Jericho on the Island of Amazon Women

Christine Morgan (

Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles are the property of Disney and used here without their creators' knowledge or permission. All others are my own. Mature readers only, please, for reasons that should be obvious from the title!
This story is dedicated to the woman who inspired me and gave me the
idea -- Jennifer L. Anderson, President of the Jericho Fan Club, artist,
and friend. Any resemblance to actual persons is probably not entirely
coincidental ; ) Happy Birthday, Jennifer!

        "We've lost the port engine!"         "Controls are out!"         "What hit us?" Jericho demanded.         They ignored him, continuing to hammer futilely at the mini-jet's instrument panel and shouting jargon at each other.         The plane jerked and plummeted a thousand feet as if swatted by the hand of a giant. Jericho braced himself against the walls of the cockpit. He could feel the tortured shaking of the plane's structure vibrating through his bones. He glanced out the window at the smoke pouring from the port engine, a darkness blotting out the star-strewn sky.         The choppy laboring roar of the remaining engine smoothed out, and for a moment the plane steadied.         "I think we've got --" the pilot began.         Sparks blazed all along the starboard side, a series of explosions that threw Jericho into the aft compartment. His shoulder slammed into one of the crates strapped to the floor, and he took odd momentary comfort in the Nightstone logo stamped on the side.         The mini-jet banked steeply and lost all power. Now Jericho was thrown against the windows, looking down at the open nothingness below. If not for the shattered reflection of the moon upon the ripples of the sea, they might have been falling through deep space.         He dug his talons into the plush nap that covered most of the mini-jet's comfortable passenger space and righted himself. In the cockpit, the pilot was giving orders that went unheeded as the co-pilot babbled incoherent prayers.         The plane's nose dipped. The starboard engine ground and coughed, then caught with a mechanical snarl. Thirty seconds later, it blew up in one colossal fist of fire that punched through the fuselage. The force of the blast tore the crates loose. Blazing debris hurtled into the cockpit, crushing the pilot.         The co-pilot was untouched by so much as a splinter, and Jericho might have spent some time musing on the power of prayer if he hadn't been fighting to keep himself from being sliced apart by white-hot knives of ragged metal that curved into the plane like claws.         He made his decision without conscious thought, shielding his face with crossed arms as he pushed forward. Smoke eddied around him, but most of it was whipped back out through the gaping hole in the side of the plane. The hole that looked just large enough to admit one male gargoyle.         Brands seared his flesh. Recoiling from the heat, he brushed against a spitting wire and a huge galvanic shock burst through him. Boneless, aware but unable to control his limbs, he toppled forward and out.         The starboard wing snapped like balsawood, hanging on by cables and struts. The bulk of the wing bent against the side of the plane with the speed of a bear trap.         Right on Jericho's tail. The pain was sudden and immense, cutting through the numbing effect of the shock. His falling weight was yanked taut, jaw clacking as the jolt traveled all the way up his spine.         The wind whipped at him, screamed at him, tried to pry him loose like a bird of prey trying to wrest a morsel from a rival. His tail was caught, pinned. So close to freedom, and now trapped! And he could see the metal bulge, see the bolts pop free. He intuitively knew that the fuel tanks were about to go up, taking him with them.         He levered both feet against the belly of the plane and pushed. Raking blades carved into his tail and he could not hold back a bellow of agony. But then something gave, and he was plummeting away from the crippled mini-jet.         He fought instinct and kept his wings folded tight, falling faster. The crippled plane's momentum carried it onward. Through the bubble at the front, Jericho could see the co-pilot, still apparently unharmed, his face a rictus of horror.         A single flame licked at a crack in the fuel tank.         Jericho flung a forearm over his eyes.         The next thing he knew, he was spinning head over heels in the dying eddy of the blast. Better than two miles away from what was left of the plane.         He spread his wings, relieved beyond belief to find that they responded, and gained control of his glide. The night was utterly silent -- no, it only seemed so to his deafened ears.         Trailing Halloween ribbons of orange fire and black smoke, the wreckage plunged to meet the waves. Gentle, low waves, cradled between the sweeping bow of a coral reef and the pale sands of the shore.         An island, Jericho realized. A large island, crescent-shaped, with towering waterfall-shimmering cliffs on its inner curve, the land sloping through several miles of thick jungle to meet the long beach on the outer edge. At the island's heart was a long-blown-out volcanic peak, its interior cloaked with mist and clouds.         The plane plowed into the deeper water on the seaward side of the reef. A geyser of water and sand leapt up. Burning fuel sprayed, floated, flickered. The blackened carcass tilted, then submerged and came apart.         Every one of his injuries chose that moment to remind him of their presence. He coiled in on himself, gasping. With great trepidation, he looked at his tail. Something had given, and he wouldn't have been surprised to see a ragged stump where the end of it had been severed.         His tail was bleeding, looked _gnawed_, but was intact.         Jericho released the pent-up breath he'd been holding. Whole and alive, he was whole and alive. Whether he could remain that way was now up to him. He had to survive, had to find his way home to Manhattan and his mate.         She would be annoyed at the loss of the mini-jet, indifferent at the loss of the crew, and possibly quite aggravated at the loss of Sevarius' compound, which he'd been escorting to Nightstone's new research facility. But the loss of him might have destroyed her. How many times in the past months had she told him that he was all she had left? Just as she was all that mattered to him.         He headed for the island, the only land in sight, and saw with despair that there were no electric lights, no signs of civilization. No chance of reaching a phone, getting in touch with her. He would have to wait for a search party, and see what he could salvage from the wreck.         