfather; he has too much mortal blood in him for that. At most, he can be nothing more than a figurehead for the few rebels left. In any case, if this ĎNicholas the Secondí had come here, we would sense his presence, would have sensed it by now."
"Donít underestimate him," said Merlin. "Heís very crafty. Iím sure that heíll have found a way of hiding himself from you."
"That is hardly likely," said Oberon, waving off Merlinís words with a haughty air.
"I am not so certain, my lord," spoke up Titania. "We thought once that this Nicholasís grandfather was harmless once we banished him and his adherents from Avalon. And less than two centuries ago, as the mortals reckon time, we learned how wrong we were. We must not make the same mistake of underestimating our enemies again."
"Indeed?" asked Oberon, sounding skeptical.
"I believe that your queen is right, my lord," said Odin All-father, stepping forward to address the dais. "Nicholas Hawkins may not be his grandfatherís equal in magic, but he does have mortal technology to augment it, and it has grown most powerful of late. It may already have surpassed our own powers."
Oberon frowned. "You know more about these matters than I do, Titania," he said. "Can you vouch for this claim?"
"I fear so, my lord," said Titania. "And consider this. It will be better for us to prepare for an attack that will not come, than to not prepare for an attack that will come. Do you not agree?"
"Very well, then," said Oberon, after a momentís silence. "If that is how it is, then we place this island on full alert." He turned to those members of the Third Race in the great hall. "Spread the word throughout all of Avalon," he said. "All of my people are to keep watch for these intruders. And inform the gargoyles here of this as well. Tell them to search for Nicholas and his followers on their patrols."
As the assembly of Fair Folk broke up, with various Children of Oberon exiting in different directions from the great hall to carry out their errands and inform those that were not present, Demona spoke,"There is a more direct way to find Nicholas," she said. "He has come here to free Maeve. So tell us where her prison is, and we can go there. If we arrive there before he does, then we can take him by surprise when he comes."
"Good idea," commented Brooklyn. "We should have thought of that one on our way here."
"We placed Maeve in a cavern by the volcano," said Titania, "along with a few others of the Unseelie whom we captured following the war. They have yet to be released from there."
"Then we must go there at once," cried Demona, turning and rushing from the hall. "Follow me!"
"And when did she take charge of this mission?" asked Merlin aloud. But he and the three gargoyles quickly followed her out.
* * *
Agony and degradation. Those were the thoughts that continually ran through her head, as she hung from the giant spider web. Nothing but agony and degradation.
She had been stripped of everything after Oberon and Titania passed judgement upon her in the great hall of their palace, placed sentence upon her for aiding Madoc Morfryn in his rebellion against them. Her armor and weapons, her jewelry and cloak, all had been taken from her, and she was left now wearing no more than a ragged shift, as though she were a beggar or a slave. No one would even think, upon seeing her, that she had been one of the great leaders of the Unseelie Court, ready to command the destiny of an entire world.
But that was the least of what they had stolen from her. The real theft had been her dignity and her pride. Both had been broken after she had been bound in Anansiís web in this cavern, snared in it as though she was nothing more than some overgrown fly. They had not even granted her an honorable imprisonment. Even death would have been better than this shame. It was something that she had repeated so often since she had been placed here that she had long since lost track of how many times she had said it. At times, those words seemed almost the only thing that she could remember of her past. Even her name was beginning to fade from her memory now, unless she made a supreme effort to seize hold of it.
It was the sound of approaching footsteps that broke her from her thoughts (if they could be dignified by that word). She felt astonished to hear the noise; nobody had ever come here to visit her, not since Anansi had bound her here at Oberon and Titaniaís decree. What did this mean? She opened her eyelids with an effort, and turned her head to gaze down at the newcomers.
There were two of them, standing on the cavern floor and looking up at her. One she recognized, to her amazement; it was Garlon. But the other was a stranger to her, a youngish-looking dark-haired man with a single white lock to the right of his forehead, and whose features bore an astonishing resemblance to those of her former liege Lord Madoc, as he had been in life before the red-haired gargoyle had murdered him. He was staring up at her, his eyes filled with wonder and fascination.
"Do not worry, my lady," said the stranger, raising one hand. "We have come to free you from this durance vile. Your wrongs shall be avenged."
A long blade formed of silvery light formed in his hand, and he swung it at the web. Where the light struck, it severed the web-strands, which blackened and withered to dust at once. Again and again he struck at the web, until there was nothing left to bind her. She felt herself plummeting to the ground, only to be caught in his arms and gently set down.
