TWO ROADS DIVERGED - PART ONE.
Written by Greg Bishansky and Todd Jensen
Story Concept by Greg Bishansky and Todd Jensen
Caer Sidi, Long Island - June 27, 2173
Garlon walked through the hallways of his employer's mansion, towards the great hall. The great assembly was due to begin any moment now.
There had been gatherings of the Unseelie Court, or what was left of it after Madoc Morfryn's cataclysmic defeat and death almost two centuries ago, here at Caer Sidi before, once a year, but none of them had been like this. Those had been only brief assemblies, after which the Unseelies present had dispersed, each to go his or her own way; they could not afford to draw too much attention to themselves, in case Oberon and Titania were to find out and take action. But this would not be like the others, a simple reunion of the Unseelies, followed by their renewing their oaths of allegiance to Nicholas II as their liege lord. This was the genuine beginning, at last.
The brown-clad Unseelie approached the double doors of the great hall. Two Sidhe knights stood there, clad in full armor, their heraldic devices embroidered upon their surcoats. As they saw Garlon draw near, they pulled the doors open, standing aside that he might enter. Garlon nodded stiffly at them, in response. The reception reminded him of the time that he had spent at Madoc's castle atop the Brocken during both Unseelie Wars, serving both him and Queen Maeve.
He entered the hall. A long oak table dominated the center, at which the Unseelies present sat. He gazed over them in a thoughtful silence, before taking his own seat, summing them up.
There were similarities, he noticed, to the original Unseelie Court, but differences as well. Those, of course, could not be avoided. He would simply have to accept what he had to work with.
At the table sat the Canaanite war goddess Anath, the Unseelie Court's current field commander. Across from her sat Gwyn ap Nudd, the new leader of the Wild Hunt. To his left sat Kunkung, Rangda's former lieutenant and now serving Anath in the same role. The Wisp Handler Rhea sat to Anath's right. The cat Grimalkin sat upon the table, gazing at Garlon in a very unsettling manner; it reminded him of the looks that Sekhmet had once given him. Surtur, the leader of the Fire Giants, stood alone in a shadowed corner of the hall, his flaming sword in his hand. Phobos and Deimos sat across from each other near the foot of the table. The bat-like Camazotz rounded off their number.
At the head of the table stood the new ruler of the Unseelie Court: Nicholas Hawkins, also known as Nicholas the Second. The moon shone through the great window behind and above him, its light casting a halo-like radiance about his head. At last, he seated himself in the high-backed wooden chair at the table's head. Garlon took his own place at once.
"I believe that you all know why we are gathered here," said Nicholas, addressing the gathered Unseelies. "Our moment of glory is almost upon us."
"I agree," said Anath. "But we are not prepared yet. Our forces still need time to train before they can serve as a match for Oberon and his lackeys."
"I said that our moment was almost upon us," replied Nicholas, "not that it was here. And I agree with you, Lady Anath. Our numbers are seriously depleted from the past war, and the dark years afterwards when many more of us were hunted down and slain, or taken back to Avalon as prisoners. For that reason, we will need to adopt a different strategy than my great predecessor, Lord Madoc, did." He paused for a moment. "Besides," he continued, "our Court is still not as yet whole."
Garlon rolled his eyes in disgust. He knew what was going to come next.
"We cannot even consider acting," Nicholas said, "until our Queen is seated at this table once again. At my side, as it was meant to be."
Rhea nervously spoke up. "I do not mean any disrespect, my lord," she said, her voice quavering. "But Her Majesty Queen Maeve is imprisoned on Avalon, well beyond our reach. And as long as we lack the incantation needed to gain access to that island, there is nothing that we can do."
Before Nicholas could reply, Anath spoke. "The gargoyle called Angela knows the spell to reach Avalon," she said. "During the last war, Lord Madoc attempted many times to take her prisoner, so that he might interrogate her and wrest the secret from her. But he never succeeded in doing so."
Nicholas raised an eyebrow, a look of strong interest upon his features. "Well, this certainly merits investigation," he said. "Does anyone else know that spell, besides her?"
"The gargoyle leader called Goliath knew it," said Garlon, "and so did his human mate, the Detective Elisa Maza. But they are long since gone, and we can scarcely extract the information from their remains."
"I see," said Nicholas, nodding. "Well, as it happens, I already have a plan through which we can and will obtain the spell." He spoke the words with a smirk, as well as an odd gleam in his eyes. "And I happen to be looking forward to carrying it out."
* * * * *
Manhattan - June 28, 2173
"Some things never change," said Angela. She smiled at Broadway, who was seated next to her at the table, and turned that smile toward Benedick, who sat across from them.
"What do you mean?" Benedick asked.
"This restaurant has been here since the twentieth century," Angela replied. "I'm rather surprised it survived the Quake."
At that moment, Demona approached the table and sat down next to Benedick. "I'm sorry I'm late," she said. "I got tied up at a meeting."
"It's all right, Demona," Angela replied. "I understand, and I'm glad you were able to make it. Though I imagine that Benedick is even more pleased to see you than I am," she added with a smile.
"You know that I am always happy to see you," Demona said, addressing Benedick. "I'm sorry for being so busy for the past few days."
"Don't worry about it, Demmie," said Benedick. "I understand how important your work is. Besides, we were having a nice conversation to pass the time."
"Yes," said Angela. "I was just telling Benedick about how long this restaurant has been here. Though this is the first time I've been here since 1996."
"Really, child," said Demona (still calling her "child" even though her daughter was now physically older than she herself was), "you really should have come here more often. Le Ciel Azure is one of the few places in this city that I can stand dining in."
