Dave didn't drink, as a rule. He'd spent his high school career working for scholarships and the first two years of his college career doing the same. After meeting Balthazar, there was one incident involving alcohol. He and Becky had gotten into an argument over something stupid and he'd gone to a bar to stereotypically drown his sorrows. He woken up in a trashed secret lab (papers everywhere, burn marks, even some minor water damage) with a massive headache and an irate Balthazar yelling at him, totally unsympathetic to the fact that his apprentice's head felt like it was about to crack open. Balthazar literally made Dave take a blood oath not to drink ever again, and Dave, still recovering from the massive hangover, agreed without looking back.
The fact that Balthazar had taken immense pleasure in making Dave throw up by referencing greasy food did not help. Not even Veronica was willing to help Dave that day.
So Dave got a Coke while Drake drank some weird European beer that Dave hadn't even realized existed before that night. It hadn't been overly difficult to find some maps; most stores were still open for trick-or-treaters and every block on that side of the city had a tourist stand of some kind. And a bar was no different. The one they were in currently was hosting some sort of Halloween speed dating thing that they only barely managed to bow out of. The woman that tried to recruit them probably thought they were gay, and Drake didn't help matters by slinging an arm around Dave's shoulders, but as long as the young apprentice wasn't being forced to talk to talk to scantily clad women while praying Becky didn't walk through the front door, he didn't care.
"So," Drake said abruptly. "No hard feelings about the whole Rising thing last year, yeah?" Dave thought back. Technically, Drake hadn't really done anything to Dave directly. He'd accosted him in the men's room (dear god, may Dave never think of it that way again), but even that had dissolved into a harmless and almost cordial discussion. It was only after Horvath came in (goddammit) did it truly get dangerous.
"Sure," he said reluctantly. "No hard feelings." Drake beamed and clapped the younger man on the shoulder. "I have a question for you, Stone-"
"Oh, please, mate," the magician said briskly. "Call me Drake." Dave shrugged. Why not?
"I have a question for you… Drake."
"Ask away." They both took a drink of their respective beverage before Dave continued.
"Why are you helping us? I mean, seems like the Cauldron is something you guys would want to control."
"Oh, definitely." Drake said with a sage nod. "But as far as I can tell, it can't be controlled. I mean, if it could, that bloke Will or whatever would have told Morgana, right? Or we'd be down there right now with Horvath while you lot were up here, none the wiser." Dave nodded slowly. "So it must not be controllable."
"Or," Dave replied. "Horvath's just using the three of us so that it's easier to get to the Cauldron, all while not telling you or Abigail so that it's more convincing." Drake considered that.
"Maybe." He admitted. "But wouldn't Balthazar know if it could be controlled?" Dave nodded slowly, taking another drink as he did so.
"Maybe." He admitted. The two shrugged in tandem.
"I guess we'll see when we get down there," Drake said amicably. "Watch out for Abigail, if it comes down to that. She's a bit of a biter." As Dave tried to figure out what that could possibly mean in terms of fighting, Drake continued, "So, who's that pretty blonde that was with you earlier?" Dave glanced at the other man.
"Becky. She's my girlfriend," he said neutrally. Drake snorted, shaking his head in amazement.
"And how," he asked. "Does a guy like you get a girl like that?" Dave stiffened.
"What's that supposed to mean?" He asked. Drake shrugged, ignoring Dave's offended tone.
"She's a hotter, blonde Kristen Stewart. With emotions. And you're…" He gestured vaguely. "Hiccup."
"Hiccup?" Dave asked, confused and unsure of whether he should be more or less offended.
"Yeah, you know. Hiccup. That skinny mate from How to Train Your Dragon." He sipped his alcohol. "The one everyone picked on because he was smart and weird and… socially awkward."
"The one who saved everyone and got the hot Viking girl in the end?" Dave asked, trying to retain some measure of dignity. Drake cackled.
"Yeah, that one." He drained the last of his beer as Dave checked the time.
"Well, it's been about a hour since we left, and Balthazar's probably ripping his hair out right now. We should get going." Drake groaned like a child but obliged, and the two left the bar and stepped back out into the October night.
It had probably gotten twenty degrees colder in the half hour they'd spent in the bar, and a thick, soupy fog had rolled in. Dave could actually see his breath, and became very grateful that the lab was just a block away. His current jacket was wholly useless.
"Bloody hell…" Drake muttered, jumping up and down slightly. "Is it just me, or were we in there until Christmas?" Dave snorted.
"Probably feels that way to Balthazar and Horvath. Come on; the faster we get back, the faster we're out of the cold." As they hurried down the street along a park decorated with scarecrows and toilet paper, dodging drunken zombies and obnoxious witches, Dave realized something.
"How did you guys know the Cauldron was waking up?" He asked. "Balthazar and Veronica never mentioned anything." Drake shrugged.
