TWO ROADS DIVERGED - PART TWO
Outline by Greg Bishansky and Todd Jensen
Written by Greg Bishansky and Todd Jensen
Art by Lain, and Dreamie
Eyrie Pyramid - 2173
"We're glad that you were able to come, Merlin," said Angela, rising with the others from their seats at the council table, as the halfling wizard and his daughter Angelica entered the room. "I wish that we could have asked you here for a happier occasion, though."
Merlin nodded gravely. "I know, Angela," he said. "But we won't be able to get anything done by lamenting over that. So what exactly has Garlon done, anyway? I'd like to hear the full story."
"Well, Mother, Broadway, Benedick, and I had all gone out together for dinner, and a pleasant visit to Central Park after that," Angela explained. "And that was when the Unseelies ambushed us. It was Garlon, with those dogs from the Wild Hunt and a couple of other Unseelies. They struck us all down, and kidnapped Mother."
"And then, after that, Garlon made that ransom demand that you told me about as well?" Merlin asked.
Angela nodded. "He wants the incantation to reach Avalon, in return for her freedom."
Merlin sat down in an empty chair, a troubled look on his face. Angelica seated herself next to her father, looking at him concernedly. It was a few minutes before Merlin spoke.
"I wish that it was just Garlon and a few of his friends involved in this," he said sadly. "But I'm afraid that it's worse. Garlon is working for somebody else here. Nicholas Hawkins, to be precise."
"Nicholas is behind this?" asked Artus. "Well - I know that he doesn't like us gargoyles much, but I didn't think that he was ready to stoop low enough to side with the Unseelies. You're sure that it's him?"
"I'm very sure," said Merlin sadly. "I know Nicholas Hawkins very well, and believe me, he is behind this entire operation."
"And just how do you know him that well?" Artus asked. "Have you met him?"
"I should," said Merlin. "I'm his father."
A shocked silence followed, as the gargoyles, Alex, and Serena all stared at Merlin without speaking. Only Angelica seemed unshaken by the revelation, as if to indicate that she already knew it.
Merlin nodded. "Yes, Angelica knows about it just as well as I do," he said. "I'm sorry that I've never talked about it before; it's a very painful subject for me. But, yes, it's true. Angela, Broadway, you remember Romulus, don't you?"
"Your son that ran away from home," said Angela. "Yes, we do."
"They're one and the same," said Merlin. "He changed his name to Nicholas after leaving home. All a part of honoring his grandfather's legacy. Though he's kept on the traces, at times."
"Well, he's mentioned being a descendant of Mary Sefton in public," said Alex. "I never thought he was her actual son, though."
"At least he's still honoring her and her cause," said Merlin, shaking his head. "That's about the best that I can say for him. Actually, I almost feel at times that it's just as well that Mary's gone now. I mean, I still miss her, but at least it's spared her the worst of seeing the sort of monster that her son's become. With help from Garlon, of course. The two of them have been in league for a long time now. In fact, it was partly thanks to Garlon that Nicholas became the way that he was...."
* * * * *
The Hawkins Residence, England - 2027
"Yes, sir," said Emrys, nodding. A troubled frown was forming upon his face, as he listened. "Yes, we'll look into it right away, Mr. Pritchard. Thank you. Good-bye."
"What was that all about?" Mary asked her husband as he hung up the phone.
"That was Headmaster Pritchard again," said Emrys. "It seems that Romulus has been absent once more. Cutting classes for the third time this month."
Mary sighed. "Not again," she said. "Honestly, Emrys, this is getting serious. What has gotten into him?"
"I wish that I knew," he answered glumly, sitting down at the table with her. "It seems that he's been acting odder and odder ever since we enrolled him at Mons Carbi Comprehensive. I don't know what the trouble is. I know that adolescence is a very troublesome time - do I ever know it - but not on this level. Truth to tell, it's really beginning to look as though he's been hiding something from us."
"But what?" Mary asked. "I mean, from what I can tell, he seems to be clean. Nothing along the lines of substance abuse, I mean."
"I know," said Emrys. "Maybe it's about time that I really looked into this." There was a certain look in his eyes that indicated precisely what he meant by it.
"Emrys, you can't mean it," said Mary concernedly. "Remember what we agreed. You wouldn't use magic to spy on our children."
"I know," said Emrys. "And I don't like it any more than you do, Mary. But this does seem to be a special case. I think that we'll have to make an exception."
She sighed, and shook her head. "Well, if you really think that it's necessary," she said.
"I do," said Emrys, troubledly. He stretched out one hand over the middle of the table, and murmured something in Latin. A sphere of light formed in the palm of his hand, and images began to take shape within it. He and Mary peered into it.
Within the sphere, Romulus was talking to a very ordinary-looking man with mouse-brown hair, in a small thicket. No sound came from the images, but it was clear enough from the gestures that both were using, and the expressions on their faces, that the man was training him to recite something. As Emrys looked closer at the brown-haired man, a look of horror came over his own face. "Garlon!" he cried.
"Who?" asked Mary.
"One of my father's old followers," said Emrys grimly. "This is worse than I thought. Especially if he's doing what I think he is -"
She understood at once. "This is what Romulus has been hiding from us?" she said. "Emrys, what are we going to do about this?"
"It may be too late for us to do much," said Emrys with a sigh, dispelling the vision with a gesture. "Although I hope that it isn't. Garlon must have come upon our son, and started working on him. I don't know precisely what's been going on, but judging from the way that they seemed to be talking to each other, I can guess."
"Magic lessons?" Mary asked.
Emrys nodded. "I wish that I'd seen something like this coming," he said. "I've been blind to it." He shook his head in disgust. "I don't know why. Maybe I just thought that Garlon would never find our son. That he'd be too busy hiding to come looking for me or our family. I was wrong, though. There's no telling how many lies Garlon's been feeding Romulus, too."
"But he knows better than to talk to strangers," said Mary. "We've already told him that many times, both of us. I can't believe that he'd just ignore it all."
"I know," said Emrys somberly. "Well, there's only one thing to do now. When he gets home, I'm going to have to have a talk with him."
Mary nodded, a saddened look on her own face. "Maybe I should cancel that talk I was going to give at Henslow Primary this afternoon," she said. "I know that it's an important one, but given the family crisis -"
"No, you can't abandon it," said Emrys. "Besides, I think that I can handle this talk on my own. Particularly since it is about my side of the family."
She nodded. "Well, let's just hope that he listens to what you have to say," she said. "I certainly don't want this to turn into some ugly scene."
"Neither do I," agreed Emrys.
* * *
Romulus opened the front door to the house, and stepped inside. As he closed the door behind him, he heard his father's voice call out from the study. "Romulus, is that you?"
"Of course it is, Father," said Romulus, in a rather snide tone of voice. "Who were you expecting it to be? The Prime Minister?"
"Don't use that tone of voice with me," said Emrys sternly. "And I want to see you in the study. Now."
Romulus shrugged his shoulders, and entered the study. His father was seated behind his desk, looking at him very sharply. "Sit down," he said.
Romulus seated himself opposite his father. "What's this all about, anyway?" he asked.
"It's time that we had a talk," said Emrys grimly. "A very long talk about the things that you've been doing lately. It's bad enough that you've been playing truant from school a great deal of late, but why you've been doing it is even worse."