"You are free, my queen," he said, removing his overcoat and placing it around her, with all the courtesy that ever a knight showed to his lady; he might have been Sir Lancelot clothing Queen Guinevere in kirtle and gown after rescuing her from being burnt at the stake. "Neither Oberon the Usurper nor any of his people shall do you any further wrongs, not while I am here."
"And just who are you?" asked Maeve, looking back at him in astonishment.
"Ah, I have been remiss in introducing myself," said the man. "I am Nicholas II, grandson and heir to the great Madoc Morfryn. I have come to release you from your captivity, so that together we may rebuild the Unseelie Court. We shall rule over it together, and fulfill my grandfatherís dream."
Maeve raised an eyebrow. "So you are Madocís grandson?" she asked.
"Indeed I am," said Nicholas. "I will explain later, when we return home."
"Yes, explaining later is a good idea," said Garlon. "We have to leave now, my lord. Before Oberon and his people find us and we need somebody to come and rescue us."
"Not so fast, Garlon," said Maeve sharply to him. "We have another prisoner to rescue while we are here."
"Another prisoner?" protested Garlon. "My queen, that one will have to wait! We havenít -"
"My cousin the Morrigan is also being held here," broke in Maeve. "They brought her here not long after I was captured. I will not leave Avalon without her."
"Rescue that old crow?" cried Garlon. "You must be joking! I mean, itís her own fault that sheís here in the first place! If sheíd had the sense to lie low like I did rather than going around stirring up riots in London for her own amusement, the Sisters would never have found her and brought her in! Iím not risking my freedom for someone so foolish-"
"You are overruled, Garlon," said Nicholas sharply. "We will do as my lady requests." He turned back to Maeve. "Which way to the Morrigan?" he asked her.
"This way," said Maeve, pointing to the tunnel that led deeper into the cavern. "I saw them bring her here, taking her in that direction. Follow me."
She led them down the tunnel. The air about them grew warmer, as the cavern drew closer to the great volcano; not far off, they could hear a faint rumbling, like some gigantic cat purring. Garlon was still nervously glancing over his shoulder every couple of minutes, as though expecting pursuit, but Nicholas and Maeve walked calmly on ahead.
They came to a sudden halt. Only a few feet before them, dangling from an iron chain fastened to the tunnelís ceiling, swung an iron cage. A miserable-looking crow sat perched on a wooden roost inside.
Maeveís eyes narrowed at the sight. "So this is how they treated you, cousin?" she asked, her voice almost a hiss. "You shall be avenged, Morrigan! This I vow! Oberon and Titania shall suffer a thousand times over for the wrongs that they have inflicted upon both of us!"
"I quite concur, my queen," said Nicholas. "But like you, the Morrigan shall obtain her liberty first. It will make our revenge that much sweeter."
With that, he extended his right hand towards the cage, index finger pointed directly at it, and spoke in a loud voice. "Robiginem trahere!" he cried.
Brown flecks of rust began to appear on the iron bars of the cage. They spread rapidly, eating away at the framework, until at last it collapsed into powder, which fluttered to the ground. Nicholas bent down, scooped up a handful of the powder from the floor, and placed it in a small bag at his belt. "This might come in handy later," he commented, as he straightened up.
No longer trapped inside the cage, the crow circled about, flapping its wings eagerly, then swooped towards the ground, changing into the form of the Morrigan as it did so.
"Free!" she cried exuberantly. "Free at last! Iím free!"
"Yes, yes, youíre free," said Garlon, almost frantic now. "But now we have to get away from here! Any moment, somebody will come looking for us, and then -"
A wicked laugh resounded through the tunnel. " ĎSomebody will come looking for us,í" a deep voice said, chuckling. "Oh, how right you are, little brown mouse. Somebody has come looking for you. And heís found you."
The four of them turned around. The gargantuan bulk of Anansi the Spider was squeezing itself through the tunnel towards them.
"Wonít Oberon be pleased when I bring you in before him," he said. "Two escaping prisoners, and two would-be rescuers. And one of them's that little mouse who slipped away and whom nobody could find. This is looking like a very good night for me."
"Out of our way, spider!" cried Nicholas, his voice ringing out imperiously. "Bow before your master!"