His shadow paced him over the clear aqua shallows, where silvery fish flitted among the undulating plants. He landed on the beach -- cool wet sand between his talons, bringing back memories of Avalon. The scents of flowers and fruit washed over him like balm.         Jericho reached the edge of the jungle before everything caught up with him. The tropical paradise began to swirl and blur. He tried to turn and stumbled over his own sorely-abused tail.         Soft, spreading ferns cushioned him. He told himself he would rest there a minute or two ...         Just a minute or two ...         No more than that ...                 *               *         Sondri watched the winking star with only idle curiosity, until it erupted in flames and became not a star but a comet.         "Anneke! Did you see --?"         Anneke was already leaping to the top of a large boulder, following its path with her keen hunter's eyes. "What is it? An omen? Do you think anyone else sees it?"         "They must ha--"         The ground shook beneath her feet as the comet struck.         The clouds that kept the City of the Golden One concealed from the outside world also kept the outside world hidden from those in the city. But even those who slumbered would respond, if only in dreams, to that tremble that rolled through the earth.         "The Golden One will want to know of this!" Sondri said.         "It landed just beyond the lagoon!" Anneke sprang down and seized up her weapons -- the spear of the hunter, with its bronze leaf-shaped blade; the spear-thrower that added strength and distance to her aim; the supple leather sling and pouch of stones.         Sondri touched the other woman's arm. "We should wait for the others. It may be dangerous!"         "I'm sure it is," Anneke said, "which is why we should go now, and not waste time! Kyvali wouldn't wait for us!"         Sighing, Sondri gathered her own weapons and fell in behind Anneke as they made their swift, silent way through the jungle.         Soon, the beach appeared before them, ghostly and translucent, clothed in pearly foam. Further out, the reef rose above the waves like the spine of a sea serpent. Normally, the waters beyond would have darkened endlessly toward the horizon. Tonight, the peaceful scene was disrupted.         An enormous fin rose above the reef, and fire glowed sullenly on the surface.         Anneke and Sondri stopped short         "Our weapons ... against any beast of the deep with a fin _that_ size ..." Anneke trailed off, shaking her head.         "What sort of creature brings fire upon the water?" Sondri wondered in amazement.         "No ..." Anneke said, taking a few hesitant steps onto the sand. "It's not a beast. It can't be a beast. See how the moonlight shines on it, like metal!"         "You're not trying to tell me it's one of those ships that sail the air. Anyone who believes in those has been eating too many hana berries."         "What else can it be, then?" Anneke challenged.         Sondri was saved from answering by a rustle in the undergrowth. Something large stirred briefly, then was still.         Both huntresses turned alertly in that direction, grips tightening on the hafts of their spears. They moved a few steps apart. Jaguars were not unknown on the island, and a single leap could bring them both down under the slashing fangs.         No jade-green eyes returned their searching gaze.         They were very visible against the frost-colored sand, but anything moving to attack them would have to leave the concealment of the leaves. Unless it waited, stalked them as they made their way back to their camp.         Or it could be their prey ... though the beasts they hunted never ventured this close to the lagoon. And would not dare stalk the huntresses of the Golden One!         "There's nothing there," Anneke said. "Nothing watching us."         "No, _something's_ there," Sondri argued. "Listen!"         The sigh of the breeze through the palms, the hiss and bubble of the waves, the distant scolding cry of a bird ...         Breathing.         Slow, heavy, deep breathing. Almost snoring.         "I hear it." Anneke shifted her spear to a two-handed grip and moved toward the brush, ready to fall back and impale anything that jumped at her.         Sondri flanked her. The breathing did not change as they approached, indicating that the animal, whatever it was, was unaware of their presence. She pushed vines out of her way and watched her footing in the inky indigo shadows that concealed the snakelike roots of the trees.         Anneke flung up one hand, a signal to stop. Sondri froze in place, then inched forward as her hunt-sister beckoned. Anneke pointed the tip of her spear at something on the ground.         A track.         Sondri crouched and spread one of her hands over it. With her fingers fully extended, she could just barely reach from one side to the other. It was from no animal she knew, and with a slight shake of her head, she told Anneke so.         Looking more apprehensive now, probably (as Sondri was) imagining what would have such thick, sharp toes as to leave that kind of impression in the earth, Anneke pressed on. Sondri stayed with her this time, for the few seconds it might take one of them to close a gap between them could be all the time needed for a life to be brutally ended.         Anneke stopped again, and slowly used her spear to lift aside the feathery green frond of a fern. Beneath it was a foot, a high-arched foot with three thick claws and one curved spur above the heel.         Sondri prodded the foot with the butt of her spear. The toes curled sluggishly and the breathing was interrupted by a grumbling snort, but the creature did not rouse.         Pushing ferns out of the way, Anneke exposed the rest of it, and both of them stared in silence for a long time.         The moon made it hard to tell the color of its skin. Grey, possibly blue, streaked with soot and sand and blood, marred by scratches. It had wings, leathery batlike wings, splayed across its back, and a long tail as flexible as a constrictor. The tip of the tail was gouged and swollen.         Anneke worked her way up to the creature's head, which was pillowed in the ferns. Its shock of scarlet hair was vivid against the soft green. She reached.         Sondri hissed a warning, but as usual, Anneke did not heed it. As she touched the creature's face, it snorted again and turned onto its back, then began to breathe more easily.         Its features were striking but inhuman, the brow rising into bumps like the spines of the coral reef. A square jaw, a mouth that even in sleep bore a faint cruel twist.         "It's hurt," Sondri whispered when the creature showed no further signs of waking.         "He," Anneke corrected, grinning. She used the butt of her spear to lift the creature's loincloth as she had moved the leaves of the fern.         "He!" Sondri agreed after an awestruck look. "Our hunt is over!"                 *               *         Awareness returned like a moth, flitting, darting, teasing. He was dimly conscious of hands touching him, of a cool damp wrap comforting his wounded tail. Voices swirled around him, but he was unable to make sense of them. At one point, there was a sense of being lifted, moved.         It was the smell of cooking meat that finally filtered down and stirred his stomach, reminding him that he was long overdue for a meal.         He opened his eyes to firelight contained in a ring of rocks. A spit over the fire held a large chunk of meat that dripped sizzling fat into the flames.         A shadow moved between him and the light, a female shadow. His heart leaped, then sank as he saw the shape had no wings. Not his mate, not his beloved Demona. Some stranger, some woman.         He remembered the plane, the crash, the subsequent landing on the island. So it was inhabited after all! Perhaps his chances of finding a phone weren't as remote as he'd first feared. But first, he would have to deal with the locals, who would be terrified by the sudden appearance of a gargoyle.         Then he got a better look at the woman -- women, rather, for another one joined the first -- and unsettling confusion grabbed him. They dressed like no humans he'd ever seen, dressed more like his rookery sisters back on Avalon.         The first one had long smooth brown hair held back by a twisted headband of leather and tiny shells. A tight halter and short skirt with slits up both sides showed off her lean, tomboyish figure and muscular limbs. More shells, pointy spirals, dangled from loops of gold in her earlobes. An ivory- handled knife was strapped to one leg, and Jericho knew just from looking at it that the hilt was made from the tusk of a boar.         The other woman wore a sleeveless tunic made from the hide of some spotted feline, close-fitting, doing little to hide the firm curves of her body. Her wavy honey-colored hair was escaping from pins of gold and jade. Like the other, she looked strong and fit, and her knife was secured to her left forearm, just above a snug bracelet of bronze.         He was in some sort of crude camp. A row of smaller smoldering fires ran between two racks made from branches and cord. Thin strips of meat hung from the cords, smoking and drying. Woven mats were unrolled in lean-to shelters. Weapons that looked like they'd come from a museum exhibit leaned against a log, well out of his reach.         Jericho himself was propped on a slant, his head slightly raised, on some sort of litter. A poultice, a broad flat leaf, had been wrapped around his tail, and his other injuries had been coated with a greenish paste that soothed the pain.         He realized that he couldn't hear the surf anymore. He'd been moved. Somehow, these two women had moved the deadweight of his unconscious body quite a distance into the jungle.         The tomboy tipped her head toward the other and spoke. Jericho knew it was a question, but couldn't understand any of her words. Nor could he understand the other's reply.         "Is there water?" he asked.         Both women recoiled and gasped, as if surprised he could talk, then chattered at each other excitedly.         Jericho closed his eyes in despair. Lost on a tropical island, rescued and tended by _humans_, unable to find out where he was or a way to get out of here. His only comfort was the knowledge that when the plane did not arrive at the research facility off Costa Rica as scheduled, they would send out search parties at once.         The tomboy spoke to Jericho now, with the deliberate intonations of someone who believed that the foreigner would get it if it was just said slow enough and loud enough.         He shook his head, hoping she wasn't asking if he was thirsty, trying to convey that he didn't understand.         "Water," he repeated without much hope, and tried to indicate his mouth. It was then that he found his hands were strapped down, and shame shot through him. A warrior should have already torn free of such puny bonds!         With a snarl, he did so.         Well, he tried.         The cords were tough and bit into his flesh, and the knots did not give.         Enraged, he tried again.         He succeeded only in tipping his litter off the rock upon which it was propped, and ending up facedown in the dirt.         The women spoke in alarmed tones and righted him. Just the two of them. Not with ease, but the fact that they could do it at all told him that they were far stronger than the weak and puny humans he was used to dealing with.         The more voluptuous one approached him, holding up a cloth and making motions toward his face. He nodded, and held still as she cleaned him and checked his wounds, clicking her tongue scoldingly and applying a fresh coat of the aloe-smelling paste. She then brought a hollow gourd sloshing and full, and held it to his mouth.         Thirsty as he was, he sniffed it carefully first. Water.         He drank eagerly, baring his teeth at the woman when she took it away too soon. She cautioned him against drinking too much, worried that he might get sick. He got that much from her tone of voice, which reminded him of his sister Ruth back on Avalon. Healers were the same everyplace.         The other one, the tomboy, took the meat off the fire and asked the healer a question, indicating Jericho. His stomach growled loudly, making them laugh, and the healer acquiesced. The tomboy sliced off pieces, and the healer fed them to him, mindful of her fingers in case he tried to bite.         It was pork, wild and nutty, more like the game he and his rookery siblings used to hunt on Avalon than the grain-fed docile pigs whose meat wound up in the grocery store. The outside was burnt and crispy, the inside was half-done and running with juice, and Jericho gobbled up as much as they would give him. He also ate, though with considerably less gusto, a few pulpy segments of fruit.         He shrugged against his bonds. "You can untie these," he said, trying to sound charming. "I won't hurt you."         They seemed to know what he was saying, but after a brief conference, shook their heads. He sighed in frustration.         The healer tapped herself. "Sondri," she said.         "Sondri," he said, copying it to be sure he got the inflections right.         "Anneke," the tomboy said, pointing to herself. Then pointed at him.         "Jericho."         They repeated it, smiling. He found himself almost liking them, would have liked them a whole lot better if they would just undo the cords. But he supposed their caution made sense. There were only two of them, two women alone. He was taller than either of them by almost two feet, and a gargoyle.         Yet the way they were looking at him that made him nervous. They weren't gazing at his wings and talons with fright, but at his chest and legs and loins with something like admiring fascination. Almost ... almost lustfulness, though his mind shied away from the thought in revulsion.         