"What are you talking about, anyway?" Romulus asked, feigning bewilderment. "I've been going to school, regularly. And even if I haven't, so what? I've heard that your attendance record at Mons Carbi wasn't all that great when you were my age."
"Don't talk back to me, son," replied Emrys. His facial _expression had now gone from mere sternness to a positively forbidding aspect. "You've been meeting with someone named Garlon, haven't you? Well? Answer me."
Romulus started at the name, but quickly recovered from it. Now he stared sharply at his father in his turn. "And how do you know?" he asked. "Have you been spying on me? Well, have you?"
"Yes, I have, but that's not important," said Emrys. "Now, listen to me, son. Garlon is a very dangerous man, and a bad influence to boot. I don't want you associating with him. These secret meetings of yours have to stop, now." He gestured with his right hand to emphasize the last word. "And I mean it, too."
"And why should I listen to you, anyway?" retorted Romulus, his eyes blazing furiously. "What's so bad about Garlon, I'd like to know? He's helped me, helped me a lot more than you ever did! He even taught me how to take care of Vickery and his friends! What did you do to help me deal with them?"
A look of horror stole over Emrys's face, replacing his paternal anger. "Vickery?" he asked. "So you're the one responsible for those disappearances?"
"Yes, I am, and so what of it? They deserved what they got!"
"Romulus, listen to me," said Emrys. "This is Garlon's teaching. It's corrupting you. That's why it's so important for you to keep away from him. I don't know just what you did to Vickery and the other boys, but whatever it was, it must have been something dreadful, something that you should never have done. This is why I don't want you associating with Garlon again."
"Oh, and is that the reason why?" asked Romulus. "Or is it because you didn't want me learning the truth about myself? The truth about you, and about my grandfather? The truth that you've been hiding from me all this time? You kept me in the dark about just what I was, but Garlon didn't! He told me everything! Everything! What I could have been if Grandfather was still alive! What I can still be! Everything that you wanted to deny me! Well, it didn't work, dad!" He smiled coldly, a cruel glimmer in his eyes. "I found it out, anyway, no thanks to you!"
"Romulus, listen to me!" cried Emrys, looking more horrified than ever now. "If Garlon's told you all that, it's not because he wants to help you. It's because he wants to use you! Don't you understand? He's trying to snare you in his web! Don't -"
"I've heard enough, Father!" Romulus snapped back. "You just want to keep me a nobody like yourself, to stop me from getting what should have been mine! You can't stand the thought of me getting what you didn't want! Well, it's too late! I'm leaving, now!"
He turned around and strode defiantly out of the study. Emrys rose from his chair and followed him out into the entrance hall of the house.
"Don't you talk that way to me, son!" he cried. "You're not setting one foot outside this house until I tell you to. In fact, you're grounded!"
"Oh, I think not," said Romulus, turning back towards him. He raised one hand, and pointed his index finger at his father in a commanding gesture. A blast of invisible force shot into Emrys, hurling him into the bookcase in the hall. The impact sent most of the books plummeting off their shelves, straight on top of him.
Without giving his father another glance, Romulus opened the front door, stepped out onto the porch, and slammed the door behind him. He strode down the garden path towards the front gate. Garlon was standing there, leaning against the gatepost, with a thoughtful look upon his face.
"So there's been an altercation, has there?" the Unseelie asked.
Romulus nodded. "Yes," he said. "But it doesn't matter. I'm through with Father, and I'm not coming back. If he's expecting a homecoming from the prodigal son, then he can just forget it, since it's never going to happen. I'm leaving this place, forever."
"And where do you intend to go, then?" Garlon asked.
"Wherever you intend to go," said Romulus. "You're my real family now, after all."
"I was hoping that you'd say that," said Garlon. "And in truth, you're correct. It's time for us to head off on our way together now. We have much to do and much to prepare for. My lord Nicholas the Second," he added, giving a deferential bow, the proper obeisance of a subject to his king, as he did so.
"Nicholas the Second," said Romulus, following Garlon down the pavement and away from the house. "Yes, I like that. That'll be what they call me, from now on."
* * *
Emrys pulled himself painfully to his feet, and made his way to the window. He was just in time to see his son and Garlon walking away, off into the afternoon turning into evening. For a moment, Garlon glanced back in his direction, then nodded, as if to indicate that he saw the wizard standing and watching. Then he gave a triumphant smirk, and continued on his way.
Emrys bowed his head in despair. "Romulus," he said, tears beginning to form in his eyes.
* * *
"Emrys, we're home," said Mary, a few minutes later, opening the front door and coming in, Angelica following close behind her. Then they both stopped, seeing the pile of books lying by the tottering bookcase in the hall. "Emrys?" cried Mary, her voice suddenly alarmed.
"I'm fine, Mary," said Emrys, stumbling into the hall. He clutched hold of the almost-empty bookcase to steady himself, as he stared at his wife and daughter. There was an ashen look in his eyes.
"Emrys, what happened?" Mary cried, rushing to him at once. "We haven't had burglars, have we?"
"No, it's worse," said Emrys. He clasped hold of her, embracing her tightly. It was a moment before he could speak again. "It's Romulus. He's run away."
"What?" cried Mary. "You don't mean it, do you?"
Emrys nodded sadly. "It's true," he said. "He lost his temper and ran off."
"Oh, no," said Mary, now sharing her husband's ashen _expression. "He really did?"
"Romy ran away?" broke in Angelica puzzledly. "But why?"
Emrys and Mary looked down at her; they had both forgotten, for the moment, that she was standing there, staring up at them in bewilderment. Then Emrys sighed sadly.
"Angelica," he said, "could you come into the living room with us?" he said. "There's something that we need to tell you about your brother. Actually, about this family in general. This may take a while, too, and some of it you may find difficult to believe. But, you're going to need to know about it now."
Mary looked at her husband concernedly for a moment, a question forming in her eyes. He looked back at her, understanding, but nodded. "I know," he said to her. "But we can't keep our daughter in the dark about this. We have to tell her."
"Tell me what?" asked Angelica.
"Just come with us into the living room," said Emrys, with a sigh. "Then we can talk."
* * *
"-and so that's why your brother's gone," said Emrys, some minutes later. He and Mary were sitting in the sofa across the glass coffee table from their daughter, who had listened to the entire story in wide-eyed silence.
"You're really Merlin?" Angelica asked, finally speaking. "Merlin the Magician?"
Emrys nodded. "I'm sorry that I had to keep this a secret from you for so long, Angelica," he said sadly. "I just wanted you and Romulus to have a normal childhood. The sort of childhood that I never got to have, either time around."
"And I didn't have as much of one as I'd have liked," added in Mary. "Emrys didn't get around to that part, actually, but my adolescent years had their own little problems. Such as my being turned into a werewolf for a while. It all happened just after I first met your father, too." She smiled ruefully at the memory.
"You used to be a werewolf, mum?" Angelica repeated, her eyes even wider now.
"A teenaged werewolf, yes," said Mary. "And, yes, it was something of a cliche, too. Though now you probably understand a few more things."
"But I've come to see now that I was wrong to keep you in the dark about it all," said Emrys. "Both you and Romy. That was the one thing he was right about. I kept these things a secret from you both, for just too long. I should have shared them with you. They're part of what you are, after all. And maybe if I'd only told him, Garlon wouldn't have been able to mislead him quite so well." He bowed his head sadly. "And that's a big reason why we're telling you now. So that you'll be learning about it from us instead of from somebody else, somebody with his own agenda like Garlon."
