Just Once (Part 2)
David J. Duncan


Chapter 5 [El Gato Negro]

Lex parked his Ferrari in the lot behind the bar and hustled over to the main door. Fortunately, it was a dead night for the bar. Given my last experience in here, I guess I should consider myself lucky. Remembering how he had almost caused a commotion by dropping Dave's name in here, he vowed to keep a lower profile this time. Showing his ID to the bouncer, he entered the establishment and descended the chain-linked stairs, making his way to the bar. Sure enough, the place echoed with emptiness.

"Well, Mr. Luthor, what brings you out here tonight?" Janette inquired with a saucy lilt to her voice.

"Chloe just called me. I...uh...was looking for a friend. You get my drift?" he explained.

She smirked at him. He does learn quickly. I have to give him that. "He's in the back with his daughters and Nicolas. I would ask that you tread lightly, Lex. The man has lost a great deal tonight. I do not want a full scale war in here."

"Absolutely," he noted, not wanting a standoff either. "Can I get a glass of wine, please?"

"Certainly," she concurred, pouring him the drink. "That'll be $3.50."

He nodded and handed over a five-dollar bill. "Keep the change, and merci, Mademoiselle."

She smiled and watched the young man walk into the back to join his friends. The night is cold and dark. For Dubois especially, the night calls his name. I pity those who receive his answer.


In the back room, Dave sipped on a Diet Pepsi and sighed deeply. He was still in shock over the events around him. Part of him didn't want to believe that Angie was gone. Hell, he wouldn't believe it. Somewhere between the university and his condo, the Child had let him assume control. I suspect that he didn't want to scare the twins. Lord knows they've been through enough already.

"Papa?" Lauren asked.

"Yes, Sweetie? Do you want another soda?" he asked, trying to keep a calm look on his face.

"If it's okay with Nick," she responded sadly.

"Of course it is," the Elder agreed. "How about you, Karen?"

The other twin simply nodded in stunned silence. She had been unable to speak since they "felt" their mother's death. For now, she snuggled closely against her father, not wanting to let him go.

Feeling Karen's tears against his side, Dave ran his hand through her brunette hair and soothed, "Shh. It's all right. Mama's just resting is all."

"She's gone, Papa. She went to the Light," Lauren disagreed sullenly.

"She'll be back, Lauren. I promise you that," Dave vowed. "Even if I have to walk through Hell itself."

And he would do it too. Nick brought two Cokes back for the twins and set them down on the table.

"Thank you," Lauren expressed, trying not to cry.

Karen gave their host a brief look of gratitude before allowing her eyes to return to the table.

The medievalist hugged both girls closely to him. Angie, I'll keep them safe. I promise you. Glaring at the door, he asked, "Lex?"

"Yeah, Dave, it's me. I hope you don't mind some company," the billionaire responded, entering the area and trying to keep his composure. I can feel the chill in here. "I came as soon as I heard."

He sighed. "It's something, isn't it?"

"What is?" Lex wondered.

"How everyone's always trying to take what you have," Dave continued, looking at his friend with a dead stare.

"And what are you going to do about it? Mope?" Lex asked.

"You're the one with the alcohol, Pal," Dave told him flatly. "The girls and I are going unleaded."

"Lex," Nick said, reminding the other of how edgy the professor really was.

The younger man nodded and sat down. "I am sorry, Dave. I know how much you loved her."

"Love, Lex. I'm bringing her back," the professor affirmed. "Michael's pulling my strings."

"Michael?" Lex asked.

"The archangel," Nick noted.

"You're serious? Dave, you've got an archangel mad at you?" Lex asked.

"Yeah. I didn't take out a vampire the way he wanted me to. So we're going through this," the historian replied. "I think it stinks. Just when we dump the witch, he starts his crap." He took a big gulp out of his drink.

"You make it sound like it's a game. Your wife's dead, Chief," Lex pointed out.

Dave stared at him, allowing the intense anger to seep into his eyes. "THIS ISN'T A GAME!" He slammed his fist down on the table before regaining his composure. "This is a war, Lex. Make no mistake about it. I'm going to war to get her, Francesca, Eve, Xena, and Gabrielle back. I will bring them back. I will bring her back. And I pity the fools who stand in my way!"