"I'm sorry, Mother," Angela replied. "It's just that, the last time I was here, I actually 'told' Maeve that I was from Avalon." Upon seeing Broadway raise a brow-ridge at that, she added, "Yes, my love. This is that same restaurant."
"I can see that this is going to be a long story," commented Benedick musingly.
"Yes, and one which we would rather not get into this evening," said Demona. "The Second Unseelie War was a long time ago, but we still remember it as if it were mere days."
"Too many bad memories there," said Broadway, nodding. "I'm still surprised that we made it through alive."
"On to other subjects, then," suggested Angela. "How is business going, Mother?"
"Quite well, actually," she replied. "I just had lunch with James Hartheson and his wife the other day. We discussed a possible partnership between Black Circle Industries and Nightstone Unlimited on various projects. I have another meeting with Alexander Xanatos later this week, and there's going to be a big party in Washington D.C. on the evening of the Fourth of July, where I hope to make a few business deals with the government."
"That sounds very interesting," said Angela. "What do you think, Broadway?"
Broadway gave no response, being too engrossed in the menu just then. Angela gave him a slight nudge with her tail. "Oh, uh, yeah," he said. "Very interesting, Demona."
"I believe that we should order right now," said Angela, giving Broadway a slight glance of disapproval as she spoke. She did not see Demona's eyes flicker a bright red for a brief moment.
* * *
Some time after their meal, Demona, Benedick, Broadway, and Angela stood amid the ruins of Belvedere Castle looking out over the lake. The whole area was bathed in the moonlight reflecting off of the pool of water.
"Broadway and I used to come here quite often," Angela said. "Before the Quake, of course."
"Yep," said Broadway, nodding. "Those times were certainly more fun than the first time that I was here. Elisa had quite a story to tell."
"Broadway." Angela began.
"What was that story?" Benedick asked.
Broadway glanced briefly at his mate and her mother. "It's not important."
"Funny," Demona said, her eyes flickering as they did. "By the tone in your voice and the look in your eyes, I'd say it must be important to you. You must have something to say. Go ahead. Say it!"
"Demona almost blew Elisa away with a bazooka here," Broadway said. "She and Macbeth kidnapped us and brought us here in chains as a trap to lure Elisa out here and kill the rest of us afterwards!"
"I was not acting of my own free will during that incident," stated Demona stiffly, but with the half-hint of a snarl in her throat.
Well, it was still something that you would have done then," retorted Broadway. "Probably not with Macbeth, though. I'll give him that much."
"That was a long time ago!" Demona shouted. "I have changed since then."
"We thought that you'd changed before!" Broadway shouted back. "And boy, were we wrong!"
Benedick could not believe what he was hearing. He had heard all of the stories about the "infamous Demona", and he certainly did not doubt any of them. But what had once been a pleasant evening had now exploded into something that must have been building for a long time. He turned his head to see Angela gazing at him with a look of sympathy and regret in her eyes. It was obvious that she had seen this before.
"How many more times must I apologize?" Demona screamed.
"How about once?" Broadway retorted. "And not to me, or to Angela. I'd like to see you apologize to a human, just once!"
"How dare you bring this up at this point in our lives, at a time when I am trying to move on?" she cried out. "It is not your place to decide whom I must apologize to!"
"Excuse me," shouted back Broadway, "but I was the one who was willing to drop it earlier, before it became an argument! You pressed the issue! You brought it up!"
Demona's eyes flared red, and she let out a snarl before turning around and storming away from them.
Angela rushed over to Benedick's side. "I'm sorry that you had to see all of that," she said, tears briefly appearing in her eyes. "Unfortunately, we're not the most stable of families."
"I understand," said Benedick. "What family doesn't have its difficulties?"
"None that I can think of," said Broadway. "I'm sorry too, Ben. It's just that.... what she did...."
"No, I understand your position," Benedick said. "And hers, too. More than I wish I did."
"I'll go talk to her," said Angela. "Hopefully we can salvage what was a pleasant evening up until now."
She left the clearing, leaving Broadway and Benedick alone together, both hoping that their loves would be all right this evening.
* * *
Garlon stood in the shadows of the trees, watching the proceedings through a pair of electronic binoculars. He followed Demona's path, and looked back to see Angela pursuing her mother. Reaching into his coat pocket, he pulled out his cellular phone, and punched in a number.
"This is Garlon," he reported. "I've spotted our target."
* * *
"Splendid," said Nicholas Hawkins to his sister Angelica, as he dipped his sushi into the small bowl of soy sauce. "I'd love to see a copy of the manuscript when it's finished."
"I hope that you'll like it," she replied. "I put my heart and soul into this book. After all, given our family heritage, I thought that a book dealing with the myths and legends of the British Isles would have to be written in our lifetime."
"Of course, you and I both know," commented Nicholas, "that a lot of these so-called 'myths and legends' really fall under the category of history. Just how much of that does it cover, by the way?"
"Well, I have sections on King Arthur," she said, "Macbeth - the real story, not the Shakespeare version, of course, Cuchulain, and -" She hesitated for a moment, before continuing. "-And both Unseelie Wars."
"Why did you hesitate, Angelica?" Nicholas asked her. "You needn't worry," he continued, with a smile. "I have no intention of having this conversation again tonight. I'm in too good a mood for that."
"Thank you," she said. "So am I."
"So when do you expect it to hit the stores?"
"Some time next year," she replied. "If it's well enough received, I plan on doing a book tour."
