Dark Beauty Part Two: The Institute
by Christine Morgan
Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles are the property of Disney and are
used here without their creators' knowledge or consent. Inspired by various
works of King, Koontz, and Saul.
(Brooklyn, voice over) -- "Previously, on Gargoyles ..."
"You mean that this ... this clone wants to kill me and take my
place?" Angela was aghast. "Why? She can't think she'd get away with it!"
"She thinks she is you," Brooklyn said. "But she's crazy. Full-
blown psycho nuts. Worse than Demona. Maybe even worse than Jericho."
-- From Dark Beauty Part One: Pursuit
The enclave in Virginia where the super children were kept, until their
array of talents could be fully documented and the men behind it all could
decide how best to use them.
-- From Playing God
A solemn silence fell once Gabriel finished telling them why he'd left
Angela and Elektra weren't the only ones in tears at the news of the
deaths of three of their rookery sisters, and Goliath's face was very grim as he
no doubt remembered his confrontation with the Archmage that was supposed
to have been the end of that old enemy.
"I believe he was sent to me," Ebon said, "because I knew something
of what he was going through, and had been coming to terms with my own
Brooklyn exhaled softly. He was lucky, so lucky. His mate was alive,
in danger but alive. He could only imagine how Gabriel must feel, and to feel
it in triplicate must have been unbearable.
The suite was very crowded. Goliath and Elisa shared one couch with
Amber between them, the hatchling gnawing contentedly on a piece of beef
jerky. Owen, T.J., and Birdie stood behind them. On the other couch, Gabriel
sat flanked by Angela and Elektra. Brooklyn and Broadway leaned on the arms
of that couch, near their respective mates. Aiden and Lex were on the floor
beside Hudson's chair, and Bronx was at the old gargoyle's feet. Ebon had the
chair opposite Hudson's.
"I probably wouldn't have survived without Ebon's help," Gabriel
admitted. "I thought leaving Avalon would help, because I wouldn't be
constantly faced with my clan and my memories. But I couldn't stop thinking
about it. I should have done more. I should have stopped the Archmage, the
Weird Sisters. I should have saved my mates. It got so that every dawn, I was
tempted to overbalance, lean forward as the sun came up, so that I'd fall and
smash apart and never have to think about it again."
Goliath, Ebon, and Hudson were all nodding in sympathy and
understanding. Each of them had undergone the anguish of losing a mate.
"But Ebon showed me how to get past that. Not to forget it. I
wouldn't want to forget it, or my mates. Just to get past it, and to accept that it
was all right for me to have lived even though they didn't. That it would be
better to live my life than to give up. It wasn't easy."
"It took the help of some friends of mine," Ebon said. "They are a
clan unto themselves, who gather at a bar well off the beaten track. They
steered me away from my obsession with revenge against Demona --"
"You mean you've forgiven Demona?" Aiden blurted in surprise.
"Oh, no." Ebon's voice darkened. "It will be long years before I can
do that. But I've come to see that I cannot hurt her as she hurt me. I've
channeled my efforts into other methods, to do what I can to make sure that
she lacks the resources to reach her goal."
Awareness flickered in Owen's eyes. "The ongoing financial troubles
of Nightstone Unlimited. Your doing?"
"And the various design flaws that have hampered their products,"
Ebon said. "Demona has done her best to cover it up. I doubt even her
stockholders know that the company is deeply in debt and trembling on the
edge of bankruptcy. She has tried many clever things, such as transferring
ownership to Sevarius, but eventually, the bills will come due."
"To Sevarius?" Goliath rumbled, hoisting a brow ridge. "How is that
Ebon looked puzzled, then it cleared. "Ah, that's right. You've never
had the pleasure of meeting Herr Doktor."
"We've met Sevarius. Plenty of times," Lex said, making a sour face.
"Anton Sevarius, yes," Ebon said. "But not his elder brother, the
esteemed neuroscientist Gustav Sevarius. What Anton is to the body, Gustav is
to the mind."
Amid the uproar and profanity that accompanied the clan's digestion
of this news, Lex perked up. "I bet this Gustav Sevarius is involved with the
Institute for the Human Mind."
"You know about that?" Ebon asked.
"A little," Lex said. "We know you sent Ventura there."
"At Anton's suggestion. Both of us knew that we couldn't risk
keeping her at Anton's personal facility --"
"GENERAL," Owen supplied. "GENetic Engineering Research And
"Now destroyed," Goliath added in a growl, putting an arm around
Elisa, both of them visibly recalling the fateful night that she'd nearly lost her
life trying to save her newborn niece and nephew.
"The Institute was privately founded by Gustav Sevarius back in the
1950's," Ebon continued, "when he came to America after the war. Because of
his links to some of the less savory incidents in the camps, he knew that having
his own name openly associated with it would be more of a hinderance than a
help. He is only peripherally associated with the Institute nowadays, and not
involved with any of the active projects."
"What does he do?" Broadway asked. "He messes with people's
minds? Like mind control?"
"He has a wide range of interests," Ebon said. "Memory
manipulation, mental domination, and yes, mind control. He and Demona have
put many of his innovations to use recently."
"Nightstone Unlimited," Owen observed. "Which has the lowest rate
of employee turnover, the highest reported job satisfaction, and the least
amount of grievances in the industry."
"They're using Sevarius' compounds on the staff," Ebon said.
"Without their consent, I'm sure. And it's given Demona a loyal, productive
work force, people who get their jobs done without complaining."
"What's been done to them?" Aiden asked, wide-eyed.
"Excuse me?" She blinked at Ebon.
"One of Sevarius' pet theories is that humans spend half of their
waking mental lives in a state of unhappiness about things they cannot attain,
and the other half running in place to make ends meet. By removing that
unhappiness, it releases the mind to focus on other things, such as their work.
He envisions a world free of many of the problems that currently plague
Elisa whistled low. "That's creepy. Mind control for the masses. And
you can bet that a lot of people would be quick to see the good in it. The crime
rate would plummet, because most crimes come from discontent with
something or another. People would still be poor, but they wouldn't care. Or
care about whether or not they were treated equally. The elite would go
"Sounds like the Illuminati to me," Broadway said. "A few people at
the top get to decide what everyone else is suited for."
"A society of drones," Lex said. "Everybody doing just what they're
supposed to, never wanting more because they're programmed not to."
"What about the artists, the dreamers?" Elektra asked. "If all are
trained to be content with what they have, who will invent, who will create?"
"A select, exempt few," Ebon said. "Social reform on the widest
possible scale. Complete control."
A shudder passed like a contagious chill throughout the room,
everyone having their own black visions of Gustav Sevarius' new world order.
"Kinda makes a few clones and mutates sound paltry by comparison,
doesn't it?" Broadway mumbled.
Ebon grinned, utterly without humor. "If you really want a scare,
imagine what the Brothers Sevarius could accomplish together."
"Whoa," Lex moaned, holding his head. "Do I have to? Nothing but
people not only programmed to fit their jobs, but genetically engineered to it
"Ebon's told me more about this world than I ever wanted to know,"
Gabriel said with a wry half-smile. "Oberon may be an arrogant goat's
"Gabriel!" Elektra gasped.
Owen choked. T.J. went off into a braying fit of laughter.
"-- but at least he's direct," Gabriel finished. "If he means to have
control of someone, he'll tell them so and then zap them with magic."
"I like this guy," Brooklyn said to Broadway.
"How does Ventura fit into all of this?" Angela asked, scowling.
"They did something to her," Lex explained, quickly filling everyone
in on what he and T.J. had learned from the captive electronic mind of Anton
Ebon nodded as Lex finished, an odd expression in his eyes. "Yes, I
remembered that." When he saw them all looking at him curiously, he
elaborated. "Regaining my memory didn't happen all at once. The knowledge
was there, but I had no conscious recollection of events until something
brought them to my attention."
"Wait," Elisa said. "I'm not getting you, Ebon. What are you saying?
That you'd know things, but not know them?"
"Not consciously. Not until I thought about them. Then all of the
information would come to me. As if my own memory was a long hall of
locked rooms. I wasn't even aware of what I didn't remember until I
"So, like ..." Broadway thought ponderously. "Like if someone asked
you what your favorite food was, all of a sudden you'd know?"
"Exactly. My memories of Ventura only returned when Gabriel asked
me about her."
"But how did you know?" Angela turned to her rookery brother.
"I was asking him about you, and your clan, and his past. Once he
started telling me about Demona and the clones, I wondered why they hadn't
made one of you."
"Whereupon I remembered that we had," Ebon said. "Until that
moment, I hadn't given any thought to Ventura."
"Tell me what happened," Angela said, making it not a request. "Tell
He sighed and rose from his chair. As his shadow fell across Amber,
she left off chewing on the strip of jerky to watch him suspiciously. When the
baby had first seen him, her eyes had darted back and forth between Ebon and
Goliath almost frantically, and when she'd heard Ebon speak, she had hissed
and bared her little nubs of fangs at him.
"What Lex said is true. Thailog ordered Sevarius to put Ventura into
a cataleptic trance, and told Demona that she had died. Why?" He shrugged
fitfully, troubled. "Thailog was completely selfish. No one else's needs or
desires carried any weight except as possible means to turn them to his own
"The Xanatos influence," Elisa murmured to Goliath.
"He saw the vulnerability in Demona and was able to turn it to his
own use. He wanted her to be dependent on him. To be in thrall to him, even.
