By Kimberly T.
email: kimbertow at yahoo dot com
|Author’s note: Those characters that aren’t owned by
The Almighty Mouse belong to Christine Morgan, not me. This vignette takes
place in her fic-verse’s timeline, and is the second of a triptych that
covers the Cold Clan’s travels between 2001 and 2006.
Night had long since fallen over the vast sprawling city of New York on this particular spring night, and at almost two in the morning, the sky was almost completely free of helicopters and other aircraft. Those paying attention, however, could have faintly heard the rumble of jets in the sky, coming from the north and west… jets that belonged to no human-piloted aircraft. Instead, these jets were incorporated into the bodies of a cyborg gargoyle and his robotic mate… Coldstone and Coldfire.
And a listener straining to hear past the rumble of jets might have heard a young voice saying, “Okay, um, ‘I put the kettle on the fire, and into it I put’…a woodchuck, an egg, a turnip, a rabbit, a quail, a stone shard, a tree, a pinecone, a spruce branch, an apple, a deer, a squirrel, a Frisbee, a … a seashell, a salmon, a bear cub, an annoying big brother, a television, a noisy nuisance, a logging truck…and a racecar!”
And another voice, sounding both older and amused: “You forgot the acorn, between the spruce branch and the apple.”
“Aw, nuts!” Angus said disgustedly, as the youngest member of Coldstone’s little clan caught a thermal and soared a bit higher into the night sky. “I never win!”
“Well, you lasted longer this time than you did the last time we played ‘Kettle on the Fire’,” Coldfire told her son soothingly. “You memory has improved greatly over the last few years.”
“She’s right,” Gabriel told his younger brother encouragingly, even though he’d been the one to catch Angus in an error moments ago. “You remembered nineteen out of twenty items; that’s not bad at all!”
“Yeah, okay. So, are we there yet?” Angus asked.
“Almost,” Coldstone rumbled, pointing ahead. “That should be the Hudson River up ahead, and Manhattan lying just beyond it.”
“We’ll be at the castle in less than an hour,” Coldfire estimated. “Unless either of you would like to stop for a rest before then?” as she glanced at her sons; as fully flesh and blood, they were prone to fatigue and occasionally had to remind their cyborg and robotic parents of that.
“Naw, I can make it!” Angus insisted, and Gabriel concurred, though he cast a worried glance at Angus as he did so.
And they did, though Angus was visibly tiring by the time they could make out features on their destination, Castle Wyvern atop the Aerie Building. The home of their kin, the Manhattan Clan.
* * *
“Four flyers, headed directly towards us from roughly 500 yards out, coming from the north and west,” Owen said flatly as he looked at the monitor that was part of the castle’s automated defensive system. “Two of them giving off metal readings and electronic signatures, while the other two are flesh and bone.”
“Sounds like Coldstone and Coldfire, and their sons,” Xanatos mused. “Best turn off the defenses before they activate automatically; Goliath wouldn’t appreciate it if our soon-to-be guests were shot down before arriving.”
And moments after he spoke, they heard Lexington, who had the sharpest eyes in the clan, calling excitedly down from his post on the battlements (after Jericho had sneaked into the castle to steal Angela’s egg prior to Devil’s Night, Goliath insisted on a suspenders-and-belt approach to their defenses), “Goliath, company coming! Four flyers; I think it’s Coldstone and Coldfire and Gabriel and Angus!”
Minutes later, almost the entire clan was assembled on the battlements to greet the arrivals. “Greetings, and welcome back!” Goliath called out happily as the four came in for a landing. Then he noticed how winded Angus was, and the way he wavered and almost fell onto the roof instead of coming in for a proper gentle landing like Gabriel was doing, and both his gaze and his voice sharpened. “Are you being pursued?”
“No, no pursuit,” Gabriel said as he quickly moved to support Angus on one side, waving off other concerned hands. “Angus was just bound and determined to glide the last twenty miles here without a rest.”
“And I made it!” Angus said proudly, while still panting for breath.
“Yes, he did well,” Coldstone said with apparently grudging approval as he and Coldfire came in to land, slowing their jets to turn and touch down next to their sons.