He hadn't inherited his father's perversion! The only human form that could possibly hold the slightest interest for him would be the daytime guise of his mate, as Dominique Destine. And that stemmed purely from his utter devotion to her, and a desire to know her and please her in every aspect of her being. Further, of all the humans in the world, Dominique would forever be inaccessible to him, which meant his interest was purely academic.         His captors had a long discussion as he resorted to more subtle attempts at freeing himself. He found he couldn't reach the bonds to sever them with his claws. His tail was limber, but not anywhere near enough to tackle the task of untying knots. And he was weak, sore from his ordeal, unable to use his full strength.         The women looked up alertly, and a moment later he heard it too -- by the Dragon, their ears were sharp! Stealthy steps approached the clearing, and then more women appeared in a parade of tawny, well-shaped limbs and skimpy barbaric garments.         Amazons. He now recalled stories about Amazons, fierce fighting women.         Brief chaos ensued as the new arrivals caught sight of Jericho and began talking excitedly.         One, a statuesque blonde, seemed to be in command. She wore a skirt of banded leather straps, ornate bronze leg graves, and very little else. She demanded answers of his captors, who replied, calling her Kyvali.         Kyvali seemed displeased, and Jericho was none too happy himself. Although he didn't understand their language, he got the impression that Anneke and Sondri were claiming him as either their guest or their catch. Given that they had refused to unbind him, he was betting on the latter.         Some of the women faded back into the jungle, then reappeared leading a stumbling, sullen-faced line of four men. Their hands were bound behind them, their ankles hobbled by short lengths of rope, and they were linked neck-to-neck in a chain.         The men wore kiltlike garments of woven grasses and were grimy, streaked with dirt and greenish stains. A couple of them were sporting fresh bruises. Cleaned up, Jericho supposed they might turn out handsome by human standards, and all were quite well-muscled.         Kyvali went to the first man in line and prodded him under the chin with her spear. He lifted his head, glaring at her, and she displayed him with evident pride. She sneered at Anneke and Sondri, swept scornful eyes over Jericho.         He realized with disgust that she was saying her captive was better, comparing him! Jericho didn't know whether to laugh or retch. Each of the women speculatively eyed both man and gargoyle, debating amongst themselves on the relative merits of the various males.         Anneke clapped to get their attention, then moved closer to Jericho. He tried to draw away but his bonds prohibited it, and he couldn't stop her when she nonchalantly flipped up his loincloth, exposing him to the startled, lascivious eyes of the women.         He roared in protest and tipped his litter again, hoping to squash Anneke. What little liking he'd felt for her had vanished, and now he'd just as soon see her dead.         She jumped out of the way and Jericho crashed into the dirt for a second time in less than an hour. Laughter erupted around him, making his already flaming cheeks grow even hotter.         How dare they!         Kyvali was unamused, and said something scathing to Anneke, who merely smirked challengingly. Jericho could tell there was no love lost between those two, and now he was playing some strange role in a contest to settle their differences.         Sondri dusted Jericho off again, and recruited a couple of the other women to right the litter. There was a discussion that seemed to be over whether they should add him to the line of men, but in the end they left him on the litter and hefted him onto their shoulders. He was amazed at their strength, even while being outraged at their treatment of him.         The rest fell to dismantling the camp, and within minutes, it was as if no camp had ever been there, except for the lingering smell of smoke and cooked food.         Carried flat on his back and helpless, he watched the jungle canopy slide by above. The night was alive with sounds, though most ceased as the party of huntresses and prey passed by. The air was cool and moist, collecting on the wide leaves and dripping to the loamy floor. Flowers were clenched tight in buds that gave only a hint of the rainbow hues they must show by day.         The land began to slope upward, and then the jungle gave way on one side to a silken-shining expanse of blackness. Obsidian. Volcanic glass. Chunks of the stone were broken off loose around the edges, where the obsidian gave way to the frozen river of an old, hardened lava flow.         Jericho followed the lava flow with his gaze, first down toward the sea, where he saw an inlet he hadn't noticed on his aerial approach because the beach was all black sand. Then upward, toward a split in the rim of the volcano's cauldron. The path they were on wound toward that split, and through it.         The first thing he noticed was the change in temperature. The volcano was not dead, only dormant, and heat still issued from its molten belly. Heat that made the valley inside the circular pit warm and lush. Mist floated wraithlike, depending downward in ghostly tentacles from the bank of clouds trapped by the high walls of the rim.         The second thing he noticed was the city, once his eyes adjusted to the change from jungle-shadowed moonlight to diffuse mist-light. The buildings mingled Egyptian and Viking style in a manner that was not entirely unsuccessful but very disconcerting. They sprawled in no particular order, but all faced inward, toward an enormous crumbling wall of ancient stone.         One side of the volcano was deeper, a crater within a crater, filled with centuries of collected water to form a deep lake. Irrigation ditches channeled the water to the farmlands and orchards that surrounded the city.         How could such a place exist? Avalon, sure, he could see that, for Avalon was apart from normal space and time, protected by magic. But this ... here ... today? It seemed impossible. Even with the cloud cover, this was the age of satellite mapping and eyes in orbit.         He tried and rejected several explanations. Movie set, reclusive cult, theme resort ... none of them seemed right. The only thing that made sense was that it truly was as it seemed to be, an undiscovered primitive land. A lost world.         The city was walled, but more as a token gesture than a serious defense. The walls rambled, extending here or there in odd shapes to encompass growth. Jericho was carried toward a large trapezoidal gateway.         