Nicholas was about to respond when he heard his cellular phone ring. "Excuse me one moment," he said, pulling it out of his jacket pocket and holding it up to his ear. "Yes," he said, listening to it. "Excellent. See that it's acquired. I'll be meeting you as soon as possible."
He returned his phone to his pocket, and stood up. "I'm sorry, Angelica, but it's business," he said.
"I see," she replied, another uneasy note in her voice. It was clear enough from the look in her eyes that she could guess just what sort of business that was, and was not entirely certain that she wanted to know.
"I wish you good luck with your book," he continued at once, shifting away from the subject. "Oh, and don't forget about the manuscript, now, will you?"
"I'll send you a copy, first thing in the morning," she said.
Nicholas reached into his pocket, but Angelica waved him off. "Dinner is on me tonight," she said. "You did pay last time, after all."
"Thank you for the meal, then," he said, giving his sister a brief hug. "I'll talk to you later. Maybe next month, we can take in a trip to the opera in Rome."
"Yes," she said, with a smile. "That would be pleasant, Nicholas. I hope that we can."
* * *
Demona stared out over the lake, her face an unreadable mask. She did not have to turn her head to realize that she was not alone. "I'm fine, Angela," she said, before her daughter could speak.
"No," Angela replied. "No, you are not fine, mother. And you know it. You would not have stormed out otherwise."
Her tone softened. "I care about you, Mother. "I always have. It took me decades to forgive you for what you did, but I eventually did. But I never stopped caring about you, and holding a little bit of hope in my heart. I only wish that Father and Elisa had lived to see that that hope was not unfounded."
"Is there a point to all of this?" Demona began, before checking herself. "I'm sorry, Angela. This has not been one of my better nights." Then she chuckled darkly. "Actually," she continued, "comparing this to every other night in my life, I'm afraid that it's one of the better ones."
"Mother, you have done a lot of good in the last few years," said Angela. "You helped to rebuild New York City after the Quake, and you have helped gargoyles all over the world. Benedick loves you and has forgiven all your crimes, but the problem is that you cannot forgive yourself."
Before Demona could reply, a mocking voice came out from the shadows beneath the trees. "Now, isn't this sweet? Such a pity that we have to bring this conversation to a premature end."
The two gargoyles turned in the direction of the speaker. Neither had seen the mouse-brown man standing there for many years, but both recognized him almost at once as Garlon. He signalled, and a pack of Yell Hounds, the white red-eared dogs of the Wild Hunt, emerged from the trees, accompanied by Anath and Gwyn ap Nudd, both on horseback.
"Take them!" Anath cried out. "Now!"
The two gargoyles quickly took up their battle stances. The Yell Hounds rushed forward at them, baying savagely.
* * *
"I'm sorry for the outburst," said Broadway. "It's just that I've been holding this inside me for years."
"No need to keep apologizing, Broadway," said Benedick. "Sometimes, things need to be said."
"I know," said Broadway. "It's just that -". He halted. "Do you hear that?"
"It sounds like dogs barking," said Benedick. "Some humans must be nearby with their pets, I suppose."
"I don't think that those are ordinary dogs," said Broadway. "I've heard them before. And they're coming from where Demona and Angela are!"
He pulled his cellular phone out of his pouch, and began punching in the number for Eyrie Pyramid Security. Benedick was already rushing towards the sound of the commotion.
* * *
"So you wretched creatures are still at large," said Demona, glowering at the Unseelies in anger, her eyes glowing red more than ever. "Have you learned nothing from your last defeat?"
"Indeed we have," said Garlon. "We will not be so easy to defeat this time, either. We are ready for you now, gargoyle."
"Leave her alone!" shouted Benedick, gliding into view. Broadway was right behind him. "If it's a fight you want -"
"In fact, we don't want one at all," said Garlon, smiling wickedly. He and Anath gestured, and a dark cloud rose up from the ground, engulfing all four gargoyles. Demona, Angela, Benedick, and Broadway all began to gasp and choke, as the gas entered their nostrils, and then, one by one, fell to the ground, unconscious. The Unseelies waited for the gas to disperse, then moved forward.
Garlon picked Demona up, and pushed her up onto Gwyn's horse. He was about to go for Angela next, when a searchlight fell upon the small group. It came from an armored helicopter above, with the Xanatos logo emblazoned upon its side.
"Eyrie Pyramid Security!" shouted a voice from inside. "Give yourselves up, now!"
"No, thank you," replied Garlon, turning around. "At least we have the one whom Lord Nicholas wants," he said to the other Unseelies. "Let us be away from here, now!"
The Unseelies and Demona vanished in a flash of light, before the startled eyes of the Eyrie Pyramid Security personnel. Angela, Broadway, and Benedick remained unconscious upon the grass below, alone now.
* * *
Nicholas Hawkins seated himself in the back seat of his hover-limousine. He took a hand-sized orb out of a hidden compartment and gestured over it. Garlon's face appeared within the orb.
"Well, Garlon?" he asked. "Do you have her?"
"Yes, my liege," said Garlon. "The gargoyle Demona is ours. But we could not secure her daughter."
"No matter," replied Nicholas. "Her mother is the one that I want. We can still get the information that we need from Angela, using her. But it is Demona whom I particularly want to make the full acquaintance of." An eager gleam shone in his eyes as he spoke, and his lips curved upwards in a cruel smile.
* * *
"The children have indeed grown," said Harthoth to Sata, as they watched the two hatchlings run about through the arboretum.
"Indeed they have," replied Sata. "Your visits here have grown more frequent, Harthoth," she continued.