* * *
Greetings were exchanged all around, with wonderings aloud as to how long it had been since the two clans had come together (Lexington announced it had been two years, six months and a week) and general inquiries as to health and welfare. Gabriel looked around at the crowd of gargoyles, humans and mutates, but did not see one familiar face among the greeters. When he was close enough for a quiet word with his rookery sister Elektra, he whispered, “Is Angela…?”
“Down in the rookery,” Elektra whispered back sadly. “She has gotten somewhat better, but any change in our lives at all sends her running down there to guard her remaining egg. That, and… last week marked three years to the night since…”
She didn’t complete that sentence, but she didn’t have to. Gabriel nodded in grim acknowledgment and remembrance of Devil’s Night, as his right hand unconsciously massaged his left; he had never completely regained full motor control in that hand, after what had happened on that awful, terrible night.
* * *
And inevitably, someone asked the visitors: “So what brings you here? Did you find a new clan?”
“No,” Coldstone said with a grim shake of his head. “Though we found where one had been, long ago…”
In turns, the members of his little clan told about their year-long search for a clan, wandering through the northeastern U.S. and into Canada, eventually winding up in a heavily forested region of Quebec. There they’d found an old rookery that had once belonged to a thriving clan of gargoyles, though evidently the clan had died off due to disease or some other disaster, decades if not centuries before the Manhattan Clan had awakened in this new world. Tired of constantly traveling, Coldstone had declared that the territory would be home to gargoyles again, and his sons had gladly agreed with him.
They’d stayed there for a year and a half, hunting and fishing and learning the new land’s ways; they’d been doing quite well for themselves, and Coldstone had allowed himself to relax and truly feel at home… when their chosen territory had been invaded by a logging company. Every night saw the border of encroachment grow closer, and the air stank of the fumes from the machinery.
The four of them had debated whether to fight for their home, move on, or return to Manhattan. It was unanimously decided that the first course was futile as well as deadly. (Though he did not say it aloud to the people he was visiting, Coldstone had favored moving on to the south and west, towards warmer climes rather than towards Manhattan, and he thought Gabriel had privately agreed with him.) But Angus had clamored for returning to Manhattan and civilization, and Coldfire had agreed that at least a visit would be nice… “So here we are,” Coldstone finished.
“And you are welcome, of course! Welcome to stay for as long as you like,” Goliath said with a broad smile.
Eventually everyone went downstairs and inside, where Broadway organized an impromptu welcoming feast for their guests, though only Gabriel and Angus could truly appreciate it. And while those people who could eat were enjoying their meal, Xanatos and Owen Burnett quietly approached Coldstone and Coldfire. Xanatos said with an engaging smile, “So while you’re here, how about a tune-up?”
Coldstone met that smile with a glower as he rumbled, “I don’t sing.”
“No, that’s not what ‘tune-up’ means. I meant, would you like your systems serviced and repaired, and even upgraded? Owen and I did notice that while you were coming in, one of your jets wasn’t firing properly and you had to compensate for it while landing.”
Coldstone glowered even more fiercely, but he had to admit that Xanatos was right. His and Coldfire’s systems were self-repairing for the most part, but they had their limits, and that misfiring boot jet had been bothering him for months. And his right forearm laser had stopped working back in 2002, though he hadn’t missed it much now that he no longer had to shoot deer with it for Angus’ supper.
“Both will be easy fixes, no problem!” Xanatos said cheerfully. “How about for you, Coldfire?”
Coldfire said hesitantly, “Well… my left palm-jet no longer fires flame, though the right one still works well. And I have this gash in my right wing,” she said as she twisted to show them a rip in the solar collector panel embedded in her wing. “We keep it covered in tree resin to keep moisture out, but…”
“Again, another easy fix,” Xanatos assured her. “And while we’re at it, we should check your internal power packs, too. And how about a sensory upgrade, for either or both of you? We’ve made great strides in robotics and cybernetics since 1996.”
“And would these… upgrades… involve shutting us down temporarily?” Coldstone asked, glowering even more fiercely. “If so, then no, Xanatos. This clan may trust you not to harm them during their stone sleep… but I remember the many indignities I suffered at your hands all too well. You will not shut either of us down, for any reason. And if, even during those ‘easy fixes’, I suspect you are about to try something we have not agreed to…” as his hands, both flesh and steel, fisted before flexing talons towards Xanatos in silent warning.