He let her think that their goals were the same, taking advantage of her
loneliness. He did enjoy her company in a base sexual way --"
Brooklyn tried really hard not to cough, while Goliath looked
uncomfortable and Aiden, predictably, blushed.
"-- but that, to him, was only a bonus compared to her real appeal.
Which was her money, her daytime human alias for business purposes, and her
use as a tool. So easy to fan the flames of her genocidal hatred. Use her as a
living weapon. Let her do the dirty work. The only area in which she insisted
on having her own way involved you, Angela."
"You said she knew even since Paris that she was my mother. How
did she know?"
"Looking at you, it is rather obvious." He smiled at her, the smile of
a fond uncle. "Once she had convinced herself, she didn't care where you had
been or how you'd gotten to this time. Her daughter. Hers to mold in her
image. But even then, she was already afraid that she had irrevocably lost you.
She'd seen Goliath turn the rest of the clan against her --" he raised a hand as
Goliath began to protest, "-- as she sees it, Goliath. As she sees it."
"And that's why she made Ventura?" Angela shook her head. "I still
don't understand. She hadn't even really gotten to know me by the time you
put that plan into motion. How did she know I wouldn't come around to seeing
things her way?"
"Have any of you ever discovered something you never knew existed,
but from that moment on knew you couldn't live without it?" Seeing a few
nods, Ebon went on. "That was how it was for her. The thought of her
daughter consumed her. She had to have a daughter, even if it wasn't the
original. She held onto the hope that she could win you over, but in her heart,
deep down where not even she dares look very often, she knew that your
innocence and good heart would prevent it. She thought she might have better
luck starting from scratch."
"Starting from scratch would have been to breed anew," Angela said
bitterly. "Not ..." she trailed off and looked sheepishly at Ebon.
"'This thing is me,'" he said, glancing at Goliath. "'An
abomination.' Wasn't that how it went?"
"I regret that," Goliath said, stroking Amber's folded wings to stop
her from growling at Ebon.
Ebon shrugged it off as a matter of no consequence.
"So we know now why Demona made Ventura," Brooklyn said to
change the subject. "Why'd you fake her death?"
"Because Thailog wanted Demona dependent on him," he repeated.
"He was against her trying to recruit Angela, against her creating Ventura in
the first place. She resisted him. He knew she would continue to resist and
defy him when it came to her daughter. He would not tolerate that."
"Then why not kill her outright?" Lex asked.
"Thailog, like Xanatos, hated to waste any potential resources. He
knew that in the future, he could use Ventura against Demona. Just the news
that Ventura was still alive, especially after finding out once and for all that
Angela would never be hers, would be enough to bring Demona running. And
there was also the matter of scientific curiosity, and power. If gargoyles
harbored and could be taught to use psionic abilities, that might give him and
his army of clones a much-needed edge against the rest of you. Ventura was
the perfect test subject."
"I'm really glad you're not him anymore," Broadway said, wrinkling
"So you had her sent to this ... Institute." Angela folded Gabriel's
hand into both of hers. "I still don't see how she got out, or what Gabriel has
to do with it."
Her rookery brother looked down, unwilling to meet her gaze. "I did
it because of you, Angela. I missed you. When Ebon told me about
Her hands clenched down, claws poking his skin. "You weren't
thinking about ... about ..."
"Yellow alert," Birdie stage-whispered.
"I knew you'd made your choice," Gabriel said, looking at her now
with a stark misery. "That's why I chose my other mates. I would have waited
for you, but even before Broadway and Elektra came to Avalon and told us
that you and Brooklyn were together, I knew you weren't coming back. I loved
you, but you'd left Avalon, left me, so I knew that I had to accept it and let
go. If the fault was anyone's, it was mine for never letting you know how
serious my feelings were."
His touching speech fell on deaf ears. Angela shot off of the couch as
if she'd been burned. "You, too! You and my mother, both out to replace me
with that ... that phony! If you can't have the real one --"
"Angela, babe, go easy on him," Brooklyn tried, but shut up when
her glare nearly seared the skin from his beak.
"She's not me!" Angela shrieked. "That my mother would want to
believe it, I can see that because she's been alone for so long and badly treated
by the whole clan! But you, Gabriel! My own brother! Why not just have
Xanatos' people build you a robotic sex-toy?"
"It wasn't like that!" Gabriel roared, going from beaten and downcast
to enraged in a split second. He was on his feet, nose to nose with Angela.
"Don't you think I felt alone? Don't you think I felt badly treated? I'd seen
my mates die, their unborn eggs with them! I'd had half my clan ready to rebel
against me! Oberon acted like I was a hatchling who was crying over a broken
toy. And I never thought she was another you. I hoped she might be something
like you, yes. I saw Ebon, who I only knew as good and decent and honorable,
like Goliath. Was it so strange to think, to hope, that Ventura might have some
things in common with you?"
"So you thought you'd go on your own little heroic journey!" Her
voice dripped acid. "Rescue the sleeping beauty from the dungeon of evil
wizards, and she would fall lovingly into your arms. And you could live
happily ever after, all the while pretending she was me! It's disgusting,
Gabriel! Disgusting, and unfair to me!"
"Hey, it'd be unfair to Ventura, too," Birdie pointed out. "How do
you think she'd feel, always knowing she was a replacement for --"
"You keep out of this!" Angela shouted, her eyes flaring crimson.
Birdie planted her fists on her hips and tossed her head in that sassy
way that they all had come to know and dread. But before she could open her
mouth, Goliath stood and unfurled his wings with a leathery snap
"Enough!" Goliath commanded. "We'll solve nothing by arguing! Let
Brooklyn gently took Angela by the upper arms and drew her
backward against his body. "Come on, let's sit down."
She grudgingly complied, sitting well away from Gabriel.
The one-time leader of Avalon's clan closed his eyes and sighed
shakily, probably more hurt by the raw bite of Angela's anger than the wounds
inflicted by Ventura.
"It also seemed wrong to me," he said, staring at the floor, "that any
gargoyle should be held against their will. Wherever she came from, she was
still as much a gargoyle as any of us, at least on the level of blood and bone.
She deserved the same chance at freedom that the rest of us have. The chance
to overcome her programming and live her own life."
"Also," Ebon put in, "once I remembered Ventura, I realized how
dangerous it was to have her in the hands of the humans. I didn't know, and
had no way of finding out, what sorts of experiments she might have been
subjected to. But I knew the results could be devastating. For the safety of us
all, we had to retrieve her and put an end to their project."
The rest of them saw the sense in that, but Brooklyn could tell by the
quivering tension in Angela that she wasn't mollified. He tried to tell himself
that she was just stressed out. And why not? The past two nights had been hell
for her. But it was more than that. This whole thing with Ventura had hit a
deep nerve. It put her insecurities and jealousies about Amber in the shade,
that was for sure.
"And do it before Gustav Sevarius and Demona found out," Broadway
said. "Even if he wasn't still involved with the Institute, sooner or later he'd be
bound to hear about a gargoyle project."
"But wouldn't breaking her out be just the sort of thing to bring it to
their attention?" Lex asked.
"A risk we had to take. I'd much rather have Demona furious at me,"
Ebon said. "It wouldn't be the first time. Letting her get Ventura into her
clutches and complete her programming --"
"Yeah, speaking of which," Lex said, "no offense, but what the hell
were you thinking to let her program in all that warrior stuff? And not the
Ebon rubbed fitfully at his brow ridges. "Anyone who has worked
with Anton Sevarius can avow that the man is a backstabbing deceitful snake.
He assured Thailog that he would run only a basic program, and then went
behind his back to cooperate with Demona's wishes. By the time Thailog found
out, all he could do was issue a threat that he hoped would be severe enough to
convince the good doctor what side his bread was buttered on."
"After the amusement park," Goliath said, "when we all believed you
to be dead, why didn't Sevarius tell Demona or his brother then?"
"Maybe he was interested in seeing just what the Institute would turn
up. For that matter, for all I know, Gustav Sevarius does know and keeps
his silence for his own reasons. Maybe, like Thailog, he understands that
holding something back to use against Demona is a wise idea."
"I still do not understand what you mean by this Institute," Elektra
said. "Just what did they do to her there? What manner of place is it?"
"One of the purest evils on the skin of the earth." Gabriel shuddered,
his eyes haunted. Elektra put her arms around him and shot a brief, appealing-
and-reproachful glance at Angela. Angela huffed and looked away.
"Maybe you should tell us about it," Elisa prompted Ebon.
"No," Gabriel said heavily. "I can do it. We flew to Virginia in a
small plane, piloted by a very peculiar woman ..."
Gabriel settled himself uneasily into the seat and goggled at the array
of dials and controls. All this to fly? A wave of mixed pity, admiration, and
fear went through him for the humans who would do so much to reach the sky.
"Never flown before?" the pilot asked.
"Only with these." He shifted his wings, trying to find a less awkward
position in the cramped cockpit.
"So I see," she purred, and reached across to run her finger down the
outer edge. He jumped and stared at her. She grinned. "Don't worry. You're
in good hands."
He managed a weak smile. "I hope so."
"It actually does leave the ground," Ebon assured him as he climbed
into the small compartment behind them. "Hard as that may be to believe."
"It's not the leaving of the ground that worries me," Gabriel said.
"It's the getting back down in one piece."
"Well," said the pilot, "if anything goes wrong, you can bail out.
Strap in, boys, we're ready to roll."