"Bow?" repeated Anansi. "Bow? You ask quite a lot, little man. And it wonít do you any good. Not when I can almost taste the feast that Oberon will give me for capturing all four of you." He began to slaver and drool around his mandibles at the sheer thought of it.
"Not likely, glutton," said Nicholas. He raised his hand, pointing it this time towards the ceiling just over the spider. "Break and crumble, rumble and fall/ Trap that spider inside a great wall!" he cried.
Great jagged cracks ran through the rock above Anansi, and then pieces of it began to give way, hurtling down upon the spider. Anansi cried out in astonishment and pain, and then began scuttling backwards. It was too late, though. More and more rocks were tumbling down upon him, until he was pinned beneath the rockslide. Only his legs could now be seen, protruding from beneath the pile of rocks and wriggling helplessly.
"That took care of him quickly enough," said Nicholas smugly. "And that should convince all that I am worthy to inherit my grandfatherís throne and power."
"Yes, yes, too true," said Garlon. "But thereíll be others besides that one. If he came here, Iím sure that others will be following. May I stress again that we have to leave now?"
"Very well, then," said Nicholas. He turned to an unsteady Maeve. "Can you walk far, my queen?" he asked.
"Only barely," she replied. "If you only knew how much of my strength that creature -" - she indicated the still helpless and trapped Anansi as she spoke - "-drained from me in his web...."
"No need to fear, then," said Nicholas. He took her in his arms, and lifted her gently off the ground. "Iíll bear you away from this place." He turned to Garlon and the Morrigan. "Let us go now."
"Well, finally," said Garlon. They walked out towards the entrance of the cave, Nicholas carrying Maeve still.
* * *
"Are you certain that this is the right cave, Angela?" asked Merlin troubledly. The halfling wizard had taken the lead now as he and the four gargoyles made their way down the tunnel.
"Of course I am," she replied. "Why do you ask?"
"Because if Maeve was here, then I should be feeling her presence," he explained. "Iíve been casting ahead, searching for magical essences. But I donít feel anything. Or, rather, I do feel a little magic up ahead, but not enough to be coming from her."
"Maybe sheís been weakened," said Brooklyn. "I mean, Oberon and Titania could have done something to her to keep her from being able to escape. Drained her of a lot of her power, or something like that."
"Well, that is a possibility," said Merlin. "And Iíd like to believe that thatís the case here. But Iím very much afraid that it isnít."
They turned a corner, and came to a halt before the tattered remains of a gigantic spider-web. Merlin groaned. "I was right," he said. "Sheís gone. Nicholas must have beaten us to her and rescued her."
"Are you certain that she was here?" Sata asked.
Merlin placed his right hand an inch away from one of the strands and concentrated hard. "Yes, she was," he said. "I can discern traces, memories, of her presence. Thereís not yet been enough time for them to fade away entirely. Thatís what I must have been picking up. But sheís no longer here. And I can smell my sonís magic at work. Weíre too late."
"So what do we do now?" asked Brooklyn.
"Thereís only one thing to do," said Merlin. "Thereís a possibility that Nicholas hasnít left Avalon with Maeve yet. We might be able to catch up with him and stop him. But weíll have to move quickly, and weíll need help. Angela, you and Sata go back to the palace. Tell Oberon and Titania whatís happened. Demona, Brooklyn, and I will be heading for the shore. No doubt whatever transport my son used to reach this island is being kept there. Tell Oberon and Titania that thatís where weíll be."
Angela nodded. "Weíll do that," she said.
The five of them turned around and headed back out of the tunnel. Sata and Angela rushed back towards the palace, while Merlin led Brooklyn and Demona off to the shore of Avalon.
* * *
A few minutes later, Merlin, Brooklyn, and Demona arrived at the beach. There was nothing to be seen, however, except for the waves lapping at the edge of the sand.
"No!" cried Demona, gnashing her teeth in fury, her eyes blazing red. "They must have gone!"
"Not necessarily," said Merlin. His brow was creased in thought, as he gazed about them. "I can still feel something here. And itís not a lingering trace this time, either. Their presence is close by." He thought for a moment. "They must be using some sort of invisibility spell, to conceal themselves."
"Are you sure about that?" Brooklyn asked.
Merlin nodded. "Itís certainly very possible," he said. "Iíve used that kind of magic myself several times. Generally when I was at Mons Carbi Comprehensive, but thatís another story."
"Okay," said Brooklyn. "So, can a spell like that get broken?"