"And does that mean that I can do magic?" asked Angelica, her voice all the more awed.
"I suppose so," said Emrys. "You are my daughter, after all. But we won't know without putting it to the test. Technically, your bloodline should have thinned, you being a 'quarterling', after all, but I've known at least one quarterling with good magical skills. And Romulus was certainly able to make use of his skills all too effectively, as well. So I'd say that it's possible. But it all depends on what you want. I don't want to force this sort of destiny upon you, Angelica. It has to be your decision."
She nodded. "But what about Romy?" she asked. "Can't you do anything to bring him back, father?"
"I don't know," said Emrys glumly. "He certainly didn't appear willing to listen to me; that's the problem. It may be too late to save him. But we still have to try."
"And do you think it'll work, father?" she asked.
"Only time will be able to answer that question, my daughter," said Emrys, with a sigh. "We'll just have to be patient."
* * * * *
Eyrie Pyramid - 2173
"And that's how it all happened," said Merlin. "It's been over a hundred years now, but I've never forgotten it."
Angela gently placed one of her hands on his. "I'm sorry, Merlin," she said. "It must have been dreadful indeed. I've gone through something like that with Gwenyvere, so I can understand how it must be for you."
"Well, I don't want to appear too blunt here," said Artus, rising from his seat, "but I don't think that we have the time to lament these family troubles just now. We have to decide what to do, and quickly."
"I know," said Merlin. "So what choices do we have?"
"Hardly any," said Angela. "If we want to save Mother, there's only one thing that we can do. We'll have to give them what they want."
"You can't be serious," said Persephone. "Give those Unseelies the very key to reach Avalon? Surely we can't do this."
"No, Angela's right," said Merlin. "I don't like the thought any more than you do, Persephone, but what other alternatives do we honestly have?"
"Then, if that's what we're going to do, we might as well see about doing it at once," said Artus gravely. "We'd better call Garlon back now, and tell him."
* * *
Demona cried out in pain as the lightning coursed through her body. Her tormenter simply watched, the look in his eyes a disturbing mix of joy, hatred, and even worse. Finally, he released her from the pain; had she not been shackled to the wall, she would have slumped forward onto the cold stone floor.
Nicholas looked her straight in the eye and chuckled. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear that you enjoyed it," he said, taking a step closer to the gargoyle.
Demona lunged at him, but again the shackles prevented her from moving close enough to reach him.
"How much longer will it take you to realize that it's useless?" Nicholas asked her, in a taunting voice. "You had the opportunity to kill me in my own headquarters, on the night of the winter solstice. I gave you the possibility, and you passed it up. But I suppose that you could not kill a powerful opponent in a real confrontation. No, had my grandfather looked up only a moment earlier, surely not even you could have survived."
Demona only scowled at him, her eyes burning red.
"We are not so different, you and I," Nicholas continued. "Both of us are warriors, embarked upon a quest to destroy our prey. Yours is humanity, and mine is you and your accursed race. Ah, but I must not forget that we each also have additional ambitions in our quests. You seek to be queen of your kind, and I king of mine. I will rule over both humans and the Fair Folk."
Demona continued to scowl at him in silence. Nicholas merely smirked in return. Then, raising his right hand, he conjured up a ball of orange-hued energy and threw it at her. Demona quickly braced herself, preparing for the next wave of pain. But nothing came. No pain, nothing.
Nicholas gestured at the ball, which flickered out in mid-air and vanished, then strode forward, advancing upon his prisoner. He seized her and held her against the wall by her throat. She tried to struggle back, but his grip upon her was too tight. She could do nothing, except hang limply in his grasp.
"Still don't feel like talking, I see," said Nicholas. He cupped her cheek in his hand, and leaned in closely to whisper directly into her ear. "Such a pretty face, for a beast," he commented. "It truly is a pity that our time together is growing short. There are so many more tortures that I wish to inflict upon you."
Demona felt a wave of nausea run through her, as he spoke.
"So many ways to hurt you," he said. "And believe me, the really entertaining ones won't even endanger your body. They're much too elegant for that."
He released her, and turned, striding towards the cell door. "Let the memories begin," he said.
And as he spoke, he, the cell, and the fetters, all disappeared from Demona's eyes.
* * *
She stood before the Archmage in his laboratory, over a thousand years ago. The sorcerer had just finished ranting about some strangers who had interfered with his plans, to seize the Phoenix Gate from the human prince's bride-to-be. Now he turned towards her, speaking in a commanding voice. "And you, my apprentice, will steal it from the princess and bring it to me," he said.
"As you wish, Archmage," she replied, and hurriedly left the chamber.
* * *
"Have you no pride?" she cried to Goliath in the castle hallway, moments after leaving the great hall in his company and that of the Captain of the Guard. "No sense of justice? We saved their lives, and they repay us with contempt!"
"She is right, Goliath," said the Captain grimly. "You deserve better than this."
"These cliffs were our home ages before they built their stone fortress," Demona continued. "They should bow to us!"
"It is the nature of humankind to fear what they do not understand," Goliath replied calmly. "Their ways are not our ways."
Demona looked up at him and sighed. "There are times," she said, "when your patience astounds me, my love."
Goliath quietly walked down the corridor, leaving Demona and the Captain behind. Once he was out of sight and hearing, the Captain turned to her. "If you will listen to me," he said to her in a soft voice, "I have a plan. A plan whereby we may punish the humans for their ingratitude."
"Indeed?" she asked, bending closer to him. "What is it?"
"I will meet with the Vikings tomorrow, and make a deal with them," said the Captain. "They will attack this castle again - but you and the other gargoyles will not be here. We will persuade Goliath to take the entire clan out of the castle, pursuing the Vikings - and by the time that they return, the Vikings will have left the castle, taking all the humans with them. Then you and your clan will have your home to yourselves. What do you think?"
Demona thought it over. "Very appealing," she said, a smile curling on her lips. "I agree."
* * *
The plan had gone wrong, so very wrong. Goliath had only taken the old gargoyle that had led the clan before the Archmage had blinded him in one eye, and left the others behind. The Vikings had sacked the castle in the daytime, and slaughtered them in their stone sleep. And now, only she was left alive, having fled just in time before dawn, to escape the destruction. And Goliath sat upon the battlements of the highest tower, trapped in stone sleep, just as she had been shown by her future self, nineteen years ago.
"Oh, my love," she cried, between my tears. "What have I-" She halted, and when she spoke again, her voice had grown harsher. "What have they done to you?"
* * *
Her claws raked across the human boy's face, as he lunged at her with a pitchfork. "That'll teach you humans to betray us," she said, fleeing the barn with her stolen food, as the youth dropped to his knees, covering his face in his hands and sobbing with pain.
* * *
"Filthy beasts!" cried one of the granary guards, trapped beneath the net with his fellows. "The Hunter will wipe your thievin' kind off the face of this earth!"
"Not while I live!" Demona retorted, bringing her mace down upon him, as he cried out in terror.
* * *
"So you seek to betray me, Macbeth?" Demona murmured to herself, as she and her clan fled Castle Moray, gliding off into the night. "You would give me and my clan up to the English, to save your worthless hide? Then fall before their swords, instead!"
