Checking his hair one more time in the borrowed mirror, Jim frowned and attempted to smooth his stray cowlick one last time. He would just have to deal with the weird flippy thing that his hair did now.
“Jim, you look fine.” Claire sighed, straightening her own witch’s hat and bobby pinning it into place. “Besides, It’s Halloween. You’re allowed to look a bit scruffy.” Jim’s response was to pout, and seriously contemplate just wearing his hood up all night.
“That’s not the point.”
“Oh, then what is?”
“We’re… meeting some family that I haven’t seen in a while. They know what I look like now but…”
“You still want to make a good impression on them.” Claire continued his sentence, understanding. “Should I change into something else? You haven’t told me anything about them. Barbara’s side?”
“Technically, yeah. It’s more along the lines of ‘clan’ than family. Most of them live in New York City and Mom asked me to go visit them when I got the chance.”
“And you picked Halloween… why? If your family knows, then it really shouldn’t matter when you show up.”
Adjusting Claire’s sparkly black and purple cloak, Jim grinned. “Because it’s fun that way… And it’s kinda ended up a bit of a tradition, ever since Auntie E introduced it to Uncle Growly,” Jim laughed at that, “that everyone gets together.” Touching noses with Claire, he grinned. “And don't worry about what you’re wearing, they’ll love it.” Claire was skeptical, but let Jim pull her along as they exited the den.
“And just what will you be wearing, mister?” Jim just held up his amulet and Clare gaped at him for a second. “I… don’t know if that’s brilliant, or cheating.”
“The clan’s really big into the medieval time period, they’ll love it.”
“They… don’t know everything, do they?”
Jim shrugged, pocketing his amulet in the kangaroo pouch of his hoodie. “They know what Mom knows. They’ve been sent pictures, but those can really only do so much.”
Wasn’t that the truth. Claire sighed and followed along. They were heading to Blinky’s, presumably to tell the elder that they were leaving for the night. What she didn’t expect, was to see Blinky in an actual shirt, modified to have four sleeves. He was also wearing his own cloak, with a large and highly decorative clasp on the front.
“Looking good Blink!” Jim fussed with the shirt and cloak a bit before stepping back and nodding. “I’m glad that it fits.”
“I can honestly say that I cannot recall the last time I wore a shirt, let alone one that fits so well, Master Jim. I am impressed.”
Jim waved off the compliment, checking the time on his phone. “Are you ready to go? Remember, Blink, just one set of arms until we get there.”
“I understand, Master Jim, but I do think that there are more prominent tells than my extra limbs.”
“Plausible deniability, Blink. It’s Halloween night, and if anyone asks, you’re wearing a really complicated mechanical head as part of your costume. Trust me, they’ll go for it. We’re going to downtown, where all the weird things come out to play.” Blinky was unsure, but he trusted his boy when it came to modern humans.
“If you are sure, then I am ready.”
“Great! Let’s go.”
The best part about living underground, is that they avoided all the traffic. Sneaking into the subway platform, while tricky, was doable. And soon, they were all on the train, heading off to only Jim knew where. Claire was silently impressed through the entire process. Jim was easily able to navigate the system and get them on the right train with minimal fuss, leaning toward that he had visited New York and used the trains at least once before.
Once settled in the train car though, Jim was nervous, but was trying his hardest not to show it.
“Hey.” A mid-20-something in a Power Rangers costume tilted his head toward Jim. “Nice costume, dude, but don’t you know gargoyles are supposed to have wings? Dunno what that guy is dressed up as though.” He gestured toward Blinky with his chin, who stared blankly back, trying to figure out why the human wasn’t screaming.
“I’m on the way to the party.” Jim slouched back intentionally, making sure his hands were hidden in his pocket. “The rest of the costume’s already there. I’m just wearing the prosthetics since I could get them on myself.” Jim tilted his head Blinky’s direction. “My teacher’s dressed up as an OC troll named Blinky.” Blinky blinked then, surprising the power ranger.
“Wicked.” He grinned, looking between the two. “I hope you win whatever Halloween contest you’re entering, with a getup like that. Travis, by the way.”
“Thanks. Jim.” He offered his hand to shake. “This is Mr. Galadrigal, and Claire, my girlfriend.”
Travis went to shake, but stopped at the last minute. “...you’re paint sealed, right?” Which was... not the question he was expecting from the human, obviously missing a finger as he was.
Blinking, Jim laughed, holding up his hand and wiggling his troll-skinned fingers. “Foam latex. Yeah, it’s sealed.”
“Awesome. That stuff’s not cheap.” They finally shook hands, letting the human get a good feel. “And it feels almost realistic too.