She began throwing switches and fiddling with instruments, and
Gabriel didn't dare interrupt. He used the opportunity to surreptitiously study
the pilot. Aside from Ebon's bar friends, he hadn't met any humans since
leaving Avalon, though he had watched them on television.
This human in particular was a tall and finely formed female, with
dark hair and a generous mouth. She wore blue jeans and a bright red T-shirt
with the image of a dragon on the front over the words "Sky Dragons," and
lettering on the back that read "The Wcky One."
He left off his inspection as the plane came to life with a mechanical
snarl. He held tight to the armrests, not at all liking the loosey-goosey feeling
of being out of control. They hurtled down the runway and struggled into the
air, and he just knew they weren't going to make it, the clumsy metal thing
was going to plow nose-first into the dirt and then roll in a fireball.
They rose steadily, smoothing out, and the land fell away beneath
them in a black and grey quilt studded with twinkling lights.
"See? Easy as pie." She winked at Gabriel. "Want me to loop the
"No, thank you." He noticed a photo of a grinning sandy-haired
human male taped amid the clutter of instruments and pointed to it.
"Someone's," she agreed with another wink, this one considerably
"Uh," he said.
In the back, Ebon chuckled. "Thank you for being able to take us on
such short notice."
"Anytime," she said.
"It doesn't bother you that we're gargoyles?" Gabriel asked bluntly.
She shrugged. "Why should it? Paying customers are paying
customers. Besides, it's not like you're the first ones I've ever seen." That
generous mouth curved in a sly smile. "I've gotten to know a gargoyle or
Something in the way she said it made Gabriel's tail twitch and the
skin between his wings tingle faintly. He stole another look at her,
speculatively, and for the first time he could almost see why Ebon and Goliath
had developed interests in human females.
They flew on, far faster than he could sustain a glide. Incredible to
think of the distance they'd be covering in a single night! No wonder the
humans had spread across the globe, and weren't linked to any one particular
place. He'd grown up on stories of the long and arduous journey Princess
Katherine had made with her burden of eggs; a human in a car could make the
same trip in a fraction of the time. Travel was fast, comfortable, and
Yet all of these wonderful advances the humans had made carried
their dark side, too. The same technology that could be used to convey
passengers to far lands could also be used to deliver deadly weapons on unseen
foes from a cowardly distance. The same technology that could mend wounds
could also steal the wonder of creation.
He glanced back at Ebon, who had balanced a laptop computer on his
knees and was going over their data about the Institute. He still felt an odd
chill when he thought of how Ebon had come to be. Not hatched from an egg
but grown in a tube. Programmed with sinister purpose.
But in the end, gargoyle instinct had won out. Gabriel clung to that,
sure that when they found Ventura, her innate gargoyle self would overcome
the whispers that had been embedded in her still-forming mind.
There were so few of them left! It had come as a nasty shock to him
to learn that his clan was the largest one left in all the world. Angela had told
him of the gargoyles in Japan, who totalled around two dozen, but the other
clans averaged less than half that size. That made the loss of Opal, Onyx and
Citrine an even greater blow. Three breeding females ... something the
gargoyle population could ill afford to lose.
And then there were those who had lost sight of the gargoyle way.
Ebon had told him about Demona and her stolen clan of clones, and about
His rookery brother. His former second-in-command. Now an enemy
of everything gargoyles were supposed to stand for. A murderer. Hateful and
corrupt. Had those seeds been in him even back on Avalon, and just made to
grow by the presence of Demona? Was Jericho's evil genetic?
Gabriel couldn't accept that. Demona's had grown over the course of
a millennium. Its roots hadn't been formed at the time that she would have laid
her eggs. There was no evil in Angela, not a smidgen, and she too was
At heart, all gargoyles were meant to be good. Some simply got
turned away from that. Some, like Ebon, reclaimed what they were meant to
be. Others, like Demona and Jericho, embraced the evil.
Ventura would be different. She just needed help, guidance. To be
saved from the humans that toyed with her mind. To be shown what it was to
be a gargoyle. He would find her, this secret sister of his, and rescue her.
Bring her back into a clan, where she belonged.
Ebon, he knew, had doubts and hesitations. Mostly because he had yet
to come to terms with the fact that biologically, Ventura would be as much his
daughter as Angela was Goliath's.
Perhaps, too, it had something to do with his concern over leading a
clan. Gabriel had stepped down from that status upon leaving Avalon, and had
deferred to Ebon because this was Ebon's world, Ebon had the knowledge and
experience to teach and guide him.
Right now, they were mentor and student, but the addition of Ventura
would change that. They would be almost a proper clan. And Ebon still carried
the deep hurts of what had happened to his clan of human minstrels, Clan
Scarlet Angel. He would be none too eager to assume the responsibility and
authority a leader had to bear.
From there, he let his thoughts wander into more pleasant and hopeful
areas. That someday, if all went well, there might even be more members of
their clan. It wasn't unreasonable to hope that a new generation might
eventually be born.
He'd missed his chance with Angela. Lost his chance with his triplet-
mates. But now, just maybe, he was being given another chance.
Overlooking the cold, slate-grey Atlantic was the Institute for the
Human Mind. Originally built as a colonial mansion, it had been converted to
an insane asylum sometime in the late 1800s. It had been that phase in its
development that had given it the high walls enclosing the carefully-tended
yard, walls that obscured the view of the sea from all but the third-floor
windows and the cupola.
Ebon had given Gabriel a quick overview of the building's history,
including some details of the manners of horrifying treatments that used to be
inflicted on the deranged. It didn't sound all that different from the tortures of
the Inquisition, except in this case done in the name of mental health rather
than religious fanaticism.
The asylum had been closed in the 1930's and stood vacant for two
decades. Then, refurbished and remodeled, it began its new life as the
Institute. Counseling and hypnotherapy, research into paranormal activity, and
even a small center dedicated to helping autistic children.
Or so they claimed. The reality, Gabriel knew, was far less benign.
"What about security?" he asked Ebon as they perched on a rocky
spur to the northeast of the estate. "Cameras, electrified fences, dogs,
electronic locks?" He felt at once excited and foolish. This was like something
straight out of one of those spy movies -- unknown to him, he and Jericho had
followed a remarkably similar cultural-indoctrination program, one that
Hudson and Broadway could well relate to.
Ebon shook his head and promptly disillusioned him. "That sort of
thing would draw too much attention, more attention than they can afford. As
long as the true nature of their work here is kept secret, they can't justify such
excessive methods of security."
"Oh," Gabriel said, at once disappointed and relieved.
From the outside, it was a very respectable-looking building. Two
wings stretched from the center section, giving it the shape of a wide 'V' with
the back yard enclosed by the high wall. It had white trim and climbing ivy, a
tastefully discreet brass plaque identifying it as the Institute for the Human
Mind, est. 1952. Where there might once have been stables and carriage
houses, there was now a parking lot.
They'd spent the day at the end of a deserted road not far from the
Institute, shielded from view by a thick stand of brush. Then, in the cool dusk
upon awakening, they'd approached for a better look.
A half-dozen young humans were in the backyard, playing under the
supervision of a matronly-looking woman. But Gabriel noticed the other two
adults waiting by the porch.
"Armed guards," he whispered to Ebon, "or I'm a fool."
"You're no fool. Though I imagine that they're called attendants,
interns, or something similar."
"And those children ... I looked up 'autistic' in your dictionary, and it
doesn't suit them. They seem like normal children to me."
"If they were, they wouldn't be here," Ebon said. "They're being
"For what? Strange mental powers?"
Ebon nodded soberly. "That is, after all, the true purpose of this
Another adult human came out and called the rest in for dinner.
Gabriel and Ebon stayed in place and watched as they all filed inside. Lights
gleamed in many of the windows, but most were curtained. And some, Gabriel
thought, weren't windows at all but only made to look like them.
"Where would she be?"
Ebon pointed. "The central section holds the kitchen, dining room,
library, and so on. The west wing is where the offices, counseling rooms, and
labs are. I'd guess the east wing, which is probably also where they house the
children. They'd discourage their other clients from snooping in that area."
They waited as the hours slipped by. Some lights were doused, others
came on. Some people departed, staff whose shift was done. Others arrived,
some staff, some obviously clients. Ebon told him there were sleep studies and
dream research going on in the west wing. A night watchman also appeared on
the scene. Just one, for anything more might have led to the assumption that
the Institute had something to hide.
"There's our way in." Gabriel indicated a trapdoor that gave onto the
roof, set in the west wing.
"But carefully," Ebon cautioned. "The third floors are supposedly
closed off, used for archives and storage."
When the night was at dead ebb, the tide of life slowest, the two
gargoyles launched themselves from their perch and spiralled toward the
Institute. They landed as gently as possible and Ebon curled his fist around the
metal ring set in the trapdoor.
"Locked," he announced after a tug.
"We could break it." Gabriel reached as well, ready to add his
strength to the cause.
Ebon placed a hand over his. "Too noisy. I have a better idea."
They crept to the edge of the roof, the shingles creaking faintly
beneath their weight. Gabriel dislodged one and froze as it slid to the edge and
fell off. It landed on the grass with no more sound than a falling feather.
Ebon swung down and braced his feet on a ledge, pressing his ear to
the shutter over one of the attic windows. When all was quiet, he levered the
shutters open and raised the pane. Mouse-colored curtains blew out in a flurry
of dust, making them both battle against sneezes.