"And do you find a problem with that?"
"No," she answered. "But I still wonder what the reason for it is."
Harthoth sighed before he spoke again. "I am not at liberty to give a reason," he said. "Suffice it to say that I wish to enjoy your company while I still can. Large events are on the horizon."
"And soon we may meet again, on the opposite side of a katana," Sata added. "That was your implication, I presume? Am I correct?"
Before Hartoth could reply, they both heard Brooklyn's approaching voice, calling out "SATA! SATA!" Sata quickly turned in the direction of her mate's voice, then glanced back for a moment at Harthoth, only to discover that the Egyptian gargoyle had disappeared without a trace.
Brooklyn walked up to her. "Anything wrong?" he asked her.
"No," she replied. "Not at all."
"Good," said Brooklyn. "Because we've got enough to worry about as it is. We need to get to Artus's office right away. There's an emergency meeting."
"What happened?" Sata asked.
"There's been an abduction," Brooklyn replied.
* * *
Alexander Xanatos was giving Broadway, Angela, and Benedick a bottle of water each as Brooklyn and Sata entered the office.
"What happened here?" Sata asked.
"They took her," said Broadway.
"Took who?" asked Brooklyn.
"Demona," said Alexander, turning to the two time travelers.
"The Unseelies captured her," said Artus, entering the office. "I just received a telephone call from them. They're offering a trade."
"What do they want?" Benedick growled.
"Knowing them," said Alexander, "I would suspect that they want the incantation to reach Avalon."
"You guessed correctly," said Artus grimly. "That is exactly what they want."
"How predictable," Alex commented. "They don't appear to have changed much in almost two hundred years."
"What I don't understand, though," said Angela, "is why they kidnapped Mother instead of me. I'm the one who knows the spell, after all, and they know it. Why didn't they take me?"
"That we don't know, yet," said Artus. "But what matters is that we will have to find some way of recovering her. The trouble is, we don't know where they would be keeping her. Their command of technology appears to have kept up with the times; they were able to prevent us from tracing their call."
"What I want to know," said Brooklyn, "is who these Unseelies are in the first place. We met them during that incident with Sekhmet, but just who are they? Especially since it sounds like you guys have faced them before."
Angela nodded. "We have," she said. "But - we can't tell you or Sata about them. You see, you didn't know that much about them the first time that we had trouble with them, so that means that we didn't tell you much."
"I see," said Brooklyn, with a sigh. "The usual problem with time travel, I suppose. So what do we do now? I mean, if we don't know where to start looking for them or Demona, what can we do? Besides just sitting here, I mean?"
"There's one person out there who knows enough about the Unseelies to help us deal with them," said Angela. "I'm going to tell Merlin. If I can reach him."
"You're certain on being able to find him?" asked Artus.
"Well, no," she said. "But the last that I heard, he's still most likely living in his retreat up in the Caledonian Forest. Hopefully I can get through to him there. And I'd better tell Angelica, as well. If he won't be able to come, then she can help out. And even better will be if they can both come here, to assist us."
"Very well, then," said Artus. "We probably will need all the help that we can."
* * *
Demona came to, to find herself shackled to the stone wall that she was sprawled against. The dungeon cell that she was in was dimly lit, but she could still make out the shape of a human, standing over her, staring down at her.
"Ah, so you're awake at last," said the man, speaking in a familiar voice. "Good evening, Demona."
"You!" cried Demona, glowering up at Nicholas Hawkins in fury, her eyes blazing red. "I should have known that you were somehow involved in this! Now, release me at once! Or I will have your head!"
"I'm afraid that you're scarcely in a position to make such demands of me, my dear Demona," said Nicholas, smiling wryly. "Which is something that you should have recognized yourself. Going soft in the head, now, are we?"
"What do you want, Hawkins?" cried Demona. "My company? Surely you don't expect me to surrender it to a card-carrying member of the Gargoyle Education League. Yes, I know that you've never made any secret of your hatred for my kind."
"Actually, Demona," said Nicholas, "this meeting has nothing to do with either of your companies. Particularly since, to be quite frank, I never had that much interest in Nightstone Unlimited. I always found Xanatos Enterprises and Black Circles Industries to be far more fascinating. No, this has nothing to do with the business world. Rather, it's about you yourself."
"And what is your plan?" asked Demona. "Turn me over to your friends at GEL, for their amusement?" She practically spat the words out at him, in her rage. She also tugged upon the chains, but they were too strong for her to break. "Is that it?"
"This has nothing to do with them, either," said Nicholas. He moved closer, and Demona could now see his face much more clearly in the gloom. There was a look in her eyes that she had last seen upon looking into a mirror. "Believe me, my interest in you is of a much more personal matter. A matter involving myself and my family. And an ancient wrong that you did them, that demands vengeance."
"You are yet another of those accursed Hunters?" cried Demona. "I thought that I was rid of them all at last!"
"This has nothing to do with the Canmores," Nicholas replied. "You murdered my grandfather, almost two hundred years ago."
"That scarcely narrows the field down," said Demona. "Speak much more clearly, human! If you are not one of the Hunters, then who are you?"
"I am the grandson of Madoc Morfryn," replied Nicholas calmly. "Madoc Morfryn, Lord of the Unseelie Court. Whom you treacherously smote down less than two centuries ago!"
If Demona was shocked, she did not show it. She stared at the man before her, her face a mask that hid whatever emotions might be raging behind her eyes.
"Surely you did not believe that my grandfather would die without an heir," said Nicholas. "I am his heir!"
