A woman clad in gold and purple, her features concealed behind a gold masque with goatlike horns at its peak, paced back and forth, apparently immune to the Antarctic chill. "A great battle ... a battle powerful enough to rend time itself ... happened here." She removed her gloves, to reveal fingertips with the outer dermal surface filed to oversensitivity, until she could feel the very contours of time itself. Finally, she found the rift that had been made in time and long since healed over, and slipped her hands through it. On the other side, the air burned with all the fires of the damned, but she remained undaunted despite the pain. Finally, she found a rough-textured cloth, and with bloody fingertips she pulled it back into her own time and place.
"Jock Kellog," Morgaine le Fey laughed to herself, "you never understood the heritage your bloodline granted you ... but your most powerful talisman is now mine at last." She caressed the green, hooded cloak lovingly. "The cloak of Merlin. You expected your descendents to protect it, old fool, and they allowed it to be lost. But now, after decades, it has been found."
Elsewhere, a woman also clad in purple lay down the last of a series of cards. She furrowed her brow as she sought to interpret the message which lay concealed. Finally, she groaned. "Oh, my sister," she said softly, and rose to her feet to prepare to leave the comforts of her modest house. Once, Madame Xanadu had called Merlin lover, but now she remained on Earth to protect it from the terrible heritage the days of Camelot had left behind, from his bloodline and her own.
Colwin Grey dreamed ...
Once again he was a fisherman, living in Cornwall. He had gotten lost in a storm, his engine broken, and he floated across the ocean for a long time. When his boat finally sank, he found the will to refuse to die, and he began a perilous swim through reefs and sharks. He drifted through a portal and ended up in Otherworld, in the care of Roma, who told him about 'the test of the Hundred Waters,' and about the Corps. On accepting he had found himself clad in a gleaming red and white uniform, and on his shirt was a Saint Piran's flag, the standard of Cornwall.
He had been given the name Captain Cornwall, and his career had been unremarkable. In his first week as a superhero, his encounter with EuroGuard had led to his attacking one of their members by mistake; he had not been welcome in the superhero community after. It was only his rescue of young Robert Pentecost … whom he had been able to save from death by sharing with him Merlin's own brand of so-called magic, thus transforming the lad into Cornwall Boy … which had given him the will to carry on.
In the dream he had accepted the sword and the mace, which had also been offered to him. He saw his career proceeding, instead of with the simple heroism he had sought, rather with nothing but violence and bloodshed. He saw the country he loved in ruins, and his own hands covered in the blood and gore of his enemies, but unable to accomplish anything beyond more destruction.
He awoke with a start, to find himself in complete darkness. Where was the display from his clock? He reached for it in annoyance, but it didn't seem to be operational. With a grunt, he lifted himself to a seated position, and walked over to the door of his bedsit to switch on the light ... only to find it nonoperational, too.
A blackout, he thought, just what I need. Now I'll probably be late at the docks. He wondered how far the effect ranged, so he walked to the window and drew open the curtains. The landscape he saw resembled that of his dream.
He felt a clutch of panic in his belly. He knelt down and reached under his bed for the case which contained the amulet which he had not touched in several months. With shaking hands, he drew it out. Whispering the words which prompted the change, he felt the still-familiar sensation of his body's musculature changing. He reached for the cell phone by the side of his bed … grateful that it, at least, still seemed to be working. "Rob? Have you looked outside? We're needed."
He opened the outside window and gripped his hands tightly. He had been unable to fly when he had first started; it was a late discovery on the part of Cornwall Boy's which had allowed the pair of them to traverse the Cornish skies.
He chose to presume that his body in its superpowered form would sustain a fall if he lost his concentration, but the prospect still terrified him. Inhaling deeply, he allowed his body to release its connection with gravity, and was pulled upwards.
Curiously, not even the cars were moving. The city appeared to be in darkness; the only illumination came from oil torches that some pedestrians seemed to be carrying. People were wandering the streets on foot. Where did all those horses come from?
He arrived at the roof of his sidekick's house, and the teenager was already waiting for him; "took you long enough," he said sniffily. Colwin sighed, and drew out the amulet which remained otherwise hidden beneath the join of his cape. Rob took it in his hand, and shouted the same words Colwin had whispered back in his apartment: "By the power of Merlin!" Soon transformed into Cornwall Boy, he and his mentor took flight.
"How far does the blackout range?" Rob asked.