They slipped through, their keen vision affording them a good view of
their surroundings. It was a typical attic in most respects, used for storage of
old furniture draped in dropcloths. Except that this attic obviously hearkened
back to the days of the asylum. Here were six wooden lids with notches at one
end, suitable for holding patients into tubs of icy water. There were wheeled
chairs with wrist and ankle clamps. And there, a crate overflowing with rat-
chewed canvas straitjackets.
"Man's inhumanity to man," Ebon murmured, catching Gabriel's
Further in the depths of the shadows, even older furnishings stood
silent shrouded sentinel. Two hundred years of history, forgotten and gathering
Gabriel nudged Ebon and pointed up, at the underside of the trap
door. Locked, yes, with a thick padlock that would have challenged the grip of
the strongest gargoyle. A folding ladder leaned against a post nearby. Very old
tracks led from there to a door.
It was held only with a simple spring lock, that Ebon forced without
even trying. A narrow flight of stairs led down to the third floor.
"This'll prove a squeeze," Gabriel said. Tucking his wings close, he
proceeded down as quietly as the circumstances allowed.
He needn't have bothered. Even before he reached the bottom, his
steps were drowned out by a strange yip-meow-splash-ooo-ooo-aah-aah-squeak
Exchanging a perplexed look with Ebon, who was as close behind him
as possible without treading on his tail, Gabriel opened the next door. He
found himself looking down a hallway, the decor of which did not in the least
match the outward appearance of the building. This was function over style,
stark white walls and florescent fixtures and ghastly linoleum -- who in their
right mind would purposefully choose that shade of salmon-flecked-with-
green? He thought of the graceful architecture of Avalon and could have
To his right was a door whose frosted glass inset had the words
"Animal Lab" painted on it, and that was the source of the noise. Yet another
door was to his left, this one with a brass plaque announcing it to be the office
of a Doctor Little.
"Archives and storage, indeed," Ebon muttered.
"Why animals?" Gabriel asked. "Surely they don't expect to uncover
psychic powers in animals!"
Ebon pushed the door open. Cage after cage of dogs, cats, white rats,
and chimpanzees filled the long room. There was even a large tank where
sleek dolphins swam, popping their heads up to squeal and chitter at the
"On the contrary, many people report that their house pets
demonstrate sensitivity to paranormal phenomena," Ebon explained. "Or seem
able to sense disasters, like earthquakes. As for the chimps, they are the
closest genetic relations humans have, so they make excellent test subjects.
And dolphins are believed to be among the most intelligent of nature's
Gabriel frowned. Hunting animals was one thing. Even domesticating
them. But keeping them in zoos for the amusement of human gawkers, or
locking them up like this for nefarious purpose ... it removed any last doubts
he might have had about how humans at large would view his kind. Zoos or
labs, that would be their fate if gargoyles became widely known to exist.
They continued on, leaving the west wing and moving into the central
section of the Institute. Here, they found a small but well-equipped medical
setup, leaning heavily toward the monitoring of the brain. Ebon identified ECG
machines, an MRI scanner, and even a computerized surgical robot for
performing delicate operations within the very cerebral tissue itself.
East wing. Only every third florescent was aglow, and soft lights
shone through some of the wired-glass windows set into each door.
"Close now, probably," Ebon whispered.
They moved more stealthily than ever. The possibility of his first real
battle since the Archmage's assault on Avalon sent adrenaline speeding warmly
in Gabriel's blood.
He peered through each lit window. The first was an office, where a
man in a white coat was talking into a small tape recorder. A metal band
covered with intricate circuitry rested like a headpiece across his forehead,
held in place by a soft band that circled the back of his head.
Next was a lounge of some sort. A man was stretched out on the
couch reading a novel, and a woman was hunched over a computer keyboard.
They also wore the headpieces.
Gabriel looked at Ebon and tapped his own brow in an inquisitive
gesture. Ebon shrugged, but it was clear that he liked it no better than did
They passed more offices, these unlit, and then the hall widened into a
space reminiscent of a waiting room, with a half-wall separating a nurse's desk
from the open area. Except that there were none of the usual waiting-room
trappings. No chairs, no fishtanks for soothing atmosphere, no fans of outdated
magazines and medical journals. Just a bench with a peeling vinyl seat, two
vending machines, a drinking fountain, and a half-open door to a restroom.
The nurse's office was unoccupied, but the presence of an open book
and a steaming half-cup of coffee indicated that it hadn't been for long, and in
all likelihood wouldn't remain so. A door, this one with a push-bar and a
buzzer, blocked their way down the rest of the hall. Gabriel understood that
the usual protocol would call for the nurse to buzz visitors through, and he felt
it very unlikely that he and Ebon would be allowed to do so.
He jerked his head at the half-wall, and Ebon nodded in agreement.
Gabriel vaulted over, his feet thumping onto the plastic mat that protected the
dull green carpet from the rollers on the chair. He heard voices in a back room
and motioned for Ebon to wait.
Two voices, both male, one commiserating while the other griped
about the cost of replacing his transmission.
Gabriel motioned, and Ebon joined him. From the office, it was an
easy matter to access the hall again. Ahead of them, the wall was made of
thick glass, giving them a view of the room on the other side. Dismayed shock
trickled through Gabriel's stunned mind.
It was a long room, divided like a hospital ward. But instead of beds,
there were large steel cribs lined up in ranks, most surrounded by monitors
and I.V. tubes and other equipment.
Each held a child. Some were infants, but others looked to be
approaching adolescence, their gangly bodies curled into fetal positions in the
close confines of their cribs. One and all, they were thin and pale. Electrodes
were taped to their heads and chests. Some had their heads held in clamps like
stocks, with wires apparently piercing flesh and bone. They were hooked up to
I.V.'s, feeding tubes, catheters. All were naked except for diaper-like
He had never seen anything half so terrible in his entire life. The
children, the human children, alone in the dark. Caged. In pain.
Gabriel backed away from the door, shaking his head in mute denial.
Ebon tried to intercept him, but he backed all the way across the hall and
bumped into another door, then froze at the soft rattle the handle made as his
wings struck it.
"So I told him -- did you hear something?"
Ebon pushed past Gabriel and tried the door into which the younger
male had bumped. It opened easily and he hustled them both into the darkness
beyond, easing it shut behind them. This one only had a small pane of wired
glass, so when they pressed themselves flush to the wall on either side of the
door, they knew they would be invisible unless the humans actually came in.
Gabriel's breath caught in his throat as he realized they weren't alone.
A hospital bed with high rails on both sides stood in the center of the floor. A
child was asleep in it, and even from here Gabriel could see that the shape of
the child was wrong. Not normal. The head was overlarge, sunken into the
pillow as if it was of great weight. Overlarge and hairless, bulging veins
tracing a map on pallid skin. But the body was small, a tiny shriveled shape
beneath the blankets.
The fear that he'd been grimly trying to suppress now welled up in
him, turning his skin clammy and bringing a desert dryness to his mouth.
It was one thing for Ebon to tell him that he suspected the Institute
was involved in unethical experiments, quite another to be down here faced
with the undiluted horror of it.
How could they do it? On their own children! Their own precious
Could it be that humans had so many that a few more or less didn't
matter? Were their offspring a commodity to be used as they saw fit instead of
Or was he jumping to the wrong conclusion? Maybe the work here
was aimed at _helping_ the children. Maybe the unfortunate inhabitant of that
bed had been the victim of some terrible accident, and was here seeking health
A shadow passed by the window, a human taking a lackadaisical look
around before returning to his partner and his tale of automotive woe.
Gabriel moved to the edge of the bed and looked down at the child.
He couldn't even tell if it was male or female, or what age it might be. Ebon,
drawn despite himself, joined him at the bedside.
Born deformed? he wondered. Born deformed, and brought here so
that the scientists could try to find a cure? Or brought here normal, and then
... and then subjected to some soulless, changing invasion?
He touched the small, wasted hand that lay atop the blankets.
The child's eyes flew open. They were dark blue and slightly
protrubant, and filled with such misery that Gabriel nearly cried out.
Their eyes met and held. Gabriel felt a swirling, drowning sensation.
A vast silent scream echoed down the chambers of his mind, carrying with it a
short lifetime of memories that encompassed nothing but isolation and
Left alone, wrapped in a newspaper. Not knowing why. Only
understanding pain and cold and hunger. Crying for the mother to come back.
Reaching out for her with tiny infant arms as well as a sudden surge of power.
Contacting her fleeing thoughts and reading the shame and fear and loathing
that had led her to abandon her freakish child. Unwanted. Unloved. Reaching
out again, this time in a mental plea for someone, anyone. Come. Please come
and make it stop. Make it better. Make it warm again. And no one coming, no
one coming. Then, in the moment before all thought ceased, reprieve. Hands
lifting a small body. The warmth of a wrapping, of a bottle. Hopes of love and
security. All dashed. Examinations, tests, demands.
Ebon seized his arm and pulled, breaking his contact with the child.
Gabriel clapped his hand over his eyes, cutting off their locked gazes.
Uncontrollable shudders wracked him from horns to tail. He felt a pushing at
his mind, begging for help, yearning for freedom. To walk, to play, to see the
sky ... to live!
It was unbearable. He shoved past Ebon and ran to the door, tore it
open, not caring if he collided headlong with the humans. He had to get out.
Had to get away.
Out here, he didn't hear/feel that awfulness anymore. He staggered
several paces with his eyes shut and his palms pressed to the sides of his head,
feeling like an intruder in his own being.