There was a cough, and Lexington sidled into their view, looking embarrassed. “Well, Aiden and I aren’t due to return to the Sterling Academy for another four nights… so if it’s a trust issue, I could stay with you and keep an eye on things while the technicians are working on you. They’re not going to pull any funny stuff while I’m there looking over their shoulders. Would that work for you?” he asked both Coldstone and Xanatos.
“Of course!” Xanatos said quickly, still looking hurt that Coldstone didn’t trust him. (As if a mere look of hurt and a few kind words could erase all Coldstone’s memories of the ways he’d been used for Xanatos’ own purposes!) “We can begin tomorrow night, if you like…”
* * *
The next night, as soon as the gargoyles awoke, Coldstone and Coldfire went with Lexington and Aiden down to one of Xanatos’ R&D labs, to begin their ‘tuneups’. The rest of the clan was informed that the repairs and servicing would likely take the rest of the night, and possibly might need to be continued the next night.
Gabriel and Angus had awoken to find the mutate twins Dee and Tom standing in front of them, holding sandwiches and almost dancing with excitement and impatience. As soon as the stone shards had stopped falling the children stepped forward, holding the food up high. “C’mon, c’mon, hurry up and eat so we can go!” Tom said as the twins nearly shoved sandwiches into their surprised faces. “We’re going to go see Granma and Granpa and Gil and Blaze and the girls!”
Never one to turn down food, Angus started wolfing down the sandwich even before mumbling his queries about the names they’d spoken through a mouthful of ham on rye. But Gabriel paused before taking a bite and said with a note of surprise and worry, “All of us together? We’ll be too noticeable.”
Angus turned curious eyes to him and mumbled, “Whyoo know dheesh peefle?”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Gabriel said automatically. “And yes, I know who they are. Remember the children I told you about, the ones Ebon and I rescued from that Hades-on-Earth ‘Institute of the Human Mind’?”
“Muh-huhm.” Angus swallowed as his eyes lit up with interest and a growing excitement. “We’re going to go see them?”
“Yes, we are,” Elisa said as she came up after greeting her husband, with her arms full of an overexcited Amber. Raising her voice to be heard over her daughter’s babblings about going to go see Granma and Granpa, she said, “And I know your worries, Gabriel, but we’ve worked out a fairly secure system now; there’s no great risk of discovering a connection between us and them.”
“We’ve done this a few dozen times now; it’s as safe as it’s ever gonna be,” a strange man said as he walked up to them, carrying a small box. Both Angus and Gabriel looked at him with curiosity, and a little suspicion on Gabriel’s part; he seemed to act like he knew them, but they’d never seen this particular human before. When Gabriel casually stepped in front of his little brother, who nonetheless edged out from behind Gabriel’s wings to ask bluntly who he was, the black man smiled lopsidedly and tucked the box under one arm to fiddle with the watch on his wrist. Suddenly he seemed to shimmer like the air over a hot stove, and Talon appeared in his place. “Recognize me now?” he asked wryly.
“They’re magic disguise watches!” Dee said as she reached eager hands overhead towards the box her father carried in his arms. “Gimme mine, gimme mine!”
Talon looked sternly down at his daughter and said, “And have you tucked in your wings yet, young lady?” Dee’s wings instantly caped tightly about her shoulders, fitting snugly to the rest of her body. “That’s better. And Tom, you did even better by doing it without being asked first.” Tom smirked at his sister, who made a face at him in return even as Talon opened the box and handed out kiddie-sized wristwatches.
* * *
“Aiden made those watches,” Elisa explained as she set Amber down so she could scamper over and claim a watch as well. “They cast an illusion of human form on whoever’s wearing them. The real person underneath will still show up on video, but they’re good enough for just walking down the street unnoticed. The green-banded ones are keyed for gargoyles and half-gargoyles; the blue-banded ones are for mutates,” she finished with a hint of a sigh in her voice as Amber turned hers on and her wings vanished.