* * *
Southern England - 2015
Romulus Hawkins sat in his chair, sulking. He glanced over briefly at the cradle in one corner of the living room where his new little sister was quietly napping, then back at his parents. Both of them were quietly talking as they placed the refreshments tray down upon the coffee table.
"It should just be another minute," Father was saying. "Then they'll awake, and can join us."
Mother nodded. "Have you told Angela yet? About you wanting her to be Angelica's godmother, I mean?"
"Oh, yes," said Father. "She seemed quite pleased about it, too. I only hope that the Vicar will be understanding about it. I haven't broached the subject with him yet, and it could - well, be a little difficult for him to accept."
"It shouldn't be that much of a problem," said Mother. "I mean, at least Chambers has never fallen into the 'gargoyles-are-demons' camp, so far as I know. So it's probably not all that bad."
"I know," said Father. "But you know how gargoyles take a bit of getting used to. And I don't think that he's ever met one face to face. At least, none of the Scottish variety. I'll admit that they do look a bit more intimidating than the English variety."
"True," said Mother, nodding. "Perhaps I can handle it. I know him a little better than you do, Emrys, and besides, you already talked it over with Angela. I can't let you have all the fun."
A couple of roars from upstairs interrupted the conversation, as the sun disappeared below the horizon outside. Romulus involuntarily started at the sound; he knew that the gargoyles were his parents' friends, especially Father's, but it still spooked him a little. He glanced over at the cradle, to see that his sister had slept through it all, undisturbed. Then he looked back at his parents. They were listening expectantly, and waiting.
Moments later, the two gargoyles entered the living room. "Good evening," said Father pleasantly to them. "I trust that you slept well, both of you?"
"Oh, yes," said Angela, nodding. "Thank you for inviting us, Emrys, Mary."
"Yeah," said Broadway, with a large smile. "It was really nice of you." He looked about him. "Kind of a small gathering, isn't it?"
Father nodded. "Yes," he said. "I'm afraid that the others couldn't make it. Things were rather busy at home; it's a small wonder that they haven't called Mary and myself in yet to help out."
"Not that we're complaining," said Mother. "And I'm afraid that my father wouldn't come. The moment that he found out about you two - I'm sorry, but I don't think that he still likes gargoyles that much."
"Yeah, can't be helped," said Broadway sadly. "I guess that there'll always be some humans like that."
"So where is my future goddaughter, anyway?" Angela asked. "I'd like to see her."
"Oh, yes, of course," said Mother. She walked over to the cradle, the female lavender gargoyle following her. Neither one of them even glanced momentarily in Romulus's direction. He noticed that and scowled.
Mother stooped down over the cradle, and gently lifted Angelica out of it, holding her carefully so as not to upset her. Angela looked down at the baby, a look of absolute delight upon her face.
"Hello, Angelica," she said.
"Hello, Angelica," murmured Romulus in a mocking voice under his breath. He walked over to the sofa, and sat down on it with his arms folded across his chest, scowling.
"So what does the Vicar have to say about that?" Broadway was asking Father.
"I'm hoping that he'll be reasonable," said Father. "Fortunately, Chambers is open-minded on the gargoyle issue. Besides, Angela should be pretty good at being able to put him at ease over it. So it probably shouldn't be too much of an issue."
He glanced over in his son's direction just then, and noticed him pouting. "I say, Romy," he said to him. "Come and say hello to our guests."
"Don't call me Romy," said Romulus sharply. He spoke loud enough for Mother and Angela to hear him, as well as Father and Broadway. All four of them turned and stared at him concernedly, Broadway and Angela appearing worried, Father and Mother disapproving.
"Young man, we don't talk like that in this house," said Father in a firm voice. "Now be polite, Romulus. Say that you're sorry."
"I'm sorry," said Romulus, though with a resentful tone underlying his voice. Father sighed.
"Having a bad day, is he?" Broadway asked.
"I'm sorry about this," said Father, shaking his head sadly. "I don't know what's with him tonight. Maybe he just needs to go to bed a little early. Mary and I decided to make an exception to the rule, since we couldn't have this little celebration before sundown, but now I'm not so certain that this was a good idea."
"Give him a little while, Emrys," offered Angela. "Maybe he'll settle down." She bent down over him. "You will, Romulus, won't you?"
Romulus said nothing. He merely sat there moodily.
"Well, he never does seem too fond of being called 'Romy'," Mother admitted. "Emrys and I do call him that all the same - 'Romulus' is something of a mouthful - but we're trying to cut down on it."
"Well, I can understand," said Angela thoughtfully. "I wasn't too fond of having a nickname when I first came to Manhattan, either."
"You can say that again," agreed Broadway, remembering.
"It's probably just that," said Father, though with a furrow of concern creasing his brow, and a vague look of uneasiness in his eyes. "Nothing more than that. At least, I hope not."
The other three grown-ups nodded. Romulus said nothing.
* * *
Mons Carbi Comprehensive - 2025
"Oh, no, you don't, Hawkins! You're not getting away this time!"
Romulus Hawkins turned a corner, still fleeing frantically. He glanced back over his shoulder, to see that Simon Vickery and his friends were right behind him, and gaining on him. He desperately put on a fresh burst of speed, but to no avail. The three of them caught up with him, and bore him to the ground.
"Let me go, will you!" screamed Romulus, struggling. "Let me go!"
"No fear of that, Hawkins," said Vickery, with a gloating smile on his face. "Not until we're done. And we're not done yet."
He stood up, still grinning viciously, while his two sidekicks continued to pin Romulus down to the ground. "It's punching bag time." He brought his fist down.