“Yeah, we call our prop master Merlin for a reason.” Jim said with a shrug, getting an agreeing nod in response before he turned toward Claire.
“You’re not dressed up too much? Not feeling it? Think you’d make a killer gargress.”
Claire laughed incredulously. “A what?”
“You know, a female gargoyle.”
“Hey, someone needs to play handler for the night. Claire just drew the short straw.” Jim tried to cover, but it was too late.
“You’re…” Travis narrowed his eyes, “Not local, if you don’t know what a gargoyle is.”
“No, they’re not. We’re from California. I have family here and I invited them along to our annual Halloween party.”
Travis snorted and shook his head. “Bad time of year to visit, man. If you don’t know what they are, you will by the time you leave, especially since its after dark already. Just don’t do anything stupid, and they’ll leave you alone. Maybe.”
“Well, that is not reassuring in the least.” Blinky spoke up, startling Travis.
“Awesome, right?” Jim cut in before he could say anything. “Mr. Galadrigal’s been working on the mechanics in that head for years. Looks almost realistic.” Travis gave a mute nod.
The train slowed down, announcing the next stop overhead and Jim stood up, helping Claire to stand as well. “Well, this is our stop. See you around, Travis!” Jim gave a wide grin before turning away and leading the other two out, sighing in relief when they stepped onto the platform.
‘That guy’s… really tall.’ Was the last thought Travis had before the door shut on the trio of strangers.
“Is this stop really ours, or did you just want to get away from that hole you dug?” Claire asked dryly, brushing her skirt down.
“It really is… but yeah, I wasn’t expecting to actually have to use the excuse I came up with.” Jim grimaced rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment.
“That could have gone better. Much worse, indeed, but not as bad as it could have been.”
“Well, what are we standing around for, let's get going then, oh fearless leader, unless we’re waiting here for a reason.”
“Not really. Good news, it's only a few blocks walk, and we’ll be there in no time.” Leading the way up to the surface, Jim took a moment to look around to orient himself before taking off down the street.
“So, what are gargoyles, anyway? That guy talked like they were real.” Claire asked Blinky, but Jim opened his mouth to respond, but was beaten to it.
“Gargoyles are a clan of trolls with wings that were cursed nearly two thousand years ago to turn to stone when the sun rises, exposure or no, only to resurrect each evening when the sun goes down. They were a Mediterranean clan, originally, much like my own, but there have been nothing but rumors of their existence for the past thousand years, long before I was born.”
Opening his mouth again to add his two cents, Jim decided otherwise for now, interested to see the Troll version of the story. It was… different from what he knew. Getting close, Jim started watching the sky, waiting for one of the dozen or so silhouettes he knew were in the area to fly by.
There . Jim grinned, spotting a well-known shadow cross overhead right as they turned into an alleyway. Letting out a piercing whistle (making both Claire and Blinky flinch back, covering their ears), he watched as the form stalled, looking around, and then dived at speed toward the trio.
“Jim, look out!” Claire screamed out, diving to the side. Instead of diving to the side, Jim braced himself, intending to catch the diving form. What he didn’t expect, was to be picked up and flown to the top of the next building over.
“Griff!” Jim laughed, stumbling out of the hold and into the graveled roof.
“Oof,” the captor grunted, stretching his back and wings out. “You are no small thing anymore, Pup. I don’t think I can carry you very far like that.”
“I wasn’t expecting you to pick me up at all, Griff.” Jim responded, grinning. “Didn’t expect you to be in town too. Is...“
“Of course! I won’t leave my Lord unprotected, after all. We got in last night, actually, for the festivities.”
“That’s great!” Jim grinned. “I really missed you two.”
“Yeah, well- Pup look out!” Spotting a swirling darkness out of the corner of his eye, Griff stepped between the boy and magic, flaring his wings and settling into a threatening posture.
“Uncle Griff, it’s fine, that’s just-”
“Jim!” Claire came out of the portal swinging, Blinky seconds behind her. Stepping around Griff and summoning his armor at the same moment, Jim caught Claire’s new staff with his shield.
“It’s ok, everything's fine.” He looked between the two, glaring at both. “Stand down.” Staring distrustfully at each other, they eventually backed down, though Claire’s staff remained half-raised and Griff’s wings were in an alert position. “Right. Uncle Griff, this is Claire Nunez, my girlfriend. Claire, this is Griffin of Soho clan, my godfather.”
“...What?” The tension broke and Jim released his armor with a sigh, getting ready for a long explanation, but Griff stepped forward first.
“Oh, this is your pretty, gorgeous, completely out of this world, perfect councilwoman's daughter crush?” Griff grinned, relaxing and caping his wings, holding out his three-fingered hand with a bow.