Demona was the one who answered. "Yes," she said. "With enough force, it can be done."
"Then weíd better do just that," said Merlin to her. "And weíll have to work together, as well, to make certain that we can bring it down. Knowing Nicholas, I believe that his defenses may be too strong for a single magic-user to shatter. So, are you willing to do this, Demona?"
"Yes, I am," she said, a trifle testily. "Begin."
"Very well," said Merlin. He pulled a rolled-up scroll out of his pocket, and unrolled it so that both he and Demona could read it. Brooklyn glanced at it, but could read only a few of the Latin words penned upon it; he decided to leave it to them, while preparing to spring.
"A spell to undo concealment magics," said Merlin. "I carry it about with me at times, just in case - and it especially seemed like a good idea to take it along with me. Weíll have to read it together, too, simultaneously. Now, upon my signal."
Brooklyn pricked up his ears. He could hear soft footsteps crossing the sand some feet away, moving so subtly that no sense of hearing less keen than that of a gargoyleís could have detected them. "I think that theyíre coming," he said to Merlin in a low voice.
"Then we begin," said Merlin. He and Demona began reading the incantation upon the scroll out loud.
* * *
"Weíre not far away now," murmured Garlon to the others. He had cloaked all four of them with his spell of invisibility since leaving the cavern, keeping it about them all the way back to the shore. "Our hover-transport is just a short distance away."
The Morrigan barely paid any attention to his words. She seemed more curious about Nicholas, whom she had been looking closely at all the while. Now she spoke.
"Not that weíre ungrateful for freeing us, or anything like that," she said. "But who are you, anyway? You look something like Lord Madoc, but you surely canít be him. Not unless we were all wrong about him being dead."
"No, Iím not Madoc," said Nicholas, smiling. "Iím his grandson. Nicholas the Second, the new Lord of the Unseelie Court."
"Grandson?" asked the Morrigan, looking at him all the more thoughtfully. "Then that must mean that youíre Merlinís son. At least, unless the Master had some other offspring that he didnít tell us about."
"No, Merlin really is my father," said Nicholas, a trifle curtly.
Others might have caught the warning hint in his voice, and made no further inquiries in that direction, but the Morrigan was too intrigued for that. "Well, how about that?" she said, sounding amused. "So who did he pair up with, anyway? No, donít tell me. Let me guess. It was that little werewolf girl, wasnít it? I should have known. Too bad that I missed it all; it must have been an interesting marriage. Her constantly burying things in the back garden, having to attend obedience school, shedding all over the house -"
Nicholas coughed sharply. "Iíll thank you not to make further such remarks about my mother," he said to her. "Do you understand?"
The Morrigan quickly nodded, and fell silent at once. Garlon now spoke.
"Weíre almost at the transport, my lord," he said. "Just a few more yards, and -"
A sudden chanting sound in Latin reached their ears, coming from their left. Then, the force of Garlonís spell tore itself apart from about them and collapsed into tatters.
* * *
With a flash, Nicholas and his companions became visible before Brooklyn, Demona, and Merlin. Nicholas bore in his arms a green-haired sidhe woman wrapped in his overcoat, whom Brooklyn assumed must be Maeve. And a wild-looking dark-haired sidhe woman in a black shift stood beside him and Garlon. All four turned their heads to stare straight at the halfling wizard and the two gargoyles, making it clear enough that they realized that their spell had been breached.
Nicholas set Maeve gently down upon her feet at once; she staggered once he let go of her, and quickly clung to the other female Unseelie for support. The Lord of the Third Unseelie Court stepped forward, facing his father and Demona straight on.
"Not bad, father," he said, in a coldly arrogant voice. "You still have your skill, I see."
"I should have known," said Merlin grimly, glancing for a brief moment at the dark-haired Unseelie woman, just long enough to recognize her. "You couldnít be content with just freeing Maeve, could you? No, you had to set her free as well?"
"The Morrigan?" asked Nicholas, looking for once at something of a loss. "And whatís wrong with my rescuing her? Or is this just your usual attitude of ĎIf Nicholas does something, it has to be wrongí?"
"We used to date," the Morrigan explained, an amused glitter in her eyes. "Heís still a little sore about that, I see."
"Ah, I see," said Nicholas, nodding. "I suppose that mum never knew about that, then?"
"It was before I met Mary, and it doesnít matter anyway," said Merlin. "You will not escape Avalon, Nicholas. It ends here."