"Let's rise higher," Colwin replied, and the pair were appalled to see from their heightened perceptions that it had overtaken the entire city, if not the country. "This isn't normal," he continued. "There must be something we can do ... "
Rob pointed. "I can see there's still the dim glow of lights to the north." Drawn like a moth, they followed it, and only after a time saw the floating woman in green and purple, her features concealed behind both hood and masque. "Enogeb ecneics," the woman chanted nonsensically, "Kcab ot eht emit fo tolemac!" She reached out, making a pinching motion as if extinguishing a candle, and another host of lights went out.
"Hey ... hey you ... " Colwin shouted, as they flew closer into the woman's line of vision. "Cut that out!"
The woman's sneer was almost visible through her masque. "Egac fo dael," she said. Colwin and Rob saw a row of bars appear before them, and then the heavy metallic cage fell prey to gravity, the top of it slamming into their skulls as it began to plummet. The surprising impact stunned them, and they tumbled down with it.
"I'm shafted," Colwin thought to himself as he struggled for cogency, watching the ground rush up to meet them. They managed to find the breath to scream before they hit the ground.
They were all the more surprised when a gust of wind halted the cage's descent just before it hit the ground. The lead box floated upwards, light as a feather, and then descended just as gently. A young woman with raven hair and ancient eyes approached the cage, and as her hand touched the lead bars, they seemed to rust and age, and she shattered them easily. "Are you all right?" she enquired.
Colwin felt the bump on the back of his head. "I ... I think so ... did you just save us? Who are you?" He had tried to keep track of the other superheroes operating in the country, to avoid his earlier mistakes, but did not recognise this woman at all.
"My name is Madame Xanadu," the woman said. "Or it was, once. You have the look of Merlin's scions."
Rob raised himself to his full height. "We share Merlin's heritage, the Land Magic."
"I see." Madame Xanadu looked almost amused. "There are many safeguards he created, such as yourselves, who were meant as counterweights to those who would misuse his legacy ... such as my sister," she nodded upwards, "Morgaine le Fey."
"Morgaine le Fey?" Rob blinked. "Like from King Arthur's time? That Morgaine le Fey?"
Madame Xanadu nodded.
"We are so shafted," Colwin mumbled.
"Perhaps," Madame Xanadu said, "but perhaps together we can defeat my sister, despite her possession of Merlin's cloak. Take my hand," she said, and Colwin and Rob felt the wind rise at their backs. They gripped Madame Xanadu's hand tightly and the trio were swept up into the air. They almost didn't see the man in the trench coat who ran up behind them, calling Madame Xanadu's name, before the sound of the wind drowned out his words.
Rob looked at Madame Xanadu quizzically, but held his words when he saw the tightened expression on the woman's face. He realised that flight, even in this form which seemed to be buttressed by the evocation of natural forces, was not a normal thing for her. "Thanks for the jumpstart," he said, "but I think the Captain and I can carry on from here." He glared at Colwin.
The other man nodded, embarrassed, and the duo set their will once more to alleviate some of the weight, and soon they were borne aloft by their own power as they closed in on Morgaine.
"Sister," Madame Xanadu said as they approached, "you seek to bring back the days of old, but ... "
"Mankind has strayed to far from their old fears since they took the turn from alchemy to science," Morgaine replied. "They were happier and more content, then, when they knew each generation would live exactly as the last. I only wish to return them to their golden age of the days of Camelot. Were you not happier then, sister?"
"It was the happiness of naiveté," Madame Xanadu replied. "Man must rise to the stars in their own way ... "
Morgaine sighed. "I tire of this. Sdniw emoceb enacirruh!"
The zephyr winds which had borne the woman on high, increased in intensity until the trio found themselves flung wildly out of control. Morgaine flew after them placidly, as they lost control and began to fall, only Rob's desperate will allowing him to clutch onto Madame Xanadu and slow their descent enough that the impact was only bruising; Colwin unceremoniously crashed to the ground soon after. The trenchcoated man, who had followed their path, extended a hand to assist them. "Madame Xanadu, now will you ... "
She backed away, her face showing her contempt. "Do not touch me!"
Colwin blinked, "Madame Xanadu? Who ... ?"
Morgaine watched the now-quartet. "No more speech from the likes of you," she said. "Ecnelis!" The trenchcoated man's hands rushed to face as he felt his lips zipper themselves shut.
Madame Xanadu began to chant, elemental forces arraying themselves against Morgaine. Colwin and Rob followed her lead, adding their strength to her magic. But the elder woman's powers blocked their efforts easily, and her opponents found themselves torn and bleeding. The trenchcoated man had even tried attacking Morgaine from behind with his fists, but she only laughed and flung him to the side.