“Um… hello.” Claire took his hand, squeaking when Griff drew her hand closer and kissed her knuckles with a surprisingly soft falcon’s beak. “Jim’s never told any of us about you.”
Jim cleared his throat, embarrassed, he moved to bring Blinky into the circle. “And this is Blinkous Galadrigal, my mentor.”
“Thank you for taking care of the Pup. He’s dear to more people than he cares to admit to.”
“He is indeed.” Blinky agreed, fascinated at Griffin's human mannerisms. While Jim had taught him about shaking hands as a greeting, what Griffin did was different, but not unwelcome, judging by Claire's response. When he held his hand out again, this time towards Blinky, he expected much the same. Instead, he reached past his hand to grip his wrist. Not knowing what to do, he let his hand hang limply.
"Err… right." Griff let go after a moment and turned to a snickering Jim.
"Blinky's a scholar first, not a warrior."
"Ah, I see. A good match then, eh pup?" Jim rolled his eyes and gave his godfather a friendly push.
"Shut up. I know how to fight-"
"-but that still doesn't mean I have to like it."
"So, wait, you're a gargoyle then?" Claire asked, looking him up and down. She saw the typical markers of a troll with the three-fingered hands, green skin and a mohawk. Claire tilted her head sideways. Give Enrique a beak, wings and a long tail, and they’d look almost the same. The wings though, those were fascinating. Nothing like Mr. Stricklers, they were powerful-looking and partially feathered.
“Yes, I am. Take it this is your first time meeting one?” laughing, Griff extended a wing for Claire to touch. “Go ahead, then. You can’t be any worse than the hatchlings.”
Remembering her manners, Claire gave a Trollish greeting, remembering that Blinky had said that they were a breed of troll- albet not near as extinct as he assumed. Griff gave her a blank look, tilting his head. “I’m sorry, Luv, but I didn’t understand that. Care to repeat it in english?” Which confused Claire. Trollish was a universal language, and most trolls actually preferred it.
“I…” Claire was lost.
“Gargoyles are about as much troll as humans are apes.” Jim finally interjected.
Griff winced, “Not the best analogy, mate. More like Homo Sapien and Homo Neanderthalensis. Honestly, we thought that trolls were extinct… until Barbie started telling us otherwise last spring.”
“Barbie?” Blinky asked, making Jim wince.
“Mom. She hates that name.”
“And that’s why we keep calling her that, Pup.”
“Almost as much as i hate that name.” Griff shrugged, but didn’t deny it.
“And the pictures. You’re… a lot taller than I expected.” Griff looked between mentor and student, “both of you.” Griff was average height for a gargoyle, with only Goliath topping him in height, but this ‘Blinky’ was possibly taller still. Jim though, was eye level, when not two years ago, he was only just past his waist. “That was one hell of a growth spurt you went through.”
“Tell me about it.” Jim muttered, looking around, he thought he had heard something on the wind. A moment later, he felt his horn dip with additional weight.
“ Hello .” a raspy voice spoke and Jim had to stop himself from looking up and dumping the poor creature from his head.
“That crow can speak?”
“It's a raven.” Blinky was corrected from three sides, “And yes they can,” Jim continued. “Hello Lenore.”
“ Hello .” Lenore repeated, stretching her wings before resettling them. Jim raised a hand and she delicately transferred over, allowing herself to be lowered to eye level.
“Did you hear me whistle earlier, or did Uncle Alexander send you down?” Jim asked, stroking the bird’s head and back with a finger.
The bird bobbed around a bit before answering. “ Both .”
Jim nodded, “You can tell him we’ll be there in a few minutes, ok Lenore?” Purring, she bobbed her head again before taking off with a small toss on Jim’s part. Watching her fly off with a smile, Jim turned back to the others. “She’s Uncle Alexander’s familiar.”
“You sure she’s not yours, mate, with how well she listens to you?” Griff muttered, shaking his head. it always astonished him, where Jim could just ask and she would obey, the bird was a right nuisance to her master.
“No, she wouldn’t be happy with me.” Jim shook his head, despite agreeing with the sentiment. “I can’t take care of her properly.”
“Right.” Griff clapped his hands to change the subject. “I guess we should be going then. Claire, Luv, you wanna take the scenic route with ol’ Griffie, or do you want to take the elevator?”
“Where are we going?” she asked, getting two sets of hands pointing at… oh, wow. “So… is your family rich enough that they rented a floor for the night or something?”
“Or something.” Jim gave a lopsided grin, “Mom’s foster brother is the heir of the tower over there.”