The businessman shuddered in spite of himself. He had seen and endured darkness in many forms over the years from his father and other businessmen. But the darkness within his friend continued to scare him. He's hit even lower now. Without Angie, how will we keep him in check?

"I don't want Clark or the other students going off on this one, Lex. They're still too innocent. War's hell."

Lex nodded. "I agree. But you aren't going to try and take on the whole Olympian pantheon by yourself, are you?"

"If I have to," Dave asserted.

"They'll kill you. Ten to one odds aren't good," the businessman argued.

"Five to one. And he's not alone," Nick asserted. "I'm going with him and I suspect LaCroix will go as well."

Seeing the surprised look on the bald man's face, Dave asked, "Didn't Chloe tell you that I took out three gods tonight? What's another five?"

"So you're murdering now?"

"I've been given a mandate to usher in the Elisian way. If I have to go through every stinking temple troop command to do it, I will," Dave growled.

"Is this where you yell, 'God wills it' like a good little Crusader?" Lex supposed. "They were just as misguided."

"Some of us didn't have a choice!" Nick hissed, vamping out.

"Enough!" Dave bellowed. "The girls are scared enough."

The other two men clammed up, knowing that the twins were scared of what lay ahead.

"Lex, this is serious business, all right?" Dave noted. "Please, we don't need any more strife right now."

Lex shrugged. "All right, Dave."

"Good," the medievalist accepted. "We'll get through this as well."

"And what does the Child think of all of this?" the Elder wondered.

"He's chomping at the bit. But he's been quiet for the last few hours," Dave replied. Too quiet. Almost as if he's gone off on another adventure without us.

"That's a good thing, isn't it?" Lex asked.

Not if he's doing what he did to the Strand. I know Dave's thinking the same thing, Nick pondered. And given the fact that he found our friends from the future, the Child can do the time travel thing. We really do need to worry.

At that moment, Adam, Lana, and Chloe entered the room.

"Dave, how are you?" the geneticist asked.

"Surviving right now," Dave told him. "Helping my daughters to cope."

"Listen, we need to get you back to Sanctuary and help you to calm down," Adam continued.

"I'll go with you, but I'm not going to calm down. Not until I've dealt with the Olympians and restored order to the freaking universe," the medievalist retorted, taking a sip from his soda.

"Olympians?" Nick asked.

"The attackers. They're the Olympian gods," Dave explained. "You know, Athena, Ares, Hades, Hephesteus and Discord."

"The gods of ancient Greece?" Chloe asked. "Like Zeus, Hera, and Hercules? Those gods?"

"Hercules was only a half-god," Dave clarified. "But those were the folks you took on earlier tonight."

"And you took out three of them?" Lex asked.

"He did," Lana noted. "I'm just glad you're back in control, Professor."

"For now," Dave informed them. "For now."

"We all need to do so, Dubois," LaCroix added, entering the area with Cybelle and Divia.

"So you came," Dave retorted darkly.

"At your insistence," the General clarified. "Where's Livia?"

"Eve is in the Faerie Realms under close guard," Cybelle informed him. "If this succeeds, you will see her again."

"And what is 'this'?" Divia snarled.

"A big fight, actually. LaCroix, as a mortal general, you had quite a following, didn't you?" Dave asked.

"You know the answer to that, Dubois," Toronto's Elder retorted.

"Just answer the question. Yes or no," the medievalist insisted.

"Yes, Livia and I had troops loyal to us in the Imperial guard. Why?"

"And how many troops are we talking here, per chance, LaCroix?" Nick asked.

"150,000 men more or less. Enough to deal with any threat," LaCroix retorted.

"Even the combined forces of the gods? Do you think there's a way you could convince Augustus to lend you a few more men?" Dave inquired. "Of course, if your estimates are inflated by ego, well...."

LaCroix snarled, "I'll get those men! Where are we fighting this battle?"

"Greece. Mount Olympus to be precise," Dave pointed out. "Just have your men get ready to deal with the gods' forces. I'll deal with them myself."