"If you insist, father," said Nicholas. He shouted something, and a blast of forked red lightning shot out from one hand, hurtling towards Merlin. Merlin threw up a shield of blue light that the lightning shattered itself upon, and sent out a ball of sapphire energy in turn, which Nicholas easily deflected.
Brooklyn would have watched the wizardsí duel in fascination, but he had little time to do so. The Morrigan had suddenly transformed herself into an enormous crow, and was now flying straight at him, talons outstretched. He ducked just in time, but she turned about to swoop at him again. He hurriedly opened fire on her with his laser rifle, but she neatly dodged the blasts. Out of the corner of one eye, he glimpsed Demona hurling herself at Garlon, and the two of them grappling at each other, the immortal female gargoyle growling with savage fury at the brown-haired Unseelie. Only Maeve stayed out of the fighting; she had sat down upon the sand and was watching the battle unfold. She appeared particularly interested in Nicholasís own performance against his father.
Suddenly, from the cliffs above, a small flight of gargoyles swooped down, Gabriel in the lead, followed closely by several other members of the Avalon clan, and by Sata. And then, with a crackle of lightning, Oberon and Titania materialized upon the beach. Behind them stood a small troop of sidhe knights, armed cap-a-pie and mounted upon caparisoned horses, with sword and lance at the ready.
"So, you indeed dare invade Avalon!" cried Oberon, his voice filled with wrath. "Then you shall learn that it is not so poorly-defended as you presume to believe!" He raised one hand, and the skies above clouded over at once. There was a loud roll of thunder, and lightning flashed. The sidhe knights prepared to spur forward, to join the gargoyles.
"Phobos!" shouted Garlon, managing to break free from Demona for a moment. "Deimos! Decloak the transport, now!"
The hover-transport on the beach flickered into view. The two Grecian demi-gods sat at the controls, ready to operate them at a momentís notice.
"Destroy that vessel, my Children!" Oberon ordered, without a momentís hesitation. "At once!"
The sidhe knights galloped forward across the sand, their horses whinnying and the banners on their lances fluttering as they charged. They had almost reached the transport, however, when Phobos and Deimos pushed a few buttons, and miniature iron cannons rose up from the vessel. They fired volley after volley of iron bullets at the knights, striking them off their horses and onto the ground. One or two managed to stagger to their feet, and, dropping their weapons, gestured almost frantically at the ship, sending blasts of magic at it. But these bounced harmlessly off the iron hull, and another rain of iron bullets felled these last few assailants before they could prepare another attack.
The gargoyles swooped down upon the hover-transport, but Phobos and Deimos were well-prepared. They activated another set of guns mounted upon the vessel, these sending out laser beams that scattered the clan, forcing it to fall back. "Next!" called out Phobos, almost boredly.
"I have had enough of this!" cried Oberon, striding forward towards Nicholas, who was still locked in sorcerous combat with his father. "You have trespassed upon Avalonís shores, halfling, and allied yourself with my sworn enemies. Now you shall understand the full folly of your deed!"
Nicholas turned around, warding off another spell of Merlinís - the last one, in fact, for Merlin now stood still, watching as his renegade son faced the Lord of Avalon. A smile curled across the face of Madoc Morfrynís grandson, as he gazed up at the enraged ruler of the Third Race.
"Now, now, temper, temper, great-uncle," he said. "Thatís no way to treat family, now, is it? Especially since I came bearing gifts."
He pulled out the small bag from his belt, and opened it, pouring the iron powder that he had reduced the Morrigan's cage to into the palm of his hand. "Here," he said, holding it up. "I believe that this is for you." And with those words, he blew upon the dust, sending it flying straight into Oberonís face.
Oberon doubled up in pain as soon as the iron powder struck his skin, crying out in astonishment and pain. Nicholas quickly followed it with a few lightning blasts, which Oberon, in his agony, was barely able to parry, rocking him back and forth until he could scarcely balance himself any further. The new Unseelie Lord next reached into his jacket, and pulled out a sheathed dagger. The iron blade gleamed beneath the moon as he drew it forth, and hurled it straight at Oberon.
With a cry of pain, Oberon fell back, the hilt of the knife protruding from his chest. As the horrified gargoyles, Merlin, and Titania watched, he began to age rapidly, his face falling into wrinkles and his hair vanishing, even as he had done when Petros Xanatos had struck him with an iron harpoon at Castle Wyvern almost two centuries ago. He fell upon the ground, and lay still.