A guard, dressed similarly to Kyvali, opened the gate to admit them. She then trotted ahead, the rapid pace doing things to her torso that a human male might have found compelling. Going, presumably, to inform someone of their arrival.         Despite the lateness of the hour, the city was awake and busy. Jericho found himself the center of unwelcome attention as he was paraded on his litter through the rambling streets. No one was afraid, which offended him deeply and worried him a good deal. How often had Demona said she would rather have the humans' fear than respect? Jericho would have much rather had their fear than this, this strange leering lewdness!         He saw men, too, and thought again of Amazons, for all the men here seemed to be slaves. They wore beaten-bronze collars with markings on them that seemed like letters or numerals. They bent obediently to their work, sometimes showing backs that were striped nape to waist with whip weals.         The returning huntresses were greeted with cheers. Jericho got the idea that preparations for some festival were underway, which led to the very troubling thought that he had come to an island of cannibals. Perhaps their tastes extended to gargoyles. Perhaps what he had mistaken for lustfulness was really hunger.         He wasn't sure whether that reassured him or not.                 *               *         "There have been omens, Golden One. A fire that fell from the sky."         "A good omen, Chan'har, or an ill omen?" Jae'elae, the Golden One, god-queen of her people and ruler of the island, stretched luxuriously and let her light wrap fall from her shoulders.         One of her chamber slaves hastened to pick it up, smoothing the fabric. Another slave hurried to kneel before her, and she noted with appreciation the lithe flexing of his muscular back as he pressed his forehead to her foot.         "Your bath is ready, mistress."         "A good omen," Chan'har, the Golden One's chief advisor, said confidently. "Tonight's ritual shall prove fruitful. Already, your huntresses return from the jungle with many fine men."         Jae'elae climbed into her bath, sighing as the hot water slid over her body. Her slaves joined her, soaping and massaging her limbs with slightly rough sponges, to make her skin shine with good health. She closed her eyes as the foaming oil was worked into the dampened length of her mahogany hair.         "You're keeping something from me, Chan'har, I can hear it in your voice. What is it?"         "The gods have sent a spirit to our land. He came with the fiery star, and two of your huntresses captured him and have brought him to take part in the ritual."         "What manner of spirit?"         "Tazhi of the Gates tells me that he has the form of a Winged One!"         Jae'elae sat up and opened her eyes. "What?!"         "As in the legends," Chan'har said.         "A Winged One is brought to me, tonight, on the night of the ritual? I may choose a Winged One?" She beamed with excitement. Then her face fell. "But a spirit, you say? How could they capture a spirit, and what use would he be in the ritual if he is not of flesh?"         "Oh, he is of the flesh! Tazhi says he is magnificent, colored like the sky with hair red as a firebird's plume. Broad of chest, mighty of stature, and more than amply endowed."         A warmth that did not come from the water stirred within Jae'elae, and she uttered a low crooning purr. It was a sound her slaves knew very well, but when the nearest of them moved to serve her need, she pushed him away.         "Have the Winged One set at the central stake," she declared. "Oh, and see to it that the huntresses are well-rewarded. Give them gold and jewels. Sit them in places of honor at the feast. They shall assist me in the ritual, and shall also have their choice of my slaves."         At this, looks of dismay passed between the men, but Jae'elae ignored them and tipped her head back that they might rinse the foam from her hair.         "Your will shall be done, Golden One," Chan'har said.                 *               *         His first good look at the wall came upside-down, as he was still being carried on the litter with his head at the wrong end.         It was huge, a hundred feet tall and twice that in length, and was not made of cut and mortared stones. No, it was one gigantic slab, set upright by the same unknown means that might have shaped other mysterious monuments.         A disk of hammered gold was set into the wall like the face of an immense clock. No, not one, Jericho saw as he was turned and got a better look. Three. Disks within disks in a concentric circle, all inlaid with lines and shapes. Unfamiliar symbols that could have been an alphabet, or astrological. More lines were carved into the stone around the edge of the outermost disk.         Weathered holes had been bored through the wall. Jericho might have assumed they served some sort of calendar purpose, marking the path of the moon and stars, except that the blanket of clouds over the valley would make viewing the heavens impossible.         A short, wide flight of steps led to a dais that ran the length of the wall. In the middle, beneath the bottom rim of the golden disk, was a doorway of the same trapezoidal shape as the city gates.         The area in front of the wall was a large cleared square of flagstones, pocked with firepits big enough to roast entire oxen -- or men, Jericho's mind insisted on adding grimly, his earlier thoughts of cannibalism still with him.         At the foot of the stairs were a half-dozen pillars of polished wood. Manacles dangled from bolts at the top of the pillars.         In the center of the square was what Jericho at first mistook to be some sort of primitive Modern Art sculpture, a barbarian's representation of a cannon.         A monolith of smoothed obsidian lay at an angle, protruding from between two trapezoidal blocks inlaid with gold, lapis, and carnelian. Steps ascended the angles of the blocks. As he looked closer, Jericho saw more manacles, their chains somehow embedded or fused into the black volcanic glass. And footholds, oddly-placed niches, in the monolith.         Now he wasn't thinking cannibalism so much as sacrifice. Annoyance and shame began to give way to the first flickers of fear. He had no intention of being sacrificed to some pagan god of the Amazon women. But until they loosed him from this damnable litter, he was stuck and helpless.         The huntresses milled about, surrounded by a crowd of women eager to see what morsels they'd brought back from the jungle. Jericho had a belated flash of insight -- the only free men on the island lived outside the valley, outside the city. And the women hunted them, enslaved them.         A voice hailed Anneke and Sondri by name, and Jericho turned his head to see a striking older woman approaching. She was dressed unusually compared to her sisters, in a billowy gown of translucent rose-colored fabric. Her hair was ink-black, held in place by ropes of pearls. She exuded an authority that reminded Jericho not of Princess Katherine but of the Magus. An authority of wisdom and counsel.         