When he regained some sense of himself, he cringed at his own
cowardice and dereliction of duty. Gargoyles protect, and in there was a child
in the most dire need. How could he run?
He looked around, his sight finally clear, and saw Ebon standing
somberly beside him. At Ebon's feet were two human males. Soft, pudgy
human males who smelled of pastries and coffee. They were unconscious.
Gabriel clutched at his head. Blinded by that imploring assault, he
hadn't even noticed the humans. Somehow, Ebon had dealt with them,
dispatched them with ease while he was still reeling and adrift. They must not
have even had time to sound an alarm, for no other approaching steps or
voices heralded reinforcements.
"By the powers," he said shakily.
"Are you all right?"
"I am now. I think," Gabriel said. "What ... what was that?"
"You didn't believe before." Ebon clasped his forearm firmly. "Now
do you see? Do you see what they're doing in this place?"
He shuddered. No medieval dungeon, no torture chamber, could be a
place of such vile cruelty. They'd taken an infant, a tiny helpless infant already
mistreated and cursed with freakish abilities, and turned that young life into a
"She's not up here," Ebon said. "We'll need to backtrack to the stairs
and check the second floor."
Gabriel took a deep breath and exhaled it tremulously. "All right. I'm
ready." He glanced at the metal headpieces that these humans, like the others
he'd seen, wore clamped across their brows. "What are those?"
"I think they are mind shields. Wards, to protect them from what just
happened to you."
"I don't suppose they would fit us," he said without much hope.
Ebon examined the devices, then thunked his knuckles against his own
wide forehead. "They wouldn't, and even if they did, we don't know what it
would do to us. They're probably calibrated for human brainwaves, not ours."
Returning to the end of the wing, looking for stairs, they saw that the
white-coated human had stopped dictating and was now scribbling in a chart,
while in the break room the man had fallen asleep with his book open on his
chest, and the woman was still tapping industriously at the computer. They
passed by unnoticed, and found the way down.
The second floor was quite different. Homey. A dark green rug with
a subdued gold pattern of fleur-de-lis covered the floor, the walls were done in
a rich cream-colored paper with a subtle green design, and rather than stark
florescents, light was provided by brass and clouded-glass lamps. Only every
third was lit, cloaking the hall in shadows that seemed almost warm.
A few yards to their left was a landing, at the top of another flight of
stairs. These ones made a curving sweep of oak, leading down into the foyer
of the central section of the house. From below, Gabriel could hear the
murmur of voices. He counted three, all with a hard edge that immediately put
him even more on alert. Those were the voices of warriors.
Ebon motioned, and they moved in the opposite direction. The first
few rooms they investigated were nothing special, linen closets and storage and
unused bedrooms. At the end of the hall was a spacious room that managed to
look airy despite its lack of windows. The walls were covered with murals
from fairy tales and nursery rhymes, the ceiling done in sky blue dotted with
clouds and birds. There was a television, a rack of animated videotapes, a
shelf of board games, child-sized furniture.
Another of the half-walled offices looked into this room. A television
with the volume turned low babbled on, and a thin woman dozed in a chair in
front of it. She had a worn, dour face pinched in a perpetual frown, even in
sleep. Like the others, she wore one of the metal devices.
The setup was the same as before. A locked door and a buzzer.
Ebon communicated his intent with a series of gestures, and Gabriel
nodded, although there seemed something unfair and not quite honorable about
striking a woman just as she roused from a nap. He readied himself anyway,
while Ebon leaned carefully over the counter and groped along until he found
The door emitted a faint burr, not much of a buzz at all, and clicked
open. The woman stirred once, but only to shift into a more comfortable
position. Gabriel pushed the door open.
There was a window at the end of the short hall, and standing in front
of the window looking out at the moon was the small form of a child. One of
the six doors that lined the hall was open, the rest were all closed.
The child, a boy no older than four, turned and regarded them with an
absolute lack of fear. He waved and smiled shyly, then retreated into his room.
Ebon and Gabriel glanced at each other, then pressed on, looking
through the small panes set into the doors as they passed. They saw bedrooms
like those any child might have, with posters on the walls, bookshelves,
toyboxes. Regular beds, not the hospital ones.
Everything seemed perfectly ordinary.
Except for the little girl with the bubble of hazy light floating above
her face ... and the boy who slept in restraints to prevent him from levitating
out of his bed ... and a child unseen except for a tuft of yellow hair visible
above the blankets in a room that featured six fire extinguishers and an equal
number of smoke detectors ...
From the outer room came the distant bark of an irate male voice,
followed by the groggy, contrite apologies of a woman.
Another glance passed between the two gargoyles, and they each took
refuge in one of the bedrooms just as the door buzzed open.
Gabriel risked a peek through the glass and saw the thin-faced woman
trying to explain why she'd fallen asleep at her post to two other humans.
Both wore dark blue jumpsuits with black trim, black belts, and an
array of gadgets and weapons. And headpieces, larger than the ones he'd seen
thus far. These covered them from eyebrows to the crowns of their skulls.
The man had the toughened, scarred look of the longtime soldier, his
brown hair going grey. One of his hands was missing, replaced by a gleaming
silver robotic one. The woman had the merciless cheekbones and ice-blue eyes
of a Valkyrie, her blond hair pulled back in a ponytail.
Gabriel slipped farther into the room, his talons quiet on soft dawn-
pink carpeting. The little girl had a fondness for dolls. It was all he could to do
move without knocking over whole crowds with his tail as he found a more
Routine rounds, he most sincerely hoped. He listened intently. They
didn't sound unduly tense or alarmed.
"--still being well-behaved," the attendant was saying, more
businesslike now. "M-29 is another story. He was a bad boy. I had to shock
him twice, then medicate."
"He's too dangerous," the blond woman said. She had a faint German
accent. "He should be destroyed."
"That's not for us to decide," the man with the mechanical hand said
as he looked casually through each window.
Routine rounds, then. He'd been right. He crouched low, finding
partial cover behind a hatrack draped with costumes and hats like strange fruit.
Someone had a fondness for playing at dress-up.
"If anyone's dangerous, it's that ... thing!" The attendant laughed
weakly. "She looks like a demon."
Gabriel's ears flicked attentively.
"That's why she's on ice," the man replied. "Every time they thaw
her to try and work with her, she goes for the throat. I've got a bad feeling
The blond woman laughed, but it was oddly without humor.
"Remember, you must report all symptoms."
"It's a hunch, not a premonition," the man scoffed. "I don't need any
parapsychogenics to know that gargoyles are trouble."
"Still," she needled, "if you've been exposed to something from the
"Drop it, Runolf. The containment measures are foolproof."
"Famous last words," she replied as they returned to the office.
In the bed, the little girl murmured and rolled onto her side. The hazy
bubble above her wavered, then re-formed more solidly. Drawn despite
himself, he leaned closer to try and see what it was.
The girl was about six, with rich chocolate skin and frizzy hair
clipped by plastic barrettes. When she smiled in her sleep, he saw that she was
missing her two front teeth and that startled him until he recalled that humans
did that. Her eyes moved behind closed lids.
An image formed in the bubble. It was like viewing a film shot with a
fish-eye lens. It gradually took shape, showing Gabriel a park on a sunny
summer's day. A park seen from the girl's perspective. Here was a cheerful
woman and an older boy setting out sandwiches, there was a man and another
boy laughing as they threw a ball for a half-grown pup.
He was seeing her dream, he realized with a rush of wonder.
"Neesha! Come and eat!" The voice was distant and faint, as if from a
radio receiving a station at the limit of its range.
Not just seeing it but hearing it! His wonder deepened to awe. In a
flash, he understood. The misshapen wretch upstairs, that pathetic malformed
creature, had been one of the project's failures. Neesha here, with her ability
to project her thoughts as images, was one of the successes.
And yet ... this was somehow worse than his encounter with that first
child. These children might have abilities that their families and clans couldn't
understand, but to all other appearances seemed able to live normal lives. He
recalled seeing them play in the backyard. They were fit, whole, healthy. Only
something in their minds was different. Did that mean they should be shut
away from the world forever? Studied? Used?
A wild and rather appealing urge seized him -- to rescue them all! He
knew it was ridiculous. Even if they would cooperate with being snatched from
their beds by a gargoyle, even if he was able to lead them back outside, what
then? Returning them to their homes was out of the question, for those were
the first places their captors would look, and he had no way of knowing if their
parents had willingly allowed this or if the children had been stolen away.
The attendant's use of the word "medicate" hadn't been lost on him.
Some, if not all, of the children were bound to be on some sort of medication.
He didn't dare take their health and brain chemistry into his own hands. So,
reluctantly but with a certain slinking relief (at not having to face the issue of
whether to take the first child along), he dismissed the idea.
They had come for Ventura, after all. The rest of this, hideous as it
was, wasn't for them to alter. Not yet. It was something that would have to be
handled with great planning and care, not done on the spur of the moment.
Ventura. They were running out of time, and had to find her soon if
they were to find her at all.
He and Ebon reunited in the hall, both having overheard the same
thing. The words of the guards had confirmed that Ventura was indeed still
here, here and "on ice." Still sleeping. And still with a fighting spirit, it
seemed. Not about to submit willingly to their tests. A rather foolish pride
filled him at that bit of news. Just like a true gargoyle.