Amber delightedly pirouetted in place, showing them that her attire had changed as well; her backless top and shorts had become a more human-standard kiddie T-shirt and overalls, and sneakers had appeared on her shrunken-to-human-sized feet. She was as utterly adorable as a human as she was in her natural form… Elisa knew how much it subtly pained her own parents, to look at Amber in disguise; that was likely how she would have looked if she’d been sired by a human father, instead of Goliath. As it was, they didn’t have a single grandchild that they could show off at family reunions. But they never said a word of that to Elisa, and for that she was grateful.
Dee and Tom turned their disguises on as well. Tom’s jet-black fur had instead become milk-chocolate-brown skin, and the hair on his head became tight black curls. Dee’s hair remained the same length and shade of honey blonde, but her rosette-spotted fur and wings had also vanished, leaving her with honey-beige skin just a shade lighter than Elisa’s. Elisa suspected she looked a lot like her mother, the dearly departed Maggie Reed Maza, had looked before her mutation, but there was no way now to prove it.
Talon turned his illusion-caster back on, and appeared once again as the Derrek Maza of old, before he’d ever heard of Dr. Anton Sevarius… except his face was older, with subtle lines of an old grief and weariness worn into his expression. He handed two green-banded watches over to Gabriel and Angus, and instructed them on how to turn them on.
Angus immediately turned his on and became a fair-skinned adolescent, big for his apparently-early-teens age. As a human, he had ice-blonde hair and a sunny grin, and was wearing a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers instead of a loincloth. He twisted around to look at his backside and announced with astonishment, “My tail’s gone, too!”
“No, it’s not!” Tom said as he pounced on where he’d seen the club-tipped tail last. Angus yelped, and his hips wriggled as Tom jerked back and forth, gleefully hanging onto nothingness. Then he was knocked in the head by something else unseen, and tumbled away to sit rubbing his skull and glaring at Angus as he said accusingly, “No fair using your wings when they’re invisible!”
Gabriel chuckled at the youngsters’ antics as he caped his wings and wrapped his tail around one leg before turning his illusion-caster on. He became a man tall and broad-shouldered enough to make the average college basketball coach drool with anticipation, with a polo shirt and jeans, fair skin and amber-orange hair that was now neatly tied back in a ponytail. He spent a few seconds just looking at his upraised hand and arm after turning the device on; Elisa thought at first he was studying the wristwatch, but then realized he was actually looking at his left hand, the crippled hand. The illusion made it seem normal at first, but when he flexed his fingers only the thumb and first finger responded. He noticed her looking at him, and gave her a small, sad smile before turning away. Elisa mentally kicked herself at her unintentional faux pas, but knew it would do no good to try to apologize right now; instead, she reached down to take Amber’s hand and said brightly, “Everyone ready? Let’s go down to the garage!”
* * *
They all piled into a large black luxury van with tinted windows, which had been modified inside so adult-sized gargoyles could sit comfortably on the reinforced seats, and even drive with the modified gas and brake pedals if they knew how. Angus immediately began asking about driving lessons, but Elisa told him wryly, “Sorry, kiddo, but even if you’re really twenty-six years old, a cop looking at you right now would swear in court that you’re underage.”
Elisa used her toes to flip away the modified bars that were easier for the average gargoyle’s highly arched feet to handle, to get at the regular pedals below. Then she started the van and drove it out of the garage and into traffic. Angus occupied himself during the drive with alternately staring out the windows at the traffic and buildings, and staring at his hands and trying to get his illusory pinkies to wiggle independently of his ring fingers.
He’d just about given up in disappointment when Elisa turned down an alley and into the parking garage below another building that had a placard posted nearby: “Towlek Communications Inc. Employee Parking Only.” Elisa rolled down the window and stuck a plastic card into a slot in the box mounted in front of the automated gate. The gate rose up and they rolled inside to find the garage nearly empty, with less than a dozen other vans and cars visible. “I take it that Xanatos owns this business, then?” Gabriel said as their van swung into a parking spot.
“He owns the building,” Elisa corrected. “The corporation doesn’t exist that I know of; the whole thing’s just a shell we use for switching vehicles in. Okay, Dee, it’s your turn to pick the van!”
“The red one!” Dee said immediately as she jumped out and ran over to it. Red was her favorite color.