"I want Ares though," LaCroix insisted.

"I don't think you could handle him," Dave doubted.

"And you can?" Divia shot back.

A wicked grin crossed the medievalist's face. "I have no doubt of it. Ever since that library fiasco, I've been waiting to light into him big time."

Adam shuddered. He's after blood. Maybe Emma can help him to calm down. "The others will be here soon, all right? Let's try and relax until they get here."

"Meantime, I have work to do," LaCroix asserted. "Divia, shall we?"

The blonde co-Elder nodded.

Cybelle opened the portal and told them, "Go ahead. Good luck to you both."

"When will you bring us back?" Divia inquired.

"Just return to the place where you arrived. I'll know," the high priestess told them.

"Very well," the female vampire concurred. "Dubois, we will succeed." With that, she and her son/father vanished into the mists.

"I guess we should be getting ready too," Dave assumed, getting up. "By the way, where's Clark?"

"I'll bring him back here in a few minutes. The Empress has him watching things back there until her guards are set," Cybelle reported. "Shall I bring him to your hacienda, Lex?"

"Please do," Lex agreed. "Come on, Lana, Chloe. Let's go."

"Are you going to be all right, Professor?" Lana asked.

He rubbed her hand and assured her. "One thing I am is tough. Go on. If we need you, we'll call. And by the way, guys, thanks."

This is a lousy front, but I guess we should expect that much from him. "Just be careful, okay?" the billionaire requested.

"You too," Dave replied. "All of you."

The trio nodded as they left the room, heading for the parking lot.

"Okay, girls," Dave requested. "Let's go. We're going to stay with some friends tonight. Have your teddies and everything?"

The twins nodded. Although they really weren't thinking of such things right now, they appreciated their father's concern.

"Good," Adam agreed. "Mika's waiting with the others in the Double Helix."

"We'll be waiting for your signal," Nick assured them.

Dave nodded and ushered his daughters toward the door. He sighed deeply, felling the tempest brewing inside of him. Maybe being at Sanctuary will be good for all of us.

Once his guests had left, Nick walked over to the bar where Janette awaited him.

"You're going with him, I take it?" she inquired knowingly.

"Do I have a choice?" he retorted. "I'm not letting Dave and LaCroix go off by themselves. Besides, there is the matter of enforcing my prerogative as Elder."

She raised her eyebrow. That's a new one. Can it be he's finally accepting his role? "Be careful, mon Cher. And watch out for LaCroix as well."

"I will," he promised. "Take care of everything while I'm gone?"

"Of course," she agreed. "Tread carefully."

He kissed her cheek and replied, "Absolutely. Now, I need to talk to Alyce. Au revoir." With that, he walked out of the club and drove off in the Caddy.

Another crusade. The centuries have come and gone, but Nicolas still remains the same. Don't let this cause be the death of you. Janette shrugged and started putting glasses up for the day, eagerly doing something to forget about the crisis happening around her.


Chapter 6

[Lex's hacienda-Two hours later]

Clark paced about the sitting room, trying to work off steam. He wanted to go with the others, but was rebuffed repeatedly. What good are these abilities if I can't help those I care about?

For a half-hour, Lana, Chloe, Lex, Miranda, and Byron watched him. Figuring that he would eventually slump onto the sofa next to his fiancée, they let him walk it off.

"You can't fight every battle, Clark," Lex finally told him. "Please take a seat before you wear a hole in my floor."

"Clark's being Clark," Chloe assessed. "Boy scout and super hero in training."

"Don't I know it," her fiancé agreed, sipping from his coffee.

"Uncle Dave has his reasons, Clark," Miranda added.

"Like what? We stood up to them! I hate seeing him like this, all right?" the alien student protested.

"That's why, Clark," Lex told him flatly. "The way you're feeling right now."

"Huh?" Clark asked incredulously.

"Before Chloe and Lana joined us at the Gato, Dave told me that he wanted you all spared the horrors of the battle. He won't be responsible for you all losing your perspective," Lex declared. "I agree with him."

"There's a poem on that, Clark," Byron told him.