“That’s... Xanatos tower. The Eyrie building.” Claire stated breathlessly. Everyone knew the tower, since it had been the tallest one in New York City for the past forty years.
“Yep.” Jim popped his P.
“David Xanatos owns it, and Alex Fox Xanatos is his heir.” Jim nodded. “So… your Uncle Alexander is one of the richest people in the world.” She sounded like she was about to faint.
“Is he?” Jim muttered to himself, then shrugged. “I guess he could be. He’s just one of those weird uncles that gives you strange gifts and two hundred dollar gift cards and tells you not to spend it all at once.”
“Two hundred?” Claire choked.
Jim had to think about it for a moment before it clicked. “Oh, right. Yeah. Money’s not really much of a thing in our family. Mom works so much to forget, and to prove a point. She doesn’t really have to work if she didn’t want to.”
“... I guess that explains why the damage to your house gets fixed up so quickly.” Jim gave a wry shrug, but didn’t disagree.
“So your grandparents…”
Jim gave her a wry smile. “Yeah, no. I’m not going to spoil that surprise. I’ll just say, there’s a reason I gave you my card when we started traveling. And it wasn’t just because of chivalry. It was literally a fund for the whole family for ‘just in case of emergency’ travel money. It runs in the family to run into… odd… situations.”
Griff cackled at that, his hands on his hips. “Odd, pup, doesn't even begin to cover it.” He gave the young half-troll a pointed look. “Speaking of, we get to hear this story sometime tonight, right?” He asked, gesturing to Jim’s whole body.
“We’ll see.” Jim agreed non-committedly, earning a knowing grunt from his godfather.
“So, Luv, made up your mind then?” He looked back toward the human.
“Uh… I’ll take the elevator this time.” The sheer scale of the Eyrie this close was daunting.
“Maybe next time, then.” Griff went to jump off the edge of the roof, before remembering something and turning back toward Jim. “Ah, yes, before I forget, your duke sent us a package for you for when you got here. Meet me in the great hall first, before you go the atrium and I’ll ride down with you.”
“...Got it.” He was planning on heading straight to the party, but he was more curious on what Tobes would send straight to the tower, instead of bringing to Jim himself on the Gyre or sending to the PO Box that Claire had set up. With a nod, Griff pushed off and caught a thermal, using it to work his way up and around the building. It wasn’t flight like a bird or bat, but gliding and using the air currents for his advantage.
Watching Griff take off, Jim got a wistful look on his face before shaking his head and turning to Claire and Blinky, waiting for one of them to say something. “If you knew gargoyles were real, why didn’t you say anything before?”
“Because I didn’t want to deal with another ‘Pixies beat fairies’ incident without proof.” Jim stated lowly, turning to watch the traffic below them instead of his Mentor and girlfriend’s faces. “I had my theories, but I never saw any references to gargoyles in any of the books, even passingly, so I didn’t know if trolls and gargoyles were related, or just similar like humans and fae can be.”
“You think Stricklander could possibly be a gargoyle changeling and not a troll.” Blinky took a leap in logic, to which Jim nodded.
“It makes sense. The only winged troll that I’ve ever seen are stalklings, and I’m not even sure classifying them as a true troll is accurate. They remind me more of dragons.”
“And you would know.”
Jim smirked. “And I would know.” He agreed. “Claire, can you get us back down to that alleyway, we were nearly to the family entrance.”
“But the tower is still two blocks that way.” Claire pointed toward the front entrance, which they could just barely see beyond the buildings and people.
“I mean, yeah, if you want to go in the public doors, I’m not stopping you. But this way is a bit more… discreet. We don’t have to deal with so many people going this way… and my access badge still has my old information on it.”
“I’m not even surprised anymore, that you have an access badge to the building that has tighter security than the Vatican.”
“Grandpa David takes his security very seriously, ever since Uncle Alexander’s first kidnapping attempt was when he was a few hours old, and by his grandfather, nonetheless. Step- Grandfather, sorry.” Jim waved his hand dismissively. “Family drama. I try to stay out of it.”
“Yeah.” Claire sighed, gripping her staff tightly, “ok.” Concentrating, she slowly formed the transportation spell. It wasn’t as easy as when she had Morgana’s staff, but it was slowly coming back to her, now that the spell was actually anchored to her own abilities, not Morgana’s warped presence.
Stepping through to the alleyway once again, Jim only led them a handful of yards down the street before they came to a nondescript door with a key pad and hand sensor next to it. Instead of knocking on the door or typing any numbers into the key pad like Claire expected, Jim walked another yard to the left and pressed his fingers to a brick around his waist-height, pushing lightly. After a moment, there was a faint click and the entire section of brickwork slid back and away, revealing a service tunnel leading down that looked wide enough to let a car pass through comfortably.