Madame Xanadu glanced over at the man and gave a despairing sigh. "Free the prince forever damned," she began to chant.
"Free the might from fleshy mire.
Boil the blood in heart of fire.
Gone, gone the form of man,
Rise the demon Etrigan!"
Her final words were almost drowned out by a screech from Morgaine, but the man's transformation had completed. He crouched, bent and bestial, bat-winged yet somehow feline, and leapt at the sorceress. "Llaw fo eci!" she cried out, and he smashed against the frozen barrier which had appeared, rebounding in an almost comical manner. He laughed, and opened his maw, a blast of flame emitting from it and melting the wall. Without a pause, he leapt again, the heat continuing and increasing, until the cloak of Merlin itself began to burn.
Morgaine felt the metal of her armour begin to heat, and backed away in a panic. With a quickly uttered oath, she teleported herself away.
In the midst of the London devastated by her magicks, stood the legacies of Merlin: his lover, his demon, and two others who bore his heritage. Colwin looked around. "I ... kind of assumed that when she disappeared everything would go back the way it was ... "
Etrigan crooked his finger towards the older man.
"At your throat, Merlin's amulet,
A weapon to refashion worlds.
Is this task best left to women or girls?
Allow a creature, who has always been truth's first advocate,
To recreate each elm, birch, willow, and apple nut."
Colwin blanched, but moved forward to hand him the amulet, when he felt Madame Xanadu's grip on his wrist. "Merlin's scion," she said, "you would allow a demon from hell to refashion Britain in his own image? Do you know what dark perverse strains he would introduce into this nation?"
Etrigan grinned widely, interrupting. "And you, sister of Morgaine,
Would create a pacified nation free of pain?"
Madame Xanadu bit her lip, clearly having been tempted by just that urge. "No. The scions are human, and it is in their own image that the Britain that humans built must stand."
"What?" Rob was aghast. "The scions … you want to make the whole country like … him?"
Colwin glowered. "How dare you make me look … "
"I made you?" Rob said through gritted teeth. "If you weren't such a loser!"
"Merlin chose both of you to be guardians of the Isles," Madame Xanadu said. "He did so with good reason. It is your task to recreate what she destroyed. You have the tool to do it."
Colwin removed the amulet from around his neck. "I've ... I've only used it as a wardrobe-changer before ... " Rob joined his hand to the older hero's and the amulet began to glow gold, then began to send out waves of energy in concentric circles of gold, red and blue. Madame Xanadu and Etrigan felt the intensity of the waves as an almost painful touch, but around them electronic devices began to reactivate, and much of the damage wrought by Morgaine began to undo itself. After a while the strength of the waves began to falter, and Colwin furrowed his brow. "It's too much to ... keep in my head ... I can't ... "
Madame Xanadu reached forward, "You can, I'm here to help you." She held on to Colwin's and Rob's hands, and the process continued again, though the gold became tinted with green and violet. The Demon stepped forward and stroked the intertwined hands like a lover, adding streaks of ebony and deeper crimson.
Finally, the nation was restored, though perhaps some of it stranger than before. Colwin dropped the amulet to the ground, then slumped to his knees in exhaustion. Rob sighed. Etrigan bowed deeply. "Madame Xanadu, as always, a pleasure," he said and then turned to face Colwin and Rob, "and Merlin's scions have proven their measure." He leaped skywards, flying south ungracefully.
Madame Xanadu walked over to the place from where Morgaine had teleported, eyes scanning downwards. Finally, she saw a singed piece of tattered green cloth lying on the ground. She leaned down and picked it up, depositing it into a small vial she had taken from the lining of her cloak, and then returning the vial to its hiding place.
"Did we do it right?" Colwin asked. He stared at the amulet; it looked mottled and dead in his hands. "I think we killed it."
"The Demon and I arrived at an agreement," she said softly. "The amulet was too powerful to allow in lateborn hands. We turned some of its energy inwards. You will find your own internal power to be a sufficient weapon to guard the Isles. And, I suspect, you will soon no longer need to fight alone."
"I don't think EuroGuard would have us," Corwin said.
Rob glanced at him, scorn visible in his eyes. "I'd be pleased to join with the Ultramarines or some other similar group, if they'd have me."
"There are others ... some traveled from other times, some from as close as Germany but settled here ... who will be uniting around you. You will find a family with them, and guidance. The demon and I are relics of Britain's past; look to its future, children, mind its future."
Madame Xanadu, Etrigan, Captain Cornwall and Cornwall Boy trademark and copyright DC Comics, Inc.
Occasional dialogue by Paul Cornell.