* * *
Two quiet mouse-brown eyes, beneath a thatch of mouse-brown hair, watched thoughtfully, as the three bullies happily tormented the smaller boy. The figure standing beneath the shadows of the trees at the edge of the playground nodded. This would be easier than he had expected.
* * *
"See you tomorrow, Hawkins," said Vickery, as he and his friends walked away, leaving Romulus lying on the ground, severely bruised. "Then we can pick up again where we left off."
Romulus painfully picked himself up off the ground, and glowered balefully in the direction of the departing trio. "You watch your backs," he said, between groans of pain. "Just you do that. I'll get even with you someday, I really will. I'll - I 'll - well, whatever it is I'll do, it'll be enough to make you wish that you three had never picked on me."
"Admirable sentiments, I must admit," said a voice from behind him. "Unfocused ones, unfortunately, but still, quite admirable."
Romulus turned around, to see a man standing there, a man whom he had never seen before. He was quiet-looking, an almost nondescript figure, with mouse-brown hair -- the sort of person whom you could glance at briefly in a crowd and then move on from without another thought, a man so ordinary in appearance that one would not even dismiss him as unimportant because that decision had been made automatically the moment that your eyes fell upon him. "Been having a bad day then, have you?" the man asked.
Romulus's parents had told him many times that he was not to talk to strangers. Usually, he listened to them. But this particular afternoon was an exception to the general rule. He was far too curious about this mysterious gentleman to listen to them. And what do they know, anyway? he thought. They can't even do anything about Vickery. So he looked straight at the man instead, and then asked him "Who are you?"
"My name is Garlon," said the man, in a matter-of-fact tone.
"Garlon?" asked Romulus. "Just Garlon? Don't you have a surname, or anything like that?"
Garlon shook his head. "My kind generally do not bother with such appendages," he said. "We're so unique, each of us, that we stand in no need of them to distinguish ourselves by them."
"Your kind?" asked Romulus. "What do you mean?"
"It doesn't matter," said Garlon. "I'm more interested in you than in me, anyway. You've been beaten up rather badly, haven't you?"
"You can say that again," said Romulus sullenly.
"It's not much fun, is it? Being teased and humiliated almost constantly, and knowing that there's no way that you can get your own back? Having to submit to the same torment day after day, without any hope that it will ever change?"
"Exactly," said Romulus. "So are you a mind-reader or something like that?" He looked at Garlon straight in the eye. "Because you certainly sound like one right now."
Garlon shook his head. "Nothing on that scale, I'm afraid," he said. "Although I do have certain talents. And I'm all too familiar with the condition of being subjected to torture of the sort that you've undergone. That allows me to sense what it must be like for you."
"So you've been bullied, when you were my age?" Romulus asked. "Is that it, then?"
"Well, not quite," Garlon answered. "Similar, but not that similar. But never mind that. Listen. How would you like to get back at that young ruffian and his companions for what they did to you?"
"I'd like to, but I can't," said Romulus. "They're bigger and stronger than I am; if I tried fighting back at them, they'd simply smear me across the yard. And Vickery is one of the headmaster's favorites, so I can't complain about what he's doing to me. Besides, if I told anybody, Vickery'd only beat me up even harder for ratting on him."
"That was not quite the form of vengeance that I had in mind," said Garlon. "Suppose that I was to tell you that you had the ability to punish Master Vickery for his treatment of you, in a much more satisfying manner than mere fisticuffs?"
"Such as?" Romulus asked him.
"Magic," said Garlon.
"Get lost," said Romulus at once. "There's no such thing as magic. Everyone knows that."
"Everyone used to believe that there was no such thing as living gargoyles, either," Garlon replied. "And we all know now that that was not the case at all. You may find it hard to believe, my friend, but there is magic in your blood, flowing in your veins. You had it in you ever since you were born, in fact. You merely are not as yet aware of it."
"And how do you know?" asked Romulus, looking at him suspiciously.
"Your family has a certain bloodline on your father's side," answered Garlon calmly. "One with very strong magic invested in it. Why, your own father is one of the greatest wizards of all time, believe it or not. Possibly the greatest, among humans, at least."
"Yes, of course," said Romulus sarcastically. "My father's no wizard. I'd know if he was."
"He conceals his true nature," said Garlon. "Why, I don't know, but he's hidden it from you ever since you were born. I'm quite familiar with your father, in fact, and I know him well enough to know that his talents are strong enough for you to have inherited them. Though perhaps it's no surprise that he should have kept it a secret from you. He always was something of a fool; he could have done such great things with his powers had he chosen, but rejected it all for an 'ordinary' life." He shook his head. "Such a waste of potential. But you don't have to reject your gifts, as he did his. You can use yours."
"Maybe I'd better ask my dad about this, then," said Romulus, thoughtfully.
"Oh, he'd never tell you the truth," answered Garlon. "Let's face it; if he wanted you to know, wouldn't he have told you by now? He's bent on keeping your true destiny forever hidden from you. He wants you to be ordinary, a nobody. Somebody perpetually at the mercy of the school bullies. No, you've no hope in getting him to learn about what you truly are. But I can help you realize your legacy."
"And how can you do that?" Romulus asked. "Are you a wizard too?"
"In a way," Garlon replied. "Though it's much more complicated by that, in truth. But, yes, I can teach you. Just come with me, and soon, you'll never have to undergo a humiliation of the sort that those young hooligans inflicted upon you. What do you say?"