* * *
"You fool!" Gruoch cried to Demona. "Macbeth did not betray you! Canmore did! He destroyed your clan! You are the last of your treacherous kind!"
"You lie!" Demona shouted at her.
"See for yourself, then," said Macbeth's queen, anger and grief in her voice. "Go and search for your kin! Search until you and your kind are but a nightmare memory!"
The force of her words was too much for Demona. She did not even consider attacking and slaying the human woman. Instead, with an anguished cry, she turned and fled into the night.
* * *
And there were more, more visions, more scenes from her past, too many to count. The humans that she had slaughtered. The gargoyles that she had betrayed. The many times that she had turned the tables upon one of the Hunters that constantly pursued her, and slew him. The humans, locked in stone by her spell, that she had shattered into countless fragments upon the streets of New York. The many times that she had sought to kill her former love Goliath, and his clan - and the human Elisa Maza, whom he had left her for. The time when she had almost wiped humanity clean off the face of the Earth - and Goliath had thwarted her by smashing the Praying Gargoyle before she could release her plague - and yet she had still thrown the bottle containing the plague upwards, as if she did not care whether it broke upon the stone floor and released its contents upon the world or not.
And then, once more, she relived her attack upon Madoc Morfryn in the Conservatory Gardens, bringing her mace down upon him and delivering him his death-blow. But the worst was yet to come.
* * *
"Enjoying yourself, my lord?"'
Nicholas turned away from the window in the cell door to see Garlon standing in the corridor.
"Very much so," he nodded, a satisfied smile upon his face. "Well, what news do you have?"
"I've spoken with Artus," said Garlon. "He's agreed to give us the incantation."
"Ah, very good," said Nicholas, nodding. "I'm glad that they decided to see reason over it. However, we have to be careful. I don't quite trust them, Garlon."
"Neither do I, my lord," said Garlon. "Certainly the choice of the meeting place will be very important."
"I agree," said Nicholas. "I doubt that they'll be willing to come here for the transaction; they'd know that I'd never let them leave Caer Sidi alive. And I certainly wouldn't consider it advisable to seek them out at Castle Wyvern. Some neutral location, then, I imagine."
"That sounds reasonable enough," said Garlon. "So I'll go and make the phone call -"
"No, I will," said Nicholas.
Garlon stared at him. "You can't be serious, my lord," he said in a troubled voice. "If you do that, you'll be revealing yourself behind the entire operation. Our enemies will know the truth about you - they could threaten your standing -"
"They probably know by now, anyway," said Nicholas. "According to my agents, Daddy just showed up at the Eyrie Building. I imagine that he's already told them all about me. Besides, I believe that it's time that our foes learn whom they are truly dealing with. They shall know that they face the grandson and heir of Lord Madoc Morfryn, and fear him."
"Very well, then," said Garlon resignedly. "As Your Highness commands."
* * *
"Those are the co-ordinates for the exchange," said Artus, showing them the numbers that he had written down after completing his conversation with Garlon upon the phone.
"That's out in the Atlantic Ocean," said Alexander. "We'll need the hovercraft for that one."
"Thank you, Alex," said Angela. She turned to Merlin. "You don't think that he'll try anything treacherous, do you?" she asked him concernedly.
"I'm certain of it," said Merlin. "Which means that I'd better come too. That way, I can counter anything that he throws at us."
"And so will I," said Angelica, speaking up.
"Actually, I'd prefer it if you didn't," replied Merlin, turning to her with a troubled look in his eyes. "I'd rather not have your life in danger in this encounter."
"Please, father," said Angelica. "Maybe if I can speak with him, we can work something out. I'm still hoping to lead him away from the course that he's set out on. Perhaps if I'm there, I can do it."
Merlin frowned, but Angela spoke up. "I think that she has a good point, Merlin," she said. "She might indeed win through to him. I know that something like that has happened before."
"Very well," said Merlin. "But no heroics," he added to his daughter sternly. "This isn't the time for them."
She nodded in silence, in response to his words.
"So what are we waiting for?" said Brooklyn. "Let's go."
* * *
Demona tensed as footsteps sounded outside her dungeon cell. The nightmarish visions had finally died away, and she was alone once more. She heard the door being unlatched, and then saw it swing open with a creak. Nicholas strode into the cell, followed closely by Garlon and Anath.
"What do you want?" asked Demona, speaking with even more savage fury than usual, so as to hide the fear inside her heart. "Have you returned to torture me further?"
"No, I'm done with that," said Nicholas calmly. "I have other news for you, in fact. Your daughter gave in to my demands. She'll give up the spell that I need in return for your freedom."
He chuckled as he spoke. "Yes, I can't say that I'm at all surprised that she'd yield so easily. After all, she is such a spineless thing, is she not? So willing to accept someone like you for her mother? Her surrender was so utterly obvious from the start."
Demona snarled at him, her eyes glowing red. "Mind your tongue, human!" she spat at him.
"Or you'll what?" asked Nicholas, smiling amusedly. "You're hardly in any condition to make threats, after all. Face it, your side's losing. Soon I and my beloved Maeve will conquer this world, and once we sit enthroned to rule over it, you and your daughter, and all the rest of your wretched kind, will soon be no more. I shall complete my grandfather's dream, and cleanse the Earth of your abominable race."
"You're only deceiving yourself, human," said Demona, pulling herself up to her full height. "You will never win. Your grandfather failed, and you're not even his equal. You've more human than Unseelie in you, and you know it as well as I do. All you are is a pretender, exploiting someone else's name. A little man, standing in his forebear's shadow!"
"That will do," said Nicholas sharply, the smile gone from his face. Instead, an angry scowl replaced it, as he glowered at his captive.
"A pawn who fancies himself a king!" Demona continued, ignoring him. "A king of shreds and patches -"
"No more!" cried Nicholas, roaring in fury now. He raised one hand, and shot out a blast of lightning at her, striking her full on. Demona fell, half-stunned, striking the floor hard. Nicholas stared down at her, mastering his anger, if barely, and turned to Garlon and Anath.
"Take her to the hovercraft," he said, and strode out of the cell. The two lesser Unseelies picked the gargoyle up, and bore her out after him.
"It's been quite a while since I last saw Father," said Nicholas to himself, striding before the others down the corridor. "Seeing him again might be amusing. Almost as much so as last time...."
* * *
Rome - 2037
"Well, what do you want to see next, Mary?" Emrys asked, as they left the Pantheon. "The Colosseum? The Trajan Column? Or maybe we could even head over to Vatican City and visit the Sistine Chapel."
"Why don't we go over there?" asked Mary, pointing to a marble statue of an elephant bearing an Egyptian obelisk on its back, not far to the south. "That looks like something interesting to see."
Emrys checked his guidebook. "Yes, that should be the Piazza della Minerva. And that should be a nice little stop. Let's go there, then."
"I have to admit," said Mary, as they walked over to the statue, "that I'm a bit surprised that you need that guidebook as much as you do, Emrys. I mean, surely you've been to Rome before, haven't you?"
"Once, yes," he said, in a low voice, making certain first that nobody was likely to overhear them. "But that was while Arthur was a child, just after I'd handed him over to Sir Ector. I thought that I'd do a little travelling on the Continent then. That was the only time before now that I visited Rome - and it was still recovering from the damage that the Vandals had caused it. Obviously a lot's changed here since."