They all got out of the black van and into the red one, which was identical inside to the one they’d arrived in, right down to the ignition being refitted to use the same key. “We use a different vehicle for each visit, and they even get different license plates every other month,” Elisa explained with a rueful twist to her mouth; she wasn’t at all comfortable with this ‘just-a-little-bit-illegal’ activity, as Fox once mischievously termed it, but knew all too well and agreed with the reason for it. “It helps keep anyone from following us either to or from the castle and my parents’ home.” And once everyone was buckled in again, they drove out a different way than they came in, and headed for the brownstone owned by Peter and Diane Maza.
When they reached the brownstone, parked and disembarked, Gabriel spent a moment just looking up at the building while Amber and the twins scampered up the steps. “It’s been nearly three years since I’ve seen them, and I left Manhattan without even a good-bye to them,” he murmured to Elisa when she looked at him questioningly. “I’m not sure they’d really want to see me again. Did you tell them I was coming?”
“No, we wanted to surprise them. But don’t you even think about chickening out on me!” as she shoved him towards the steps, not even blinking when her hands encountered leathery wings instead of the illusory cotton shirt.
Derrek rang the doorbell, and after few moments the door opened up and Peter Maza smiled out at his son and daughter. “It’s about time you showed up; the kids are all nearly foaming at the… ahem. And you would be…?” as he fixed an eagle eye on Gabriel and Angus.
Elisa grinned at him as she held her finger up to her lips to indicate silence, then tapped her own, unenchanted wristwatch. After a quick glance to confirm both Gabriel and Angus were wearing gargoyle-type illusion-casters on their wrists, Peter smiled again and let them in.
They all came into the living room, where the rest of the brownstone’s residents were waiting for them; Diane Maza, and five of the six children who had once been rescued from the Institute of the Human Mind. They all eagerly crowded around Dee, Tom and Amber when they stampeded in, talking excitedly, but their conversation cut off as abruptly as if someone had thrown a switch when they first caught sight of the pale strangers, the redheaded man and the blonde boy. Gabriel drew back a pace at the suspicious stares being directed at him, then took a deep breath and turned off his illusion-caster, appearing as his normal gray-green self.
“GABRIEL!!!” He barely had time to unwrap his tail from around his leg before he was mobbed by the children, cheering as they tackled him and brought him down to the carpet in their enthusiasm. “He’s back!” “Gabriel, you’re back!” “We missed you so much!” “It’s so good to see you again!”
Elisa saw that Gabriel was grinning from ear to ear as he lay there on the living room carpet; he probably didn’t even care right then that one of the kids was stepping on his left wing. He told them, “It’s so good to see you all too! Can I get up now?” They stepped back long enough to let him up, but instead of standing fully upright, he got to his knees so he could hug them all at close to their level, enfolding them in arms and wings. “Oh, look at how you’ve grown, all of you!”
When last he’d seen them, Brittany, the eldest of the children, had still been as skinny as two sticks together. Now, she’d not only grown up but also out, now having a noticeable bustline. Gabriel deliberately did a double-take at her before saying over his shoulder with a grin to Peter, “This one’s old enough for courting! Do you need any help beating away the less worthy suitors?”
“There, see?!” Brittany said immediately before either Peter or Diane could get in a word. “I am too old enough to date!” But before they could say anything in reply, she threw herself at Gabriel again and fastened her arms around his neck. “I’m so glad you’re back! You’re going to be here for my 15th birthday party in two weeks, right?” And before he could respond to that either, she looked over his shoulder at Angus and demanded, “And who are you?!”
Afflicted with a sudden attack of shyness, Angus had sidled behind Elisa with his human illusion still on. Gabriel grinned as he reached a long arm over to drag him out from behind Elisa, saying, “Everyone, this is my brother Angus. Turn the illusion off, little brother!”
Angus hesitantly turned off the illusion, to be greeted with open-mouthed astonishment that rapidly converted to sheer delight. “Too cool! A gargoyle that’s our age!” Gilberto said gleefully as he gave him a friendly guy-to-guy punch on the shoulder
Brittany, however, frowned at him and said accusingly to Gabriel, “I thought you told us all your brothers and sisters were the same age, because all the eggs were laid at the same time!”
“They were! But Angus and I ended up hatching at different times, and in different places. Remember when I told you about Avalon’s magic?”