Now they faced the problem of the attendant, who was wide awake
and grumbling to herself over her bad luck at having been caught napping. But
then an unexpected stroke of luck came their way, when she let herself into the
small bathroom attached to the office. Quickly, Ebon and Gabriel climbed over
the counter so as not to risk alerting her by the noise of the door.
"Where now?" Gabriel whispered.
"Downstairs again," Ebon replied. "Past the guards, somehow. I've
seen those two before. Mercenaries. They've worked for Sevarius and Demona
on several occasions. And they have no great love for gargoyles. Our biggest
advantage against most humans, that of their shock and fear at the sight of us,
won't help us in this case."
Their trip to the first floor proved uneventful, for the stairs didn't so
much as creak under them and the guards were stationed in a lounge around
the corner. But their trip through the first floor also proved uneventful. That
part of the east wing was given entirely over to offices, a classroom, a gym
and pool -- "To keep the children fit and well," Ebon remarked, "the
equivalent of an exercise wheel for a lab rat." -- and a number of small rooms
whose purpose seemed to be the testing of the childrens' abilities.
"Back to the west wing?" Gabriel suggested.
"There may be a basement," Ebon said. "According to Sevarius,
Ventura isn't the only clone in residence."
Gabriel's brow ridges rose. "More gargoyles?"
"No, human clones. Some made from the tissue of humans who had
demonstrated exceptional paranormal talents, others created solely for the
purpose of dissection or transplant."
Skirting the guards as widely as possible, they proceeded to quickly
but diligently search the central section. Their efforts were rewarded when
Ebon found the cellar door.
A single caged bulb illuminated the stairwell. The bare walls were
painted a drab grey. The metal stairs were also painted grey and worn away in
places along the banisters and in the middle of each riser.
Humans wouldn't want to venture down here for long without coats.
Even with their innate resistance to low temperatures, Gabriel and Ebon both
felt the chill. Their breath puffed in clouds as they descended. It got even
colder as they reached the bottom, where tendrils of white fog eddied along the
Two cavernous chambers opened off of a central hall. One was a
morgue, where very small sheet-draped forms lay atop stainless steel tables.
The other was filled with the sleep-tubes, clear but frosted cylinders leaning at
angles like a row of weary sentries against a castle wall.
Gabriel approached the first and wiped away a dusting of ice. There
was a child within, a brown-haired adolescent male.
"I've found her," Ebon said.
Ventura rested in a pose familiar to aficionados of vampire films, her
wings caped about her shoulders and her hands crossed on the rise of her
breasts. In a spotless-white hospital gown tied at the back of her neck and
small of her back, with her snowy fall of hair unbound, she looked every inch
the angel in repose. Her dark beauty took Gabriel's breath away. She could
have been carved from the living substance of the night, but her features were
Angela's own loveliness echoed in an obsidian mirror.
A metal headpiece extended from one temple to the other. Unlike the
others, which were marked with finely-etched computer circuitry, this one was
covered with intricate black and gold traceries.
"Did Demona give her that?" Gabriel asked.
"No," said Ebon. "I've never seen it before." He pressed a button and
turned a dial, and a blast of even colder air blew out as the sides of the tube
separated. The top rose above a swirling mass of fog that obscured Ventura
Then, rising above the mist, a single pleading hand. Gabriel, his heart
in his throat, grasped it. Black ice, warming beneath his touch. He helped her
to sit up, her red-tinted eyes searching his face expectantly.
"I am Gabriel," he said, enunciating slowly and carefully because
Ebon had told him that her initial intellectual programming and development
would leave her untutored as a hatchling.
"Do ... do I know you?" She brought her other hand to her lips as if
amazed to hear such a dulcet voice emerging from them -- Angela's voice, too,
bringing back a host of images to Gabriel. "I don't. I don't know you. I don't
know me! Who am I? What's happened to me?"
Past her, Gabriel noticed Ebon's brow ridges lower in consternation.
This was not what he'd led Gabriel to expect, not what he'd expected himself.
Gabriel didn't bother worrying about that. His concern was with the
achingly lovely and vulnerable female in front of him. "It's all right. You're
safe now. Let me help you out of there."
"Why can't I remember? Why is it all a blank?"
Her grip on him clenched into a vise. He saw the reason leaving her,
saw panic brighten her eyes into a glow. Before he could do more than begin
to free himself, she sprang out of her sleep-tube and slammed him against the
wall hard enough to drive the air from his lungs.
"What's happened to me?" she demanded.
"Ventura, stop," Ebon said. "We've come to help you!"
Still holding Gabriel pinned, she looked at Ebon. Then at her own
arms, at the skin that matched his. No intellect of a hatchling, not here.
Instead, a sharp intelligence and the wariness of a warrior.
"Who are you?"
"Ebon," he said, with a heavy tone that told of his reluctant admission
and acceptance of responsibility. "And in a way, I am your father."
"Explain," she hissed.
"We might not have time to do it now," Gabriel said. "Once we've
left this place --"
Her claws dug into his upper arms. "I'm not going anywhere until I
know what this is about!"
Speaking calmly, Ebon told her of their unusual and convoluted
genetic relationship. Of Demona, and the circumstances of Ventura's birth. Of
his own status at the time as Demona's more-or-less mate. He left out his
involvement in her supposed death and transfer here, a move Gabriel
Instead of reassuring her, all the while he spoke, Ventura grew more
tense. Her eyes flickered, her upper lip drew back in a feral snarl.
"Liar!" she shrieked, and bodily flung Gabriel at Ebon.
They flew half the length of the room and slammed into another sleep-
tube with bruising force. Even as they shook their heads to clear them, she was
"You lie," she said, flexing her claws. "I don't know why, but I know
you do. I won't be made to live a lie. Not for you, not for this ... Demona-
mother, not for anyone!"
"The guards," Gabriel warned as he and Ebon untangled themselves
and got to their feet. "You'll alert them!"
"It's no use," Ebon said. "She's unstable."
"Are you calling me crazy?" Ventura's tail swished, stirring up the
Rapid footsteps clanged on the metal stairs.
"Come on!" Gabriel grabbed at Ventura, meaning to get out of here
and sort everything else out when they didn't have armed humans to worry
Three sizzling lines of fire raked across his chest and then he was
airborne again. He got one arm up in time to save himself from smashing
headfirst into the wall, but he felt and heard his arm break in a loud crack!
that reverberated throughout his body. He sank, groaning, to the floor.
"Never!" Ventura raged. "I will find out who I really am, regain my
rightful place. It's been taken from me, and I mean to have it back!"
Ebon swung at her, and had he connected the power of his blow
would have taken her down. She never gave him the chance, springing out of
the way as if she had all the time in the world. She raced for the doorway.
Gabriel forced himself to rise and tried to block her way. She
executed a move that would have left him stunned even if he'd only been
watching, flipping herself to whip her tail around his neck and then spinning
from the hips so that both taloned feet in quick succession slammed into the
side of his head, using her tail to pull him into the kicks. She landed lightly as
a gymnast, while he tottered on numb legs, clinging to consciousness by a
Humans appeared, the blond woman and the man with the mechanical
hand in the lead, a trio of white-coated men behind. All were armed, the
white-coats carrying ordinary pistols while the two guards held more elaborate
Seeing them, Ventura screeched and launched herself. She twisted in
midair to avoid their fire and then plunged into their midst in a demonic
Gabriel risked a look down at himself and saw blood streaming from
half a dozen gashes. Then he realized that he was seeing double, that there
were really only three, but they had scored deep.
Ebon lifted him, supported him. "Thailog was deceived. She's had
detailed programming, and I don't know what loyalties have been ingrained
into her. We cannot reason with her; that much is obvious."
"We have to stop her," Gabriel said, pressing his non-injured forearm
into the worst of the wounds in an effort to slow the bleeding.
"Can we?" Ebon wondered, as Ventura went through the humans like
a living scythe.
In a matter of seconds, the blonde woman was the only one left
standing. Her counterpart with the mechanical hand slumped against a wall.
Two of the white-coats were either unconscious or dead, and the third had
"Come on, then," the blonde said, baring her teeth and brandishing a
rifle-shaped gun. Several glancing blasts had rendered Ventura's flimsy
garment into tatters and scored burns on her skin, but the pain didn't hinder
She feinted a lunge to the right, the blonde recognized it for a feint
and shot left, but Ventura went right after all and tackled her. They rolled
across the hall and into the morgue, colliding with one of the autopsy tables so
hard that a sheet-shrouded body fell from it and landed atop them.
Moving with a catlike swiftness that would have been impressive
against any other foe, the blonde woman snatched up the sheet, leaving naked
and exposed the body of a child. The back of the small skull had been
surgically removed, the dull grey tissue of the brain bulging out and bristling
Ventura lost a moment in shock, staring at that pitiful sight, and the
blonde threw the sheet over her. Netted, entangled, Ventura flailed in her
confinement as the blonde bashed at her head with the stock of the gun.
"Leave me, help her," Gabriel gasped. He wasn't completely sure
which 'her' he meant, the human or the gargoyle. He pulled free of Ebon and
sank down near the man with the mechanical hand, wincing as he jarred his
Ventura tore through the sheet as the blonde reversed her laser rifle
and leveled it. In the instant before she fired, Ebon was there, knocking the
barrel up so that it seared along the ceiling and cut a smoke detector in half.
Sprinklers came on all over the basement.
The man roused when the water hit him, came instantly alert, and
raised his own gun. Gabriel was just close enough to kick it from his grasp.