"Yes, I can imagine," agreed Mary, nodding. "I sometimes forget that you're old enough to remember when the decline and fall of the Roman Empire was 'current events'."
Emrys nodded. They were almost at the marble elephant when they almost bumped into a younger couple.
"We're terribly sorry," began Emrys at once. "We hope that you haven't -" It was then that he got a closer look at the young man, and his eyes widened at once. "Romulus?" he said. He noticed that Mary was staring at him in the same way, and that he was staring back at both of them, clearly recognizing them as well. The look in his eyes, in fact, was enough to make it clear that this was no case of mistaken identity on Emrys's part. It was Romulus. Ten years older, but Romulus nonetheless.
"Nicholas?" asked the young woman accompanying Romulus, a girl barely in her twenties by the look of her. She had clearly seen the look of recognition on his face. "Do you know these people?"
"Of course I do, Anne," said Romulus, in a matter-of-fact-sounding voice. "I ought to, in fact. They're my parents."
"Nicholas?" asked Emrys at once. He did not like the sound of that at all.
"That's my name these days," said Romulus, calmly. He turned back to the young woman, and explained, "My parents named me Romulus when I was a kid. I thought that I'd change my name when I left home, though. Nicholas suited me better."
The unsettled feeling that Emrys had had upon hearing the name "Nicholas" grew stronger now, to become a cold chill creeping over his heart. He hurriedly suppressed that sensation, however, to speak. "Well, aren't you going to introduce us, son?" he asked.
"Oh, yes," said Nicholas, nodding. "Mother, Father, this is my wife, Anne. Anne, these are my parents, Emrys and Mary."
Anne was looking closely at Mary, a dawning look in her eyes. "Mary?" she asked. "Wait a minute, I know you. I've seen pictures of you before. You're Dame Mary Sefton, aren't you? The one who wrote Wolves: Dispelling the Myths?"
Mary nodded. "Yes, I am," she said. "So you've read it, have you?"
"Oh, yes, I have," said Anne, an awe-struck tone in her voice. "I wish that I had a copy here with me, so that I could have you autograph it for me. Well, at least I got to meet you." She turned to her husband. "Nicholas, you never told me that your mother was the Mary Sefton," she said.
"Well, it didn't really have an opportunity to come up," said Nicholas, still speaking calmly and casually.
At another time Emrys might have half-smiled over the fact that, these days, his wife was much more famous than he was - at least, in his current identity as Emrys Hawkins - when she had originally feared being constantly in his shadow. But that was obviously not the most important matter at present. He returned the subject of the conversation to Nicholas.
"It's been ten years since we saw you last," he said, his voice a mixture of sternness, worry, and relief. "We didn't know what had happened to you or where you were. We're just glad that you're all right - and that you're married, too." He hoped that the way that he said those last few words was just strong enough to get the point across to Nicholas, but not to Anne. He didn't want to make her feel uncomfortable, and a fresh confrontation with his son would be bound to accomplish that.
"Well, I didn't think that you were that keen on hearing anything from me, Father," said Nicholas. "I mean, not after the way in which we parted. Though I suppose that I should have invited you both to the wedding. Or at least sent you a note." He actually didn't appear that remorseful; at least, Merlin did not see such a look in his eyes. "So where's Angelica?" he continued. "I don't see her here with you."
"She's up at Cambridge, completing her studies," Emrys answered. "But I'm sure that she'll be glad to learn that we met you," he added. A brief silence followed, as he struggled to think of what next to say. "So," he said at last, "it's close to noon. Perhaps the four of us could have lunch together, and get better acquainted, or re-acquainted?"
"That sounds like a good enough idea, Father," said Nicholas, nodding. "And La Rosetta isn't too far from here, either. We can eat there."
Emrys looked over at Mary. "What do you think?" he asked. "Is that all right with you?"
"Of course," she said. "That sounds like a fine choice to me."
"Then it's all settled," said Nicholas, nodding. "Let's go."
* * *
Some minutes later, the four of them were seated at a table in La Rosetta. As they waited for their order to arrive, Mary spoke. "So, Rom - Nicholas, what have you been doing with yourself lately? We haven't heard from you since you left home, after all."
"Well, I've been studying at Oxford," he replied. "I've earned a Business degree there, in fact. And a Master's degree in European Mythology." He gave an odd smile as he spoke that last sentence. "Of course, given my family heritage, it was a rather appropriate achievement."
Emrys decided against making any comment on that last one, and noticed, to his relief, that Mary was also remaining silent on that topic. "I see," he said, nodding attentively.
"And I founded a small company just a couple of years ago," Nicholas continued. "Fenris Industries." Mary lifted an eyebrow at that particular name, but said nothing. "A friend of ours provided the capital to help me start it up," Nicholas went on to say. The look in his eyes was enough to make it clear just who this particular friend was. Emrys again restrained the urge to say anything. It didn't seem wise to talk over such things while Anne was present. "It's running quite well, too," Nicholas continued. "Smoothly enough to allow myself and Anne to have our little Roman holiday. I see that you and Mother have also been doing quite well."
Emrys nodded again. "True," he said. He glanced uncomfortably at Mary for a second, feeling at a loss as to how to proceed from here, without touching on anything problematical. "Of course, Mary's the one who's really been making the achievements. Especially in the conservation circles. Though it's clear enough that you both know that."
Both Nicholas and Anne nodded.
* * *
Some minutes later, after they had finished the main course, Anne rose from the table. "I'll need to go to the ladies' room for a bit," she explained, "to freshen up. I hope that you don't mind my going?"
"Not at all," said Mary, rising. "I'd like to go there with you, actually. I mean, you are my daughter-in-law, and it's not a bad idea for the two of us to get to know each other better."
"That sounds like a good idea," she said. "I've really been wanting to get to know you for some time, after all. I mean, I enjoyed your book...."
As the two women walked away, Emrys turned to Nicholas, and spoke in a lower tone of voice. "You're still with Garlon, then?" he asked.
"Why shouldn't I be?" Nicholas asked. "After all, he's done a lot for me. Just as he did a lot for Grandfather. I'm hardly about to cast him off."
"And it doesn't disturb you that he once served a tyrant bent on enslaving the entire planet, and every living thing?" asked Emrys troubledly. "And that he had no problems at all with that objective? That he'd probably gladly lead you down the same ruinous path - is already doing that?"
"There you go with the old 'Grandfather was the Prince of Darkness' argument again," said Nicholas, rolling his eyes slightly. "Yes, no doubt that's what they'd say about him, since he was unfortunate enough to lose the war. Everyone knows that it's the winners who write the history books. So of course they'd go for the revisionist take on Grandfather, make him look bad, and who'd know any better? If I hadn't met Garlon, I'd probably never have gotten to know the truth at all."
"Nicholas, you must listen to me," said Emrys. He leaned across the table, worry and fatherly concern in his eyes. "Garlon's only using you. Don't you understand? He's pretending to care about you, because he wants to use you as a figurehead, a rallying-point for any Unseelies left out there. He knows that he can't lead them himself - he doesn't have enough power or prestige for that - so he's looking for somebody who can be his puppet. That's why he sought you out. He knew that your being Madoc's grandson would make you into the standard that he needs to set up a new Unseelie Court. He's only helping you so that he can rule through you. Don't you understand?"