The guard who had gone ahead was with her, now carrying a red-glazed ceramic jar with a wide mouth.         Kyvali moved to meet her, gesturing at the line of bound men. She addressed the magus-woman as Chan'har, speaking with an uneasy respect that quickly turned to indignation when Chan'har pointed to Jericho.         Anneke whooped in triumph. Kyvali got in Chan'har's face, angry, belligerent, demanding. Jericho knew that tone. He didn't have to know the language to know when he was being called a monster. Kyvali thought he was an inhuman beast, unworthy of any place in their rituals.         Chan'har seemed to come to a decision. She summoned a pair of slaves to a metal wheel set into the wall, a capstan-like device that Jericho hadn't previously noticed.         The slaves grasped the handles and began to turn. As they did so, the concentric circles in the golden disk began to move.         What Jericho had thought were astrological symbols split apart down the middle, each half carried in opposite directions by the movement. As they passed over each other, hints of new shapes tugged at his mind. Then, as the disks came to rest, the designs formed into unthinkable pictures.         His chin nearly hit his chest.         Gargoyles and humans. _Male_ gargoyles and _female_ humans. In every imaginable position, every possible depraved act.         Now he knew what they intended for him, and he would rather it was cannibalism.                 *               *         "You see?" Chan'har called to the assembled women, many of whom, while they admired the spirit's unearthly masculine beauty, shared Kyvali's concerns. "The legends are true! In ancient times, our ancestresses joined with the Winged Ones! And now the gods reward our diligence, and have sent this gift to our people!"         She saw how the spirit's eyes widened, then saw revulsion and horror twist his features into a grotesque mask. He shouted something in a furious roar.         Cords snapped. The litter came apart in a shower of wood and leather.         "Tazhi!" Chan'har commanded. "The jar!"         The spirit stumbled over the wreckage of the litter. Chan'har knew that his limbs would be prickling from having been bound so long, but he would regain his reflexes all too soon. She snapped her fingers into a fist, and at once Kyvali and her warriors closed in.         It took eight of them, and Sondri would have to doctor five when it was all done, but they wrestled the spirit down and Tazhi brought the jar to his mouth. He tried to resist, tried to turn his head away, to keep his lips clamped shut, but in the end, the women levered his jaws open and he drank.                 *               *         Jericho floated.         Pulsing drumbeats surrounded him. Smoke and incense teased his nostrils, overpowered by the scent of tropical flowers. His senses were sharper yet at the same time oddly dulled, as if his brain was taking in the information but did not know what to do with it.         He opened his eyes. The wall loomed over him, gold disks and stone carvings, obscene images. The moon through the clouds cast a diffuse glow through one of the weathered holes.         Slick coolness against his back, fists of ice enclosing his wrists and ankles. He was secured to the obsidian slab.         Shadows danced around the bonfires. Women, writhing to frantic rhythms. Leaping, hair whirling, bodies twisting in savage abandon.         Jericho blinked groggily, looked down at himself. His blue skin, startling against the blackness of the obsidian, gleamed in the golden light. His hips were draped in sheer white linen, the fine cloth revealing the contours of his loins. A wreath of crimson blossoms was looped around his neck.         He regarded all of this with a strange detachment. He knew he should have been furious and horrified. He had been drugged, stripped, decorated, and chained to an altar. Yet he could not find the energy to struggle. Could not collect his thoughts beyond the muddled certainty that this was _not_ happening to him.         He was not alone in his plight. Four of the wooden pillars were so entwined with blooming vines as to resemble May poles. Men, the ones captured in the jungle, stood at the pillars with their arms drawn overhead, wrists caught in the manacles.         Chan'har marched halfway up the steps, then turned to face the square and held aloft a feather-adorned staff. She smacked the gold-shod end of it on the stones with a sharp crack, and the drums stopped on a seeking, unfinished note.         The women, flushed and panting from their wild dance, crowded around but left a clear path between the dais and the slab.         The double doors set into the base of the wall swung slowly open, letting shafts of blinding light spear through. Chan'har swept the staff grandly.         "Jae'elae! Jae'elae!" the women began to chant.         The Golden One appeared, walking out onto the dais as if she owned the world.         Although she was human, she took Jericho's breath away.         Maybe it was the shoes, the high golden spike-heels that gave her feet and legs a gargoyle's posture. Or maybe it was the train of white feathers that flowed from her shoulders like brilliant caped wings. Maybe it was her _presence_, the way she carried herself like a goddess.         Her form was exceptional even compared to her subjects, something that Jericho was well able to judge, given how much was on display. Her breasts were showcased in cups of gold that lifted but did not cover them. More gold girded her hips, and panels of saffron-colored linen fluttered around her legs.         The crown or headdress, a half-mask of gold that rose into a sunburst around a bright diamond, looked too heavy to wear without discomfort, but she held her head high, her neck straight. The lower half of her face was at once stunning and forbidding.         He could almost imagine she was a gargoyle, leader of an exotic and wealthy clan.         She crossed the square, nodding regally at her rapturously chanting subjects. Her stride was as confident and powerful as a queen, as strutty and hipshot as a stripper.         The Golden One's gaze traveled the length of Jericho's captive body. He could feel the weight of that gaze like a touch upon his flesh. His skin wanted to crawl, even as dull heat uncoiled stealthily in his blood.         His soul moaned in denial.         Her eyes, direct and piercing through the eyeholes of the mask, finally met Jericho's. What he saw in them made him go cold inside despite the effects of the drug that rendered him otherwise helpless and complacent.         