“Stay close.” Only a few yards down the tunnel, Jim gestured for the others to stop and just stood there, waiting. Eventually, a topless golf cart came buzzing up the path, stopping in front of the trio. “Hello Mr. Burnett.”
“Lord Lake.” A blonde man in a suit and glasses got out of the cart, flicking his eyes between the three. “And companions. This way.” He gestured to the cart with a hand, eliciting a gasp and a surprised murmur from Claire and Blinky.
“An incident, I’m afraid.” He pushed his glasses back into place with his stone fist, showing that it was not a complete handicap. “That happened before Lady Lake was born, let alone young Lord Lake. It is what happens when you don’t fully understand the consequences of magic. His eyes studied Claire and she shrunk back, wondering if the dark magic scars from Morgana were showing.
“How many times have I asked you not to call me ‘Lord Lake’ Mr. Burnett?”
“As many times as I will not be called Owen by you… young prince.” Sighing, Jim let it go, helping Claire into the back seat while Blinky sat behind Owen. Jim took the front seat, since it was the only free one left.
“Prince?” Claire asked, amused.
“It’s a… running joke in the family.” Jim tried to wave off, ignoring Owen’s frown and disapproving hum. Turning the cart with a practiced efficiency, Owen drove them down the slightly sloping tunnel into a garage filled with a wide array of vehicles, ranging from the expected limo, to a few highly modified motorcycles.
“This way,” Mr. Burnett led them to an elevator, bowing them all in, but not before Jim stroked his hand across an antique but well-loved moped in gold with crimson pin lines drawn on. Blinky saw both the nostalgia and longing in his foster son’s eyes. Perhaps he would meet the one that instilled Jim’s love of motored vehicles tonight.
“That is a handsome looking Vespa, do you know the owner?” Blinky asked, distracting himself from having to get into a human elevator.
“Yeah.” Jim nodded, leaning against the side wall with both his hands tucked into his hoodie pockets. “Lex is the mechanic in the family. He’s built or modified most of the bikes in the garage in his free time. He also built that Vespa when I was little, so I got to watch him work whenever I was visiting.” The elevator rose smoothly, but faster than most public elevators would. Still, it took at least a minute to reach the castle levels of the building. Owen excused himself at the atrium level and Jim had to punch in a security code to go into the castle proper.
“Did you visit often?” Claire asked, peeking out at what she could see of the atrium before the doors shut. From what she could see, it looked filled with lush green plants and the lights illuminated it to look like daytime. If she didn’t know better, she would almost assume the atrium was someone’s back garden.
“All the time when I was little. The past couple of years mom’s been busy, so it’s only been a handful of times a year. Halloween and the solstices mostly.” Shrugging, Jim stood straight and absently summoned his daylight armor, leaving his sword unsummoned, and standing squarely in front of the elevator doors.
“Time to greet the master of the house.” Jim shot Claire and Blinky a smile before facing forward at casual attention. A few scant moments later, the door opened, admitting them to what was once the Great Hall when castle Wyvern was at its prime. These days, it was more of a reception hall or ballroom, but still had a trio of thrones for when the Xanatos family felt ostentatious. Like tonight. “Follow me.”
Jim led the two down a wide carpet runner that led straight to the throne dias before dipping into a bow. Not a deep one to mark respect to a superior, or a mocking one, but one as one equal to another. “Lord, Lady and Heir Xanatos, thank you for welcoming us into your home.”
“You know you’re always welcome here, Jim.” The older of the two men spoke up from the center throne, looking comfortable in what looked like 10th century court dress with a thin gold band across his brow. “Now who are your two companions?”
Jim gestured to Blinky first, as he was the eldest there. “Blinkous Galadrigal, Elder to Trollmarket and my trainer.”
“Huh, an actual troll.” Lord Xanatos smirked, youthful curiosity shining in his eyes. “Fascinating. I’ve read tales of trolls existing, but I have never seen proof until this very moment. And to think, they were right under our noses this entire time.” He mused to himself before pushing himself out of the chair with an agility that defied his apparent age. “It’s wonderful to meet the man that’s been taking care of our Jim. You may call me David.” He held his hand out and gave Blinky a businessman’s shake.
“Then you must call me Blinky, since it seems to be what the children are fond of calling me.” Blinky responded in kind, his eyes wandering slightly around the hall.
“Yes, I can see why.” David held his hand out behind him, beckoning the other two from the dias. “My wife Fox, and My son Alex.”
“Alexander, please.” The redhead man gave a tight smile.