"I understand that you're ready to say anything just to trick me into crawling back to you and being a nobody again," said Nicholas, with a half-yawn. "Come off it, father. If Garlon was planning anything against me, I'd have noticed by now. I mean, I've been working with him for ten years now. Do you think that he could have concealed anything from me all this while?"
"Don't underestimate Garlon, Nicholas," said Emrys, almost pleading now. "He's very cunning and subtle. He's thousands of years older than you; he has ability enough to hide his true intents from you."
"That's hardly likely," said Nicholas, sitting back comfortably in his chair. "After all, as you yourself said, father, he's just a minor Unseelie, while I'm the son of the great Lord Madoc himself. That should be enough to allow me to outclass him, I'd think." He yawned again. "But that's enough on this subject, anyway. Now, tell me, father, what d'you think of the little woman?"
"Anne?" repeated Emrys. "Well - she does seem quite pleasant. Not a bad daughter-in-law. Mary certainly seems to approve of her, I'd say."
"Yes, I thought that you'd say that," said Nicholas. "Mind you, though, I'm getting tired of her. Yes, I have her, but I won't keep her long. So don't you and mum start getting too attached to her."
* * *
"I hope that you don't mind my - well - gushiness, my lady," said Anne, in the ladies' room.
"Please, call me Mary," said Mary gently. "There's no need to be so formal with me. After all, you are family."
"Yes, I suppose I am," said Anne. She sat down, with a troubled _expression upon her face.
"Anne, is something wrong?" Mary asked, sitting down beside her. "Anything that you want to share with me?"
"How has your life been with your husband?" Anne asked. "Has it been a good marriage?"
"Oh, very much so," said Mary. "Well, it's had its - odd moments. Emrys can be a trifle eccentric sometimes - he's older than he looks, for one thing. And we've had some unhappy moments together, such as when -" She checked herself just in time, remembering that it might not be a good idea to bring up Romulus's running away to his wife just now. "But on the whole, I can honestly say that I haven't regretted it. He's a good husband."
"I'm glad to hear that," said Anne, with a sigh.
"This is about Rom - Nicholas, isn't it?" asked Mary gently.
Anne nodded, her face lowered. "I don't think that he truly loves me," she said. "He may pretend it, but to him, I'm nothing more than an object. A trophy. I don't think that he loves anyone, really. But if he does, it's not me. His heart's directed elsewhere."
"Indeed?" asked Mary. "Why did you marry him, then?"
"I don't know," said Anne. "Maybe I was bewitched at the time; maybe it was the glamor that he had about him. I was just out of high school when we met. But I don't think that he has any feeling for me. He spends more time talking to that odd little friend of his than with me."
"Odd little friend?" Mary asked puzzledly.
"One of his assistants at work," said Anne. "He stops by our house quite often. A strange little brown-haired man. I don't know why, but there's something about him that makes me think of mice whenever I see him. And he and Nicholas spend so much time talking to each other in low voices, whenever he visits. It's almost as if they're setting up a conspiracy or something. That's how it feels to me."
Mary nodded. "I'm sorry to hear that," she said. "Is there anything that I can do, Anne? I mean, this is my son that we're talking about; if I or Emrys can get through to him, maybe we -"
Anne shook her head. "I think that it's too late already," she said. "Maybe it's always been too late. I don't know. And I don't think that I even want this marriage to last any more. It's getting worse all the while. This past year, I haven't even had a proper night's rest in bed, when he's home. He keeps me awake, murmuring things in his sleep. Mostly about some other woman, someone named Maeve. Talking about her as if -" She broke off, evidently unable or unwilling to say anything more.
"There, there," said Mary, placing one hand gently upon her daughter-in-law's folded hands. "It's all right; I understand." She hesitated for a moment. "Well, I'm afraid that I can't fully; I've never had that problem with Emrys. Oh, he'd had a couple of girl-friends before we first met, but he's been faithful to me ever since we first began to go out. I wish that I could say the same for our son."
Anne nodded, in a tearful silence.
* * *
"You can't be serious," said Emrys, horror-stricken.
"Oh, I mean every word of it, Father," said Nicholas. "Why should I bother with Anne, anyway? Oh, I needed her for a while, but she's expendable now. And she can't hold a candle to Maeve, besides."
"Maeve?" repeated Emrys. "Son, you don't mean who I think you do?"
"My grandfather's chief lieutenant, yes," said Nicholas, smiling. "I am unfulfilled without her. And some day, she shall be mine."
"But you can't mean it," protested Emrys. "She was just as bad as Madoc himself. I can't believe that you've developed such an infatuation for her."
"And why shouldn't I do so?" asked Nicholas. "Let's face it, as I was saying, Anne simply can't compare to Maeve. Neither could my first wife, for that matter."
"First wife?" Emrys repeated, his voice faltering in horror.
"Ancient history now," said Nicholas, with a shrug. "Nobody that you or mum ever met, anyway. So it doesn't matter."
"I can't believe you," said Emrys. "You remarried so soon after your first wife's death -"
"Oh, you mistake me, father," Nicholas broke in. "She's not dead. We just divorced."
"Divorced?" repeated Emrys. He would have shouted it, if he had not remembered in time where they were. "Nicholas, that's even worse! You just discarded the woman that you committed yourself to, exchanged vows with, just because you were more interested in someone whom you've never even met?"
"Oh, really, father," said Nicholas. "What do you want me to be, anyway? One of your gargoyle friends with the whole 'mating for life' rigmarole? Don't be so old-fashioned. Besides, stop and think over it for a moment. If you did, you'd understand that I'm far better off with Maeve than I am with the current little woman."
"And what do you mean by that?" asked Emrys.
"I'm going to be immortal, dad," said Nicholas. "Or close to it, at least, just like you. The magic in my blood will see to that. So why should I tie myself down to some woman whom I'm going to outlive by who knows how many centuries?" He shrugged. "Of course, I forgot who I'm talking to," he added. "I suppose that you forgot all about that when you married mum, didn't you? About how you'd have to watch her grow old and die while you continued on? Won't be much fun for you, will it? And I'm certainly not about to repeat your mistake. No, if I'm going to commit myself to anybody, it'll be an immortal like myself."
"Then why have you twice taken a mortal woman to wife?" asked Emrys. "Especially since you don't seem to have any strong feelings for them."
"Why not?" replied Nicholas, with a shrug. "It gives me something to do, while preparing for the big thing."
"Then I've heard enough," said Emrys. He rose from the table, plunked down a few euro-notes to pay for the meal, and looked his son full in the face. "There's no point in reaching out to you any further," he said. "You've made your decision, and I can see that you won't change your mind on it. You're beyond my help. So I bid you good-bye." And with that, he walked away from the table, not once looking back.
Nicholas watched his father leave, and merely nodded in an untroubled amusement.
* * * * *
Caer Sidi - 2038
There was no answer. Not even a soft breathing sound. Anne fumbled for the lamp on the bedside table, and switched it on. Her husband's side of the bed was empty.
"It probably doesn't mean anything," she told herself. "Maybe he's just gone for a drink of water, or something like that. He'll be back soon. No need to worry."