Fog rose all around them as the water hit the cold floor, made colder by the
gas still seeping from Ventura's open sleep-tube.
"Gargoyles," the man spat. "Nothing but trouble!" He drew a hunting
knife and slashed at Gabriel.
He fell back, landing squarely on his arm. The world went grey, or
perhaps it was the low-laying cloud of mist that he fell into. He struck the man
with his tail. Both of them battered by Ventura, they fought with pained,
In the morgue, the three-way battle ranged back and forth, dislodging
more corpses from their resting places. Above them in the main building, the
fire alarms brayed endlessly.
Grinding, clicking metallic fingers found Gabriel's throat and closed
with inexorable strength. He could not pry them open. The man loomed over
him, face contorted in grim satisfaction. He squeezed harder, steel bands
clamping tight over Gabriel's windpipe.
Something gouged his hip. The knife! Dropped in their struggles, he
was now half-laying atop it. He grabbed it and drove it point-first into the
man's wrist, just above the collar of steel where hand met sleeve. The tip
grudgingly pierced the protective fabric of his jumpsuit and then plunged into
living flesh. Blood rained down on Gabriel, washed away by the continuing
water from the sprinklers.
He seated the blade as deep as he could and then twisted and
wrenched it to the side. It struck something neither flesh nor bone, something
that gave way with a crackle of ozone and a stink of burnt wires. The
mechanical hand locked up, still closed chokingly tight on Gabriel's neck.
A limp body crashed into the wall over them and rebounded, landing
on the man. It was the blonde woman. Gabriel heard Ventura's screech of
challenge and Ebon's answering roar.
Desperate to help, paying no mind to the curses of his opponent,
Gabriel sawed and ripped with the knife until the man's hand was connected to
his arm only by a few strings of tendon and silvery fiber. He drove both feet
into the man's gut, hearing the gristly crackle as the last strands gave way.
Still with the robotic hand holding fast to his throat, unable to dislodge it, he
stumbled in the direction of the combat.
Ebon had backed Ventura to the stairs and they were now at a pause,
her holding the high ground and snarling down at him as if daring him to take
a single step up.
She had lost what little remained of her garment, and the water made
her skin shine. Deadly and beautiful as some exotic serpent or vengeful
goddess out of legend, she fixed them with her baleful scarlet gaze.
One last time for diplomacy. Ebon spread his hands peaceably.
"Ventura, we came here to find you. Let us help you."
"Join our clan," Gabriel rasped weakly. "Be my sister. Join us."
"Please," Ebon said. "Trust us. We are of the same blood, Ventura."
"Trust you? With all that's been done to me? With all that you let
be done to me? You let them take my mind, take my soul! And now you come
to me with this web of lies? I'll have back what's mine, and I'll get it myself! I
don't need you, or anyone!"
She whirled and dashed up the stairs. The sudden screams of humans
reached them, audible even over the constant wail of the alarms.
"After her!" Gabriel followed, his breath sucked like hot spikes into
his lungs, dizzy and faltering as he reached the top. Ebon supported him, and
they emerged into the central section together.
A group of people, most of them in pajamas and sweat suits, a few in
white coats (including he-who-had-fled-the-basement) were huddled in one
corner as Ventura menaced them. Among them were several children and the
narrow-faced attendant from the second floor.
"Stay away!" Ventura shouted as they came in. "Unless you want to
wade through a sea of dead humans to get to me!"
Gabriel clung to Ebon. He was losing strength fast. "Can't ..."
Talking was too much effort.
Seeing that he was in no condition to follow, Ventura uttered a short,
vicious laugh and ran for the front door.
Ebon pushed Gabriel toward a couch as gently but quickly as he
could, and went after. But panic had flashed over the humans and they
scattered in all directions, getting in his way.
Gabriel closed his eyes, because it was just too hard to hold them
open. All he wanted to do was rest until the pain went away. When was dawn?
Still a couple of hours, at least. He had to hang on that long. Just until dawn.
If he could last until then, stone sleep would claim him and mend all his
He felt a soft touch on his knee, but even that sent waves of new pain
rolling through him. He gingerly opened one eye and found the children
gathered before him. The toddler, the tiny boy that had waved at them in the
hall, was the one touching his knee and looking up at him with huge solemn
There was a feather-light brushing at the edges of his senses, and a
petite Asian girl said, "He's not mean," around a mouthful of thumb.
The others relaxed. One, the boy who had slept in restraints, leaned
close to look at the robotic hand.
"It's Halverson's," he said, and though he couldn't have been more
than ten years old, there was an unmistakably adult satisfaction in his voice.
"I'll get it."
Gabriel started to protest, since he couldn't remove it himself and the
boy was far smaller, far weaker. But the boy just squinted, and the fingers
pried themselves open. The hand fell to the floor and lay there like a dead steel
spider. The boy kicked it and stomped on it, then focused on it and it crumpled
in on itself until it was only a crushed ball of metal.
"I help," the toddler said, crawling into Gabriel's lap.
He was suddenly, vividly aware of each and every wound. The side of
his head felt as if it had swelled out in a great balloon-shape, tender and
throbbing. His throat was swollen and as raw as if he'd tried to drink acid. The
gashes on his chest felt aflame. By far the worst was his arm, a dangling slab
of useless meat with a splintered end of bone tenting the skin. It was a wonder
that the bone hadn't come through.
The boy ran his hands gently over Gabriel's face, the way he might
comfort a crying friend. Then, to Gabriel's amazement, he felt a familiar
lassitude slip over him. The tingle that marked the coming of dawn. His limbs
grew heavy, his skin became stiff. Yet he never fell fully under, never went all
the way into stone sleep. He watched as if from a remote distance as his
injuries healed beneath the touch of the child.
He drew in a deep breath and stretched, casting off the lethargy that
had briefly overtaken him. No shards of stone skin, but he felt as refreshed and
revitalized as if he'd just spent an entire long summer's day basking in the
"All better," the toddler announced.
"Children!" the attendant called from across the room, nearly frantic.
"Get away from that thing!"
They turned toward her in a group and the woman stopped short. She
touched the metal device on her brow as if to assure herself that it was still
there and moved forward.
"I wouldn't," the oldest girl, a stick-thin redhead of perhaps eleven,
"F-17 ..." the woman began.
"Don't. Ever. Call. Me. That. Again." With each clipped word, the
redhead took a step toward her.
The attendant halted again, then backed slowly away. Fear was
written on her face in large letters. She spun and hurried from the room,
brushing off the confused clients who clutched at her arms and begged for help
"You did it!" Neesha crowed. "You showed her!"
Gabriel stood, holding the boy in his arms.
"Do you want to be here?" Gabriel asked.
A chorus of negation answered him.
"I miss my mommy!" Neesha announced. "They stole me from the
park and I never saw her ever again!"
"I want to go home!" the oldest boy declared.
"Here, now!" a doctor said, coming closer. "You ... you can't ..."
"No, you can't! You can't take them from their parents, from their
homes. You can't keep them here against their will. Any who want may come
"Unless you want to stop me!" Gabriel stood to his full height and
spread his wings. The children clustered behind and beside him, some
fearfully, others with defiant grins.
"We'll stop you."
He turned and saw the two guards, the furious-eyed blonde and the
man who now had a scrap of sheet wrapped around the stump where his hand
"Like to see you try!" a freckled, blond-haired boy yelled, extending
both hands in a violent shoving gesture.
The carpet between him and the guards erupted in flame, a backwash
of heated air bathing Gabriel and the rest of the children. The alarms, which
had been silenced at some point in the confusion, shrieked to life again.
"This way!" Gabriel ran for the back door and shouldered it open.
"The fence!" Neesha said as they all ran with him. "There's no gate!"
"We're going over!"
Into the backyard, the cool balm of a summer's night. The older kids
helped the small ones, and Gabriel himself carried the boy who had healed him
and the girl who had known he wasn't mean.
"How about through?" The oldest boy frowned piercingly at the
wall and a large section of it came apart in chunks.
"How come you never did that before?" the oldest girl, never to be
called F-17 again, accused.
"And get shot with a med-dart? Get real!"
They scrambled over the fallen wall and looked to Gabriel for further
directions. Now that they were out, he paused to ask himself what in the world
he was doing. A clan of six, younglings all, with strange powers? Where
would he take them? What would they do?
Movement caught his eye. Looking up, Gabriel saw Ventura wheel in
flight, hair streaming around her in a white veil. Of Ebon, there was no sign.
She voiced a battle-cry and caught an updraft, soaring beyond his sight and
losing herself in the clouds that had come in off the sea.
"What about our toys?" one of the kids asked plaintively.
"Do you want to go back in there?" The oldest girl pointed at the
Institute, which was all fire and water and steam as the sprinklers fought the
"But --" he began, then hushed as the two guards, smoldering and
highly annoyed, came charging out.
The doctor was hot on their heels, screaming orders at them to bring
those kids back, bring them back unharmed and most of all, bring them back
now! They represented not only a financial investment far in excess of the
guards' salaries but also untold hours of research!
"There can always be other toys," Gabriel said. "Treasure your lives
and your freedom first."
They fled along the bluff, a few wind-twisted trees offering scant
A large shadow swept over them and landed. White over black, with
twin sparks of red.
"The bad one!" Neesha shrieked.