“Yes, Alexander. And who would this vision of beauty be?” David looked behind Jim with a welcoming smile.
“Claire Nuñez, Heir Nuñez,” Jim held his own hand out toward Claire, pulling her even with Jim. “My girlfriend.”
“She’s precious.” Fox cooed, breaking formation to give Claire a hug. “Welcome to the family, dear.”
“Um… Hello.” Claire was still a bit starstruck, having been completely unprepared to meet the equivalent of American royalty. “It’s, uh, you have a beautiful castle?” She immediately winced, but didn’t have the time to take it back before David burst out laughing, clapping Jim on the shoulder.
“You pulled a fast one on her, didn’t you? Sneaky thing, what did you tell her?” David waggled a finger in front of Jim’s face in a half-hearted scold.
“That he was bringing us to meet some extended family.” Claire managed to get over her awe in the face of the infamous Xanatos family acting, well, human.
“Well, it wasn’t a lie.” David had to give them that. “Though there will be a few business associates here for the first part of the night, the second half will be for extended clan only. If it gets too much for you at any time, just tell any one of us and we will be more than willing to whisk you away from the party.”
“And don’t be embarrassed if you need to. Jim usually spends a good portion hiding either in the kitchens or in the music room, so you won’t be alone if you need to retreat.” Fox had managed to step around and tuck Claire’s hand into her elbow and pat it. “Now, since he did a very rude thing and didn’t tell you a single thing, how about I make it up to you and seeing if we have anything that would fit you that’s a bit more appropriate. Though I do love your cape, little witch.” Claire had a vague idea of what Mrs. Xanatos would deem ‘more appropriate’, seeing as she was wearing what seemed to be based on a kirtle, but was made with layers of gauzy materials, held together with a cloth belt that had tassels on the end, which hung down past her knees. Her white-and-orange hair was done in an elegant updo with a demure tiara perched on top.
Turning back to Jim as she was being pulled away, he gave her a huge grin and mouthed ‘have fun’. Jim didn’t seem too worried, so she would try to keep an open mind.
In the meanwhile, David had managed to capture Blinky’s attention with his genuine questions about trolls in general, and Jim in particular, dragging him away to a comfortable corner to talk, leaving Jim with Alexander.
“Let me see you.” Alexander murmured, stepping close and cradling the boy’s face in his hands. The redheaded man hummed, inspecting his favorite nephew through both physical and magical means. “You really have suffered.” He brushed some hair out of Jim’s face as he pressed it into his uncle’s palm in response.
“It was worth it.” Jim croaked, closing his eyes and holding Alexander’s hand still while he took in the familiar scent of the clan’s magic.
“It always seems so when you’re in the thick of it. Barbara said that Merlin used a potion on you?”
“Yes.” Jim shuddered. “He made it seem like it was my only choice to defeat Gunmar and Morgana.”
Alex hummed, taking a moment to recall what he remembered hearing about Morgana. “You should have called us if you got involved with Morgana.”
“I… didn’t think of it.”
“You didn’t, or you thought that you didn’t want to bother us?
“It was a little of both.” Jim reluctantly admitted. “But mostly because it was a troll problem there, and including any more external forces could have possibly made it worse.”
“And yet, you woke up Merlin from his glorified nap.”
“To be fair, we didn’t know that he was actually there until we stumbled across what we thought was his body, lying on a stone slab. We were actually trying to beat Gunmar to Merlin’s staff.”
Alex rubbed his face with his free hand with a sigh. “You, of all people, should know that just because there’s a body on a slab, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dead.”
“I got caught up in the moment. And we were desperate.”
“At which point, you, or at least Barbara, should have contacted one of us immediately.”
“By the time Mom knew, it was too late. And Merlin’s a sadistic asshole that somehow convinced me that I was the only one that could do anything.”
Alexander cast his eyes to the heavens before giving in and hugging his nephew. “I know that you were desperate at that point, and caught up in the moment, but that still wasn’t an excuse to let him keep abusing you. From what Barbara tells me, he’s been teaching your girlfriend magic?”
“When he feels like it.” Jim nodded. “I usually try to stay away from them when Merlin’s around.
“Which is probably for the best.” Alexander nodded. “And your own practice?”
“I haven’t. I don’t want any of my magic residue to be around where Merlin can detect it.”
“Probably for the best.” He reluctantly agreed. “From all the various stories I’ve heard about the old coot, if I ever meet him, I’d likely deck him sooner than I’d shake his hand. It’s his amulet that started this whole thing in the first place, wasn’t it?”
“Ah, yeah, I guess.” Jim absently traced the amulet’s resting place on his chest plate. “This thing never picked a human before, only trolls.”