"This isn't the time, Byron," Lana sighed.

Lex disagreed, "It depends on the piece. Wilfred Owen?"

The poet nodded. "Dulce et Decorum est. I have it memorized. Here goes..." He took a deep breath and recited,

"Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori

Seeing the others' looks, Lex stated, "That was apt."

"Having seen the troll wars, I agree," Miranda added, shivering. "Besides, you don't want to see Uncle Dave like this. He'll fight without quarter, no mercy given and none expected."

"Such as in your nightmare?" Lana asked.

Miranda continued, "Even now, he's determined to go back there and take them all. Daddy was like that too. Never give up, never give in." She choked back a sob. First Daddy and now, Auntie Angie.

"Dealing with your grandparents made them like that, Miranda," Lex said, embracing her.

"I know," Miranda agreed. "Still, I wish it hadn't been that way."

"That's why he wants us to be sheltered, I guess," Chloe surmised. "Still, I'd rather be out there with them."

"And I would too," Lana added, recalling what happened to Whitney Fordman. "But listen to Byron, Chloe. War isn't glorious." Seeing the burning determination on Clark's face, she patted the cushions beside her. "Come on, Clark, sit with me."

Clark relented, allowing her to put her arm around his shoulders. "I know you're all right. I just don't like it."

"I didn't say I liked it," Lex clarified. "I'm just saying that this is his war and you all don't need to be there. He's relying on us to watch things back here. I think we need to be satisfied with that for now." He yawned. "Come on, guys, we need some sleep."

The others shrugged. Granted, nobody was going to sleep that night, but some rest wouldn't hurt.


[New Sanctuary]

Emma shut the door to the twins' room quietly and walked back toward the main living area. Having placed soothing thoughts in their heads, she hoped that they would sleep through the night. That is if their father's moods don't wake them up first. Coming out into the living room, she saw her teammates sitting and talking about the situation at hand.

"Hey, guys, where's Dave?" she asked.

Brennan replied, "Sitting by the fountain and brooding. How are the twins?"

"They're finally asleep," Emma noted, rubbing her forehead. "Now to deal with Dave's moods. Adam, can we put him in the Dojo and let him release the anger?"

The geneticist looked at the others. "I don't know, Emma. I'm not sure if it can contain his darkness."

"It's eating him alive right now," the psionic told him. "Frankly, I'm amazed that he's held himself in check so far."

"It might be a good idea, Adam," Jesse agreed.

"Well, we can keep it under advisement," the leader replied. "Meantime, can you check in with him?"

She nodded. "Absolutely. You know, guys, you shouldn't be so scared of him. He could really use a friend right now." With that, she headed toward the fountain.


Illuminated in the reflecting incandescent sparkle off of the fountain pool, Dave sat in a lotus position and stared into the waters. Within himself, the depression grew, jockeying with anger and resentment for control.

Why does this keep happening to us? He took Angie's picture out of his wallet and analyzed it, trying to imagine that she was there with him. His mind flashed back over the course of their relationship.


<Note: Dave's POV>

Once there were oceans
Endless emerald forests
Full of sounds of magic
Once so long ago...

Once I was jaded
Thought I knew a few things
Understood so little
Had so much to lose

Ever since I broke up with Karen, I wandered through my own personal Dark Wood. My life defined by my struggle with the inner darkness and those who would take everything away from me. I recall hearing how tired my friends were about my moods and told me to go to San Antonio.

And then came the chicken salad that changed my life. I see an unlikely duo sharing a table. A medical resident cramming definitions from her Merck Manual. An academic librarian looking for work and direction. Two completely different people who said a few words.

And something clicked...

Once on a journey
Through the streams and mountains
I stumbled on the road that
Brought me close to you.

After we spent the evening together, we went our separate ways. I headed for Massachusetts. She went to South Carolina. We would never see each other again.

But our friends intervened, bringing us together once again.

The next summer was magical. We worked hard, but in the process, we gained an understanding for each other. In between the ice cream cones and the cherry slushes on the pier, we fell head over heels in love although we wouldn't admit it to each other. Not just yet.