"Well, Abigail said she sort of… felt it. Like a heartbeat under her feet."
"Creepy." Dave said simply, and Drake nodded.
"I, on the other hand, learned in a much more straightforward fashion." Dave looked at the taller man questioningly. "Well, see, it's a funny story. I had just left my agent's office after announcing that I was just on vacation and not actually dead or anything. Totally ready to get back on the road, you know? And Horvath and Abigail show up and start saying how play time's over and there are more important things to do and blah blah blah." He made a hand motion like a chattering mouth. "So they drag me outside and all of a sudden-"
He was cut off suddenly by a shriek of sheer terror, one that decidedly not caused by teens jumping out of the bushes.
A group of witches and nurses were running as fast as their high heels could carry them as hands reached out of the ground. Following the hands came arms, then heads and shoulders, followed by the rest of the bodies. Or at least, what was left of the bodies.
Zombies. Honest to god zombies were clawing their way out of the ground, all in varying degrees of decomposition, all armed and armored like knights or natives. Some seemed almost preserved, like mummies. Others were straight skeletons, their jaws wagging loosely as they chased down the fleeing girls.
One of the nurses' heels snapped, and she went tumbling onto the ground, sobbing with fear. One of the skeletons raised its sword, ready to do its absolute best to cleave the poor woman in half…
When a semi-solid, glowing mass of plasma crashed into it and shattered whatever was holding the bones together. The nurses' friends grabbed her arms and dragged her away as Dave, unnoticed by many in the panic, readied another plasma bolt.
"And all of a sudden that happened?" He asked shakily, eyeing the ever-growing hoard nervously.
"And all of a sudden," Drake intoned solemnly. "That happened."
"So, what are you dragging my boyfriend into, exactly?" Becky asked Balthazar. The man looked up from his maps and notes.
"Excuse me?" He asked, a bit irritable at having his train of thought interrupted. Becky ignored the tone.
"What are you dragging my boyfriend into?" She repeated firmly. Balthazar straightened, offended.
"I'm not 'dragging' him into anything," he said. "He doesn't have to go if he doesn't want-"
"Oh, don't do that!" Becky snapped. "Don't act like he doesn't have to go. Of course he has to go. You and Veronica are going down there with a group of people who tried to kill us all and take over the world. He wouldn't let you go by yourself and you know it!" Balthazar scowled.
The five of them remained in Dave's lab, doing various things to occupy themselves until Dave and Drake returned. Abigail wandered about the place, glancing through physics papers with interest and walking around the edge of the circle as if it was a tightrope. Horvath appeared to nap (not that anyone really thought he was actually napping), Veronica helped Balthazar go through old notes and journals, and Becky paced. And thought. And steadily got rather angry.
"Rebecca," Balthazar said quietly. "Now isn't really the best time-"
"No, tell the girl, Balthazar," Horvath said suddenly, not even opening his eyes. "It's her man, after all. She deserves to know." Balthazar gave his former best friend a look of undisguised loathing.
"Fine." He snarled. He turned back to his papers and smoothed out a map. Becky peered over his shoulder. It appeared to detail some sort of labyrinthine building; the halls and room placement seemed to have no rhyme or reason, not that she knew much on the subject of building planning.
"The Cauldron is below ground," Balthazar began. "In an abandoned temple."
"A temple to Ceridwen?" Becky asked.
"Honestly? No, I don't think so. Ceridwen is a Celtic goddess; why would anyone in America worship her? And why in a temple underground? No, I think it was simply… chance." He tried to think of a better way to describe it; he'd been around long enough to know that "chance" and "coincidence" were myths. "We got there, it fit our description, so we called it that. But that doesn't mean it was literally the Cauldron." He frowned. "In fact, I don't think it was connected to anything we were looking for. Back then, we'd been in many old temples, honorable and profane, and they never felt quite like that."
"What do you mean?" Becky whispered. Balthazar shook his head.
"Hard to explain. In places were magic has been, sorcerers can get a sense of the type of magic that's been used. It's hard to describe; be like trying to describe foreboding or déjà vu. But you can tell if the place was one of… for lack of better description, Morganian or Merlinian intent." He shook his head. "The place that guarded the Cauldron was… beyond Morganian. And it was alive, in its way. The deeper we got, the stronger we felt that we would never see the light of day again…" There was a silence as those in the lab absorbed that statement. Becky noticed her hands were trembling as she imagined Dave, goofy, brilliant, sweet Dave, dying in the dark below the surface of the earth. Balthazar seemed to notice the effect of his speech, for he spoke more warmly. "But we did see the light of day again, didn't we?"
"Those who survived." Abigail said quietly. Balthazar placed a hand on Becky's shoulder, ignoring the young witch determinedly.
"Don't worry," he assured her. "Dave will come back. I'll make sure of it." Becky smiled gratefully, trying to banish the images the map created from her mind.