Romulus thought it over for a bit, then nodded. "I'm with you," he said. "Just lead the way."
"Of course," said Garlon, nodding. "Follow me."
* * * * *
Two Weeks Later
Garlon nodded approvingly. "You're doing very well, Master Romulus. Very well, indeed. I believe that it's now time for you to use what I've taught you. You know what to do?"
Romulus nodded. "I'm ready," he said, an eager gleam shining in his eyes.
"Good, then," said Garlon. "And I expect good results from you, as well."
Romulus strode confidently towards the schoolyard. He was just entering it when Vickery and his two friends stepped out before him.
"So, you're back, Hawkins," said Vickery. "You've really a lot of nerve, coming back for more punishment."
"Excuse me, Vickery, but I have a right to come here," said Romulus calmly. "I'm enrolled at this school, just like you. And the last time that I checked, this schoolyard hadn't become your private property. I've as much right to be here as you do."
"Right, Hawkins, that's it," said Vickery sharply. "By the time that we're through with you, you'll need more bandages than a mummy." He and his companions clenched their fists, ready to strike.
"Oh, I think not," said Romulus, an evil gleam shining in his eyes. He stretched out one hand towards the three schoolboys, and cried out, in a loud voice, "You made me flee from you until this hour/ But now you three shall learn to run and cower/ Shrink and diminish, my tormenters three/ And partake of this change in form from me!"
A flash of crimson light erupted from his finger-tips, and enveloped the three youths. They halted, blinking, and then began to shrink. Tails sprouted from their backsides, fur sprouted all over their bodies, while their clothes merged with them. And only a minute later, where Vickery and his friends had been standing, three small brown mice stared up in bewilderment at Romulus. Then, the gleam of human understanding in their eyes vanished, and they scurried away, squeaking in panic.
"Yes!" cried Romulus in triumph. "Run away, you three! Run away! You won't be picking on me, ever again."
"Well done, Master Romulus," said Garlon, stepping out of the shadows with an approving smile upon his face. "Well done, indeed. You carried out the enchantment to perfection."
Romulus nodded. "Yes, I thought so," he said.
"So how does it feel, to have used the powers that you inherited from your father for the first time?" Garlon continued.
"It feels - well, great!" said Romulus. "Amazing. I could finally do something about Vickery, and I did. I want to be able to do it again."
"Again?" asked Garlon. "So there are other bullies at this school whom you wish to transform, then? Other tormentors?"
Romulus shook his head. "I mean, to use another spell," he said. "And another. To feel the power issuing from me, to be the one making the decisions around here. I never want to let go of it. Never."
"I quite agree," said Garlon, nodding. "It is a most invigorating feeling. So if you're interested in lessons -"
"Indeed I am," said Romulus. "I want to learn more. About everything that I can do. Teach me, Garlon! I want to know!"
"By all means, my friend," said Garlon. He smiled with an eagerness of his own as he spoke.
* * *
A Year Later
"Now, for today's lesson," Garlon began, "I thought that we'd-"
"I don't want to learn any new spells today," Romulus broke in at once.
"You don't?" Garlon asked, looking astonished. "But I thought that you -"
"I know what I can do," said Romulus. "But I want to know how I can do it. Where did I get this magic from?"
"From your father, of course," said Garlon. "As I told you before."
"But where did he get it from?" asked Romulus. "That's what I'd really like to know."
"Ah, yes," said Garlon, with a slight smile. "So your curiosity could not be forever restrained, then. I thought as much. Very well, then. It is time to reveal your heritage to you.
"Your father may claim to be human, Master Romulus, but he is only partly so. In truth, he is but half-human, on his mother's side. His father, your grandfather, was the greatest prince among the Third Race. The race that humans call, in their trivial fashion, elves or faeries."
"My grandfather was a fairy?" asked Romulus, in astonishment.
"Well, it's not the term that he would have liked to have used," said Garlon, "but, yes, he was of their kind."
"Was?" asked Romulus. "Do you mean that he's dead?"
"I'm afraid so," said Garlon gravely. "He died many years before you were born, alas. But he lives on in you, Master Romulus. You are his grandson - and in truth, you have his look about you. Far more so than your father did." He shook his head. "Now, your father is a great wizard indeed - one of the greatest of all - but he turned his back on the rich potential that might have been his, denied his birthright. And yet, he could have achieved great things had he only accepted the role that was meant for him, instead of squandering it on serving some foolish human king."
"Human king?" asked Romulus. "But my father doesn't know any kings."
"Oh, that's where you're mistaken, my friend," said Garlon. "Your father may go by the name of Emrys Hawkins, but his true name is Merlin. Merlin Ambrosius. The same Merlin who brought Arthur Pendragon to the throne of Camelot, though that was a distinctly overrated exploit of his." He shook his head in disgust. "What he might have accomplished had he joined with his father instead. But he denied the great Lord Madoc Morfryn instead, refused to follow him, even when he was offered such great power. The short-sighted fool. I hope that you have not inherited that quality of his."
"My father is Merlin?" asked Romulus. "The Merlin?"
"The same," said Garlon, nodding. "And now you know how it is that you possess so great a gift. It's in your blood; how can it not be, with him for a father?"
Romulus was silent for a few minutes, his eyes filled with astonishment, wonder, and an eager, hungry light. At last he spoke.
"So what about my grandfather?" he asked. "The one that you called Madoc Morfryn?" He spoke the name hesitantly, making certain that he was pronouncing it correctly. "What happened to him?"