"Now for it!" shouted Nicholas at once, turning towards the transport. "Everyone on board!"
He helped Maeve to her feet and rushed her on board the vessel, followed closely behind by Garlon. The Morrigan landed neatly on deck and changed back into her humanoid form, just as the hover-transport rose up from the ground and headed out into the mists. Merlin and the others made no attempt to stop it. They were too busy crowding around Oberonís motionless form.
* * *
"Oberon is not dead, my lady," reported Diancecht, the court physician, standing before Titania in the hallway outside the palace infirmary. A number of the Children of Oberon were clustered about the Queen, as concerned about their rulerís fate as she was, alongside the five visitors from the outside world, and much of the Avalon clan. "He will live - but it will be a long time before he recovers, I fear. He absorbed too much of the iron dust, and it will take some time to remove it."
"How long a time are we talking about?" asked Merlin.
"I do not know," said Diancecht. "But it will certainly not be overnight. That much I can tell you. Lord Oberon will be incapacitated for quite some time."
"Then, as his queen, I must assume the rule of Avalon as Regent, until he fully recovers," said Titania gravely. "Avalon cannot go ungoverned, and especially not in these dark times."
"All the same, I donít think that I like the sound of this," said Brooklyn. "This Nicholas guy escaped with a couple of dangerous Unseelies, heís out there ready to cause more trouble, and even Oberon couldnít stop him. It looks like weíre in for a very nasty war."
"Which is why we cannot remain here for long," said Merlin. "Weíll have to tell the others back in Manhattan about this. And weíll have to go now. Remember, timeís passing by at a quicker rate in the outside world. Who knows what my sonís been able to accomplish already?"
He turned back to face Titania. "By your leave, my lady, we must depart," he said. "We wish your lord and husband well, and hope that he recovers. And we promise to do something about the new Unseelie Court."
"We thank you for your sentiments, Merlin," said Titania. "And I will assist you in any way that I can."
The five visitors from the outside world walked away down the corridor, headed for home.
* * *
Some minutes later, Titania sat upon her throne in the great hall. By now, word of Oberonís wounding and subsequent incapacitation, and of Maeve and the Morriganís escape, had spread throughout Avalon, and most of the Children had anxiously crowded into the hall, hoping to find out exactly what had happened. Nearly all of the gargoyles in the Avalon clan were present as well, perched upon the balconies. It was a while before the hubbub died down enough for Titania to have the opportunity to speak.
"My people, I will not hide the facts from you," she said. "First of all, most of what you have heard is true. Maeve and the Morrigan have indeed escaped from their imprisonment, rescued by the halfling grandson of Madoc Morfryn who calls himself ĎNicholas the Secondí. And this Nicholas indeed defeated my husband with cold iron and rendered him helpless. He will live, however.
"We found the gargoyle Ezekiel in the forest shortly after Nicholasís flight from Avalon; he was unconscious when we discovered him, but will live. So will Anansi the Spider, who was merely stunned by the Unseelies when they defeated him. That is the good news.
"The bad news, however, is that a new Unseelie Court has formed, and threatens not only our kind, but the mortals as well. We must act against it, to prevent it from conquering the world, as it has set out to do once more. And that means that we must send some of our kind as emissaries, to help the mortals against the Unseelies, wherever we can."
She looked over the assembled crowd, and finally singled out a few: Odin All-father, Coyote the Trickster, and the Weird Sisters. "I choose you for this task," she said to them. "Go forth and do what you can against Madoc Morfrynís heir. But be warned; there may be troubles being forged in other quarters. My instinct tells me that the Unseelies are not the only threat facing this world.
"As for the rest of you," she said, addressing the remainder of the Children, "you are dismissed - for now. But stand by; when the time is right, we all must take action."
* * *
"Caer Sidi lies ahead, my lady," said Nicholas to Maeve. The former Queen of the Unseelie Court was seated upon a chair on the bridge of the hover-transport, looking already in somewhat better health than she had been during the long imprisonment in Anansiís web. Nicholas stood before her, appearing almost diffident and bashful now.
"Caer Sidi?" asked Maeve.
"My private estate," said Nicholas. "Here it shall be your home as well as mine, and home to all those who have - um - have supported the cause of both you and my - ah - illustrious grandfather. From this place, we shall hold sway over the entire world, when it has fallen before our invincible might. Lord Madocís dream shall finally be fulfilled."