The Golden One stepped onto the stairs that flanked the slab and stood over him, tall and barbaric and beautiful. The breeze flared her cape of feathers behind her, sent panels of linen billowing up around her thighs.         And something else -- a glimpse of dark silky hair where only a smooth mound ought to be. Reminding him that she was _human_, disgustingly human.         With great effort, Jericho averted his eyes. He stared up at the wall, where the carved images seemed to move profanely in the firelight.         Pain drove into his shoulder, making him gasp.         The Golden One's leg was extended, all taut muscles and flawless beauty, ending in a spiked gold heel that was pressed against his shoulder, the point indenting almost to the point of drawing blood. For a moment she leaned her weight into it, until he nearly cried out, then withdrew. His shoulder throbbed as if a nail had been pounded through it.         She spoke, and two women came forward to do her bidding.         "Anneke! Sondri!" he appealed desperately. He tugged at the manacles to no avail. There wasn't even enough slack to let him hurt his wrists in the effort.         They smiled at him, but he could tell they wouldn't help. At the order of their queen, they quickly shed their garments and crawled onto the slab beside him.         He recoiled from the appalling alien feel of naked human bodies. They rubbed against him like cats, one on either side, Anneke lean and athletic, Sondri lush and curvaceous.         The Golden One reclined on the steps, watching, hands moving over her own thighs and breasts in slow, languid caresses.         Jericho worked his tail from beneath him, but before he could use it to lash or pummel, Sondri twined her arms and legs around it. She embraced it like a woman mating with a serpent.         A fine sweat broke out on Jericho's brow. That firm, gentle, massaging pressure ... his tail sliding in the valley of her cleavage ...         Anneke peeled away the drape of linen. The crowd of women exclaimed at the display, and the Golden One made a low, hungry sound of anticipation.         Jericho winced in shame. The women had affected him, the women and the drug, and the proof of it was now standing tall and stiffly visible for all the world to see.         He clenched his fists, trying to will away his response, knowing it was doomed to fail. His loins didn't care that these were humans. Only that they were female, they were touching him, their scent heady on the air. It made him think of his brief encounter with Angela all those months ago, and that thought caused another swift coursing of blood to his shaft.         Anneke wrapped her hands around it. Jericho slammed his head back, into the obsidian slab, partly from the shock of sheer pleasure and partly in a last-ditch attempt to render himself unconscious. His vision swam for a moment, and his ears rang, but the rest of his senses were functioning perfectly and he didn't need to see to know that Anneke's mouth was now upon him.         A cry burst from his throat, trailing off to an agonized groan as he felt Sondri shift, still pinioning his tail, so that she could join Anneke. They shared him between them as if he were an ice cream cone, licking, nibbling. His tail curled convulsively as Sondri arched her body against it.         No, oh, no, this couldn't be happening! he thought feverishly. This was wrong in a way nothing had ever been wrong before. Even his tormented lust for Demona, back when he still believed she wanted him only as a son, had been more right than this!         His tail moved as if it had a life of its own, flexing along the soft, furred nest between Sondri's legs. She clamped her thighs around it and worked her hips. The tip of his tail coiled over her hip and up to tease at her nipples. Sondri's breath came in short, ragged mewls. The pace of her lips and tongue increased.         Jericho gave up. It was not in the nature of many males to resist females. Even his carefully cultivated disdain could not stand against this sort of stimulation. He thrust upward, nearly choking Anneke, who was trying to take him into her mouth but could barely encircle his girth.         His claws scraped obsidian. The spaces between his wings and along the inside where membrane met back were practically aching.         The Golden One issued an order, and Anneke drew back obediently. Sondri did not, and the Golden One's voice turned insistent.         Greedy creature! Jericho thought deliriously. Make the others do all the work, and then you step in to claim all the fun?         Purposefully, he executed the tail maneuver. In the small corner of his mind that could attend to such things, he was surprised to see that it worked as well, if not better, on humans as it did on gargoyle females.         Sondri immediately went into the throes of an overpowering orgasm. For nearly two full minutes, she shrieked and thrashed, nails digging into his thigh. Then she slid weakly, whimpering, down the slab to crouch at the bottom, shuddering and trying to catch her breath.         The astonished Golden One seemed to forget altogether that Sondri had disobeyed her. She looked at Jericho with even greater desire, and rose to stand over him once more. While Anneke, not without some envious glances, helped Sondri down from the altar, the Golden One unfastened her cape of feathers and cast it aside.         The jewel in her headdress winked and sparkled. For an instant, Jericho felt a strange sensation of doubling, slipping sideways. He could see himself through her eyes, blue against black, waiting and ready. His memory flashed an image of Demona on black satin, an image that did nothing to help his situation.         Now he knew what those footholds in the slab were for. The Golden One stepped down into them, one foot on either side of his hips. She swept aside the linen panels of her skirt and lowered herself until she was just above him.         Not only could he see through her eyes, it was as if he lived in her head, knew her anticipation and yearning. Her hand slid down his sweat-slick chest and he felt both the touch and the touching.         He hated her, would have sunk his thumb talons into that regal neck if he'd had the chance, but he also was aching with need and had to have release. By the smug look on her face, she knew it.         And yet she didn't do it.         She waited.         "Oh, you bitch!" Jericho said through gritted teeth.         Her smirk grew as if she understood.         He knew what she wanted. He was the prisoner, helpless, being taken against his will, and that wasn't enough for her. She wanted him to try and push himself up into her so she could torture him by denying him, until he was begging for it. And then she would callously use him for her own pleasure.         She held out one hand, and Chan'har placed a small jar into it. She upended it over his chest. A thin oil poured out, flowing in rivulets over his tense abdomen. She moved the jar down -- earlier, he'd been an ice cream cone, now he was a sundae being drenched with warm chocolate sauce.         