Perhaps not, but she felt worried all the same. This was not the first time, not even that month, that she had woken up and found herself alone in the bed, with Nicholas gone. It was happening more and more frequently. Something strange was going on, something that was beginning to frighten her. What was the reason for these absences of his?
She got out of bed, pulled on her dressing-gown and slippers, and crept to the bedroom door. She turned the handle softly and then swung it open, to make her way down the hallway.
She had not gone far when she heard faint voices, coming from downstairs. She could not tell who the speakers were, or what they were saying, but she felt a sense of perturbation stealing over her all the same. For, so far as she knew, she and Nicholas were the only people in the mansion that night. The servants slept in their separate little houses on the grounds of Caer Sidi, rather than in the mansion itself, and it was hardly likely that they would be conferring in the house at this hour, even if her husband would have allowed it. Something was very much wrong here. She crept silently towards the grand staircase, and descended it.
At the foot of the stairs, she listened carefully again. The sounds seemed to be coming from the ballroom, off to the left. She stole as quietly as she could to the double doors, and pushed one open ajar, to peer inside.
The sight that she beheld left her staring in silent shock, terror, and disbelief. Her husband was standing upon the dais at the far end of the ballroom, in front of a podium with a microphone. The strange little brown-haired man was there as well, standing to his left. Behind them a great banner was hung upon the wall, with a seven-pointed star depicted upon it. And assembled upon the ballroom floor, in a crowd about the dais, was a host of strange beings.
Anne was unable to get more than a glimpse of them. Some looked reasonably human, if dressed in outfits that looked as though they had been designed for the cover illustrations of second-rate fantasy novels. But there were other beings, that seemed far less normal. There were vicious-looking little dwarflike creatures wearing red caps, floating balls of light with what looked like miniature winged women inside them, even a pack of white hounds with red ears, slavering and drooling with a fell light in their eyes.
Anne drew back in horror, just managing to stop herself from screaming. She had known all her life that the world was not quite the normal place that it had once been believed to be, before the "Gargoyle Revelation" of 1996, and then, some years after that, the New Olympians announcing themselves to the world; both of those events had taken place before her birth, in fact. But even her awareness of the existence of such beings had not prepared herself for this. It was as if a painting of a dark convocation of witches and demons had come to life, and in her own home. And her husband was a part of it.
"Yes, my people," Nicholas was saying, as he addressed the crowd of unnatural beings. "I say unto you again, yes! The foul betrayal and murder of the great Lord Madoc, of mine own grandfather, shall be avenged! Those who brought him to his grave shall be punished for their rebellion against him! The stone demons that laid him low shall be destroyed, every last one of them; the world shall be purged of their imperfection! We shall regain Avalon, and topple the usurping Lord Oberon from his throne! And humans shall pay tribute to us once again, and humble and abase themselves before our might! We shall regain our rightful heritage!"
The crowd cheered, raising their arms in salute and chanting almost ecstatically. "Hail! Hail! Hail!" Nicholas stood there, drinking their acclaim with an eager light in his eyes.
Anne turned and fled at once, towards the front door. She had seen enough.
* * *
"But I'm telling you, it's the truth!" she was babbling to the desk sergeant on duty, her hands trembling as she spoke. "Go and see it if you don't believe me! He's got a crowd of those - those monsters up there, in the grand ballroom! And they're all cheering and applauding everything that he says to them! It's almost like a Nuremberg rally!"
The desk sergeant nodded quietly. "I see. Now, Mrs. Hawkins, you're certain that you actually saw that? You didn't just dream about it, or anything like that?"
"It wasn't a dream at all!" she protested. "They were really there! I saw them!"
"And do you have any proof that these creatures actually were there?" he asked patiently.
"Not with me, no," she said. "But if you just go there, you'll be sure to find them! They must still be there! You've got to listen to me!"
"Of course," he said, nodding again, a pitying look in his eyes. He began to punch in a phone number, as he did so.
* * *
A Few Minutes Later
"I came as quickly as I could," said Nicholas, entering the Chief of Police's office. He wore a concerned _expression on his face. "Is she still here?"
The police chief nodded. "Sergeant Criddle's still speaking with her. She's not likely to be leaving for a while yet."
"I'm glad to hear that," said Nicholas. "So what exactly was she saying?"
"Something about a whole bunch of demons having a meeting in your house, with you hosting them," replied the police chief. "Now, between you and me - she doesn't drink too much, does she?"
"I wish that it was that simple," said Nicholas sadly. "But it's worse than that, I'm afraid. For the past two years, she's been having these - well, hallucinations. Oh, I've done everything that I could do about it. Whenever she was about to have one of her attacks, I'd find her some place safe and secluded, where she could lie down and recover until it passed and she felt herself again. And so far, she hadn't had any of these in public. So it looked as if everything was going to be all right. Until tonight."
"Have you taken her to a psychiatrist?" asked the chief.
"Several, but there's nothing that they could do for her," Nicholas Hawkins answered, shaking his head. "We can't find a cure. And her spells have been getting worse lately. I don't know what to do about it. I don't want to have her put on medication, but that's increasingly looking like the only possible solution. I wish that there was something better."
"I understand, Mr. Hawkins," said the police chief. "Well, it does seem that it may be too late for that. I mean, if she's getting this delusional by now."
"I know," said Hawkins, pacing back and forth with a troubled look on his face as he spoke. "If you have any suggestions as to what I can do about her, please share them with me."
"Well, all that I can suggest is that you have her committed," the police chief replied. "Treatment in a safe, secluded home. Do you think that that'll work, sir?"
"I suppose so," said Hawkins with a sigh. "It is a pity, but you're right. I don't think that we have any alternatives left."
* * *
"But I'm not crazy!" Anne was protesting, as they led her to the car that would take her away to the asylum. "Please, you have to listen to me! There really are monsters at Caer Sidi! Why won't you believe me?"
Nicholas watched from the steps of the police station as the car drove away with her in it, shaking his head sadly again. Then he turned and walked away to his own waiting limousine. As he climbed into the back seat and signaled to his driver to take him back to Caer Sidi, a cold, satisfied smile appeared on his face for the first time since he had arrived at the police station.
"Ah, poor Anne," he said to himself, a mocking tone now replacing his air of husbandly concern. "My poor, unfortunate wife. So sad that it had to end this way. But then, that's what comes of seeing what one was never meant to see."
* * * * *
The Atlantic Ocean - June 29, 2173
"This is the place," said Angela, standing on the deck of Alexander Xanatos's hover transport. All about them, the Atlantic Ocean stretched towards the horizon in every direction.
"No sign of her, though," said Benedick, standing beside her. "We must have reached the place first."
Brooklyn stared over the rail, gazing at the sea to their left. Suddenly, his eyes widened. Something was coming to the surface, something large. He hurriedly motioned to the others.
"Whatever is that?" Sata asked, staring at the dark shape emerging from the waters. "Are there any sea monsters in these parts?"
"Well, the last that I heard, the Kraken is still alive somewhere in the North Atlantic," said Merlin in a slightly absent voice. "But it's been dormant for over a century, so I doubt that -" He got a better view of what was surfacing, and his eyes widened. "No, that's no sea-beast," he said. "It's another hover transport."
"Three guesses as to whose it is," said Brooklyn. "And the first two don't count."
The new hover transport rose up above the waves, opposite their own vehicle. The main door opened on the side, revealing Nicholas Hawkins and Garlon standing just inside, staring out at them.