His voice had an uneven quaver as he spoke. He must have noticed this, for he continued.
"Forgive me, my lady. I fear that in your divine presence, I feel more like a schoolboy. If you only knew how often I have dreamed of the day when I would finally stand before you, and bask in the warmth of your surpassing beauty and majesty."
Maeve looked up at him thoughtfully for a moment, then replied in her turn. "Youíll forgive me if I say that this is all a little much for me to take in still. Clearly much has changed while I was kept prisoner on Avalon. I would like some time apart, to decide what to do."
"Of course, my lady," said Nicholas, nodding. "As you request of me, so shall I do." And with that, he gave her an elegant, courtly bow, and walked away towards the other end of the bridge, where Phobos and Deimos were seated at the controls, and Garlon was waiting. Maeve watched him for a moment, then turned to the Morrigan.
"Well, what do you think, cousin?" she asked.
"Well, Iíve been watching this ĎNicholas the Secondí for a while," said the Morrigan. "Ever since he broke me out, in fact. And one thing Iím certain of. He seems positively smitten with you."
"Indeed?" asked Maeve. There was a trace of amusement in her voice. "Youíre certain of it, then?"
"Indeed I am," said the Morrigan. "I saw the same look in his fatherís eyes when I was going out with him as Corbie. Oh, heís infatuated, my lady, believe me."
"Yes," said Maeve, nodding. "Iíd suspected as much myself, but wished to have it confirmed by your observation. That way I may be certain that I am not merely imagining it."
She looked ahead at her former partnerís grandson. "I doubt that heíll ever quite match his grandfather in might," she admitted. "There is too much human blood in him, diluting the magic that he has inherited. But that hardly matters. What does matter is that there will be many among our former associates, those who are still alive and at liberty, who will gladly accept him because of his heritage. He will make a fine figurehead. And thatís all that I really need now. With him for a rallying point, we will soon have a fresh army at our command. And this time, we may well succeed. After all, this Nicholas has done what his grandfather could not. He laid low the mighty Oberon himself."
"So youíll join with him?" asked the Morrigan.
"Exactly," said Maeve. She held up her hand, and beckoned to Nicholas. He saw her gesture, and walked back to her.
"Yes, my lady?" he asked, kneeling to her. "Have you decided?"
"Yes, I have," she said. "And I am willing to join with you, and to rule and direct this new Unseelie Court by your side. Together, we shall prevail and make this entire world our kingdom, for us to govern forevermore."
"Excellent, my lady!" cried Nicholas, rising to his feet. His face was almost glowing with joy and delight, and his hands trembled with excitement. "Wonderful!"
Garlon watched in the background, and frowned grimly. But Nicholas paid him no heed in his jubilation. Maeve and the Morrigan, however, noted his scowl and glanced at each other, with much written in their eyes.
* * *
The hovertransport came to a complete rest in the courtyard of Castle Wyvern. As its passengers emerged from it, Alexander Xanatos and Artus came out from the great hall, closely followed by Persephone, Broadway, Serena, and Angelica.
"Youíre back!" cried Alexander eagerly. "How did it go, my friends?"
"Yes," said Broadway. "You stopped the break-out, didnít you?"
"Iím afraid not," said Brooklyn. "We got there too late. Nicholas broke Maeve out - and he badly wounded Oberon as well. Titaniaís promised to help us, but it doesnít look too good at the moment."
"Oh, no," said Persephone. "So it was all for nothing?"
"Well, I wouldnít consider Titaniaís promise a Ďnothingí," said Merlin. "But still, Maeveís at liberty now, and ready to help my son with the Unseelie Court, no doubt. We could be expecting an attack from them very soon, as well, once sheís back to her full strength."
"Then weíd better prepare for something like that," said Artus. "And I suppose that weíd better warn the other clans, as well. If the Unseelie Court wages war upon us, itíll certainly do the same to every other gargoyle that it knows about."
"Then Iíd better head off towards the communications room, and start sending messages," said Alexander. "And the rest of you see what you can do. Weíll need this place on a war footing, and quickly. Thereís no telling when the first attack will come."
* * * * *
Caer Sidi - Three Hours Later
Just what was that noise in the courtyard about? Garlon put down the book that he had been trying to read before the hubbub outside had made that an impossibility, and walked over to the library window to look out.