* * *
Telling the children how Gabriel and Angus had come to be raised separately, and had only learned of each other’s existence a few years ago, took a little while; time enough for the older Maza’s to put all the refreshments and the children’s favorite games set out for play without being hindered by anyone “helping”. Surprisingly, the toys were left alone for the moment (though the food wasn’t, as the bowls of chips and glasses of punch were passed around) while Angus and Gabriel then told the children about their adventures with Coldstone and Coldfire, while searching for hidden clans.
The kids were intrigued by the stories about the cyborg and robotic gargoyles, whom they’d never had the opportunity to meet. (When Coldstone’s clan had visited Manhattan three years ago and persuaded Gabriel to join them, the Maza house had been under quarantine, after Blaze had gotten the chicken pox and generously shared it with the others.) And they were equally divided between astounded and appalled when Angus boasted about his hunting exploits, and being able to pull down a six-point buck with only his bare teeth and claws!
The children were used to thinking of gargoyles as their protectors and defenders, ‘angels of the night’; Mulan and Neesha, at least, were more than a little upset to find out they were hunters as well.
“Sshhh, no need for tears,” Gabriel gently chided Neesha as he used a napkin to wipe her tear-streaked cheek. “We do no more than your human ancestors did, centuries ago, when they brought down the antelopes of Africa for their dinners. Don’t you remember ‘The Lion King’, little one? It’s all part of the Circle of Life.”
Neesha’s lip still trembled a bit. “B-but the poor deer…”
Angus had been living in the wild for so long that he’d forgotten his own reaction back in 1998, when Coldstone had shot a deer for his first dinner with them, and he was crestfallen to find out that his boasting had upset the younger children. Gilberto and Blaze had been scornful at first when the younger girls had reacted with tears to what they thought was ‘way cool’, but now felt a little bad too when they realized just how upset they were.
Tom, Dee and Amber were staring at their own claws, undoubtedly wondering if they could hunt like that and wondering if they would ever want to; Amber’s bottom lip was trembling as well. Elisa and Derrek looked at each other, at a loss on what to do next, but their father saved the day by leaning in from the kitchen and calling out, “Who wants ice cream?”
No kid alive has ever been asked that question and replied, Not me! They all went clamoring into the kitchen, where Peter and Diane had broken out the emergency reserves in honor of Gabriel and Angus’ visit. (They had found out a long time ago that gargoyles loved ice cream every bit as much as the average human; the castle went through several gallons of it every time they had a celebration there.) And once their tears had been replaced by smiles, Peter took the youngest children aside for a little chat.
“Do you remember the hamburgers we had for dinner last night?” he asked them as he pulled Neesha onto his lap. The kids who lived there nodded yes, while the ones who didn’t remembered other hamburger dinners. “And they were pretty good, weren’t they?” More nods of affirmation. “Well, the meat in hamburgers comes from cows. Somebody had to kill those cows to get the meat for your hamburgers.” That gave them all pause for a moment, while he went on. “It’s no better or worse to kill a cow than it is a deer during hunting season, so long as it’s done for the right reason; to provide meat for somebody’s dinner. What would be wrong would be to kill just for the fun of it. Gabriel and Angus don’t hunt for fun; they hunt so they can eat that night. Because when you’re living in the wild, you can’t just walk into the local supermarket for your burgers. Rrrriiight, Neesha?” as he began tickling her unmercifully, while she shrieked with delight. And after that, no more mention was made about hunting Bambi or Thumper.
* * *
After all the gallon tubs were empty and the last dish of ice cream had been licked clean, the ever-curious Angus asked for demonstrations of the Institute children’s powers. The children looked pleadingly at Peter and Diane, who had long ago established, for the sake of the roof over their heads and their own sanity, the rule of No Powers in the House Without Permission. Peter and Diane looked at each other for a moment before reluctantly agreeing. “But one at a time, and keep it small!” Peter commanded, as he picked up a handful of spoons from the table and tossed them in Gilberto’s direction.
Gilberto grinned from ear to ear, as the spoons stopped in midair. Then he raised a finger and made a twirling motion, as the spoons began tumbling end over end, spinning in place like little propellers. Then he sent them spinning right at Angus, who couldn’t help yelping and ducking as they whizzed right over his head before circling around and landing sedately on the table.