Once in the forest
(You) told me that you loved me
From that moment changed me
Something said just once

I recall a camping trip we took during the first summer together. On a rare midweek break from Dr. Alvarez's restaurant, we headed for Lake Champlain. Despite the heat and humidity, we had a great deal of fun swimming in the cool glittering waters and walking along the shoreline.

During the nights, we sat around the campfire, gazing into each other's eyes. Granted, we knew that we had strong feelings for each other, but on one particular evening, her words penetrated my consciousness.

"Dave, I love you for who and what you are."

At that point, it finally sank in.

"Thank you, Princess," I responded, kissing her gently on the cheek.

Words in a diary
Fade upon the pages
People gone forever
Shadows on a wall.

At that point, I recalled her voice on the phone and the email messages between us. I can see our conversations increasing as time passed and our feelings becoming more and more solidified.

Still I remember
Love we had in winter
Sunlight on your fingers
Secrets in the snow

Now, I see Angie out in back of her parents' house. A fresh snow had fallen the night before, covering the ground with a five-inch cover of pristine snow. She was trudging through the stuff, enjoying the atmosphere. The wind reddened her cheeks, but her smile brightened everything. She lay down on the ground and made a snow angel.

"What are you doing?" I heard myself asking.

"I'm leaving my mark," she giggled.

"You're going to catch cold," I complained.

"My Big Worry Wort," she snickered and pulled me down to her level. "See? It's not so bad." She kissed me. "You shouldn't be so serious all of the time."

"If you say so," I replied.

"I know so," she assured me. "Come on, have fun, okay?"

I smiled. "Okay." I tried the motions and laughed.

"I told you...I told you...."

I will follow you
I will follow you
All through the night I will follow

My mind flashed ahead to our engagement day. Even as she accepted my proposal, Fate threatened us again. Even as her current position was offered to her, I resolved to give everything up to be with her.

Fortunately, Caitlin offered me a position as well.

Once on the ocean
Thought I heard you whisper
<<Stay with me forever>>
Now always and once

Now we stood on the beachfront on Cape Cod hours before we left for our positions in Fall River and Scituate. The sun was setting and a cool breeze wafted off the breaking surf. Only the sea gulls and a few remaining beach goers remained.

"Dave, thank you," she purred, snuggling up to him.

"For what?" I asked her.

"For this magical summer. I've never had so much fun or been with someone I cared about so much," she told him, gazing into my eyes.

"I feel the same way," I agreed, taking her hands in my own.

"Promise me something?" she requested. Leaning close to me, she whispered, "Stay with me forever."

"I will," I agreed without hesitation. "If you'll stay with me."

She grinned and hugged me. "I'll be there for you through the fire and the rain no matter what...."


(Back to balanced view)

As the memory faded, he felt another surge of indignant rage stream through himself followed by a wave of depression. It can't be over. I won't let it be over.

["It ain't, Bub," the Child told him.]

["I'm not quitting. It hurts," Dave asserted.]

["Deal with it," the Dark One directed.]

["What do you think I'm doing?"]

["Awright, Ah git the pic'ure."] With that, the Voice went silent.

Dave shook his head. He felt the wet streaks on his cheeks and the spasms running through his body. He's right. I just wish I could let it out.

"Well, why don't you?" Emma asked him.

He glanced sullenly over at her. "Why don't I what?"

"Let it out," she told him.

"You want me to destroy this place?" he inquired incredulously.

"I don't think you would do that," she soothed. "But you need to release it at some point."

"Don't worry, I will," he affirmed. "Somehow, the gods and I are going to meet again. They'll pay for this."

"Dave, that's your pain talking," she disagreed.

"No! It isn't!" he stormed, jumping to his feet and bellowing, "You don't get it! You just don't get it! History's changed! The archangel Michael, who coincidentally wants my ass in Hell for defying him, has put me into this situation! The Olympians want me dead! I want them dead as well! There's only one way out of this and it isn't through pretty words and good intentions!"

She started to rebut before he cut her off. "Emma, don't say it, all right? Get this straight. They killed her and they killed love and restraint in the process. They reaped the wind. Let's see if they can handle the whirlwind."