“And then it picked you. Merlin thinks your whole family line is his plaything, doesn’t he?”
“If this is the same Merlin that decided to trap me in an eternal nap and forced me to become immortal, then yes, he does.” A man in a blue cape and armor with a dragon etched into the breastplate came up to the two, Griff following with a black velvet box in one hand. “Unfortunately, from what I’ve heard, age has driven him to madness. Jim, you will have to bring me to him when you get the chance.” He came up and patted Jim on the shoulder before drawing him in with a rib-cracking hug. “It’s good to see you, either way, Pup.”
“Grandsire.” Jim gasped, not prepared for his grandfather’s hugs to be just as strong to his (half)troll body as they were his human one. “Welcome home.”
“And to you the same. Now, what is this that Griff said you brought guests with you? It’s not your Duke, since Tobias sent this to us instead of bringing it himself.” He gestured to Griff and the box that he held.
“My mentor, Blinkous Galadrigal.” Jim gestured across the room, where Blinky looked up at his name and waved, but continued to talk with David. “And Claire you will meet after Aunt Fox releases her from her clutches.”
“That poor girl.” He gave a sympathetic smirk. “Though if Fox has already taken a shine to her, I’m not too worried. Fox was never too impressed with your grandmother, after all.” Jim choked on a laugh, knowing it was rude but it was funny either way. “Speaking of, heard anything from the old bint lately?”
“Mom apparently told her I was living on this coast, so she has demanded I attend the next gathering she has, so I can be introduced to some ‘proper young ladies’ that she approves of.” He stated in a sotto voice.
“And will you go?”
“I’d rather face Bular again.”
Laughing, he slapped Jim in the back, agreeing heartily. It had been a foolish and difficult marriage, but had produced a pair of beautiful children, but had ended messily when she had gone behind his back to disinherit Barbara when she had run off with the Sturgis boy. He hadn’t spoken to Diane in near a decade and was all the better for it, despite her efforts to control her only grandson. His boy, though, had stayed with his mother until he graduated school before joining the army. It’d been about five years since he’d come home last.
“And miss the chance to woo all the ladies with your handsome mug?” Jim snorted, shaking his head, hearing the truth in the tease.
“I think I’d scare most of them away, Grandsire. I’ve been told I have cold hands these days.” He held his hand up, displaying his stone skin.
“Cold hands for hot nights.” He quipped back, making Jim choke on his own spit.
“And besides, there’s always your Duke to help warm things up if necessary. I know Gwen never complained lying between Lance and I.” Deeming his grandson sufficiently embarrassed and glowing a violent shade of violet, he relented. “Speaking of, Tobias sent something here, care of Alex, for tonight.”
He gestured and Griff stepped forward and presented the box, opening the hinge so that Jim could see inside. “Oh, wow… so that’s what he was doing.” On one hand, it was a beautiful piece, and he could see why Toby would send it straight to the tower, where it would be properly taken care of. On the other, He could understand that Toby knew him well enough that the piece would have been admired, then hidden in the deepest pit he could find, never to see the light of the moon.
“Kneel, so that I can help you put it on.” He instructed and Jim had no choice but to do so. “James Lake Junior, with this band, be marked as my heir.”
“...I accept this band to mark me as yours and wish to never dishonor the position.” He didn’t know if this was official now, and if Toby had been commissioned for the piece, or if this was a chance that his Grand Sire had seen and taken because of Toby’s whims, but it didn’t matter in the end.
Instead of a circlet or torc like his Grandsire usually wore, this was more along the lines of a tiara. Twin branches snaked up from the curved circlet, branching out to create silver swirls around the base half of his horns At the center of each swirl was a flake of a gemstone, just enough to catch the light like a star. Rearranging his hair around the bands, his Grand Sire stepped back to admire the piece.
“Your duke does beautiful work.”
“Yes, he does.” Jim agreed quietly, tilting his head slightly and couldn’t feel a thing. It fit his head perfectly. Most of the circlet was hidden under his hair, having settled right at his hairline, with a familiar-looking blue stone sitting in a place of pride in the middle. The pieces wrapping around his horns laid near flush, so wouldn’t snag on anything unless something happened to bend a tine out of place.
A small smattering of applause confirmed what he had suspected: that this was his ascension ceremony. “Blink, come meet my Grand Sire.” He caught the troll looking at his horn decoration before turning to the human. “Arthur Pendragon.”
“ The King Arthur?” Blinky asked, getting a nod of confirmation. “Oh, my.” Even trolls had heard of the Legendary Immortal King Under the Mountain.