The oil sank in, a spreading heat that seemed to set Jericho's nerves on fire. His senses, already heightened, grew nearly unbearable.         His tail escaped his control again. Before the Golden One knew what was happening, it had wrapped snugly around her waist and pulled her down. Hard. Fast. Impaling her in one sudden motion that drove the breath from her in a scream.         She had the wrong gargoyle if she expected gradual, dainty, tippy-toe coupling! He was not his father! He would prove to her that she'd gotten more that she bargained for when she'd ordered Jericho chained to her altar!         He gave her no time to adjust to his size but began thrusting furiously, using his tail in counterpoint to bring her down to meet him.         Her headdress fell off, loosing a storm of dark brown hair around a face contorted in mingled ecstasy and pain. The oil and her own lust let her accommodate him with more ease than he expected. She raked her nails across his chest, bringing him pain as well, and seized his hips with her powerful thighs.         Already brought nearly to the point of explosion by Anneke and Sondri, Jericho knew he couldn't last long. But his passion was no match for that of the Golden One, who rocked against him with screams of savage joy.         Her orgasm made Sondri's look tame, and set off a brushfire of uncontrollable frenzy in the watching women. The four chained men were surrounded, torn free, thrown to the ground, and mounted. They didn't resist, but grabbed eagerly at all the female flesh they could reach. Other women fell into each others' arms, kissing and caressing hungrily.         The slow lightning of his climax seized Jericho, making his body arch with its sudden force. His roar threatened to burst his throat; his eyes flared like twin novas.         As he loosed his flood into the alien human depths, one final thread snapped, like a thin tether that had been holding a balloon in place against a howling wind. And like that balloon, his consciousness was whipped away into the night.                 *               *         Jericho groaned, a groan that came from the very bottom of his soul.         His mouth was filled with a bitter metallic taste. His face felt how he imagined a sunburn must -- tight, shiny, baked. A sluggish lethargy lay over him like a blanket.         He opened his eyes very gingerly, and still winced as the light from the single bulb speared into them, piercing the pupils and into the tender meat of his brain.         Bulb?         He turned his head, aware now that he could hear the sounds of motors, engines. He could smell dust, grease, gasoline.         The wall beside him was corrugated tin, covered with images of naked women. Jericho blinked blearily. Glossy photos gleaned from magazines. Centerfolds. He picked out familiar faces from the nude throng -- here was blonde Kyvali in high boots with a strand of beads as a belt. There, Anneke in a shower, water striking and running down her bare body. Sondri's pouting face peered down at him from a calendar above a battered metal desk.         He shifted, found that he wasn't tied down, and sat up. He swung his talons over the edge of the narrow cot that sagged under his weight and rested them on the gritty floor.         A window was cut into one wall of the tiny room, covered with a sheet of smeary plastic that had been duct-taped into place. Jericho shuffled over to the window and looked out.         A runway. Windsock fluttering in the night air. Small planes -- including a mini-jet that should have been so much burnt wreckage just off the lagoon!         The door behind him opened and he whirled. Lost his balance. Fell onto the cot but was able to remain more or less sitting up.         "Guten Abend, Jericho," Gustav Sevarius said. "Feeling better?"         He stared at the white-haired scientist. "What's going on?"         "There was a minor problem with the compound," Sevarius explained. "The tanks were improperly sealed, and you were exposed. You may have suffered some slight hallucinogenic effects --"         "Slight!" Jericho jumped back up again. "Slight?!"         Sevarius regarded him coldly with those green eyes of his. "If your mother permitted me to test my developments on gargoyles as well as humans, we wouldn't have these difficulties, now, would we?"         "Do you have any idea what I've been through?" he raged, taking a single large step toward the old man. In a room this small, that sufficed to put him within easy talon's reach. He was quaking with anger, shame, and revulsion.         "I'm aware the accommodations aren't the best." Unperturbed, Sevarius glanced at the pin-ups with mild distaste. "But we couldn't very well keep you in the main hangar. This is still a commercial airport, you know."         "I don't give a damn about the accommodations!"         "Then I fail to see what you're complaining about. Yes, you were affected by the chemical. A regrettable event, but without any lasting harm. Anything else you might have experienced is the product of your own mind." A hint of a mirthless smile. "It must have been interesting."         His fist clenched, relaxed. "Someday, Sevarius, when you've outlived your usefulness, when you're like an old hunting hound that can't track a scent, it will be me that puts you out of your misery. This I vow."         "You'll forgive me if I don't share your enthusiasm." With a clack of his cane that sent up a puff of grit from the floor, the old man turned and left Jericho to stew in his own frustration.         He sank onto the cot again, ignoring its protesting creak.         A hallucination. A dream, nothing more. Brought on by Sevarius' cursed inventive genius. He'd laid here, surrounded by the tacky pictures some human mechanic pasted up, and the images had insinuated themselves into his living nightmare.         He raked them from the wall in tatters and shreds. A huge palpable wave of relief coursed over him. Not tainted. Not corrupted by his father's deviant genes. Only the victim of a hallucination. He could live with that. He might even tell Demona. How she'd laugh! The very idea, him and a human!         He was still chuckling about it as he left the building, rounded a corner, and came face to face with a woman.         They both stopped short.         She wore jeans and a blouse rather than a cape of feathers, but he knew! Ice pressed the base of his spine. His hands shook.         The woman stared at him, her eyes widening until he thought she would scream and flee. But then a knowing glint came into those eyes, and the tip of her tongue flicked out across her inviting lips.         "Hi," she purred.         Someone did scream and flee, but it was Jericho. Fast as his legs, and then his wings, would carry him.                 *               * The End.