"From what Adam says you're prepared to start a war! You want all of that blood on your hands?" the psionic yelled.

"Wrong. The Olympians and Michael have started it, so the blood's on their hands! Emma, think about it, everyone's been taking shots at my family! Now, I have a chance to save my wife, cousin and friends. You better damn well believe I'll do anything to get them back, especially Angie. I have this new power-to kill immortals and a mandate to go with it. As much as I hate the thought, I have no choice this time. I have to go through whatever forces are waiting for us. And I will!" With that, he headed up the stairs and toward his quarters.

Emma shook her head and looked at her teammates who had witnessed the whole exchange. "Guys, we have a serious problem."

"He's right, Emma," Adam told her. "He has to work through it. And this time, he may not have a choice. As much as I hate to admit it, he may need to fight."

"Do we fight with him?" Shalimar asked.

"We can offer, but it's up to him," Adam replied, looking up the stairs. "Come on. Let's get some rest. We can worry about this in the morning."

The others nodded and followed him toward their own rooms eager to retire for the evening.

Chapter 7 [Next Day]

Adam came out of the lab and walked down the stairs. Through the night, he could hear Dave's words to Emma echoing through his mind. He's losing control. We need to deal with this before he erupts. As he entered the kitchen, he smelled the faint odor of cherry tobacco. What the?

"Ah, Adam Kane, so good to see you again," a familiar voice greeted.

The geneticist turned to see Grimwilkin sitting at the table, smoking his pipe. "Grimwilkin?"

"Indeed. And I bear the thanks of the Inner Realms for what you and Mutant X did last night," the wizard replied, sending another puff into the air.

"Pardon me for asking, but how did you get in here? We have security measures," Adam queried.

"There are ways around your machines, Adam. Our colleagues and I have worked too hard to let a few devices stop us now. Relax, I just bring tidings to David of our progress."

"He's ready to charge into war, you know," Adam stated.

"I gathered that. However, he's more cautious than that. Already, he's told his students to stay out of it. I agree," Grimwilkin noted.

"Is there room for more help?" Adam asked. "I have to ask the team, but I think that they would be willing to go."

The guest's eyes lit up. "Indeed. There is always room for allies. Summon the team and David, time grows short and we have much to discuss."


Fifteen minutes later, the group assembled by the fountain. For the members of Mutant X, it had been a long night. They had taken shifts watching their friend, making sure that he wouldn't erupt again. Dave had managed some sleep, but his troubles burdened him. In addition, he checked in on the twins periodically.

"Grimwilkin," the historian greeted with a slight bow.

"David, how are you holding up?" the wizard inquired.

"About as well as can be expected," Dave responded. "What news is there?"

"You are prepared to fight the Pantheon, are you not?" Grimwilkin asked.

"You know the answer to that one," the medievalist responded.

"Very well then." The wizard ambled about the area, admiring the flora and fountain. "I have a question then for the rest of you. Will you fight with him?"

The quintet looked at each other and then at Dave. "Adam?" Max asked.

"I raised this option as a possibility," the geneticist indicated while sipping on a cup of coffee. "This is a time when we need to stand by our friends, but I can't speak for you all. If you want to go, the decision has to be yours."

"Adam, I can't ask them to go with me," Dave protested.

"You didn't ask," Shalimar replied. "We're offering. Guys?"

"Right on," Brennan agreed.

"Absolutely," Jesse added.

"I'm game for a fight," Max concurred.

"For a cause like this, absolutely," Emma chimed in. Despite the fact that she hated the idea of open war, she knew that one had to defend his or her turf and those that they loved. We need to get Angie back and straighten the course of history as well.

Dave sighed deeply. "Guys, I can't tell you how much I appreciate this. Really."

"We can't let you go off half-assed, Chief," the electrical mutant noted. "Besides, we still owe you for saving us from the GSA, remember?"

"I wasn't aware that we were keeping score," Dave replied half-seriously. "We have quite a roadblock ahead of us with their combined army of followers."

"How many?" Emma asked.

"Roughly 350,000," Grimwilkin stated. "However, David, I have something to show you." Waving his hands, he opened a misty viewing portal in front of them.