Blaze clamored to be next, and grabbed a handful of napkins off the table. Diane hurriedly handed him a stainless-steel serving tray as well, with a mildly scolding, “Don’t set my carpet on fire again!” Blaze nodded as he wadded up the napkins into little balls and scattered them across the tray, then set them on fire just by looking at them, singly and in groups.
“My turn,” Brittany announced, as she swept her gaze across the room. “Who’s going to volunteer?”
Instantly all the kids except Angus looked away and pretended they hadn’t heard her. Angus didn’t catch on fast enough, and asked, “Volunteer for what?”
“For this,” Brittany said as she stared at him. And instantly, Angus felt something like a smothering weight on his mind, as if part of his brain had gone to stone sleep while it was still night. And when it stopped, he found himself on the other side of the room, standing with his nose in a corner, with absolutely no idea how he’d gotten there. He whipped around and looked at Brittany with sudden understanding and more than a little fear in his eyes, and she shrugged, “You wanted a demonstration!” Then to reassure him, she added, “But I almost never do it to people, unless it’s to stop them from doing something nasty.”
“Like trying to rob or hurt us,” Mulan chimed in proudly. “She did it to a guy who was trying to mug us last week, and made him trip over his own feet and knock himself out!” Stopping a mugger and thereby making herself a fellow protector was okay in Angus’ book, so he relaxed again.
Next came Mulan’s turn, although, as she explained, her power was harder to demonstrate. “I can mostly just tell what people are really like, and how they’re feeling at the moment. If I know them really well, sometimes I can tell more.” Then after a brief pause, she said without looking behind her, “Like right now, Blaze is feeling really sneaky, because he just swiped some chips from Brittany’s bowl.” Blaze yelped in surprise, and hurriedly put the chips back when Brittany turned her glare on him.
While Blaze had been demonstrating his power, Gabriel had gestured Neesha aside and whispered in her ear. Now that it was her turn, the other children began making requests. “Do a unicorn!” “No, they’re wimpy, do a dragon!” “Yeah, a fire-breathing dragon!” “No, a unicorn!” But Neesha only shook her head at them and smiled, then looked up at nothingness... and a shape swirled into being in that empty space. A large dark shape that became a huge gargoyle, over seven feet tall and looking a lot like Goliath, but with ebony-black skin, a white mane and gleaming red eyes. He was cradling a small boy in the crook of one powerful arm, a boy with light brown hair and an angelic smile, and at first sight of the pair all the children went quiet, looking wistful.
“That’s Ebon,” Gabriel said quietly to Angus, looking wistful himself. “And that’s Julian in his arms.”
“I miss them,” Mulan said as she hugged herself forlornly. “I wish they’d come back to us.”
“I miss them too,” Gabriel said softly as he pulled her into his arms and rocked her. “But I’m sure they’re all right, and maybe someday, they will return to us… though I don’t think it will be anytime soon. But until they do, we just have to… have faith.”
Things were quiet after that, for exactly thirty seconds before Gilberto poked Blaze for trying to swipe some chips from his bowl too. After that, the natural rambunctiousness of a healthy group of children reasserted itself, and the games of the evening began in earnest. Angus was right in the thick of it with Gilberto and Blaze, grinning from ear to ear with delight at having so many playmates. Gabriel lent a hand to the adults (and sometimes a tail, when swatting a Nerf football back into the playing area) in keeping the chaos controlled, while still having the best time he’d had in years.
* * *
From a safe corner, Elisa observed the grin on Gabriel’s face as he refereed a game of Twister and observed quietly to her mother, “I don’t think he knew how much he missed these kids until tonight.”
“They’ve missed him, too,” Diane said quietly back. “Are he and his brother here to stay now?”
Elisa shrugged. “Coldstone insists they’re just visiting, on their way to find a new territory or, better yet, another gargoyle clan that still clings to ‘the old ways’ and might have potential mates for their sons. But Goliath is really hoping that they’ll stay at least a while, I know that Angus is happy to be here… and I’d say now that Gabriel wouldn’t mind staying, either. So, we’ll see. They did say that they’ll be here for at least another week…”
To Be Continued ...