To his surprise, a crowd of Unseelies was assembling below, gathering about the balcony. Banners with ancient insignia woven upon them arose amid the throng, waving in the night wind. Garlon opened the windows, and looked down.
"What is all this in aid of?" he called down to them. "I demand to know!"
"Nicholas the Second and Queen Maeve are going to address us," called Grimalkin back up. The Unseelie cat was the only one who seemed to have noticed Garlon, or at least, the only one who felt at all inclined to answer him. "Theyíre going to be out in just a few minutes. Shouldnít you be down here with us?"
"A public assembly?" protested Garlon. "But there was none scheduled for tonight! Or at least, none that I knew of! What is going on here?"
"What is going on is that you are supposed to be down there in the courtyard, with the rest of them," said a voice from behind him. Garlon turned around, to see Phobos and Deimos standing in the doorway to the library.
"The Master sent us to look for you," said Deimos. "Now come with us at once. We have no time to waste."
"But this is preposterous!" Garlon cried. "An assembly of the Unseelie Court, called without my consent or knowledge? This is close dealing, if ever I heard of it! Why was I not informed?"
"Thatís none of your business," said Phobos. "What matters is that you are going to be late, if you donít want to displease the Master. Now come!"
Garlon followed them out of the library, without another word. Something was clearly very wrong here, but he knew that now was not the best time to protest over it. He descended the main staircase with them, and followed them out into the courtyard.
There, to his further surprise and shock, Phobos and Deimos led him to the back of the crowd, where the least important of the Unseelies, mostly Redcaps and wisps, were waiting. "Stand here," said Phobos, gesturing.
"What?" cried Garlon. "With this riffraff? You canít be serious, Phobos!"
"Itís not we who make this choice," said Deimos. "Those were the Masterís precise commands. He wants you to stand here. And he doesnít want it debated, either."
"Thatís right," said Phobos. "Itíll go worse with you if you challenge him on it. And you donít want that, do you?"
Scowling, Garlon stood in place as they had bidden him. But the moment that they walked away, he quietly elbowed his way up through the crowd, until he was standing close by Anath and the Morrigan. "At least this will spare me a little humiliation," he mumbled under his breath.
Phobos and Deimos took up their places on the foot of the steps leading up to the house, and raised trumpets to their mouths. They blew three great blasts and the murmuring in the crowd immediately ceased. As all eyes turned towards the balcony, Phobos and Deimos spoke in loud voices.
"The great Lord Nicholas the Second, grandson and heir to the great Lord Madoc Morfryn, ruler of the Unseelie Court, King by right of Avalon, and Emperor of the Three Races! And Her Ladyship Queen Maeve of the Unseelie Court, his partner and consort!"
Nicholas emerged on the balcony, clad in his crimson faerie armor now for this state occasion. Beside him stood Maeve, arrayed in her old finery and restored now to her full health and regality. Cheer after cheer greeted them from below, rising up from the assembled host. Both of them bowed slightly to acknowledge the plaudits of their subjects.
"My people!" cried Nicholas, raising his right hand in a triumphant gesture. "I have good tidings for you! We at last have the means to reach Avalon and to invade it, wrested from our enemies at last! But that is not all! I myself have gone to Avalon, and rescued the fair Queen Maeve from her unjust imprisonment! Beside me she stands once again, hale and strong, to lead us into battle again!
"But that is not all! I fought Oberon to his face, and defeated him! He now lies weak and helpless in his palace, no longer a threat to us! I, Nicholas the Second, have proved that the Usurper that stole Avalonís throne is not invincible! He can be vanquished, and he will!"
The Unseelies cheered again, louder than before, waving their banners. Then they fell silent again, as Maeve spoke.
"My people, it is good to see you again," she said. "It is a splendid host that you have assembled. I have no doubt that this time, we shall achieve our goals, achieve the victory that we have so longed for! All of our enemies shall topple before us. Already, our fortunes have returned to what they should be by right. And this is only the first of many victories!"
The crowd acknowledged her once again, chanting her name over and over in almost a frenzy. Maeve gazed down at it and smiled. Nicholas also smiled, then turned to her.
"Now that you stand by my side, as my queen," he said to her, his voice unsteady and close to stammering like that of a schoolboy once more, "I know that we will triumph. Our victory will be as splendid as your beauty. We have naught to fear."
"I know," she said, with a smile. And they embraced, their lips meeting in a long and passionate kiss.
Only Garlon scowled as he gazed up at them, his fists clenched in helpless fury.