"Your father was the rightful ruler over all the Fair Folk, and true-born king of Avalon," said Garlon. "But his brother Oberon cheated him of the crown, and seized it for himself. The Lord Madoc would not willingly accept this betrayal, however, and there were many among the Third Race who recognized the justice of his claim. They fought for him, waging war upon the false Oberon and shaking his usurped throne. Many times we assailed him, and victory might have been ours, in the end, had it not been for treachery."
"We?" asked Romulus, looking at Garlon appraisingly. "So you're one of them?"
Garlon nodded. "I was your grandfather's squire when the war began, and attended upon him faithfully throughout the worst of the fighting. And though I had to pay a heavy cost for my unflinching loyalty, yet I held to him always, as my rightful sovereign. Again and again, I stood beneath his banner. I was with him in the final battle, when he was foully murdered."
"How did it happen?" asked the youth.
"Your grandfather was slain by treachery," said Garlon, his eyes dark. "He was struck down from behind by a gargoyle named Demona, just as he was about to triumph. Had it not been for her, he would have won back his rightful patrimony. He would be governing this entire planet even now, and you, his descendant, would be one of the great princes in his court. No one would dare to raise a hand against you, especially not the upstart humans at this school. You would be their master."
"A gargoyle killed my grandfather?" asked Romulus. "Does my father know about this? Because he gets along well with gargoyles himself. He even had one serve as my little sister's godmother - one of those gargoyles in New York, in fact."
Garlon nodded. "Angela would be her name, I take it?" he asked. "The gargoyle, I mean?"
"Yes, that's her," said Romulus.
"Well, she is proof of your father's disloyalty to his line," said Garlon grimly. "For Angela is the daughter of the gargoyle murderess Demona, and your father well knows it. He knows how his father died - he was actually there to see it - but he has done nothing to avenge it. Instead, he has befriended the very abominations that fought against the Lord Madoc, who sided with Oberon and allowed him thereby to continue holding his stolen sway over the Third Race. Which should reveal to you how much of a true son he is."
"And he's never told me this at all," said Romulus. "He hid it all from me."
"Indeed he did," said Garlon. "And had it not been for me, you would have lived out your days denied your birthright. Not only did your father reject what could have been his outright, but he planned that you would never even have the opportunity to accept it. He hid the truth from you, deceived you into believing that you were an ordinary youth. He wanted to keep you from learning the glorious legacy that you are heir to, the destiny that could still be yours."
"How can it be mine, though?" Romulus asked. "My grandfather lost the war and was killed. There's no way that I can get any of that destiny now."
"Don't be so certain," replied Garlon, with a smile. "It's true that Lord Madoc is dead, as are many who held with him. And more of his loyal adherents are held in captivity in Avalon, punished unjustly by Oberon the usurper. Even his own second-in-command, Queen Maeve."
"Queen Maeve?" Romulus looked interested at that. "Was she my grandmother?"
Garlon shook his head. "Maeve was merely Lord Madoc's chief officer, not his consort," he said. "I'll tell you more about her later. But what you should know is this: not all of your grandfather's people were slain or taken in the last battle. Many, such as myself, escaped, and live on in hiding, out of the eye of Oberon and his allies. They still linger here and there, waiting for better times. His followers once, and perhaps someday, yours as well. For if they once learn that there is one of his descent to raise his standard anew and to promise them victory and glory, they will rally to you, pledge you their fealty, resume new courage and revive. An army whom you can lead to triumph."
"An army whom I can lead to triumph," Romulus repeated, an eager look in his eyes. "Yes," he said. "I like the sound of that, Garlon. So when do I get to meet them?"
"Patience, my friend," said Garlon. "The time will come, soon enough."
Romulus nodded, his face filled with rapture. He did not see the cold, avid light that shone in Garlon's own eyes, as he looked down at his young pupil.
* * * * *
Artus' Office - 2173
"It's been four hours since I made the call," said Angela, pacing back and forth distressedly in the office. "And we still haven't heard anything."
"Calm down, Angela," said Brooklyn. "I'm sure that Demona will be all right."
"She is a strong warrior," added Sata. "You need not worry for her safety, Angela."
"I know," she said. "But, still - if the Unseelies have her...."
The phone rang, and Alex picked it up. "Xanatos here," he said.
He paused, listening to the voice at the other end, then nodded. "Ah, yes," he said. "Send them up."
He hung up the phone and turned to Angela. "Merlin and Angelica are both here," he said. "They should be coming in shortly."
"He's here already?" Brooklyn asked in surprise. "But - if he's living in Scotland, then how'd he get here so quickly?"
"We are talking about Merlin, remember," said Angela. "He has his methods."
* * *
"You cheated me of my birthright," said Nicholas, spitting in Demona's face. "Had you not murdered my grandfather, I would now be sitting by his side, ruling over humanity. Ruling over the world. And for that, you will pay dearly."
Demona laughed bitterly. "You cannot kill me," she said to him mockingly. "Many have tried to do that, and all of them have failed."
"Ah, yes," said Nicholas. "I know about how you're immortal. Just how you acquired that gift, I do not know, but it makes no difference to me. After all, who said anything about my wanting to kill you?"
"What do you mean by that?" asked Demona. "You clearly did not kidnap me only to use me as a bargaining tool. If you do not want to kill me, what do you want?"
Nicholas moved his hand forward, cupping her cheek in his palm. He then leaned forward, until his face was mere inches away from hers. She stared into his eyes, which were now aglow with a chillingly eager light.
"You clearly have no imagination at all, my friend," he said, mockingly. "After all, there are things that I can do to you far worse than death...."
TO BE CONTINUED….