"Ah, the gargoyles," said Nicholas. "So we have our first proper meeting. Well, at least, most of us. I remember you when you used to visit my parents," he said to Angela. "But that has been quite a while, has it not? For those of you who haven't been keeping up with my public appearances," he continued, with a dignified bow, "I am Nicholas Hawkins, also known as Nicholas the Second, and heir to Madoc Morfryn, rightful ruler of the Fair Folk. Of course, 'daddy dearest' will almost certainly have filled you in about that," he said, glancing at Merlin, with a slight smirk upon his face.
His gaze then fell upon Angelica, standing close beside her father. It lingered on her for a moment, but then passed back to Angela, without betraying any emotion.
"The incantation for reaching Avalon," he said to the female gargoyle. "Did you bring it?"
She nodded, holding up a vellum scroll, tightly bound and sealed. "We have it here," she said.
"Then if you will please surrender it," Nicholas continued.
"Not just yet," Angela replied. "First, I want to see my mother."
"By all means," said Nicholas, nodding. "Keep in mind, though, that she may not be in condition enough to greet you. She's had a very rough night, after all. And it's not over yet, either."
He snapped his fingers, and Garlon walked just out of sight. He returned a moment later, alongside Anath. Both of them were dragging Demona along. She was bound with chains, laden with steel weights, that held her wings tightly to her body so that she could not glide, as well as her arms so that she could not fight. She was screaming and cursing at her captors all the while.
"My, my, such language, Ms. Destine," said Nicholas, in a pseudo-shocked voice. "You mustn't speak like that, you know, not in front of your daughter."
He turned back to Angela. "I understand that your mother's immortal," he said. "I don't know the details, so I don't know if whatever it is that's kept her alive for over a thousand years can continue to keep her that way if I was to have her dropped over the side with all that metal weighing her down - and then, just to be certain, drop a few depth charges after her. But even if it's enough, I can guarantee that after all that, you'd have a very difficult time recovering her from the ocean floor. Not to mention that even if whatever's been preserving her life does allow her to survive all that, it wouldn't be particularly enjoyable for her, to be trapped down there for the rest of her life.
"But don't worry. I won't do that - if you hand that scroll over, now."
"Very well," said Angela, nodding. "We will."
"And no tricks, while you're about it," Nicholas continued. "No tossing the scroll at me and missing so that it lands in the sea and sinks, for example. I know all about those little dodges. Demona does not leave my craft until I have the scroll in my hands."
Angela nodded again, and held out the scroll to him. Nicholas gestured, and it floated out of her hand, over the gap between the two vessels, to land in his.
* * *
"He's got the scroll," said Deimos, watching from his place at the hovercraft's controls. "Mission accomplished."
"Excellent," said Phobos. "Then let's give them a little taste of our armaments, shall we?" He prepared to lower his hand over the controls for the weaponry on board.
"No!" said Nicholas abruptly, turning towards them from where he stood. "There will be no opening fire on them. Let them go."
"What?" protested the twins. "But why?"
"I have my reasons," said Nicholas. "They do not concern you." He took care not to glance, even with the corner of his eye, at his sister on board the other vessel.
* * *
"I thank you for the scroll," Nicholas said, turning back to face Angela and the others. "And I appreciate the common sense that you have displayed in not carrying out any clever tricks."
"You have what you want, Nicholas," said Angela. "Now let my mother go, please."
Nicholas shook his head. "I am not done with her yet," he said.
"But you gave your word," Artus began.
"I said that I would not release her until I had the scroll," said Nicholas. "But I did not say that I would release her once I received it. And also," and here his face became grimmer, and all hint of humor left it, "there is another matter to be reckoned. She murdered my grandfather. It is time for me to avenge his death. The honor of my family comes before such agreements with monsters such as you." He turned to Garlon and Anath. "Toss her overboard," he commanded.
The two Unseelies did so, sending Demona over the edge, straight into the sea. "Fire the depth-charges," shouted Nicholas, as the doors closed and the hover transport took off.
Benedick did not hesitate. The moment that Demona hit the surface of the water, he jumped overboard himself. Artus followed, and then Brooklyn and Sata. All four of them swam with all their might to the place where she had fallen.
They were almost there when Demona surfaced, breathing rapidly. In a desperate feat of gargoyle strength, she had managed to break the chains, and swum upwards, letting her bonds sink to the sea-bed. Benedick grabbed her by her hands, and helped pull her back to the vessel. The others followed, clambering back on board.
"Come back here, you coward!" shouted Demona, her eyes blazing red as she stared in the direction of Nicholas's rapidly departing hover transport. "Come back and face me! This isn't over! I'll have my revenge on you yet!" Then she sank to the ground, exhausted by her herculean efforts.
"At least you are alive," said Benedick, embracing her warmly. "That is cause enough for us to be thankful."
Angela nodded. "I'm glad that you're all right, Mother," she said, embracing her in turn. "I was beginning to fear that we'd never recover you."
"I'm afraid that all of this family reunion is going to need to wait until later," said Alex concernedly. "Those depth-charges are going to be exploding any moment. We have to leave, NOW!"
The hover transport quickly turned about, upon his instructions, and rushed back towards Manhattan. Behind them, the sea began to churn, and then a titanic blast shook the water, caused by the explosion below. A great waterspout arose to the surface for a moment, then sank down. They had escaped its range only just in time.
"So what do we do now?" asked Brooklyn.
"We go back home, and tell the others," said Artus grimly. "Now that they have the means of reaching Avalon, our troubles are only just beginning."
* * *
"Are you feeling better, Demona?" Benedick asked.
Demona nodded silently. It was the following night, and the two of them were dining out again. She had had time to calm down, to some extent, after everything that she had endured at Nicholas Hawkins' hands; the memories of her ordeal would not entirely go away, but the pain had ebbed enough for her to continue with her life, once more.
Benedick nodded gently. It was time now, he decided. He reached into the pouch at his belt, and pulled a small dark case out. "I realize," he said, "that what I am about to do is more evocative of human traditions than of gargoyle custom. But that, I hope, will not make it any less of value."
He opened the case, to reveal a small diamond ring resting inside. "Demona," he asked, "will you marry me?"
Demona stared at the ring, actually arching a brow-ridge at the sight of it. It was a couple of minutes before she recovered her voice, and spoke.
"Benedick, do you really want this?" she asked him. "You cannot seriously wish this for yourself."
"And why should I not?" he asked her.
"Because I am a monster," she said, in a low, dull voice. "It's true. If you only knew all the atrocities that I've committed over the centuries, all the horrors that I've inflicted upon those around me. All the lives that I've taken, the friends and clan members that I've betrayed...."
"That doesn't matter," he replied. "What matters is not who you were once, but who you are now."
Demona stared into his eyes, and saw the earnestness within them, the honest conviction with which he spoke. At last, she nodded.
"Very well, then," she said. "I accept."
The two of them leaned across the table, and shared in that moment a passionate kiss.
* * *
Nicholas entered his study in Caer Sidi, and walked over to his writing desk. He picked up a small locket lying upon it, and opened it. Inside, the portrait of a beautiful green-haired woman stared up at him. Nicholas gazed down at it, and smiled.
"Soon, my love," he said softly. "Very soon."