"No!" Gabriel stopped the blond kid, who was keyed up and ready to
burn something. "He's my friend. His name is --"
"Ebon!" the oldest girl gasped. "From Scarlet Angel! I have all
your records!" She clasped both hands to her prepubescent bosom and made a
Ebon gave Gabriel an incredulous look. "Gabriel, what are you
"Escaping. I know, I know ... but I can't leave them." He thrust the
little girl at his mentor. "They're light. Three for you and three for me, and
we can get away from this hell-on-earth."
Without waiting for Ebon's response, Gabriel hunkered down and
motioned for two of the other children to hop aboard, bringing back memories
of Guardian Tom giving him and his rookery siblings horsey-rides over the
meadows of Avalon.
Ebon thrashed his tail in exasperation, but bundled children into his
arms and followed as Gabriel dove from the bluff.
"So Ventura got away, but you saved the kids," Brooklyn said.
"What did you do with them?" Owen asked with studied casualness.
Ebon glowered at him. "Don't even think for a moment that they will
be brought here. While your employer may have changed for the better, I am
not going to put those six children back in a situation where they will be
studied and exploited."
"It's a good question, though," Elisa said. "Six kids, at least one of
them abducted. What about their families? Their homes?"
"They canna be sent back to their homes, lass," Hudson said. "Sure
as that's the first place the Institute would send people to find and retrieve
Elisa slid forward on the couch. "Ebon, Gabriel ... I know you mean
well, but how can the two of you take care of them? You spend the whole day
in stone sleep. Who's looking after them then?"
Ebon's sigh was so reminiscent of Goliath's that Amber snapped her
teeth at him anew. "Brittany -- she chose her own name rather than continue to
go by her Institute code designation -- and Gilberto, the two oldest, have been
taking care of the younger ones so far. But you're right, Elisa. They need
better supervision. I hadn't given it much thought, because I was more worried
about finding Ventura."
"Especially once Ebon learned about some raids on Nightstone
warehouses. Body armor, weapons ..." Gabriel shrugged. "You saw her. You
know. We were able to follow her movements and realized she was headed for
New York. We wanted to catch up with her before she met your clan, and
warn you. We were too late. It was like something was leading her here."
"Like me," Angela said with grudging acceptance. "She ... homed in
on me somehow."
"While Gabriel was finding a place to hide the children," Ebon said,
"I went back to the Institute in hopes of finding out more about what had been
done to her."
He grinned coldly, for a moment all-Thailog, prone to laughing
maniacally in the dark. "I was fortunate enough to encounter one of the doctors
leaving in the aftermath of our busy night, and persuaded him to indulge my
curiosity. From him, I learned that Ventura had come to them with her current
programming -- proof of Sevarius' betrayal -- and they had attempted on
several occasions to produce psionic powers in her. They were ready to give
up, having decided that gargoyles did not possess such abilities --"
"Not to mention that they were getting tired of having to subdue and
sedate her every time they performed a new test," Gabriel added, "and were
running short of guards willing to attempt it."
"When they had more of a breakthrough than they'd counted on,"
Ebon went on. "They injected her with a parapsychogenic called S-MD-10, the
tenth generation of a sevaritin drug. Yes, 'sevaritin,' a chemical
neurotransmitter devised by and named for Gustav Sevarius. It is able to ferry
a variety of tagalong molecules to nearly any part of the brain, to produce
many diverse effects. In this case, mental domination."
"The fools gave Ventura the ability to take over minds," Gabriel
explained. "Just seize absolute control of someone else's body, to the point
where she could kill them by thought alone. They lost two doctors and a guard
before they were able to tranquilize her."
"And then they compounded their foolishness," Ebon said. "Rather
than attempt to counter or eliminate that power, they surgically implanted
damping mechanisms, so that they could turn that power off or on at will.
Then, to make matters worse, they gave her another dose of the sevaritin, this
time one designed to heighten her sixth sense. In effect, they were hoping to
create an assassin that could be shown a picture of an individual, find him or
her by telepathy, and then kill without leaving a mark."
"When she'd already proven herself to be a loose cannon," Birdie
said, shaking her head. "Bright. Real bright. You'd think, if they were going
to do something like that, they'd pick a subject that was loyal to them in the
first place, not one who hated their guts."
"You'd think," Ebon agreed gravely. "But they didn't. And as it
turned out, it didn't matter, because that dose seemed to have no effect."
"But that's what forged the link between her and Angela," Lex said.
"She didn't need a picture, either."
"Tell me more about this 'kill with a thought' power," Brooklyn said,
very ill at ease. "If she can do that, why bother with laser rifles?"
"She can't," Ebon said. "Not with the damper on. And thankfully,
those who implanted it had the foresight to make it impossible to remove. If
she ever tries to take off the headpiece she wears, she'll find it won't come off
without killing her."
"But ..." Aiden said timidly, "what if they turn it off?"
"Fergs, would you if you were in their shoes?"
"No, but like you pointed out, Birdie, they've already shown that
they're not too smart."
"I asked that very thing," Ebon told her. "The doctor, under such
duress that I have no reason to doubt his sincerity, confessed to me that
Ventura's unauthorized departure from the Institute triggered an automatic lock
in the damper. It cannot be turned off unless they bring her bodily back there.
We don't need to worry about that."
"Great," said Brooklyn. "All we have to worry about is that she can
still take down half the clan with one wing tied behind her back."
"Can she be redeemed?" Goliath wondered aloud.
"Aye, with her skills, she'd be a great benefit to this clan," Hudson
said. "It sounds more as though the lass is lost and afraid."
"Lost and afraid?" Angela pulled away from Brooklyn and stormed to
the center of the room. "She's insane! How can you even suggest such a
"The clan comes first," Hudson said. "We'd do better to try to win
"Oh, shut up!"
"Angela!" Goliath barked warningly. "You will not speak to an elder
in that fashion!"
"The hell I won't! He'd take that creature into this clan! Why her?
Why not Burbank?" she flung at Hudson. "What about Malibu, and
Brentwood? Oh, let's all accept Delilah because she's pretty and female, and
what about Ventura? Her too, oh, but we'll say it's because she's such a
skilled warrior! You're all a bunch of oinking male pigs!"
"Angela!" This time, he roared it, but Goliath's daughter didn't back
"Hear me out, father! If Ventura joins this clan, I'm leaving!
Replace me with her, then, go ahead. Because I'll be gone."
"Lass --" Hudson tried. "Where would ye --"
"Avalon is my home, and if not there, I'm sure I would find a
welcome with my mother!"
"You don't mean that! Surely, sister, you don't!" Elektra cried out.
"Better there than having to welcome Ventura!" Angela spat. "Have
you all forgotten that she wants to murder me and take my place? Oh, I'm
sure she's just saying that because she's 'lost and afraid.' I'm sure she's really
very sweet. My tail she is! But if that's what you want for this clan, if that's
what you want, fine. Say the word, father, and I'm gone."
"No one wants you to leave, Angela! Think of your mate --"
"Yes, that'd be a problem, Brooklyn and Gabriel would have to fight
"I've had it!" Brooklyn grabbed her by the shoulders and gave her a
fast, firm shake. "Damn it, Angela, get ahold of yourself! We're mates!
You and me. We're one. Remember? Why are you doing this?"
"I'm tired of not being good enough for this clan," she said, her eyes
"Who said you weren't? Have I ever made you feel that way? Have
any of us?"
"How can you not be good enough?" Aiden said. "I'm the one who
"Yeah, Fergs has got the market cornered on low self-worth," Birdie
quipped, getting elbows in the ribs from T.J. on one side and Owen on the
"Ventura is not your responsibility, Angela," Ebon said. "If anyone's,
she's mine. You are Goliath's daughter. You are a part of this clan. You
needn't envy her. If anything, pity her, because no matter what she does, she
will never have the love that you do."
Her wrath subsided. "I ... I ..."
"Those should have been my words," Goliath said. "Angela, all that
Ebon says is true. You opened my eyes and my heart to what it means to be a
father. Not because you are my biological daughter, but because of who
you are. Ventura will never replace you." He looked at her with great
love and sadness. "And neither will Amber."
Angela gasped, her expression both wounded and fearful. "I
"Just believe me." He rubbed his knuckles against her brow ridge.
"And believe that I would never want to do anything to drive you from this
clan. I don't want to lose you, my daughter."
First rejection. Then trickery. Then attack.
And now this.
Her temporary home was hers no longer. The trap triggered, her
cache of spare weapons taken, her privacy invaded.
Ventura hissed in displeasure as she left the clocktower. They were all
against her. All of them corrupted by the Other's malice. All of them fooled.
She was the only one who saw clearly. The rest had been taken in by the
Or had they?
What was the Other? How had it gained such power? How had it
taken her memories, taken her life, convinced her mate and clan and family of
its great lie?
What if the same thing that had happened to her had also happened to
the others? What if they'd all been robbed of their souls, and cast out of their
She couldn't trust any of them, that much was clear. Not even her
supposed mate. He would have been the first to be taken over.
No. Couldn't trust any of them.
Even if she did succeed in eliminating the Other, the rest would
Her former life, the life she couldn't remember, was lost to her
forever. No point in trying to regain it, when it was all becoming a lie. What
use would it be to win back her mate, only to find out that he was another
She could already feel the memories she'd tried to retake growing
misty and indistinct. Her sense of Angela-ness fading away.
So confused. So alone.
Lost and afraid.
There was only one thing left to do, then.
They would all have to die.
Somehow, she would find a way to destroy them all.
It was the only way.