“Aye, been a long time since I’ve seen a Troll though. Gargoyles, yes, are a dime a dozen, as the kids say, but I had suspected that Trolls had gone the way of the dragon.” Arthur clasped Blinky on the shoulder in greeting.
“Just underground, King Arthur. Some time after your… ah, nap started, the war between the troll factions came to a head and Deya the Deliverer trapped Gunmar the Black in the Darklands during the first battle of Killahead bridge, along with the majority of the Gumm-Gumm tribes. In the following peace, the remaining trolls decided to separate themselves from human consciousness and went fully underground. This was nearly, ah, four hundred years ago, I believe.”
Arthur listened with a polite smile, nodding along to the history lesson. “Your clan name is Galadrigal, if I recall.”
“Yes, that is correct.”
Arthur nodded, looking over Blinky’s uniquely paired horns, six eyes and four arms, his mind in the past. “I believe I had the occasional historian troll from the Galadrigal clan visit Camelot. Her unique traits seem to be clan markers, it seems. Though she was a lovely shade of lavender, if I recall.” Giving the troll’s shoulder a squeeze, he looked between him and his grandson. “Jim’s always been a caretaker like his mother, his head in the books instead of his hand around a weapon.”
“Then I am glad to report that his skills with the sword come honestly. I have rarely had a student take to a weapon as quickly as Jim has, troll or otherwise. Though I have long suspected Master Jim to have at least some experience around weaponry beforehand. And coming from a bloodline such as yours, I will be continuing to expect great things from him.”
“Oh, trust me, we tried.” Arthur shook his head with an exasperated sigh. “That boy became a master at hiding from his weaponry lessons, that’s for sure. Dear Broadway was at least able to get him to learn something , even if it wasn’t exactly the dagger over the kitchen knife.”
“Then I will have to thank- Broadway, did you say?- for the foundation that we built Jim’s considerable skills upon.”
Arthur laughed, clapping Blinky on the back, startling the troll when he stumbled forward slightly. “Knowing those boys, you’ll have your chance sooner than later! Jim does always manage to find his way to the kitchens here, whether by accident or design!” Speaking of, Arthur managed to snag Jim by the neckpiece as he attempted to sneak off to do just that. “Now, while we are waiting on the young princess, lets go get your proper introductions out of the way. We are at a party, after all!”
Jim grimaced, but reluctantly followed his grandsire to the elevator anyway. Behind steel doors, Arthur first made sure that Jim’s hair was as tidied as it could be before making sure his own armor pieces were sitting correctly and polished. “Just remember, smile, do your rounds and then you’re free until your princess comes down. Then your only job is to make sure she has fun. No abandoning your date tonight, understand?”
“Yes, Grandsire.” In turn, Jim made last checks on Blinky as well, tossing one edge of his cloak over his shoulder and pinning it there with a spare safety pin, so he could move his arms freely but still look elegant. “Don’t worry, Blink, everyone here can be trusted. It’s only a few hours, then it’s just going to be family.”
“As long as you know what you’re doing, Master Jim. I will follow your lead.” Jim gave Blinky a grateful grin before sobering and stepping into place behind his Grand sire’s left, while Griff took Arthur’s right, just in time for the elevator doors to open. As one unit, they left the elevators, to stop behind a row of tall potted plants at the top of a wide staircase. Owen stood at the top of the stairs, on the opposite side with a bell to get guests attention. With a nod to the majordomo, Owen rang the bell as Arthur gave his grandson another squeeze to the shoulder and stepped to the center of the grand staircase with Griff a half-step behind.
“Announcing Lord-King Arthur Pendragon of Camelot with Sir Griffin of Soho Clan.” Owen spoke clearly as Arthur started descending the stairs amid polite applause. He waited until the pair reached the bottom of the stairs before giving Jim a nod.
Taking a calming breath, Jim started forward alone, stopping on the slightly off-colored flagstone that marked the center of the top stair. The crowd below wasn’t near as full as it could be, and for that, he was internally grateful. This was his first public appearance since Merlin’s transformation and he could already hear the curious murmurs rising from multiple voices. While what happened was quickly becoming common knowledge to the clan, outside associates were generally outside the know. It was times like this that Jim would have loved to hide behind his furs, or even an illusion of his old human form.
“Announcing, Prince James Lake the Second,” Owen started and Jim started down the stairs, his eyes focusing on the far wall of the atrium. “Heir to Camelot, Trollmarket’s Champion.” He… didn’t know that Owen was going to announce that. Jim nearly faltered, but remembered to breathe at the last moment, joining his Grandsire at the bottom of the stairs before turning and waiting for Blinky’s turn.