"And I'll be there to make sure he comes back." Veronica piped up. "And then we'll have Horvath, Abigail, Drake… Don't worry about us, dear."
Before anyone could respond, the door slammed open and Drake rushed in, gasping for air.
"What on earth are you doing?" Horvath demanded, standing.
Drake held up a finger, took another second to catch his breath, then gasped, "Zombies. Down the street. Too many. Dave said come get you. Hurry up." They needed no more encouragement.
The street was in chaos. A few brave souls tried to fight the undead soldiers off with bats, golf clubs, and play weaponry, but they were easily cut down. Bodies of costumed men and women -no children; Balthazar thanked the lucky stars most parents had them in bed at this point, or at least safely off the street- were strewn about like ragdolls, coating most of the asphalt and concrete with blood. Off in the distance, the sound of police sirens grew louder and louder. The air was thick with cold and fog, but about half a block away, the telltale snaps and crackles of energy pinpointed Dave's location.
The young man was pressed up against a wall, one hand flinging increasingly meager plasma bolts and the other pressed against his side. He looked dangerously close to loosing the ability to stand. The undead were closing in, their swords and axes slamming down on his shields, chipping away at his defenses and strength. As the group ran up, Balthazar flung fire into the center of the cluster attacking his apprentice, downing at least half of them. As the spells flew, Balthazar saw Becky grab one of the fallen swords and swing wildly, smashing into one of the skeletons and shattering it.
Balthazar felt absurdly proud.
As the pressure was taken off of Dave, he slid to the ground, looking terribly close to passing out. Using a large amount of magic in a short period of time was immensely exhausting for a sorcerer untrained in long-term battle magic, and Balthazar gritted his teeth in irritation and concern.
All around, spells were being flung. Drake and Horvath had fire; Veronica and Balthazar had plasma and waves of energy; Abigail called upon the roots of the nearby park. Becky, by contrast, kept a firm grip on her sword and did her best to keep the skeletons away from Dave. She wouldn't have lasted more than a moment in a battle with a trained knight, but in this situation, her hacking and slashing were sufficient.
Just as the police cars pulled up, Horvath shattered the last skeleton with a contemptuous swing of his cane. Veronica and Becky hurried over to Dave as the police leapt out of their car and gaped at the carnage. There was only two; one younger and thinner, the other older and stockier. Balthazar winced, unsure of how to explain it. From the looks on the two officers' faces, they'd probably figured it was just a bunch of drunken kids causing a ruckus. But there was no way to easily explain this much carnage.
"What in the name of God happened here?" The younger of them cried. Balthazar was still trying to figure out a decent explanation when something in the corner of his eye moved.
"Jesus H. Christ!" The elder hissed, pulling his gun. Balthazar and Horvath whirled to see a young college student dressed as a cigarette box heaved himself up, his hand reaching for one of the swords. Which would have been bad enough, had it not been for the fact that half the boy's head was caved in, his eyes dead and his gait oddly disjointed.
With a rather wild cry, the young policeman shot the zombie several times. As it fell limply to the ground, the rest of them began rise, dropping any sports equipment or plastic weaponry and picking up fallen swords or axes.
"Everybody run!" The older policeman snapped, beginning to shoot the zombies with a remarkably practiced hand. Balthazar felt a tap on his shoulder and turned to see Drake half carrying, half dragging a semi-conscious Dave with Abigail following, and Horvath jerking his head towards the lab.
"I think we should listen to the good peacekeeper," Horvath said pointedly. Balthazar eyed the horde that was slowly getting to their feet. The younger officer was frantically calling for backup, but his panicked haste would cause more delays. Soon, they'd run out of bullets. Soon, there'd be more carnage, more bodies, more zombies, and the cycle would presumably continue.
Balthazar glared at Horvath. "You want to run? Run. Take Dave and go. I'm staying." Horvath scowled and glanced at the situation.
"Bog vraga," he snarled. "Vi ćete biti smrt mene." He rolled his eyes at the blank look his Croatian mutterings got from Balthazar and turned to the others. "You lot get that idiot to the lab. Apparently, Balthazar wants to play the hero." As the group hurried back down the street, Balthazar smirked.
"And you can't help but do the same," he said sardonically.
I'll try to update once every weekday, with weekends off. I don't know how long my plan will last, but reviews will inevitably prompt me to work. If I can't update once a week, I'll try to update once every two days.
Horvath is a Croatian name, so I thought, "Ooo, maybe Horvath is originally from Croatia and just lived in England long enough to pick up an accent. After all, the three apprentices of Merlin are clearly older than they look." But then I realized that it's more probable that the writers just thought Horvath sounded cool and evil. And it does. But by Odin, I put Croatian in my story and that's that. Note that the Croatian came from Google Translate, and thus is probably not grammatically correct.