The group stared in awe at the sight in front of them. In the middle of a gigantic grassy plain, line upon line of troops stood in formation. Some wore the familiar blue and white of Nurrengaard. Others bore the scarlet and navy of the Plateau region. The group to the far right stood in their purple and yellow tunics over their gray chain mail. In a final unlikely sight, Roman centurions stood alongside Althanorian priestesses and Amazons.

At the group's head, Eadmer, Meroli, LaCroix, Varia, Cybelle, and Ferali held up their weapons in salute.

"My word," Emma gasped.

"Damn! How many are there?" Max inquired.

"About 700,000. You see, David? Your friends remember your service, as do your subjects," Grimwilkin affirmed.

"Subjects?" Brennan asked. "You make it sound like he's a king or something."

"He is," Grimwilkin replied. "He is the king under the mountain. The heir of Alwurfthen and the true king of Ruthwen."

"That's Ferali's kingdom!" Dave denied.

"He holds it as your regent. True, you have a task out here to accomplish. However, you have proven yourself to your subjects. At your time of need as well as Outer Earth's, they stand with you now."

"Listen to him," Ferali added, stepping through the mists into their midst. "I knew this to be true from the moment I took the throne. As your honor brother, I will protect your interests just as I stand here now ready to fight. You, however, are the true king." He kneeled before his friend. "We stand ready to fight for you."

Despite his melancholy, the pronouncement stunned Dave to say the least. I'm a king? Then, how can I lead these beings to their deaths? "I can't ask you all to fight, Ferali. And please, don't kneel like that before me. I'm not worthy of that."

"You are, and we are all ready to do our duty. Besides, your fellow monarchs stand with you," the gnome asserted. "By my axe, we shall prevail!"

"Besides, it's impolite for a king to keep his subjects waiting," Grimwilkin added.

Dave took a deep breath. When I defeated Lousain, I brought a new age of peace to the Inner Realms. Like it or not, I guess it's up to me to bring balance again. Angie, you're never going to believe this one. He looked into the mists and asked, "Can they see us?"

"They can indeed," Ferali asserted. The gnome faced the others and yelled, "Beings of Ruthwen, hear me! Today, your true king stands before you! All hail, David Dubois, the Heir to the Lost Dynasty!"

The Ruthwenians either got down on one knee or tilted their lances, clearly showing their allegiance.

The medievalist looked at his fellow mutants with a confused look on his face. "This is like something out of the Arthurian legends," he noted, trying to take it all in.

Adam stepped forward. "You've never backed down from your role before. Why start now? Once again, you have a responsibility."

["Yeah. We gotta lead an' kick ass!" the Child asserted, clearly enjoying the moment.]

["Hey, this isn't Risk, all right? We have to think and plan first."]

["Plan, plan, plan. Ah say we fight! Ah say we whoop their butts! Ah say we do so NOW! There ain't no more room for hidin, Bro'. We got business!" the Child asserted.]

He's right. Dave walked to the mists' edge and held his hands in the air. "Beings of Ruthwen, thank you! While I think Ferali is a great king, I will ride with you! If you wish, I will lead you!" Grabbing his bow, he raised it into the air, "Together, my friends, we shall make a glorious account of ourselves! Give me two hours, and then we move out!"

The assembled throng cheered in response as the mists dissipated.

"You see?" Grimwilkin asked. "You do have a place both on this world and the one within. By their act, the Olympian pantheon had assured themselves of defeat."

"I hope you're right, Grimwilkin," Dave expressed. "Meanwhile, I'm going to want the twins with Clark and the others in Smallville. Guys, go with Grimwilkin and get fitted with something protective that won't interfere with your powers. Meantime, Adam, you and I need to get to Tucson. I'll need to talk to Nick and Garth."

"Right," Adam agreed. "Go with Grimwilkin, everyone, and do be careful."

The others nodded and moved into a group embrace with their leader before they disappeared into the mists followed by the wizard and gnome.

"Now to Tucson," Adam stated. "Come on." Five minutes later, the Double Helix soared toward the Old Pueblo.

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